And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:27 PM

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

In the ongoing saga that is the proper training of our pre-owned puppy, Cooper Michel, I thought it prudent to report the following: Trainer Danielle came yesterday morning, was here for another hour and a half, we learned even more and we have homework.

She called just before the appointed time of 9:30, said she was about a mile away and that she was going to drive by the house, honk her horn, and then park down the street a bit. We were to get Cooper suited up and then exit the house to walk. In essence she wanted to see how we were progressing after our first training session two and a half weeks ago. We stood anxiously in the kitchen, watching out the window. Cooper, oblivious as always, was crashed on the floor with best good friend Wubba. We’d already gone for a walk earlier in the morning so that he could have some regular time, and to get in what we call Pee Ops. Part of our training is to control him at all times, including when he gets to pull up at a tree and squirt. Hence, the Pee Ops.

Danielle drove by, honked twice, we got Cooper up, attached his pinch collar and leash (again) and prepared to exit stage left. He was jazzed. Two walks! And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Woohoo! Saturday’s are the best day in the world! I really like it here! You guys are the best parents ever!

We left the house with Kevin on leash duty, or as we call it, the Chain Gang. We stopped in the driveway and looked to see where Trainer Danielle was standing. I finally spotted her behind several cars just down the street. She motioned with her hand for us to walk. We started moving, with Cooper merrily trotting next to us. Then she emerged from behind the cars, with a dog.

Now regular readers will remember “the incident,” that horrid Saturday three weeks ago when our little Cujo attacked a poor, unsuspecting Golden Retriever after managing to unhook his leash. “The incident” was the catalyst for Trainer Danielle. “The incident” made us terrified of ever seeing another dog on the street again, ever. Did I mention ever?

Two and a half weeks ago, in our first session, Danielle had brought two of her own dogs, a big American Bandogge Mastiff and a German shepherd, the most well behaved dogs we have ever seen. Which they should be, of course, because she’s a dog trainer and her own dogs are her best references. And Cooper learned to be just fine with them. Maybe he would be with this new dog, too.

The new dog was a jet black labradoodle who looked a bit like a big throw rug or afghan.  She stopped in the street, gave him a hand signal and he collapsed into a pile, with a front paw tucked underneath. She indicated that we should keep going, then turn around and come back. She got her dog to get up, walked a bit more, then collapsed him again. Up down, up down, down up, down up. He just kept lying on the asphalt on command. At least it was still early. There was no traffic and the heat wasn’t yet horrible (it got to about 85º yesterday).

Trainer Danielle with Cooper

Finally, she told us to stop, in the shade, and she brought black rag-dog closer and closer, telling us what to do with Cooper, watching how we were with him and how he was reacting to the new dog. Once on the sidewalk, she had her dog turn around and lay down with his back and butt facing Cooper.

“Kevin,” she said from beneath her huge sunglasses. “Bring him over here so he can get a whiff.”

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

“Ok, let him closer and relax the leash.”

Kevin: “No.”

“It’s fine. Let him get closer. Let him smell and sniff and lick if he wants.”

Kevin. “No.”

Remember. “The incident.” We’re going to have commemorative t-shirts made.

After several more back and forths with Danielle saying let him go and Kevin stubbornly refusing, Kevin relented and Cooper got good and close, and proceeded to perform the equivalent of a somewhat pornographic act on the black rag-dog, who just laid there and did absolutely nothing.

Danielle kept referring to the dog as Crew. I asked if he was one of hers. Nope. He was a client’s dog and she was taking him for the weekend because the clients were having a huge party and they didn’t want the poor dog relegated to the dog run for the entire day/night. Plus he’s kind of a wimp. Just a year and a half old, Danielle has been training him since he was 8 weeks old and he is afraid of his own shadow. I asked what his name was. It’s Crouton. So Crew is actually Crou, and his complete name is Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles. Or as Danielle called him yesterday, “bait.”

It was funny. Sort of. You know, given “the incident.”

After Cooper got a few more licks in, we wanted to ask if Crouton tasted like a garlic or an herb, and if it was like having a Caesar salad.

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

An hour and a half and much training later, we began to move into the reward part of the training. As in see-a-dog, get-a-treat. We’re reconditioning and rewiring Cooper’s brain to believe that seeing a dog is a really good thing and it leads to treats. We have two weeks to practice this theory. We’re calling it Pavlov’s Cooper.

