My Dad’s Hands

I just bought a used gui­tar, so I wan­na talk about hands.

I’ve always had big hands. Today I look like an aver­age-sized guy with big hands, but when I was a kid? Oh boy.

From left to right: First Sis­ter, Thing 1, Thing 2, and holy crap I look creepy!

I have a pic­ture of my sis­ters and me tak­en when I was 4 years old. I didn’t look like a kid with big hands; I looked like a kid wear­ing a pair of those giant foam hands they use to play Slap­jack on The Tonight Show With Jim­my Fal­lon.

The used gui­tar I just bought is a Gib­son Les Paul. I’ve always want­ed one, but they’re hel­la expen­sive. Best Half spot­ted a guy on Craigslist sell­ing a Les Paul, though—he was sell­ing a lot of equip­ment, includ­ing the Les Paul, for which he want­ed only $350.

A Les Paul these days can run $2,500 or more, espe­cial­ly if you get chrome PAF Hum­buck­er cov­ers, moth­er-of-pearl fin­ger­board inlays, the sun­burst fin­ish and some of the oth­er good­ies on the one I just bought.

I drove down to Cordes Junc­tion to take a look at the gui­tar. The sell­er was a groovy old­er guy who looked like a cross between Gan­dalf and Jer­ry Gar­cia: gray and white shoul­der-length hair, ZZ-Top beard, tie-dyed T‑shirt, the works. We could have been long-lost twins.

The Les Paul was in beau­ti­ful shape; almost mint con­di­tion. Gan­dar­cia said he had a bad shoul­der and the Les Paul was just too heavy, and he had arthri­tis so he couldn’t play as much as he used to any­way.

He didn’t care about get­ting his mon­ey back as much as he cared about find­ing a good home for the gui­tar. I liked him and I liked the Les Paul, so I bought it.

(He also had a 100-watt Mar­shall amp he want­ed to place in a good home, but I like being mar­ried so I regret­ful­ly declined.)

Click to embiggenate!

Back in 1982, when I was 20, I saved up and bought a Gib­son Invad­er, which was a bud­get Les Paul: It didn’t have the sculpt­ed maple top, the moth­er-of-pearl fin­ger­board inlays, and oth­er pricey options.

But it was still a damn fine gui­tar, and since it was less expen­sive it was like hav­ing a project car: I didn’t mind hot-rod­ding it up. I replaced the bridge pick­up with a Sey­mour Dun­can mod­el I found at a pawn shop; drilled a hole between the knobs and added a phase switch­er; yanked out the stock pots and installed but­ter-smooth CDS (or was it Alpha-Con­trol? Don’t remem­ber) pots with hand­made caps so crys­talline they could make a brave man weep, lock­ing strap buttons—Eddie Van Halen may have coined the term Franken­Strat, but I think I could legit­i­mate­ly claim the name Mutant Invad­er.

My friend Rob, who has a habit of nam­ing things I own, named the gui­tar Sledge. And I played Sledge, to use a tired old cliché, until my fin­gers bled.

Not long after I adopt­ed Sledge, I moved in with my friend George. George is an amaz­ing drum­mer, and our liv­ing room was jammed with both our stere­os, my gui­tar and amp and oth­er accou­trements, and George’s drum kit, which looked like the moth­er ship from Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind, except it was big­ger and more expen­sive.


And we had a lot of friends who would come hang out: the afore­men­tioned Rob, Tori, Dave, Daniel—who gave me an Elec­tro-Har­monix Gold­en Throat talk box: DAMN Daniel!—Kim, John, and I’m sure there were oth­ers.

And they were all excel­lent musi­cians, and we would jam, which means they would jam, because I was still learn­ing to play, so I stum­bled around in the back­ground on gui­tar, sound­ing like Lin­da McCart­ney sort of play­ing key­boards and kind of singing along with Paul, who was too kind to tell her the sound guy had her micro­phone turned off.

Harsh truth: I loved play­ing gui­tar, but I was caught in that frus­trat­ing trap of hav­ing juu­u­ust enough tal­ent to under­stand what real­ly good gui­tarists were doing, but know­ing I’d nev­er ever be that good.

That was okay. I didn’t need to make a liv­ing play­ing gui­tar, and I was lucky enough to spend time with some real­ly good musi­cians and enjoy both­er­ing the neigh­bors with them.

Like most gui­tar guys I accu­mu­lat­ed a lot of gear: stomp box­es, a real live tube amp from Fend­er that tried very sin­cere­ly to kill me, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry, and a pink pais­ley Tele­cast­er that yes, looked just like the one Prince played, although I hadn’t heard of him yet.

I mutat­ed the Tele­cast­er even more; pri­mar­i­ly with EMG active pick­ups that were encased in black ceram­ic blocks and looked unbear­ably cool, plus oth­er stuff I won’t bore you with, before I final­ly admit­ted I just didn’t like the Tele­cast­er.

Oh, it looked cool and it sound­ed good when I played it, but it sound­ed GREAT when any of my real musi­cian friends played it. Also, Rob nev­er named it any­thing, even though it looked like it was paint­ed with Pep­to Bis­mol. What was he sup­posed to name it–Dr. Pep and the Toe Biz Maulers? I’m sor­ry, but–wait; that’s actu­al­ly an awe­some name for a band, much less a gui­tar. But I think he knew it wasn’t going to work out for us and he didn’t want to make the breakup any more painful.

It was the neck. A lot of Fend­er gui­tars have one-piece rock maple necks, and the Tele­cast­er was one of them. But it was too skin­ny, and with my freaky huge hands I felt like I was play­ing a pen­cil.

Our pastor’s son was 12 at the time. He’d saved up lawn-mow­ing mon­ey and bought a real­ly beat-up, life­less acoustic gui­tar. He was sav­ing up to buy an elec­tric gui­tar, and then he planned to save up even more and buy an ampli­fi­er.

So I gave him the Tele­cast­er and said he could just wor­ry about sav­ing up for a new amp. I didn’t see any point in try­ing to recoup the mon­ey I’d spent fix­ing it up when I could give it a good home with some­one who need­ed it and was already a far bet­ter gui­tarist than me.

