Trains, Planes and New Year Resolutions

New York City skyline from Continental Terminal C
Image via Wikipedia

Trains, Planes and New Year Resolutions

Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath.  Today, we are a pious and exemplary community.  Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.  ~Mark Twain

I am standing, no, sleep walking in Penn station at an ungodly morning hour staring at the rattling tote board of arrivals, departures and assigned track numbers.  A heroin addict has just scampered out in front of me like a giant subway rat clutching a handful of C&H sugar packets – presumably to temporarily mollify the beast of addiction stirring within her.  The dank corridors, low light and my bleak midwinter Vitamin D deficiency make me feel as if I am transforming into a vampire.  Perhaps sun deprivation is causing Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I consider the year that awaits me as I carry on to Newark airport and a business trip to Ohio – – another 365 days of yo-yoing stock markets, political uncertainty and twice-as-hard-to-be-half-as-good work environments. I know I am not in a good place when an elderly woman walking by with cup of coffee makes me despondent.  Am I losing my mind in this neon and halogen habitrail underworld of planes, trains and cheap hotels?

During thirty years of laboring in the vineyards of America Inc and Europe SSA, I do occasionally experience episodes of self-pity. I refer to them as my “Talking Heads Moments.”  Somewhere off in the distance, David Byrne is jerking his shoulders and crooning:

“And You May Find Yourself Living In A Shotgun Shack

And You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World

And You May Find Yourself Behind The Wheel Of A Large Automobile

And You May Find Yourself In A Beautiful House, With A Beautiful Wife

And You May Ask Yourself-Well…How Did I Get Here? ”

My descent into the limbo of self-assessment is predictable.  It appears like a noon-day demon every first few weeks of a new year – brought on by post holiday blues, back to work doldrums and the frenetic pace of travel that always precedes budgets and a fresh year of earnings expectations.

The dark thoughts scratch at my mind’s door on a snowy January morning in an economy hotel outside of Toledo where I am giving a speech. The Toledo Comfort Inn is the depressing vortex of my self-reflection.  My room resembles that old couch that you purchased from a second hand store for your college dorm room or first apartment. If one were to use a black light in this den of drab, it would most likely resemble a Manson Family crime scene. My wake up call through paper thin walls is the muffled hacking and unearthly sounds of a heaving travelling salesman as he takes his first cell call of the morning.  Against a backdrop of his bellicose cursing, I step under a showerhead the size of a thimble.  The hot water is a stinging stream of pins that push me against the tiled wall like a bystander in some riot. I am not amused. In these nadir moments of life, it is best not to write a memo to your boss, make major decisions or operate heavy machinery. On these days, life just seems to be one endlessly existential, nihilistic rut.

At breakfast, I remember why I hate staying in commuter hotels as I make eye contact with an elderly man from a tour group.  He has been staring at me for over 15 minutes.  His is not one of those, ” don’t I know you? Or ” didn’t we meet at…” kinds of stares.  This is an ” I wonder what your head would look like in my sweater drawer” stare. I move to a new seat in the waiting area.  The temperature in this overheated corral is around 100 degrees.  It’s like an Indian Sweat Lodge and I am about to see my spirit animal in a dehydrated state of blue-collar delirium. I remember that someone once told me when feeling low that I should “ move a muscle and change a thought”.  I decide to write down my goals for the year.

Ah yes, the New Year resolutions. Perhaps this simple act of planning will prove cognitively therapeutic – breaking me out of my mental doldrums and distracting me from the octogenarian serial killer who is day-dreaming about holding me hostage in his basement. I gaze across this lumpy ocean of Middle America grazing on glazed donuts and coca puffs in the breakfast lounge,  and wonder what happened to my grand goals and resolutions?  Where did the upstart populist Senator go ? What became of the college literature and history professor? Was it me or my goals ?

“How did I get here?