In the mean time, the misadventures of Cooper Michel, pre-owned puppy, continue. At least he has a real name.

Living it out loud in the OP with Coopertino, Cooperlicious, Cooper Dooper, Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. 

A sleep worth discussing

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 18, 2012 9:41 PM

For some reason, Kevin and I were talking about sleep today. Evidently when he woke up at some point this morning, before falling back to sleep because it wasn’t yet time to get up, he got to thinking about the very idea of falling asleep and how interesting it was. I listened intently and curiously.

Kevin: “it’s just so wild, when you think about it, that one minute you’re talking or watching the news, and the next it’s morning because you feel asleep and you don’t even know it. It’s fascinating.”

First, if you’re talking to someone and you fall asleep, chances are the conversation wasn’t very lively. If you’re watching the news and you fall asleep, well, that’s fairly normal especially if it’s the local 11 o’clock news because most of the time, those newscasts are terribly banal. They pander, they sensationalize, they bore. Hence the snort-snort-snore that drifts from Kevin’s side of the bed as he gives up and gives in to the night.

Of course, this snort-snort-snore has also been known to happen in the afternoon when he’s laying on the couch or laying on the bed, but almost always there’s a television on.

I’m sensing a pattern.

Still, I was interested. “What do you mean?” I asked.

He tried to explain the feeling that overtakes him when he falls asleep and I nodded. I know what he’s talking about and it’s difficult to describe. It’s like a blanket is being pulled up over your brain. It gets comfy and warm, cozy. It relaxes. It drifts. Thoughts wander, then ooze out the door. It’s impossible to focus and you don’t want to. You’re tired. You want to sleep. Soon you do.

There’s no universally agreed-upon definition of falling asleep because it’s not a split-second happening. There isn’t a switch that gets turns off but rather a gradual progression of stages in which the body and the brain both change.

First, you doze off and your brain and muscles slow down. It’s a light sleep, the kind where sometimes you jerk yourself awake. You’re not quite into zzzzzzzzz land. Many times if someone in this stage is asked if they were asleep, they will respond no. Even if they were starting to snore. Like my husband.

Next comes the calm brain and no eye movements. Breathing slows and body temperature drops slightly which is why you get cold, or at least I do. If you’re in this state, you’ve lost touch with where you are but you can still be easily awakened. You usually want some covers, even if it’s hot.

In the next phases, breathing slows into a more even and often audible rhythm. Blood pressure drops and body temp drops even more. Your muscles relax. Sleep researchers call this “slow wave sleep” because the brain waves are at their most dormant. This is the sleep we need, the restorative rest that helps the body to regenerate. When you sleep like this, protein is generated for strength, hormones like cortisol, which helps make us bright eyed in the morning, are released, and the body is mostly at peace. About 90 minutes in, the infamous Rapid Eye Movement (REM) pattern begins. Interestingly, this is very close to actually being awake. This is also when dreams can occur. After REM, you get NREM or Non-Rapid Eye Movement, something that actually happens in 90 to 110 minute cycles, four to six times every night.

Then morning comes. Light begins to dawn and the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a very small area of the brain, registers this light and soon sleep is over. I always find this incredibly sad. I love to sleep. I’m good at it. My husband is better at falling asleep but not so good at staying asleep. He teases me that if we awake at any time during the night for whatever reason and converse, even for just a minute or two, that I can fall back to sleep quicker than anyone he’s ever known. I take great pride in that.

Sleep is a wondrous thing. Lack of sleep is abominable. As I say often, there’s a reason sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

We are made to sleep. From the moment we’re born, we spend most of our time trying to get to sleep. Babies do it, usually at times when new parents don’t want them to and rarely during the night. Puppies do it at any given time. I always loved when Maguire was a puppy and he’d play and play and rough house and growl and then, boom. He’d fall over asleep. I admired it. Kittens do it too. I imagine all animals do, though I only have experience with puppies/dogs and kittens/cats.

Obligatory kitten/puppy shot

We take naps as kids, and fight it. We take naps as adults, and relish it. Either way, as Kevin said today, if you do it right, you wake up.

That’s always worth celebrating, as long as it’s not too early. 

