Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

My heart sank when I saw the big fat envelope in my letter-box.

I thought, It's my novel. The agent didn't like it. So she's sent it back with one of those notes that says, It's a great novel, but I'm not sufficiently in love with it to be able to represent you.

That's what they say, these days. They're not in love. This is the literary world's equivalent of the mechanical voice that assures you your call is really important.

But it wasn't a manuscript, after all. The envelope contained a blanket. The Humane Society of the United States had sent me an unsolicited blanket. With -- of course -- a request for funds to help them to succor abused animals.

It occured to me that it would cost me as much to send the blanket back to them as to just go ahead and donate. (I'm sure some bright young Harvard Business School graduate has already pointed this out to them) And, hey! It's a really nice blanket. It's soft, and lightweight, and just the right size to throw over a chair when Bao and I are out together.

What's more, it's my blanket. The enclosed letter says I can keep it, whether I send a donation or not. It's the Humane Society's gift to me.

Did I send a check? Of course I did.

Do other people?

I wonder.

It troubles me that organizations like this are spending as much money on fund-raising as they're spending on the animals who are, after all, supposed to be the point of the entire exercise. Where was the Humane Society during Katrina? For that matter, where was the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals? And while we're on the subject, why do we need two separate organizations that are apparently doing exactly the same thing?

Moreover, with all these people raising all this money, why does cruelty to animals seem to be on the increase? Why are there more unwanted dogs than ever?

Maybe we need a different approach.

My husband always said you shouldn't criticize without making some kind of positive suggestion.

So here's an idea. Instead of licensing dogs, why don't we license humans?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The end is nigh, I said to Bao.We're a million years overdue for a mass extinction. The earth's magnetic field has a crack in it. Yellowstone is getting ready to erupt. The glaciers are melting. Our solar system is entering a nasty bit of the galaxy, and our sun is acting crazy. And on top of everything else, we're running out of oil.

Tucson Professor Guy McPherson says world oil production reached its peak in 2005, at 85 million barrels per day. Demand is steadily increasing, but production is falling. By next year, daily production will be less than 78 million barrels. And in 2015, when world demand for oil will exceed 120 million barrels per day, only 65 million barrels per day will be produced. Oil will cost $400 per barrel, or more. Chaos will ensue. (Maybe I shouldn't have bought that stock)

Of course, the Mayan calendar says it's all going to end in December, 2012, so perhaps it won't matter. However, Professor McPherson thinks it will. He says that most experts who write upon this topic predict complete economic collapse within a decade, followed shortly thereafter by anarchy.

Assuming the Mayans are wrong, I could still be alive within a decade. I'll be an old lady. A sweltering, starving old lady. And you'll be an old dog, I told Bao. And there won't be any air conditioning. So listen up.

Professor McPherson says we need to learn skills for a post-carbon world. Like rubbing sticks together to make fire, and growing edible crops, and harvesting water.

Bao gave me a look, and went back to sleep.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

We've had a rash of dog cruelty stories here in Tucson.
A Shih Tzu was tied to a cactus in the middle of the desert and left to die (rescued, and now in a loving home) A pit bull was used for target practice by two young men (rescued, but euthanized) Today, I read an awful story about a pregnant German Shepherd mix named Cissy, who was tied up and left without food or water. And a greyhound named Otis, who had his tail sawed off and his face burned with cigarettes. Plus -- and I quote -- "details too graphic for most."
Pima County Superior Court Judge Howard Fell sentenced the owner of Otis and Cissy, Wayne Allen Dean, to two years in prison, adding that Dean wasn't an appropriate candidate for probation, given the acts he committed and his unrepentant attitude.
Dean's lawyer objected, saying that the two guys who'd shot the pit bull didn't end up going to prison.
Fell's succinct reply to that was: "I didn't sentence them."
Dean is quoted as saying (presumably in his defense): "I wouldn't sodomize that dog. That's insane."
He also pleaded guilty to an indictment that included nearly a dozen felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty counts. The mind boggles. No, it doesn't. It recoils in horror, and disgust.
Both dogs were rescued, but Otis, Cissy and her puppies subsequently contracted distemper, and had to be euthanized. Judge Fell ordered Dean to pay the $5,250 it cost the county to care for them, despite Dean's lawyer's objection that the dogs only had a "fair market value" of $180.
One can't help but notice that these animal abusers always seem to be men .
I think prison is way too good for them, especially in light of the fact that most of their victims (including Cissy's innocent puppies) end up paying the ultimate price. You know what I think we ought to do to people like Wayne Allan Dean? I think we ought to neuter them. Humanely, of course. Under anaesthetic. Just like we do to dogs.
This isn't nearly as cruel as what they do. In fact, it's not cruel at all. We'd actually be doing them a favor. They wouldn't have to worry about getting testicular cancer afterwards, would they?

Monday, March 26, 2007

The good news is that our local animal welfare organization is starting a play group especially for little dogs like Bao.