And 30 years lat­er, I found a beau­ti­ful Les Paul that need­ed a good home. Kar­ma, baby.

Not acid-washed jeans. I wore bell-bot­tom jeans because my feet are so big, but no one sold acid-washed bell-bot­toms, so Rob and I would put our jeans in the sink, splash bleach on them, then throw them in the wash­er. Rob called ’em “Cloud Pants.”

I have exact­ly one pho­to of myself from the years I spent liv­ing with George and the musi­cians’ com­mune we oper­at­ed: I think I was 22, and I’m play­ing Sledge. I was about as tall as I am now, but pipeclean­er skin­ny, and my hands are still ridicu­lous­ly big, if not as X‑Man mutant big as they were when I was a kid.

When 1995 rolled around, I’d been mar­ried for a while and No. 1 Son was on the way, so I did what any red-blood­ed Amer­i­can man would do: I quit my job, sold our house and moved us all to Ore­gon so I could go to col­lege.

And while we were pack­ing up to move, I made two bad deci­sions that still haunt me: I looked at the big pile of gui­tars and amps and stomp box­es and oth­er gear I’d accu­mu­lat­ed, and I decid­ed it took up way too much room.

I also got rid of an antique bar­ber chair for the same rea­son. That chair was ridicu­lous­ly cool.

Some­times you see these memes ask­ing what you would say to your­self when you were a teenag­er; I would tell myself not to get rid of my gui­tar stuff and not to give away the bar­ber chair. But I prob­a­bly wouldn’t lis­ten. I’m stu­pid that way.

So I loaded up the car with all my gear, except for a grungy old JDS acoustic I want­ed to keep because I liked drag­ging it to con­certs to see if I could get sig­na­tures on it, so Randy Stone­hill, Phil Keag­gy, Ter­ry Tal­bot and Bar­ry McGuire had all signed it.

(I also have a Vil­lage Inn kids’ col­or­ing book/placemat that No. 1 Son and Bar­ry McGuire col­ored togeth­er when No. 1 Son was 3, but that’s yet anoth­er sto­ry).

I drove to a music store in Tope­ka, the name of which I for­get, but it was on 17th Street behind a no-kill cat shel­ter that used to be a Hardee’s, and I trad­ed it all in on a real­ly nice 12-string Wash­burn acoustic, which I still have but play only on the rare occa­sion when I want to play Supertramp’s “Give a Lit­tle Bit,” because the stu­pid-big fin­gers on my stu­pid-big hands make the gui­tar sound like a cou­ple of cats run­ning around fight­ing on top of it.

It didn’t take long to regret my deci­sion. Three days lat­er, as we hit Inter­state 70 west on our way to Ore­gon, I exclaimed “Why the HELL did I get rid of 12 years’ worth of stuff I loved? Why didn’t I just get rid of the sofa or the TV or Best Half?”

Best Half, who was in the car with me, expressed her dis­plea­sure at this remark by giv­ing me a pinch that still hurts today.

And so I went to col­lege and met many oth­er musi­cians who were bet­ter than I’ll ever be, includ­ing Andy Gure­vich (the tit­u­lar guru of the Gure­vichi­an cult, which is also anoth­er sto­ry), Matt, John, and some more folks I hope I don’t offend by not remem­ber­ing them.

And I watched them play and I enjoyed it, but I missed being able to stum­ble around use­less­ly behind them.

And I vowed that even though my play­ing sucked, some­day I would buy anoth­er elec­tric gui­tar, just as soon as I could afford to feed my fam­i­ly with some­thing more than Top Ramen.

But that nev­er hap­pened, because I was too busy ruin­ing my hands. Which reminds me of my dad’s funer­al, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I had a series of stu­pid­ly dan­ger­ous jobs in my 20s and ear­ly 30s: I worked night shift in a con­ve­nience store, in a state hos­pi­tal with the men­tal­ly ill, and as a res­cue mis­sion chap­lain before col­lege. No, not as dan­ger­ous as being a cop or a fire­fight­er, but then again cops and fire­fight­ers have train­ing and equip­ment and insur­ance and stuff.

Dur­ing and after col­lege I also worked as a con­crete mason and on secu­ri­ty teams in col­lege and in church and else­where.

After that I got a job doing web devel­op­ment, which I loved, but which also helped me build up a love­ly nascent case of carpal tun­nel syn­drome.

But after all the stu­pid dan­ger­ous jobs I’d had, I got bored with hav­ing a safe office job, so I joined a Kem­po karate school to spend more time with my kids, and wound up lik­ing it and help­ing teach (even though I was about as good at mar­tial arts as I was at gui­tar). Which also did not do my hands any favors.

Com­e­dy is not pret­ty.

I have some real­ly cool scars and sto­ries about griev­ous injuries to my hands and fore­arms: A spec­tac­u­lar (human!) bite scar on the back of my right hand; a scar and nerve dam­age on my right wrist from being hit with a bro­ken bot­tle; a frac­tured ring fin­ger that healed crooked; a burn scar at the base of my thumb from being splashed with sul­fu­ric acid (yet anoth­er sto­ry), sev­er­al bro­ken knuck­les, assort­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue injuries from break­ing bricks at Kem­po demos, and oth­er stuff I for­get.

That was just my right hand. I abused my left hand even worse:

Dur­ing a Kem­po spar­ring match I blocked a punch with my left pinky fin­ger, which emit­ted a glo­ri­ous­ly hor­ri­ble snap that made every­one in the room wince; I caught my hand between an engine block and a garage floor; I got hit on the back of my fore­arm so hard a bunch of gan­glion cysts showed up lat­er; and I got mauled by dog who took a cou­ple of good chomps out of my fore­arm and hand and left behind a big numb area.

Oh, and I also got diag­nosed with MS, which caus­es some stiff­ness and numb­ness in my left arm and hand, and to top it all off I’ve got a bit of arthri­tis here and there in both hands that I’m sure will be loads more fun in the future.

