the cartman.

I used to think that dog toys were silly. They were the kind of thing that over-enthusiastic pet owners wasted their money on, because they could not differentiate between animals and people. The pet industry does not help, with their aisles of brightly colored packages featuring pictures of happy and cute dogs. This thing will make your dog happy. Don't you want him to be happy? What are you, some kind of puppy-hater?

While the industry does take advantage of people who love their animals, I very quickly came to the conclusion that dog toys are a requirement, at least if you own a dog. Otherwise, you're probably still wasting your money.

The day before we were going to pick up Remix, I went to a retail store, where I picked up things that I knew to be actual necessities - leash, collar, food. I specifically went to Wal-Mart rather than an actual pet store. I do not trust pet stores. They offer more selection; you can buy a collar for a medium-sized dog in just about any color you like. But the cost for carrying so many colors is built right in to the price of each individual item, and in the end, you will pay more for something that does the same thing. At Wal-Mart, they had three colors: black, red, and blue. I like red.

I also wanted to get a toy. At that point, I did not believe in them, but I had been suffering from a bad case of Puppy Anticipation for a couple of weeks. I was already smitten with my new dog that I did not yet have, and I wanted to buy her something she would like. While Wal-Mart only has three collar choices, the toy selection is much greater. That's where the money is. You'll probably only buy one collar, but you might fill your buggy with toys.

I was quickly overwhelmed by the different varieties of playthings. There are things to throw, things to chew, things to pull on. Many of them had squeakers inside, and I felt conspicuous squeezing toy after toy that made a ridiculous noise. I had no idea whether dogs liked any of this crap, much less what my specific one would want to play with. I was tempted by the one that looked like a rubber chicken, but it did not seem very durable. I was leaning towards a tug-of-war toy, because I personally like to play tug-of-war with dogs. So I found something called a "DogZilla," which was a knotted rope inside a rubber chewy thing. I was pleased with myself for escaping the dog toy aisle with only one item. Take that, pet care industry! You will not take advantage of my love for my dog.

Back at DogZilla Corp., they smile and say, "Just you wait."

Even after dropping $25 at a - gasp! - retail store, I decided that it would be good to check out the thrift stores to see what kind of pet options they had. The answer is none, really. They don't have a pet section, except for the occasional terrarium. I have spent enough time in the used marketplace to know about this limitation, which is why I went to Wal-Mart for the things I definitely would need. Thrift stores do have a lot of stuffed animals. Back in December, I had found a stuffed Mario that we gave to Josh's brother's dog. I felt ridiculous giving a dog a Christmas present, but I have a great fondness for that particular dog, it was only a buck-fifty, and it was a lot of fun to see Mario in the mouth of a Rottweiler. I was willing to buy a couple of cheap toys to give to our new dog for the sole purpose of her destroying them. Here dog, go nuts. I dug around in the bin of stuffed animals and found an Eric Cartman and an inexplicable green lobster that I kindof wanted for myself. They were fifty cents each.

The day after we became dog-owners, Josh sent me a text message with a picture of Remix chewing on Cartman. Fifty cents well spent, in my opinion.

The funny thing is that Remix loved the Cartman. She would happily play tug-of-war with the DogZilla, but it was the Cartman that she carried around the house in her mouth. She was destroying it, sure. By the time I got home that day, there was a hole in his feet and big wads of stuffing on the floor (which is thankfully very easy to clean up). But when she was not ripping it apart, she was very gentle with it. She trotted along behind us from room to room, and then once we settled in a place, she would plop down on the floor and go back to extracting fluff from its innards. "Toy" to a dog means "something to be destroyed," because that's apparently how they have fun. Still, she seemed to be savoring it. She would chew on it as she fell asleep, and so she would end up sleeping with her front legs around it, like they were snuggling. Guys, my dog is freakin' cute.

Even with her careful handling, it was clear that the Cartman's days were limited. She was surely capable of obliterating it within the hour if she wanted, but instead it took about three days. After that, he was still mostly together, but the majority of the fluff had been removed and I guess she lost interest. Let's do the math: three days worth of happily occupied dog was fifty cents, which puts us at five dollars a month. I think I can do even better, given a bag sale at a church yard sale. It's possible that a $5 chew toy would last longer, but I put some value on watching her play with a recognizable character.

While she was ripping apart the Cartman, we noticed that she was not doing that to anything else. We thanked the shelter gods for giving us such a well-behaved dog. She clearly had the power and the inclination to destroy, yet she was thoughtfully limiting it to the one item we allowed. What a good dog, we thought. We planned to just keep buying her cheap used stuffed animals for her to massacre on her own time. We decided that we would always refer to the toy of the moment as the "Cartman." Where's your Cartman, girl? Where is it?

One night, she started chewing on one of the blankets we had folded up to use as a dog bed. In the morning, we found stuffing on the floor, a sight that has become ubiquitous in our house during the past couple of weeks. Our dog is apparently very interested in fluff-extraction. Well, we reasoned, it was old and there was probably already fluff coming out of it. Plus, we did give it to her. If later we had to spend a dollar on a new blanket at a yard sale, that was no big deal. Then another day, the day after she lost interest in the first Cartman, Josh had to retrieve my shoe from her mouth. Then I had to stop her from chewing on the futon cover. One morning, I found her in the library next to a book (from the 1860s) that showed clear gnawing marks. Bad Remix.

