Death and taxes

Where I draw the line with hitchhikers is when they’re shirtless and sweaty. I’m too much of a neat freak to deal with bodily fluids. But, short of that, I always pick them up.

The other night it was so cold that when I realized I had to go to the store, Roo refused to come along for the ride. She would have come if she wasn’t spooked by the high winds. So I hurried.

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The only place open was the Walmart. At the entrance an old man with a cardboard sign that had VET written on it was panhandling the exiting cars. I’d never seen a panhandler here before. Most small towns don’t tolerate them. I bought him a couple of fleece blankets and a roasted chicken and stopped to give the bags and my last six bucks to him on the way out.

“Thanks,” he said. He looked in the bag. “Oh, one of those chickens.”

“You’re not planning on sleeping outside tonight are you?” I said.

“Oh, no, no,” he said. “There’s a place down there by the McDonald’s.”

“Man, that’s a hell of a walk from here. How about a ride?”

He loaded his bags in the back seat and climbed in. In the heated car he slid his black ball cap back on his head — it had Vietnam Veteran embroidered in gold on the front — and held a hand out to shake.

“Dan,” he said.

“Brian. You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“Oh, no. I’m just passing through. I’m going to Mena tomorrow.”

“Whatdya got going on down there?”

“Some friends of mine put the rodeo on there. I do the flag handling. I used to do some rodeo clowning, but now I just handle the flags.”

“Ouch. Rodeo clowning. Those guys take a beating, don’t they?

“Can take one. I never did, though.”

I asked him where he was from and he said Washington state.

“Long way from home,” I said.

“You too, by the sound of it.” Neither of us had the local accent. Dan’s and mine were nearly identical, unaccented northern ones.

“Yup. Me, too. I’m from New York originally.”

“Oh, New York. They’re tax crazy there. Personal income tax rate can clock in at nine percent.”

“Well,” I said. “I haven’t lived there in a long time.”

“Washington hasn’t got any income taxes, but they get you on the sales tax. Montana’s getting nearly as bad. Not as bad as California. Thirteen point eight percent there. What did they expect? Everybody’s getting out. They go to Washington. So now Washington’s planning some sort of way to hit them with a tax. I’ve just about had it.”

“Death and taxes,” I said. All I know about taxes is that one day the IRS is going to send a SWAT team to take care of mine, since I’m not at the billionaire level at which I can opt out of paying any. That and the fact that you can’t turn on the radio anywhere in the United States without listening to advertisements about tax companies waiting to negotiate a way out of your unpaid taxes with the IRS.

“Death and taxes,” he said. “I never understood that. Death isn’t cruel. But taxes are. Taxes are just a way for the state to torture the people.”

We drove in silence for a minute or so until we came to the Black Angus Motel. It was the sort of place that Roo and I had stayed in on many occasions, the kind of place with sagging mattresses, chipping paint and stained carpet all hiding behind one of those paper toilet seat wrappers that have Sanitized  printed on them. It was the kind of place that first made me think about upgrading to a trailer. He got out and thanked me again for the chicken. He left the fleece blankets. He didn’t need them and they were too bulk for his bags. They were one a couple of bucks apiece and I left the receipt for them in the chicken bag, so I couldn’t return them. We shook again.

Roo was glad to see me. She didn’t get up, because I always made a point of not making a big deal out of greetings, out of a firm belief that all that does is encourage a dog to get separation anxiety, and, that being the one form of anxiety that didn’t come as original equipment on Roo, I never wanted to risk developing it. She smiled and thumped her tail on the floor a lot, though. And wanted to smell my hands. She always wants to smell my hands to see what I’ve scavenged in food stores. Knowing nothing about the machinations of a money economy. She is unconcerned with taxes. Death she understands, but in the way of dogs, a way that is different, and probably much wiser, than that of fearful humans. She figures I’m pretty good at finding food and she certainly wonders why she isn’t allowed to accompany on the foraging expeditions. You can see it in her expression every time she has to wait in the car. So, as soon as I return, she always smells my hands to see what I scored. 

She smelled the chicken right away and gave me a serious look.

“Sorry, Bearface,” I said. 

I took out the package of marrow bones that was the reason for the trip and showed it to her. And that was good enough for her.



 

A funny thing happened in my last nightmare

This photo of Roo looking at a cat in the street is unrelated to this, but it’s all I have.

This photo of Roo looking at a cat in the street is unrelated to this, but it’s all I have.

Since March 21st, 1985, every dream I’ve had, except for one brief one on the night Orville died, has been a nightmare. At first, they came every few minutes and were always identical, but by the 90s they changed to dreams in which I was flying, propelling myself by dog-paddling in the air over towns while someone chased me. They became sporadic, which was too bad because when they were frequent I trained myself to take advantage of the flight time to practice and I became proficient enough to stay up in the air for a long time and develop some pretty impressive airspeeds before the inevitable crash to the ground.

Anyway, by now I only have two or three per year, at most, and they’re never flying dreams. Here’s a funny one I had a few nights ago.