(A cou­ple months ago I saw an ortho­pe­dist to look at some arthri­tis in my left hand. They sent me an intake pack­et and want­ed exten­sive, detailed info on any injuries I’d had to my hands. So I wrote down all that stuff you just read. The doc­tor came in, skimmed my stuff on the clip­board, and said, “What’s all this? Are you Jack­ie Chan’s body­guard or what?” I told him I’m just clum­sy.)

Just before Dad’s funer­al two years ago, I… what? No, that’s not a non sequitur; I said I was going to talk about my dad’s funer­al right up there. Pay atten­tion!

Just before Dad’s funer­al start­ed, Mom and my sis­ters and my kids and Best Half and I all went up to view him in his cas­ket, and to give him some gifts: I gave him a John­ny Cash CD; The Chow­der gave him a lit­tle apple pie (anoth­er sto­ry), and oth­ers I can’t remem­ber.

The funer­al direc­tor was there, dis­cussing Dad’s appear­ance with Mom, and he looked at Dad’s hands and remarked, “These are the hands of a man who worked hard.”

True. Dad was a glazier for more than 40 years; he also did handy­man work on the side for those 40 years and also rebuilt or remod­eled just about every­thing in our house to boot.

After he retired he did handy­man stuff almost full-time (I remem­ber him jok­ing that retire­ment was bor­ing, what with only 40–50 hours of work a week). He was in demand as the main­te­nance guy for a num­ber of rental hous­es and small apart­ment build­ings.

Today I was look­ing at a pic­ture of Dad tak­en in April, 2002: He’s sit­ting on a hotel room bed next to No. 1 Son, who was 6 years old, and he’s hold­ing The Chow­der, who was 7 months old.

Right to left: No. 1 Son, The Chow­der, a bag of wal­nuts, and Dad

The hotel room bed was in Chang­sha, Hunan Province, in Chi­na. And the rea­son we were there was to adopt The Chow­der.

Dad’s hands were small­er than mine (hell, Bigfoot’s hands are small­er than mine). But they were thick and cal­lused and cord­ed with mus­cle and scars, and they looked like two bags of wal­nuts.

Right now I’m 5 years younger than Dad was in that pho­to. And while I’ve nev­er made a liv­ing work­ing with my hands, oth­er than the afore­men­tioned stint as a con­crete mason in col­lege, I like to think I’ve inher­it­ed some of his bet­ter traits:

He had a bea­t­up old poster in the glass shop he worked in; it said “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

He wasn’t preachy or pushy; all he did was set a stan­dard and then demon­strate it.

I deliv­ered the eulo­gy at his funer­al; lat­er some guys he’d worked with, plus his for­mer boss, told me his co-work­ers would gripe at times that Dad was kind of slow and didn’t turn things around as fast as every­one else.

His for­mer boss told me how they answered that gripe: “Yeah; he’s a bit slow­er. But he nev­er, ever has to go back and redo any­thing.”

It’s only been for about the last 10 years of my life that I’ve real­ized just how much that influ­enced me, with­out him lec­tur­ing or preach­ing at me once.

I’ve owned a cou­ple of hous­es; I’ve worked as a writer, a graph­ic design­er, an edi­tor, a web design­er and a web devel­op­er. When I do stuff I try to find a way to do it ele­gant­ly and sim­ply, to avoid quick-and-dirty solu­tions in favor of doing it right the first time.

Draw me. Draw me like one of your French Bull­dogs!

The oth­er day I was sit­ting on the floor in our liv­ing room and tun­ing the Les Paul. Pep­per was lying in front of me with her head on my knee, gaz­ing ador­ing­ly up at me like she was Rose DeWitt and I was Jack Daw­son.

Best Half thought that was cute and took a pic­ture with her phone.

When I saw the pho­to I chuck­led at the way Pep­per was mak­ing eyes at me, but then I noticed that my hands looked like sacks of wal­nuts, just like my dad’s hands.

Most of the jobs I’ve had in my life don’t cre­ate a tan­gi­ble lega­cy; I can’t point at things I’ve made or fixed, or art­work or books I’ve writ­ten or things I’ve built.

But my hands look a lot like my dad’s hands; a coin­ci­dence of genet­ics and life expe­ri­ences for sure, but I can live with hav­ing huge, half-ruined hands if it means I can hon­or my dad’s lega­cy a lit­tle bit.

Oh, my friend Rob named the Les Paul for me: Its name is now More Paul.

Touched by an Angel

Angel could­n’t do any tricks. Oh, she’d mas­tered the basics: She was house­bro­ken; she’d come when we called her; some­times she would sit if she was being offered a treat. That’s about it.

There was one oth­er thing, though:

Angel could talk.

In 1999, when No. 1 Son was 4, we decid­ed it was time for him to raise his own dog. After inter­view­ing a num­ber of avail­able can­di­dates at the Humane Soci­ety, we round­ed a cor­ner and came face-to-face with an incan­des­cent white mon­ster. “Chew­bac­ca: 1 Year Old,” said the plac­ard on her cage.

Chew­bac­ca most close­ly resem­bled an albi­no Ger­man Shep­herd but was much larg­er, weigh­ing in at a good hun­dred pounds. Our vet thought maybe she was a Shepherd/Russian Wolfhound mix, but we nev­er knew for sure.

She sat on her haunch­es, one ear cocked straight up and the oth­er flopped for­ward endear­ing­ly, and regard­ed us calm­ly, head tilt­ed. No. 1 Son was instant­ly entranced. “I wan­na take her!” he said. “Can I pet her?”

“I’m sor­ry,” the vol­un­teer escort­ing us said, “but only adults can go in the cage.”

“Don’t wor­ry,” I told No. 1 Son. “I’ll check her out.”

I entered the cage and squat­ted down in front of Chew­bac­ca. Hold­ing my hand out cau­tious­ly, I start­ed to intro­duce myself with non­sense dog­gy talk: “Well, look at you. You’re a sweet­heart! Who’s a good girl? Are you a good girl?”