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live out loud

Celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:16 PM

The hug is that most human of responses, one we use in both joy and sorrow. We reach out our arms to say hello to a friend we haven’t seen for months, or just since last week. We reach to comfort. We hug our family close, our children closer. We give a perfunctory hug to colleagues. Sometimes we pretend to be so happy to see them we also throw in a little pretend air kiss. But perfunctory hugs are different than other hugs. The arm motion is wrong. The hugger sort of loops his or her forearms through the huggee’s to apply just the smallest amount of pressure to the huggee’s back. A hug given to someone you know and are happy to see is a full-blown expression of love, a big wrap of the arms accompanied by a squeeze.

This is also the kind of hug most people give to their creature-comforts. You know, those of the four-legged and furry variety. Hugging a dog or a cat, or gently giving a squeeze to a puppy or kitten is one of the great joys of being a person, in this writer’s humble opinion. It’s one of the things I miss most about Maguire. I miss so many things of course, but not being able to sit on the floor and put my arms around him is what made National Hug Your Dog day so heartbreaking.

Yes, I’m a day late on celebrating this wondrous day, a day when it’s OK to hug your pup, as if it wasn’t OK any other day. That wondrous day when you shouldn’t wear black because you’re going to be wearing your animal’s fur after engaging in that hug and the person behind you in line at Starbucks will smile knowingly and ask: “How many pets do you have?”

April 10th was National Hug Your Dog day, per Beneful dog food, but according to a survey of U.S. dog owners, 68 percent of respondents actually hug their dogs more than they hug their people. Thirty percent admitted that they hug their dogs more than any of their other family members and 26 percent said that they hug their dogs more than they hug their best friends. Except that dog is often referred to as man’s best friend, so I think that statistic is a bit suspect.

The most cuddly breeds of dogs are evidently cocker spaniels. They require a great deal of human interaction. Retrievers, specifically of the Labrador variety, are also extremely loyal and loving. Beagles, gentle, sweet, sociable creatures that they are, are also highly affectionate. A Bichon Frise is happy to be hugged and hugged often, as is a boxer who gets five out of five paws for affection by WebVet.

My personal feeling is that it doesn’t matter what the breed – Maguire was, after all, a mutt, an adorable concoction of golden retriever/Australian shepherd and maybe some Akita and perhaps a bit of Chow Chow – they’re all infinitely huggable and fabulous.

And if you have a cat, that hardly matters because cats are dogs, too, just more aloof versions. As the saying goes: dogs have owners; cats have staff. But you can have wonderful relationships with people who work for you. Cats love their people and cat people love their cats as much as dog people love their dogs. I had a cat before we got Maguire. I lost her to cancer but I loved that beautiful little girl; I was devastated when she died and I couldn’t hug her anymore. She actually liked to be hugged, to an extent. When I would get home at night, to my townhouse, I would stand in the entrance way and wait for it. Sure enough, after about 30 seconds or so, I’d hear the soft thud as she jumped down from her sleeping position on the corner of my bed. Soon, she’d come slinking down the stairs, meowing the whole way, and then do that great little cat strut over to me, rub against my leg while stiffening her tail. I’d pick her up and she’d put her front paws around my neck, one on either side, and bury her gray and peach-colored fur head under my hair as she purred. She hugged.

Roy and Maguire

Maguire hugged too, by putting his head under my chin and pushing up against me. He was a hugger from the moment we got him, all 10 pounds of stinky fur, burrowing up against my chest and pushing his head up under my neck. As he got older, he did the same thing, though usually when he was sitting and I was sitting next to him. He hugged. I miss those hugs.

Today, I’m celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day. I celebrate dogs and cats every day, and I celebrate the memory of hugging my boy. I still think he’s here with me sometimes, laying his head against me, hugging me back in the only way he knows how. It gives me a bit of creature-comfort just thinking about it, thinking about him, hugging him still if only in my dreams.

And they call it puppy love

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 17, 2012 10:35 PM

Regular readers know I’m a dog lover. Regular readers also know we lost our beloved Maguire almost two weeks ago. Time is helping though his presence is missed greatly as is his personality, his beautiful spirit, the sound of his tags hitting the floor as he rolled over or tapping the ceramics of his water or food bowl as he munched.

My friend Diane is a great friend to all creatures, especially those of the rescue-dog variety. She has long been active in the animal rights movement and has put in more than her share of years working to help neglected, abused and abandoned animals. She herself has two wonderful dogs: a poodle mix (at least I think he’s a mix) named Henri, a very distinguished little guy with curly white fur and big dark eyes, and Tommy, a pit bull with maybe a little boxer thrown in for good measure. He’s a stout little dude, sort of brown and white, with the large head – pumpkin head, Diane calls it – of a pit bull. But he exhibits none of the characteristics. He’s docile, gentle. And he’s having some joint issues so today he was hobbling around. Maybe it was the rain. Diane also has two cats, Fiona who’s black and Roswell who’s white.

