Sunday, April 24, 2011

Don’t Try This At Home

I have, or rather I HAD a small but pleasing collection of vintage lighters. I began collecting them when I was young, after my grandfather passed away and I found several old pieces in a box my dad brought home. I cleaned them up, fiddled around with them and got several of them to work. Many of them were novelty lighters, oddly shaped or with clever lighting devices.

My attraction to them didn’t exactly dim over the years, but I’m pretty picky about stuff like that, and the ones that DO catch my eye are rather expensive so they don’t get to come home with me. I have no idea where my collection is at the moment, but I have a feeling my father absconded with them when he and my mother moved to southern Oregon over a decade ago. Prior to that, they were buried somewhere in the pile known as “Karen’s stuff” which got swept up in the big move and I’ve not seen any of it since. Including my Bob Griese Green Bay Packers rookie card.


…or my Mary Poppins lunch box, my Barbie dolls (including my favorite, Midge). I weep…

Anyway, Tam had given me an old lighter of hers and I finally got around to putting in a new flint and filling it with lighter fuel. Now, I will admit, it’s been a while since I’ve dinked around with stuff like this, so I suppose I have some kind of excuse for what happened next, but not really.

Tam had also procured a new lighter for herself and we were spending a little quality time filling and prepping our lighters. Now, she has a valid reason for owning a lighter: she smokes. I do not smoke. I have no reason to own a lighter, much less fill it with fluid and arm it with a flint, but I did.

There was a spill, and I may not have gotten the fill lid on quite right, or maybe it was just because I overfilled it…

All those details don’t really matter when you’re sitting there watching the lighter work beautifully for the first time in years…or when you close the lighter and realize there are still flames, only the flames are on your hand…

…and you drop the lighter onto the floor… the hardwood floor… next to the plastic bag you brought home from the store, and because you’re sitting in an awkward position, you can’t quite get your foot to the right angle in order to snuff the flames, and standing up will mean dangling your pantleg over the flames dancing across your hardwood floor…

…so you say, in your calmest voice, “Uh, we have a fire here,” and your girlfriend jumps up just as you’re able to get to your feet and you both begin stomping out the fire, but unfortunately you’ve gotten some lighter fluid on your shoe and it’s kind of hard to put out the flames because you keep relighting them with your burning shoe…

…and your girlfriend has discovered that the flames on the plastic bag she is attempting to snuff with HER shoe have caused the bag to melt and is now STUCK to her shoe and things just aren’t going well…

…then the two of you get the giggles and your girlfriend has to pee and since the fire is finally out, she wanders away and that’s when you discover the discoloration on your fingernails and the lack of hair on your hand…

Oh, it only gets better, because later, I tried it again and it worked just fine, so I went out to show Tam. I pressed the trigger and it sparked perfectly, only that’s the exact moment I realized the damn thing was leaking and now my OTHER hand was on fire…

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ancient of Dogs

It’s the “knowing when” part of life that can cause us so much… misery.

Like knowing when to stop hanging around for a phone call and go out and live life. Or knowing when to come in out of the rain, dry off, and have something warm to drink.

Or knowing when it’s time to put a beloved pet to rest.

Knowing when you’re not “playing god” but rather being a responsible pet owner…

After 17 years, she’d had enough, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, I knew she was going to die, that’s pretty much a given, but I kept hoping she’d go in her sleep. Crazy dog just kept on waking up. But I knew we’d reached the end of the line when she refused food. Then she had even more trouble standing. But the final straw was when she would bark at odd hours wanting someone to come pet her and reassure her she wasn’t alone.

While that’s all well and good during the day, when she demanded comfort at 2:30 in the morning and would keep me awake for an hour or so, it started to cause problems, like sleep deprivation. I tend to get weepy and spin in circles when I’m sleep deprived. That’s not a pretty sight.

Our regular vet was out of town for the week, and usually he just closes the office and we are directed to another local vet for emergencies. This time, however, he had someone there, and I’m so glad he did.

She was beautiful, and not just physically, but spiritually as well. She understood the importance of reassuring Tam and I that our dog was in a happy place now, with an unlimited supply of tennis balls (her absolute favorite, next to dirty underwear and socks).

As we left the office and climbed into the car, I turned to Tam and said, “Am I imagining things, or was she really hot?”
“You are not imagining things, Babe, she was hot.”
There was a long silence.
“Are you ok,” I asked.
“I’m sad. How are you?”
“I’m sad, but relieved. The doctor even said it was the right thing to do. Plus, she didn’t make me feel guilty for the way my poor dog looked.”

It’s true. The Ancient of Dogs looked awful; skeletal, with goopy eyes and crusted fur around her ears. She smelled horrible, too. Bathing her was always difficult when she was able to sit up in the tub, but after she got so weak, it was impossible. Plus she couldn’t get warm afterward, the water would get in her ears and she would get an infection.

I knew I’d made the right decision. My hairdresser, Sasquatch, said it best: “Pets don’t have the luxury of throwing themselves off a bridge or sticking their head in the oven when it’s time to go. They rely on us to release them.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the old beast. Actually, I miss the young beast, the active dog that greeted everyone at the door with a pair of dirty underwear or socks. The dog who could leave bruises with her tail as she whacked it against unsuspecting shins. That crazy hound who loved apple cores and peanut butter.

Tam had gone out on an errand and I was in the office trying to write, when I heard that unmistakable sound of paper rustling in the other room, a sign the Ancient One needed to go outside. I got up and hurried toward the living room, then stopped. Her bed was empty and the noise was coming from the bathroom. It was my older son unwrapping toilet paper. After I got settled in and back to work, I could hear a dog in the back yard and my first thought was, “Damn, I need to go find where she’s wandered…oh, wait… no I don’t, that’s the neighbor’s dog.” It was a very strange sensation.

Later that evening, The Ex came by to take our older son to dinner and he asked me how my weekend was going. My sleep deprived answer was more than a little crude and I regretted it immediately: “Oh, I killed the dog today. How’s your weekend shaping up?” I knew he was shocked and hurt, so I did my best to let him know that I was using dark humor to keep myself together. Then I apologized for being an asshole. I hope he can forgive me.

That night was the first full night’s sleep I’d had in my own bed in two years. Not once did I have to get up to comfort a dog, or take her out into the freezing night while she staggered around looking for the perfect place to pee or poop. Even if I was away from home, I would wake up and wonder if my son could hear her and tend to her needs. That’s a lot of lost sleep, my friends.

The next day, we cleaned up the living room, picking up the soiled newspapers and cardboard, taking down the barriers that helped confine my poor old dog to the safer parts of the house (where things would not fall on her when bumped). We swept up fur, and took apart her bed. Now the living room looks a bit bigger and smells much better.

But it was after the cleaning, while I was in the kitchen cutting up an apple, that she paid me a visit: an image of her and her “sister” fit and happy, with the sensation of something brushing past my leg.

She forgives me for waiting until I could let her go. I’m sure she’ll visit on occasion, between chasing tennis balls and lolling in the sunshine and sweet grass with her buddies.