Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Exorcism of Butterscotch

The Exorcism of Butterscotch 
James E Lake 

I remember it was the year Cupcake died. Mom ran her over backing out of the driveway. I must have been about 12 or 13. It wasn't just because Mom killed our dog though, I also remember because it was the year Cathy Crabtree pointed at me at the bus stop and said "that girl needs to get a training bra." 
"That girl," as if she didn't even know my name. She knew; everybody knew our names. Juanita and Becky: the "McNutt girls. You know, the ones who's dad shot himself. Floyd McNutt, the insurance guy. Had to have his foot cut off  because of his Sugar so he shot himself in the head before they could cut anything else off.
"That girl." She knew damn well what my name was. Everyone in this neighborhood knows the McNutt girls.
So there I was, Juanita, the girl with the dead dad, standing at the bus stop in the cold in a long sleeve white shirt with Cathy Crabtree pointing at me and everybody staring at the dark circles under my shirt and my nipples sticking out in the cold. 
Sure my boobs were getting bigger, but then all of me was getting bigger -rounder. I was chubby. I admit it. I was a big girl -unlike that skinny Cathy Crabtree bitch. I know she never had to worry about the way her body looked when it jiggled on the bus. 
They were all staring at me, at my boobs. I was trying not to cry but the harder I tried the hotter my tears got and then the snot starting running out of my nose. 
I wasn't going to let them see me cry and I sure as hell wasn't going to let that skinny Cathy Crabtree know she was the one who did it. 
So I hit her. 
Punched her right in the face. 
Becky was standing right behind her. I could see the expression on her face. Her mouth just fell open. I swear it;  but the best part was Cathy Crabtree was the one who was crying now. 
"She hit me. That crazy girl hit me!"Cathy Crabtree wailed, her hand now over her swollen lip.
We all heard the grinding of gears shifting down the street. The bus was coming up over the hill. Everyone turned from Cathy to the bus and all I could think to do was just run up the driveway and back to our house before it got there. I heard Becky's running steps on the gravel further behind me as I headed for the open garage. She was following my lead. 
I ducked in and turned quickly to hide against the wall like I saw them do on Charlie's Angels. I heard the squeal of the bus breaks and the sound of the door opening.
Becky swung into the garage just about then and I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up against the wall with me; my hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. I didn't want the bus driver to hear us, and worse, for Mom to hear either. 
"That crazy girl hit me!" She must have been talking to the bus driver now. 
I'm not sure what happened next. Maybe the bus lady took pity on me or something; after all my dad had his leg cut off and then blew his head off, but whatever it was, the doors screeched  shut and the bus just drove away; and apparently with that skinny Cathy Crabtree in it too because when I peeked around the outside of the garage, everyone was gone. 
I was kind of happy actually. We wouldn't be going to school that day. Mom could of drove us, but we knew that wasn't going to happen. She didn't care if we missed school. You're allowed to miss six days every six weeks, so why not take 'em? The way we looked at it, that's a day of a week. You'd be crazy not too.  Lucky for us, Mom felt the same way. It worked out pretty good for ol' Becky and me. A lot of times we even took the same day off. 
Anyway, like I said, it was cold, freezing cold. Mom killed cupcake a few weeks earlier, but the ground was so hard we couldn't dig a hole. Mom wrapped her in a trash bag and put her by the steps -told us we'd wait ‘til the ground thawed out a little bit and then burry her. She'd been a good dog, she deserved a decent send off. Mom said she just hoped Cupcake didn't thaw out before the ground did. That's why we kept her in the garage in a garbage bag. 
"Hi, Cupcake," I said as I kicked the hard black plastic lump. 
"Hi, Cupcake," Becky kicked and repeated. 
It was our tradition. Mom started it. She said she wanted to make sure Cupcake wasn't thawing out, but we knew it was because she felt guilty about running her over. Me and Becky did it because we wanted Cupcake to know we still loved her even though she was a frozen solid block of ice. 
Becky and I walked in the door and Mom was in her old light blue nightie, her legs pulled up under her on the couch, watching Phil Donahue. Even in the dead of winter she wore that same old thin blue nightie. She would just throw more wood in the fireplace until the room felt like an oven. I was always so relieved to get out of that hot house that I never wore my coat. 
"You miss the bus?" she asked not looking away from the TV. The way she loved watching Phil I'm surprised she even heard us come in the door. 
"No!" Becky started exclaiming, "Juanita pun..." I slapped my hand over Becky's mouth.
"Sure did, Nancy Jean." I said; knowing she was so engrossed in Phil she didn't hear stupid Becky start to spill the beans. 
Nancy Jean. I loved calling my Mom by her full name, and the best part was she didn't seem to care. She was cool that way. None of the other kids got to call their parents by their first names. 
Becky struggled under my grip for a while then loosened up, but I knew enough to warn her not to squeal on me. 
"I swear to God I'll kill you with a spoon if you say a word about what happened," I hissed in her ear.
"A spoon?" Becky asked, her face all puzzled looking. 
"Yah," I whispered and squinted my eyes, "It'll take longer and I can start by scooping out your eye balls!" 
Then dumb Becky started to cry. 
"What's the matter?" Mom asked.
"She's just upset over something that happened at the bus stop," I tried to brush it off. 
"I thought you missed the bus?" she asked, this time she was looking because there was a Bryant and Stratton commercial on. 
"We did," I said sheepishly, looking down at my feet careful not to make eye contact. "But this was before we missed the bus."
"What?" she asked, kinda studying us now so I knew I had to do something to keep the talk away from me punching that skinny Cathy Crabtree in the mouth.
"What's a training bra?" I asked. 
Well that sure  worked. Her face got all funny like and she stood up from the couch and walked over and started helping Becky take her hat and coat off. I knew I had her because nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps Nancy Jean away from her Phil Donahue.
