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We’ve Been Served

Imagined Westminster Dog Show Introduction:

First up in the companion division, is the Lesser Dane.  Though slightly smaller than their pony-like cousin the Great Dane, the Lesser Dane nonetheless shares many notable and admirable qualities.  The Lesser Dane makes an excellent family dog as he is friendly, gentle, humble, playful and affectionate.  Lesser Dane aficionados note that LDs can be clumsy and seemingly oblivious to their own imposing size.  They may not be candidates for agility training, though this does not stop them from attempting somersaults on your bed.  Lesser Danes are nothing if they are not conspicuous.  Their good looks get them noticed wherever they go.  The Lesser Dane is equally at ease on a couch, a bed, or a lap.  Potential owners should be comfortable with drool, flatulence, and the occasional sensitive stomach.  This is Companion division winner, Lesser Dane number 14, Sir Farles Barkley. but he prefers that you call him simply, Farley.

In spite of having a great weekend, I’m going to write about the one lowlight.  I’m sure it says a lot about me.

It’s Saturday evening, about 6:00 and we pull into the parking lot of the hotel where we’ll be spending the night.  We’ll be hiking in the morning, and we hope to get an early start, so springing for the one-night stay seems worth it, even if we’ll only be there for 12 hours.

Nancy checks in, while I walk Farley around the parking lot. We were happy to find a place that welcomed dogs. Nancy used a web service called Bring Fido to book the hotel.   Farley is not a fan of being left behind.  

Digression #1:  Farley’s visit to the kennel (more accurately described as a canine spa) had not gone well.  It featured lots of playtime with other canines, but far less human interaction (more accurately described as adoration) than Farley would have liked.  It didn’t agree with his sensitive stomach. We received a phone call informing us of this.  Similarly, Farley’s  five days with a live-in dog sitter had also left him unsatisfied and unsettled (digestively speaking), perhaps owing to the sitter’s lack of adoration.  She described him as “needy.”  Well, he is.  

Digression #2:  Farley arrived from Arkansas on March 13, 2020.  Yes, it was the day after my school and much of our part of the world shut down because of some virus.  For the next six months Farley had the full attention (more accurately described as indulgence) of at least one of the three adults living and working from home during all of his waking hours.  He didn’t demand it, but he welcomed it…and grew to expect it.

This is all to explain why we thought it might just be easier to bring him with us on our brief overnight excursion.  Farley loves a sleepover (with us), and he will definitely love the hike.

As we approach the lobby entrance, we notice another person with a dog.  She is taking great pains to have her young labrador sit and then heel as he enters the hotel.  We decide to give them some space.  Farley can be a bit of a distraction.  In due time, we enter.  We head toward the elevators, as Nancy has already checked us in.  There, we see the woman and her dog boarding the elevator.  This would not be a good time to double up.  We’ll wait for the next one.  After the doors close, we press the button and step back.

Moments later, the doors open, and we find ourselves face-to-face with the aforementioned woman and her Labrador.  The woman makes a face and her dog barks and lunges toward us.   We move Farley back.  Smaller dogs often like to bark at him.  The woman looks at us, points at Farley and hisses, “Is that a service dog?”

“No,” we reply, “he’s just a regular dog.”  Farley takes the “regular” comment in stride.  He sits patiently.

“Well, this hotel only allows service dogs.”

“I don’t think that’s right,” Nancy says.  “I specifically looked for a place that took dogs.  We booked this through Bring Fido.”

The woman huffs past us, her service dog barking, growling, and lunging at Farley the whole way.  Farley sits calmly by our side.  We are a bit stunned at their attitudes (both the woman’s and her service dog’s).

But there’s more.  

From around the corner, we hear her raised voice. “Excuse me!” she shouts, presumably to the desk clerk.  “It’s my understanding that this establishment only allows dogs if they are service dogs.  Is that correct?” I look at Nancy. She looks back at me. Have we done something to this woman?

The desk clerk’s reply is inaudible, as he has decided not to shout his response to someone who is probably one foot away from him.

“That’s what I thought!” says the woman, continuing to shout.  “Well, there is a couple over there  (I presume she is pointing dramatically toward the elevator) who have a VERY large black dog that is NOT a service dog.  They are trying to get on the elevator.”   In fact, we are not trying to get on the elevator.  One doesn’t “sneak” anywhere with Farley.  Remember, he’s conspicuous.  We are, instead, in the process of picking our lower jaws up off the floor.  Nancy retrieves hers first and heads to the desk to present her side.

“I booked our stay through Bring Fido, and I specifically checked off two adults and one dog.  If that’s not okay, then I’m not sure why your place comes up on that site.”

