Boom time for doggies

Belle, concerned on July 3.

I love fireworks. But I don’t usually attend 4th of July displays — I stay home to hold my dogs’ paw.

Sure, fireworks are spectacular. Visually, I mean. I don’t get the big noise thing, thing. I can understand that a good BOOOOM scares off evil spirits. It’s just not a pleasant sound. At least we humans understand what’s going on (well, some of us). What the heck do animals think?
Whatever it is, it’s not good. Because more pets go missing during July 4 weekends than at any other time of year. Animal control official’s nationwide see a 30 percent increase in missing pets right after the holiday.

I think I’ve seen maybe three or four fireworks displays in my adult life – at least the years I’ve shared my home with dogs and other companion animals.

While friends head out to watch the pyrotechnics, I head for the bunker, or whatever’s lowest and most sound-resistant in the house or place I’m visiting.

I turn up the TV, sing, whatever. Armed with Greenies, toys and other in-the-end useless distractions, we prepare for the anti-celebration. Nothing really works. All we can do is tough it out. I’m actually a little afraid of fireworks myself. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, we all knew the legend of that neighborhood boy with one hand – the other blown off when he was playing with (you guessed it), fireworks. I never saw the boy, and I was glad.
I’ve often feared my own dogs would suffer physically from just the sound. I remember Benji, four pounds of Chihuahua fierceness, would hear one BOOM and become one small ball of fear. His tongue would unfurl as he panted and — this was the frightening thing — it just keep on unfurling. Rolling out like a little pink roll of toilet paper that had fallen off its roller. It was, well, inhuman – incanine. Like, possessed. I feared the supernatural unraveling. I feared what might happen when he tried to roll it back in.
My late dog Sadie used to tremble nonstop for hours. If she wasn’t under the bed, she was trying to squeeze under, or behind, me. Heat radiated from her so violently that I’d be sweating. No matter where she hid, she shook, even as I tried to physically get her to be still. All I could do was pray the booming ended before her heart gave out.

The most memorable fireworks episode was long ago when I lived in Tucson. I had, silly me, gone off to see fireworks without my two dogs. I returned to find the front windows broken and the curtains hanging out of them and trailing along the ground outside like, well, I didn’t know it back then, but like Benji’s tongue.

The dogs were in the back yard, not a scratch on them, thankfully, but no doubt the sound of all that glass breaking made the evening that much scarier.
Here are some suggestions from veterinarians on how to keep your critters calm – or at least safe – during fireworks season – whether near or far from home.

  • Remove anything your dog (or cat) could destroy or that would be harmful if chewed.
  • Keep them active all day so they’ll be dog-tired and less antsy by the time the night and the fireworks roll around.– Create a sheltered and quiet area with their favorite bed or their crate (if they feel at home in it).
  • Provide lots of water: stressed animals pant and get thirstier.
  • Put on the TV or play music
  • Check with your vet to see if they recommend herbs or prescription meds for calming fear and anxiety.
  • Don’t bring your dog to a fireworks display, or leave him in the car while you watch the fireworks – BTW don’t leave them in the car EVER EVER in the summer.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in the yard on the Fourth of July weekend. He or she could freak over even the random firecracker being set off in the neighborhood, and bolt.– Don’t chain your dog, either – it could act as a snare, or a noose…
  • If you’re traveling to a destination specifically to see fireworks, leave the dog in the hotel room – with someone they know. Bring Fido’s crate for an extra measure of familiarity.
  • If you’re traveling and you just happen to be visiting when there are fireworks, either spend the evening somewhere out of earshot (way out) or prepare to hunker down in the hotel with Lassie on the TV and the air conditioner cranking.
  • Make sure your buddy is wearing his or her ID tag. Better yet, get them microchipped — especially if you’re traveling. Just in case they bolt, you have a better chance of finding them.

Smell-free tee

[Noisome Foo Fighters
T-shirt, Chapter 2]

Kept opening the dryer door and sniffing. The T-shirt seemed smell-free, but just to make sure I put it on and went outside to let it (and me) breathe.

Love this band, love the heart, (25th anniv. edition of One by One, BTW). All’s well — though the package it came in still needs to be dealt with. I may be imagining, but I think I see little odor lines rising from it.