I read an article about how to stop your dog from chewing on your stuff. It basically said to keep your stuff away from the dog, and also just go ahead and start making peace with the fact that something will be destroyed, and it will probably be something you really liked. That was not the kind of advice I was looking for. I wanted a clear list of steps that I could complete in like five minutes, and then forever after that, Remix would never be caught with my shoe in her mouth again.

That's when I figured out that dog toys are necessary. They are a bribe, a distraction. Here, you may maim this however you want, just don't bother anything else in the house. It's like the dog comes to you one day and says, "You got a real nice futon mattress right here. This is new, isn't it? My guess is that you bought it within the last year. Bet it was expensive. It would be a shame if something happened to it. A real shame." And so you give her a stuffed green lobster to keep her happy. The pre-Remix me would have said that the dog needs to be properly trained until she doesn't chew on stuff, but I realize now that this is what dogs do. They chew. If you keep them in the house, they chew on things in there. If we can keep her in Cartmans such that she leaves our shoes and mattresses and books and furniture alone, then that is a deal that I am willing to make with her.

And if I can fulfill my part of the deal without having to go to the pet store, then that is just gravy.


finish your thought.

I was there for a poetry reading. That's not strictly true; I was there for a poet. When I was an adolescent, I used to go places to meet boys. Now I was here because a boy that I had met had co-founded a poetry club. Sometimes, when I'm feeling much too old to be out late at a downtown bar or a poetry reading, I think about telling my adolescent self that the boy I had picked out was a rock star and poet. She would have thought that was so thoroughly fantastic that maybe she would lend me some of her energy and lust for life so I could get through the night. Life is happening, pay attention.

"You look tired. Good time last night?"

"What was last night?" I remembered being up late, but couldn't remember what we had done. "Oh. Yeah." We'd had friends over for dinner.

I had no bottled youth, so I settled for a beer. The bar was trying to get rid of all the seasonal beers from the winter, so they were selling them for two bucks a pop. I ordered some calamari, too, because when there is an opportunity to eat fried squid with a zesty dipping sauce, one should take it.

Aside from poetry, there was a guy with a guitar and another fellow doing live painting. That's what Josh called it, "live painting." I told him that all painting was live. I painted my own house live and on location. Maybe I should have sold tickets. Anyway, what with the poems and the guitar and the painting, I guess the point was that there was art happening there for those who wanted to be patrons of it.

I don't get poetry. I've tried, I promise. There are poems that I enjoy, but more often I find my mind wandering away as my reading turns to skimming before I give up altogether. It used to be the way I read recipes before I learned to cook. Poetry seems like unnecessary complication, at least in form if not also in word choice. It's a piece of writing that has been given a structure, and I don't understand why. Why is this written as a poem and not a paragraph?

The calamari was not good. It was well-fried, not too greasy, but the squid itself was rubbery. Very disappointing. I decided to have soup and asked the waiter to tell me which was the best of the three offerings. This is something that my brother does - he asks the wait staff what the best thing on the menu is and then he just orders it on their word. I admire his style, his ability to try something new as recommended by someone who may not care or have terrible taste. I've been trying to do this more, but I am not ready for complete trust, so I narrow the question. Just give me the best soup. And another beer.

I have no idea if the poetry was good. I liked the first reader, who was a professor at NC State. Her poems were like scenes from a sad movie. But they were beautiful, and I could relate to them. I've personally never had an affair with a slow but sweet boy in the California heat, but I've been caught up in a moment, even one that lasts a whole season. At the end of those kinds of moments, you look back and wonder who you had been that something like that would happen to you.

Josh read one that he had written just the night before, the night that was so long and late that I had already forgotten what I'd done. He wrote it after our guests had left, at his writing table in his library, while I drifted off to sleep in the leather chair. I've come to think of it as my chair, even though the library is his room. But that's where I sit, and I think he is so happy that I want to be in his room that he lets me take the more comfortable chair. The dog also thinks its her chair, but we are snugglers, so there is no conflict.

I would like to tell my adolescent self that one of the best things about dating a rock star and poet is that you know where he gets his material. A reference will come up in a poem or a lyric and I can smile to myself, knowing why that thing was on his mind that day. It's like our secret, the thing that redeems having to share him with so many. In the poem that he had written while I was falling asleep in his chair, he used a new word he'd discovered recently: frisson. All the other people who were listening might wonder where a man gets a word like that, while I enjoy my private knowledge that he got it from a Harry Potter book.

The other poems were fine, I guess. The restaurant filled up with people who were not there to listen to their boyfriend's poetry club, and it became harder to hear every word. My soup arrived. It was truly awful. The chicken pieces were dried up and chewy, and the citrus flavor was overwhelming.

As promised, there was live painting. A guy stood to the side of the microphone and painted a picture of a man grasping a pen while words came at him from an indistinct and gritty cityscape. Despite my mockery, I like live painting. It was like watching a Bob Ross show, but modern and edgy. I wondered if the artist was just making it up as he went along, thinking to himself that he would just add a bleak deserted building here, a dreary little tree right over there.