Instead, I found myself say­ing, “Hey, Chewie. Think you might want to come hang at my house?”

Chew­bac­ca sniffed my hand, then licked it with the far­away, apprais­ing look of a wine taster.

“Hmm,” she mused. “Might be doable.” She glanced at Best Half and No. 1 Son. “They part of the deal?”


She licked my hand again. “You know,” she said, “I’m not usu­al­ly this impul­sive, but you got a deal, Mis­ter.”

In the van on the way home, Chew­bac­ca sat eager­ly next to No. 1 Son, look­ing at the traf­fic stream­ing by.

“What are we going to call you?” I said to Chew­bac­ca. “I don’t think Chew­bac­ca is real­ly your name, do you?”

“You got that right,” she mut­tered.

“Snow­bear!” my Best Half sug­gest­ed. “How about Snow­bear?”

“Hey, let’s call her Queen Fros­tine, like in Can­dy­land,” I said.

I glanced back. Chew­bac­ca was whis­per­ing in No. 1 Son’s ear; he frowned and whis­pered back. She shook her head and whis­pered in his ear again, he nod­ded.

“Angel,” No. 1 Son said.


“Her name is Angel,” he repeat­ed firm­ly.

I glanced back at Chew­bac­ca — I mean, Angel. She looked smug.

She nev­er admit­ted it to me, but I’m con­vinced Angel want­ed to grow up to be a Bud­weis­er Clydes­dale. Even giv­en her size, her strength was almost unbe­liev­able. You did­n’t take Angel for a walk, she took you for a pull.

No. 1 Son’s favorite game with Angel for sev­er­al years was to pick up a toy, then grab her col­lar. Angel would imme­di­ate­ly spring to her feet and shout, “Pull!” No. 1 Son would throw the toy across the yard and Angel would pur­sue it, hoick­ing No. 1 Son vio­lent­ly off the ground and tow­ing him along effort­less­ly like a ban­ner behind an air­plane.

Angel’s abil­i­ty to talk nev­er seemed unusu­al to us: We thought No. 1 Son was going to raise Angel, but she did­n’t get that memo and decid­ed she would raise him, so I sup­pose it made sense to com­mu­ni­cate on a high­er lev­el. Most peo­ple could­n’t hear her talk, but among Angel’s fam­i­ly and clos­est friends there was nev­er any non­sense dog­gy bab­bling: We com­mu­ni­cat­ed like peers.

Like many kids, No. 1 Son was a lit­tle bit fear­ful of being alone in his room at night. Angel quick­ly assumed own­er­ship of that issue. At bed­time we would often be loung­ing in the liv­ing room while Angel snoozed in the cor­ner.

“Angel!” my Best Half or I would say.

Angel would crank open an eye. “Bed­time?”


“Okay.” She would stretch, trot upstairs with No. 1 Son and climb into bed with him, keep­ing watch and return­ing to her liv­ing room nap only when he was asleep.

Occa­sion­al­ly her flop­py ear would flick upright while we watched TV. “No. 1 Son’s awake,” she’d say, trot­ting back upstairs. Twen­ty min­utes lat­er or so she’d be back. “He’s asleep again,” she’d say. “Is Let­ter­man on yet?”

In 2002, my Best Half, No. 1 Son and I took a trip to Chi­na, return­ing two weeks lat­er with The Chow­der: Our 7‑month-old adopt­ed daugh­ter.

I went in the house first and asked Angel to go out back for a lit­tle while. “We have a sur­prise for you,” I said.

“Oh, c’mon! You guys were gone for­ev­er! I hard­ly remem­ber what you look like!” she com­plained.

We brought The Chow­der in, ignor­ing the occa­sion­al yell from Angel out back: “Hey! What are you guys doing? Hey! I smell some­thing fun­ny! Hey!”

After every­one was set­tled I let Angel back in. She charged across the kitchen and skid­ded to a halt at the liv­ing room door.

“Okay, I’m sur­prised,” she whis­pered to Best Half out of the cor­ner of her mouth. She sat down and stared at The Chow­der.

The Chow­der, who had nev­er seen a dog before, stared back up at the white, pant­i­ng mon­ster tow­er­ing over her, its gleam­ing teeth fram­ing a pink, lolling tongue and its intense black eyes fixed on her.

After about 10 sec­onds of unbear­able ten­sion, I decid­ed if The Chow­der did­n’t start scream­ing soon, I would.

Then Angel did the most amaz­ing thing I’ve ever seen:

“All right, then,” she said firm­ly, and crouched down, putting her head on the floor. She stretched out and crept slow­ly across the floor toward The Chow­der, stop­ping when her nose was almost touch­ing The Chow­der’s foot.

“Now lis­ten,” Angel said gen­tly, look­ing up at The Chow­der. “I can’t take care of you if you’re afraid of me. That’s no basis for a good rela­tion­ship. So here’s the deal: I’ll lay right here and hold still until you aren’t scared any­more, okay? Go ahead — pull my ears, poke my eyes. I won’t hurt you. You’ll see!”

The Chow­der ten­ta­tive­ly reached for­ward, grabbed Angel’s flop­py ear and came away with a dou­ble hand­ful of fur. Angel smiled and closed her eyes. “See?” she said. “Noth­ing to be afraid of.”

The Chow­der stared at the fur waft­ing away from her chub­by fin­gers, then squealed with delight and dove face-first into Angel’s ruff.

As the years passed, Angel was pro­mot­ed from Chief Exec­u­tive Dog to Chair­dog and final­ly to Dog Emer­i­tus as oth­er cats and dogs came and went. She’d chuck­le tol­er­ant­ly at their exu­ber­ance and arro­gance, but made sure they knew the score, espe­cial­ly when it came to The Chow­der and No. 1 Son.

An avid movie fan, Angel would do her best R. Lee Ermey imi­ta­tion with the new recruits, then tran­si­tion to a father­ly Gre­go­ry Peck (as Atti­cus Finch) as she impart­ed her wis­dom to them. Occa­sion­al­ly they’d get too big for their britch­es and we’d get to see a home re-enact­ment of the Veloci­rap­tors try­ing to take on the T. Rex in Juras­sic Park. “AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” she’d roar as she hurled her oppo­nents around like rag dolls.

