It’s time to reflect on the year that was and the one to come. We can only hope to be a bit better by the end of next December.

I made a list of things to work on. This one has seven items, because everybody knows that lists with an odd number of items are better than those with an even number.

  • Stop making that noise when you open frustrating emails. Rather than exhaling hard, breath in deeply.
  • Break the talk radio habit. Tuning in to Talk 1300 — even for just a few minutes — just makes you angry. There’s enough stupidity and intolerance out there. No need to seek it out.
  • Leave more blog comments. A brief comment helps the bloggers know that someone cares about their writing.
  • Learn to meditate.
  • Say something positive. And not in a sarcastic way.
  • Be a good neighbor. New house, new start.
  • Consider your first impulse — and then don’t do that.

We’ll reconvene here next year to see how all this went.

The Medium is the Message

While reading the TU’s online obits this morning — at 53, that’s what you do — an interesting advertisement appeared at the top of the screen. It was for a Clifton Park business called Among Angels, and the ad offered to “Help you connect with those who have crossed over.”

Interesting. And nice ad placement, by the way.

One way they offer to connect you is through an Angel Circle, a group activity where participants are guided by a medium. The website says,

While not everyone will necessarily get a message, everyone will experience the wonders of spirit communication, and discover that death is not the end but merely a doorway though which we all must pass!

Again, interesting.

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me wants to believe there is some sort of spirit world — but my rational brain always comes down firmly with the skeptics.

A lot of money has been paid over the years by people who want to get in touch with dead loved ones. Maybe there’s something to it — but do note the disclaimer way at the bottom of their website: FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Straightening Up

A big chunk of Saturday was devoted to cleaning my garage. That may sound boring, but you have no idea how good it made me feel.

The space has been somewhat out of control for a long time — but now that I need a place to park my snow blower, enough was enough. Seven hours and two trips to the dump later, the garage was reclaimed. It’s still not perfect, there are some more things that should go in the trash, but the difference is startling.

Don’t get me wrong, a neat freak, I ain’t — but there’s something very satisfying about a clean and orderly space. My theory is that we may not be able to fix this complicated and cluttered world, so we seek to reduce chaos where we can.

Maybe for you it’s your car or the kitchen or your desk at work — a small corner of the world where you set the rules. Or you could be one of those people comfortable with disorder everywhere. That’s fine, I’m OK with that, but please put that shovel away. I will not have your anarchy in my garage.

Rich Man, Paw Man

At Friendly’s one night, I spied a nearby booth where a couple were engaged in some sort of — meditation?  Their fingertips  were touching and eyes closed and between them on the table was a lottery entry form. Every few moments they’d take up a pencil and select a number. They were praying over their Lotto entry. Praying to win.

I almost shouted out, “HEY… Monkey’s Paw!”

This goes back to reading The Monkey’s Paw in eighth grade. I already sort of knew the story, having seen the 1972 film Tales from the Crypt, and its take on how three wishes can go horribly wrong. The short story, written by W. W. Jacobs in 1902, is terrific; you can hear John Lithgow reading it awesomely on this episode of Selected Shorts.

But because of The Monkey’s Paw, I’ve been convinced it’s very bad luck to wish for money.

DSC_0694Even the most rational people cling to something that is not so rational; on the outside they scoff at luck and fate, but deep inside harbor something beyond reason that guides their actions.

So, it shouldn’t worry me when a fortune cookie promises wealth, I mean really, c’mon. A stupid fortune cookie? I set it aside without another thought… after tossing a pinch of salt over my shoulder. My left shoulder, of course.

The Dogs Know You Better Than You Know You

It’s usually on Saturday when you get the dog guilt.

They come and stare at you with those eyes, giving you that deep, soulful look you’ve seldom seen before, except maybe from that girl you went out with in your freshman year of college. She looked at you that way sometimes, but her gaze was not nearly so intense or unwavering, and unlike the dogs, she was complicated. And the truth is that you can take care of what the dogs want, but with her, who knows? And in that way dogs are much better than college girlfriends.