"Why would you ask me that, Honey?" 
"Cathy Crabtree says Juanita needs a bra!" Becky blurted out.
I kicked her. 
"Ow-a!" Becky yelled and Mom sorta pushed us apart.
"Is that true?" Mom asked, putting a hand on either of my cheeks.
"Yah." My face felt hot, and not just because I came in from the cold.
Mom looked down at my chest. I was mortified. I mean I wanted to die and disappear on the spot. Now even my Mom was looking at my boobs. 
"I guess I hadn't realized, Baby" she said. She reached for the bottom of my shirt like she was going to pull it up which would have been even worse -except I realized she had just called me Baby. 
I loved it when she called me Baby. 
That was what she called Daddy. 
I remember asking her about it when I was a little girl. "If he's so big, why do you call him Baby?"  She said it was because she really loved him and when you love someone so much you wanted to be as close to him as your want to be with your own child, they deserves to be called Baby. 
I hadn't heard her say "Baby" since he left us when he shot himself in the head. 
She must really love me to say it now. I felt my face get even hotter and I felt that weird urge to cry again... Well, at least until she said what she said next.
"Pull up your shirt, Baby. Let me see your breasts."
Okay, she was calling me Baby, but, "Let me see your breasts? My "breasts?" I so  did not need my Mom talking to me about my "breasts." 
She was pulling up my shirt and I kept tugging it back down. 
"Baby..." she kinda whispered now. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. You have budding breasts. You're becoming a woman."
Okay, this was just a little too much crazy even for ol' Nancy Jean. 
I did not have "breasts," and if I did have them they most certainly were not "budding." And if they were, I sure didn't want to show her. And besides, I was most definitely not becoming a woman. I was almost thirteen. I was fat, and I jiggled on the bus. And I didn't know why my nipples were getting dark brown circles around them, but I was not, and I mean NOT a woman. I was a tom boy, and was quite happy to stay that way. I did not need to be worrying about getting breasts! And they're not breasts either, they're boobs
"Oh, Honey," she said letting me pull my shirt back down and fcing back to the TV. "Let me finish my show and we'll go to J.C. Penney's and see about getting you a bra."
Alright, she was back to saying "Honey" again, so I was allowed to be back to being upset with her again. 
She walked back over to the couch to get caught up with Phil and I stomped over to the recliner in the corner and crammed myself as far into it and as far away from her as I possibly could. Nancy Jean curled up in her usual position next to her cup of coffee and bottle of Darvocet. She'd been taking a lot of those since Dad died. She took 'em at first because when she found him, she passed out and hit her head on the floor. Hard. They were for the pain. My aunt Doris told us they helped keep her from thinking about Dad shooting himself and her finding him in a pool of blood and all. She must think about him a lot though, because she sure took a lot of them. She popped a pill and took a swig of coffee. 
I was sittin’ there thinking maybe if Phil had a good show on this time I'd get lucky and she'd forget about the whole bra business. Phil was really good about talking about feminism and homosexuals and sometimes he even had guys on who wore dresses -transsexuals, I think; I hoped today's show was one of the good ones. A good Phil Donahue was always good for gettin’ ol' Nancy Jean all riled up. She could talk about Phil for hours after a good show like that. 
Becky sat in the floor in front of my chair. She had taken Butterscotch, our guinea pig, out of his cage to watch him run around on the green shag carpet. 
I ignored Becky and Butterscotch for a while trying to figure out what was happening on Phil. I got excited when I saw Phil was talking to a priest. 
We were Catholic, so Nancy Jean was thrilled whenever she got to see Priests or Nuns on TV. She watched some Nun every Sunday since we stopped going to church. We were all pretty upset with God after he let Dad kill himself, but even though we stopped going in person, Nancy Jean still liked us to get some kind of religion in on Sundays. I guess if we weren't going to St. Damien's, Sister What's-Her-Face on the TV would work just as good. 
I got even more excited when I realized Phil was talking to the Priest about exorcisms. Exorcisms! Just like that Linda Blaire movie that scared the crap out of me. Normally I wouldn't want to hear about any exorcisms after that movie, but I didn't care today because maybe ol' Phil and the Priest might get me out of this whole training Bra business. 
Becky was crawling around on the floor chasing Butterscotch around the room. He scurried away from her and eventually made his way to the TV set. I kinda laughed as he raised up on his hind legs to look at the screen. He looked like a prairie dog to me. When the priest started taking, Butterscotch scurried back to Becky who scooped him up in her arms. He nuzzled at her face which tickled Becky, so she dropped him down to the floor where he scurried over to the TV set again. He raised up again and then ran back to Becky who grabbed him up once more. 
Me and Becky both jumped when Mom leapt up from the couch and started yelling. 
"Get away from him right now!" she screamed. She was staring at Becky holding Butterscotch. She scared Becky so bad she dropped Butterscotch onto the carpet and made her cry. I tell you that girl cries at everything. Of course I was a little scared too by the way my Mom was acting, but I held it together for Becky’s sake. 
"Nancy Jean!" I barked back. "What is wrong with you?" 
"That thing is possessed," she said coldly. 
"What?" Becky and I practically exclaimed it at the same time. 
"I said..." she was pointing her finger at Butterscotch now, "That thing is possessed. Get away from him!" 
I looked at Butterscotch, then my Mom, then Becky, then back to Butterscotch, then back up to my Mom. If anyone was possessed it was Nancy Jean.
"Mom..." I started. 
"Look at him!" She was watching Butterscotch, who now free to roam again, scurried over to the TV set once more. Again he raised up on his hind legs and again, when the priest spoke, dropped to the floor and scurried back to Becky. 
"Throw him in the fire!" Mom yelled pointing to the fireplace which was roaring as usual. 
"Nooooo!" Becky screamed and snatched him up. 
"Nancy Jean!" I scolded. "Have you lost your ever lovin' mind?" 
