Going Out? Cover Your Snout!

Capt Jack - masked up

After all these months of wearing masks and taking proper precautions, I still have trouble remembering to put on a mask when I go out—especially if it’s something quick and routine, like taking the dogs for a walk. It’s not like I’m hiding the masks; they’re hanging right by the door. Am I the only one with this problem? I can’t be.

I decided I needed a mnemonic reminder. So now when I go out, I (try to remember to) chant to myself, “Going out? Cover your snout!”

It helps. Just like “Going out? Don’t go without!” helps me remember to take my wallet when I’m going to the store.

Neither is foolproof. I’m grateful for Google Pay on my phone, which saves me about once every few months, when I find myself at the grocery checkout, patting my pocket, and cursing softly because there’s no wallet there.

Some of us need all the help we can get, these days.

Not everybody likes it, though.

Got Goat?

Travel back with me to those long-ago pre-Pandemic days when we went out of the house to do… well, everything. My husband, who has an antic sense of humor, got a screaming goat. This is a toy based on the internet meme. Press on the goat’s back and it screams. It’s a silly object, but one that has become central to our household functioning.

How so?

When California went into lockdown, both my husband and I started working from home. He is a recording engineer and tech engineer for a Major Motion Picture Sound Company, and suddenly he and his teammates were tasked with finding ways that they–and the sound and music editors they support–could work from home. He brought home a slew of equipment (my living room looks like the NASA Control Room) and went at it. The task came with a prodigious learning curve that they scaled fearlessly and quickly, but there were moments of frustration. Fortunately, with all the gear, he had also brought home the goat. When he was frustrated, he’d trigger the goat, which would scream. A useful outlet.

So useful that I decided I needed one too. Now, when I’m working from home and the urge to scream hits, I can hit my toy goat and it screams, and in a moment, from the other room, will come an answering scream. And vice versa.

It is a curiously satisfying way, both of discharging irritation and expressing solidarity. So much so that, when a friend became ill, I sent her a pair of screaming goats for herself and her husband. And when I came down to visit my 94-year-old aunt for the first time in 10 months (having been tested, scrubbed, and proved to be as safe as I could be, COVID-wise) I brought her a goat.

It is her new best friend. It makes her laugh, but more, in those inevitable moments when the indignities that come along with considerable age hit, the goat is a helpful outlet.

Since the goat seems to have a calming effect on my family, I wondered where the expression “got my goat” came from. If you get someone’s goat, you upset them. The true origins of the phrase are not confirmed, but one suggestion: apparently, high-strung race horses are often given a goat to keep them company when they’re at racecourses. So if someone takes the goat and your racehorse becomes distraught and therefore loses the race, you become upset. Because someone got your goat.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I kind of like it anyway. The goat, miraculous soother of racehorses and humans. Who knew?

No Dogs on the Sofa! And for God’s Sake, Vote!

If there’s one firm rule we have in this house, it’s that the dogs are not allowed on the sofa unless specifically invited. How, then, to explain this:

No dogs on sofa, Jack!

And this:

No dogs on sofa, Duff!

Also, no squirrels are allowed on the porch!

In case you wonder, I’m an emotional tightwire (like many of you), waiting to find out what’s going to happen on  U.S. election day—or, more likely, several weeks after election day. Will we step back from the precipice we’re dancing on? Will we put responsible adults in charge in Washington? Before we all die of Covid or drown in the melting ice caps? Will we save our democracy from our worst impulses?

I can’t stand the wait, and that’s why we’re getting dog pictures on the day before the election.

Who Am I and What Have I Done with Me?

Close readers may have noted that I missed last month’s slot.  Close readers may also remember that the month before that, I had just taken in a foster puppy.

Yes, those two things are related.  And I am here to tell you that writing a book, maintaining a Patreon, holding down a part-time office gig, dealing with a pandemic, fighting for democracy AND housebreaking a puppy is exhausting.

But – as everyone expected – I foster-failed, and now the household of two has officially and legally become a household of three. The puppy is four months old and (mostly) housebroken, and Castiel the Cat has learned that if he hisses and swats at her nose, she will stop trying to Make Him Love Her.  So all is well, and I can get back to writing and righting all the wrongs, right?

hey, whatcha doing?

*insert hollow laughter here*
Continue reading “Who Am I and What Have I Done with Me?”

The Future is NOW

What does a cute dog on the phone have to do with service stations of the future? Bear with me: I hope you’ll like the journey and its destination.

I barely remember the service stations of old. I can pull up small, distant memories of 33 cent gasoline, the Sinclair dinosaur, Phillips 66 signs, and service station attendants who washed the windows, filled the tank, and helped in emergencies. I remember driving to Palm Springs with my grandmother and a sandstorm that pitted our windshield and forced us to stop at one such station in Whitewater. I recall a trim, neat guy in a white short-sleeved shirt and sharply-creased navy blue trousers helping us. His name was embroidered on the chest as I recall. Maybe it was “Joe” or “Frank.” Continue reading “The Future is NOW”

Just Let Me Have a Nap, then I Can Conquer the World. Or at Least Potty Training.

2020 is an ongoing trash fire.  That’s just a fact.  It’s easy to get bogged down in it, to decide there’s no damn use, to just…sink under the weight of it all. Like most people, I’m barely getting through the day. Taking on more responsibility seemed crazy.

But I’d been thinking for a while about getting a dog. And when the older of my two cats passed this spring, and I moved into my own place, it seemed like maybe now was the time?

So I started looking at shelters, putting in applications for dogs who matched what I wanted: a young adult, mid-sized and solidly built, who was cat-friendly.   Each time, I lost out because there is a scarcity of cat-friendly pups available after the great Lockdown Pup Adoption Frenzy.  So, meh, I figured it would take a while.

