The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Gracie’

THE POLISH DOG

As you may know, Chicago has the largest population of people of Polish heritage, outside of Warsaw.  This makes the city a good place to live if you happen, as I do, to like kishka, kielbasa and pirogues.  The smells that emanate from the  various Polish grocery stores are noticeable a city block away.  What a treat for one’s olfactory senses.

And the neighborhoods in which people of Polish descent live are amazingly clean and crime free.  Perhaps that is because the residents make the effort to keep them that way.  On any given Saturday, taking a drive down the side streets that radiate from Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of the Polish community’s business district, you can see diminutive old Polish ladies on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalks in front of their little bungalow homes.

Of course, having such a large ethnic community it is not surprising that people arrived at stereotypes for this group of people and began constructing jokes about them.  One of those stereotypes concerned itself with the intelligence level of members of the Polish community – which the joke creators determined was rather low.  And they made up their stories accordingly.

( It was not my experience in my dealings with the many people of Polish extraction whom I knew that there was any truth to this presumption).

But here’s a typical Polish, or in the parlance of Chicago, “Pollack” joke:

“Why did the Polish dog have a flat head?”

“Because he kept chasing parked cars.”

Of course, the dog in this two-liner is a canine and is not to be confused with a “Polish” that comes on a bun.  And if you are wondering, ordering a wiener or hot dog, the correct pronunciation and spelling is “dawg”.

If you should be exceptionally gauche and were to order a Polish dawg, which is both an oxymoron and a verbal abomination, you will undoubtedly be confined to the nethermost place in Hell after your demise and fed a diet of nothing other than Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup through all eternity.  This would be a just and fitting punishment.

Now the reason that I thought of this old canard about the Polish dog was that this morning on my way with Gracie to the dog park, I was behind a man driving a late model car.  I happened to notice that his passenger brake light had burned out.

As it happened, we both were going to make a left turn at the same street and there were two lanes assigned for that purpose.  We were stopped at a rather long light and both of our windows were rolled down as at 6:15 a.m. it was only about 78 degrees outside.  (We had a rather extensive thunderstorm last night which cooled things off considerably).

As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, I said to him, “Excuse me sir – I don’t know if you’re aware of it but your passenger side brake light is out.”

Gracie pushed her head out of the rear window to see if there were any dogs in the other car whose acquaintance she might make.

The man (whom I took to be in his mid to late 40’s) responded, “Yeah, so what’s it to ya?”

I had expected a response more along the lines of, “I didn’t know that.  Thanks for telling me,” so this took me by surprise.

Before I had an opportunity to formulate and offer a response, the light changed and we both made our turns.

It’s an interesting society in which we live.  Fortunately or unfortunately I was raised to assist others when the opportunity presents itself – and I thought I was doing this guy a minor service by pointing out his car’s problem.  But apparently he felt that this was some sort of intrusion into his affairs.

The habit is so ingrained in me after so many years, that I guess, like the flat-headed Polish dog, I’m going to keep chasing parked cars.  Or maybe it was people like me whom Einstein observed when he formulated his definition of Insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.”

So I guess there are a couple of things you should take away from this story:

1)  Never order a Polish dawg unless you’re really fond of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup;

2)  Be a nice person and you’ll get your reward;

3)  You better check your own brake lights because the next time I see that one of them has burned out I might not bother to mention it to you.  (Nah, I will).

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THESE FOOLISH THINGS

Let me be the first to admit (before you take the time to point it out) that I am not the smartest person on planet Earth.  But I still think that in a fairly administered IQ test, I could hold my own against your above average hedgehog.  Let me further admit that there are certain warning labels whose meaning or intent I simply do not comprehend.

Let me offer you an example.

I had decided that the walls of my office were looking a little dingy and so I decided to wash them down.  This was a few days ago.  Because I try to act in an environmentally friendly way, I was using a product manufactured by The Clorox Company called “Green Works” whose contents are supposed to be completely bio-degradable.

I hadn’t started with a full bottle of the stuff (it comes in one of those spray top containers) and mid-way through the project I ran out.  As I was tired, I decided that I would finish the next day after going to the store and buying a new supply.

So the  following morning I went to my supermarket and there was a nice supply of Green Works on the shelf.  But it was all in those spray bottles and I didn’t see a refill size available.  I asked customer service if they carried a refill quantity of this product.  They looked it up in their computer and said that was the only size in which they carried the product.