But Angel nev­er appoint­ed a pro­tegé until last year, when Bosco, a minia­ture Black Schnau­zer, joined the fam­i­ly. Bosco massed about 10 pounds to Angel’s 100, but he had the rare com­bi­na­tion of guts, intel­li­gence and will­ing­ness to learn she was look­ing for. She tol­er­at­ed far more guff from Bosco than any­one else, although she so rad­i­cal­ly out­sized Bosco she would often sleep through his most fero­cious attacks, snor­ing away as he chewed her ears and pounced on her.

But most of all she spent every wak­ing moment teach­ing him every­thing she knew: “No, no, no, NO! The food stays here in the bowl! Now look — don’t both­er them when they’re at the table. See, you just sit here in the cor­ner and look hope­ful. Some­one’s at the door — Bosco, that’s your cue! Get over there and bark! Hus­tle!”

Bosco, although he did­n’t share Angel’s gift of speech, was an apt pupil and learned very quick­ly. R. Lee Ermey retired and was replaced by kind­ly old Mas­ter Po, who gen­tly but firm­ly led her young, impetu­ous Grasshop­per down the path of enlight­en­ment.

Sev­er­al weeks ago, we noticed Angel was­n’t eat­ing much and was los­ing weight. She’d always been lean and mus­cu­lar, but we could sud­den­ly see her ribs and hips. Our vet not­ed a fever and pre­scribed antibi­otics and an appetite stim­u­lant. We bought pre­mi­um canned food for her and she start­ed eat­ing again, but after a few more weeks we real­ized she not only was­n’t putting any weight back on, she was still los­ing it. Bosco some­how under­stood the time to attack Angel was past and instead cud­dled her pro­tec­tive­ly every spare moment.

In anoth­er week or so, Angel’s weight had dropped alarm­ing­ly; she looked gaunt and bony, but still as gen­tle and bright-eyed as ever.

“Bosco’s got this,” she’d say apolo­get­i­cal­ly as Bosco would leap over her to bark at the door. “I’m just kind of tired — gimme a minute.”

In her last week with us, Angel began to have dif­fi­cul­ty walk­ing. We fed her her pre­mi­um canned food with a fork as she lay on the liv­ing room car­pet, gen­tly thump­ing her tail. “I know I’m break­ing the rules,” she said to me sheep­ish­ly one after­noon. “Sor­ry to be a has­sle.”

“Now don’t you wor­ry about that,” I said. “You’ve got a lit­tle pam­per­ing com­ing.”

“Thanks,” she said, fin­ish­ing the last bite. “I’m not wor­ried.”

“Good,” I said.

“As soon as you have a minute,” she con­tin­ued, “I know you’re going to fix every­thing. No rush — soon as you have a minute.”

I did­n’t reply. She looked at me steadi­ly, con­fi­dent­ly, for a moment before sigh­ing con­tent­ed­ly and tak­ing a nap.

The morn­ing of August 9, Angel could­n’t get up. “I’m sor­ry,” she mum­bled. “I’ll feel bet­ter after a nap. Don’t wor­ry about me.”

She slept in the liv­ing room all day, occa­sion­al­ly wak­ing up to check in with Bosco, who by now had ful­ly assumed the role of Chair­dog pro tem.

Around 9 p.m. she woke up, looked at me and said, “Hey, I don’t want to be a pest, but I’m ready for you to fix every­thing. When­ev­er you have a minute. I just can’t get much done like this, you know?”

Best Half and I sat down with her. “Angel,” I said, “I wish I could make every­thing okay. I real­ly do. But I can’t. I’m sor­ry, hon, but I can’t.”

She looked sur­prised. “Real­ly?”

“Real­ly. I would if I could; you know that.”

Angel looked at Best Half. “Is he mess­ing with me?” Her eyes shin­ing, Best Half gen­tly shook her head.

Angel thought a moment, then sighed and smiled. “Okay. Um, can you do me a favor?” She looked embar­rassed. “I real­ly need to go out­side. I was­n’t going to say any­thing, but….”

“Sweet­heart, don’t be embar­rassed!” Best Half said. We helped Angel to her feet and half-car­ried her to the back door, across the patio and onto the grass, where she did her busi­ness, then col­lapsed.

“Whew!” Angel pant­ed. “Thanks!”

I got a beach tow­el and Best Half and I gen­tly cra­dled Angel in it, lift­ing her so she could pre­tend to walk back inside. I was sur­prised — Angel looked like a bag of bones, but she still weighed a ton.

About 11 p.m., we set­tled back down in the liv­ing room with Angel — Best Half, No. 1 Son, The Chow­der, Bosco and I — cov­ered her with a blan­ket, and told her it was our turn to put her to bed for once. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” she said skep­ti­cal­ly. We were sure. She’d earned it.

Angel pant­ed heav­i­ly, clos­ing her eyes but refus­ing to lay her head down. “Wait — I’m not sleepy yet,” she kept say­ing. Occa­sion­al­ly she’d open her eyes and look at one of us in sur­prise. “Oh, you’re still here?” she said.

“You bet. We’re right here with you,” Best Half said. She’d brought blan­kets and a pil­low down and was lying next to Angel, ready to spend the night.

Angel closed her eyes and her head sank slow­ly, then sud­den­ly jerked upright again. “I’m okay!” she protest­ed. “I’m not sleepy yet!”

Some­how we all real­ized simul­ta­ne­ous­ly what she need­ed. And so, for the very first and last time in her life, we engaged in some non­sense dog­gy talk with Angel: We told her she was a good girl. A very, very good girl.

She looked around at us. “Real­ly?” she wheezed.

“Real­ly real­ly,” Best Half said. “You did a good job rais­ing our boy. Did­n’t she?” She looked at No. 1 Son.

“Yes,” he whis­pered. “You did.” He gen­tly stroked her flop­py ear.