"You heard the Priest. You saw him," she exclaimed pointing at Butterscotch. "He heard the Priest and ran away.” She folded her arms. “That's Satan's doing. That thing is possessed!" She had a wild eyed look and I swear even her hair looked even more frazzled than usual. And ever since Dad died, Nancy Jean had some pretty crazy lookin’ hair because she hated combing it anymore, so that’s saying a lot. 
"Mom," I urged. "Get a hold of yourself. "It's a guinea pig. He is not possessed."
"Christ ran the lemmings off the cliffs you know," she responded. "That lemming is possessed and needs to die." 
Now I had kinda heard of lemmings before, and while I wasn't really certain what they were exactly, I didn't think a guinea pig and a lemming were the same thing. And I admit I don't always listen to the Bible stories like I'm supposed to when we go to church either, but I think I would remember something like a story of Jesus Christ chasing guinea pigs off a God Damn cliff.
"What are you talking about, Nancy Jean? It's a guinea pig, not a lemming, and I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't chase no guinea pigs off a God Damn..." 
Mom grabbed the family Bible off the bookcase and started flipping madly through the pages. She hadn’t even yelled at me for swearing. She couldn't find what she wanted right away so she slapped the book open to the index in the back. She was running her fingers up and down the pages.  
Becky stuck Butterscotch under her shirt.
"Ah ha!" Mom exclaimed waiving the Bible at us and poking her index finger against one of the pages. "It says right here," she was fumbling to find her place again. "...Exorcism- where devils move into swine who, lemming-like, perish in the sea... See it's right here in the Bible." She tossed it onto the couch. She was looking crazier than ever now.
"But fire won't hurt a minion of Satin, we're going to drowned the son of a bitch!" With that she started toward a sobbing Becky who was trying to protect the guinea pig struggling inside her shirt.
"Mom!" I yelled and moving to stand between her and Becky. "This is nuts. Are you insane? Butterscotch is not possessed!"
"Prove it!" she stopped and demanded.
"Prove it?" I repeated dumbfounded. 
"Ask it." she said. Here face had gone cold.
"What?" I was still confused. 
"I said, ask it!" she ordered. "Satan's minions are not afraid. He will speak through his vessel." 
Satan? Minions? Vessels? The woman had definitely gone nuts. 
"MOM," I implored. We are not seriously going to ask a guinea pig if he is possessed."
"Oh yes we are," she retorted. "And if he is, we're going make sure he is cast into the fires of hell or drowned him in the ocean." 
Now where she thought she was going to find an ocean in Ohio to cast him in I had no idea, so I had a pretty good idea that if we didn't do something, either we were in for a long drive or Butterscotch was going to roast like a pig on a spit. 
"Ask it!" she demanded. 
I coaxed Butterscotch out from under Becky's shirt. I held him in front of me and took a deep breath. I didn't want Butterscotch to die. I mean really, she just ran over our dog and now she was going to roast our guinea pig?
"Butterscotch?" I said softly. He did not respond -of course. 
"Butterscotch," I said a little louder this time, holding him up so his face was just inches away from mine. "Are you possessed?" 
I swear on my life what happened next is true. And not just because I watched that Linda Blaire movie either. 
Butterscotch actually moved his head up and down. 
"See!" my Mom cried out, scaring the shit out of me so that I almost dropped him. 
"Nooo!" Becky pleaded reaching for him. I pulled him away from a pawing Becky and held him up in the air again. 
I have to admit at this point I felt a little bit weirded out myself. 
I held him close to my face again and asked, "Butterscotch are you possessed?" 
At first nothing, but when I was just about to point out that there was no way a guinea pig could know what I was talking about, Butterscotch moved his head again.
"Satan get out!" My mother yelled and charged at me and Becky who was now standing in front of me this time with her arms spread out as if she could actually keep our deranged mother from Butterscotch and me.
I turned my back to her and bent over, sheltering Butterscotch underneath me. I was crying now. I was scared. "No, Mommy, no." I cried. "Please don't kill Butterscotch.” I couldn’t stop my blubbering; it was worse than Becky. “You killed Cupcake, do you have to kill Butterscotch too?" 
I stood there hunched over, bracing myself for her to fight him away from me, but she never came. 
After a moment, I turned around and saw my Mom standing there looking kind of confused. 
"I didn't kill Cupcake," she said. I was pretty sure she was going to start to cry now. 
"It was an accident." I didn't see her. "
Me and Becky just waited. No one moved. Mom wasn't moving either and she didn't start to cry after all. 
"Grab your coats," she said suddenly with resolve. "We're going to church." 
She stumbled to the door putting her ratty fuzzy slippers on as she went. 
“We need holy water." She grabbed her coat off the hook and tugged it on over her nightie."Butterscotch needs to be cleansed in holy water." 
Becky and I just stared at each other. 
Butterscotch squealed.
"I said grab your coats, Girls," she was flinging them off the hooks and at us where we stood. "We need to go now!" She was already opening the door and fumbling in her purse for the keys. Again she ordered us, "Now!" 
Well of course I didn't have time to think about what to do next, but if dunking Butterscotch in holy water was going to keep him from getting thrown in the fireplace, holy water it was going to be.
Becky and me slid into the big bench front seat with Nancy Jean.  She whipped the steering wheel gear in reverse and the long green station wagon with wood siding shot out of the back of the garage. Me and Becky both flung forward and Butterscotch flew out of Becky’s arms and onto the floor.
"Get him!" I yelled. Nancy Jean whipped the car into Forward and we tore out of the driveway throwing gravel behind us. I pushed Becky onto the floor and she grabbed for Butterscotch.
"I can't get him,” she whined. “He crawled under the seat."
"Oh let me do it," and we wrestled to change positions as Nancy Jean swerved the big station wagon back and forth. I could see Nancy Jean's ratty fuzzy slipper pressed completely down on the gas. Then she pulled it off and hit the break and lodged me into the dashboard. All the while I was reaching under the seat but couldn't feel Butterscotch. 
