Wednesday, April 19

Good Ol' George

This is George. Good Ol' George.

We know he was born to be a racer; the ear notches and the chest scars of kennel fights are proof. We also know because the registration tattoo inside his ear tells us so. The other inside-ear tattoo tells us he was the first pup of his litter, born sometime in January, 1994. We adopted him in 1998, so he had been in training or actual racing from his puppyhood until about four years old. At four years, he was too old, and put up for adoption.

His first adopter chained him in the sun to a doghouse too small for him. As with most dogs, he turned and turned and turned before settling down to sleep, but the doghouse was so small it rubbed the fur off his hips, shoulders, and forehead. He was left with no companionship, possibly for the first time in his life, in the heat of the desert. The greyhound rescue organization took him back. The rescuer knew us from a prior adoption (his “sister” Blaze), and gave him to us.

Poor George was washed up, unloved, skinny, and beautiful.

All greyhounds have two names: their racing name, which is similar to fancy racehorse names, and a simple kennel name used so the dog knows when s/he is being called or disciplined. In this case, his fancy name was "AY's Carry On." His kennel name was simply "George." There was no doubt when we adopted him that he was a George. Just a George. He looked at us with big soft, happy, pleading brown eyes that said: "Um. Hello. Um. Please love me. My name is George." So George it remained.

The few adoption awareness events we took him to were always fun. George never met a human he couldn't charm. If you didn't acknowledge him, he would just stand in your way until you patted his head, and he anointed you with doggy breath. He was his breed's best ambassador. A common phrase around our family and friends was "Everybody loves George!" It was true. And George loved Everybody back.

He tucked his head under your arm, the greyhound equivalent of a hug, then withdrew with a drippy nose to SSMIIIILE at you, the biggest thank you the world has ever seen. He wolfed down his dinner (because that’s what you do if you don’t want your race mates to steal it), then barf it up and eat it again at his leisure. He tolerated cats walking over him as he dozed. He loved going bye-bye in the car. He loved his vet. He ran like the wind itself, pointed in the direction of his flight, shoulders leaping before his forepaws, haunches gleaming like gold, his long nose an arrow, speed made flesh, the poetry and awe of Celtic Kings, the delight of Pharaohs, the equal of Goddess Diana.

He knew he was the fastest and most beautiful sprinter of all Olympians, legendary, rare, precious. As befitted his stature, he usurped the couch. Or the bed. Or the easy chair. Or the pillows. Or the beach towel. Or the carpet remnant. Or any soft thing he might want to lie on. Because he had worked, dammit. Because he was king among canines. Because his history was the royalty of ancient Egypt. Because he was beautiful and humble. Because he deserved it.

He deserved it because he was Good Ol’ George.

Good Ol’ Sweet Big Hearted George.

George died today.

My wife and I were with him at the end. The last thing he saw. Him, with his deep brown eyes of goodness. Us, eyes blurred with tears before the doctor George loved administered the compassionate dose of calming sleep.

The beginning of his end might have been a stroke, kidney failure, cancer, or any of a number of things. It doesn't matter.

I think Ol’ George’s giant heart just gave out, because it had given so much to so many, and it had nothing left to give.

Run, George.

And thanks for letting us know that the race isn’t how you finish, but the time you spend laughing in it.

* * * Please Help George’s Friends! * * *

Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of greyhounds are abandoned, abused, or killed when their racing days are over. In an infamous case, dozens of greyhound carcasses were found in a shallow pit in the Arizona desert, their ears cut off so the tattoo marks couldn't be traced back to the owner(s).

Greyhounds make wonderful companions. If you want a dog that will do tricks, or guard your house, or make points with snobs, a greyhound is not for you. If you want a dog with an ancient, rich, and diverse history, a quirky personality that makes you scratch your head and chuckle, or a really good bed warmer on cold winter nights, consider a greyhound. They do have some special, but not burdensome, needs. Stairs? Never seen 'em. Glass doors? Never seen 'em. Extreme heat or cold? They have no insulating body fat, so aren't the most durable of animals. A little research and questioning your adoption consultant will make all the difference. What you invest will be repaid a millionfold.

For more information on how you can make a difference, PLEASE visit any of the links below, or simply do a Google search for "greyhound adoption." Your local humane society or animal shelter can also provide information on smaller greyhound adoption agencies specializing in placement in your area.