The Chow­der looked anx­ious­ly at her broth­er. “Bub­by, we’re gonna see Angel in heav­en, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She’ll be wait­ing for us.” Reas­sured, she buried her face in Angel’s ruff for the last time. “G’bye, Angel,” she said.

Angel looked at me.

“Don’t wor­ry,” I said. “It’s okay for you to go.”

She looked at Bosco, who had been lying by her side for hours. Bosco winked.

“Okay,” Angel said. “Okay. I’m just gonna take a lit­tle nap, then.” She final­ly relaxed, lay on her side, and closed her eyes.

Angel stopped breath­ing just after mid­night.

We’d made arrange­ments to take her to the vet for cre­ma­tion, so I decid­ed to wrap her in her favorite blan­ket and put her in the back of our Jeep until morn­ing.

I braced myself and lift­ed the still, silent bun­dle. It was light as a feath­er.

When we came back inside, Bosco was in the kitchen sit­ting on his haunch­es, his head tilt­ed alert­ly at us.

“Okay, guys,” he said. “I got this now.”

Vaya Con Dios, Little Critter

We’re still work­ing on Best Half’s new digs for her salon; I stopped by ear­ly this morn­ing on my way home from tak­ing Mom to the eye doc­tor to pick up some tools I need­ed and dis­cov­ered a pos­sum curled up sleep­ing on the side­walk in front of the door.

I thought Aw, how cute! for a sec­ond and took this pho­to, but then I thought Wait, some­thing’s wrong here. Pos­sums don’t sleep out in the open like that. Is he dead?

The lit­tle guy was alive; when I approached him he looked up and bared his teeth to look fierce, but he did­n’t try to run away or any­thing.

He was injured; there was a lit­tle blood around his mouth, his low­er jaw looked crooked and he shiv­ered vio­lent­ly when he looked up at me, then tucked his nose under his paws again.

I’d guess he was cross­ing the street last night and got clipped by a car. It was 12° F. out last night; the new salon has unoc­cu­pied units on either side, so I think since Best Half’s salon was the only one with heat, there was some warm air com­ing from under the door, and he curled up there to try to stay warm.

I called Ani­mal Con­trol; while I was wait­ing I squat­ted down a few feet away and tried to talk kind­ly to him—“Hang in there, bud­dy; help’s on the way”—but he kept try­ing to look up at me again and shift­ed around like he was try­ing to get up.

I was fright­en­ing him, so I got back in the car so I could keep an eye on him with­out him see­ing me and being scared. I thought about maybe putting my jack­et or some­thing over him to keep him warm, but decid­ed it would be too risky. Not for me, for the possum–if he tried to strug­gle or fight it could injure him more.

So I sat there and wait­ed. I got­ta say I felt like one rot­ten heart­less bas­tard sit­ting in my nice warm car, watch­ing him while he was freez­ing and in pain, and doing noth­ing.

The Ani­mal Con­trol offi­cer, bless her heart, showed up inside of 5 min­utes. I told her I hat­ed just sit­ting there and watch­ing him suf­fer, but I was reluc­tant to try to warm him up or any­thing because I did­n’t know if I’d just be mak­ing it worse. I felt like I need­ed to apol­o­gize to her and try to jus­ti­fy doing noth­ing to help.

She said no; you did exact­ly the right thing: try­ing to move him or put a blan­ket on him would have been dan­ger­ous to both of us (and injured ani­mals can be real­ly dan­ger­ous, but this poor lit­tle crit­ter was just about out of gas). She said when dis­patch told her I thought he was in pain and hypother­mic she hur­ried so he wouldn’t have to lay there and suf­fer any longer.

She coaxed him into a lit­tle ken­nel; he tried fee­bly to stand up or crawl out but could­n’t real­ly muster up any ener­gy.

Bless that AC offi­cer; I thought she’d need to ask me a bunch of ques­tions and fill out paper­work, but the minute the pos­sum was in the ken­nel, she was ready to go. She start­ed to go to the back of the truck where the built-in cages are installed, but said, “No; it’s too cold. You’re rid­ing with me.” And she set his lit­tle ken­nel on the front seat next to her.

The new salon isn’t open yet; the two oth­er store­fronts between the new salon and the restau­rant down at the end are unoc­cu­pied and the restau­rant doesn’t open till lunch time. Peo­ple enter­ing and exit­ing the restau­rant prob­a­bly wouldn’t have seen a fur­ry lit­tle bun­dle curled up by the door way down on the oth­er end.

If I had­n’t stopped there ear­ly this morn­ing I’m sure he would have died before much longer. So there’s that, I guess.

I said it was hard to feel good about help­ing when they’d just put him down, but she said that wasn’t a fore­gone con­clu­sion: She’d take him to a vet to see what could be done and maybe get him in rehab to heal him up and release him, so there’s some hope there.

I wish I’d got­ten her name so I could thank her and/or call the depart­ment to brag on her: She hus­tled to come res­cue the pos­sum and she was in a hur­ry when she left, so I think he did­n’t have to be in pain and cold for much longer.

Poor lit­tle crit­ter. What­ev­er they can or can’t do for him I know he’s not suf­fer­ing any more. Yeah, yeah; I know I did the right stuff but I want­ed to com­fort him and I want­ed to ask her if I could adopt him once they fixed him up, but pos­sums wouldn’t make good pets at all and try­ing to fos­ter one would be nuts.

Adult­ing real­ly sucks some­times.

We and Mrs. Jones

No, this is Mrs. Robin­son.

