Sunday, September 26, 2010

Have You Ever Seen a Really Pissed-Off German Shepherd?

The other morning, I witnessed one of those yappy, prancy, little kitten-sized dogs come close to being eaten alive by a German Shepherd.

I was on the Shepherd’s side – it had been completely minding its own business, as its owner walked it along on a leash. It was just another, run-of-the-mill stroll in the park for them - and for me - until an obscene, unleashed terrier (spottily attended by two snotty, let’s-take-up-the-whole-sidewalk, idle-housewives-seeming women, who reminded me of larger, gourmet-coffee-drinking incarnations of their microscopic dog - I sized them up as the types who would fork over thousands of dollars for the creation of a purebred, trophy dog instead of adopting one of the millions of homeless ones) ran over to quite antagonistically get right up in the Shepherd’s face.

The Shepherd went apeshit, flogging the terrier around with the sides of its bared-teeth open jaw. The high-volume snarling and barking had to have echoed for blocks. I know dogs, and if this Goliath wanted to make this dim-witted David disappear forever, it would have happened – s/he was just trying to teach Toto a memorable lesson. When class was over, the toy-soldier terrier finally managed to gimp away in full-on victim mode, self-righteously chirping and looking up to marshal support from all the gape-mouthed spectators.

That German Shepherd is exactly the kind of dog I want with me whenever I move into my little house in the big woods. The kind whose guiding instinct is: “Don’t you come at me and my beloved caretaker like that if you know what’s good for you, you silly punk.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Voyaging for Vino

I can now say that I’ve been on a wine-tasting bus tour of the Hudson River Valley region – which was maybe one negligible step up from the last bus tour I’d been on (the Not Your Mama’s Bus Tour of Chicago).

Going into this day trip, I had pictured something low-key, peopled by stuffy, older married couples with sweaters wrapped around their shoulders who just saw this wine bus as an alternative to driving back to the city or Westchester after a day of upstate, upscale drinking. It turned out to be Spring Break on wheels, without the warm weather, swimsuit parades, or college-aged youths. Within the first hour of boarding, the hostesses went up and down the aisles, pouring mimosas into the passengers’ outreached plastic cups.

After we left the 1st winery on the itinerary, one of the hostesses came around with a microphone so each passenger could introduce herself/himself to the rest of the bus. The presentations went a little something like: “Hello, my name is Consuela. I’m Cuban-American and my hobbies include drinking and having a good time, and we’re here to celebrate Wanda’s birthday!” On cue, a group of fiftysomething Wanda-loving women, all wearing big, bright yellow flowers in their lapels, woot-wooted and put their hands up. Wanda would later get up to dance like no one was watching in the aisle.

A smug, Kangol-capped man of about the same age, who was there with an equally disagreeable (also capped) lady friend, smirkingly announced: “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.” The whole cabin exploded into laughter. The way this particular drunk delivered (and the crowed received) the bit, you would think this joke (that’s now even printed on T-shirts) had been his brainchild.

Then there was that married couple whose 4 kids have supposedly driven them to the bottle(s) – a much weaker excuse for frequent substance use there could not be.

Immediately after pulling out of winery #2, the karaoke started up – everything from UB40’s “Red Red Wine” to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” the harrowing lyrics of which I had never before really listened to or seen written out. Are they based on a true story or did Team Manilow dream this shit up? The unfazed party-bus patrons still belted out those rhymes as if this were a national anthem or a college fight song.

As we drove toward the 3rd and final winery, our black bus driver was pulled over by the Pine Bush P.D. for “running a red light.” The head hostess suggested that one of the bus’s passengers had tipped the cops off, via cell phone. An accusation that made no sense, but by this time everyone was either too buzzed or tired to raise a challenge.

On the rain-soaked, back-to-back-traffic drive down to the city that night, we watched The Hangover.

Earlier in the epic-long day, there was a brief, and largely inaudible, video on the genesis of winemaking that I doubt anyone paid any attention to. “This is a great History Channel documentary - you all should learn something during this trip,” a hostess said with a straight face. The only thing I learned is that there’s a boatload (and busload) of live-and-let-live, carpe diem-driven middle-agers in these parts. I’m now wondering if I have what it takes to become one of their successors in 20-25 years. Hope so.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It’s My Favorite Day of September, Again

Today is the birthday of one of my A-list friends – one of the only still-living people I would ever unflinchingly take a bullet for. This blog site was originally his idea.

The first time I ever stumbled upon him was in a computer cluster in the basement of our college campus’s main library, in the middle of the night. He was sitting a few monitors over, irritating the shit out of me with his loud imitations of the noises his computer was making. That same month, when our paths ended up crossing more frequently, it didn’t take me very long to graduate from glaring to caring.