"Get in the back," I ordered Becky who was on her hands and knees on the front seat watching me. "I'll go from the front and you go from the back." Dumb Becky wasn't moving fast enough so I reached up and shoved her over the back of the seat. She fell down on the other side and I could tell she was crying again.
It was hard to see because the car kept swerving back and forth, but we finally got him trapped between Becky's hands and mine. "Grab him!" 
Becky got him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to her. I sat up and saw Nancy Jean's purse on the seat. I dumped everything out and the junk inside spilled everywhere. Lord that woman carried everything in her purse. Me and Becky used to call it the General Store because she always seemed to have what we needed in there; gum, candy, Kleenex... she even carried an extra roll of toilet paper because "you never know."
The toilet paper rolled off the seat and back and forth across the floor and then under the seat. I held the purse open over the back of the seat. "Stick him in," I yelled at Becky and she fumbled to get Butterscotch in the big black leather bag with its gold chain handle. When she finally did I snapped it shut quick. A muffled Butterscotch was squealing and squirming inside. 
"Don't hurt him," Becky said and I thought to myself, Don't hurt him? He's lucky to be alive. Your crazy mother was about to throw him in a fire!
The big green Caprice Classic slammed to a halt in the parking lot of St. Damien's.
"Now what?" I asked Nancy Jean.
"Now we get him into holy water," she said -already opening the door to head inside. 
Becky crawled back over the seat into the driver's bench and we slid out the driver's door after Nancy Jean. The toilet paper had managed to roll around her feet enough to get stuck and she marched across the parking lot trailing long streamers behind her. Becky slammed the driver’s door shut breaking off the longest streamer before Nancy Jean could drag the whole roll with her and I half walked, half crawled behind her snatching up what I could of what was still stuck. Nancy Jean was snapping her coat buttons up so no one could see she was still in her nightie. I thought this a funny gesture since I didn't know how she was going to explain the fuzzy slippers. 
Becky followed behind us both, trying to carry, but mostly dragging, the big black purse with the guinea pig along beside her.
I had never been to St. Sebastian's in the middle of the day before. I was glad to see the place was empty. "They just leave the doors unlocked?" I asked Nancy Jean. 
"So you can come in and pray and light candles," she whispered. A tiered table of half lit flickering red glass votives greeted us as we entered and Nancy Jean genuflected and did a quick sign of the cross. Me and Becky made the cross too, only we didn't curtsey. Becky put the purse with the guinea pig on the ground and it flopped back and forth as Butterscotch continued his struggle to get out. 
"Pick him up before he gets out," Mom whispered as she lit a candle and then knelt and whispered a prayer as me and Becky fought over who should carry the bag. 
"Spoon. Eyeballs." was all I said and Becky handed the bag over. 
Nancy Jean spritzed holy water on herself from a small fountain by the door and I asked, "Should we take him out now?" 
"No." She said grabbing the handle of the door into the sanctuary and pausing for a moment. She took a deep breath. "We're going in... But be quiet, it confessional hours." Me and Becky just looked at each other. For a woman who had avoided church since Daddy died, she sure was insisting on getting her fill today. I mean we had holy water right thee. I wasn't about to question Nancy Jean now that we'd gotten Butterscotch this much of a reprieve though, so I hoisted the gold chain strap over my shoulder and we entered the sanctuary. 
The place looked deserted, but Mom nodded to the confessionals. Becky and I tiptoed as we made our way all the way down the aisle and then over to the shallow fountain off to the side of the alter. It looked like a birdbath to me -a bird bath all gussied up and on a marble floor. 
We were all standing staring at the water when we heard voices in the foyer. 
"Quick, open it up," Nancy Jean whispered. I dropped the strap from my shoulder and quickly opened the bag. Butterscotch stuck his head out and squealed. 
"Shhhh..." Becky shushed at Butterscotch petting his head. Butterscotch was just glad the bag opened and he jumped out and landed on the floor. Nancy Jean, Becky and I all fell to our knees to grab for him.
I got him first. 
"Quick, stick him back in the bag," my mom whispered. 
Becky grabbed the purse and I stuck him back inside and snapped it shut. Mom raised up on her knees and used both hands to scoop up a palm full of holy water. "Open it!" she ordered. I did and she dropped as much of the water that hadn't sifted through her fingers onto Butterscotch as he stuck his head out of the bag again. She didn't have to tell me to close it, I just did because I knew he'd jump out on the floor again. 
"Give me the bag," she whispered. I was hesitant but I handed it over. "In the name of the..." Becky and I joined her for the rest"...Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," we said in unison and then Nancy Jean sort of shook the bag around -kind of like she was making Shake and Bake or something, then we all said, "Amen." 
We looked to Nancy Jean for a sign and she shook her head and smiled. "It is finished." We scrambled to our feet. She kept the bag. She slipped the gold chain over her shoulder and pressed the leather bag against her hip, kind of patting Butterscotch as she made her way down the side aisle. 
We had almost made it to the side door when Father Max entered the sanctuary through the big center doors; he was escorting a young women toward the confessionals. Nancy Jean just kept on walking so we followed her lead. I could see the small drops of water leaking out of the bottom of her purse. They trickled down her leg and saturated the toilet paper clinging to her ratty fuzzy slippers. Thank God a row of pews separated us from Father Max and she could only be seen from the torso up. She used her free hand to hold the collar of her coat shut tight. I looked over at Father Max. He nodded his head in acknowledgment, a puzzled look on his face. I just nodded back and grabbed Becky's hand and we hurried out the door with Nancy Jean. 
"Alright, girls," Nancy Jean announced as she started up the station wagon. "We have one more stop to make." She looked over at me. "Somebody needs to go bra shopping." 

