Category Archives: power subtext

“Road Dogs”

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“If anybody ever asks us well let’s just tell them that we met in jail.” Recovery by Frank Turner

Elmore Leonard, who wrote Road Dogs in 2009, and died last week, has been my metaphorical Road Dog since 1982, when I left the Navy & moved with my husband Chris back to his hometown, the ritzy [but claustrophobically non-coastal] suburban Detroit town of Birmingham, MI. Back then Leonard himself was still living a few miles East in humble Clawson, MI, and having his trademark “loveable rascal” characters conflate Birmingham & the even ritzier Bloomfield Hills, referring to their denizens as “Bloomingham pukes.” I used to do my grocery shopping over at the Clawson Farmer Jack, hoping to spot my spirit guide Leonard in the liquor aisle, stocking up on Jack Daniels. Never had a sighting, but I took comfort from the fact that of all the places he could afford to live, he chose to stay put: “Hey, my grandkids live here,” he used to say. If Oakland Country was cool enough for “Dutch,” then I could do better with my time spent there, than “just making do and muddling through” [to quote from another Frank Turner song, The Way I Tend to Be]. The young British singer/songwriter Frank Turner is another metaphorical Road Dog for me.

The original meaning of the term, as portrayed in Leonard’s novel, is two people who meet in jail and agree to protect each other from the predations of the other inmates. The social contract of “I got your back, forever, man, no matter what,” is only a Socratic ideal, impossible to keep in real life; and only one “partner” can be the alpha dog…at any given time. Part of the fun of the novel is tracking the shifts in the power subtext between Jack Foley & Cundo Rey. Won’t tell you who winds up top dog. Buy the book.

And that’s the social contract between me & Elmore Leonard [and me & Frank Turner]. Their upbeat, offbeat take(s) on life keep(s) my morale up; and my big-upping them to friends [& readers of this blog] keeps their sales numbers up. What my two Road Dogs have in common is an unflinching, sarcastically funny acknowledgement of aggressive impulses: Leonard through his fictional characters, and Turner though his autobiographical songs. They own the wolf.  They make you want to invite it in and try to tame it.  One of Leonard’s recent books, for children, A Coyote’s in the House, is so popular that it is out-of-stock @ Amazon.

Just when we finally got out of Birmingham to move back East in 2000, Elmore Leonard moved across the street from our neighborhood, into Bloomfield Township [not to be confused with Bloomfield Hills, settle down]. His funeral was held at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Birmingham; but his wake was at a funeral home in Clawson. Just in case anyone thought he had sold out and become a “Bloomingham puke.”

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Here’s our coyote-looking one-year-old Emmy, with her new Road Dog, 8-month-old Bentley. They meet in our yard most afternoons, to sort out who’s alpha.

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Filed under aggression happens, power subtext, sharks and jets

Seize the Disc [Not the Hand]

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Unlike her predecessor, Lili [whose motto was “Quit trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.”], Emmy’s enthusiasm & talent for catching thrown round  objects was evident early on. We have found that extra-large Kong tennis balls work best inside [since they don’t always end up under the furniture]; but outside it’s definitely the floppy disc [“Flying Saucer”], which she usually catches before it hits the ground, even in high & variable winds. Our one day of serious & unseasonable snow last month made the footing a little tricky; but she was still able to get under it & launch herself a couple of feet off the ground for the midair pick & roll.

As much as she loves to catch things, though, she is still a puppy; and she loves to chew things more. Valuable playtime & owner patience are wasted, while she savagely gnaws her beloved toy, finally yielding to the command “Bring!” then, reluctantly, to “Drop!” and, less reliably, “Sagare” [“Back up”] & “Zin-zin.” [“Stay”]. A test of nerve & will [not to mention, reflex time] then ensues. Will her desire to continue the game override her instinct to seize the disc before I pick it up? Woe betide her, if she inadvertently grabs my hand. [That hasn’t happened in months, luckily.] Even if she grabs the disc, it’s “game over.”  I fold my arms, utter a discouraging word, “Baca!” [“Fool!”], and stalk off back towards the house in high dudgeon. If she manages to get ahead of me and drop the disc at my feet before I’ve gone too far, and then backs off, the game resumes.

My power subtext: “It’s my way or the highway, Little Grasshopper!”

Even with all the adrenaline the game produces, she always comes back in from it a better-mannered dog.

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Many Therbligs expended. Ready for a little nap.

