We wish you …

Mom and Rocky kiss … a merry Christmas …
Merry Wilbur 1 … We wish you …
Merry Zoe … a merry Christmas!

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy neeeew … Merry Rocky Whatever. Give me the damn treat you promised me.

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Gone vacationin’

VacationMy wife and I haven’t taken a vacation in years, decades actually. Not because we don’t want to go on one, or can’t afford to go on one, or even that we can’t decide where to go on one.

No, it’s because of the kids. You know, the pets. We’ve got too many to take with us, unless they rent rooms with a view and beachfront access at a kennel on some Caribbean island. Of course we can’t leave them home alone – we’d come back to find most of the house destroyed and probably a few of them missing. We can’t leave them with someone – we’d come back to find most of their house destroyed and probably our friends missing.

No, we’ve got too many animals and not enough disposable friends to go on vacation. Which leaves us one choice when we yearn to see the world beyond our backyard. We have to live vicariously through others’ vacations.

But not just any vacations. Just the bad ones. Looking in on someone’s great vacation would make us sad. But looking in on someone’s …
vacation from hell … now that’s a vicarious vacation that’s well worth the, uh, vicariousing.

For the best in worst awkward vacation moments, or anything awkward when it comes to families, there’s no better place to click than AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com. Just possibly the most fun website on Earth. It’s so great, I love it. It’s so great, I hate it. With a passion. Because I didn’t think of it. Set up a website, let people from all over the world send you their awkward family photos and just post them for all to see. Wonderfully simple and wildly successful. I despise it.

Let’s see some “highlights” of what some fortunate families are doing with their paid-time-off and where they’re doing it, shall we? Yes, let’s shall.Drip Rock KentuckyWho needs a coast, or a beach, or even a sandbox, when you and your kin can get away from it all in Drip Rock, Kentucky? The only answer: “Ayup, damn straight … know whatimtalkinbout?” Bathing suits are optional. Beer, mandatory.
tree straddlersDear Charles Darwin: Hey Chuck, you were right. You just left off one part. It may have taken us tens of thousands of years to climb down out of trees, walk upright and become Man. But it only takes a week in Hawaii for us to get species-identical, scamper back up one and feel right at home. Evolutionarily yours, GW.
take a hikeAw, look honey – gotta take a picture here. We’ve got a couple of great girls, don’t we? I told you a couple of weeks hiking through the Cascades would be good for all of us. Not sure why they look like that kid on the porch in the Burt Reynolds’ movie, “Deliverance,” but it’s true – for a good time, get back to nature!
family squatIt’s said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That said, take a look at this happy brood and what can one conclude? There must be a popular vacation destination out there called Toilet, and the family that squats together … are just doing as the Toiletians do. Of course. Now this makes perfect common sense.

And lastly, my favorite place not to get away from it all.
lobster potLooks like a fun family all piled into the hot tub, right? Look more closely. At the much happier crowd, lined up in a ring ’round the tub’s rim.

Ayup, damn straight. A vacationing family of lobsters … having a cookout.

The artist, the bulldog

a bulldog asleepIf there’s one thing people learn after a few years of having pets, it’s that you don’t own them, they own you. But if the pet happens to be an English bulldog, there’s something else. They don’t do anything unless they want to, and all they really want to do is … nothing. Most loveable but also the most stubborn and laziest beings on Earth. After people.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to read the story of Piper, the painting bulldog. Astounded by it, actually.

Piper strikes a very classic bulldog pose for her owner, Jessica Stone. This usually can be interpreted as "Smile? You must be joking." Copyright © Jessica Stone

Piper strikes a very classic bulldog pose for her owner. painter Jessica Stone. This usually can be interpreted as “Say cheese? You must be joking. I eat cheese,” but Piper’s different. Copyright © Jessica Stone

Piper is the proud owner of artist Jessica Stone. The one-bright-eyed rescued bullie was with Stone at her Austin, Texas, studio one day and evidently felt the urge to send a mental message to her owner – gimme a paint brush already, I feel an inspiration coming on. Jessica got the message, got a brush, dipped it in paint, held a piece of paper and added Piper.