At the end of the readings, they announced that it was time to play a poetry game. This club that Josh is in - they basically get together and come up with a prompt, then everyone writes a poem on the spot. They read them aloud, then critique. I sort of played it once, at a Christmas party where I had consumed an immoderate amount of spiked egg nog. I wrote on the little slips of paper, then hurriedly crammed them in my pocket rather than share them with the group. I'm pretty sure how they were all about how I don't get poetry. I've always had a hard time being open with my writing. I like having enough time to edit and revise, so I don't have to put myself out there until I feel like I'm presenting my best. So this whole write a poem and then read it out load was terrible. I can't even write poetry. I was just trying to impress a boy.

They explained the rules of the poetry game, the most important being "Finish your thought." They handed out little slips of paper for people to write on. The guest readers and a couple of confident friends took them. The prompt was the painting itself, which had been created live before us. They stood around it, looking at this still-wet piece of art that had been created while we were all sitting around, listening to poetry, and not enjoying the calamari.

I ripped a piece of paper out of a notebook in my purse and wrote a haiku.

I just want to thank
y'all for coming out tonight.
Support live painting!

I folded it up and slipped it to Josh, who smiled and offered to read it to the group for me. I shook my head no in alarm, because even a tiny haiku is twelve syllables too much sharing. But I did share. Just not with everybody.

I feel bad for not understanding this thing that he loves. I'm not a musician either, but at least I have the capacity to appreciate music. Whereas Josh can read me a poem and I will have absolutely no reaction to it, other than the sinking feeling that he would be better off with a girl who thought in lines of verse rather than lines of code. He doesn't seem to care, and he can't read code, so I guess we're even. People act like I must be so smart because I write software, and they didn't even know that software was something that was written. I think my brain is just wired the right way for this job. I like it, but it's not for everyone. I guess neither is poetry.


singing and dancing hoodlums.

Summer Stock
This is one of three movies that paired Gene Kelly and Judy Garland (another being For Me and My Gal). In this one, Judy plays a farmer who lets a theatre troupe (led by Director Gene) put on a play in her barn in exchange for chores. Eventually, Farmer Judy is forced to take the leading role, discovering her true calling! People fall in love, there is singing and dancing. We are not told for sure, but presumably Judy does not lose her farm and Gene becomes very successful on Broadway.

I guess this movie fits in the big bucket of musicals which are fine, but not particularly special in any way. There are funny bits and poignant bits and the songs are pretty good, but you get the feeling that the only thing keeping this movie afloat is the cast. If it were starring a lesser pair, it would pretty much suck.

Songs and Dance: well, excellent, of course. If you like singing, there is Judy and if you like dancing, there is Gene. There are a couple of scenes where Farmer Judy is just going about her day - getting dressed, driving a tractor - and she's singing. A lot of people don't like musicals because they find it unrealistic that people just sing all the time, but I think that if I were Judy Garland, I would sing ALL THE TIME. I would sing while getting dressed and driving a tractor, plus while clipping my toenails or waiting in line at the DMV. I don't know if Judy actually did that, but I like to think that she did. The same is a bit true for Gene - even when he's walking, he's dancing just a little bit. Must've driven his downstairs neighbors crazy.

The movies features "Get Happy," which you've probably heard. It was inspired by a movement within African American Gospel Music. Getting happy means to receive the Holy Spirit, which makes you want to sing. I'm not going to post that song, though. I'm going to post Gene Kelly dancing with a newspaper and a creaky floorboard.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope.

Carmen Jones
When I first started watching this movie, having basically no idea what it was about, I was amazed that I had not heard of it before. It takes songs from Bizet's opera Carmen, throws some Oscar Hammerstein II words on it, and sets it in the rural South with an all-black cast. That sounds awesome! Then I watched some more of it, and I realized that for all its grand ambitions, this movie is a swing and a miss.

What bothered me the most about this film was that it was supposedly a black movie, but there was nothing really black about it other than the people. There were occasional half-hearted attempts at dialect in the dialogue and lyrics, but they seemed to come and go. I expected some black culture. It's possible that the point was just to have a popular musical film with all black actors, and maybe for the time that was revolutionary enough. But I was repeatedly disappointed whenever there was a musical number. I wanted rhythm and blues, and what I got was Bizet and Hammerstein.

Maybe that's not fair. I wonder if I would have liked the movie if it had been cast with the standard lily-white actors that are usually in musicals from this era. That way, I would not have been distracted by whether it was a "black" movie or not. This movie seemed little more than just an all-black version of Oklahoma!. Which is fine, I guess, but it could have been so much more. We already have Oklahoma! and fifty thousand-million musicals just like it.

Okay, I probably would not have liked it anyway, since the plot follows the slow decline of a good and honorable man after he falls in love with a loose woman, our titular character. He shoulda stuck with the sweet and stable Cindy Lou, the girl he had in the first place. We're supposed to see Carmen as this beautiful and tragic figure, but I just relate more to nice girls. How can I relate to Carmen when the movie is telling me that nice boys everywhere will drop girls like me for girls like her?