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Don't Know How She Does It

From a review of I Don’t know How She Does It -Allison Pearson: For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has... here's a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud...brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood... In Kate's life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly... In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women -the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair... gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.
Recently I accepted a promotion at work. I am now supervising an office closer to my home and the job requires much less travel (the major reason I finally allowed myself to get a puppy... well puppies, plural). This would be great news except for the fact my employer often forgets I have a new job and continues to have expectations of me from my old job.  
A few weeks ago I was scheduled for a meeting with my new job at the same time I was scheduled for an important conference call for my old job. Of course both were in direct conflict with my lunch break when I usually drive home to let the puppies out for a short walk and to use the bathroom. 
I am the guy you see in the neighborhood trying to eat a salad and walk two dogs at the same time; and yes, it is as difficult as it sounds but you would be amazed at what one can accomplish in an hour when one multitasks -and while I’m at it, yes, a sandwich would be more practical, but I’m also old now and my metabolism has taken a nose dive so stop judging me for my choices!
Where was I, oh yes, work, dogs, and multitasking. So since I needed to leave the first meeting to attend the second, I decided to take lunch early and let the dogs out while I took the conference call. Did I say this was a very important conference call? The director of my agency was on the call, the assistant director, chief officer, legal council, fiscal management. It was a very big deal. Knowing that walking the dogs while taking the call would be too distracting, the puppies were relegated to just a quick trip to the side yard to “go potty.” 
“Go potty.” There are many quick phrases that people use to get their dogs to associate using the bathroom with a short command. “Do your business,” “Take care of business,” even “use the bathroom, X (insert pet’s name here).” All excellent choices. Maybe it’s because my Godson just finished “potty” training (see, potty doesn’t sound so bad when you use it in that sense now does it?), but instead of a more adult sounding euphemism, I chose “go potty” for my puppies. It is a choice I have since lived to regret.
I rush home from work during my lunch break, dial up the conference call while I’m driving, open up my laptop to see my notes, grab my salad out of the refrigerator, put the phone on mute, hook up the dogs’ leashes and head out out the door. 
Are you familiar with Blackberry phones? They are a rather convenient little device to have for work. Maybe I should emphasize the word little here. They have these teeny, tiny little buttons that people with fat fingers like me find very hard to manipulate, especially when one is also trying to control two puppies who desperately want to charge down the sidewalk for their usual lunchtime walk but are being forced to stay in the side yard. 
So I’m balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder, trying to eat a salad, and being jerked wildly by walk-obsessed puppies when, “tink,” unbeknownst to me, the teeny, tiny little button that says mute is turned off. The entire Executive team now gets to listen to me standing in the wind pleading “Go potty, Chloe. Go potty, Daddy needs to go to work. Go potty, Chloe. Be a good girl for Daddy...”
Chloe finally “goes potty” and I run the dogs back in the house, check my notes on my computer and only then see the litany of emails that I have been receiving from my co-workers. 
Put your phone on mute!
We can hear you!
Everyone one can hear you, Jim. Put the phone on mute.
“Go potty, Chloe. Go potty for Da-Da.” 
Put the phone on mute, dumb ass!!!
Now you may be asking, “Why didn’t they tell you they could hear you?” Well... 
Meanwhile in Columbus, the entire Executive Team is trying to have a professional meeting with all of my department except for the one and only person joining the conference call remotely. This would be the same person who would suddenly start blabbering “Go potty, Chloe. Go potty for Daddy...” into the conference call. Surprised, and I can only hope a little amused and, if I’m really lucky, maybe even seeing the all to human side of Jim Lake -business professional and also devoted pet owner, the group does not realize in the sudden effort to silence me, they have now turned on their mute button. So, while I am blabbering away about going potty, my boss is very professionally trying to silence me stating “Jim, your phone is not on mute. Jim we can hear you. Jim...” but I hear nothing; Absolutely nothing. 
PS In case you were wondering; I'm still employed. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Dog Whisperer