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Filed under ambivalence, leading a pack, power subtext

Walk It Off

Well, now that the Olympics are upon us, this double-edged sword [have you been watching the Fencing? such histrionics! like an Italian opera!] of home-spun advice can be heard all over the shop. Remember back in the day, when a coach’s overheard gruff admonition to an injured-bird-like gymnast provided fodder for a series of SNL sketches, in which the putative “walk-off-able” injury morphed into the Knight-in-Denial scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail?

On Day One, a BBC Soccer commentator Let The Phrase Begin, remarking of a [possibly histrionic] player, “Oh! He’s down! It looks like a nasty ankle injury! Well, no, actually, he’s walking it off, and he’s back in the match.” No Yellow Card was issued. Perhaps it was a case of Unconvincing Diving [a common occurrence in high-stakes matches]; or maybe it was a case of that well-known [at least Up North in England] medical condition, “Summat and Nowt.” [Translated in a previous Post, “Be Good…” as “Something and Nothing.”] Often, cases of Summat & Nowt respond well to “Walking It Off.”

 

The other day, my sister, a highly-placed Medical Librarian, forwarded me an article recommended by one of the vets attached to her Med School, entitled, “Managing Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Ways of Slowing the Progress of This Debilitating Spinal Disease,” posted on September 4, 2008, by Dawn M. Smith.

Even though the alert reader will guess what’s coming, I’ll quote it, anyway. “Dogs with canine degenerative myelopathy benefit from controlled walking…in several ways. Allowing the dog to run around the property or in a dog park does not provide the same benefit, as the exercise is not consistent. A regular walk of a specific distance at a steady rate not only improves muscle tone, it improves brain function.”

I truly believe that Lili’s daily walk through the Smithsonian woods provides her both Physical & Occupational Therapy, during which she “gets smarter” about how to ambulate, despite her numb hind paws. So far, her leap into the Jeep-of-the-Day after a walk is noticeably stronger & more graceful than her initial load-up at our house.

As always, I am grateful to my sister for finding & sending me relevant research articles. In this case, my fear, that I might be inflicting pain & suffering on Lili by asking her, in effect, to “walk [her CDM] off,” was greatly diminished. Further, the humiliating dread, that a casual observer would think of me as that gruff [almost sadistic] gymnastics coach, denying or minimizing a real medical condition, as if it were only Summat & Nowt, has also been neutralized.

After all, we’re not Going for the Gold, here. The only goal is preserving Lili’s quality of life.

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Filed under attribution theory, power subtext, vicarious trauma, what's it all about?

Looking for The Beauty Part

This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to write for this blog. Last week’s power “outrage” had a couple of Beauty Parts. First, both daughters were in town, and [although it could have gone either way] we found the shared misery of our Second World [if not 3rd] existence bonded us together, rather than pulling us apart. Second, it gave me an alibi for postponing the disclosure of our sad news about Lili, whose DNA test for Degenerative Myelopathy came back positive.

If you’re not familiar with the disease [and we weren’t], a simplistic way of thinking about it is that it’s Multiple Sclerosis for dogs, with some important differences. Unlike human MS, whose etiology is still mysterious [maybe there’s a genetic component, maybe it’s stress-related, maybe it’s triggered by a virus…just follow the stories surrounding Jack Osbourne’s disclosure of his diagnosis], the dog version is 100% genetic. Both parent dogs have to be carriers of the gene, for it to be expressed in the offspring. Our pain & suffering-fueled angry thoughts have been [predictably] directed at Lili’s AKC-registered breeders, who “should have known better,” even though the genetic test for the disease was developed after Lili was born in 2004. Nowadays, though, any breeder who doesn’t test for DM is as unscrupulous as those who don’t test for hip dysplasia.

Those who have read my “About a Bird” post will know that my mother got MS when she was 35 [and I was 10], so I had 25 years’ experience of watching how the progressive numbness of an individual’s [back] legs makes walking tricky, then difficult, and ultimately impossible. Lili is still at the “tricky” stage. She tends to “wipe out” on hardwood floors [especially when in hot pursuit of a cat], but still gallops on grass. The daily walk through the Smithsonian woods is both worrying and inspirational. On some mornings it takes 3 attempts for her to leap into the back of either of our 2 Jeeps; and the other day she landed in a disorganized heap on the grass verge as she jumped out of the car at the school. But [here’s one of the Beauty Parts] she has a “fan club” of laborers working on school renovations this summer; and when they expressed dismay at her fall, she pulled herself together and trotted off smartly towards the woods. So far, she seems to experience no humiliation when she loses her footing [unlike my late mother, and most of the MS patients I have known]. “She just gets on with it,” as the Brits say. That’s the Beauty Part.