Where did I put all those Covid-era disposable gloves….?

Tibet House meets my house

Less than an hour to the 34th Annual Benefit for Tibet House. I’m there — again. It’s an amazing, uplifting night. Some of my favorite musicians — Patti Smith (and daughter Jesse Paris Smith), Laurie Anderson (also channeling her late-husband Lou Reed, Iggy Pop (cleans up pretty good) and this year Eddie Vedder, Annie Lennox, Cage The Elephant, and others. Philip Glass is music director and oretty much a magnet for these likeminded musicians.
Along with the music — the event is a mother lode of inspiration — and perspective.

Perspective about our lives. Each of us, where we fit in, what we are doing, what we can do, be, change. Really, it’s like that.

This year no doubt we will get some extra rocket fuel for our souls because the Dalai Lama is, well, the warm-up act: He’s appearing digitally (who isn’t?) to offer some of his ineffable words of wisdom and, no doubt hope,

For me, it’s a no brainer I was so excited when I round out the benefit was coming this year. I am desperate here for music, for hope, for connection, for awareness, and some sort of experience, to put me back in the FLIPPIN WORLD.

It was easy to get a ticket — you can even get one, right now, for as low as $25 (eek, do I sound like a late-night commercial?). Just click here

Yeah, that’s one of the advantages of living virtual in these times. Last minute purchase, unlimited tix.

You also don’t have to spend two hours and mess up your bedroom deciding  what to wear. Or worry about traffic, or parking, or taxis, or finding an ATM so you can afford a drink. Weather is not an issue. The “seats” will be perfect. 
All of that is nice.
And yet … I will click the link for the show with some trepidation.

Because I remember the way it was, and I am afraid of the way it will be.

I  can only think back on the half-dozen times I was there for real. In visceral, surprising, un-managed 3-D. The whole night counted.  Carnegie Hall (yeah, sigh).  Glowing lights in the night. Doors. And people wearing coats, hands in pockets. Walking on city block pavement. Breath steaming freely into cold air.
Anticipation. Something. Surprised and unplanned and potentially head-exploding.

I remember arriving alone in the rain. In a hurry, out of breath and heart pounding. I remember sitting at the nearly empty Russian Tea Room pre-show with Lisa. Sitting at a big round white-clothed table,  beads of water sliding down the copper Moscow mule cups as a waiter regaled us with tales of the art  on the walls around us.

I remember all those times. Going in. arriving. My seat — the best seat for my way of being there. A chair in an upper box on the side, the front row with just a few other people.  Just the railing in front of me, I would spend the whole night leaning over, looking at the stage, the audience, the theater —  everything. Clapping till my hands stung and bark-bravo-ing till my throat hurt.

I can remember the people around me, their small words, whispering the “Oh my god” I was feeling. I was there by myself beat I never, ever felt alone. We were joined at the, well, heart, by the moment. The music. The wisdom in  the words.

So much joy. Of course, I had to cry,

And when the lights came up and we got our coats on, I would meet the eyes of my fellow human beings. And not be embarrassed that there were tears rolling down my cheeks.
Because theirs were wet, too.

Where have all the snowmen gone?

So there’s big snow here in the Northeast. Up here, in the Hudson Valley, up to 3 feet.
I see lots of video, lots of reporting, on people shoveling.

But where are the snowmen?

The snowforts?

The snowball fights?

The sledding?

Nature has delivered primo conditions for all of the above. Are kids (of all ages) seizing the moment?

Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places for evidence of these activities — the joy of the big snow.

But I have this little niggling fear that Covid is throwing some hot water on the joy of snow.

I read this story in the Times last week saying that kids are “slid[ing] down an increasingly slippery path into an all-consuming digital life.” Screen time and gaming in particular have at least doubled since the outbreak and (no surprise) virtual has replaced normal stuff like hanging out in school and physical activities like sports — and snowmanning.

Kids have found comfort by curling up in a kind of digital “pleasure cocoon” as Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician who studies children’s use of mobile technology at the University of Michigan, put it.

I get it. We all get it. We all have our cocoons. And we’re not necessarily proud of it.

But one of the big pandemic lessons is reminding us to seize the moment. To wake up and, in this case, smell the roses. To embrace the gifts, great and small, that we do have — ones we most likely ignored and took for granted when life was pre-Covid “normal.”