And now, chil­dren, hear and remem­ber the tale of me, Bil­ly Paul, Mrs. Jones, my friend Rob, and my dog Meat­ball:

Long, long ago, in a lit­tle state named Kansas, which no one wants to admit com­ing from except the clas­sic rock band Kansas and pos­si­bly Bob Dole, two young men and a dog were tool­ing around town in the leg­endary mus­cle car  Charles the Deep Breather, which prob­a­bly sounds sil­ly because you weren’t there, but which would make per­fect sense if you were there, because Charles breathed very, VERY deeply indeed, and com­mu­ni­cat­ed in a sub­son­ic, almost heav­en­ly, rum­ble that made fans of glass­pack muf­flers sneer, fans of tur­bo muf­flers weep tears of pure joy, and every­one else say, “That car! It—it spoke to me! It made my panties moist and/or my jeans tight “(depend­ing on their gen­der)”, and I want to run after it to hear and under­stand and remem­ber its teach­ing, but I can’t because I have noth­ing but two legs, while Charles the Deep Breather boasts 8 cylin­ders and 318 whole­some, part-of-this-nutri­tious-break­fast Detroit cubic inch­es (plus a .30 radius of bored-out glim­mery smooth cylin­der walls, rebuilt 340 heads, a 60,000-volt Mal­lo­ry rac­ing igni­tion coil, graphite igni­tion wiring, an alu­minum Edel­brock intake man­i­fold, a 600 CFM Hol­ley four-bar­rel car­bu­re­tor, a bunch of oth­er rac­ing parts no one gives a shit about, and the most impor­tant com­po­nent of all: the sto­ried under­dash Pio­neer Super­tuner pump­ing its juicy Amer­i­can-made stereo­phon­ic DNA through a 60-watt graph­ic equal­iz­er and final­ly into the Holy Grail of mobile tunes: a pair of 6x9 Jensen tri­ax­i­al speak­ers!”

And on this long ago night, my friend Rob, my dog Meat­ball, and I were engaged in the…

What? Meat­ball? You’re wor­ried about Meat­ball? Look, Meat­ball loved loud music, okay?1

Any­way, Rob and Meat­ball and I were—okay, now what? Oh, you think it was cru­el to name him Meat­ball? Look here: Peo­ple should not name ani­mals. We should instead lis­ten to our ani­mals and use the names they choose. Meat­ball was named Meat­ball because that’s the name he want­ed me to use.

So! We were observ­ing the time-hon­ored tra­di­tion of get­ting drunk via a cool­er of beer in Charles the Deep Breather’s back seat as we drove around, which also sounds sil­ly (if not down­right irre­spon­si­ble) if you weren’t there, but if you were there it made per­fect sense that two friends, a dog, one car, and some beer all had to be enjoyed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, because that’s just the way it was and get off my lawn.

Rob, Meat­ball and I had been drink­ing, dri­ving and rock­ing out for a cou­ple hours and had just fin­ished lis­ten­ing, on cas­sette, to Queen’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera,” with pun­ish­ing­ly high deci­bels, and for some rea­son we couldn’t agree which cassette/band/album we should lis­ten to next, so I just flipped the Supertuner’s switch from cas­sette to radio and we start­ed lis­ten­ing to KDVV, aka V‑100, to see if any­thing good popped up.

And it did. To an expo­nen­tial degree, it did.

The moment we switched over to V‑100, Bil­ly Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” had just start­ed. And Rob and I (and, I am con­vinced, Meat­ball), we all loved “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Meat­ball gen­er­al­ly showed his approval by wag­ging his tail, while I, care­ful­ly and wise­ly, avoid­ed try­ing to sing along with music if any­one else was present, even if it was just Meat­ball. To do oth­er­wise would prob­a­bly vio­late the Gene­va Con­ven­tion.

Rob, on the oth­er hand, was and is an excel­lent vocal­ist. Meat­ball and I were both delight­ed to del­e­gate the mouth music to him.

Bil­ly Paul had just fin­ished the first stan­za from “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and was gath­er­ing his strength to explode into his famous refrain: “Meeey­eee aaaayaaand… MISSUS! Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones! We got a thing going on!”

And Meat­ball and I were hap­py to be The Pips to Rob’s Gladys Knight, rea­son­ing that with Rob bel­low­ing out the cho­rus along with Bil­ly Paul’s ear-shat­ter­ing voice ham­mer­ing out of the Jensen Tri­ax­i­als, we could add to the over­all vol­ume with­out drift­ing too far off-key.

And the moment arrived: Bil­ly Paul’s thun­der­ing “Mee-yeee aaayaaand MISSUS! Mrs Jones!” plus Meat­ball and I utter­ing an unrea­son­able fac­sim­i­le there­of, and the oth­er cars and traf­fic sounds and oth­er urban back­ground nois­es, all set­ting the stage for and pump­ing up Rob’s bet­ter-n-aver­age con­tri­bu­tion, and the whole world screeched to a halt and cocked its ear to see what Rob’s con­tri­bu­tion would be, and he did not dis­ap­point:

Ver­i­ly did he openeth his lips, and he sang with all his might, and he utter—uttereth, no, uttere­deth… SHIT! Okay, he pro­claimed to the heav­en­ly skies above and the rest of us mere mor­tals, and he sang:

“Weeey­eeee aaaaayand MISSUS!” and then he paused, real­iz­ing he was hav­ing a lit­tle pro­noun trou­ble exac­er­bat­ed by beer, because “Meeey­eee” and “Weeey­eee” are rad­i­cal­ly dis­sim­i­lar, even as I was won­der­ing why he paused, and then Meat­ball whis­pered to me “Who’s this ‘we’? You got a mouse in your pock­et?” and I blurt­ed out “ ‘WE?’ Ooh! Menage a trois!”

And Meat­ball start­ed laugh­ing, as did Rob, and I start­ed laugh­ing as well but then belat­ed­ly real­ized hey, maybe I shouldn’t veer left and kill us all.

In con­clu­sion, we all got home in one piece even though we all laughed so much no court in the nation would have con­vict­ed us for being unable to dri­ve, and then I ran away and got mar­ried to an unrea­son­ably beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing woman who by all rights could have land­ed Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt but instead she chose ME, and had two kids, and some­where along the way also Rob got mar­ried and had a kid, and I bet him feels the same way about his wife and son too, so I’m pret­ty sure I don’t need to threat­en him with telling his wife about our stu­pid juve­nile behav­ior and hey Rob, I love you and thanks for giv­ing me so much of your time way back then.