So you take them out somewhere and play ball or throw the stick or take a long walk in Thacher Park. You get to feel less bad about not spending time with them during the week and they get some unbridled exuberance. An hour later, the dogs may not remember what you did, but you’ll remember, and it’s those moments that help make us feel good.

But it doesn’t stop there.

You get home and instead of just serving up the dry food, you top each bowl with some scrambled eggs. Pure protein.

And then they sleep and you are satisfied that you’re a good person – at least until later in the day when they start staring at you again, and it dawns on you that there’s a word for people like you. And that word is “sucker.”


Yes, some of you are plagued by irrational fears. Heights, confined spaces, flying, dogs, birds, spiders. There are scores of things that terrify people — and you can read about them all on the Internet. The oddest one I found is genuphobia, which is a fear of knees.

My irrational fear is not on the list: I worry about dropping my keys down the sewer.

This may sound a bit wacky, but whenever I’m near a sewer grate, I clutch my keys tightly in my hand or zip them inside my jacket.

It’s not like dropping your keys in the sewer is the end of the world. You’d call the department of public works and feel like an idiot while you watch them fish around in the muck. Most likely you’d want to tip those guys; I’d say twenty bucks would be appropriate.

But the sewer thing? It may have started when I was a kid.

Our poor little poodle, Dondi, was hit by a car an somehow ended up tumbling into the storm drain. As I remember it, my father lifted up the grate and went down to retrieve our lifeless dog. It was tragic — but we eased the pain by joking he’d committed “sewercide.”

Your brain makes crazy conections that nobody can understand. Is this one of them? I don’t know, but hold on to your keys, and keep the dogs away from the sewers.

The Dog Toy

I feed them, take them for rides in the car to do fun things, and show them undivided attention. I cater to their every whim the way one would spoil a child.

And that’s why I don’t think the dogs are trying to kill me.

Late one night they woke me to go outside. Not bothering to turn on any lights, I trudged to the backdoor, and stepping into the family room, my foot landed on something. WHAM! Down I went.

It was a rope pull toy that took me out.

The dogs just stared at me on the floor. I was grateful for escaping serious injury, but not for the reason you’d expect: it was because I was naked from the waist down. The idea of being found splayed out on the family room floor, incapacitated or dead while half nude, was horrifying.

A more suspicious person might find a pattern here. Innocent items left in odd places, a dark figure curled up at the bottom of the stairs. Is it an accident that they linger in the most awkward spots, where you will trip over them while walking through the house?

For answers I turned to Alexandra Horowitz’s “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.” In her book she explores the behavior of dogs, and why they do the things they do. Sure, you know that anthropomorphism plays a big part in our relationship, but this is more interesting: she describes dogs as canine anthropologists who are constantly studying our behavior.

Judging from what the dogs have been up to, I’m not so sure they’ve been paying close attention. Haven’t they noticed the way I scream when stepping on their toys?

But honestly, I don’t really believe they’re trying to kill me. Actually I think they are just careless and sloppy, not unlike teenage boys. And like teenage boys, they can be headstrong and self centered. It’s all about them and they leave their stuff everywhere.

Thank God they can’t drive.

Three Things the Dogs Have Learned

Dogs are not dumb animals. Even when it looks like they’re just lazing around the house they are busy observing you. Watching and learning. Over time they figure out what you’re up to — and how it can benefit them.

In the middle of the night, I’ll get up to go to the bathroom. Invariably, this turns into a trip downstairs so the dogs can go out and relieve themselves as well.

But this isn’t a story about the dogs going out, it’s about the dogs coming in — because when they come in they race upstairs to beat me back to the bed. By the time I drag myself upstairs, the warm spot  in the covers is occupied by 90 pounds of dog.

They look at me. I look at them. It would be hardhearted to kick them out, so I try to squeeze into the remaining foot or so of bed and get comfortable.

So here’s what the dogs know:

  1. I’ll let them out after going to the bathroom, regardless of the hour.
  2. If they hurry, they can beat me back to the bed.
  3. I will tolerate their presence in the bed.

And what I know:

  1. I’m a sucker.