Snow, it’s not just for shoveling.

It’s wondrous. It’s nature’s bling. The stuff of ephemeral architecture. A bizillion flakes of possiblilities. And surprise. And memories.

It’s OK to interrupt. When I was a little kid we lived in an apartment in Queens that had a tiny balcony. One night, my mother, totally out of character, went out on the balcony, grabbed some snow, came inside and threw a (badly made) snowball at me.
One of the best memories ever of me and my usually unplayful mom.

So get out of the cocoon, spread your wings, grab a carrot and some coal, and remember FUN.

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PS Feel free to share your snowman creations/sightings.

Knocked out

Merry Christmas — not.

Every morning was like Christmas morning. I’d get up and first thing look at my census cellphone. It would say “You have received work for today.” I’d log in and BLAM-o, I’d have like 75 cases. A ridiculous amount, I began to understand. I could do maybe 20 a day if I was lucky and every door I knocked on was opened by a non-hostile.

I got used to the deluge of doors that needed knocking-on. I began to crave them. I missed the whole process during down time, or on the rare day I didn’t work.
We thought the deadline for census-taking was Sept 30, so we knocked like crazy. Mad-knocking. Huge job. The powers that be approved — encouraged — overtime and superhuman hours.

To me, the harder/faster thing felt a little like we were sealing our own fate. A little like when they made the first convicts going “up the [Hudson] River” construct their own prison — Sing Sing.

Cases got harder. Most everywhere I attempted to enumerate, I’d find Notices of Visit (NOVs) already in door jambs, flapping in the bushes, tromped over at doormats.
One rather helpful little Hasidic boy said, “That’s so over,” pointing to my Official US Census briefcase.

And so here we are.

In New York, we were done, almost entirely by the original panic deadline on Sept. 30. When the court ruled that the census could proceed to its original end date, Oct. 31, we knew it was a pyrrich victory, at least here. There was hardly any door that hadn’t been knocked on, any domicile without data.

In recent days my case list plummeted. Some “Christmas mornings” the message was that I had work, and I’d find one case, and then an hour later it was gone.

Now, there are none.

I’m looking at my stuff: my forms — “Who to Count,” “NOV” and Language Identification Card”; my clipboard; my Census briefcase; my badge; my very cool “official business” dashboard sign. Even the much-feared iPhone.

I will have to return them all.

Soon I will not be a census taker.


Doors without number, a story behind each one

There are doors we never notice, doors we pass right by every day. Doors in shadow, doors without numbers, doors without doorknobs/ Doors on the sides of buildings, doors in the back, doors at the top of rusty metal stairs, doors below ground level, and on the sides of garages.

And yet, these doors all open, all lead somewhere, to something – to hallways, and stairs, and dinner smells, and shoes by the door, and welcome mats, and ultimately, to the places people call home.

Lots of people, calling every kind of space home.

It is a big deal, having a home.

You can’t even imagine all the spaces, all the lives and the homes behind all the doors you never see. And every single one is important. Not to you, maybe, but to someone. Families, old people, screaming babies, lonely souls, all of them getting by, spanning time, all of them with futures and dreams and hopes and ideas and sadness and despair. And stories. All behind those doors.   

We walk by the doors and we don’t see them.

If we don’t see them, they don’t exist. At least that’s how we proceed.

I have  to see them. I have to find them — many without numbers — and knock on them.  And see who’s on the other side.

It is my job. To counted the uncounted. And ultimately, make them count.

Not counting on this

I love my job, and not just because every address, every door, is an adventure.

I love it too because the journey, the space between addresses, every step along the way is an opportunity for a memorable moment.

Beautiful Tamai holding beautiful leaf. Sorry it’s cut off, but I had to get all of her smile in.

(I know life’s a journey, yadayada — but getting out of your comfort zone — and this job is all about that — really helps push the envelope. Really helps you see the world, the regular, quotidian world, with new eyes.

Which happened after enumerating a house in a part of town I never even knew existed. I’m walking down the driveway and this fallen leaf, this maple leaf, is just glowing on the black tarmac.

It said: “Pick me up!”

It also said: “Fall.”

