Friday, April 29, 2011


"Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job."--Franklin P. Jones

I keep a spreadsheet of Mike's and my daily spending and I recently added up how much we had spent on pets in the last five months. Over $2,000. We also own two cats, but apart from yearly vet exams at their kitties-only clinic, and the occasional feather-on-a-stick, they don't need very much to keep them somewhat content.

That leaves the puppy. So if I take the $400 we spent on the adoption fees, and add another $200 for the spay, $500 for various shots, chips, and stool tests, another $400 for that ultrasound they recommended because of a heart murmur, and that tiny winter parka that cost $60 and that she wore exactly twice...yup, that's $2,000 all right.

Who would have thought that a rescue mutt from Arkansas would cost as much in the first six months as a used car?

My love for Carmelita has already been challenged many times, and yet she remains a member of our household.

The problem is when you have ACTUAL PUPPY DOG eyes staring up at you, it's hard to be the no-nonsense disciplinarian you need to be with dogs. I have to remind myself of what Mike said about not wanting to own a yippy, out-of-control little toy who poos wherever is most convenient (Check), steals your new pink suede sandals (Check), and refuses to give up the dead mouse carcass it's carrying like the crown jewels through your neighborhood (check, check, check).

Having a puppy in my life has been a drain on the bank account and on our social life. We've gone through at least four containers of heavy-duty Lysol wipes. And she's chewed through the cushions on our kitchen chairs with the ferocity of a wild animal disemboweling its prey, leaving fuzzy guts all over the ceramic tile.

She's also made me less vain. It used to be that I wouldn't leave the house unless I was showered and dressed and wearing lipstick. I worried about what people would say if they saw me in my natural state--hair that hangs limp if it's not washed for a day, dark circles under my eyes, a bloated tummy.

But walking Carmelita at 6:00 AM precludes my usual primping. I'm out there with my hair mussed up, my trench coat half-concealing a pair of red fuzzy sleeping pants, shoes without socks. I must look deranged, a Miss Hannigan walking Sandy down a busy street. I used to don a pair of sunglasses even when I was up and out before sunrise. I'd be so blind I'd trip over Carmelita's leash and I'd lose sight of the pile of dog poop I was supposed to be considerately bagging.

Now I go out without sunglasses because who has time to put them on? When Carmelita has to go, she has to GO. And I hate to see her shivering in the doorway, waiting for me to coordinate my umbrella to my coat. Half the time I don't even put in my contacts, which is helpful when I want to play the "if I can't see how I look, then I don't look bad" game.

Carmelita has also made me less selfish. Sure, when I get home from work I'd love to immediately flop on the couch and leaf through the latest Anthropologie catalog, dog-earing pages of bohemian fluff and shiny things that I can't afford. But Carmelita has been alone all day, and even after I walk and feed her, she's looking for extended bouts of play time. It can be awfully boring tossing a dog-spit-soaked furry toy over and over, but then I think of that commercial for that anti-depressant I can't remember the name of. You know--the one where the voice-over warns, "Depression hurts everyone" and the camera pans to a dog dejectedly holding a ball in it's mouth because he has an owner who is too depressed to throw anything. What a self-involved, uncaring human! You can be depressed and still play with your dog. Trust me.

So in the balance sheet of life with a dog, Carmelita ultimately comes out on top. Who needs sleep, evenings out, extra money in the bank, when you have that excited little dog greeting you at the puppy gate, flinging herself in the air like like a flying fish leaps out of the water, just because you're home? That's priceless.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Appreciating the cherry blossoms

violets here and there
in the ruins
of my burnt house

-Shokyu-Ni, from Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart

I heard on the radio the other day that Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has asked that the people of Tokyo show self-restraint during their popular spring ritual Cherry Blossom Season. Granted with the devastating earthquake and Tsunami less than a month ago and another quake hitting the Northern Coast today, celebrating budding flowers might seem ridiculous. Ishihara is also responding to the need to conserve energy ("On an average year, we light up the Chidorigafuchi area so that visitors can enjoy the evening too. But we have to conserve energy this year, so we have refrained from doing so. The atmosphere is different from an average year," he was quoted as saying in an article on Channel NewsAsia.)

This makes perfect sense--I remember those weeks and months after September 11 when most New Yorkers were unusually subdued. It would be a while before it felt appropriate to be anything but grim after experiencing
such a large-scale and public tragedy.

That October I hosted a wine-tasting party and I remember what a relief it was to be among friends, opening bottles and serving Brie en Croute and hummus. I lived in Hoboken, NJ then and had seen the towers burning from a pier just blocks from my apartment. My roommate and I were lucky we didn't make it to work in Manhattan that day. We both cried when we saw the people jumping from the Towers.

I don't know how to make sense of random suffering. After 9/11 happened, I personally couldn't shake a terrifying vulnerability. I thought of the dead who were my age (28) or younger, how they were just going to work on an average Tuesday, summer over but the weather still beautiful. I had only been inside the towers a couple of times, but I remember eating at Windows on the World with a boyfriend, the slight vertigo I felt sitting so close to a view of the sky and not much else. What happened to these victims could have easily happened to me or to anyone I loved. It may sound silly, but I don't think I really considered my own mortality until that Autumn.

So what was my response? I developed hypochondria, I worried that I had left the apartment door unlocked or a burner on. I would call home even though there was no one there. We still had an answering machine, and I figured if the apartment had burned down, the machine wouldn't work. But even when I heard our taped message click on, I still fretted. If something so devastating could happen to other good, ordinary people at any time and for no reason, then when would my turn come? My parents? My friends?

My mother, who experienced personal tragedy early in life, has always been a big believer in appreciating beauty, savoring small moments, lingering on the slightest glimpse of joy. Sometimes she wonders aloud how she came to have such a worrier for a daughter. I thought I was just being realistic--after all, the world is a dangerous place where anything could (and did) happen. By ignoring that fact, I thought of my mother as having her head in the sand. It hasn't been until recently that I've started to see how her way of experiencing the world is actually a lot more sensible than mine.

I don't think it's disrespectful for the Japanese people to stop and appreciate the cherry blossoms, drink wine, celebrate spring with friends if they are able. It is in these ways (I say, admittedly from a Westerner's perspective) that we are honoring our humanity and, perhaps more important, ensuring our sanity.