Stone says Piper took brush in mouth and started a-wiggling and a-waving it on the paper. Good Lord, the girl was painting. And it was, well, as it turned out … there’s really no other way to put it … it was a painting.

The artist at work. Copyright © Jessica Stone

The artist at work. Copyright © Jessica Stone

“Her pieces are just so carefree and whimsical, and they amaze me.” Stone told a reporter in a story about Piper’s artistic ability.

She ain’t fooling. And she’s not the only amazed Piper-painter person down in the heart of Texas. The pooch has a following.

I think this one should be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pup. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

This one might be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pup. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

One painting hasn’t been enough for Piper. Turns out she is very inspired. More than that, successful too. We’re not talking about a starving artist here. She’s sold more than 120 of them, along with shirts with prints of her work and her used brushes (signed by her teeth, no doubt) for the benefit of the San Antonio Bulldog Rescue, the organization that brought Piper and Jessica together.

This pooch isn't a Piper, she's a Pawcasso. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

This pooch isn’t a Piper, she’s a Pawcasso. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

What a nice story. What a wonderful and very talented white bulldog.

Whoa, hold on. We have a white bulldog. We have a brown one too, but what if the white ones are special? What if they come along only once in great while, like the mythical White Buffalo?

You know, I always had a feeling Wilbur was more than your average English bulldog. But now I realize I wasn’t getting his messages. Wasn’t paying attention to the signs. I’m sure he’s been sending them. I went through some of the 3,965 pictures we’ve taken of him and his brothers and sisters, this time really examining, really looking at each one. The picture, once blurred, slowly began to come into focus.

Notice that an artist must be a quiet, yet keen, observer of life. And I thought he was just sitting in the sun. What a fool am I.

Notice that an artist must be a quiet, yet keen, observer of life. And I thought he was just sitting in the sun. What a fool am I.

But what artistic venue is Wilbur’s forte? He’s never shown an interest in paint, never asked for the camera when we’ve taken pictures of him … what the heck is this artist-in-my-residence trying to tell me?

I went back to flipping through the photographs. Nothing, nothing, more nothing. And then I found it. It was right there in front of me.

a bulldog painter performance artNotice the artistry. Pay heed to the passion, the canine creativity. I didn’t see it at first, but can’t miss it now. How had I been so blind?

Wilbur – choreographer. Wilbur – performance artist. Transformer of the physical sleeping dogs into a fantastical image … of the very Circle of Life!

Wilbur – the next Twyla Tharp.

With my dogs, size matters

I like big dogs. Grew up with them, always have owned at least one. Or two. Or … well sometimes quite a few of them. Thanks to the kind-hearted desires of my animal-devoted wife, and my desire to live a life without conflict, my per-capita dog-to-dollar ratio has averaged about 4 to 1 over the past 20-something years. That means four big dogs per every dollar I have in my wallet.

The dollar category would be somewhat higher, but some of my big dogs ate the dollar. And the wallet.

I have nothing against little dogs. Little dogs are nice. They’re kind of adorable, actually.

Little dogs are cute. With enough elevation and a good tailwind, they can fly. How cute.

It just that little dogs are not practical for someone like me. Especially when I stumble out of bed in the middle of the night and really believe that I have some kind of  sixteenth sense that allows me to see in the dark, even when it’s dark and I can’t see.

It’s much more practical for me to walk into a big dog and bounce off, than step on a little dog and not bounce off. The big dogs learn to know it’s just me and get annoyed, look up and roll over. If they were little dogs, however, they’d be … well, most probably wouldn’t be around long enough to get annoyed.

Don’t get me wrong – big dogs aren’t perfect. They have their drawbacks, not a lot of them but the few that they have are, of course, big.