The bad news is that only neutered and spayed little dogs will be permitted to attend. And they won't just take your word for it, either. You have to present "proof" (a note from the vet, I assume) before they'll let you in.
This is so disappointing. This is so unfair. I know that some male dogs are aggressive, and the received wisdom is that neutering helps. But you know what? The pit bull that attacked and nearly killed Bao was neutered, and it didn't slow that dog down one small bit.

Obviously, you wouldn't bring a female dog on heat into a doggie play group. That's just common sense.

But I do think that insisting every dog in the group be neutered or spayed is going too far. In fact, I think this whole neutering and spaying thing has gone too far. Because do you know what's happening? Beautiful, sweet-tempered, beloved dogs whose owners care for them and don't let them run loose and who are therefore highly unlikely to bring unwanted puppies into the world are being systematically removed from the gene pool, while dogs whose owners don't give a damn one way or the other are out there breeding like rabbits.

An intact dog isn't necessarily aggressive, or vicious. And a neutered dog isn't necessarily nice. Dogs -- like people -- should be judged on the basis of what they are, not on the basis of whether or not they've got all their bits.

Bao would have loved going to a play group. But I'm not going to cut off his balls, not at this stage. I mean, would you?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

We've got new patio furniture. But it wasn't easy. First, I had to find it. That took two years. Then I had to pay for it. And then I had to get it out of the store, and that was the point at which everything almost came unstuck.

See, Costco doesn't deliver. (You probably already knew that) And you can't just arrange to have things picked up, either. You buy it, you haul it away on the same day, or they charge you storage. It's a warehouse, the guy said. That's why it's cheap.

So there we were with these three humungous boxes. Two of them were half as big as my car. The third one was actually a bit bigger than the car.

Suddenly, I remembered that one of my neighbors (let's call him Joe) has a pickup truck.

I've been on my own for eighteen years, ever since my husband passed away. And I learned very quickly that the only thing married female neighbors hate more than a widow is a helpless widow. So I never, ever ask for help. If I can't do it myself, it doesn't get done.

But this was different. I loved this patio furniture. I'd never seen anything like it (at the price) anywhere. And I wanted it. And I know Joe and Doreen -- I've been a guest in their home, and they've been guests in mine.

So I asked.

And Joe immediately said, Okay.

Trouble is, Doreen was not pleased, not one little bit. She scowled at me and rolled her eyes and breathed heavily through her nose without actually saying anything. I probably should have just told them, Forget it. But I really wanted that furniture.

It was only a ten minute drive, but it wouldn't all fit in the truck and we had to make two trips. So we loaded up the big box first, brought it back and (with the help of my other neighbor, Pete) unloaded it.

Doreen came marching up the driveway. When Joe told her that we were going to have to make a second trip, she went ballistic. This is totally unacceptable! she spat.

I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. Neither did Joe. Doreen stomped back across the street, and we went and got the other two boxes.

This morning, I bought a 12-pack of Joe's favorite beer and left it -- with a thank you note -- inside their gate.

But what did I do that was so terrible? Joe is retired. He wasn't busy, he wasn't doing anything. And he could have simply said, No.

Oh, well. What's done is done. Bao loves the furniture. And so do I.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Scary stuff about the dog food, isn't it? And I thought it was really cruel of Menu Foods to force people to either ring up or log onto a web-site to get specific information as to which brands were affected. Lots of people still don't have computers. Some people don't even have telephones. I've heard it said that even in America, elderly people below the poverty line sometimes eat pet food themselves -- they certainly did in Australia.

I was scared, I admit it. I raced into the kitchen and read all the small print on our expensive little packets of Cesar Canine Cuisine. No gluten. Whew!

But I have to say, I was amazed to find out what does go into this stuff. Its mostly beef by-products, poultry by-products and meat by-products. What kind of meat, other than beef, lamb or pork? I probably don't want to know. When they refer to by-products they're obviously talking about ground up bones and spinal cords and such things. But they don't want to tell us that, because it would freak us out. As well it should. I mean, what if it turns out that dogs can contract Mad Cow disease? See what I mean by scary?

And then -- just out of curiosity -- I looked at the fine print on last night's Lean Cuisine. Glazed Chicken, 220 calories. (Yeah, I'm still dieting) Contains chicken tenderloins, high fructose corn syrup -- what? High fructose corn syrup? That's absolutely the worst thing in the whole world for anyone who's trying to lose weight! I feel sabotaged, betrayed. I'm starving myself and eating high fructose corn syrup? Mean Cuisine, that's what it is.

I know, I know. It's our responsibility to read all the fine print. That's why it's there. Trouble is, as I get older and older, the print gets smaller and smaller. And there's more of it. Maybe that's why the world is going to end in 2012.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Here's Bao, curled up with a good book. There's nothing he likes better than to curl up with a good book -- or failing that, someone who's reading one!

This is a good book. This is a great book. This book is really good fun. And I'm not just saying that just because the author happens to be a dear friend of mine, although he is. It's called, Doctor in Vanuatu by E.A. (Ted) Freeman and it's about packing up your young wife and five kids (one of them newly born) and going off to the New Hebrides to be a medical missionary in the sixties. Lots of us did lots of things in the sixties, but this takes the cake, although doctoring on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was definitely no cakewalk.