For a minor fraction of the price of any pure-bred dog, you can have a beautiful sweet-natured companion, complete with pedigree, shots, veterinary check-up, spay/neuter, leash training, house-breaking, and a heart as big as Ol’ George's.

Waiting to be YOUR best friend.

Sunday, April 9

Deep Donkey

You may have read about my mother and her gentle-lady farm. And on this farm she had an ass, E-I-E-I-O. Actually we referred to him as a donkey (sometimes a burro), and his name was Jose.

I loved Jose, and I think he loved me. When I visited the fence, he always trotted up. When I scratched his leathery ears, his lower lip quivered and went limp. When I joined him in his pen, we played the Push Game: shoulder to shoulder, lean in with all your strength, see who moves first. Jose always won. We played the Ignore Game: look away and pretend the other isn't there, see who gives in first and nudges the other. Jose always won that, too. When the day was particularly lovely, he would nose my spine, or I would slap his coarse mane, and we would meander the field that was Jose's domain, me stooping to peek at meadow flowers, Jose bending his head to sniff and/or eat them. I was the only person who could ride Jose. It lasted for twelve seconds before he shrugged his massive shoulders, flicked his Evinrude ears, and half-bucked to get rid of me, but it was enough to acknowledge our respect for each other.

Yes, I truly believe it was a mutual brotherly love. Kindred spirits are not always the same species.

But perhaps the most impressive of Jose’s talents was his prodigious output of crap.

It was a heap, a mound, a great sweetly stinking hill. Sparrows would visit it for the undigested seeds of various plants. Flies vacationed in the resorts of its peaks and valleys. Dogs acres away sniffed and fervently wished for a roll in its fragrant goodness. Oaks bent their branches lovingly, quietly whispering “Yes, my little acorns, soon this will all be yours.” It was the stuff of myth and legend.

Except for my mother and her husband. She didn’t know what to do with the stuff, and he had to shovel it. (We always thought he was good at shoveling it, but that’s a story for another time.) They came up with the only possible solution: fence off a piece of the property, pile Jose’s exhaust in it, and grow a garden.

And what a garden it was.

* * * * *

My daughter was at the age where she could rip off her clothes, run around naked, and all the adults would watch because it was cute. Little butt flashing in the morning sun, brown hair streaming behind her, arms outstretched, a smile as wide as the Milky Way, innocence and wonder bursting forth. With a jealous laugh, we went into the kitchen to refill our coffee mugs. When we went back outside, Daughter was nowhere to be found. But Son I said he had last seen her going into the garden. The family issued a collective gasp.

We mounted the search, supplied with canteens of water and walkie-talkies. I started by the zucchini, walking under the leafy green parasols of the rough plants, avoiding the knee-high ants who were creating apartment houses in the huge vegetables. After a mile or so, the walkie-talkie quiirped.

“Dad,” said Son I, “can we stop now?”

“Where are you?”

“By the sunflowers.” In the background I heard Son II yell “And the monkeys are throwing poo at us from way up there!”

“Any sign of your sister?”

“No. But it’s hard to see behind every sunflower tree.”

“Alright. Find your way back to the gate and check the sweet peas and string beans. Did you use the bread crumbs?

“Yes.” Son I shut off. I continued my hunt. The squash gave way to nasturtiums. Their large platform leaves were the site of numerous eagles’ nests. The pond was near by, so they had a steady supply of fish, the remains of which sustained the flowers in conjunction with Jose’s droppings. I hiked down the throat of each open orange blossom, but Daughter was not to be found. I started at a jog to get away from the nasturtiums, and into the area dominated by great windmills of cosmos.

!quiirp! “Kingfisher, you there?” It was Mom’s Husband. “No sign of Daughter in the corn. Good thing, too, ‘cause it’s crawling with rhinos.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yup. A close call with an anaconda that dropped from the corn silk about forty feet up, but otherwise nothing much. I’m heading over to the poppies now. Should be there in about a half hour.” !unquiirp!

The place where I now walked was brighter, cosmos stems being thinner than the other plants and allowing more sunshine, not much bigger in diameter than a sugar pine. The ground was tinted pink and red by the petals overhead, where great bumblebee blimps droned among the clouds. I hefted the walkie-talkie again.

“Wife, can you hear me? Any sign?”

“Nothing yet, Kingfisher. Took about twenty minutes to walk around the first pumpkin. The rest are smaller. Should be done before sundown.”

“Any problems?”