Goals and planning were compulsory in my family. Each January, we were asked to record our goals for the year.  My father insisted at age ten that we charted our “stars to steer by”.  We were expected to focus on personal, academic, financial and community goals. We thought it was a bit odd that we were the only kids in our class with a balanced scorecard and performance appraisals.  It was bad enough that we would receive a day planner every Christmas as a stocking stuffer.  What I was going to do with a calendar when I did not even have a secretary?  I do recall attempting entries for the first few days of January only to eventually orphan the calendar and finally condemn it to the garbage. Dad’s theory was that boys were like cars with no GPS device. Goals were important touchstones and fundamental DNA for any worthwhile life journey. “For God’s sake.  You would not drive to New York from Los Angeles, without a roadmap. Would you, son?”  This query was usually followed by my best stupid face as I incredulously pondered,” Why would I ever drive to New York?”

Our family patriarch promulgated goals.  Acceptable submissions included: Get good grades, don’t hit your brother, do not be rude, pick up your clothes, set aside $ 100 to your college fund and do not steal my (father’s) underwear. My dad would smile and clap me on the back, as I tendered and posted my public objectives. He would faithfully staple my manifesto to the breakfast room bulletin board along with my brothers’ best intentions.  These lists would remain like public health inspector assessments for the entire year. They were constant reminders of our commitment to self improvement.

As we moved into high school, we created two sets of goals.  Like any worthwhile double agent, we had public goals and private agendas. Under threat of death, we would share our goals and attempt to outdo one another with wild boasts about our prowess as men. Life was not about the future but about the venal here and now. Forget next year.   Quality of life was measured in three-month increments.   Carnal knowledge, sporting accomplishments, plausible hyperbole and bouts with acne impacted your social standing greater than any grade point average, religious denomination or economic trend. My 17th year was a critical transition year and I was determined to exploit my new driver’s license and fourteen hairs flourishing like palm trees on my upper lip.  My confidential aim for the stars aspirations included:

Goal 1 – Ask the majestic Kerry K on a date (I had adored this girl since the fifth grade but would experience a mild form of verbal constipation when I so much as laid eyes on her. For several years she believed I was mildly retarded)

Goal 2 – Attend 4 Dead concerts (I was not sure how I would get the money or transportation but becoming a frequent flyer at Grateful Dead concerts was the social equivalent of being a Platinum card holder)

Goal 3 – Do not drink and drive (we all saw the film “Red Asphalt” in driver’s ed), do not drink beer on weeknights or the night before any baseball games  (In the socially liberal 70’s, boys did indeed buy pony kegs and parents were not hauled off to jail for being ignorant of this fact. Moms sometimes returned the kegs to the liquor store to get the deposit back)

My resolutions would fluctuate from ambitious to aimless with each New Year but I never failed to put pen to paper. I was always focused, like Catholics at Lent, on striving to cure my defects of character and mastering suboptimal parts of my life. As I got older, resolutions became like spiritual deductibles that instantly reset each January 1.  My goals became mountaintops that I sought to conquer to test and define my character. I did not complete many resolutions.  Like any good baseball player, I considered a .300 average as worthy of being an all-star. In some cases, I did not complete a resolution for years.

I think of my goals and resolutions.  I still have not tracked a snow leopard up the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, published a book, battled with a massive sailfish in the Gulf Stream or studied the great religions of the world.  I have not left footprints on every continent.  However, there is still time. As I sit in the warmth of the Comfort Inn, I realize there is time. There are mountains to be climbed, books to be read, children to be educated and a world to be changed.  William Thomas said it best when he remarked, “it would not be New Years, if I did not have something to regret.”  To which FM Knowles would glibly reply, “ He who breaks a resolution is a weakling.  He who makes one is a fool.” Personally, I think Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better person. “

As for the resolutions of 1978, I finally asked Kerry K out but not until I was 22.  By then, the bloom was off the rose for both of us.  I did make those Grateful Dead concerts but all I can remember is some twirling girl named Golden Blossom.   I did not exactly master self-imposed prohibition but years later, I discovered my own boundaries and learned to appreciate a Saturday morning sunrise.

The snow has stopped and the Comfort Inn breakfast lounge has emptied.  It is time to get moving – into a new day and a new year.  I have miles to go before I sleep.

Who knows, perhaps this will be the best year ever.