You had to learn to do without certain things in the New Hebrides, things like running water and refrigeration and electricity. You had to be flexible. You had to be the sort of person who could perform surgery by torch-light, with a medical text propped open in front of you. Occasionally, you also had to be the primary blood donor. No blood banks in the New Hebrides, back then.

And you know what? They enjoyed every minute of it, the whole family. They had a ball. That's what I mean when I say this book is fun. It's a blast. It's an experience. You can get it through Amazon and I promise you, you'll love it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

We saw dolphins this morning. Three of them, leaping and diving around the offshore reef. This is the first time I've ever seen dolphins naturally, not in a zoo or an aquarium.

This is the view from the balcony of our condo in Puerto Penasco, also known as Rocky Point. (I like the sound of Puerto Penasco better. It rolls so trippingly off the tongue)

Bao is gradually getting used to the idea of the beach. What he really likes is hanging out beside the pool, curled up under by chair in the shade. But I've got these fantasies of Bao and me, running along the sand, the wind in our hair, all of that. So he's really got to get over his fear of the sea gulls, most of which are the size of turkeys and therefore, much bigger than he is.

This is Spring Break, and I wondered how bad it would be. Not bad at all, mostly because there's a fairly strict policy about renting to kids. And the condos are expensive. I remember Spring Break, back when I was young. Fort Lauderdale. Where the boys were. Problem was, most of the boys were drunk most of the time. Everyone was drunk. That was the point of it, to get drunk. It still seems to be the point. I couldn't figure it out then, and I still can't. And you know what? I'm glad I'm not young anymore.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

We'll travel miles and miles to see the sights in a distant city, yet we often don't bother with what's in our own backyard. Funny, isn't it? I lived in Sydney (Australia) for years before I got around to actually visiting the Opera House, and then it was only because I had a visitor from overseas who wanted to see it. And I know half a dozen people who've lived in New York all their lives and never been to the top of the Empire State building.

There's a world-famous art gallery just down the road from me, and I've never actually been inside the place. Can you believe it? Yet when I'm travelling, you can't keep me out of art galleries. I love buying stuff, and bringing it home, and I'm forever rearranging my walls and pedestals, showcasing the treasures I've found in faraway places. A couple of years ago, I bought a lovely fountain in Sedona, only to discover that the sculptor who created it actually lives here in Tucson!

Lots of artists live here, and Maurice Sevigny is one of them.

I have been in love with Maurice's work ever since I saw one of his watercolors reproduced on a note-card. I'm drawn to the vivid colors and the bold style, the vibrant reds and blues and yellows. You only have to look at one of his paintings, and you feel happy. Maurice is Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona (and he's also a descendant of Mme de Sevigny, which impresses me no end) and when he invited me to his studio to preview his collection prior to an open house, I jumped at the opportunity.

So here we are, doing art.

The painting in the photograph is called, Marbles. And if you think this is gorgeous, you should see the two we bought.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Here's Bao with Laurie and a handful of Cory's birthday balloons. Bao loves Laurie (and he absolutely adores Cory) but as you can see, he's not so sure about the balloons.

Laurie is like a daughter to me. Today was her son Cory's birthday party, and to my delight, we were invited.

It was Bao's first kids' birthday party. Actually, it wasn't all that different from the doggie birthday parties we've attended. Presents, noise, paper cups and paper plates and lots of running around. At least, we didn't have to worry about the guests biting one another.

I don't have any family of my own, and I think it's kind of wonderful that Laurie has come into my life. We met at the gym nearly two years ago, and we hit it off right from the start. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself listening to her problems and giving advice (her own mother passed away when she was much younger) and then all of a sudden it was Christmas Eve.

What are you doing tonight? Laurie asked.

Nothing, I said.

But you can't be alone on Christmas Eve!

I said, I've been alone on Christmas Eve ever since my husband died, in 1989. That's 16 years of being alone. I'm used to it, by now.

Well, you won't be alone this year, said Laurie. You're coming out to dinner with us.

Suddenly, I was part of a family again. Just like that. It was the most wonderful Christmas Eve I'd had in years. We did it again last year. Same gang, same restaurant. It's becoming a tradition.

I had a wonderful marriage, but I've always envied my friends who have grownup daughters, and grandchildren. I've always wondered what it felt like.

It feels great, doesn't it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Doesn't look much like Bao, does it?

It's a Shih Tzu carved out of a bit of bamboo root, treasured by some Chinese scholar two hundred years ago. It's tiny -- about the size of my thumb -- and is holding a lattice-work ball that symbolizes the Buddhist jewel of truth. It's from the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which I hope to visit this summer.

Shih Tzu means lion dog in Chinese. The Chinese thought they looked like lions. Of course, there weren't any lions in China, so nobody knew what a lion really looked like.

Who knows how many lovely poems this little dog inspired? Chinese scholars were connoisseurs of such small, exquisite items, and collected with both passion and discernment, valuing humble, organic materials like soapstone, wood and bamboo over gold and other ostentatious metals. The honesty and simplicity of natural materials was meant to reflect the scholar's own character.

Sorry I couldn't make the picture bigger. I still haven't really mastered the fine points of my scanner.