I picked it up. It was beautiful. Otherworldly, like fall colors. Yet real, like the inexorability of nature. COVID means nothing to her. COVID can cancel New Orleans Jazz Fest and the Summer Olympics. But it will not stop the Technicolor show of fall…

I am walking down the driveway, toward my car, looking up with a smile from the wonder of my leaf, when I see her across the road. A woman with a brush of silver hair, standing outside her door, looking at me.

I often get looked at by neighbors. Curiosity, but almost always verging on suspicion. I get it.

But something about this woman…

Something about her, really, I can’t say, cause I couldn’t clearly see her face, something about her made me cross the street. Made me go right up to her.

And then I could see her face, her smiling eyes, her flat, wide cheeks, her beautiful, delighted smile.

Look at this, I said,’ holding out the leaf. Isn’t this beautiful?

Immediately I realized she spoke no English. She was talking to me in her native language,  blithely, like I understood it. But, though I mentally flailed for even one word to hang onto, all I could understand was the tone of the flow,  the expression on her face, the attitude of her hands.

It was enough. All said “Welcome.”  All said, “We get it.”  All said, “We are here now, connected by the universal language: the smile.”.

Spanning time.

Expanding in time.

What else is there?

When she said she was from Togo, I started jumping up and down with excitement. I’ve been all over the world, and never met anyone from Togo until I became a census-taker in upstate New York. I introduced myself as Jill, and i think she said her name was Tamai (no idea how to spell that).

Don’t know why it would make a difference.

I helped her bring her emptied trash cans back from the curb.

She asked me if I wanted to come in.

I said I had to work.

I gave her the leaf.  She gave me another swoonable smile.

She watched as I drove away. I took in one last image of her,  holding the leaf in her hand. And my heart actually beat hard with the beauty of it all.

 And gratitude for remembering that.

#Covid-19 #census2020, #love #beauty #fall2020

Knock out?

Mostly, all those preconceived notions of danger and nastiness behind the doors I knock on have not materialized. People are at least civil. Often warm. Surprisingly kind.

As I’ve said before, I love this job.

But (ah, the bu) I’m starting think, from a couple of recent encounters that maybe the honeymoon is over.


The first sour note was on Sunday, down at the end of a quiet street with filled with late-afternoon sun. A dog on a tether,  with a toy in his mouth, watched me park and put my Official Census Bureau Business sign on the dash.  He trotted toward me, prepared for fetch, and slowly, the young, very ripped man in the lawn chair came toward me, too. He was as friendly as the dog, until I asked if he could  take 10 minutes of his time to answer the survey.  His sky blue eyes instantaneously went icy; I could  almost hear the snap!   Time?   he repeated. I’d triggered something, I knew as he began to tell me his real-world problems. They were immediate. They were big. 

The census — and the enumerator — were small, an affront. He was done with me. He moved away, his body language and his eyes clearly dismissive, and  putting on alert. I tried  to say some kind of basic human thing, not to convince him to fill out the questionnaire or maybe even smack me. But something that showed I got him, I felt for him. (We cross paths for a reason.)

He wasn’t listening.

I retreated to my car, wrote in the space for notes that I wouldn’t go back, and gave the dog a sad wave as I back out. He still had a toy in his  mouth.

Yesterday, I went to a house with inhospitable signs out front — No Trespassing for one (by law we aren’t trespassing, as I learned during my training).

I half-cringed my way down the driveway to the house, waiting for a shot to ring out. But obviously none was forthcoming. I approached the house meekly, rang the  NEST doorbell and made myself visible through its camera, my official badge prominent.  A voice eventually answered – it sounded like a teenage girl but only till she got to the actual responses: First a refusal, then a veiled threat that I was trespassing, then an outright  statement  to get off the property immediately.

Now today I‘ve gotten my first case actually marked with an exclamation point in a triangle. “Approach with caution.” It’s one step “safer” than the DANGEROUS ADDRESS indication —  which we actively avoid.  Anyway, this scary address is among the list of cases  in an area I know pretty well, an area I’ve driven by over the years and watched slowly deteriorate. An area where I can’t imagine people even living now. An area where an 80-year-old man man – the property owner, was shot and killed a while back.

I joke with my supervisor that I will stay far enough away to outrun a bullet. Today I will think carefully about which pair of sneakers will enable me to run faster and jump higher.