Saturday, July 28, 2007

Off to my other country again

Tomorrow I'm headed for a quick overnight trip to a little town outside Calgary, in search of more family papers. Supposedly the journal kept by the great-great-aunt in the 1890s is there, along with a couple of boxes of other relevant material. My aunt tracked it down, and connected me with this distant cousin who will be meeting me at the airport and putting me up in her home.

It's a little odd, jetting off to stay with a complete stranger, even one who is distantly related. (If I understand correctly, her great-grandparents were my great-great-grandparents, which makes us some kind of cousins but damn if I know what that's called.) She said I will recognize her at the airport because she'll be wearing a funny hat, which seems like a very good sign.

I'm rehearsing what I'm going to say at customs. I'm heading to a foreign country for one night - not even 36 hours - with nothing but a backpack. I'm visiting family - that I've never met before? Who are related to me but I can't explain exactly how? In an obscure cowboy town in Alberta? I guess I'll just say it's a research trip and hope US customs doesn't treat me to a full body search on the way home.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get some last-minute advice from a family friend who is a professional archivist. Can I take this 120-year-old journal to Kinko's? Should I be wearing gloves or something? Should I wait until it's deposited in archives (planned soon) and ask the experts to make any reproductions for me?

Anyway - it should be a bit of an adventure.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Musings on the #7 bus

Riding the #7 bus during the day is a completely different experience than riding it during rush hour. During rush hour the bus is very full with a diverse crowd, but heavily weighted towards downtown commuters. During the day, the #7 bus is like an orchestrated display of the diversity and the challenges of the 98118 zip code.

On a single ride my neighbors include a shy teenage couple from East Africa, the girl sporting colorful, flowing garments of her native country and the boy, jeans and a t-shirt with a silk-and-flannel scarf that looks like something out of old aristocratic England. Latinas with their small children. Older couples - Russian? Ukranian? - with large shopping bags and babushka-wearing women who remind me of my great-aunts. Elderly Asian men, some of them prouding wearing baseball caps identifying them as US military veterans. Two men in front of me, Pacific Islander or Native American, sharing the challenges of getting back on their feet after release from jail. African-Americans of all ages, many of whom know and greet each other warmly. A young white woman next to me looks exhausted, almost sickly, and falls asleep sitting up. And a woman who is hard to peg - tall, black, elegant, with elaborate tattoo patterns on her neck and face, dreadlocks, and a colorful African-style tunic over shorts and a pair of pink Chuck Taylors.

The bus progresses slowly, so slowly. We make three stops to let people in wheelchairs on and off. There's significant turnover at the spot where the food bank is operating that day, and at the service center for the blind. The aisle fills up, the seats designated for the elderly are all taken, and the bus driver starts letting people get off the back without paying just to keep things moving. All in the middle of the afternoon.

There is no sign of other people like me, able-bodied middle-class white people who could just as easily drive. Who don't need the food bank, or the wheelchair lift, or the seats reserved for the elderly, or the service center for the blind. We live in this neighborhood too, but you wouldn't know it to look at the #7 bus.

I always appreciate these occasional mid-day bus rides, because they remind me of so many things. The beautiful, lively diversity of my neighborhood. The countless ways that my life is so much simpler than many of my neighbors. The grace and laughter with which people move through the challenges of life on a daily basis, as they chat and laugh and read on the bus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Son of a....

And sure enough, after I JUST last night blogged about the folly of putting negative stuff out into the universe...last night somebody broke into a friend's car which is in our care in front of our house. Bugger.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Crime wave

In addition to the recent arsons in our neighborhood, there have been a spate of house burglaries, including neighbors two doors down. Even though we live in a very mixed neighborhood, socioeconomically, I have always felt very safe here. We've been known take the dogs on a brief walk without even locking the door. Our shed has a padlock that hangs open for months out of sheer laziness. All summer long we leave windows open - not windows that offer easy admittance to the house, but they could be used for that purpose. We've had little crime waves before but it's always been car vandalism and theft, not house crime.

In large part I've felt safe because I have two 60-pound dogs who put up one hell of a ruckus whenever anyone comes near the house. I don't actually know what they would do in the case of an intruder. Welcome them warmly? Continue to growl and bark protectively? I have no idea, but conventional wisdom says that all other things equal, if a burglar has a choice between a house with a dog and without, s/he will choose the house without a dog.

But the burgling of our neighbors' house calls this assumption into question. Their house was burgled during the day, with their dog at home. Admittedly, their dog is a golden retriever, but the "all other things equal" logic still ought to apply. The burglary entailed the use of a ladder, and the theft of several bicycles, so this was not a quick smash-and-grab job. The perpetrator took his time.