Take teething. All dogs do it – new big teeth come in, gums get sore, and chewing on things helps them relieve it. Anybody who’s raised a puppy usually loses a shoe, or a furniture leg to a chewing little pup.

That is, unless you have a big dog puppy.

One look into Molly’s big brown eyes and – poof – all was forgiven. Newfies are big … and clever.

Meet Molly. Molly was the first Newfoundland we owned and raised. Newfoundlands actually are wonderful, big black bears that someone decided really were dogs. And the Newfies were just too lovable and gentle to disagree with them.

She came to us because she was being thrown out of the house of her first owner. A friend was installing new carpeting throughout the owner’s house when the woman walked by with Molly, then 6 months old, heading for the door. She was taking her to the Humane Society to be put up for adoption. You see, Molly was the reason for the new carpeting.

Long story short, the friend asked the owner to wait and called his girlfriend who happened to be a co-worker of mine. The girlfriend came to me, knowing I loved big dogs. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking Molly out to my car to take her home. At six months, she nearly filled the back seat of my VW Rabbit.

A decision my wife and I never regretted. Not only because we both loved big dogs, but we’d owned enough of them to know how to live with them. Most importantly, to never, ever underestimate what a big dog can do. You can’t blame them – they do the same things that all dogs do. Just in a big way.

You’ll recall that little teething issue Molly had when she moved in. How could we forget.

One day I came home to find the kitchen floor covered with snow. Around six inches thick, from wall to wall.

Only problem – it wasn’t November, it was July. And it wasn’t snow, it was fluffy white stuffing. The kind of stuffing they put inside the six padded chairs of a kitchen dining set. All six, stripped of their covers and their stuffing. All over the place. And sitting in the middle of it all was one big, black, happy, giant puppy.

I had no words. In moments like this a big dog owner is reminded to not put too much importance on material things, no matter what they are. Or how big they are. You learn that they don’t last, especially with a big dog in the house.

I sat down on one of my new, rather uncomfortable metal-frame chairs.

“OK Molly, so what are we going to tell your mother when she gets home?”

I could tell by her wagging tail Molly was thinking. Really hard. So was I. It worked.

“Right, a tornado, good idea. Big one, blew in through the window, tore up the chairs, threw this all around and went out through that window there. Brilliant. Molly, this could work.”

I could tell by Molly’s wagging tail she really liked the idea. So did I. It didn’t work, but it was worth a shot.

Can’t remember what we came up with to explain how all the window sills were chewed off on another day, though. Hit-and-run beaver infestation, I think.

Molly lived to the ripe old age of 11, far beyond the normal lifespan of most Newfoundlands. Had two knee operations and one hip replaced (big dogs have big health issues), and destroyed or ate a whole lot of things, including some more furniture. I’m pretty sure she loved every minute of it. I know we did.

Despite the material losses, we still have big dogs. Always will. Two bulldogs (short but stout) and one bull mastiff (big and stout) now. Some day, we’ll no doubt have more. And some day, some day … we’ll have those chewed-up moldings around all of our doors replaced.

Just as soon as the big teeth come in.

Why Fido craps in your house

October really should be my favorite month. After all, I was born during it. It usually has most of the best weather of the year in New England – the beginning of autumn. It’s not too cold, not too warm. It usually contains more than a few days packed full of dry, crisp air and covered and smothered by crystal-clear, bright blue skies. And all of it is quite nicely accented with treeloads of falling leaves in a whole host of blazing shades.

From the beginning of the month, it’s a little piece of heaven on Earth around here. But then it all goes to hell on the last day … Halloween.

I’m not talking about the night full of roaming hordes of children dressed as Scooby Doo or Dora the Explorer or one of the three Ninja Turtles knocking at my door, looking for free candy in compensation for enduring the public humiliation of walking around dressed as Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer or one of three Ninja Turtles.