So I thought, “Surely Clorox must offer this product in a larger quantity.  After all, it is supposed to be an environmentally-friendly product – and offering a larger size would reduce the amount of plastic waste.”

I went home and called the 800 number on my original bottle and spoke with a friendly young lady at Clorox.  I explained my quest for their product and wondered if she could tell me if there were a larger, refill size available.

She put me on hold for a few minutes and said, “I’ve checked.  We do make a gallon-size in Green Works.”

I asked if she would be able to direct me to a store that carried it.

She responded, “Well, Lowe’s and Home Depot carry it from time to time (she also mentioned several other retailers which were unfamiliar to me), but I couldn’t tell you if they currently have it in stock.  You’ll have to check with the stores.”

Well, I had accomplished something.  I at least knew the product existed.  So I thanked her and ended the call.

I went both to the Lowe’s and Home Depot web sites and typed Green Works in the query box.  Neither store carried the specific Clorox product (in any size) but they both offered a similar product called “Simple Green” which had like attributes and was also environmentally-friendly.  And it was available in a gallon-sized quantity for $9.99 as opposed to my original spray bottle which contained a quart and was priced at $4.69.  This was a terrific savings if you know that there are four quarts to a gallon.  (Well, actually it’s a terrific savings even if you don’t).

It did occur to me briefly that pouring Simple Green into a bottle which once contained Green Works might, in certain parts of the country, be construed as miscegenation.  But other than sharing this with my readers I am not going to tell anyone and I have total confidence that you will keep this between us.

So this morning after the dog park, Gracie and I headed over to Lowe’s to track down the Simple Green gallon jug.  I didn’t anticipate any problems because the web site said this particular store had 18 of them in stock.  I put on Gracie’s lead and she leaped from the station wagon in anticipation of going on a new adventure.

When it comes to grocery shopping, I am very efficient.  I don’t overly enjoy the experience and I try to make it as brief as possible.  I know the layout of all the different stores at which I purchase groceries and I organize my list in such a way as to take the shortest path to complete my shopping based on the store’s configuration.  Not so with Lowe’s – at which I shop only infrequently.

I have learned from past experience that rather than wander around the store trying to find a particular item, it is more efficient to stop at customer service on the way in and ask where I might find something.  This is especially true if I have Gracie with me because she likes to browse and explore.  And while she is well-behaved, I sometimes give in to her impulses to shop ‘till she drops (or I do).

So customer service directed me to Aisle 12 where they said I would find my Simple Green refill.  Gracie and I started in that direction but en route, several Lowe’s employees stopped to admire and pet her (which she appreciates) and ask the usual question, “What kind of dog is she?”

I used to respond to that question with the one word answer, “Big.”  But I thought that was a tad impolite.  So now, I simply say, “You know I’m not completely sure.  I found her as a puppy in front of a Lane Bryant store.  I think she had gone there to buy a new ensemble.”

For some reason people seem to think that answers the question.

Gracie and I arrived at Aisle 12.  It was indeed the aisle where cleaning products of all sorts and descriptions were sitting on the shelves.  I thought, “Oh, good.  This will be easy.”  But it wasn’t.  We walked up and down the aisle but nowhere did I see a one gallon-sized Simple Green refill jug.

After three tours of Aisle 12 I threw in the towel.  I wanted to be absolutely certain that the product wasn’t there before I went back to customer service and inquired whether they had it in the store or had run out of stock.

So there we were, back at customer service.  I had brought a one quart spray bottle of Simple Green with me to show them the product I was seeking.  Meanwhile, I could tell that Gracie was getting a little bored as she had already seen what there was to see on the main store aisle all the way to Aisle 12.

The helpful young lady came from behind the desk and walked us back to Aisle 12.  Much to my relief, she also had trouble finding the product.  But then she spied it.  The container itself wasn’t visible but in the very back of a seemingly empty space on the bottom shelf there was one gallon jug left.  She got down on her hands and knees to retrieve it for me, for which I thanked her.  And the best news was that it was on sale for only $8.99.  Such a deal.

She left us to return to her post and I was preparing to pay for the Simple Green and leave – but Gracie had other ideas.  Rather than allowing me to return to the front of the store she must have realized that there was a lot of unexplored territory in this Lowe’s and she wanted to do a bit of browsing.  And as I will often humor her, I allowed her to take me on a little jaunt.

I’m not quite sure why but we ended up in the aisle that sells stepladders.  She seemed to feel that these were exceptionally interesting.  I don’t know the reason that she was fascinated with them as I have two at home and she’s never seemed overly interested in socializing with either.