The clerk, probably cowering from the shouting woman and her menacing service dog, admits to Nancy that the hotel does not accept dogs unless they are service dogs.  Nancy says that, in that case, we will have to look for another place, and we’d like to have our reservation canceled and the money refunded.  Probably so grateful for a non-violent resolution, the clerk readily agrees, and we depart with our conspicuous and docile non-service dog. 

We find a motel in a neighboring town.  They gladly accept dogs, regardless of their service status.  Farley sleeps soundly on three-quarters of the double bed.  Nancy and I share the other fourth, dreaming about what we might have said. 

Inside My Head

Woke up in the middle of the night with a song in my head.  In my dream, the song had started playing, and I couldn’t think of the name of the performer.  Waking, I could still hum the tune (to myself – it was 3:00 a.m.), but I could not come up with the artist’s name.  I knew I should know it.  I’d seen him in concert, after all.  I lay on my back in the dark, replaying one line of the song over and over.  It was a jazz tune, so there were no words to help me. 

I knew the name of the song, so there was a clear solution to this problem.  I could have gotten out of bed, picked up my phone and looked it up.  Somehow this seemed like cheating, like using the dictionary for a crossword clue.  I needed to extract the name from somewhere inside my head.  I knew it was there.

I’m thinking now that there are reasons for this reaction.  There’s a part that is just resistance to the idea that senior moments are happening.  I have a friend, a fellow teacher, who always marvels that I can readily retrieve the name of a former student, even one from the 1980s.  I always have to qualify this ability.  I can do it in conversation, remembering a moment, or I can do it by looking at a class picture from ages ago, even my own elementary school days, but face-to-face encounters are different. These often leave me staring blankly at a face I should be able to name.  I know it’s anxiety that shuts down my retrieval system in those moments.  I’m not sure what blocked me last night.  I was not feeling anxious in the middle of the night.  The musician wasn’t staring expectantly at me, like a former student.

My memory preoccupation could stem from a recent return to Duolingoing.  I had a very long lapse.  In my rush to get back to my old level, I’ve had to deal with lots of temporarily lost words.  “Wait, what’s falda mean, again?”    Or “Shoot, I can’t remember how to say ‘too.’”  Just like with the musician mystery, I know that I hold a solution right in my hand.  Siri could bail me out in a second, but I can’t resort to that.

The other contributor to a memory fixation, no doubt, is the book I’ve been listening to this week.  What Happened to You? consists of conversations about trauma and healing between Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry, a brain scientist.  Perry has a gift for making the functions and systems of the human brain understandable.  Much of what he explains gives me hope, but there are also disturbing parts. For example, he spends a lot of time showing how the very earliest experiences of a human shape the way they view the world, the way they learn, and the way they interact with others.  Traumas, stresses, and deprivation all change the way brain connections form. They actually change the brain’s biological functioning. All this brain talk makes me wonder about the students I teach, and at the same time, makes me hyper-conscious of how my own brain was shaped and how it works right now.

So, it’s safe to say that though I may technically have been outside on my walk with Farley this morning, I was still very much inside my own head.  I had resisted looking up anything online as I ate breakfast.  I was determined to have this name from the past present itself on its own.   As we headed down our street, I noted the improvement in the temperature today, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat of the past few days. “We can take a longer walk today, Farley,” I muttered. “I might need it.”  He didn’t respond.  

I started whistling the tune, slightly frustrated that I couldn’t hit the right notes.  I whistled it over and over.  Again the wrong names started bubbling up.  “Sammy Hagar?!  Where did that come from?”  Discard.   I could picture him, sitting at the keyboard, shaggy white hair.  I remembered my friend Carlo in college, bragging that the guy had actually performed at his high school in Westport.  “Weird.  I wonder where Carlo is now.  He’d be surprised to know that I work in Westport. I should Google him.”   More names surface.   “Wally?  Wallace Stevens?  Nope, poet.  Wally Joyner? Nope, baseball player.”  Discard.  Then the wrong tune started playing in my head.  “Wait, no, that’s Weather Report. How did that happen?”  I had probably listened to that around the same time in my life.  I tried to return to the original song, but you know how that’s kind of hard when another tune has intruded.  “Heavy Weather” persisted, but so did I.  The correct tune finally returned.

Not long after that, we approached the fancy Senior Living Center on the right side of the road.  This grassy stretch of the constitutional is Farley’s favorite pit stop spot.  He paused. I waited. I stooped. I scooped. You get the idea. So, after Farley’s own brief senior moment, we resumed our walk. 

I started whistling again.  We had just reached the elementary school parking lot when suddenly it jiggled free. Bubbling up from brain stem depths, floating through limbic layers, and finally popping into the cortex.   It wasn’t a dramatic eureka moment, either.  After all that, it was just, “Oh, Brubek.  Dave Brubek. Cool.”  

I’m listening to him now.