Archive for October, 2012

An Interview with a Lab

Through some amazing technology developed by scientists who are not regulated by big government, I was able to talk with my dog last week. I know it sounds crazy, but with the A.C.M.E. Brand CHTM (Canine/Human Translation Module) I was able to interview him for about 2 hours. Sadly, when I thought it was time for a break, I asked him if he wanted to go outside, he became excited (as he always does) and as he ran to the door, he slipped on our Pergo and slid butt first into the CTHM…destroying it. The people at A.C.M.E. were pissed! I can’t believe they didn’t save any drawings or instructions on how they built the thing. I hope they can build another one; it was amazing to be able to really understand my dog’s view of the world we share.

My dog is a Black Labrador Retriever named Jerry. He is four and a half years old, and while he was bred to be a superior “field dog”, from a long and impressive line of field champions, Jerry is simply a family pet. We got him from a friend in North Carolina when he was 10 weeks old, and he has been with us ever since. We needed a dog, and the stars lined up for us to have Jerry – he’s now an integral part of our family. He’s Jerry the Wonder Dog.

The following is a transcript of some highlights from our conversation:

TLM: Wow Jerry, this technology is amazing, what do you think? Can you understand me?

JWD: Hey, I don’t know technology from toilet paper, boss…and I always understand you.

TLM: Sometimes you don’t act like you understand me.

JWD: Just because I don’t immediately follow your command…all the time…doesn’t mean that I don’t understand. Sometimes I just like to show you something that might be more fun, or better.

TLM: Yeah, like a stick.

JWD: I KNOW, RIGHT?! (Tail starts to wag quickly) Is there anything better than a stick? You can do so many things with a stick! You can chase it. You can catch it. You can pull it out of Ma’s hands. You can chew it up. You can kill it. You can…

TLM: Ok! Okay…I get it. Tell me why you find so much joy in those things.

JWD: (Cocks his head to one side) Really? I just told you why? I think the better question would be: Why don’t you? When we go on those walks on the hard stuff, I see you pass by sticks all the time. You just walk right by! (He’s giggling along with his words, and his tail is wagging again) I’m not mad or anything (he looks me right in the eye) I could never be mad at you. Ma does it too, and I LOVE HER, you know I do. I just don’t get it. You guys have this HUGE house, you have room for so many sticks, and other than ones I’ve hidden, there are NONE anywhere inside our house. I shouldn’t laugh, it’s sad if you really think about it. Oh well, I don’t do sadness, I guess it’s our differences that separate us from the animals.

TLM: Cool. Yeah, sorry, I guess I just don’t understand it.

JWD: Clearly.

TLM: What do you like better, sticks, or pizza crust?

JWD: I don’t really think in terms of better. We have a saying in the dog world, and we live by it: “It’s ALL good!” I think you guys spend too much time trying to figure out what’s best, and not enough time on the awesomeness that’s right in front of you. You think about what’s next, we think about what’s now.

TLM: You’re probably right. Are dog years really equal to 7 human years?

JWD: Probably, but not for the reasons you think. Dogs don’t really measure, or have a concept of time. I don’t know how long I’ve been living with you guys, I kind of remember my Dog Mom and my old house, but once she smelled your butt, and told me you were cool, I just became yours, and I was happy about it. All the time I’ve been here, I’ve BEEN HERE; I don’t spend any time thinking about what’s next. You guys measure time from event to event, and appointment to appointment…vacation to vacation, and so on. You measure in units of whatever you have to do, so you need more years to live your life. We don’t have time for that, pardon the pun, we just do. So when you just do, the years are quicker. Make sense?

TLM: No, not at all, and I don’t think there was a pun in there.

JWD: Yes there was.

TLM: I don’t think so.

JWD: (Laughing) I love you man! (Tail wagging again) Maybe this will make sense; time is only important to me if I’m waiting to eat, or waiting to go outside and do my field work… making sure you and your friends are safe, marking some trees, and relieving myself. If I measure time at all, I measure it in fun. You’re gonna live to be 80, maybe 90, or even 100; if I’m lucky, I’m gonna live to be 14. But I’ll have more fun in those 14 years than you will have in 100. I’m never sad, but if I ever really took the time to sit and truly process that fact, it could make me a little sad. You deserve better. Our family deserves better. And trust me, Boss, it’s not just you, I see it in all you guys…you people. When you have as much fun as I have, 14 years is plenty! Could I get some water?

