First Time (that I know of) Dad

I’d like to introduce the newest member of my family – Maximus (I did not choose the name, but he responds to it already, so he’s keeping it).

He was found wandering the streets of Chicago by a friend of my coworker. He had tags on, so my coworker called the owners to see how he ended up here. They moved to Indiana a short time ago, and left the dog in the care of their friend. They had been trying to sell him on Craigslist for some time, but nobody took them up on the offer. Their friend, apparently, was not able to keep him contained.

After some convincing, the original owners let my coworker hang on to him so he didn’t end up in the shelter. He arrived at the animal hospital where I work around the same time I did. He was dog reactive and endlessly barked and howled every time he was put into a kennel. He got used to the hospital after a while, but never quite adjusted to being put into a small run. He’d bark at me when I came through doors, presumably because he just didn’t know what was up with me. I looked right at him, I wasn’t scared of him, and I was male (with the exception of one doctor, the entirety of the staff is female).

After weeks of him being at the hospital, he was put onto an adoption site. Around the same time, he became interested in me. He’d check in on whatever I was doing any time he was wondering the hospital. At some point, he started to run up to me and nuzzle his face into my side until I pet him. I bent down, and he pushed his head into my shoulder. I heard about potential homes for him, and I felt saddened by the thought of him leaving.

“Alright,” I thought, “Let’s take you home and see how you do.”

I took him home three nights ago, and he seemed immediately relieved to be home. I don’t have any other animals living with me besides my cousin, so he has run of the place when we’re not home. He’s neutered, vaccinated, and house trained. He’s a little over one, 72.6 pounds of muscle, has tons of energy, and is easily frightened as a result of his shitty upbringing. He loves to snuggle, but he assumes you (and that safety cone and that water spigot and that dog over there) are out to get him. He goes fucking nuts for squirrels.

He is a lot. He is too much. He just enough. He is mine, and I love him.

I Think We’re Both to Blame

In my senior year of high school I was an after-school counselor at a private school in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. I was paid to play games, draw, tutor, and hang out with a group of kids that I saw grow up over two summers as their camp counselor. As with any group that you know for a year or two, eventually you find out which of them you love to be around, which you can’t stand, and which you have a soft spot for even in spite of themselves. This kid was deep in group three.

He had thick, Coke bottle glasses that made his already-gigantic eyes look cartoonish. His head was probably no bigger proportionally than anyone else at the age of five or six, but the glasses made it seem a skosh larger than his body might allow. His running style was very serious – arms locked and swinging vigorously, and head down, using his bobble-headedness and gravity to power him forward.

“What happened to your head little buddy?” I asked one day when I saw a bandaid in the center of his forehead.

“I ran into a pole,” he said sheepishly.

One afternoon I was playing tag with a group of the older kids. As they’re more agile, I had to put in some effort to keep myself and them entertained. Also, I’m a winner, and the fact that other people are better at things is a good life lesson. I tagged one kid, then jumped backwards off the jungle gym.

*CRACK**CRACK*

Two sharp cracks in immediate succession followed swiftly by wails from below me. I had come down squarely in the center of this kid’s leg, snapping his tibia and fibula right in half. I scooped the crying kid up in my arms and ran with him to the office. The supervisor, who had some medical training, looked the kid over and pretty quickly figured out that his leg was broken in two, which I guess you didn’t need a lot of medical training for – those cracking noises were pretty clear.

Weeks later he returned to school in a tiny wheelchair with his whole leg in a cast to restrict movement. His parents wheeled him into the office and said, “What do you have to say to Dingo?” (we all had animal names as counselors – mine was Dingo)

He looked up at me through his comically large glasses and with every ounce of sincerity the human heart has to muster, he said, “It’s okay, Dingo, I know you didn’t mean to.”

I sobbed then, and hugged him as hard as his fragile body would allow. What an amazing kid, and what a testament to the parenting to endure that level of physical trauma, and come out as a stronger human being. The malleability of the young mind, and its capacity to forgive are truly astonishing.