How would I describe walking my dogs? Parasailing with puppies instead of wind. Trying to control marionettes on speed. Puppy Iditerod without a sleigh. Asian kite fighting with puppies instead of dogs. A ground quidditch match with 2 puppies instead of a flying quidditch ball. I guess I didn’t realize how ridiculous I looked until I saw someone else trying to do it. 
When I first got the puppies it was January and one of the few big snows we had this year. My neighbor was nice enough to snow blow a stretch of sidewalk in front of his house and half way around the block. This was a good thing because since I don’t have a snow blower nor any desire to shovel snow, me and the pooches weren’t going anywhere unless someone else cleared our path. Thanks to the gods of four wheel drive I haven’t had to shovel the drive for 7 years so why start now?
I guess the snow blown sidewalk lulled me into a false sense of security. Being tiny puppies at the time, these two never ventured off the sidewalk because several inches of snow surrounded us on either side. With a narrow path to navigate, they pretty much trotted ahead of me side by side. I smiled smugly and thought how lucky I was I had such perfectly behaved little puppies. Of course then the snow melted and I quickly learned what it felt like to have both arms pulled out of the socket by two hellions driven by their noses to investigate every scent that had lay dormant beneath the snow. I also found out there is not a tree, lamp post, road sign, mailbox, or fire hydrant that these two won’t lunge to and shove their nose in as deep as possible. 
And those gentle, happy, people and pet loving characteristics I so admired in the books on Cavalier Spaniels? That was the understatement of the year. Anything that smiles, talks, laughs, barks, mews or even blinks is like crack to these two. Their tales start to wag so hard their butts shake from side to side and they won’t give up until they’ve licked the objects of their affection to within an inch of its life. Of course it’s not just people or animals they are attracted too either. These two perfect ADHD case studies will become distracted by every car, stray plastic bag, blowing leaf and fallen stick in sight.
A friend of mine has been joining me on my dog walks -or as he more accurately describes it: getting dragged around the neighborhood by the dogs. He being a rookie at Chloe and Talbot walking, I offered some advice so that he wouldn’t end up on the sidewalk like I did the first time I experienced two puppies deciding to go in different directions behind my back then bring up the rear on either side of me only to cross right back to their prospective lanes as they pass -in essence lassoing my feet and ripping them right out from under me. Its a move I like to describe as canine hobbling -Cathy Bates had nothing on these guys.
With this experience in mind, I set off with my friend. Perhaps he’s a quick study or has a bit of the dog whisperer in him, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he picked up on the art of tandem puppy walking. He even introduced a few new moves that, frankly, had me impressed. I myself always thought the behind the back cross worked best when puppies decide to suddenly change lanes behind you without signaling first. He on the other had had an impressive over the head pass off that scored major points with this judge. 
Who knew puppy walking could be turned into a couples sport. A quick “Under!” mid-conversation and and I could duck under his raised arm as my pup darted from sudden right to sudden left. “Over!” and I knew to raise my arm so he and his puppy could pivot sudden left to sudden right because, no, the smells on that side of the sidewalk are actually better than the other side. The only thing missing from our puppy ballet was orchestral accompaniment. In a few short blocks, my friend not only had the moves down, but could even speak the vernacular.  
A typical walk usually consist of some variation of the following key phrases:
“Easy, killers!” means slow down, I’m walking as fast as I can.
“C’mon, guys’” means stop sniffing and move on"
“That’s enough!” means “Seriously, get your nose out of that and let’s move on.” 
“Good, girl!” and “good, boy!” means “thank you for peeing outside even though we all know you are going to pee on the floor as soon as we get home.
“No rocks!” not surprisingly, means no eating rocks. (Who would think chewing on a rock could be enjoyable?) 
“Damn it!” means “I’m sorry I stepped on you but how did I know you were going to go from full throttle to complete stop right in front of me because you smelled something good?”
“No wrestling,” means “no wrestling you can play at home.”
“What are you doing!” means “There are cars coming, dropping to the ground and wrestling in the middle of the intersection is soooo not good right now!”
“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” means you have one last chance to go potty before we head inside.” (See “good boy/good girl.” We all know you will act like you can’t possibly pee again now but will do so as soon as we get in the house.)
“Get the cat!” means “Max, I’m sorry; but with you as a distraction I can sneak back outside and throw away the poop bags.” 
This weekend I witnessed my dog whisperer friend fly solo with both dogs for the first time. The puppies had went to the bathroom before we left, so I foolishly thought they wouldn’t go again; it’s just a short walk after all, so we left the house without “doggy bags.” Of course a few blocks away from home, one of them decides to do it again. Still guilty from the “If a dog poops in the middle of the road and nobody sees it do we have to clean it up?” experience of our last walk, I decided I couldn’t leave a mess in the yard even if it was a foreclosure with grass a foot high. I insisted we stand there for a while and shrug animatedly to ensure that if anyone was watching us they knew we had no other choice but to leave the poop behind. I then marked the pile with a random receipt from my pocket so we could identify the right poop when we came back to clean up and we headed to the end of the block. In a stroke of incredible luck, some litterbug had left an empty paper-towel roll behind. Against my friends plea not to, I returned to the dog pile and scooped it up. Since I was now carrying the dog poop in front of me like an olympic torch, my friend had to take the reigns of both dogs. 
I couldn’t help but laugh, not because I was carrying a dog poop baton, but because I got to see and hear what my neighbors get to watch everyday as I attempt to herd my puppies around the neighborhood and back. My friend looked like a crazed puppeteer, arms flailing as the puppies darted from one side of the sidewalk to the other. They would at times drag him forward full speed as he pleaded “easy, killers,” and then he would cry “Damn it!” as he fell over them because they came to a complete halt at the smell of something exciting on the sidewalk. They zigged and zagged and wrapped the leashes around his legs until he was wound in a knot. He unwound them and they immediately did it again. We made it home and he coaxed them inside yelling, “get the cat!” so he could shut the door behind them. I can only imagine Max’s reaction. “Et tu Brute?” 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Paranormal Activities