Songs and Dance: You already know the tunes. Bizet's opera has managed to sink into the public consciousness through cartoons and commercials and whatever else sneaks classical music into our lives. And Hammerstein's lyrics were excellent as well. I would like to say nice things about the singing of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge's singing, but they were both dubbed. So I'll just say that he was handsome and she was lovely. Pearl Bailey was not dubbed, and she was wonderful (and lovely).

Here's Pearl Bailey singing "Beat Out That Rhythm on the Drum." It really illustrates perfectly my problem with the whole movie. She's singing about that bump-bump-bumpin' in the music, but this particular song surely doesn't have any bump-bump-bumpin'. And then there is the dancing. Seriously? I saw that same exact dance in the barn-raising scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

To the movie's credit, the drummer is Max Roach, who was a famous jazz percussionist (and was born in North Carolina).

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope. He wandered in with about ten minutes left and called it a blaxploitopera.

West Side Story
Man, Stephen Sondheim sure can write lyrics. I feel so silly saying that this movie is good, because everybody knows this movie is good. But this was the first time I had ever seen it, so I'll just say, this movie is good, y'all.

For the other two people who haven't seen it, this movie is yet another retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but with dancing street gangs. Shakespeare never saw it coming.

One of the best things about this movie is the way it goes back and forth between the two plots. One storyline is the continuing feud and upcoming rumble between the Sharks and the Jets. The other is the budding romance between Tony and Maria. So you have a scene with some hoodlums, the singing and dancing kind. Those scenes are incredibly depressing, because everyone is caught in this inner city quagmire. Even if they did manage to stop killing each other over territory, everyone's lives would pretty much still be rotten by my privileged middle-class standards. The white kids are talking about their terrible home lives, what with their abusive and drug-addicted parents, while the Puerto Ricans are talking about the awful way they are treated, but it's still better than the old country.

And then! You have Tony and Mario, who are in love. Their love creates a little bubble for them and even as everyone around them is caught up in this gang war, they are oblivious. So you've just spent a scene being thoroughly depressed at how much it sucks to be an immigrant, when all of a sudden you are bombarded with sweetness and light. It's a good thing, because this movie is pretty dark.

Songs and Dance: Wonderful, all the way through. There are plenty of songs that you might recognize, including "I Feel Pretty" and "Something's Coming."

I'm going to post two clips, because this movie is just that good. First, the Jets singing about why they're such bad kids. You might recognize Russ Tamblyn as Riff, who is just so cute, especially for a singing and dancing hoodlum.

And since I'm equal opportunity here, a song by the Sharks. The women are singing about how awesome it is in America, while the men counter with the troubles of being immigrants. Everybody dances!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He watched it with me, then looked up the lyrics to "Gee, Officer Krupke" because he thought it would be fun for his band to cover.


with all the frills upon it.

As a child, it was a family tradition to buy a new dress and matching hat every Easter. Looking back, this seems to be very out of place in the general theme of my childhood. We were frugal people and not fashion-forward. This was a girls-only activity, and I don't think the boys got new Easter pants or anything like that. I wonder now where my mother got this idea. I seem to remember her being as excited about buying the new clothes as we were to pick them out and get them. Maybe she liked the fact that there was an excuse to spend a little money on ourselves.

This tradition obviously extends outside our family, as Irving Berlin didn't write songs just for us. New clothes at Easter go along with the whole theme of renewal. Easter was also the first opportunity to be frivolous after Lent. It's like Mardi Gras, except with less drunkenness and more, uh, flowery hats. Okay, it's nothing like Mardi Gras.

We would make a special trip to the big city of Hickory on some Sunday afternoon before Easter to go to all the department stores that we didn't have in my hometown. The racks would be filled with pastels to attract us and other women who were eager to start wearing feminine colors again after a winter of black and brown. I don't remember where we bought the hats, and if I had to go out and buy an Easter hat right now, I'd be pressed to think of a place to go (I guess I'd go to the thrift store, like always). But the stores must have had a few for the holiday, knowing that there were still some mothers and grandmothers out there who wanted bonnets for their little girls. I got new shoes, too, and also those constricting symbols of innocent girlhood - a pair of white tights. We would come home and model our new clothes for Daddy, who endured the fashion show with remarkable patience. Or maybe it was indifference.

The clothes and hats and shoes would be put away until Easter morning. Left to my own devices, I would have put them on every day after school and gone around in the goat pen in them. I'm sure the goats would have appreciated them very much; the hat in particular would have been tasty indeed. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says "Did'st thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?" In my case, it would be more like "Did'st thou not fall out with thy mother for letting a bovidae nibble on thy new hat?"

Come Easter Sunday, I'd get up early just to get dressed, being very careful about not ruining the tights, and revel in the newness of my outfit. At church, I would be sweet and demure, looking like a proper little girl from a picture book one day a year, instead of the kind of little girl who would have to be told not to wear her nice clothes into a goat pen. In an effort to match my pretty and clean clothes, I would try very hard to be still and quiet while the preacher talked about the stuff that Easter is actually about.