But as I was standing watching her gaze at these metal contraptions I couldn’t help see the warning label which had been attached on their sides.  It said, “Danger.  Do not stand on the top step of this ladder.”  As I recall, the two ladders that I have at home also contained that warning, but I removed them.

So here’s where my confusion comes in and if any of my readers can help me out, I would truly appreciate it.

If it’s dangerous to stand on the top step of a step ladder, then why do they build a top step on the darn things in the first place?  I think we can fix this problem simply by removing the top step – and then we don’t have to worry about putting those little stickers on the ladders.

But wait – I missed something.  If we remove the top step, the second highest step would become the top step.  So we’d have to remove that as well.  And then the next and the next until there would be no steps at all – just a metal frame.

True, the step ladder would no longer have any usefulness – but at least we’d be safe.

I think it’s a plan.  The only people who I think might object work for  OSHA.  But I hear they’re working on a new sticker for screwdrivers which says, “Danger.  Ramming the pointed end of this screwdriver into your eye might result in blindness or death.”

ART, TREES AND STUFF

This morning I was thinking about the many considerate and wonderful people I have known in my life.  I have had perhaps more than my fair share of those relationships (though in all honesty I’m not sure that one can ever have too many).

And I thought to myself, “Self, you’re a lucky person.”  I truly believe that.

It all started with my family.  Sure they were nurturing and provided me with the security that every child deserves, but through their example they taught me in a mostly unspoken way the “rules of engagement” which when I grew up seemed to be both generally expected of each of us and practiced by most.

The genesis of this post all began when I gave Gracie her morning treats.  I am always overwhelmed at the quiet dignity of this gentle giant.  How she doesn’t need words to say, “Thank you,” because the gratitude she feels is so apparent in her eyes.

Gracie

It’s as though she and all the other dogs who came before her somehow intuitively know how to act in a civilized and loving manner – a skill which we humans have to acquire through parenting and the example of others – and far too many of us have skipped this class entirely or at least need to take a remedial course.

But there was a second reason for this post.  I was thinking back a few weeks to one of the children down the block who graduated from high school and how her house had been TP’d.  Until I moved out west, I was unfamiliar with this apparently common practice which involves unrolling a great quantity of toilet paper and catching it in tree branches at the matriculating senior’s place of residence.

Now this bothers me in several ways.  The first is that, for whatever reason, I have always had a great deal of admiration, respect and love for trees.  Obviously they are the source of this toilet paper and I earnestly feel hurt that we consider their lives and importance to be so trivial that we can can wantonly discard their sacrifice in this manner.  The second is that this wastefulness seems so unfortunately characteristic of our ever-consumptive and under-productive view of our world and our respective roles in society.  The practice, other than for the two reasons given above seems harmless enough and, I have learned, is almost expected.

That doesn’t mean that I grieve less for the trees.  I wanted to share an image of a painting done by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna) entitled “Conversations with a Tree.”  But while I could find the work cited in his catalogue raisonné, I couldn’t find the image itself.  All, however, was not lost as I had purchased a print, which hangs in my home,  of his painting “Noah’s Ark” which bears the admonition, “You Are A Guest Of Nature.  Behave.”

friedensreich-hundertwasser-arche-noah

Whether the artist had the practice of TPing in mind when he executed this work is doubtful.  I’m not sure that the kids in New Zealand, where he moved and accepted citizenship, engage in the practice.  But his words speak to more than one impish prank.  They address an attitude toward life in general.

While the practice of TPing a neighbor’s house is relatively harmless and not yet construable as a Federal offense, this lack of respect (whether for Nature or for our kindred humans) has taken a nasty turn.  Apparently, some of our kids think it’s fun to create their own incendiary devices, housed in plastic bottles, and leave these on their neighbors’ lawns.

This was brought to my attention by a friend who sent me an email on the subject, and while he is someone whom I trust implicitly, nevertheless I thought I had an obligation to check out the facts (as any good reporter should).  Unfortunately, it took me less than 30 minutes to verify the information.

I am not going to list the three ingredients which combine to make this sort of “homemade Molotov cocktail” but they are items which may be found in virtually any American home or are easily purchased at our grocery stores.  When the container is picked up, the movement shakes up the contents, causing them to chemically combine and the result is that they heat up and can either cause severe burns or worse.

So my suggestion is, should you see a near empty plastic container which holds anything more than liquid in it, you should not try to dispose of it but call your local Fire or Police Department and have them handle it.

