Saturday, February 20, 2016

Please Remain Calm

I lost my dog.

The zany, energetic one who, just last November, still jumped around like a pup when we offered her treats. Our little pound puppy—the one with the beautiful exotic eyes that look like they were tattooed with eyeliner—is missing. And in her place is a stranger—some other white, furry canine with brown freckles and a blank stare.

I thought thirteen was the age of puberty and rebellion. It turns out Sydney sped through her teenage angst the second year we owned her, which is the same year our nest emptied. I guess that’s how I missed her adolescence. I was too busy planning a wedding and kissing my kids goodbye.

So now she’s thirteen times seven which equals eighty-one in people years. I had no idea. Not until the night she suddenly attached herself to my husband’s legs, tail tucked between her own, and her perky ears pinned back. 

What the heck?

Overnight she disappeared inside herself and Rob and I started playing a new game—Twenty Questions. We took Sydney to the vet and he joined in.

“Did something traumatic happen to her recently?”

Oh, I don’t know. Something worse than the rocket grenades our neighbors explode at every possible opportunity?

“Do you think she got into something poisonous?”

Well, I really doubt it. She sleeps all day long which doesn’t leave her much time to eat.

“Has she escaped recently?”

What, weasel dog? She’s tried, but people keep bringing her back.

“I could do some blood work, but you’d have to mortgage your house to pay for it.”

That’s when the vet won the game and we quit playing. Poor Sydney. It was fun knowing you.

We knew she had pretty bad breath. That’s why we never kiss her on the mouth—well, that and dog germs. We didn’t know she had some rotten teeth that needed to be pulled and that our insurance company doesn’t consider her a “dependant.” Boy, are they wrong. She has absolutely no source of income. I’ve checked. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of “dependant.” Which reminds me, somebody needs to call my congressman.

So we paid our good friend, the vet, to remove those bad teeth and clean what was left, hoping it’d make her perk up. It’s been two months with no halitosis, but she’s still about as perky as a cup of decaf coffee.

“Bring her back if she doesn’t seem herself soon,” he told us. So this week we did, because spending forty-five bucks in a vet’s office seemed like a lot more fun than going on a date to the movies. 

“She’s losing weight and still acts bi-polar,” we told him. “She either hides in our bedroom closet instead of curling up by our feet or she glues herself to our legs. We’ve started calling her the White Tumor,” I finished. “She’s forgotten all of her commands, and most of the time Rob has to practically pick her up and carry her into the house at night because she just.won’t.come.inside."

I paused to regain my composure. "She stares at us like she’s never seen us before.”

So the vet checked her eyesight—check. And her hearing—check. And her lymph nodes—checkcheckcheckcheckcheck . . . check. Everything checked out except for one thing—those thirteen years.

We are the proud owners of an old dog.

Our last one lived to be fifteen with a strong mind and weak hips. This one—a completely different combination of breeds—is thirteen with great bones and a weak mind. Who knew dogs could have dementia? Did you know there’s not much you can do for a healthy dog with no brain except feed her daily and help her stay calm?

Our doctor gave us a prescription for calm. The conversation at the pharmacy was classic.

“Sir, is this medication for you?”

“No, it’s for my dog,” Rob answered.

“Well, I’ll need a birth date for our records.”

Because our insurance company doesn’t care, but our pharmacist does.

“Well, she’s a dog, so there’s no birth certificate.”

“You’ll have to lie to the system and make one up,” he said. At least that’s how I remember it.

So we picked a random birth date and the pharmacist handed us a bottle of Prozac labeled “Sydney Canine McLeod.” I never knew her middle name before. That little tidbit of info cost us twenty-eight dollars.

We gave Prozac Pooch her first anti-anxiety pill in a piece of cheese and waited to see if she’d bounce back to normal. She didn’t bounce. Well, the vet said it could take a couple of weeks. So we read the information sheet about her meds, where we learned what it’s used for in humans.

“This medicine may help restore your interest in daily living.” Perfect—that’s the goal. Getting our dog to come out of the closet.

Next we read how to use it. “Do not use a spoon because you may not get the correct dose.” It’s a pill. Who writes these things? 

Finally, we studied warnings and side effects, which took up half the page. Pretty grim. But it was accompanied by cheerful music.

“Hey, honey,” Rob said, sitting at the kitchen counter while I started dinner. “It says here that Prozac could cause suicidal thoughts. If she tries to drown herself in her water dish, we’d better call the vet.”

The final word of caution on the product information page warned us not to flush any unused medication in the bottle down the drain. I don’t know why. The last time I watched a herd of ducks frolicking in a nearby pond, one of them was nearly frolicked to death by a bossy she-duck. I think wildlife like that could use a little help calming down.

So here we are, a retired couple in the prime of our lives, living out our destiny with a dog on anti-depressants.

It’s the American dream. Please pass the Prozac.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Call Waiting

How ironic would it be if the fall of civilization is brought about, not by greed or indulgence, but by technology's greatest achievement?