“Just an earthworm stampede. Climbed up a vine and threw rocks. Oh, that and a couple of grizzly bears. I can see the cosmos over the horizon.”

“I’m there now. I’ll try to hook up with you in about two hours.”

We were interrupted by a loud clanging echo. Gentle-Lady Farmer had rung the old school bell located by the house, a sign we all knew to heed. After some preliminary walkie-talkie conversations, we met at the garden gate. To everyone’s surprise, Son I was holding a large goose.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“You told us to look by the string beans, Dad,” said Son I, “so we climbed up and I found this goose."

"And I found these!” Son II held up two golden eggs.

“FE-FI-FO-FUM!” The heavens ripped apart, and a giant of a man tumbled through the sky, splashed into the pond with a mighty tsunami, and disappeared beneath the frothing waves.

“Cool! We get to keep her!” Sons I and II danced a jig and patted the goose.

“I found Daughter,” said Gentle-Lady Farmer Mother. “She was lying with the dog in a patch of sun on the patio. She’s fine.”

And that ended our family adventure. Mother closed the garden gate, Sons put the goose in with the chickens, Wife put Daughter’s clothes back on, Mother’s Husband put the golden eggs in a basket for sale at the end of the driveway, and I cracked a beer open, ruminating on the day’s events.

* * * * *

Which brings me back to El Rey Jose, who, with his Majestic Manure Mountain of Magic Meadow Manna, reinforced my life philosophy:

When Life Gives You Shit, Live Bigger

Sunday, April 2


I spent part of my weekend in the hospital. No need to elaborate other than that it involved blood, pain, and that demon spawn abomination of human invention, needles.

The universe works in strange and wonderful ways to teach those with eyes to see. My most recent lesson came in two parts.

Part The First
Wating in the doctor's office, a movement caught my eye. Across the waiting room was a little boy of three or four. He had on chaps, cowboy boots, a holster, vest and a kerchief. In the chair next to his mother were the tools of his trade: a six-shooter, a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, and a picture book. He took a long draw of milk from his water bottle (every cowpoke west o' the Pecos knows how dry the desert is) just before the nurse called his mother's name. Like a good cowboy, he holstered his six-gun, pulled his hat rakishly over his eyes, cradled his picture book with two hands, and sauntered after his mother with all the confidence of a well-seasoned ranch hand.

Which, of course, as anyone should plainly see, he was.

Part The Second
"This is worrisome," the doctor said. "I'll call the emergency room. Go now." Within twenty minutes, I was in the gown, lying on a gurney with too few blankets, plugged into an IV drip. Beyond the curtain separating me from the next patient, I heard words like Alzheimers and incontinence and kidney failure. I tried to empty my mind of the sounds and smells of the hospital and concentrate on my book. It didn't work. I asked directions to the bathroom. On the way back I saw that the curtains of my sick neighbor were drawn back. On her gurney lay an elderly woman, thin hair slicked back with sweat. Even under several blankets it was plain how thin and frail she was. What haunted me were her eyes. They were wide and sunken. In them could be seen anger, fatigue, bewilderment.

And fear.

Two ends of the thread of life curved, met, and made the circle while I observed.

One person was at the beginning of his life, looking forward with courage and curiosity.

One person was nearing the end of her life, looking inward with questions and surrender.

And I, reckoning that a few years less than my grandfather's lifespan is a pretty good run, realized that I was exactly in the middle.

Saturday, April 1

Caged Curiosity

"What are they doing, Momma?"

"They're touching faces, son."


"You know how Rosie and Pete touch noses sometimes?"

"Yeah, like Uncle Bruce and Stevie?"

"Um, well sort of. We'll talk about your uncle when you're older. But remember after all the nose touching, Rosie had your cub-cousin Rolly?"


"The dumbthings face-touching is like that."

"Are they going to have a cub-cousin? Can I watch?"

"Yes. No. I mean, you can't watch, and they already have one. See that rolling thing with the screaming pink thing in it?"

"Yes, Momma."

"That's the cub."

"THAT? It looks stupid."

"Yes it does. It wouldn't last a day on the ice."

"Tell me about the ice again, Momma."

"It's cold and it feels good. Not like here. And there are good things to find and eat."

"Things to eat like the pink cub?"

"No, things that are quiet and smell good. That taste like fat and blood."

"I'm hungry, Momma."

"I know. So am I. Let's go leave our markings, and hope they bring a walrus."

"What's a 'walrus'?"

"Never mind, son."