I was having coffee with a friend at Starbucks when a woman came up to our table and asked to speak to me. She put her hand on my shoulder and told me she saw me from outside the window and could see my heart and was compelled to tell me what she saw. She held her hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. She said she wanted me to know she could see that I was a giving and loving person and that I took care of others. She also said she could see that I was going through something and that I was a special person even if I couldn’t see it in myself. She apologized for interrupting and walked away with her son. 
Flabbergasted (and I think I can use this word after a complete stranger sees my heart)I looked to my friend, but he said he could not hear anything she said. As I told him, I could feel the heat of her hand on my shoulder and suddenly felt as if I would cry. I warned him of this (we were in a Starbucks after all -not the place you typically see grown men cry) and I felt something move through me, a warm feeling that moved from my shoulder where she had touched me, around my back as if I were being hugged from the side and then into my chest and up through my throat which was now literally “choking up” and I could feel my eyes tearing.  
I asked him to keep talking to take the focus off of whatever this was I was feeling. He spoke about something else for a while and then we talked about what had happened. We even joked about the fact that during the entire time she didn’t even acknowledge the fact he was there. I said it could have been worse, she could have turned to him and said “...and Satan walks among us!” Luckily she had not. He agreed and pointed out that if he were Satan, he would have really cool cool car; Satan always has all the expensive trappings in the movies, you know. He then hypothesized that maybe she did this regularly -had a quota of people she spoke to each week to make them feel better about themselves. 
Who was this woman? Did she approach me because she had a quota to fill; was she making an effort to change people’s lives by telling them good things about their life? Was she a fanatic that felt compelled to tell people about her visions in Starbucks? Was she emotionally unstable and I was the person she decided to project upon as I sipped my iced chai latte? Or did she really see my “aura” and and offer me her insight?
When I was getting my Master’s degree in counseling, a woman I was taking classes with told me that she performed reiki. (She also told me she was a real live witch, but that is a different matter).I had never heard of reiki before so she explained that it was a Japanese form of healing and spiritual balance given by the laying on of hands. She told me that “life energy” flows through us all and can sometimes become low. With Reiki, a person feels a wonderful sensation flowing through their body as their life energy is restored and they experience feelings of peace, security and well-being.
Being a counseling student, I was studying to do just that: help people find peace, security, and well-being, so I was very intrigued. And I readily admit, I have always tried to understand things on a more “spiritual” level; looking at things outside of a religious narrative, so I found the idea of a healing energy fascinating. Finding an appreciative audience, she offered to do Reiki on me right there in the hallway. She closed her eyes and held her hands on me and I could see she was concentrating very hard. She had squeezed her eyes shut and her brow was creased as her hands moved around me. After a few minutes she stopped and asked me how I felt. Maybe reiki doesn’t work in school stairwells; and the fact she was a witch in a Catholic University performing Asian spiritual healing practices in the hallways couldn’t help matters either, but I felt nothing. I’m sure she was hoping I would tell her I was miraculously more relaxed and at ease, (I was hoping the same) but it didn’t work. I felt exactly the same. She told me she would consult with her Reiki Master. She obviously would need the extra guidance because by then I was even less relaxed because we were now late for class. 
When I was young, there was a TV movie called Dark Night of the Scarecrow (stick with me here; I’m going somewhere with this). As I vaguely remember it, it was a terrible movie about a developmentally delayed young man who was continually being bullied by the folks in his town forcing him to run away and hide. 
As it usually happens in movies like this, he was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. In this case I think it was the rape of a stereotypical beautiful young girl from town who, while pretty and innocent looking, is of dubious character and would do things like seduce a developmentally delayed young man and then scream that he tried to molest her. 
Now that he had been accused of a heinous crime, our pitch fork wielding, torch carrying town folk had a “legitimate” reason to be even more cruel to the man. A group of men with rifles were tracking him down with bloodhounds, so this time his hiding place had to be real good (because they aren’t foolin’ when they chase you down with blood hounds). The man hid inside a scarecrow in the corn field. (How he managed to perform this miraculous feat, including being hoisted onto a cross in the moments after realizing the town was after him, I do not know, but hey, this is a TV movie so why search for logic). 
The last scene you see is filmed from inside the scarecrow’s mask, through the eye holes so the viewer can experience what it would be like to have angry men and baying hounds track you down. Tension builds and then the hounds stop barking. This being a TV movie, and the need to build up tension for the audience, it takes a few minutes before the men realize it isn’t just a scarecrow the dogs are barking at. You hear our unjustly accused man’s panicked heart beat racing moments before... B-A-M! a rifle shoots. Needless to say, it scared the shit out of me. The rest of the movie was your formula: who is actually enacting revenge; the murdered man come back as a ghost or the poorly plotted sideline character you didn’t realize had a reason to massacre a town? But that is beside the point. The point is, it left me with ambiguous feelings toward scarecrows for years; festive fall decoration, or vengeful, murdering villain? 
I’m sure you wonder where I’m going with this, so flash forward to adulthood and I’m attending grad school with a witch who performs reiki. The weekend after our impromptu healing session in the stairwell, I wake up in the middle of the night sick to my stomach and with a horrible case of diarrhea (I’m sorry but it’s true). I look up and standing in my bedroom window is the ghastly figure of a scarecrow. Okay, so it was the amplified shadow of the actual Halloween scarecrow I had in my yard reflected in the headlights of a car, but you get my point: again, scared shitless by a scarecrow. 
The next morning I got a phone call from my friend/classmate/witch saying that she needed to tell me something. Apparently she had spoken with her Reiki Master the night before and they had performed a distance healing of my energy. In the course of doing so, they had discovered something evil attached so they removed it for me. She warned me that as a result I might experience the opposite of peace and relaxation, maybe even in the form of unusual body reactions... pain, headaches, nausea (or diarrhea?). She then asked me if I had some type of connection to (insert bump, bum, bummm sound affects here) scarecrows.  As they removed the evil energy source that had attached itself to me, she kept having visions of a looming scarecrow. 
A few years later, I started meditating for the first time. One of the meditations I used was a metta/lovingkindness meditation during which you hold someone in your thoughts and say a prayer: “May you have peace, may your heart remain open, may you awaken to the light of your own true nature, may you be healed, and may you be a source of healing to others.” I had been thinking of a particular friend that morning so I thought of her as I did my meditation and said my prayer. Later that day she called me. She asked if I had done something. I asked why and she said earlier she had been doing laundry and I crossed her mind. She suddenly felt very relaxed, so relaxed in fact that she had to hold onto the wash machine to keep from falling to the floor.  
I believe in the healing power of energy. I have not meditated in a while. I guess I’ve just been too busy or too distracted or just not ready yet, but I know I had been able to do something once. Could a stranger who saw me in a Starbucks window actually see my heart? Did she give me a message I needed to hear just when I needed to hear it? I think maybe she did. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My life as a Dog