TLM: Dang Jerry! You’re laying some harsh reality on me! This is almost awkward.

I pour some water for him; he laps it up, splashing half of it on the floor, “Oh that is so good!!!” he says in appreciation. “I LOVE water!”

JWD: (Responding to my ‘awkward’ comment) Hey, I don’t know awkward from Aardvarks…I’m just telling you how I feel because I love you. (He walks over to me and puts his nose under my fingers and lifts my hand to the top of his head) Look at me. Look in my eyes. I love you. Everything I do is because I love you and Ma, and your little people. If you love with all your heart, with everything you have, your body is only gonna last so long, but it’s a better way to live. The other dogs at the kennel say that’s why Poodles live so long…THEY DON’T LOVE ANYBODY!! (He laughs a deep belly laugh, rolls over on his back and just wiggles away)

TLM: Do you guys pick on other dogs at the kennel?

JWD: I don’t, but some dogs do. I’ll joke around like anybody else, but I’m a Lab. I can get along with anyone.

TLM: Do you like going to the kennel?

JWD: No.

TLM: Care to elaborate?

JWD: No thanks, we can move on. I get it, I just don’t like it.

TLM: What is your proudest moment?

JWD: Oh dude, that’s easy, it’s one of my earliest memories. Remember the first weekend I lived with you, when you and Ma planted all those flowers in that loose dirt in our other house far away? You guys had so much fun, and you were so proud, you just stood there and stared at those flowers and smiled. Ma hugged you and thanked you, you guys smell really good when you do that stuff. Anyway, remember how you went away for a while, and when you came back, I pulled every single one of those flowers out of the ground so you could do it again. Remember? That was so great! I did that for you, it’s the first time I realized that I just wanted to make you guys happy. You were kind of dancing around and stomping, and I remember how Ma cried; I had never seen happy tears. I love good deeds! Anyway, do you remember that? Did that make you proud? Was that your proudest moment? It was mine.

TLM: Ah, yeah…I mean, ah NO. I mean, I remember it, but it’s one of many proud moments I guess. You always make me proud.

JWD: I know, right? I like how Ma tries to act like I drive her crazy, but I know she loves me just like she loves her little people. I love our little people…the boy one is sweet and gentle but still likes to wrestle, the girl one is strong and crazy. (Tail wagging again, rhythmically tapping against the baseboard molding) They’re good. I like the neighborhood little people too. It’s why I keep everybody safe.

TLM: Actually, that reminds me of my proudest moment with you. Do you remember barking at that man when the kids were in the yard, and I was washing the car?

JWD: Do I remember? What am I, hard of remembering? Of course I remember. You tell me what you remember.

TLM: I’m washing the car, I see a man walking down the street, I take little notice, and even less concern, and about 15 seconds later, I hear a bark out of you that I had never heard before.

JWD: (interrupts) I know, it’s the first time I had ever used it, I didn’t even know I had it. I don’t know if he was a bad man or not, but he didn’t smell right.

TLM: So anyway, I walk around to the side of the house, and the kids are kicking a soccer ball around, and that man was walking into the yard towards you and the kids…and there you are, still just a puppy…

JWD: (Interrupting again) I wasn’t a puppy, I was…

TLM: Yes you were! Don’t interrupt! Do you want to hear the story or don’t you?

(Tail falls between his legs)

JWD: Sorry, go ahead.

TLM: As I was saying…still a puppy…but barking this deep menacing bark, hackles standing straight up, and head down in attack position, standing between that man and my children.

JWD: Our children.

TLM: I was sure you were going to bite him. I had never seen that aggression in you, and I haven’t since.

JWD: (laughing again) I was gonna bite him. That chump had no business in our yard.

TLM: So when I come to you and yell at you to sit, you slowly stroll back to our kids, and just pace back and forth between me and the man, and the kids…hackles still up, keeping the kids separated.