A Guide To The Golden State

California State Route 1 shield
Image via Wikipedia

A Guide To The Golden State

Each August, we pack two shirts, shorts, swimsuits, flip-flops and a few pair of underwear and return like swallows to California to see family, dive into the emerald Pacific and run down our self esteem comparing ourselves to legions of cosmetically altered people who resemble clothing store mannequins.

As native Californians, we often hear friends planning a trip out West. It’s always good to get an insiders perspective. To help you maximize your trip and avoid unnecessary embarrassment, I offer a primer on the Golden State – it’s psychology, its citizenry and its odd etiquette.

First, a lesson in geography. California is a fractured amalgam, comprised of semi- autonomous regions similar to Spain — the country from which we initially stole California.  Its massive GDP makes the state the 9th largest economy in world with a current debt rating just above the Ukraine and Romania.  The regions are defined by geography and a maximum allowed number of Whole Foods stores.  These Baltic bastions include: Southern Cal, Central Cal, Northern Cal and all points north of Napa Valley.

Southern Cal extends from the Mexican border crossings east to Palm Desert and north to Malibu. Orange Counts and San Diegans take exception to this unilateral annexation of their regions but other than beaches, Marines, Fashion Island and a few amusement parks, Orange County and San Diego serve as Southern Cal’s pimped out basement.

LA is an area, not a place. NYC is a place but in La-La Land there is no center. Do not go to downtown LA.  There is nothing there but street urchins, Staples Center and New York restaurants. If you are going to stay in LA, stay in Westwood, Santa Monica or Manhattan Beach.  Beverly Hills is expensive and overrated.  Do not go to the San Fernando Valley – again, nothing there.

Do not go to Malibu thinking you will bump into Matthew McConnahey frolicking with his perfect body in the surf. His beach is private and the size of a postage stamp.  If you must go to Malibu, have dinner at the Saddle Peak Lodge in Malibu Canyon. It is a 1930’s hunting lodge set back in the Santa Monica Mountains. Order the bear or buffalo. Be sure to make your reservation between the annual fire and mudslide seasons.

If you must go to Venice Beach to see the orange, veiny psychotic people who roller skate while juggling chain saws, take one hour, leave the car running and then head south to Newport Beach to walk, lie out and body surf. Go to Balboa Island and the Fun Zone. Order Mexican food – this is where nachos were invented. Attend the Sawdust festival in Laguna Beach and see the Pageant of the Masters .

When you finally visit Southern California beaches, understand there is an implicit beach towel ” no fly zone” equal in length to the heighth of the largest adult in your party.  I am not sure what it is about the Coney Island syndrome where people must connect their towels in some grotesque quilt of humanity.  People from the East Coast and other countries seem to have no problem with family style sunbathing – choosing to lay their blankets within centimeters of another group of strangers.

In addition to enduring your major violation of sunbathing personal space, the offended party gets an unsolicited stereo concert of your family dysfunction as you scold your kids, talk about your sister-in-law and comment ad nauseum about the perfect weather.  This is in addition to witnessing your alabaster folds of manatee skin as you use an entire bottle of SPF 45 on your back.

Central California begins 50 miles north and inland once you descend the desolate stretch of I-5 known as the Grape Vine. The name is a misnomer as there are no grapes here, let alone flora of any kind.  It is appears that 1-5 may have been a US Army testing ground for the defoliant, Agent Orange.  In the spring these same barren hillsides of chaparral are a rolling ocean of tangerine poppies.  Think of The Wizard of Oz and the creepy wicked witch voice,” poppies, poppies..”

Inland Central California, aka the San Joaquin Valley, is the hub for earthquakes, mortgage defaults, agriculture and long, vacant stretches of interstate as uninspired and vacuous as Paris Hilton. The Central California coast between Malibu, up to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and ultimately Big Sur, denies even knowing its inland sibling.  It is embarrassed to admit any affiliation and stands a bit like Barcelona and the Catalans – bold and independent. In 1968, Central Coasters attempted to create their own language but the Santa Barbarians could not unlock their jaws to enunciate the pronoun “dude” and the fleeting dialect died.