I guess it's a source of some relief that the dog was neither harmed nor let loose. But it spooks me a little. Our house would be laughably easy to break into. I know it's just material possessions which can be replaced, but it's the inconvenience factor - ugh, the computer! With all my work files, and our finances! And what would happen to the dogs if they were here? I guess I'll back up my compute files more often, and keep the key to the fire safe somewhere other than, well, sitting in the lock of the fire safe. If we really wanted to get serious we could call Sears to activate and explain this house alarm that we've never used. I could put a metal grill on the back door window. I could lock the laptop up somewhere when we go out.

It begs that question of how much energy you spend on protecting yourself, versus choosing to live without fear, without worry about things you can't control. Taking some basic precautions versus choosing not to project unwelcome possibilities out into the universe at all.

All is forgiven

Toby had a very hard day yesterday, poor guy. I had to leave him at the vet to be sedated so they could shave and clean out his infected foot, which must have been very painful. Usually our dogs love the vet's office no matter what appalling things happen to them. But today, for the first time, when the vet led Toby towards The Back Room where bad things happen, Toby looked like a cartoon character, putting on the brakes with all four feet and refusing to move.

So I walked back with them as they tried to take care of business without sedation first. It was a new vet at the clinic, and he was so very sweet and gentle with Toby, even as they had him in what I call the Unbreakable Body Lock - a technique where you get the dog on its side, and then reach over its body to raise all four feet and its head slightly off the ground. Lacking any pivot points to on the ground, the dog will immediately stop struggling, it's really quite impressive. But that doesn't mean he's happy about it, and despite the kindness of the vet staff, the look on Toby's face was one of naked fear.

So we agreed it would be kinder and easier to sedate him, and I left him in their care for a few hours. When I picked him up he was so relieved to see me that I just hustled him into the car to get him home, ignoring the other message he was trying to convey: that he really had to go to the bathroom. Which I should have known, that's always the case after sedation or anesthesia. We'd only gone a few blocks when I realized he was relieving himself in the car, our dog with the bladder of steel, and he had a look of such embarrassment and misery as he broke a fundamental rule of both humans and canines, soiling his living space. I told him it was ok, it was my fault, but he huddled in a corner, making himself as small as possible. I'm so sorry, buddy, I said.

It was a hard day for a dog who almost never lets life get him down.

And yet today, miraculously, all is forgiven. This is why we always say Toby is our role model - his unsquashable ability to bounce back from anything with complete love, joy and curiosity.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No, no, not the feet!

It is wound season again for Toby, and he's got a bad one between the pads of his feet. This is the worst, the absolute worst! I have treated literally hundreds of small wounds on this dog, and the trick, the absolute most important thing, is keeping them dry. Trim back the fur, keep him from licking it, and within hours there's noticeable improvement. I have a miracle spray from the vet, too, but I pride myself on rarely needing it. Early detection and fearless trimming are the keys to success.

But not the feet, no! You cannot keep the area between the foot pads dry, you just can't, and he hates to have his feet touched under the best of circumstances. He's pissed at me, and I'm bruised all over from being kicked - it's not intentional, he has this spastic reflexive kicking thing going, even when he just stands on that foot. You wouldn't think that skinny little leg could pack such a wallop, unless you'd seen him running at a full sprint with the powerful, digging hindquarters of a puma. Then imagine all that force aimed directly at your forehead.

After three days we're both feeling battered and frustrated, and his foot is - well, let's just say "oozing" and leave it at that. So I think there's going to have to be another trip to the vet, where they will do really painful things to clean the whole thing out and hopefully give us some other miracle remedy. And again, I wonder - what happened in Olden Days? Surely working dogs cut their feet all the time. Did people have better folk solutions for it? Would the wound just heal on its own, eventually? Did dogs simply die of a cut foot? It couldn't possibly have been this complicated.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Meanwhile, life goes on

Is anybody else really squeeged out at the thought of Dick Cheney officially taking the reins of government while George Bush is sedated for his colonoscopy?

I know, part of me thinks Dick Cheney always holds the reins of government. Bush seems so pathetically beleaguered now. He elicits more pity and embarrassment than outrage from me these days. I picture him wallowing in the drink again, at genuinely confused and hurt as to why his plans haven't gone well, just wishing for it all to be over. We're all with you on that part, Georgie.

But Cheney? He still just seems evil. I wouldn't put it past him to stage a genuine coup. Or give back the reins while George is still all drugged up, and then getting him to approve something even more outrageously illegal than he already has.

I had a colonscopy once. The drugs they give you don't actually knock you out, they just make it so you don't remember anything. So you're awake, and experiencing the whole procedure, but somehow the experience never gets captured by the DVD recorder of your brain. Afterwards, I apparently spent the rest of the day having the same conversation over and over with Enrico. "What did you do while I was having the colonoscopy?" "I went to Starbucks." "What did you have?" "A pumpkin scone." "How was that?" "It was good." Pause, repeat.

Just imagine how this might go at the White House. "Hey, did we ever send those extra troops to Iraq?" "No, you need to sign this executive order to make that happen." "Ok!" Pause, repeat.