Terrier mom

And in her garage, she fosters moms and their puppies until they’re all healthy and old enough to be adopted. She is one of the first calls for certain groups who patrol “kill shelters.” Evidently there are a number of shelters that quickly euthanize female dogs that arrive with tiny puppies in tow. Diane to the rescue. Dog bless her.

Her current litter is of the terrier and retriever persuasion. Or maybe it’s cocker spaniel. Either way, there’s a lovely and timid mom who has some terrier in her as well as something else, and her five rambunctious puppies. Diane emailed me earlier in the week, asking if maybe a romp with some little fur balls might help to ease some of our sorrow. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. Was it too soon? Even for bouncing, biting balls of fluff? I decided I could handle it without falling apart.

Kevin was going to come with me, but he’s been having a hard time the last few days. He misses his boy and sheepishly told me last night that he just doesn’t really want to see any dogs right now since he can’t see his own. I understand. We all process grief and loss differently.

Today was cold, windy and brutal with rain. Torrential at times, it bounced off of our street, blasted the roof of the house, knocked incessantly at the windows to be allowed in. I did some Saturday morning things around the house, changed the sheets, did some laundry, washed the wine glasses that don’t go into the dishwasher and collect, instead, on the counter. Showered, put on a little makeup, pulled on jeans, a sweater and boots, and off I went.

Waiting to come play

Driving east on the 101, the rain clouds were heavy and black, nearly touching the road in front of me. To the north, the sun was streaming through, glinting off the wet pavement. I exited at Laurel Canyon, went north and within minutes I was in front of Diane’s house.

I had packed up all of Maguire’s food and cookies. We didn’t want to just throw it away and with all of the dogs lucky enough to stay with her and Gene even for a short while, we thought she might be able to use it. It was Kevin’s idea; it was a good one. She met me at the car and I handed her a huge bag filled with dry food bags, unopened canned food, and dog cookies. She gave me a hug and we started toward the garage where she keeps the puppies, walked in and there they were, all lined up, ready for some puppy love.

It was just what I needed, to sit on an old fleece blanket on the cement floor and have five squiggly, wriggly puppies climb on me, claw at me, bite on me and hop around aimlessly on the floor, fall over, crawl over and yip and elicit quietly ferocious puppy growls as they rolled all over each other. For an hour their energy level was high, and then, they were done. Two of them snuggled up on my lap and started to snooze. Mom disappeared behind the kennel to get away from them, one tried in vain to keep his eyes open and the other two curled up on Diane. These little warm bodies, barely six weeks old, taking short little breaths, creating a surprising amount of heat.

On my lap

I felt some of the sorrow leave my own body. There was something cathartic about spending a couple of hours in the presence of new life. It didn’t diminish the loss of Maguire – I know we will always miss him – but it did reinforce the truth that life goes on. Today, life was embodied in these five little dudes and their mom. Tomorrow, who knows?

As I drove home with the sun once again glaring down through the rain, making it nearly impossible to see the road, I smiled. I miss my boy terribly; he still breaks my heart. But tomorrow will be better.

And today, there were puppies.

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live out loud

Happy Birthday to me

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 25, 2011 11:40 PM

Guest post by Maguire

I'm 15 today. Next year I get to drive. At least that's what happened when Justin turned 15. I don't know if I want to drive, though. I'm not big on the car thing anymore. I used to really like the Rover; I liked to go. I liked to put my head out the window and feel the wind in my ears. But I kind of like to stay home now.

Today we had presents and stuff. Mom and dad got up early and dad took me outside. It was really warm. I like it when it's warm. It was kind of windy, too. It feels good in my fur. Dad says wind like that can blow the stink off. I don't think he means that I smell bad. I did have a bath a couple of weeks ago.

Me, on my 15th birthday, Christmas morning

Then we came back and mom gave me a kiss on the nose and wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday. That's how I knew it was my birthday. The Christmas thing I knew. There's a tree in the house and whenever there's a tree in the house, that means presents and presents mean Christmas, ever since I was a puppy. Probably even before though I don’t remember before I was a puppy. Mom also puts these little people out in different places. They look like they're singing. Their mouths are in 'O' shapes but they don't make any noise. They're kind of weird. They scare me a little. People shouldn't be smaller than me. But mom likes them. She calls them her "carolers." They only come out at Christmas, too.