Northern Cal really begins at Carmel although geographically, San Francisco marks the center of the state.  Everything about Northern California is unique. It is home to academics, inventors, militant activists, people of every sexual orientation and Nancy Pelosi. Anything one could ever desire is within a two hour drive of San Francisco – which is quite a contrast to LA where a two hour drive gets you about five miles from Westwood to Marina Del Rey on the 405 freeway.

In a 200 miles radius, one can visit Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Pebble Beach, Muir Woods, Sequoia National Park, and Napa as well as the Gold Country and Sutter’s Mill where in 1849, the face of America changed forever with the flash of a nugget in the rippling shallows of the American River. Northern Californians do not like Southern Californians.  So Cal steals their water through a mischievous artery called the California aqueduct.  And then just to spite them, Los Angelinos flush their toilets incessantly and keep the water on while brushing their whitened teeth. Angelinos are also arsonists, ritualistically starting brush fires each October because their homes have negative equity and they want to collect insurance.

San Francisco is ground zero for militant liberalism.  It is the most inclusive city west of Amsterdam and prides itself on sniffing out discrimination wherever its insidious tendrils may be taking root.  Legislation has actually been passed to protect the ugly (who is actually going to claim being hit with the ugly stick?), the overweight and the excessively sweaty.

The City is the home of brotherly love – literally, and it is a sight to behold when the gay pride parade courses through the Castro district.  Men dressed as high school flag girls work complex routines more adroitly than any of the girls that went to my high school. In this wonderfully nutty Eden, or Gomorrah, depending on your religious views, you can call a girl a “dude” and a guy a “chick”. It is a melting pot of ideas, cultures, mores and yes, Nancy Pelosi.

If you cross the Golden Gate, you enter magnificent Marin County home of the pony tailed, Birkenstocked aging hipsters who spike their own trees and grow their own produce.  They are Dead Heads, iconoclasts and counter-culturalists. To visit Marin and hike in the shade of twisted native oaks on Mt Tamalpais is to know serenity. If someone offers to sell you marijuana, do not accept the invitation. He/ she is most likely an undercover cop.  True Marin County residents grow their own “herbs” and give it away like tomatoes and zucchini to neighbors.

Once beyond Marin and through Napa – it gets a bit, how should we say, rustic?

You still have several hours along 1-5 to get to the Oregon border.  This is the true Northern California but most do not acknowledge it as anything other than the home of Sasquatch (Bigfoot), meth labs, pot farms and Mt Shasta.

A few simple tips when visiting the Golden State:

1) Never, ever say ” Callie” when describing the state of California.  “Callie” is the name of a 14-year=old golden retriever with bad hips. She is a horse one step from the glue factory that your children ride at a Bronx petting zoo.  To castrate the Golden state’s name is to defile it and show your provincialism with the excruciating effect of nails across a blackboard. Yes, it is a stupid and parochial reaction to an innocent abbreviation but hey, we cannot help it.

2) Do not, I repeat, ever refer to the City of San Francisco as “Frisco”.  Frisco is the guy Jack Wagner played on the soap opera “General Hospital”. Frisco is the name of a down and out character trying to change his luck on “Fantasy Island.” (The plane! the plane!)To a Northern Californian, when you reference San Francisco – you acknowledge it simply as ” The City”. I know most of you believe there is really only one “City” and it is called The Big Apple. However, there are two – and the other is a jewel by the bay.

To a Southern Californian, you are free to refer to San Francisco as the Bay Area or “that screwed up place where all the liberal nut jobs live and accuse us of stealing water.”

3) Do not get your colon cleansed, your tongue pierced or model for someone who promises to introduce you to Sting if you show a tad more skin. If driving and someone flips you off, just smile and wave.  They have a gun and have probably killed three people that same day.

In the end, do not feel out of place.  Everyone is from somewhere other than California. The difference is they are trying to be someone else. You, on the other hand, don’t care that you are wearing black socks, sneakers, and shorts and possess skin whiter than a harp seal.

Have fun and if you see Sting — give him my regards.