At some point, probably somewhere in my adolescence, the tradition faded out. But there was one Easter, probably while I was in college, where my mother and I wore hats again. We had these nice sun hats that we'd bought in Australia for going out on a day trip on a boat. We put on pretty spring dresses that we had lurking in our closets, donned our Australia hats and went to Easter breakfast at church. We were the only people with headwear, and everyone there was sure to comment on it. It was a sweet mother-daughter morning, feeling special and dressed up in our outfits, but a little embarrassed at all the attention.

And that's my bit of holiday reminiscing for the day. Happy Easter.


poor people food.

Lately, I've been trying to make simpler food. I'm doing it for all the usual reasons, to save time, to save money, to build up a repetoire of dishes that save time and money. Luckily for me, Josh really responds to this kind of cuisine. We call it "poor people food." Poor people have never had much time or money, so there is a long and rich history of making really tasty food with neither. Once the rich people allowed them to learn to read and write, the poor people thoughtfully wrote down these recipes and shared them, so now even us middle-class people can benefit from their knowledge.

Last month, I wanted to make a Mardi Gras meal, a simple one. That's another thing that Josh loves - cajun and creole food. It's the seafood and the spice. There were plenty of recipes out there to choose from, many of them complicated. But I found one that seemed easy enough, and I already had all the ingredients waiting for me in my pantry or fridge.

Andouille Sausage Creole
Cheesy Creole Grits

Simple is right. This whole thing took about an hour from start to finish, and that includes chopping time. Oh, and it was really amazingly delicious. This meal instantly became a new favorite in the house.

But, Sandra!, you say. Andouille sausage is not cheap. How can this qualify as poor people food? The thing about making poor people food from other locales is that some of the ingredients which are common and inexpensive to them might be sort of exotic to you. I happened to have some andouille sausage that I had bought (on sale, with double coupon) hanging out in the freezer. Now it's all gone, because I made this dish again last week and used up the last bit of it. While I will still clip coupons and look out for the sale, I don't think this dish requires fancy sausage with a french name.

In fact, I would argue that the dish doesn't require sausage at all. You could substitute any ole meat (or even faux-meat?) in this dish. Brown a little ground beef with some spices, grill some chicken and cut it up, throw in some shrimp. I dare one of you to try it with hot dogs. I think this dish is probably pretty versatile in terms of what you can put in it, which is another hallmark of poor people food. Poor people make do with what they have.

One more thing - do not underestimate the cheesy grits. A lot of the spice and all of the cheese lives in the grits. To not include that would take away a lot of yum. But if you hate good food grits or if you just don't have any around, then you could probably use rice instead. Make do if you have to, but do make this food.



After losing the first puppy, I first sulked and then was motivated. After losing Madison, I became determined. We felt at war with the Universe, which we had previously thought was plopping a puppy in our laps but was now obviously plotting against us. I checked the animal shelter website multiple times a day to pick our potential pets and monitor which ones had been adopted. Meanwhile, Josh started working on a fence. He dug holes nearly three feet deep in the clay soil with those secondhand post-hole diggers. At the end of the day, he would tell me about his progress and also about the biceps he was developing. I was more interested in the latter, but I never cared about the fence.

Again, I made peace with our second lost dog in a week by thinking about the person on the other end of it. Some guy had lost his beautiful and sweet blue pit bull, and no doubt he thought he would never see her again. Isn't that the way it goes? When a pet is gone, you call around and you put up posters to appease your heartbroken kid, but you have to know that your chances aren't good. But this guy called the animal shelter and there she was, his lost dog. Despite what we thought, Madison was never ours. We wanted a dog, but we weren't trying to take anyone else's dog. Trust me, there are plenty to go around. It is all-you-care-to-handle pit bulls out there.

The next weekend, we went back to the shelter, bringing along our receipt from Madison like a gift certificate good for one dog, please. We could have gone to any number of other shelters in the area. I talked to a guy who got his dog at a no-kill shelter. He described it as a dog paradise, a big farm in the country where the puppies may run freely, without fear of the gas chamber. I respect that, but I can't help but think that adopting from a no-kill place is saving a dog that wasn't about to die, though perhaps it opens up space at the no-kill shelter for a dog that is still at risk. Either way, we got one dog saved and fifty bazillion still at risk. The Wake County Animal Shelter is big and nice and well-maintained, but they are facing up to the reality that there are too many dogs and cats. Euthanizing animals is a unpleasant solution to a difficult problem. No-kill shelters, while good in that they are providing space for more animals, aren't dealing with the problem at all. They just act like they're above it.

Heck, I don't know. This is just what I've been thinking about while looking at the profiles of dogs on the animal shelter website. It seemed like there were half a dozen new dogs every single day. Help control the pet population. Spay and neuter your pets.

At the shelter, I was dismayed to find out two things: 1. the dogs that I had picked out on the website were not there at all, and 2. Josh still pretty much only wanted a pit bull. I had come to think that losing our blue pit bull was maybe a blessing, because when we put down the deposit for her, we had not done any research. You all know that people don't like pit bulls. You know from that gut reaction that you got the first time I said we might be getting one. Even if you never ever had any interaction with one, you felt like maybe it wasn't a good choice for a nice family pet. That's how Josh and I felt anyway. But then we did all that reading about them, we met a couple of really sweet ones, and we looked at twenty-five (thirty? forty?) of the big-headed cuties who needed a place to live. Unfortunately, some people have turned that instant distrust of pit bulls into policy. Some insurance companies will not give you a homeowner's policy if you own a dog of certain specific breeds that they deem dangerous. The reason given is increased frequency of bites and increased damage if a bite occurs. They might have a point on that last one, seeing as how pit bulls were bred to combine the strong jaws of a bulldog with the perserverence of a terrier. Good job, selective breeding, you succeeded!