Dad put the TV on because one of the local stations was playing the Yule log. I don't know what a Yule log is but mom and dad thought that playing the Yule log was funny. The whole TV screen was filled with logs burning in a fireplace. It even made crackling sounds. It sounded like a real fire but it was on the TV. I couldn’t stop watching it. I was laying on the floor in front of the tree and looking at the TV the whole time even though I thought it was kind of dumb. But since it was Christmas I decided not to say anything. I would rather have watched cartoons, something like Rocky and Bullwinkle. I like squirrels.

One of mom's carolers, a new one from my grandma

Mom is interrupting my post.

Maguire’s mom here: The Yule log is a big, hard log burned as part of the traditional Christmas celebrations in Europe. Yule is an ancient word, probably meaning jolly, and also Christmas. The Yule Log program, the broadcasting of a burning fire and nothing else but its crackle, was actually started in 1966 by Fred Thrower, the President and CEO of WPIX in New York. He wanted to give homes without fireplaces a chance to experience the ambiance. The original was filmed at Gracie Mansion, the official home of the mayor of New York. The Yule Log program was and remains 2 to 4 hours, complete with Christmas music. I now return you to my guest blogger. Magu – the blog is yours.

Thanks, mom. 

The Yule log was only on until 10 o’clock. That made mom and dad laugh, too. After it turned off, we got to open presents. I like presents. I got a new hedge and a new moo and a new rudy and a new moose. Moo came from my grandma. My Aunt Khristan and Uncle John gave me new moose. It's really just a big head but he squeaks really, really good. I love new toys. Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave me a new ring toy, too. I always get toys on my birthday and Christmas and since my birthday IS Christmas I get the most special toys ever. I like Christmas. I like my birthday.

Me with some new toys

I miss Justin. He wasn't here today. I heard his voice on the phone and I think mom and dad were going to do something called skype later. I don't know what skype is. It sounds like it might hurt but maybe not.

I don't get to see Roy today. Mom and dad went to see him and Bobbi and Diane and Gene. I thought about going but I was really kind of tired from all the celebrating. Besides, I didn’t want to leave all my new toys. And besides again, there are cats there. I don't like cats. Even though one of their cats - his name is Pixel - is really, really big. Big like a dog. But not big like me. So mom and dad went away for a couple of hours and I stayed here to watch the house and my toys. I also got to take a really good nap. Then they came back and I was happy to see them and they were happy to see me and mom said “Merry Christmas, baby!” and dad said “Happy Birthday, big boy,” and I wagged my tail and got to go outside again. When I came back, my toys were all waiting for me on the floor, right where I left them. It was like Christmas all over again.

It was a good day.


Cuteness Alert. And it's free.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 11, 2011 9:15 PM

I’m all for capitalism. I partake in it regularly, and for the most part enjoy it. I like the choice it represents even if the sales tax can get a little steep depending on where one lives. We’re fairly fortunate in that our part of California charges 7.25%. It’s a bargain really. Santa Monica is 9.25%. Even Beverly Hills is less at 8.75%. But as a state, we also have the pleasure of sporting the highest rates in the country, though the highest taxed city remains Chicago at 9.75%.

I bring this up because at this time of year when shopping is in full manic mode, when many of us have to pay sales tax, we often look for something free along with it, like shipping. I do a lot of shopping online and whenever possible I go with free shipping. I’m very good at getting that on Amazon. Sometimes it might take an extra day or so to get here, but ultimately it’s cheaper. If I buy something online that can’t be purchased here, I can sometimes not pay sales tax at all, though the State Board of Equalization or Maximization or something is trying to do away with that because it’s costing the state money and everyone is hurting these days.

Free is enticing, and some of it is literally free. Free advice. Free speech. Free listings. Free education. Free will. There are least 23 albums titled Free and 26 songs. Free to be.

But free shipping remains one of my favorite frees. I expect it on books and clothing and various other items. But I didn’t not expect this:

Imagine my surprise. First, FREE Shipping on any size order. So I’m assuming I could buy as many puppies in as many sizes as I’d like, get them shipped to me at any time from now into perpetuity, and not pay for the transportation. I can only hope there are air holes.