The “I am your Pack Leader” power subtext has changed subtly on the cross-country trail. I let her set the pace, sometimes marching in place while she collects herself for the assault on the next steep hill. She often delights me by then going so fast that I have to double-time to keep up with her. Every day that she “makes it through” the woods and back to the car is a beautiful gift. I realize that I have to make contingency plans for the day that she can’t.

What is absolutely clear, at this point, is that [however tricky it is for her numb back paws to negotiate hidden roots & fallen branches, steep inclines & muddy patches] she is having the time of her life.

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Filed under born to run, leading a pack, power subtext

“Thank you.” (For what?)

Before I launch into tales of our latest woodland (mis)adventure, a word about my “file photos” used in this blog. The ones featuring Lili in the woods, unleashed, are either carefully staged, 2-minute photo shoots (after which she is safely back “under harness”), or they date from back in the day, before we realized how foolhardy (and illegal) free-range dog walking in the Smithsonian nature preserve, or other municipal parkland areas, is, around these parts. Since yesterday’s walk took place at the sports park, without an accompanying photog, the scene was re-enacted this morning on our own property (think shooting Pasadena for Westchester County, in MadMen).

After more than a week of glorious walks in the Smithsonian woods during Spring Break, it’s been a tough transition back to the sports park, mostly because there’s so much more dog traffic, even before 8 a.m. I have come to associate certain vehicles with specific “challenges.” The tiny Beemer coupe transports 2 giant Bernese dogs; the green Yukon brings “Murphy,” an irrepressible golden puppy; and the red Subaru brings 3 untamed (often unleashed) “rescues,” whose lady owner speaks to them earnestly (but ineffectually) about “being good citizens” and “observing the golden rule.” My motto has become “(Almost) anything for a quiet life.” I will alter course on a dime, to avoid a snarly encounter with a free-booting dog.

As we were finishing the 1st half of our planned circuit, a silver Range Rover nearly ran us down, pulling into the otherwise vacant parking lot. “No way he/they can catch up with us,” I calculated, so when we got to the mini-woods at the back of the park, I decided we could circle back and walk it twice. At which point, on the crest of a little hill appeared a lovely but unleashed black Lab, who charged down to get up in Lili’s face. To my credit, despite much mutual canine snarling and skirmishing, I did manage to spit out “Oy! Suwate! (hey! sit down!),” which left Lili “boxing her corner” from a sitting position, rather than dragging me off my feet. To my utter humiliation, though, I then let out an involuntary, Hitchcock victim, blood-curdling scream, which brought the Lab’s owner, the Sloan Ranger, into view. He calmly walked up to his dog and said, “Sit,” which the dog did; and he clipped on a leash.

And then, without emotive inflection or evident irony, he said, “Thank you.”

As Lili & I high-tailed it out of the woods and back to the parking lot, I pondered, “Thank whom? For what?” Your dog, for obeying your command? Me, for not berating you for having your dog off-the-leash and out-of-sight? Dunno. Didn’t stop to inquire, although, I no sooner had Lili loaded & locked in the Jeep, than Sloan & Labby materialized in the parking lot, too. (We had double-timed back, so they must have triple-timed.)

Oh well, as the (inescapable, this week) British cliche has it, “Worse things happen at sea.” And what a useful phrase, to add to my repertoire of (power subtext) remarks signifying, “I am not your enemy, but I am not your victim.” Recently I have been coaching my (socially put-upon) patients to try the New Yorker’s universal comeback, “I know! Right?”  But that’s a bit Big Girl’s Blouse [UK slang for girlish], for the guys. Look how well Mr. Just Finished My Photo Shoot for Dunhill’s carried it off: “Thank you.”

I can hardly wait to try it out, myself.

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Filed under gets right up my nose, power subtext

Why the short leash?

In a much earlier post [“Tie Me Kangaroo Down”], I quoted Robert Frost’s view, that following rules [in that instance, the rules of rhyme & meter in poetry] can actually be as appealing as the siren song of anarchy. “Freedom,” said Frost, is “moving easily in your harness.”

Evidently, Trenton Oldfield’s course in Contemporary Urbanism @ the LSE didn’t cover that line of country. His website, “Elitism Leads to Tyranny,” discusses civil disobedience techniques, one of which he demonstrated this afternoon @ the 158th Boat Race [commonly known as the Henley Regatta] between Oxford & Cambridge, which he disrupted by swimming right underneath the oars of the Oxford boat, which had to stop, to avoid beheading him with an oar. When the race was resumed, a clash of oars left the Oxford boat one rower short; and the Bowman, Dr. Alex Woods, tried to exert the Therbligs of two men, but in vain.  The Oxford boat lost & Woods collapsed in the boat. He is currently listed in “stable” condition @ Charing Cross Hospital.