A gunman with greasy long hair, black sunglasses, a scraggly beard and a tattered t-shirt,  has me throttled from behind with one arm clenched around my neck. With his other hand he jams a huge semi-automatic pistol, it happens to be a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, into my neck. If he’s not preparing to shoot me outright, he’s taking me hostage, because he is dragging me backwards, tightening his chokehold and the pressure on him gets worse and jamming the pistol harder into the flesh under my jaw. I’m choking and trying to claw at his arm, but I am weak and he is strong. But I try because there is something I must tell him.

Roo is standing there, in a patch of grass, even though we’re in a demolished cityscape, looking up from her nose patrol. She doesn’t understand what’s happening and doesn’t seem to feel that there’s any threat.

I keep clawing desperately at the man’s arm trying to get the words out, but he’s compressing my neck to the point of being about to break it. My head is already bursting, my eyes bulging under the pressure, and he keeps jamming the gun up into the soft skin under my jaw, about to shoot straight upwards at any moment. I keep trying to loosen his grip so I can say whatever it is I need to say.

Finally I manage to get my fingers under the arm he has around my neck pry his arm away enough to be able to shout my plea to him:

“DON’T SHOOT!” I say. “You’ll scare the hell out of that dog! She’ll bolt!”

Then I woke up.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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When the temperature is twenty-six degrees but it feels like 11 degrees with a 20-mph wind blowing out of the north, the last thing you might expect to find yourself yelling at your dog might be, “No swimming! I mean it! CHUGGI BEAR BEKER, I MEAN IT! Stay out of that water! NO SWIMMING, BEARFACE!”

But if your dog happens to be Roo, it would be silly not to expect to be yelling that at her — sillier only than expecting her not to develop profound, sudden-onset deafness.

What is it with retrievers? How do they do it? How come they don’t turn into a block of ice? Roo felt terrific after a nice, leisurely swim in the Arctic waters of east Oklahoma. All it did was get her in the mood to get down to some serious mouse hunting. Which would make sense if there were any of them left in the Fort Smith-Cowlington-Poteau area, a Bermuda Triangle for rodents. The ones she hasn’t already caught have all packed up and decided to take their chances with a more hospitable type of ICE agent.

Apart from a notion I have that swimming when it’s that cold can’t be good for her, especially now that she has a little arthritis, I’d rather she didn’t for selfish reasons: it means a lengthy drying process that’s a lot more fun for Roo than it is for her personal grooming army of one. First with towels, which freeze to my hands, especially in that kind of wind, followed by a 15-minute blow drying session. Neither of these can be done indoors. The toweling could be, but that just relaxes her so much that she would refuse to go back outside for the blow drying, which has to be done outside because the electric circuit in the camper always trips the second I plug the blow dryer in. I have to take her to a neighboring plug. Normally, these are strategically located in spots where the wind is channeled into higher speeds.

So, I do it outside. Roo enjoys it. She looks around. She gazes at the buffalo or the horses at whom, if she decides to go outside later in the night, she will bark to remind them who’s boss, because there is a type of dog who feels better about going to bed after issuing a few final orders at livestock to keep them on their toes. But, while she is dried she stays quiet, listening to me talk about her day in the woods.

“Everyone knows what a big brave bear you are,” I tell her. “But, Rooki, really, do you have to go swimming in these conditions? Is there some point to it? Of course you do. Why shouldn’t you? Because your Daddy asks you not to? Ridiculous. What dog in her right mind would care about anything like that?”

She doesn’t answer. She is smarter than that. Or, she is merely plotting her next move, which is, now that I’ve gotten the ice in her fur to melt and most of the twigs and burrs out, to break away from me to throw herself on the ground and roll around. Apart from how good this must feel, it also has the benefit of grinding more dirt and leaves into her fur, and the subsequent need for me to pick them out.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Chig! Stop rolling around,” I call to her. The wind is murder. My fingers are numb. Is it too much to ask her to cooperate a little?

She hears the exasperated tone in my voice. It is exactly the one she wants. She has achieved the desired effect. Her answer is to stop for a couple of seconds, sunning her belly, demonstrating how untroubled she is by the bleating of some distant, annoying voice and then to grind into the dirt a little more before getting up, smiling at me, giving me a wag, and coming back to be blow dried.

It has been that kind of day

That kind of week. First the computer bit the dust again. When that got mostly straightened out, the camper flooded, possibly sealing its fate. Then Roo hurt a leg. Again. Then a window on the car broke. Then the check engine light came on, which, though probably not anything serious, appeared with perfect comic timing). The only benefit has been some distraction from the national nightmare, which was drowned out by these lesser winds. 

The Kahoo’s leg is improving. I suppose she just whanged it again running around like a mad dog. And Roo being Roo, while I repaired the car under the awning of a pavilion at the campground, Roo preferred to lie down in the road, in the cold, cold rain, as if the sun was shining, providing yet another example of what a wonderful creature is the dog. I wouldn’t trade this one for the world.

Roo's version of the old arrow-through-the-head trick

If you’re going to play in the twiggy brambles…

If you’re going to play in the twiggy brambles…

The twiggy brambles will play in you.