JWD: I don’t think he was good. He shouldn’t have been in our yard if you didn’t know him. Were you afraid?

TLM: A little. I just didn’t understand what he was thinking.

JWD: That’s the only time I ever smelled you being afraid. Not me, I wasn’t scared, and he wasn’t coming anywhere near our kids. That guy didn’t smell right.

TLM: Well you made me proud; I love to tell that story.

JWD: (Licking my hand) that’s cool, but I wasn’t a puppy, at least at that moment I wasn’t. You need to know this, everybody needs to know this; I know I’m a Lab and everything, but if I think somebody is going to hurt one of you, they’re gonna have to hurt me first…that’s just the way I roll. Look at me, look in my eyes. I will NEVER let anybody hurt you, Ma, or your… I mean our… little people.

TLM: I know. I know that Jerry. You’re a good dog, and you’re an important part of our family.

JWD: And the community too.

TLM: And humble.

JWD: No I’m not.

TLM: (Now, I’m laughing) No, you’re not! Let’s take a little break and go outside


And that’s when it ended. He ran towards the door like a crazy hellhound, like there would never be another opportunity to go outside…like he always does. He slides as he corners the doorway and smashes directly into the A.C.M.E.  CHTM.

Conversation over.

He didn’t seem to care. He seemed happy.

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The story that’s in my head is beautiful…I just hope I tell it well.

It’s a story about love and kindness and humor and even a little bit of grace, but just a little bit of grace; I don’t want to over sell the presence of any virtue. These things are for you to decide.

I played golf with some old and dear friends in the 6th Annual G-F Grad Golf Invitational Tournament. G-F is my high school, the G-F stands for Gar-Field. I like playing in golf tournaments, and I’m a G-F grad…with honors, so they almost have to let me play. I have played in every tournament since its inception, the best man at my wedding, David Wayne Bartee, came up with the idea and the concept, and fronted a few bucks (along with some other people) to get it started. Because of these things he is largely considered the founder of the event

It was the summer of 2007 when Dave decided to try to put together the tournament for his 30 year class reunion. The thought behind a golf tourney was to have something laid back, but still have an event. Then afterwards there would be an awards ceremony, some raffle drawings, some finger foods & apps, and some liquid refreshment, without all the pomp and bullshit and expense that goes with a stuffy ‘sit down’ dinner. The tournament’s inaugural year hosted 32 golfers over a wide variety of graduating classes from our high school. So while the reunion was attached to the class of ’77, the event was open to all of our school’s graduates, faculty, and their families. Those first 32 golfers had such a good time; the decision was immediately made to do it again the next year in conjunction with the class of 1978’s 30 year reunion (my class), and a tradition was born.

48 or so showed up in 2008, and it was better than the year before, so those new players told their friends and classmates, and then in 2009 it became 60. Then they told some friends, and those friends told some friends, and so on…so just like Faberge Organic Shampoo, this thing has grown exponentially in a fairly short time. This past weekend I played golf with 106 golfers…I use the label golfers loosely, meaning only that we played golf. Over the 6 years of this event we’ve had golfers as young as 20, and this year we had Mrs. Drohan (Joanna’s Mom) playing in her 90th year. We have had representatives from the class of 1965, and this year we had a 2000 graduate tee off. A member of the class of 2006 was registered, but he broke his collarbone and had to withdraw. (Sissy) We even have two teams of graduates from our arch rival, Woodbridge High School, and a team from another rival school from the ‘70s…it’s a total scene baby!! This tournament weekend is just like Woodstock, except there aren’t nearly as many people, the only drugs used are Lipitor and Prilosec, and there’s no music. The golf is the event, but the gathering is the draw. Like anything of this nature, it’s the people who give it value… and the reason I write this Chronicle.