Sasha the Rez Dog

Our dogs got into a fight Mon­day. They say not to break up a dog fight, but I’m not gonna sit and watch them fight­ing in the liv­ing room.

Sasha pro­voked a num­ber of fights with Pep­per over the last year; Pep­per would grab Sasha by the scruff of her neck and just pin her down while Sasha snapped and snarled. We’d grab a tow­el or blan­ket and cov­er Sasha’s head, then grab their col­lars and pull them apart when they start­ed to calm down.

We’d been dither­ing about Sasha’s behav­ior and what to do. She’s total­ly sweet and lov­ing with peo­ple, but for some rea­son she turns the nor­mal play fights dogs have into real fights.

I looked into no-kill or res­cue shel­ters in the area, but no one want­ed to rehome a dog with the stip­u­la­tion that she had to be an only pet. They all had lengthy wait­ing lists any­way.

Pep­per’s our big­ger dog; she’s a Cata­houla Leop­ard Hound and she’s insane­ly pow­er­ful. Sasha’s a Black Lab/mumblesomething mix. If Pep­per want­ed to hurt Sasha she could have ripped her to pieces, but all she ever did when Sasha attacked her was pin her down like Sasha was a pup­py.

Any­way, when they fought on Mon­day I pulled the blan­ket over Sasha’s head and Best Half grabbed Pep­per’s col­lar; as we start­ed to gen­tly pull them apart, Sasha pulled her­self loose from Pep­per’s grip and tried to lunge at Pep­per again. My left arm got in her way as I was try­ing to pull the blan­ket around her, and she bit my fore­arm.

Pep­per pushed for­ward and pinned Sasha back down again, but much hard­er this time. I pulled Sasha away again and she howled.

I got her in a bear hug and held her while Best Half put Pep­per in her ken­nel; Sasha stopped strug­gling, so I moved the blan­ket to see if she was hurt.

She had a super­fi­cial cut on the back of her neck, but as I tried to exam­ine it I real­ized she had­n’t just nipped me; she’d bit­ten me three times. I had two good chomps on my fore­arm with five or six punc­tures, and then a real­ly nasty punc­ture between my index and mid­dle fin­ger knuck­les.

We cleaned the punc­tures and I would have been okay with ban­dag­ing them up, but the punc­ture on my hand was too deep. I tried to approx­i­mate the edges and see if but­ter­fly tape could close it, but no good.

So we went to the ER. They sutured me up and sent me home.

Ani­mal Con­trol called Tues­day morn­ing, as I expect­ed. The offi­cer said he need­ed to come assess the sit­u­a­tion and that Sasha would have to be quar­an­tined for 10 days, but he thought we could prob­a­bly do that at home.

I told him about their pre­vi­ous fights; I’d got­ten a minor nip dur­ing a pre­vi­ous one; Best Half got a nip and a jammed fin­ger in a dif­fer­ent one; Pep­per had got­ten a lit­tle tear on her ear in yet anoth­er one. The lit­tle nips here and there had pro­gressed into more seri­ous injuries. We were heart­bro­ken, but it was just too risky to keep Sasha any­more.

I said I did­n’t know what to do; we were seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing putting her to sleep since we could­n’t rehome her or get her into a no-kill shel­ter.

Turns out the Prescott Val­ley Humane Soci­ety is a no-kill shel­ter, and Ani­mal Con­trol could take her there with the con­di­tion that she need­ed to be placed with a fam­i­ly as an only pet.

Sasha was already a res­cue dog; we’d adopt­ed her from the Coconi­no Coun­ty Humane Soci­ety. She’d been found liv­ing fer­al­ly on reser­va­tion land (I found out that hap­pens so often they actu­al­ly have “Rez Dog” list­ed as a breed in Ani­mal Con­trol’s data­base). She was in rough shape; she had a nasty case of demod­ec­tic mange and seem­ing­ly every species of worm there is.

When we adopt­ed her, she’d been spayed, dipped and dewormed, and she just need­ed TLC, rest and food. She was 7 months old but she did­n’t have pup­py breath; her breath smelled like feces and gaso­line from the worm meds. Her fur was brit­tle and greasy, she was still skin­ny, and she was afraid of every­thing. The dogs sleep on my bed, but for the first few months Sasha slept under the bed where Pep­per and I could­n’t reach her.

I want­ed to name her Dob­by, after the house elf in the Har­ry Pot­ter movies. She had big flop­py ears and looked per­pet­u­al­ly ner­vous. I was vot­ed down.

We gave her a nice gen­tle oat­meal bath and just let her rest in her ken­nel as much as she want­ed; she seemed to feel safer in it. She did­n’t take long to blos­som into a won­der­ful dog, crammed with ener­gy and per­son­al­i­ty and the goofi­ness all dogs have. She’s one of those dogs who talk at you when they’re excit­ed, the way Huskies are famous for. She liked stick­ing her nose under the water in her water bowl and blow­ing bub­bles.

Until cou­ple of months ago, we were enjoy­ing her and look­ing for­ward to a long, hap­py life with her.

So the offi­cer came to the house and I signed the paper­work sur­ren­der­ing her to the Humane Soci­ety. I gave him Sasha, her med­ical records, the info on her chip and her favorite blan­ket.

And then she was gone.

We’ve been wrestling with the feel­ing that we made a bad choice, or that we failed her or gave up on her.

When you adopt a dog, though, you’re tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty not only to pro­vide for her, but also to do right by her when it’s time to make tough deci­sions on her behalf.

She’s only 3; I thought those tough deci­sions would be years away when she was old and the time had come to free her from suf­fer­ing at the end of a long, hap­py life. I nev­er imag­ined the tough choice would be to pick her up, put her in a cage in an ani­mal con­trol van, and close the door on her puz­zled-but-trust­ing face.

All I can do is believe we adopt­ed her when she need­ed it, and we nursed her to health and enjoyed her for a time, but that time drew to a close, and we had to send her on to be some­one else’s beau­ti­ful, goofy, lov­ing dog.

I hope they let her keep the blan­ket.