Me, I say let people have whatever dog they want. The insurance company can put a limit on how much damage they'll cover if it bites someone or they can charge more for the policy.

I emailed my insurance company and asked, oh so casually, if they had any restrictions on dog breeds. Why yes, of the following breeds: pit bull (a.k.a staffordshire terrier), akita, chow, presa canario, rottweiler, sharpei and wolf hybrids (wolf hybrids?!). Assuming there would just be a increase in the cost of my policy, I asked how much more I would have to pay for a year's worth of pit bull (completely hypothetically, of course). She replied that the charge would not go up, as long as the insurance company did not find out. That is baffling advice to receive from your insurance agent, but it does explain how there are so many pit bulls when no one is allowed to have them.

So I had to tell Josh that pit bulls were right out. We passed by cage after cage labelled American Staffordshire Terrier, and some of them were so cute. I felt like a rotten hypocrite for contributing to the continued disenfranchisement of the pit bull when I knew it was just not fair.

I pointed out a couple of hounds that I liked, but Josh was just not interested. He said they were too skinny. He wanted a thick and broad-shouldered dog. We made the rounds through the whole shelter, then came back to one cage with a dog that we were both completely unenthusiastic about. We didn't have to get a dog today, I reminded myself. And then the thought of coming back here to look at more sad dogs, of looking at the website every day was just so depressing that I figured we should give this dog, who was named Daisy, a chance. She was mostly black, with some white on the face, chest, and paws. She was labelled as a lab mix, but we had seen a lot of pits in the past couple of weeks and found her wide jaw very familiar. She was what neither one of us wanted - too much pit bull for me and not enough for him.

But you know what? When you get in the dang kennel with them, it's just over. You pet them and they instantly love you so much. They can't believe that you have finally come to see them, they have been waiting so long for only you. You are already in this doggy death camp, surrounded by misery, but here in this one place is a creature that is beaming pure, uncut love right at you. Must. Rescue. Dog.

So we did. We were thrilled to find that she had been surrendered, which meant that the owner had given her up. There was no waiting period where an owner might swoop in out of nowhere to steal reclaim our dog. And yet, we were twice bitten, which I guess made us frice shy. We agreed to not tell anyone about this new dog, afraid we might jinx it. We had enthusiastically told lots of people about the last two dogs, and we were just tired of having to tell them again later that no, we did not have a dog. There were many opportunities to tell people. My sister asked, and I wanted to tell her to ask again Thursday, nudge-nudge wink-wink. But I was strong, though I suspect that she, like my insurance agent, saw right through it.

But! I just told you! And you're so smart, so you know what that means.

Ladies and germs, may I present to you OUR dog, Remix. She is pure, uncut love.


the pits.

The day after Puppy Disappointment, Josh asked how long before I wanted to go pick out a dog at the shelter. I asked if he had any plans for the afternoon. There was more googling, and I discovered that the Wake County Animal Shelter has an online list of pets available for adoption.

In the throes of my renewed Puppy Anticipation, I somehow forgot that the animal shelter is one of the most depressing places you might care to spend a Sunday afternoon. Cage after cage of dogs of all shapes and sizes. Some of them looked up at you hopefully, and if you stood there for just a second, they would hop up and start with the tail-wagging. Others didn't even turn their heads, as if they'd given up hope of ever being loved by a people. We had talked about getting a puppy, but once at the shelter, it seemed like getting an adult dog, who was far less likely to be adopted than a puppy, would be the better plan. We had felt like good samaritans for offering to rescue a puppy, but we soon realized that there had been tremendous need all along.

I was almost too bummed out to even imagine which dog I might want, because I had to look at fifty others that I would not be able to save. Josh, however, was feeling up to it, so he picked out the biggest pit bull in the place, who was named Patrick and had a humongous head. Every dog that he pointed out was a pit bull. I was surprised at this, since we had previously discussed more houndish options. But then I realized that it was the internet's fault.

During our first phase of Puppy Anticipation, we had both done a lot of research about boxers and pit bulls, because when you haven't got the puppy yet, the best you can do is read about other puppies on the internet. We thought we were getting a breed of dog that much of the country considers to be a menace. We are the type of people to embrace our own eccentricities, so we became full-throated Pit Bull Defenders. We told anyone who would listen that they were unfairly maligned, a dog bred to fight, taught to fight, then hated for being exactly what we made it. Did you know that sometimes the media won't even report on a dog bite incident if the dog in question is not a pit bull? Have you heard about Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in WWI, who used to warn his unit of poison gas and incoming artillery and also caught a German spy?

Fully half the dogs in the shelter were some mix of pit, which the shelter euphemistically labelled American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffy, in the hopes that you fell in love with the face before you pictured it mauling you. If no one wants this kind of dog, how come are there so many of them around?