The Killing of Michael Malloy – A True Story

Profile of a Gangster
Image by ~ Phil Moore via Flickr

It was a frigid January night in 1933 Bronx, and Tony Marino’s dingy speakeasy was a warm escape for those choosing to drink away their troubles. For Marino, money was scarce and business bad. Only six months earlier in the summer of 1932, the Dow had hit an all-time depression low at 41.22. Unemployment in New York was running at 30 percent. Across the Atlantic, the National Socialists had elected a firebrand ideologue named Adolph Hitler as chancellor on promises that he would restore the country to greatness and reduce the estimated 25 percent unemployed. It was a time of despair and dark intentions.

Marino and his confederates had subsisted during these difficult times on graft, smuggling and murder. From a dimly lit corner booth, the gang that would be later labeled the Murder Trust; Marino, Joseph Murphy, a failed businessman turned bartender; Francis Pasqua, a local undertaker; Hershey Green, a New York cabbie; and Daniel Kreisberg, a local fruit vendor; spoke in low conspiratorial tones. It would be Pasqua who, momentarily distracted by a commotion at the bar as an alcoholic patron was refused further credit, would propose repeating a plan that had proved profitable a year earlier.

“Let’s take out another insurance policy on him.” He pointed to the patron who had been refused and was being summarily shoved from the bar like a broken scarecrow. “Him”; he pointed with lifeless eyes, “Malloy”.

The previous year, the five men had taken out an insurance policy on Marino’s girlfriend, a strawberry blond named Betty Carlson, who was mysteriously found dead in her apartment, stripped naked, doused with water and frozen from windows being left wide open. The coroner’s report declared cause of death to be pneumonia complicated by alcoholism. Her insurer immediately passed on a check for $800 to Mr. Marino along with his sincerest condolences.

In a period where insurable interest laws could be circumvented by a shady insurance agent or willing underwriter, the practice of murder for money held great appeal to an unimaginative group of thugs hungry for quick cash to plug the holes in their failed personal and business lives. Michael Malloy seemed the perfect victim, an unemployed fireman, a nobody – one of life’s cast offs and ne’er do wells that could disappear underneath the surface of the a dark urban ocean and not leave the slightest ripple.

Malloy had emigrated in the late 1800s from County Donegal, Ireland, seeking a better life and instead suffered a fate of unfortunate blows and disappointments so often preordained for first generation immigrants. The broken Gael was a frequent visitor to speakeasies and illegal establishments across the Bronx and chose to spend what meager earnings he made as a part-time janitor on whiskey. His alcoholism was advanced but his brogue and Irish charm still glimmered through the haze of his disease, enabling him to subsist on the kindness and amusement of patrons who would listen to Malloy regale them with tales of the old country. “They never got the best of me” was Malloy’s raspy punctuation to a colorful story.

The gang put their plan into action taking out three policies totaling more than $1,700 with the possibility of collecting double indemnity should Malloy die by accidental causes. In his advanced state of ill health, the group estimated Malloy would require no more than one week of an open tab before drinking himself to death. Marino and Murphy informed Malloy that due to stiff competition, drinks would be free for loyal patrons for one week. Each night, Malloy was only too eager to accept the house’s generosity drinking into oblivion and often passing out outside with little more than a shirt in the frigid winter night. Each morning, Malloy would miraculously return to the bar. After a week, the group became restless and decided to begin substituting anti-freeze for whiskey. Malloy downed the wood alcohol, and immediately lost consciousness. But like Lazarus, he miraculously rose from the dead, thirsty for another shot of that whiskey with a kick.

The gang was astounded at the Irishman’s resilience. They began substituting turpentine, horse liniment and finally arsenic into his beverages. Each morning, like a ghost, Malloy would stagger into the cantina anxious for a beverage and always quick to relate how the booze could not get the best of him. Marino was beginning to lose his patience and suggested they poison Malloy with rotten oysters saturated in wood alcohol. This entrée along with a sandwich laced with poisoned sardines, carpet tacks and metal shavings was offered the Irishman who engulfed the offering, bid everyone farewell and stumbled into the evening. To the delight of the Murder Trust, the next day came and went without an entrance from Michael Malloy. As they were readying their final phase of filing an insurance claim, a tired Michael Malloy walked in, apologizing for his absence and complaining of a slightly dyspeptic stomach. Pasqua and Kreisberg suggested a more drastic plan; a plan similar to the one that had succeeded in killing Marino’s girlfriend.

