The United States of Meth

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Every person I’ve spoken to lately has some kind of personal drug story, either opioids or meth. Vets with PTSD who pill mill doctors take advantage of to fill prescriptions for astonishing quantities of Oxycontin. Teenage daughters disappearing to St. Louis, the last they ever heard from them, right after meth moved into the neighborhood. People getting their houses emptied out by gangs of addicts, kids in the streets of even the smallest towns looking haggard and filthy. Cops on the take. In West Virginia I saw skeletal 17-year-old girls in torn old leopard print tights trying desperately to hook in parking lots. There was a meth head in Arco, Idaho who was too jacked up to rob me at an empty truck stop, but he was going to try. He looked just like any other kid off a ranch. It’s everywhere.

The worst I’ve seen it was in East Liverpool, Ohio, where no one seems to chance walking around downtown but the addicts. It was a rich town once, but now there are parts of it where one house after the other is half-torn down what with everything from old fireplaces to doorknobs torn out to be sold for a few bucks, more people in the ratty old sweats that make up the uniform of the modern junkie, casing cars in the parking lots of the supermarket, checking the doors to see if they’re open and there’s anything to steal, eyeing you to see if you might be a mark for a few bucks, but I’m sure there are another thousand towns just like it. I grew up in New York City, and even though there were lots of muggings, it was never as bad as that. I heard about meth heads in Pennsylvania who kidnapped dogs at highway rest stops as long as they were wearing tags with numbers to call for ransom. A cop who pulled me over for no reason told me it was because of all the meth trouble they were having.

Out in the country, it’s the farm kids, their neighbors, their parents. Everyone nods with understanding when someone describes the way a property gets run down when someone starts on meth. The dogs get tied to trees, the horses start to show their ribs.

Reading about this stuff in the paper is one thing, but when you get as close a look at America as I’ve had over the past few years, you see how bad it really is. And it is bad. This is not a crime wave. This isn’t about weak character. This is about brain science, and we better start treating it like the epidemic it is, not a crime wave. The war on drugs is just another war on the poor. The crime is caused by the disease and by those who make billions from it, from the Oxycontin family to the private prison contractors. And now that we’re leaving it in the hands of Trump’s crooked son-in-law to figure out, nothing will happen. They’re probably in on it.

A lot of good people are going down.

Getting by with a little help from R.K. Beker

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Even if Roo understands how exhausted I am all the time, she doesn’t carry the leash back to the camper to relieve me of the weight. If anything, she must think I’m in great shape because I don’t stay in bed until 1 or 2 in the afternoon the ways she does. She asks to carry it because it’s her signal that’s she’s had enough and because it somehow represents loot. Usually I don’t give it to her unless she’s wearing her collar and it’s clipped to it, because every once in a while she tries to bury it, but sometimes I give in and give it to her even if she’s not wearing the collar and hope for the best.

This land of many contrasts

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A few days ago, an article appeared on CNN’s web site that got skewered on Twitter for being badly written. One of the standout sentences was that Trump, “… was on the tiled patio of Mar-a-Lago, bathed in golden light, with his wife and son Barron, who had reached teenagerhood two days earlier” before droning on about his coterie of confidants, his legal albatross, opening a new chapter of which Trump will only get to write part of the script (just typing that hurts), and more.

But, teenagerhood? Is that even something people reach? Bathed in golden light? Trump? The only thing Trump bathes are the cans of Aqua Net he hides behind a bust of Robert E. Lee. The best one-line critique of the article came from author and editor Benjamin Dreyer, who wrote, “I’ve never seen an entire article’s worth of “is a land of contrasts,” which was funny because even though the article didn’t use that cliché, the rest of its style was filled with them. I felt a little sorry for the guy whose byline was on the story. A decent editor would have slapped him around a little and brought him back to his senses and he wouldn’t have had to suffer the ridicule when thousands of people jumped on with “land of contrast” jokes.

It’s worth noting that CNN, which is run by the former producer of The Apprentice, a man who has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect thousands of hours of footage of Trump saying more of the sort of things we’ve already heard Trump say about women and minorities, recently hired as its political director a woman with no prior journalistic experience beyond right-wing conspiracy theory. Obama birth certificate, Pizzagate, Uranium One, massacred first graders being crisis actors hired for a false flag operation, that kind of stuff. The world of journalism, atop the pinnacle of which this web site is of course perched, was stunned by the hiring.  And she hasn’t disappointed. Since she got there, Trump started to show up bathed in a little more golden light.