So now that Josh had aligned himself with the cause of the pit bull, that's all he wanted. The man likes his underdogs. We settled on a blue one that the shelter had named Madison. We took comfort in the fact she had her complete tail and ears, which meant that she was probably not raised to fight. The shelter people will let you in the kennel to do a meet-and-greet, but they might as well call that the Sucker's Downfall. You get in there with this dog that is even more desparate than a regular dog for love. She started out aloof and trembling, but inched closer with every scratch of the ear before finally trying to give me doggy kisses. She acted like a dog, you know - man's best friend, not a ferocious baby biter. I was still very hesitant about signing up for pit bull ownership, so the shelter employees offered to do a "cat test." I took the California Achievement Test in the third grade, but this was completely different. They put a cat in a cage and then brought in the dog to see what would happen.

This is what happened: Madison walked by the cat in the cage without noticing it, looking up at the lady in hopes of attention. Oh crap, I thought, she's lost her sense of smell. So they turned her to look right at the cage. She sniffed at it, then looked again at the lady. Finally, they let the cat out. Madison sniffed her up and down before looking once more to the lady. The cat calmly walked out, neither animal the slightest bit concerned about the other. I decided that a pit bull that opted to sit nicely rather than eat a cat was just fine with me.

Madison was a stray who had only arrived at the shelter that very day. They give owners a week to claim lost pets before allowing them to be adopted, so we couldn't take her home just yet. I paid my deposit and arranged to pick up my brand new blue pit bull the next week. I prepared my mind once more for being a person with a pit bull. I was ready to tell anyone about how pit bulls are just like any other dog - if you teach one to be mean, it will be. If you give one a loving home, it will be a steadfast friend (okay, and fierce guardian). I imagined us - me, Josh, and Madison - changing the way that people thought about pit bulls. Everywhere we went, people would pet our sweet and pretty dog and think, Huh. And then all the pit bulls at the shelter would be given loving homes, even Patrick, who is 75 pounds and not house-broken.

The next afternoon, right after Josh posted a picture of our soon-to-be dog, the animal shelter called and said that Madison's owner had come by and claimed her. BAM: Pit Bull Disappointment. I never realized it was so hard to get a dog. I thought building the fence was the hard part, but it turns out that it's darn near impossible to get an animal to put inside the fence that we still don't have.


puppy anticipation.

Josh has been talking about getting a dog for a while, since before we even moved into the new house two years ago. We agreed that a dog small enough to fit in an apartment was not big enough for us. And then once we were in a house with 0.56 acres to call our own, he said we needed a fence. I didn't see why we needed a fence, but all that dog stuff was his idea anyway.

He grew up in a dogs-in-the-house home, while I grew up with parents who were adamantly against any kind of pet in the house, except for special circumstances. An example of a special circumstance is when one of my dad's goats had kids and then refused to nurse them. So Daddy bottle-fed some goats in the kitchen. They might have escaped his grasp a couple of times and taken a nice jog through the house, trip-trap trip-trap. All our various pets were outdoor animals. Based on their behavior, which was that of outdoor animals, I had to conclude that my parents were right about them not belonging in the house. On the rare occasions that I met indoor pets, I was annoyed by them, because they were either in the way, begging for food, or leaving hair all over the place. Why would anyone want that?

Since I've branched out into the world, I've met some indoor pets that make it look like a good idea. For one thing, they weren't goats. Plus, they were housebroken and snuggly, unlike so many of the half-feral cats that I chased all over my parents' land in an attempt to hold them and squeeze them and never let them go. Maybe this pets-in-the-house thing wasn't so crazy after all. I spent some time with very Good Pets. They still were sometimes in the way and there was still a lot of animal hair lying around, but also there was another member of the family, one that licked food off the floor and barked at strangers.

Given my new positive experiences with indoor animals, I became open to the idea of getting a dog that would live in our house. But it was sort of like the way my mother is open to having goats outside - whatever you want, as long as I don't have to do anything about it. Sometimes I would spend some time with a Good Dog, and I became more motivated to get my own canine companion for a few days. But my enthusiasm would be quickly spent by the thought of the fence, which Josh wanted to build himself. We talked about what kind of dog and fence we wanted, but it was all talk. In two years, the closest we got to getting a dog was buying a set of used post-hole diggers. It sounds like we didn't really want a dog all that much. I wanted a dog, but I understood that it would be a new responsibility and expense. I was willing to take on that additional load, but in the meantime I was also enjoying not having to do so.

One time, I got really motivated about the dog, and so we measured the backyard, marking out where the fence would go. Having made some progress, I promptly lost the slip of paper where I wrote down the measurements. Then I got motivated again and told Josh that I was going to hire someone to build the fence while he was out on tour. I was just trying to get closer to our end goal, but he took this as a challenge to his manhood. He told his coworkers that his crazy girlfriend was making him build a fence so we could get a dog. Unsurprisingly, they inferred from his colorful storytelling that I was demanding hours of back-breaking labor so that I could get something dainty and cute that would then supplant his place in the household. This backfired on him when they started giving me tips about how to get him on board with the whole dog idea. While I wondered whether he ever actually wanted a dog at all, I began plotting to just get one anyway. He said he wanted a dog, and I like to take people at their word, especially when I get something that I want and it serves to punish them for being dishonest.