Right now my house is a maze of dog beds, puppy toys, and baby gates. Lots and lots of baby gates. Luckily for me, my Godson’s parents decided he would not be safe until the house was as secure as Fort Knox. 

Now I have one baby gate at the top of the basement stairs (Talbot rolled to the bottom of those the first day he came home). 

I have one at the bottom of the steps leading upstairs (Note: please spell the word “u-p-s-t-a-i-r-s” when in my home or eight legs will immediately race to the top of the steps. Not an issue, except for the fact they have yet to learn how to navigate back down the steps -please refer back to baby gate number one). 

I have a third baby gate to block off the Living room, one of of the few rooms with a rug (Two words: Puppy and Pee).

And I have yet another baby gate blocking off the dining room and rug number two (I did say puppy and pee didn’t I?)

Every morning is a ritual of shutting gates so puppies can’t get through; and every night is a ritual of opening gates so cats can get through. Well I should say cat, not cats. Max can clear a gate in a single bound, Sophie, on the other hand struggles between thinking she’s a Diva who should have gates opened for her and literally struggling to get her fat ass over the gate. (Note: please also spell the word “t-r-e-a-t-s" whenever in my home, and never, never say it with high inflection unless you want to try to convey the concept of “eat less, move more” to a cat). 

These days, in order to eat at my butcher block table, I have to step through the baby gate to get to the bar stools on the other side. This area beyond the baby gate is now sanctuary to Max, who absolutely will not succumb to the idea that the puppies are here to stay. Unlike Sophie, Max acts terrified every time the two wiggling, squirming, puppies attempt to assault him with a sloppy wet tongue bath. Sophie, on the other hand, has decided if I am going to attempt to become a modern day Noah bringing in animals two by two and slowly turning my home into an ark, is not going to take shit from any newcomers. She knows she’s twice as big as they are and she will bitch-slap a puppy silly if one so much as dares try and lick her.

This past cold, snowy Sunday morning I let the puppies out to pee and took them for their morning walk. We returned home, where, spent from dragging me around several neighborhood blocks in  the snow, the puppies settled into their doggy bed in front of the furnace vent to take a warm nap. I, on the other hand, crawled over the baby gate into the dining room to sit down and eat my cereal and read my Sunday paper at the counter. 
Max, realizing his tormentors were asleep, decided to slink into the kitchen to see if he could beg a “t-r-e-a-t.” He had made it almost half way through the kitchen when he either stepped onto a creaking floor board, walked against a prevailing wind giving his scent away, or otherwise managed to alert the puppies to his presence. They jerked into wriggle, wiggle overdrive and attempted to gang kiss him on the kitchen floor when he decided to leap onto the counter and into sanctuary. What he actually did leap into was my cereal bowl; sending milk and Chocolate Chex into the air... and then onto me, the wall, the table, the bar stools, and the floor -the floor where his perpetrators now happily began to lap up milk and nibble on Chocolate Chex instead of puppy kibble (which I’m certain must be a nice change of pace).

I began screaming profanity at the cat and in a fit of silly rage thought I could actually grab him as he darted under the table. I fell to my knees lunging my arms beneath chairs where Max was now slipping back and forth to get away from the raging lunatic I had become. All the excitement energized the cereal-sugar buzzed puppies who now yapped wildly as they watched me curse and chase the cat round and around the dining room table. 

Finally coming back to my senses as Max wailed in distress, I stood up and surveyed the sticky mess all over my kitchen and dining room. I grabbed paper towels and began to wipe up the floor when the puppies decided to play a festive round of “steal the towel and shred it.” 

Exhausted, I put the puppies in their crate, relegated Max to the basement, and decided to go back to bed. In the bedroom, Diva Sophie lay sprawled across the comforter cleaning herself and giving me her best “that’s what you get for bringing puppies home, Dumb Ass” face. A face which got her locked out of the bedroom while I took a “Calgon take me away” worthy nap.