I on the other hand, stand firm in my belief that that kid should really look up when he’s running, and that we are equally to blame for the incident. Hopefully some of the children under my tutelage learned to watch where they were going – Dingoes might not eat babies in America, but they do occasionally fall from the sky and break your leg if you’re not careful.

Feeler of the Road

FB_IMG_1535639276685.jpgWe hopped on a plane crossing the Mediterranean to spend a weekend in Morocco. I found something called an “eco-tour,” which was sold as a tour of the Moroccan country side on camels, and who doesn’t want to do that?

What they failed to mention was that much of the traveling would be done in a van that took you to specific stops where the travel company got kickbacks from the restaurants and merchants. Oh, and there was only one CD to listen to for the entire nine hours we were in the van, which was rotationally hilarious and mind-numbingly grating, as you can only listen to songs you don’t know or particularly like so many times, and the roads were shitty so the thing skipped constantly.

The countryside was lovely, though. Immediately outside of Marrakesh, plastic bags blanketed much of hilly surroundings, but beyond that were large swaths of farmland on both sides of rivers that bisected otherwise barren desert. We finally stopped at a small oasis hotel that seemed largely unoccupied, but the walls were covered in such ornate designs that having people there would’ve ruined it for me. Our camels met us there, and a couple Berbers (a nomadic tribe in Northern Africa) led our group off into the desert.

We got to the encampment just after nightfall, and they had dinner waiting for us in the large dining tent. It was lit with gas lamps and candles, beautiful, richly colored rugs lined the floors, walls, and ceilings, and a small band of kittens roamed the interior. We spoke loudly in combinations of English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Farsi, Berber, and pantomime. We pulled from large baskets of bread, brass serving dishes with vegetables and meats, and trays of fruits and vegetables, and drank tea to fuel and lubricate the conversation.

When dinner was over, they took us over to the fire they built to play the drums and dance and sing under the Sahara sky. My lady and I slipped away and wandered over a couple dunes for some privacy. It was romantic, but sandy, so it didn’t last long, and we rejoined the group.

As the night wound down, most of the eco-tourists made their way to their tents. The Chief of the tribe and I were fast friends, and he took me to see where he would be sleeping. They all slept on the dunes overlooking the camels so they could watch over them at night (and also so that the shit didn’t roll downhill onto you at some point while you slept). He pointed firmly to one of the night guards sleeping on and under a collection of rugs and said essentially, “You sleep here!” It was an enticing offer – the nomadic lifestyle makes for some fit looking men, but, “I think I’d prefer to sleep with my fiance.”

After some clarification, I understood that he just wanted me to do as they did, so I grabbed my lady and a collection of carpets and we set up under the most beautiful set of stars I have ever seen. I woke up with my face coated in a fine sand, but who the hell cares? What an awesome night. I had my friend write the word for “nomad” in Berber, which literally translated to “feeler of the road.” It is presently tattooed on my right leg (I did not get the tattoo in Africa because… well…). We said goodbye to our new companions and after a short 9 hour van ride (he clearly had not had time to get a new CD), we were back in Marrakesh.

The streets of the city were teeming with stray cats and stray children that would insistently offer assistance in finding your way to your hostel, then curse at you in English and Arabic when you refused to pay them for their unwanted services. The marketplace was alive at night – stalls filled with camel leather products (all cured in camel dung – a smell that does not come out quickly) and vibrant sacks of spices were manned by a group equally as insistent as their children. We wanted alcohol, which was illegal for locals to buy, so we followed a guy down some dark, winding alleyways until we got to one restaurant owner who would sell us hugely overpriced bottles of wine.

We drank them in the comfort of our hostel, chatting with people from all over the world next to a white marble pool, which was a remnant of better times for this establishment. The plane ride back to metropolitan life was short and welcome, though I’d be happy to hang out with those Berbers again any day.