Then one of the shelters I’d applied to reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in fostering, since they knew I did that for Homeward Pet.  And I said, sure, why not?  And they said, “we have 8-week-old puppies.”  And I said, “sure, why not?”  Because I’m an idiot like that.

“They’re 8-week-old Red Heelers,” they said.  And I said, “oh hell.”  Because that kind of high-energy, high-attention critter was very much not what I was looking for.

And then I saw the picture of “Minnie” and I may have lost a bit of my heart to her.  So I agreed, and the night before my birthday, a transport of twenty-four (yes, 24) pups, including Minnie and her litter mates, arrived, and were parceled out to the waiting fosters.

Dear Reader, I may have known what I was agreeing to, but I had no idea what I was getting into.

Minnie (whom I immediately dubbed the more accurate “Maxi”) is a delightful, adorable, slightly clumsy, and surprisingly thoughtful creature, and I already adore her.  But she. Has. To. Pee. Every. Three. Hours. 

Which isn’t a problem during the daytime. Having enforced breaks to get up and stretch my legs has been nice, actually.  But at night?  At night it’s a different story.

And no, I can’t let her pee in her crate.  Or, I could, but it’s a bad idea, for many reasons, and I’m not going to do that.  So I’m setting my alarm, and getting up at midnight, and again at 3am, and again at 6am….

It’s only been three days, and I’m beyond exhausted.  I’ve got a book I need to revise, and a couple of short stories to write, and a day gig, and a regime to protest.  And a cat who is being really good about all this but also wants his Human Time. 

There are times I just want to sink.

But.  In the midst of the trash fire that is 2020, there’s something kind of amazing about having this fresh, fragile, trusting life in your hands.  About knowing that you can do it right, and make sure they get a solid start to life, to grow up confident, unafraid, and loving.  Healthy, and happy.

And to know that whatever you do is returned to you, immediately.  Because when I stagger to the crate at 3am, I’m greeted by a warm, wriggly bundle of sheer joy, who wants only to lick my face – and pee, yeah, but first, there needs to be face licking.

And between kitten snuggles and puppy kisses, I’m able to think not just about surviving, but thriving.

If she’d just stop licking my face so I can work.

The special joy of Spring in Australia

Spring is almost here. I could wax about flowers (and hayfever), about politics (and political fatigue) about having to wear my knee rug as a toga for late night meetings because my heater doesn’t do the job. Or I could talk about magpies.

Australian magpies are scary-bright. If you feed them, they will take care of you. They will watch over you and they will attack intruders in spring. If you don’t, one in ten (or may one in a hundred, maybe fewer) will simply attack. An ornithologist told me once that it’s probably a male testosterone thing. Whether it is that or not, they’re always protecting their turf.

Attacks are not random. People are attacked strategically. If your face is a known face (if you provide minced meat to the magpie every day of your shred life), you’re safe. If you’re a cyclist, you’re not so safe. If you’re in a pram, you’re not so safe.

By ‘not so safe’, eyes have been taken out, on occasion, and there can be contusions and… you don’t leave a baby alone in the park in magpie season and have a conversation 30 metres away unless you’re certain there is no swooping.

That’s only for a few weeks a year, and it’s only one out of a great number of birds, so any American who puts magpie attacks on the list of reasons to avoid Australia is helping us avoid people who don’t understand the real dangers to tourists in Australia. Dehydration, for example, is more likely than being successfully attacked by a magpie. If you’re after birds that defeated an army, you should look up “Emu War”, not “attack magpie”.

Why have I meandered to “Australia as a dangerous place?” I wanted to talked about the intelligence of magpies, not about Australia’s secret plot to scare away US tourists.

This year we have two new signs of magpie intelligence. First, they were traumatised by the fire and there are more swoops this year and the swoops started earlier. Magpies get PTSD.

Second, if you’re wearing a mask, it doesn’t matter if you’ve fed a magpie for twenty years, you’re likely to be swooped. This made me think about the one year in my life I’ve been swooped: I’d changed my hair style and my glasses. Magpies employ facial recognition.

Also, their song is more complex than most birds, and it changes in different ways to different circumstances, but that’s not new. It is, however, extraordinarily beautiful. Magpies are one of the great song birds. Like opera singers with rapiers, really.

‘Bird-brain’ means something else entirely with Australian magpies to any other bird I know.

There’s a Space in the Office…

I grew up in a household where, at any given time, there were a handful of cats and possibly a dog, and some fish, and maybe a few hand-raised rodents.  Households had critters, that’s just how it was.  As an adult, and a writer, it always seemed essential to me to have a cat (or two), for office companionship.  But I haven’t had a dog, one that was mine, since college.  My life – travel and housing – really didn’t support it.

Until, a few years ago, it did.

It’s not as though I didn’t have opportunities since then to adopt. For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering at my local animal shelter, and my friends started taking bets on when I would end up bringing a dog home with me.  But other than the occasional week-long fostering, I resisted – mainly because I had two cats at home already, one of whom was older and in ill health.

We lost that elder cat a few months ago, and I thought that – between Covid-19 and moving from a rental to my own place, maybe I should just wait before thinking about getting a new animal.  Maybe my remaining cat would like being an Only for a while, after all.

Well, no.  He really doesn’t, if the way he keeps going to the door and demanding to be let out so he can look for his missing buddy is any indication.  And when I took in a foster pup for a week…the door-demanding stopped.  Only to return again once the foster pup was adopted.

Okay then.  I mean, the cat’s insisting, right?

Continue reading “There’s a Space in the Office…”