And these puppies are guaranteed to last! I haven’t yet found the fine print that details whether they’re guaranteed to stay puppies or just guaranteed to stay alive forever and ever. This is important as someone who parents a vintage puppy and who worries constantly about his encroaching age. He didn’t come with a guarantee. Not that it would have mattered. We would have taken him regardless; he was just too good to pass up. He remains ever so.

I wonder how L.L. Bean has done it. I wonder how many other people looked at these two simply gorgeous golden retriever puppies and thought – ha! Free puppies that will always be with me!

There are other advertisements that are misleading and unintentionally hilarious. Having worked in advertising for some time, I realize that you can look at something over and over and over again, and not see it anymore. Yes, everything is spelled correctly but the meaning can get skewed and in this case it did.

Or did it? Maybe this is what L.L. Bean meant all along. Maybe they really have found a way to guarantee that puppies can last, that they have no expiration date, and they’re giving them away for free.

I’ll take a dozen, provided they all look and act like Maguire. 

The day my dad thinks he picked me out

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 26, 2011 9:46 PM

Guest post by Maguire

Hi. It’s me, Maguire. I did so good the first time, mom said I could post again. Plus she was out at meetings all day and so she’s kind of tired. She’s sitting on the couch in front of the fire with a glass of that ­stuff she likes to drink. I’m pretty sure it’s red even though I don’t know what red is. It just looks dark to me.

My dad is having a meeting. It’s kind of late for a meeting but sometimes he has to talk to some of his guys. I think that means the guys who work for him. Mom says they’re vampires because they work at night. I don’t know what vampires are but I think they might be scary. I have a toy that my dad bought that’s kind of like a vampire I think. It’s called boo. I like boo. He’s kind of the same color as mom’s drink. I got him for Halloween. I like Halloween. I like all the kids that come all dressed up ‘cause I like kids. They’re fun and they pet me. Some are afraid of me because I’m a big dog. That’s what mom says like “how’s my big dog?” and when I’m in trouble she says things like “you were supposed to be a medium dog!” I don’t think she’d like a medium dog. Kobe, who lives next door, is a medium dog. He’s weird.

Me, the day I picked out my dad

The day I picked dad out, I was still very small. He thinks he picked me out but he’s wrong. I don’t like to say that very loud. He likes his story and it makes him feel good. But I remember that day. I’m pretty sure it was a Saturday because somebody dropped me off at the place on Friday. I was just a puppy. A real puppy, not a vintage puppy like I am now. I was little. They put me in a cage with two really, really big dogs. I think they had been in that cage a long time. One of them, he had short fur. He came over to me and sniffed on me once. He smelled bad. The other dog didn’t pay any attention to me. I was kind of glad. I went over and fell into the water bowl.

I liked to sleep on my back when I was a real puppy. That’s what I did that first night in the cage. In the morning, this nice lady came and gave us some food and cleaned up the cage. I stayed in the corner and watched her. Pretty soon, I heard these people come by. They looked in but I stayed in the corner in the back. I didn’t like them. Then this man came by. He was talking to someone closer to my size. His hair was that color like mom’s drink and my boo toy. Then he ran back the other way to look at another dog. But the man stayed. I liked his hair. He had a nice face.

Me again, in my new house with my new mom and dad. I was pretty little.

I put on my best cute and bounced out from the corner. I liked to bounce. I didn’t really walk then, or run. I mostly just bounced. I went straight toward him, and then tried to talk to him. “I like you.” I think I said it a bunch of times, just like that. In threes. I like you I like you I like you. The man got down on his knees to talk to me. And then he brought the one with the red hair back but that one didn’t seem to like me.

Then they left! But, but, but. I bounced! I talked!

I went back to the corner. Pretty soon the man came back and this time he had a lady with him. I liked her, too. I bounced out. I wagged my tail. But I was tired and so I decided I needed a nap. I showed them my belly. I heard the lady laugh. I still remember that laugh. It’s my mom’s laugh. I really wanted to go home with them but the food lady wouldn’t let me, not for two whole days. And when you’re a puppy two days is a really, really long time.

After what I guess was two days, the man with the nice hair and the laughing lady came back and took me home. It was really early, and the lady held me in the car. I liked the car. It had this very deep hole in the middle. I sniffed in there and came out with some paper in my mouth. They laughed and said “show me the money!” I think that’s how I got my name. From some movie they had seen called Maguire.