So, well done, Trent! Your civil disobedience managed to cock a snook at those 16 Elitist rowers and avert Tyranny, good & proper. At this writing Mr. Oldfield is under arrest on the minor charge of disrupting public order.

Last Saturday, my elder daughter & I were longing for the short leashes which the order-shouting TSA personnel insisted that we take off her cats Seamus & Finnbar, as we passed through the x-ray machine @ San Francisco International Airport, each of us clutching a squirming cat in our arms. When [what are the odds?] both of us were selected for the anti-terror profiling exam which includes having each hand swabbed for explosive residue, my younger daughter assumed her Lacrosse goalie stance, prepared to catch any feline anarchists.

Let us apply the What’s Up Your Nose analysis to these 2 events. I’m guessing that Trenton Oldfield feels personally humiliated by those young men fortunate [talented?] enough to attend Oxbridge universities and exert themselves for all to see on the River Thames. Will he also be disrupting crew events @ this summer’s Olympic games, one wonders? Oldfield’s intrusion angered the sports commentators, even before it led [indirectly] to the pain & suffering of Alex Woods. Plenty of anger to be getting on with there, then.

The TSA’s seemingly vindictive choice of the 2 least likely terrorists in our cohort was prompted by what? A cat allergy, causing pain & suffering? Then surely it would have made more sense to bustle us through, rather than make us hang around for an extra 15 minutes. A sense of intrusion, that it is Southwest’s policy to let cats travel in the cabin, instead of the baggage hold, like most other airlines? For our part, the intrusion, humiliation, and fear of cat loss led to an almost irresistible need to vent our anger through sarcasm; but we both managed to keep our snark “on a short leash.” I was actually quite Zen about it, knowing that my younger daughter had our backs. But it was with great relief that we finally put each cat back on a short leash & thence into their under-seat carrier bags, for the 2 flights that brought them to their new home in Boston.

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Filed under attribution theory, power subtext, stifled wolf, therbligs

Why the long face?

Chances are, if you are a horse or a human at an equestrian barn, that hang-dog look means you have just suffered a humiliation.

The other day my San Francisco daughter (who has been riding horses since she was 7, including, in better times, our magnificent 18hh Hanoverian, Owen) called to say, “Well, good. I finally met the Barn Bitch.” She had decided to reallocate her discretionary income, from hanging with 20-somethings at Frisco watering holes, to hanging with a 20-something horse in Oakland, name of Zachary. (Which is also her boss’ name, innit?) Until that day, everyone she had met at the barn had been helpful and welcoming.

I, too, began riding at the age of 7; and have never, in more than a dozen different barns, in the US and Europe, failed to encounter at least one trainer stuck in a permanent state of rage. There is also always at least one horse in a permanent Bad Mood. In the UK, where horses are not exotic, and mingle freely with motorists and pedestrians, such a “known kicker and/or biter” is likely to have a red ribbon tied to its tail. If only the Barn Bitch came with such a warning label!

Let’s do a bit of ethology, to try to figure out why “There’s (at least) one in every crowd.” Horses, it must be understood, are both pack animals and prey animals. In the wild, survival depends on being “well in” with the herd, whose members can better fend off predators. Yet, when forage is scarce, survival depends on being of high enough status to get first dibs on the food. Battles for supremacy involve biting and kicking; and size does not always matter. (Even a fierce little dog can growl a horse away from food which is of no nutritional value to the terrier, itself. Hence, the English expression, “to act like a dog in the manger.”) Indeed, at riding barns, it is most often a small mare or even a pony who wears the red ribbon.

And so, to the psychology of the Barn Bitch. It is rarely the owner of the establishment who snarls (at potential customers). It may not even be the head trainer, whose alpha status allows first pick of horses, tack, and students, making it more likely that they will win the on-going zero-sum-game, into which all human/horse endeavors [not just show events, or races, but even lessons] morph. It is the “Not Quites,” the Wannabe trainers, who are left with the nags, the old tack and the less promising students, who suffer humiliation, which they pass along, like the Old Maid card, usually to unsuspecting newcomers.

Once you know who should be wearing a red ribbon, it’s easier to put out your own subtext message, loud & clear: “I’m not your enemy, but I’m not your victim.” Now, jump out of the manger, and let my horse eat. An old hand at such scenarios, my daughter held her ground; and the erstwhile Barn Bitch morphed into a lap dog.

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Filed under aggression happens, ethology, power subtext, zero-sum-gaming