I’m not even bothered by the other youthful gangs – the slightly older but far dumber kids who can’t find their butts with a piece of toilet paper but despite that handicap, still somehow manage to hang it from every single limb and twig of the tree in my front yard.

No, I’m talking about a large herd of supposedly mature, wiser people out there. They don’t put on silly costumes. They don’t waste expensive eggs by throwing them against my vinyl siding.

No, they’re so far beyond that kind of silliness. Of course, because they’re adults. Adults don’t make fools of themselves.

They make fools of their dogs.

Why anyone would look at the perfectly normal furry canine face of their pooch and see Yoda looking back at them is beyond me. Or an alligator. Or even more insane, an alligator eating their dog.

This is not what Darwin had in mind when he came up with the concept of natural selection.

Seriously … what is wrong with you, people?

I’m not asking you that question, by the way. That’s your dog speaking.

Well, they may not be saying that to you in words. But you damn well know they’re saying it to you. All you have to do is look at their eyes, gazing up at you in astonished wounded wonderment as you tie that sombrero to their heads. Look at their body language, as they droop in shame and embarrassment when they realize you really are expecting them to go outside wearing that fake hot dog roll.

You’re just lucky you’re not looking at their snarling, slobber-dripping teeth, and realizing that, even wearing stupid cardboard “Tin Man” panels, Fluffy still can chase you down, disembowel you, and eat your ears off.

So, for your own good, and possibly to save your miserable misguided lives, here’s my version of Halloween pet costume aversion therapy for you and your kind. Print these pictures out and tape them, facing you, to your foreheads. And for the next 18 days wear them and stare at them.

Maybe, just maybe … there’s hope for you. Otherwise, I hope you’re at least decent fodder for Fifi.

Really … REALLY? Piss on you and your Raggedy-Ass.

You are sooo fortunate that this knife is not whole and wooden.

When you take me out of this thing, I’m plunging these tusks into you.

Wrong, wrong, wrong … in so many ways, WRONG.

There, that should do it. But, if you don’t take this therapy nor heed this warning, well … good luck to you, though I don’t really mean it.

And when you get up in the middle of the night, stumble down the hall in the pitch-black darkness heading to the bathroom, and just in front of the door your bare foot steps down and sinks into a heaping, steaming, fragrant pile of something far-too-horribly-organic-to-imagine …

You deserve it.

Getting down with “down time”

I’ve been out of commission for work, driving, cleaning, cooking, just about everything, for more than a week now and from what I’ve been told, it may be this way for many of these things for quite a while yet.

I must admit I am not a very cooperative recuperative person. I just don’t do “time off” very well. I don’t do days off, I don’t do sick days, I don’t do vacation days.

Not only do I not do them well, for the most part I don’t know what to do with them when I have to take any of them. I usually draw a blank on how to handle any “down time.”

“Just don’t do anything,” my wife says.

“How do I do that?”

“I give up.”

So imagine my enthusiasm when my surgeon told me I needed to have both knees replaced as soon as possible. And that, on average, each one takes about three months of rehab before the new knee is back to full use and the patient to complete recovery.

Oh, really.

Add to that, he tells me he doesn’t do both knees at the same time. So, one gets done this month and the second in July.

Oh, really really.

And then he also mentions one usually cannot drive for six weeks following the replacements. So, you should prepare for a lot of rehab and recovery time, plan for taking time off from work as well as envision how best to handle the “down time.”

Oh, freakin’ really really.

“I trust I am allowed to eat during all of this time.”

“You know, very few people have a problem with anything that I’ve told you so far.”

“Think of me like the Marines. The Few. The Depraved. The Workaholics.”

“Well, then maybe this is the perfect opportunity for you to learn now to lighten the load.”

Lighten the load. Just do nothing. Take it easy. Sure. Sounds like a piece of cake. I’ll just ask the professionals: Kids, how do you do it?

Damn – these guys are good. Call them the Special Non-Ops … poetry in no motion.

It’s me … or the box

The first thing I want to say here is I love my wife very much, nearly every minute of every day.