Me and dad. See my belly? I told you my dad had nice hair.

Anyway, that’s the day my dad thinks he picked me out. I let him think that. I love my dad. I love my mom. I love my boo.


Dogs in the 'hood

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:40 PM

Like many small neighborhoods in California, in the country, in the world, we have a lot of dogs. Big ones, small ones, puppies both new and vintage; dogs with lovely personalities and those who could use a lesson or two in manners and attitude. Dogs who bark, dogs who whine, ones who squeal and howl at the moon in the middle of the day, like the five little monsters who live on the corner and fight each other for window space. We fear for our ankles every time we pass by, but we still smile. We love dogs.

We’re also suckers for dogs. They bring instant smiles and a desire to crouch down for a quick scratch behind the ears. For the dogs, too. We’ve also been known to assist a dog in distress, like today, when as we rounded the corner of Wiggin and Pesaro, on our way down toward the park, we spotted a big black dog, standing in a front yard, no owner or even possible owner in sight.

A Maddie-like dog

I immediately pointed her out (the “her” being a fact we ascertained shortly thereafter). Kevin hadn’t seen her. I called to her quietly, walking up on the sidewalk as she watched me intently but not fearfully. She stood proudly, staring at me with her big brown eyes and her slightly pointed ears that curled over at the top. It was hot and she was panting. I crouched down and called to her again, and she continued to study me but didn’t move. Finally, she started walking toward the front door of the house. Kevin had forgotten his cell phone so I tossed him the key to our house so he could run back while I followed the dog. If the front door had been open, I wouldn’t have worried, but it wasn’t. The dog, with thick black fur that had been shaved and was now growing in, was standing on the front porch, her nose pushed against the door jam, willing the door to open. It didn’t. I walked up, reached down to pet the top of her head while simultaneously knocking on the door. No answer. I rang the doorbell. No answer. She had tags. Her name was Maddie, and she had a phone number. When Kevin returned we called it. I could hear it ringing inside the house but again, no answer. Maddie and I sat on the front porch while Kevin went around to the back of the house, through the gate, to make sure that a dog did, in fact, live there. He found a big water bowl and a dog toy. We filled the bowl, and left Maddie behind the closed gate.

I thought about her all day until her owner finally called to thank us profusely for helping her dog. She was surprised we even approached Maddie since she’s big and totally black and most people find that intimidating. Kevin laughed and said that we had one of those ourselves.

A Carter-like pup

Over the years, we’ve helped numerous dogs find their way back home. There was Charlie the schnauzer who used to show up in our front yard regularly. After the first few times, we discovered exactly where he lived, so we’d put a leash on him and walk him home, depositing him behind his gate and closing it securely. There was the Saturday morning when two gorgeous Huskies showed up in our front yard. We corralled them and put them in the back, called the number on their tags and their owner came within minutes. She had been out in the car, searching frantically. A little pug went by one day and Kevin, who had been in the kitchen, dashed outside and started down the street. I followed, wondering what was going on until I saw her. Penny. She was old, deaf, and partially blind. Kevin got there before I did, and as I was walking toward them, a woman in a dark blue Lexus RX330 pulled up next to me, frantic, asking if I’d seen a dog. I told her my husband had her around the corner. The woman was almost in tears as she thanked us.

One morning Kevin had gone off to Home Depot to get supplies for one of our countless DIY projects. It was early when he called me, practically in tears. There was a dog out on Lindero Canyon, a chocolate lab, and someone had hit it and driven off. He was with the dog. Could I bring every towel I could find. I threw everything into the car and drove off. Within minutes, I found him, with the dog and another woman who had stopped to help, another dog lover. The dog was bleeding but alive. A cyclist came by, and stopped; said some guy was up the street, calling for a dog. Pretty freaked out. He turned around and rode back to tell the guy we had his dog and were taking her to the vet. We pulled everything out of the back of Rover, all the wood and tools and left them on the side of the road. The woman said she’d watch our stuff until we got back. We loaded the dog into the back of the truck, I got in with her, my hand pushing on her wound, trying to stop the bleeding as Kevin raced toward one of the local vets. He went through the stoplight, horn blaring, hazards flashing until we got to the vet. The owner showed up moments later as the vet team was unloading the dog onto a stretcher. The gardeners had left the side gate open and Abby had bolted.