The beauty of it is the fraternity and fellowship that buzzes around all of us, all weekend long. There is a happy hour on Friday night at a nice little restaurant on the water, and everybody rolls in and out over the course of a couple of hours. The men share a few handshakes that rarely remain handshakes, mostly they turn into hugs accompanied with laughter after someone throws a verbal jab regarding the loss of hair or the discovery of weight. The ladies don’t start with reservation, they dive right into the hugging and cheek kissing…it’s a wonderful thing to witness and to take part in. There is bragging about our children, and in many cases now, grandchildren; there are funny stories shared from our memories, and as will happen, there is the sharing of sadness; of lost parents and family members, as well as the classmates who won’t join us at this year’s event. Most of us are in our 50s now, and with each passing year, Father Time gives us several ‘not so gentle’ reminders of how precious these reunion moments have become.

We play golf on Saturday. We start the day with the registering of our teams, the buying of raffle tickets, and Mulligans, and then we share some more hugs, handshakes, and kisses. My best man starts the announcements about 20 minutes before we tee off; he welcomes us to the event, he goes over some rules, he honors our sponsors, and he always takes a moment to have us mourn and sometimes even eulogize our lost loved ones.

This year, we lost Kevin English, one of our original 32 players. Truly sad, but in a fitting tribute to our dear friend, one of his lifelong buddies, Jimmy Artz, spread some of Kevin’s ashes over the 17th fairway, the ‘Closest to the Keg’ hole. (A keg of beer was the target, rather than a closest to the pin, or longest drive). Kevin’s big presence, his fat cigars, and his great big heart were desperately missed, and yet…they were all there. A good-bye that might not be viewed as graceful, and yet, it was full of grace. Sometimes, grace can be found next to a beer keg.  Most of you reading this wouldn’t have known Kevin; please just trust me when I tell you that you want to be loved the way this man was loved by his friends. If you know that kind of love, your life has meant something.

So after we dry our eyes, look at the ground for a second or two, Dave says something to laugh us out of the sadness, and puts us back into play mode…we head to our carts and we play some golf. For the last several years, I have played with my lifelong friend, Kathy, and her husband George. I have known Kathy since the 3rd grade, and to say that she is a friend almost seems disrespectful, we all have friends, but not many of us have Kathys. The best way to explain what it’s like being friends with Kathy is to say that when you’re her friend, you know that you’re her friend. I’ve never been around a person that makes me feel as liked as Kathy does. She likes me, and I know it, and I’ve never doubted it for one second since the 3rd grade. Who can you say that about?

We play our round, we lose a few balls, some teams have a good round, some not so much; but everybody has fun. After we finish, we meet under a pavilion, have some burgers & dogs, or some BB-Q, we award the winners, mock the losers, honor the sponsors, distribute some bucks to a couple different  charities, and we give out some prizes.

Two years ago I won a blue and white rain jacket with a “G-F Grad Golf Invitational” insignia stitched on the right chest. I loved this jacket the second I put it on. When I came home from the event and my wife saw it on me, she loved it too. Sometimes she asks me to wear it to bed with my Pirates baseball hat and some chaps. Ok, I made that part up, but the jacket is totally badass; I keep it in my car – always. It is the perfect wrap.

So as we’re winding down at the course, eating some BB-Q and continuing the love fest, my friend Kim is feeling a little ‘chill’ in the air and asks if I can help. After she refuses my first three offers; my arms, lips, and pants, I tell her that my beloved blue G-F jacket is in my car, and I’ll be right back. I go to my car, but my jacket is gone…and I am crushed. I search my ice blue Buick from front to back, and in the trunk, and my favorite jacket is gone. I’m not much for locking car doors, for fear of locking keys in the car; I always have assumed that nobody would be interested in this ‘old man’ car, or the contents within. I guess today I was wrong. Dejected and disappointed, I walked back to my foursome, and told Kim that my jacket was taken. I was crushed, Kim was cold, and the buzz was killed.

My friend Kathy watched this all unfold in front of her, and she could see my disappointment…my despair, because that’s how she rolls. Kathy looks out, she doesn’t really look in…that’s a better state of being.

So in the midst of my drama, they are calling out winning numbers for the various raffle items, and as luck would have it, Kathy won a G-F jacket. Anyone who went to our high school would want this jacket, it’s classy, it’s cool, and it’s a 3 season addition to your wardrobe. Kathy would want this jacket, her husband George would want this jacket…anyone would want this jacket.