Now, that said, the second thing I want to say is during some of the other minutes I haven’t got a clue as to why she does some of the things she does. Or how things that happen to her, happen to her. We’ve been together some 20-something (All right, all right, so I can never remember exactly how many, so shoot me. I’m a writer, not a mathematician.) years and still she can, frankly, astound me.

Fortunately, these things have a way of working out, even if I don’t know how they will at the time. And also I’m not the kind of person who likes to lose his cool, much. I tend to go with the flow, figure there has to be a grander plan, a bigger picture, that maybe I just not seeing yet.

Well Lord, I’m still looking. Really, really, really looking.

Most of these occurrences usually have something to do with stray animals. Some people seem to go around in life with a “Kick Me” sign on their backs. My wife has a “Pick Me” sign on hers, scratched out in every stray animal dialect unknown to man.

Let’s just say if she’d been the booking agent for Noah’s ark, the damn thing would have sunk before it ever left the dock.

Like the time she came home from the car wash with a behemoth of a black cat that, in the right light, could be mistaken for a half-grown Labrador Retriever. So I ask her how is it that you, and only you, can go to the car wash and come home with a clean car and a cat. They having some kind of weird special or something?

No, she said. You see, I was walking to the dumpster to throw away the garbage from my car when this guy comes up with this cat and starts to throw it in there. So I say whoa, wait a minute, is that your cat? And he said no and then he said, yeah, you wanna buy it? So I grab the cat and run to the car and take off. Can we go inside now, in case the guy is still following me?

See what I mean.

I’ve let, er, welcomed, into my house, just about every living furry thing there is. Some have stayed, some have left, and most have chewed, mangled, and destroyed just about everything in it. I may not know why they get in, but I do know how they get in.

Never trust anyone like my wife, who comes into your house carrying a box.

Boxes have things in them. Live things. I’ve seen kittens, cats, puppies, everything but rodents come out of the boxes brought into my house. Even ducks. Yes, ducks. Quack-quack-give-my-head-a-whack web-footed water fowl.

“Those are ducks.”

“Yes, they’re little baby ducks, aren’t they cuuuuute?”

“Those are ducks.”

“I’ve always wanted to have them. We can keep them in the spare bedroom and raise them and teach them how to swim in the bathtub.”

“Those are ducks.”

The ducks have moved on, I can say now. However, I’m not so sure about me.

So, you can imagine my delight the other day when my wife walked into the house. With a box in her arms. And a big smile on her face.

“That’s a box.”

“I know, I’m so haaaaaappy.”

“And I’m so scaaaaaaaaared.”

“Oh, it’s not an animal. It’s Winston.”

“What’s a Winston.”

“It’s Winston, my puppet!”

This is a Winston.

And out of the box comes Winston. A neon yellow-and green, happy-faced turtle with a red bowtie and a marked resemblance to a cute little muppet. But this one doesn’t live on Sesame Street. He lives on my street.

A hand-puppet. Just a harmless, non-living, not real turtle hand-puppet. And I don’t even have to teach it how to swim in the bathtub.

All right, I can live with a puppet, I thought to myself. I mean, how bad can a turtle puppet be? He doesn’t eat anything. He doesn’t chew anything. He doesn’t … do anything.

What harm can a little stuffed thing with a hole in it, suitable for hiding an arm, do that hasn’t already been done in my house? That hasn’t already been done to me?

“Winston wants to say hello to you.”

“Hello Winston. Now go away, Winston.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to write, Winston.”

“What are you writing?”

“I’m writing and I … I … can’t believe I’m actually talking to a freakin’ stuffed turtle! With an arm stuck up its butt! Now go away, Winston, and take that arm and the crazed woman attached to it with you.”

“You’re not being very nice. I think you’re trying to hurt my feelings. Are you trying to hurt my feelings?”

Sigh.

A duck! A duck! My kingdom for a duck!