Round and Round We Go
The dogs gather at 6 p.m. at the fairgrounds, nosing the tall grass for bits of paper, chewing gum and broken balloons. It's time for class. Chico and I hurry toward the circle, taking our places between Hank, a boxer, and Winky,a one-eyed marbled mixed breed. Six weeks in, Chico sits calmly at my left side, gazing up at me with sparkling eyes that say, "Look, I'm doing it, I'm doing it."
Instructor Sue Giles Green, stocky with short-short hair and a voice that carries all the way to the next county, walks around the circle, taking roll and noting dogs' and owners' postures. "Sue, move your feet up." "Joe, your dog is not sitting." "What's going on with Andy's collar?" Her style is boot camp drill-sergeant tough. Whatever excuse we come up with she counters. Hard to control two dogs in the car? "Use two crates." "My dog has a sore toe." "So?" "The pinch collar hurts Annie's neck." "Good. She'll behave." She bellows a litany of questions: "Do you want your dog to jump on you? Do you want him to pull you down the street? Do you want him to ignore you when you call him?" "No, no, no!" we chant in unison. "Okay, then. Let's heel."
And we begin the walking of the dogs in circles, big dogs, little dogs, a German shepherd, a chihuahua with a coat on, a sharpei, two Scotties, a golden retriever. Chico falls in line, doing a little hop every few steps. He's excited. "Sue, control your dog," I hear. "Chico, off," I say. "You gotta sound bitchier," the teacher reprimands. I summon my deepest, meanest voice. "Offffff!!!!! "That's better." Chico stops jumping.
Things are going better now. We have had weeks where Chico was singled out, where the teacher jerked him so hard on his leash and pinch collar that he cried out and I winced, thinking, my poor puppy. But now, he's obeying pretty well, looking at me as if to say, "What's next, what's next?" He'll sit and let me walk away from him, forward, backward, all around, and I swear he's smiling or maybe he's just squinting in the bright setting sun. His sister Annie, who takes the 7 p.m. class, yawns, like ho-hum, any dog can do this. What else you got?
Now they're learning D-O-W-N. The teacher's dog amazed us all when he hit the dirt at the mere word. Ours will never do that, we thought. Chico fought so hard the first time that his collar came off. But now, he's going down, with a little help from my shoe on the leash. Annie actually went down on command in class last week. I stared in amazement. "She went down on her own. Oh my God." The teacher nodded. "Good, but don't bend over." Right. Stand up straight. The position of power. "Annie, dooooown." She did it again. Twice was all we got that night, but wow.
For three more Tuesday nights, I will load the dogs into their separate crates in the dogmobile and we'll walk in circles, do sit-stay, down-stay, and, next week, C-O-M-E. A graduation ceremony is planned for the last night. Both dogs together at the same time and place? Hmm. But we'll all be proud. We will have survived boot camp. Of course we'll have to keep practicing. I'll have to use my authoritative voice and be clear about what I want them to do—or not do. We still have to get them to stop eating Kleenex and jumping on visitors. There's still the occasional accident on the carpet.
But we will have survived the running of the dogs and proudly accept our diplomas.
Unfortunately I'll have to hide them so the dogs don't eat them.
My "Up All Night" piece made it into the August issue of The Sun. That feels really good. The Sun is a terrific literary magazine, with no ads, just lots of great photos, poetry, fiction and essays. I highly recommend it. My columns continue at The Scriptorium and Writers on the Rise. I'm working hard on my Childless by Marriage book (see the blog), teaching Freelancing for Newspapers online (see the blog or click "Writer Aid" from the menu at left), attending writers' conferences, training the dogs, taking care of Fred and playing music at the church. My days are full.