Having given you that unsettling information, I think it’s time to get back to the sense of tranquility that trees have always afforded me.  And what better way is there than with one of my favorite of the Impressionists, Paul Cezanne and his painting of “A Large Pine Tree and Red Earth.”

paul-cezanne-large-pine-tree-and-red-earth-1890-1895

I wish all of you a wonderful day.

HOW GRACIE GOT HER NAME

After I lost Dusty I experienced one of the deepest despairs of my life.  Perhaps because he had been so brutally abused as a young dog I always felt that more than with any of my other companion dogs I had to show him as much love as my soul possessed.  As much as I tried I was never certain that was sufficient to overcome the abuse he had known.

Of all the companions I have had throughout my life, I have to admit that I took his death the hardest.  His good friend, my Golden Retriever, Spenser whom he had raised clung even more to me than before Dusty died.

I knew there were people who were well-intentioned and would ask me, “Are you going to get another dog.”  People who made that remark generally didn’t have dogs in their own lives.  Their view of animals was that they were possessions, like a lamp or a rug.  If it wears out or the fashion changes you get a new one.  They’ve sadly missed one of the most important relationships that helps us understand our humanity.

On the one hand I did want to get Spenser a companion.  I wanted him to have the companionship he had known – and perhaps grow into being the teacher rather than the student.  It was, however, far too soon for me.

A year and a half went by and I was looking to list some items on Craig’s List, searching for the appropriate category.  As I was perusing the items that were listed, I happened to see a picture – a picture of a beautiful puppy with a loving face.  She was the last of a litter of ten and was being given away to a good home.  I knew that this was to be Spenser’s new companion – and mine.

When I called, the family said that she had been tentatively adopted.  The family’s kids had named her, Spike.  I put forth my emotional best, telling them how I had enjoyed the company of dogs my entire life, had taken care of my blind Irish Setter, Finney for over fifteen years; in general I talked myself up as a responsible, caring and loving person who, if Spike and I were to come together as a family would provide only the best food, the greatest care and as much love as anyone could offer.

So they agreed to meet with me.

I drove to their home about an hour later and fell in love with Spike (although I was less fond of her name).  So after we chatted for a bit they said they would be happy for me to have her (the previous adopted parents had backed out while I was driving there.  They decided this puppy was going to grow up to be too big for their apartment).

I asked them if they would hold her to the following day so that I would have time to buy the stuff necessary to “puppy-proof” the house.  I think that they would have preferred that Spike and I leave together so that they could break down the area where they held the puppies, but they finally agreed to my request.

So I left Spike with them, went to a variety of places where I found stuff that made drawers baby and puppy-proof and got all the rest of the accoutrements necessary to welcome a new member of the family into a house that was secure from her intrusions.  I also stopped by Border’s to pick up a CD for the kids.

When I met with the family it was clear that the kids had enjoyed the experience of seeing the ten puppies grow during their eight weeks with them – and that they missed those puppies as they disappeared one by one.  Dad assured them that they would have family “reunions” and they would see the puppies again.  But that never happened – although I would have enjoyed meeting Spike’s siblings.  So, believing that this might actually be in the cards in the future, I had a plan to change Spike’s name and I wanted the kids to agree to this change – hence the CD.

The next day I returned to pick up Spike as we had agreed.  It was Sunday and the kids were home.  Now the family lived in an area all of whose streets had musical attributions.  There was Verdi Way, Arpeggio Lane and they happened to live on Handel Street.

When I met the kids I showed them Spike’s new collar and lead and the toys I had bought for her – just to reassure them that she was going to be happy in her new home with me.  They seemed to think I was okay – so that was step one in my plan for changing Spike’s name.  Then I handed them the CD.

I explained, that once upon a time, before there were CD’s we had something to play music which we called records.  The very first record which I bought was “Messiah” written by a man named Georg F. Handel – the same man for whom their street had been named.  (This seemed to impress them – at least a little).

Then I explained that on that record, there was a soloist who was a black woman.  I pointed out that Spike was also black and a girl.  (They seemed to be warming up to my presentation a little).

And I explained that woman was a very famous singer.  Her name was Grace Bumbry.

So, in conclusion, I said, “Since you live on Handel Street, and since Spike is black and a girl and since this wonderful singer was named Grace – would it be okay if I were to change Spike’s name to Gracie?”  They smiled and agreed with me.

And that’s how Gracie got her name.

Gracie

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