A short time late, the vet called to say Abby had made it through surgery. Helping her was one of our proudest moments here in the OP.

A Kobe-like dog

The dogs in the ‘hood are members of our community. There’s the big Akita, a gentle soul, in the cul de sac, and Kobe, the nutty wire-haired fox terrier mix next door. Across the street is Carter, next to her are two big loopy dogs who howl every time Jonathan and Tricia come home, and Griffy, the whippet who recently suffered a stroke in his spine. Mister Mister lives around the corner, as do the three Springer spaniels and the two Staffordshire boxers. There's Emily, the golden retriever, and the pit bull on the other corner. Gary's little dog and the new doberman/lab mix. There are mutts and purebreds, nice and mean, all with personalities, all with people who love them; all with gardeners who leave the gates open. Today and every day, we celebrate those dogs. But we are partial to one in particular.

Our Maguire, the neighborhood’s resident big dog

Happy Friday, you jackhammer!

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 9, 2011 6:58 PM

I have nothing but respect for morning. I understand its purpose. The sun rises, light streams into otherwise dark rooms and shadows form. Coffee brews as cars and their occupants drive off to school and work. The dog twitches as he finishes whatever dream he’s dreaming. Outside, the birds begin to get a little rambunctious. It should be a lazy time, time to stretch and pull the covers a little closer, to squeeze one last minute of sleep or at least relaxation out of the night before the day really begins. Which is usually around 7 am.

This morning it was 6:35. But it wasn’t the sun that roused us; it was the sound of industrial trucks taking over the ‘hood, their beep-beep-beep backup noise so close it was as if they were backing up into our bedroom.

I thought it was the trash trucks, albeit a little early. The trash trucks come on Fridays.

It wasn’t the trash trucks. At 6:59, fully one minute before they’re supposed to disrupt the calm, quiet of the morning, the jackhammers started. The roadies who have been repaving our roads had now set their tools on re-concreting the man-holes. Evidently in order to do that, the old concrete must first be blasted away in the noisiest way possible. At 7 am.

Did I mention the hour?

We tried to ignore it. We tried to sleep through it. We tried to not have to get up and make coffee. We burrowed; we sighed. Heavily. Even the dog pulled his front paws up over his ears, and he’s deaf.

This went on until close to 8. Normally we’re up between 7 and 7:30 but last night we didn’t get to bed until midnight and then with the noise, we were desperate for a little sleep. A little is what we got. We rose, stumbled to the kitchen, and I made the aforementioned coffee while Kevin and Maguire padded outside.

I yawned and stretched. I thought about being irritated, and almost was, and then I thought: no. I wouldn’t allow jackhammers, those wonderful, concrete busting, silence altering, eloquence shattering pieces of power-driven equipment to ruin Friday. After all, those guys are making a living, they’re doing a job, and a good one at that. They’re making our streets safe for all tires big and low-profile, for kids on skateboards and scooters, for cyclists and puppies and kittens and squirrels and the older lady who circles the neighborhood with her wheeled-walker, complete with hand-brakes, every morning.

Jackhammers were invented by a French engineer in 1861 named German Sommelier who came up with the idea while working on the Mont Cenis tunnel. With his pneumatic pick, which eventually became a version of a jackhammer, the tunnel was completed 20 years ahead of schedule. Charles Brady King, an American auto pioneer, engineer, artist, musician, poet, architect and inventor in the latter part of the 19th century, had the idea to combine a hammer with a chisel. His invention also became a version of a jackhammer. Jackhammers were so named in American in 1925. They can be powered by compressed air, electric motors and hydraulically. Whichever, they’re noisy, sometimes dangerously so. The guys who operate them wear sound-blocking earmuffs to prevent damage to their hearing. They didn’t, however, offer any to those whose sleep they were disturbing.

Still, since I was and am choosing to be cheery about this, I’ve decided that the cruel and somewhat debilitating racket being made this morning by the worker dudes was just the jackhammers’ way of saying “good morning, welcome to the day, get up and make something happen. I am. I’m making this old concrete disintegrate so that new concrete can be poured, and to demonstrate that very point, here is my good friend the cement mixer to churn the cement while I hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer, pause, mix, churn, mix, chu-HAMMER, hammer, hammer, mix. Can you hear it?”

That’s a fact, Jack.

Happy Friday and Fritini to all, and to all a pleasant night’s sleep followed by a piercingly quiet early morning. Except for those damned rambunctious birds.

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