The gang proceeded to once again intoxicate Michael Malloy and waited until he had passed out. On a negative 14-degree bleak winter’s night, the group dragged Malloy to a nearby park, opened up his shirt and doused him with five gallons of water. His death from hypothermia was as good as guaranteed and the group awaited the news of the vagrant’s death. Instead, Malloy once again arrived at the bar, quite chipper after an invigorating evening spent sleeping rough in the park.

The group was now more than committed and the money that had seemed so certain a solution to their collective and individual problems was slipping through their fingers. They hired a professional, Tony Bastone, to assist them in tackling the seemingly indestructible Malloy. Once again, the group dragged an intoxicated Malloy out of the bar and attempted to murder him – this time propping him up in front of Green’s taxi which struck Malloy head on at 45 mph and then returned, for good measure, to run him over again.

For three weeks the group waited for a death notice that could be used as a certificate to collect on Malloy’s policies. Impatient to receive their hard earned royalties, the Trust attempted to murder another vagrant and plant papers on the body – identity papers belonging to the one and only Michael Malloy. The vagrant survived his brush with the murderers after a 55 day stay in the hospital. About this same time, Michael Malloy limped into Marino’s apologizing for his lengthy absence and sharing his terrible ordeal of a car that had tried to get the best of him.

The group had exhausted every means known to cause the accidental death of another human being. It seemed as if Michael Malloy was inhuman or possibly, immortal. As the group started to fracture in their resolve, Bastone, Pasqua and Marino took matters into their own hands and forced all the participants to drag a once again, drunken Malloy into a bedroom apartment where they succeeded in inserting a gas hose down his throat and killing him. The coroner declared the death a result of alcoholism and pneumonia. Malloy was quickly buried and the Trust began to debate over how to collect the insurance proceeds.

However, it seemed the memory of Michael Malloy would not die. While his mortal body was indeed deceased, his extraordinary resilience and the pending insurance reward began to divide his conspirators. Someone started sharing the remarkable story of the indestructible Malloy, while another murderer complained about his share of the money. The bickering escalated arousing the suspicions of the authorities. An investigation led police to the discovery of Michael Malloy’s body that was exhumed and confirmed as having been killed by inhalation of gas.

With the exception of Green, all four members of the Murder Trust went to the electric chair. Michael Malloy had found a way of rising one last time and making certain that even in death, his murderers would never get the best of him.

The Run

The Run

I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons. Will Rogers

The Run is two acres of patchy, broken grass and hardpan, enclosed by a split rail rectangle of fence.  It buttresses adjacent paddleball courts and the town’s community pool.  It is not much to look at but within it lopes the ultimate harmonious society.  It is a place where dogs run free and their humans loiter and talk, observing a diverse community of animals as they leap, wrestle and chase out of sheer joy of being off leash.   Spencer’s Run is an oasis for dog owners who love their animals and who understand their need for the companionship and enthusiasm of dogs from all different walks of life.  Dog owners know that dogs, like teenagers, need to get out, socialize and occasionally dig a hole.  If not afforded the chance to exercise and yield to their genetic programming, these affectionate canines transform into mischievous billy goats capable of indescribable mischief and destruction.

There are the regulars, the inner circle and social order of mornings and afternoons , dogs, men, women and children who arrive with a certain arc of the sun, tossing tennis balls and conducting traffic as the herders, lap dogs, hunters and pointers collide in great waves of movement and mayhem.  Spencer’s Run dogs are pack animals and while they possess predictable genetic triggers and embedded instincts, dogs have an amazingly human side.  They are our mirror images – – proud and insecure, particular and accepting, high strung and laissez faire, confident and paranoid, deviously intelligent and a tad slow.  Like their handlers, they prefer garbage food to brussels sprouts. They teach us to live in the moment and to shrug off the fact that sometimes life can be boring or uncertain.   The daily roster of The Run’s actors is too lengthy to mention.  There is Seamus, a herculean St Bernard, a micro celebrity in these parts who looms over the green field like a wooly mammoth.  Daily ground traffic is highly regulated by a pair of bellicose Bassets named Hoover and Minerva who patrol the Run looking for signs of sedition and disrespectful behavior.  On any given day the dog park is a blurred Grand Central Station of breeds: Shitzus , pugs, boxers, German Shepherds, Russian Samoyeds, Labs, Airedales, French Pyrenees Mountain Dogs and Afghans – – each day a UN meeting without politics.