Oregon Coast Writing Events
The coast chapter of Willamette Writers is taking August off so people can attend the conference in Portland (Aug. 1-3), but we will reconvene Sept. 2 with a presentation on nonfiction by Mark Blaine. The doors open at 6:30, and the program starts at 7. Admission is free. For info, contact me at email@example.com or Dorothy Mack, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Nye Beach Writer's Series event Aug. 16 at the Newport Visual Arts Center features students in the summer writing program for kids. They will share what they created in the weeklong "Write On, Write Now!" poetry workshop taught by Leanne Grabel. There's also an open mic. Five minutes, original work only. Admission is $5, and the program starts at 7 p.m.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Viking Press, 1939. This book makes today's novels look dull and shallow. The writing is pure poetry, thoughtful, deeply detailed work that I often felt compelled to read aloud. The characters speak in dialect, yet it doesn't slow down the narrative at all. The story is a universal tale centered on one family, the Joads, who are forced out of their land in Oklahoma and head west to California, where they expect to find work and settle down in a nice white house. But it doesn’t work out that way. Their story, which Steinbeck makes clear is the story of thousands of families, is filled with hardship, death, starvation, and desperation. We start with Tom Joad, Jr., who has just been released from prison after four years. He had gotten into a fight with a guy who pulled a knife. Tom grabbed a shovel and killed him. Now he's walking home, expecting to be welcomed back into the family, fed some of Ma's great home-cooking and get back to work on the farm. But no one is there and the house has been half knocked down. A neighbor says they're at his Uncle John's, but he'd better hurry because they're all fixin' to leave for California. Although he's on parole and not supposed to leave the state, Tom goes with them. It's an impossible situation from the git-go. Twelve people and whatever necessities they can stuff on a makeshift truck head out with $100 dollars and a little food, lured by handbills that promise work in California. The road to the Golden State is filled with "Okies" pursuing the same dream. All the way to the shocking ending on page 619, the reader hopes the Joads' dreams will come true, but as more and more goes wrong, it doesn't seem likely.
Syrup by Maxx Barry, Viking Penguin, 1999. Any book that replaces the useless blurbs on the back cover with the words "Just Read It" is coming home with me. The intriguing title helped, too, although the book never made it clear why it was called that. But Barry has written a delightful send-up of the marketing industry, focusing on an imaginary tale that didn't really take place at Coca-Cola. Lead character "Scat," who picked the name to sound hip, wants more than anything to be rich, powerful and famous. He has an inspiration: a new cola drink named FUKK. He takes it to Coke, and they go for it, but because Scat knows nothing about protecting his rights, they steal the idea and give it to a guy called Sneaky Pete. However, Coca-Cola's managers invite Scat to work on special projects with a woman called "6," which is even hipper. Scat falls in love, but she resists his advances, and he keeps finding himself homeless, moving between 6 and an old friend named Cindy. Things come to a head when Coke decides to make a full-length movie featuring its famous beverage and hires Scat to organize it. Scat brings 6 along. But Sneaky Pete is out to sabotage them. Will they get the movie done, will Sneaky Pete steal the glory, will they destroy their careers, will they end up in love, will Scat ever have a permanent place to sleep? These are the questions that cause Barry's short snappy chapters to keep a girl up too late reading just one more, like chocolate mints.It's no Grapes of Wrath, but it's fun.
How( Not) to Have a Perfect Wedding by Arliss Ryan, Sourcebooks, Inc. 2007. This is fun fiction. We watch the quarter-million-dollar wedding of Mead and Allison through the eyes of the wedding planner, the divorced mother of the bride, the groom, the various bridesmaids, the bartenders, and many others. Allison and her mom have planned the perfect wedding, and in the eyes of many of the guests, it is. But they don't know what's going on behind the scenes. It's an easy read, all too true, except for the very end, which I don't buy. Read it and see if you agree.
It's August already. Stores are starting to talk about back-to-school sales. As I write this, it's raining in South Beach, but we are supposed to be coming into the best weather of the year. I wish I could send some of this rain south to California to help put out the fires, one of which is too close to my brother's home and work. God, please watch over everyone suffering from fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other disasters.
This is a big month for birthdays, so happy birthday to William, Stephanie, Mike, Fred, Georgia and anyone I forgot.
The puppies, who will be six months old on Aug. 16, continue to grow outrageously big. They're learning, but we've got a long way to go on commands like "Off" and "Leave it." They will jump on anyone and chew on anything, but wouldn't you if you were teething and going through puberty at the same time? Speaking of which, Chico will probably lose his manhood this month. Whine in sympathy. Annie's surgery will follow soon after.
We bought a new car. It's a silver Honda Element, What a sweet ride and a great dogmobile. We traded in our Accord, which was faithful to the end. Now, does anybody want a well-used Mazda pickup? It runs better than it looks.
Stay safe, and don't forget the sunscreen.
All contents copyright 2008 Sue Fagalde Lick.
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