The smart phone.

Hey, now, wait a minute. Don’t go tweeting about what an idiot I am, or using my name in vain on a Facebook status.

Hear me out. After all, I’m not confronting anyone in person, I’m doing it from a keyboard—just like the one on all our phones. I’m not a total hypocrite.

I think Mr. Bell might hang up on us if he had any idea of what we’ve done with his bright idea since Watson answered that first voice mail. But here we are, a hundred forty years later, driving around in Mr. Ford’s invention while we talk and text on Bell’s. It’s illegal to do those two things at the same time, by the way. Everybody knows that. Most people pretend it doesn’t matter.

But it does.

More teenagers die in car accidents as a result of driving and texting than driving drunk—that’s three thousand texters every single year. So far. Texting and driving is now the leading cause of death among teenagers.

But I’m not here to pick on teenagers. They’re not the only ones guilty—they just lose more years of life when they do it. Fifty-seven percent of adults admit to texting while driving, too.

Forty-three percent don’t want to talk about it.

Now and then I take on an unscientific research project—usually while we’re in the middle of an eight thousand mile road trip and I have nothing better to do from the passenger seat. I count the number of passing cars whose drivers are holding or texting on a cell phone. In general, it’s about one out of five.

This means that multi-tasking is now a greater threat to your life than smoking, sitting, or fast food. Maybe.

It’s one thing if we commit suicide while driving and phoning, but it’s an entirely different thing if we wipe out the life of someone else just because we have to answer that text. Okay. You get the point. You still think it won’t affect you, but you’re glad I brought it up and wish I’d shut up now.

But I’m not done.
We’re not going to bring about the fall of civilization by texting and driving. That’s just going to reduce the surplus population. I think condensing relationships to 140 character tweets, Facebook phoniness, and robotic text messaging is what’s going to take us down.

We’re living in isolation and don’t even know it.

I’m fed up with texted conversations, including the ones I generate. (Just so you know, I’m not only preaching to the choir.) I’m also over emails. As wonderful as the written word is, it’s a lousy substitute for face to face communication. You can send me every cute emoticon Apple comes up with, but if you weren’t really smiling when you texted it with fourteen exclamation points—it’s all a lie.

On the other hand, if we’re sitting across from one another talking about our lives and you tell me you’re “fine” while tears well up in your eyes, now we’ve had a heart to heart connection. You were still trying to hide, but it’s harder to do in person.

We text because it’s fast. It doesn’t require time or attention. We can carry on multiple conversations with several people all at once without really focusing on anybody in particular. But mostly our dependency on cell phones is about us and our need to be entertained quickly and constantly.

This morning while my husband and I sat outside a restaurant waiting for a table, I watched an animated conversation between a mom and daughter as they played a game of checkers. Meanwhile, the husband/father sat two feet away from them with his face buried in his cell phone's screen. What’s the message there? Everyone else in the world is more important to that man than his family right next to him.

I used to have a telephone attached to the wall by a long, long cord. If I talked to anyone, it was a commitment, since I was limited to using it in the kitchen or about ten feet into the living room if I stretched it out really hard. When people needed someone to hear their hurts or share their joys, I got a personal phone call from one person who wanted to hear my voice and the animation it held. Now when someone has a prayer request or good news to tell, they send it in a mass text and, for the next two hours, my cell phone dings out the responses of people who have no idea if I’m even listening.

People are dying on the highway for sure now that texting has become such an obsession. But I’m convinced there are an even greater number of casualties all around us as relationships die a slow death at the hands of two sentence messages.

I’ve seen pictures of crowded sidewalks in New York City where every single pedestrian’s head is down, scrolling through cell phone screens. I’ve watched groups of people out to dinner together, never saying a word—each of them lost in the latest and greatest info on the tiny handheld computer Bell dreamed up. I thought I’d seen it all when I watched a kid on a skateboard sail through my neighborhood with a three hundred dollar cell phone attached to his head. Wonder when they’ll legislate against that kind of moving violation.

But you should have seen my mouth drop open the day I rounded the corner near my rural neighborhood where it’s common to pass acres of cotton crops and ranches dotted with cattle. Leaving the city is such a balm to my soul that I can actually feel my blood pressure drop once I wind up on the desert back roads that take me home. All the more picturesque is when I spot someone on horseback.

I stopped at the intersection to let the rider and his mount cross the road, but realized the man wasn’t watching my car at all. His head was down, half hidden under his Stetson, his horse waiting patiently for instruction, the reins ignored while the rider sat motionless. Every single illusion I’ve ever held of living here in the Wild West was destroyed that day at the intersection of Combs and Schnepf Roads.

That cowboy was sitting in his saddle, talking on a cell phone.

So I took a picture of him and posted it on Facebook, after I sent out a mass text message full of thinly veiled sarcasm, and then I called my husband.

Good thing I know how to use Bluetooth. And I may need intervention.

I'll save you a place at our next twelve step meeting.