My ticket of admission is my seven month Australian Shepherd, Brody.  “Mr Wild Thing” is a high energy herder that chases anything that moves and is incapable of resisting the instinct to buzz his target du jour into a tighter and tighter circle of control.  The focus of his shepherding could be a bird, squirrel, an octogenarian or UPS truck.  Already neutered, Brody still plays the alpha and like the man with a prosthetic leg who still swears he can feel an itch, he means business. To my chagrin, he occasionally expresses his desire for lead dog status through a series of highly inappropriate acts that can only be described as X rated.

Children are for people who can’t have dogs.  — Cicero

Like any loved one, we want to raise Brody to respect others, play nice in the sand box, not talk with his mouth full and avoid stalking four-year-old toddlers.  When we found Spencer’s Run, Brody was a rough pup from the South side of Boston.  He lacked finesse and the social graces required to be accepted into the pack.  He found an unconditionally accepting community that would quickly socialize him to the ways of the canine world.  Despite his Down Under heritage, Brody is distinctly American – – good-natured, naïve and prone to bark loud when meeting a dog of another nationality for the first time.  While as humans, we tend to shake hands upon greeting one another; dogs tend to go right for sniffing various parts of one another’s anatomy.  His penchant for the ” sniff” makes me cringe knowing that I still let him lick my face.  I wonder if it was a dog that started the rumor that a canine’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s.  I wager this observation was written like third grade bathroom graffiti in crayon on the side of some barn in the Midwest and an incredulous farmer figured it had to be true.  His sheep dog was laughing his bottom off that night.

From the dog’s point of view, his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog. ~Mabel Louise Robinson

I notice that owners like their dogs choose to either join the pack or sniff around the edges of the Run.  Some humans are clearly experienced pet owners and radiate a sort of god-like wisdom.  These dog-whispering oracles can explain to you the dark mysteries of your basenji – – the ten things canus africanus does not want you to know.   Dogs tend to resemble their owners and the demographic in the Run is similar to that of America with about 30% needing a dry food diet and a mandatory two hours of exercise each day.  Others breeds are sleek, sinewy paragons of discipline — practically eliciting applause from the crowd as they prance from one part of the park to the next – – and that is just the blond owner.  Like his human, Brody seems to go for lighter hair and gravitates to those from the wrong side of the tracks.  Purebred dogs put him off. He prefers big dogs and pound puppies perhaps because he himself is a descendent of convicts.  Brody avoids small dogs as they often suffer from Napoleonic complexes.  He thinks they are carrying handguns.   He tends to pal around with a yellow lab from Pound Ridge and a magnificent collie named Graham.

I sit under a shaded tree and watch as a well-mannered beagle trots by my bench doing the rounds.  He is beaming after seeing a distant relative win Best In Show at Westminster. Everywhere, people and dogs are chatting, mingling and exchanging pleasantries.  In the Spencer’s Run community there are surprisingly few protocols: Stay with the person you came to the dance with, be kind, clean up after yourself and have fun.  Not a bad way to run a dog park or a high school for that matter. Brody and I debrief after each visit.  I barrage him with questions as he lays panting like a child just home from school: ” So, you really caved in to that miniature boxer, didn’t you?” “Did you see that Afghan?  I mean was she exotic or what? ” He trots over covered with a mud mask mixed lovingly from dirt and a thousand licks.  He is filthy, exhausted and content – – the way I looked after my first Rolling Stones concert.  As he leaps into the passenger seat of my car, he barks one last yelp over my shoulder as if to say, “see you tomorrow”.  I back out and watch as another car enters my spot.  An excited Schnauzer jumps out of his handler’s car and strains against his leash.  He is speaking in German, “Achtung, Achtung! Dies wired groß sein (Hurry, hurry. This is going to be great! )”