Then one night he came home and asked if I wanted a puppy - an actual, physical pupppy, not some theoretical future puppy that was contingent on a fence. It even came with a good story.

It was a dark and stormy night when his boss was driving home. A black cat skittered across the road in front of him, spooking him. All of a sudden, he saw a tiny dog barrelling down the middle of the street, straight at his headlights. He swerved and stopped in time. When he got out, the dog stood frozen in the road, trembling. He took it home. No tags, no microchip, just a suicidal puppy that was now his responsibility.

See? It's a good story. We told him that we would take the dog, and I set to thinking about names and collars and teaching it to sit. I thought about raising such a very Good Dog that would show my parents that you can live with dogs in the house. We were told it was a little bit boxer, a little bit pit bull. Josh saw a video of it on a cell phone and said it was all cute. He promised to build a fence. I did not care whether we ever built a fence. That was his arbitrary requirement, not mine.

Talk about motivation. A carrot had been dangled in front of me, except it was a furry cute carrot with sweet breath and too big paws. Though we had been dragging our feet for years about getting a dog that we supposedly wanted, now we felt like the Universe was giving us a dog. It needed us, so it was time to step up to dog-ownership. This was bigger than a fence; it was fate.

Puppy Anticipation is an intense and all-encompassing feeling. I coyly asked coworkers about recommendations for local veterinarians, just so I could mention, oh by the way, I'M GETTING A PUPPY. My thoughts were all puppies, all the time; I felt like a ten-year-old. To be more specific, I felt like a ten-year-old in the internet age, as I performed rampant googling to find out everything I could about boxers and pit bulls. Also, I just looked at pictures of puppies and went "Awww, super cute!" Rampant Googling is an effective balm for Puppy Anticipation.

Two days after we agreed to take in stray dog, just as a favor, we found out that Josh's boss had decided to keep the dog instead. Josh wasn't told directly. It was more like he was told several times how attached the little girl in the house had become to the puppy. Apparently, she promised to take real good care of it herself and she was totally also going to keep her room clean from now on, please-oh-please-daddy-can-we-keep-it.

I'll just let you know that Puppy Disappointment is every bit as intense as Puppy Anticipation. We acted like someone had taken away our puppy, which, as far as we were concerned, they had. After hours of sulking, I finally made peace with my lost puppy when I thought about the little girl who probably had every intention of taking very good care of it. As a grown-up, I should be better able to handle Puppy Disappointment.

Plus, as a grown-up, I can just go out and get a puppy whenever I want. I don't have to wait for the Universe to hand me one, and I don't even have to promise to keep my room clean. I am in control of my own puppy destiny.


joshua and the purple crayon.

"There is purple all over my clothes."


"Purple. See?" He held up one of his black work shirts. There was a splash of purple that I didn't recall seeing before. We started rifling through the pile of clean clothes on the kitchen table. Most of them were black shirts and black pants, and all of them had been purpled. I'd never considered using "purple" as a verb before, but it certainly applied in this case.

"Was there a chapstick in one of the pockets?" I've made that mistake before.

"No. Now I have to buy a bunch of new work clothes."

"I'm sorry, baby."

"I'm the one who did the laundry." Well, yes. I wasn't apologizing because I felt like I had done anything wrong. I was communicating that I was sorry he was in the rotten position of owning several sets of unusable waiter outfits.

"We can go around to all the Goodwills tomorrow and get you some new work clothes."

"It must have been something of yours. 'Cause you're a girl." I heard him mumble something else; the only word I caught was "fruity." Okay, that was kind of a stretch. I couldn't think of anything that I owned that would purple a load of laundry. But I let it go, because he was just upset about the prospect of searching every thrift store in town for a new wardrobe.

It was time for me to go to work. He sat at one end of the table, his Cheerios and a pile of ruined laundry before him. I leaned in for my good-bye kiss. He was a little aloof, but kissed me and told me he loved me, too. I could tell that he was absolutely furious with me. But I could also tell that he was suppressing it, and, figuring he would be over it by that evening, I didn't mention it. You may blame me for being a girl if it helps you through this difficult time, but only because I love you.

I recognized that suppressed anger, because I have felt it and I have held it deep down in my tummy. Sometimes we get angry, even when we know it's irrational and unfair. If we can't always help our feelings, we should get credit for having the sense to recognize when not to act on them.

That night, I came home and searched the pile of laundry, the dryer, and the washer for anything that might have made everything so fruity. I found nothing. I shrugged and gave it up as a lost cause.

Later, when he got home, he brought it up again.

"I figured out what made everything purple."


"I had a crayon in my pocket. We have them at the restaurant for kids and I must have kept one in my pocket after bussing a table."

"I bet there's a way to get it out. Someone on the internet has figured this out before."

When he wasn't looking, I took one of his black work shirts and rubbed one of the spots on a piece of paper. It made a purple scribble, like the results of a three-year old let loose on a paper placemat at a restaurant. I giggled.