On grief, sisterhood, and the limitations of the Internet

I've been at a loss to post lately because my family has had a recent sadness, which isn't really my story to tell. It's primarily my sister's sadness, but she is choosing to write about it, honestly and bravely, as part of her own processing; so in the end I decided to write a little about my own processing too.

We were talking, my sister and I, about grief, and the way it is both maddeningly mundane in its universality, yet also totally unique to every situation. There's that all-too-predictable slog through denial, anger, sadness, etc. etc. The intellectual knowledge that it will get better combined with the definite sensation that time has stopped moving, and that future better state may never arrive. And yet every situation is unique, and doesn't entirely prepare you for the next one. The difference between a long-expected grief, a sudden and unexpected grief, and a looming risk of grief that just went the wrong way for you this time. Grief over something experienced by nearly everyone, versus something that leaves people at a panic-stricken loss as to what to say. Some people are comforted by the idea of a higher power or a "plan," whereas others think that any god who would plan for this sort of thing to happen to people is frankly an asshole, and just not very credible as a deity. (My sister and I both fall into that latter camp.)

My sister and I are very close, and this is one of those times when it's particularly hard to be far away from someone you love. I check in every day, as much for my own peace of mind as anything. I also, weirdly, found myself turning to the Internet, and buying stuff. I thought, I will send her care packages of things that I like. Things that make me feel good. Maybe they will make her feel good too. And so a random assortment of packages are winding their way to Chicago. I found myself fixated on some irrational searches. That little statue on my dresser that I bought in some funky craft store in Victoria ten years ago? That makes me smile. I need to find one of those for my sister. But alas, despite the many things you can find on the Internet, you cannot find a replica of a spontaneous funky treasure from a tiny shop in a foreign city. Nor, it turns out, is it easy to find Bollywood movies. I was sure that the swirling, colorful saris and rhythmic music would be just what the doctor ordered. She's always liked musicals! But it had to be just the right one, the right mix of hardship and happiness, and I came up short.

But time does march on, in a not very linear fashion, and comfort and laughter and grace come from unexpected places. Perhaps that's mundane, but it's true nonetheless.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I need a translator

As I sit here I am listening to a conversation that Toby is having with a dog up the street. The windows of the house are open now what with the warm weather - a stifling, record-setting 98 degrees on Wednesday - so the Canine Communication Network is in full swing.

The conversation goes like this:
Toby: Woof Woof Woof! Woof.
Other Dog: Arf!
Toby: Woof Woof Woof! Woof.
OD: Arf! Arf!
Toby: Woof Woof! arrrRoof!
OD: Arf Arf Arf! Arf!

What does this mean? I am a person who has spent a lot of time learning about canine communication, partly because I am a lifelong student of language and partly due to the responsibility of having two dogs. It pays to know what they're saying to each other. There's lots that I don't understand, but I jolly well know the difference between "Hey, you wanna play with me?" and "If you don't avert your gaze in the next 2.5 seconds, I'm going to have to kick your ass."

But I have never had much success at interpreting these long-distance conversations with neighboring dogs. I know the barking has meaning, because our dogs will sit and listen for a long time, clearly hearing but not responding; and all of a sudden something new gets said and they leap to the window, barking back. Or they run outside, or to the front door. The message has changed.

At a high level I can tell the difference between Sound the Alert! barking, versus "Is there anyone out there?" barking, versus "I'm scared and alone" barking. But that's about it. Sound the Alert barking seems to have many, many variations. Oh how I would love to have one of those sci-fi devices that allow people to visit alien planets and hear everything in English.

Monday, July 02, 2007

There you have it

So, to sum up the upshot of the last week's events....

Conventional wisdom will hold that the immigration reform bill failed because it was too lenient, despite the fact that plenty of people (like me) objected that it was too harsh. So because the immigrant-bashers won the media war, the next effort at immigration reform will start with a default presumption that it has to be more bad-assed, not more humane. Sigh. But there WILL be another effort, so it's still worth writing your elected officials to tell them what you think.

And, apparently racial segregation is just fine so long as it doesn't result from policy with an explicit goal of separate but equal. Racial segregation that is an inadvertent side effect, or that results from an intentional but unstated policy designed to keep races apart - that's just fine. And in one of the most cynical and jaw-dropping distortions of all time, we're going to justify that approach by quoting Brown v. Board! Thurgood Marshall must be absolutely spinning in his grave.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the United States would seem to invoke quantum theory in declaring that he is both a member of the executive branch and the legislative branch. But unlike light, which behaves as both a particle and a wave, the vice president does not have to comply with the expected behavior of either branch of government! What can you expect, really, from an administration that is so scientifically illiterate.

Lastly, the president of the United States will attempt to patch up a shaky diplomatic relationship by inviting a foreign head of state for a play date supervised by Dad.