But… “Land of contrasts?” Is that so bad? Because no matter how much I wrack my brain trying to avoid using a cliché, I can think of no other way to describe Oklahoma than as a land of contrasts. Wait — I’ve got it: land of many contrasts would be better. Oklahoma, land of many contrasts where the one thing you can bet the farm on is that if you don’t like the weather just wait a half hour because it’ll change and stop raining cats and dogs for as far as the eye can see. 

No. As you can see in the photo, there’s no other way to describe this corner of Oklahoma. True, it might have been a stretch to shoot the photo in color, because the light Roo was bathed in happened to be quite golden, and what with Roo being a Golden, things started to get out of hand and go downhill from there, so I went with black and white in the accompanying photo, resulting in the usual top-notch literary quality you have come to expect here. That’s how a pro operates, folks.

So, Roo and I bid you adieu from this land of many contrasts, where, between you, me and the fencepost, if you want to keep up with the Joneses all you have to do is build a better mouse, and all the world’s dogs, or at least Roo, will lead you down the garden path and straight to the poorhouse.

Today's history lesson

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It is a little-known fact that before the advent of the bulldozer, in the days when draught dogs pulled beer wagons, dogs were widely employed as earth movers and military entrenchment technicians. Here, Roo demonstrates one of the ways her forebears might have assisted in the failed defense of the Maginot Line against the Hun. Even without the fitment of any type of cowcatcher or plowing apparatus, a dog with Roo’s crack training is capable of tunneling as much as two kilometers per day. Had there been a way to force a mouse to burrow along a predetermined path, that output could have been increased, but many dog programs ended when World War I did, and, fortunately, as the world’s militaries moved on to other methods such as large scale nighttime incendiary and nuclear bombardment, research was diverted to peacetime activities, leading instead to the development of other technologies, most notably among them the greyhound racetrack mechanical rabbit.

A horse who likes Roo

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Some horses like goats, some like dogs. The trainer of the legendary race horse Seabiscuit knew Seabiscuit needed a pal, and they tried all sorts of pets out on him before he finally settled on a particular dog who became one of his best friends (if you haven’t read Laura Hillebrand’s book, stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. You won’t be able to put it down. It’s brilliant and the author manages to make the horse the main character of his story, and what a character he was. In the movie based on the book, they made it all about the humans, and while their stories are wonderful, Seabiscuit was a real star.). He was a very friendly horse with a lot of personality quirks and without the companionship of a good dog he never felt quite up to snuff.

While this horse may lack Seabiscuit’s esprit de guerre and earning power, she shares his fondness for dogs. She and a couple of other horses live in a big pasture on this Oklahoma ranch, and any time she spots Roo she runs over to say hi to her. Roo may be frightened by many things, but not other animals, all of whom she looks upon as inferiors, so she only returns her kindly look with the bossy one you can make out in this photograph. She’ll return a sniff, but that’s about it. And if she sees the horses standing in the pasture late at night, she likes to give them a few deep barks to let them know she’s keeping an eye on them. Still, this one always tries. Though I doubt it, maybe Roo will warm up to her one day.

First day of spring in Second Amendment country

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Today is the first day of spring, and right on cue, it’s warming up in east Oklahoma. The leaves on the trees aren’t budding just yet, but the birds are tweeting and the first baby snake has already been squashed on the road. 

A couple of kids, brother and sister, stopped to talk to me about Roo while she was nosing around some trees at the top of a shallow ravine. Eventually the conversation came around to a Great Dane they have at home.

“We had three Great Danes, but the first one got shot,” the little girl said.

“And then the second one got shot, too,” the boy said.

“Yeah,” his sister said. “So we only have one now.

“How did they get shot?” I asked. 

“Our neighbor shot them,” the girl said.

“Why?”

“He’s just mean,” the boy said.

“Did the dogs attack him or anything like that?”

“No. They were just standing there. He’s just mean.”

I was stopping myself from saying what I wanted to say about their neighbor when I happened to look up from the kids towards Roo. It was the exact moment that she was falling down the ravine. All I saw was her head, like Wile E. Coyote’s, looking at me, her ears straight up in the air as her head, with a surprised expression, dropped into the void. I ran over and looked over the edge into the drop, which is about nine feet drop there — enough to break something. Some long ago paratrooper training must have kicked in, because she managed the fall perfectly, probably tucking her legs in and rolling when she contacted the ground. It’s the first time I ever saw Roo lose her footing.

She was fine. She spent the next ten minutes sitting with the little girl and letting her pet her.

Teaching the old dog a new trick

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Lots of people have been convinced, mostly because of the old adage they’ve heard since childhood, that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Dogs know better than anybody that this is nonsense.