Did Kathy go up and collect a size small for herself, the winner of the raffle? No. Did she go up and collect a medium? Nope. My friend since the 3rd grade walked up to the prize table and picked out a beautiful red jacket, with the G-F stuff stitched on the right chest, in an XXL…that would be a Large Man size. She and her hubby brought that jacket to me and said, “Here you go. Here’s your jacket back.”

I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t feel right, or good about it at first, but I started thinking about how cool of a gesture it was, and I stopped arguing with her. It was a nice thing to do, and Kath is a nice person, and frankly, it’s a nice fucking jacket…I would be stupid not to take it! No, a better way to say it is that it would be selfish for me to deny my friend the opportunity to do something this cool. She likes me. To Kathy, a good deed is way cooler than an awesome jacket. I hope I would have done the same for her.

We left the golf course feeling great…a great day of golf, an even better day of fellowship, and I got to see another example of my friend’s beautiful heart. Back at my hotel room, I was on the phone with my wife, telling her about the day…Kevin’s ashes, Dave’s eloquence, and Kath’s beautiful gesture, and all the love that wraps and weaves itself around and through this group of people. In our conversation, I told about how sometimes all this stuff feels so big, I can’t process it. As I’ve said in other tales, I don’t think that I’m gifted enough as a writer or a speaker to express it all in the proper context.

My bride listens patiently just the same, and tells me the stories of her day…which are pretty much gonna suck by comparison, however, I’m leaving all these golfers in about 12 hours, I have to stay married for at least 10 more years… so I listen with love. As I’m actively listening, I wander around in my room and I straighten things up a bit, every few sentences during her portion of the conversation, I give her a “You’re kidding!” or a “Wow!” If I really want to impress her, I go with “Holy Shit!”

So as I listen and straighten, I take my new red G-F Golf jacket to the closet to hang it properly and give it the care that it deserves, I open the sliding mirror door to the closet, and what would be hanging inside…safe and sound? Why yes, my beloved blue G-F Golf jacket! I stare in shock.

“…they’re just so good and so polite, and they make me so proud”, says my wife, describing our kids’ behavior at a family event they attended as I was playing golf.

“Ohhh shit!” says the Large Man as he discovers his un-stolen blue jacket.

“I know, right? We’re so lucky. I guess it was a great day for all of us.” She replies to my reply, not realizing I’m not replying to her.

“OH FUCK!” I say loudly, rudely, and crudely.

“I don’t know if it’s worthy of all that. It’s not the first time our kids have been cool in public.”

“Oh honey, no…” I start to explain, “I just found my stolen jacket hanging in the closet. What am I gonna tell Kathy? Holy Shit!”

“Oh NO! You can never tell her…you can never tell anybody! What a dumbass! I can’t even believe you just told me! Since when do you start hanging up anything in a hotel room?”

…and so it goes.

So the beautiful gesture of friendship was all for naught. My lifelong friend’s great sacrifice of a badass jacket was made for nothing. Why? Because as my wife so articulately stated it, I’m a dumbass.

So down to the ‘After Party’ in the hotel lounge I go, and who is pretty much the first person I see? It’s Kath…she looks really nice too, so it’s going to make it that much harder to lie to her. In fact, she looks so good, that I can’t lie to her. This is kind of a revelation of its own, usually the prettier the girl is, the better I lie. But not her, not Kathy; I can’t disappoint her. So I tell her what happened, and of course, as only she would do, she cracked up laughing and said, “Now you have one in each color. Cool!”

I ended the night telling the jacket story to a half dozen people, everyone got a kick out of it. The cool thing about a weekend like this is that some of the people laughed at me, but most of them laughed with me, laughter is laughter…I love to laugh. My throat was raw and sore, and my voice was hoarse; a small price to pay to be able to spend a weekend laughing. I’ll probably sign up for the 7th Annual GF Grad Golf Tournament.

As I told my friend Denise about the jacket, she laughed out loud and said, “That sounds like a Large Man Chronicle.”

She was right. Thanks for reading.

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