He’s chock full of all the main qualities anyone would want in a friend: sense of humor; reliability; intelligence; reliability; the willingness and ability to both patiently listen and sensibly advise; reliability; a car. He’s seen and accepted me at my best and at my worst. There’s a lot we don’t agree about – religion, politics, music, how many spaces should appear between word-processed sentences. But I can always count on him to be present and accounted for both when the shit is thrashing against that fan and when it’s not.

He’s about to become a first-time father and I expect my latest surrogate niece or nephew to understand how lucky s/he is. If s/he doesn’t, Auntie Roving Retorter will be getting involved, taking her non-biological brother’s PR campaign up a notch.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What’s a Mural? Is It Similar to a Camel?

Does anyone know exactly where any of those big, colorful, semi-famed murals are located in Spanish Harlem? I’ve seen a couple of slideshows of them and was inspired enough to want to see them live. I brought some coffee with me and had been looking forward to sipping away while strolling from decadently decorative building wall to decadently decorative building wall. Trouble was that when I went over to the 106th and Lexington area (per the guidance of 2 different written sources), there was nothing there.

When I sought directions from an older and sure-footed neighborhood resident, she looked at me like I had just asked whether she could hand-feed me some of the groceries in the bags she was carrying. During our 3- to 5-minute Abbot and Costello routine of a dialogue, I had to repeatedly define what a mural was. The next person I accosted thought I was crazy, too. I even ended up approaching a group of cops (and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about cops) sitting in a van after they had just picked someone up. Out of all the parties I stopped, they were probably the most flabbergasted. “Murals?,” they all mused to themselves. The hand-cuffed man in the far-back seat looked like he wanted to get in on the question, but the driver/leader cop suddenly authoritatively directed me to 105th and 5th – which turned out to just be the Barrio Museum, which I’ve already been to and didn’t need at the time. It’s so hard to believe that a cop didn’t know what he was doing or talking about.

Unless some of those terrible establishment types have recently scrubbed them away, those murals have got to be there somewhere, and I’ll more extensively check back in if I ever get a free afternoon this autumn. But I can’t get over how many people who clearly live and work around there don’t know and appreciate the pieces of beautiful public art that (or so I read) they’re so privy to. I had almost been expecting the first person I asked for directions to broadly smile as she said: “Come. I will take you to our murals,” as she proudly ran down the history of the local resistance art movement. Instead, I walked back home through Central Park, visibly disillusioned, drinking my coffee on a bench across from a little boy who was trying to catch a fish in a man-made pond.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Forget How to Say “I Don’t Think This Is Going to Work” in French

I have a new aspiring suitor - who just barely speaks English. He picked me up outside of my/our neighborhood grocery store a couple of weeks ago. I first ran into him when he had been standing immediately in front of me in the check-out line. When I later exited the store, there were a couple of tied-up dogs waiting for their owner outside and I’ve never met an animal I didn’t want to pet.

While I was messing around with my mixed-breed darlings, the check-out line guy re-emerged out of nowhere - he suddenly appeared in front of me and asked why so many American women like to approach dogs that don’t belong to them. I’ve never been able to understand people who aren’t gaga over dogs and cats and, as we stood out in the rain, I explained why nothing beats the love and energy of household pets, whether they’re in or outside of a household at the time you happen to greet them.

What started off as my stirring monologue turned into quite a dialogue – the kind of conversation where you just seamlessly (but opinionatedly) segue from topic to unrelated topic, and then you happen to look at your watch to see that 20 minutes have passed. At the end of the banter, he asked whether we could get together sometime so I could help him with his English. In general, he was so decent that I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to the effect of: “Hells no. You don’t pet dogs and I can only reliably piece together approximately 60% of what you say,” so I gave him my business card, thinking that he might accidentally drop it in one of the puddles that this light cloudburst was producing. But the next morning there was a large-fonted, two-sentence e-mail from him waiting in my inbox.

Excluding the language barrier and what sounds like his financial volatility, he has the faint makings of being a catch. He’s bright, good-looking, tech-savvy, and has boundless reserves of energy. But he’s not an animal-lover and I have a feeling that he doesn’t drink (and I can’t decide which of the two deficiencies is worse).

Last week, he touched base with my cell phone more times than is socially acceptable, especially considering that I wasn’t calling him back after each call. When I did finally return the string of outreaches, he was given the “I’m so damn busy” drill; he then understandingly reminded me that we still have to meet back up, at which point I brought out the “busy” card again. The next morning, he text-wished me a good day. There’s a tenacity about this fellow, suggesting that it could take weeks, possibly even months, for him to get the hint.

Tunneling myself out of this one should be a blast. He’s got potential – for someone. I’m on the prowl for a good match for him. Please hit me up at if you have any (French-speaking, New York- or New Jersey-based, indifferent-to-animals) leads.