The twiggy brambles will play in you.

Roo has been feeling better and better lately. Her legs and paws aren’t bothering her, she hasn’t been limping, and she’s back to hollowing trees out while mouses deep inside them wait for her to give up. With a good mood comes a lowered guard, and that’s when the twigs attack.

Ripe for a lynchin'

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I snapped this photo on a walk with Rooki in Van Buren, Arkansas. Some Confederate up on a pedestal, a common sight in the South. I suppose with that hand shielding his eyes from the sun he’s meant to be lookin’ away to Dixie, but in reality he was probably just trying to figure out where the pet opossum who hated him ran off to.

I imagined how nice it would be to ride up on a horse, lasso the damn thing and bring it smashing down into a nice pile of rubble where rats could shelter from the rain and cold. Now that’d be a fair lynching. After the Civil War, those of the slave state rebels who weren’t ventilated by Union grapeshot were understood to be what they were — traitors. As far as monumentalization goes, most of them didn’t even merit gravestones. But once the North proceeded to make the irremediable error of not entirely subjugating the South, favoring a Reconstruction that empowered it instead to maintain all of its darkest traditions short of outright slaveholding, these monuments began to pop up as reminders of who was really in charge. Today, that man up there would be reading QAnon threads on Reddit, putting the word “Deplorable” in his Twitter handle and parroting every word Tucker Carlson told them to, ranting about liberal elites and witch hunts. What’s going on now was called the Alabamization of America.

May the North rise up again.

Home on the Range

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This post is dedicated to Rebecca and Scoutie Shelor with all our love.

The drive from Maine to Oklahoma was grueling. Man, I hated to leave Maine, but the cold weather was blowing in and we had to try to beat it. The little camper just can’t handle it. Cold, wind and downpours hounded us all the way. One of the overnight stops was particularly brutal. The temperature only dropped to about 19 degrees, but the wind was blowing at 35 miles per hour and gusting to 55, buffeting the trailer and making it rock all night while we tried to sleep. It spooked Roo enough, and it was cold enough, that Roo actually slept up on the bed, which normally she only does in thunderstorms.

We barreled through, which, with the trailer dangling from the tail of the car amounted to about 500-600 miles a day. It was hard on Roo, and though she’s used to long drives now and understands when I tell her we have a drivey day ahead and she settles in to it, it’s no fun for her.

Those of you who remember Roo’s early days know that when she came from the shelter she was mistakenly estimated to be a three-year-old. Within a few weeks, though, it was clear that she was just a puppy. When the vet and I settled on a final estimate of eight months, it meant that she was probably born in November. She needed a birthday, and I didn’t, so I gave her mine, November 11th. That way, her birthday was 11/11/11, the only date to line up with six aces like that, and one that only repeats every century.

On the night of the 10th, Roo was looking so harried by the long drive that I took her to a state park in Tennessee so that she could have the birthday present of running around like a mad dog in the woods. It wasn’t much of a park, but at least she got to chase a few deer, try to dig up a few mice and go swimming in a lake.

From Tennessee we made the drive to east Oklahoma in one day and arrived late at night. I thought she would be happy to be back at this ranch, but she wasn’t. I don’t know why. I suppose she was just feeling too beat up. That, and the stresses of living in this cramped space on top of the 2000-mile drive. Either way, she was miserable.

Then she got sick again. Not very sick, but Roo has a sensitive stomach, and she prescribes the worst possible thing for it: she eats as much grass as an elephant. There might be something in the grass here that irritates her even more, because once she starts eating it, she can get sick for days. That means that I have to leash her, which is the last thing she wants.

Her dose of the allergy medicine Apoquel had been scaled back to one pill a day when it got colder in Maine and there weren’t any allergens that seemed to be bothering her. As soon as the normal two pill dosage came back on board, she began to feel better.

My original plan was to spend a week or so here and then press on to Arizona, but Roo needed her checkup and her vet, Dr. Stokes, one of the world’s truly great vets, was in Okinawa for Thanksgiving with his son who is in the military and wouldn’t be back for ten days. Stokes is worth waiting for, and so we did. It’s not hard to imagine how nervous Roo gets at the vet, but she’s okay with Stokes. She needed a blood test, to make sure the Rimadyl she takes for her arthritis isn’t damaging her liver, and with a field dog like Roo, I like her to get inspected anyway.

When we left Maine, Roo, who puts weight on as if you’re just throwing lard at her, was down to a pretty good fighting weight. She might have had a couple of extra pounds on her, but nothing dramatic. During the week it took to get to Oklahoma she started packing it on. By the time she got onto the scale at the vet’s, she was a gargantuan 83 pounds. This was terrible news and has resulted in a crash diet for her. She’s on half rations and spends much of the day giving me a seriously disappointed look that seems to extend beyond just my shortcomings. Her look seems to question the entire purpose of cruel humanity. But I have to weather it. That weight has to come off. She’s feeling all right, though. Her mood is improving and she’s back to wanting longer walks and enjoying herself again.

I don’t know what’s next for us or how long we’ll stay here.