The other day I had to spend a few hours under the truck to try to keep the complicated hydraulics that operate the suspension from failing. It’s not a complicated job, but it’s an unpleasant one, because without a lift, there isn’t enough room down there. And, because there are five times in the process when the hydraulic pressure is relieved and drops the truck as low as it will go, you have to stay out of the way when it comes down to keep from getting your head cracked open like a walnut. To relieve the pressure, all you have to do is open a tiny valve by turning a nut a quarter of a turn. First you put some hose around the opening so the hydraulic fluid — which is messy, messy red stuff — doesn’t dump all over you and on the ground, and goes instead into a water jug at the other end. I had the wrong size hose. Had it been the right size, it would have snugged on and held itself in place. Mine was a little too wide, so I was going to have to hold it in place when the fluid drained. This was difficult because four of those five valves are tucked up behind other junk. Another three elbows would have come in handy. 

Another problem was that I didn’t have the right kind of wrench. I thought I did, but I was wrong, and I didn’t want to drive all the way to town to buy one. I had a small adjustable wrench that would work. It just wouldn’t hold itself in place the way the right wrench would, but there we were. It was going to make it harder to do it all by feel when I’d have to get out of the way to keep from getting crushed, but I was going to try it

I had left the camper door open because I had to go back inside to check the computer for the instructions for this operation from time to time, and I didn’t want to get gunk all over the place every time I went inside. It was only around 11:30 AM —much too early for Roo to wake up — so I was a little surprised when she snuffed at my ear while I was lying on the cold asphalt with my neck craned and both arms snaked and twisted to hold onto the wrench and the hose in place while trying to move out of the way enough to get out of the way of the truck when it was going to come down.

“Well, if it isn’t Chiggi Bear Beker the dog,” I said. “What gets you out of bed so early of a morning?”

She lay down on the ground and gave me a serious look. I couldn’t risk opening the valve with her there, because if the hose slipped it could spew fluid all over the place. I had put a towel don to protect the asphalt in case that happened, but if it squirted on Roo it would stain her a deep hydraulic red that could take months to come out. It would be as bad as the time Orville had to sit there and have several garlands of flowers hung around his neck and red tikka powder sprinkled all over his white head on the day when dogs are celebrated in Nepal as representatives of the Hindu god Bharat (who is a dog, and the idea is that you need to keep the dogs happy because on their next life they get to come back as humans and you want them on your side). Orville had blotches of red on him for weeks.

Roo kept looking at me.

“Little Bear, please, get out of here, will you?” I said, but this had no effect. She just kept staring at me with her ears up and her eyes wide open. Roo has never been told to get away from me, so there wasn’t much of a chance that she would start now. By now, my shoulders were cramping up anyway and a crick was developing in my back from the awkward position and the cold, so I gave in and undid the hose and the wrench.

Roo kept staring at me. When I got far enough out from under the truck she sat up and smiled and wagged her tail. She got up and took a step towards the camper, stopped and looked back at me. She took another step that way again, putting a playful little hop into it, and looked back at me again.

I stood up. That made her prance back at me and then back at the camper. It was obvious that she wanted to show me something.

“Okay, okay, hold your horses,” I said. “I’m coming.”

I followed her back into the camper. She went in first and then stopped to make sure I was following her. When I was inside she went to the bed and sat at the foot and put her chin on it.

“You’re kidding,” I said. 

She rolled her head a little in my direction to look at me, cocking the downwind eyebrow way up, but she didn’t lift her chin up. She had her ears flattened out in the way dogs do when they’re asking you something nicely. What she wanted was my help to get up on the bed. 

“You have got to be joking,” I said. ‘This is what you brought me in for?”

The bed is high off the ground and it’s true that at seven-point-something years old it’s getting hard for Roo to jump up there herself. On the rare occasion when she wants to get up there she puts her chin up there like that and then hops her front paws up and I help her up by lifting her up the rest of way by the hocks. That’s what I did now.

Now, you know how when you get a dog to do something you praise them to let you know how pleased you are with them? Roo believes in that technique, too. As soon as she was up on the bed she dropped onto her back and started wiggling around the way she does in the snow and started snorting, enough to make her sneeze. Oh, she was pleased with herself. She kept wiggling and looking at me until I came over, patted her a few times on the belly and congratulated her. 

So, even if it’s one I might come to regret now that she’ll certainly try it out more often, that was the lesson in this. The way she congratulated me so enthusiastically pretty much guaranteed that the next time she pulls this on me, this old dog will have learned his lesson and learned it well. It wasn’t just getting me to perform the behavior she wanted — following her inside and helping her up on the bed — it was getting me to feel good about it that was the key.

So forget about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. I’m 60, and training me is a piece of cake.