Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pride Goeth...

Mom used to joke: “You’d better learn humility along the way. Because if you don’t, your kids will gladly teach it to you.”
She was, as most mothers are, exactly correct. In the course of my own journey as a parent, I have had many a red-faced moment at the hand of one of my delightful girls, such as the time I attempted to get our middle-button into the movies for a reduced-price ticket, citing her age as younger than it really was.
“Oh, No, Daddy!” She corrected at the top of her voice in the theater lobby, for all other patrons to hear. “Don’t you remember my last birthday when I turned five instead of still being four?!?!”
Burning under the gaze of the other moviegoers, I quickly ponied up the extra buck or two that I was attempting to save and scuttled her through the door.
The funny thing is, I’ve discovered that Mom’s truism applies to both my two-legged kids and my four-legged ones.
I learned this lesson early in my years of dog ownership with Wesley, our Black Labrador Retriever. Wes was a terrific dog, but he had a stubborn streak that made him fiercely independent. We enrolled him in obedience training out of sheer necessity – as a pup, he was tearing our house and was very close to the D-day of either improving his behavior wholesale or finding himself shipped to another home. Fortunately, he got the training he needed to stay with us, but shepherding him through his class work was a steady and constant challenge.
Some of our obedience exercises involved off-leash work, and just about the time Wesley lured me into a false sense of security that I could trust him untethered, he would dart off on a spree as soon as I unclipped him.
Many classes had me feeling the sting of humility, chasing him through our instructor’s neighborhood in an attempt to get him back under control.
Ah, Wes. You were a son-of-a-gun. He’s gone now; lost to a cancerous tumor at age 10, but his cantankerousness made him a true character.
And a lesson in humility.
Parker, our current Lab, isn’t nearly as headstrong. His temperament is much more easy-going than Wesley’s. Which doesn’t mean I can leave my guard down.
Our obedience classes address all kinds of goals, ranging from everyday good behavior to showing in American Kennel Club (AKC) obedience competitions. When a dog-and-handler team distinguish itself in an obedience ring by earning a title (an official recognition of achievement), we celebrate that accomplishment.
It’s called Brag Night.
You should be able to see already how such moxie can be fraught with danger.
Brag Night involves not only the announcement of the accolades for the admiration of all but also a snack provided by the beaming owner. Treats range from simple cookies to elaborate cakes and sometimes even champagne, depending on the honors being feted. Often, too, there are dog cookies (homemade, of course) distributed to canine colleagues.
Last summer, Parker and I earned a Rally Novice title. The process involved participation in three separate dog shows, earning a qualifying score on a variety of exercises, as judged by an AKC-approved authority.
I was over the moon about this accomplishment; Wesley had earned his share of AKC titles, but not at such a young age (Parker was just over a year old).
I couldn’t wait for Brag Night. Cue the ominous music here.
On the day of his big celebration, Kristin, our youngest, asked if she could dig out a recipe she’d been eager to try and whip up a batch of red velvet cupcakes for the class. I gave her the green light, and she had a blast mixing, baking and decorating.
On our big night, I tucked Parker into the back of my car and placed two trays of cupcakes — each holding a dozen — inside, one on the seat and one on the floor. Parker’s position was assured by a metal grate I installed for just that purpose. Blocked by a set of horizontal bars, he rode safely behind me, posing no risk of jumping in my lap as I drove or startling me with an unexpected on-road kiss in the ear.
The cupcakes, by virtue of being up front with me, were safe. Weren’t they?
I pulled into our instructor’s driveway and parked. Juggling the sweets required two trips. I grabbed the tray from the passenger seat and exited the car.
Ten seconds.
It could not have been more than ten seconds that the car was vacated.
And in that one-sixth of a minute, Parker, compelled, I guess, by the scent, managed to wriggle his way through the grate and vault into the front seat. Once there, he scarfed down 12 red velvet cupcakes.
In about ten seconds.
I placed my tray on a nearby table and turned back to the car to get the second tray…
And saw a happy Yellow Labrador Retriever in the passenger seat of my car, eagerly licking his chops of red crumbs.
“Oh, no.”
I squinted, to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no!”
I jogged to the car. Parker’s tail thumped against the windshield: “Hi Dad!” he greeted.
I looked at the floor and saw and empty tray and a sheet of waxed paper that had been casually nosed aside.
So Parker’s Big Night of Brags turned out to be less than he expected. A cell phone call to the vet confirmed what I suspected: that there was probably not enough chocolate in the recipe to cause a serious health threat (chocolate being toxic to dogs) but that it wasn’t worth the risk. So we administered a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, cleared the decks, and let Parker eject his ill-gotten gains.
I took him home. He was a little unsteady on his feet — something like a fratboy who’d gotten sick at a kegger — but none worse for the wear.
Brag Night… Pfft

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Purple Pantsuit!

I exchanged email this week with one of my oldest friends, JT. JT and I go back 25 years. I know this because Eileen and I met JT and his wife Colleen on our honeymoon. It was one of those chance encounters—one in a million—where we crossed paths in a foreign country, not knowing that we lived relatively close to each other (me in PA, he in NJ). But given the circumstances, it does not surprise me that we have stayed friends over the entire course of the intervening quarter-century.

We bonded, you see, over humor.

And humor has been the glue that has held the friendship together.

Eileen and I took our honeymoon in Jamaica. We were married on Saturday, May 21, 1988, and spent that night in a hotel near Philadelphia International Airport. Early the following morning—so early, in fact, that the desk clerk who checked us in was still on duty the handful of hours later that we were checking out—we flew Air Jamaica to Montego Bay. The flight was crowded and the cabin space was small, but we didn’t care.

We landed, and the airport was alive with throngs of tourists and the hustle-bustle of an active vacation destination in May.

While waiting for our bags by the carousels, my eye drifted toward a middle-aged woman. She was thin, wore enormous sunglasses, had a wide-brimmed straw hat perched atop a mound of bleached hair, and her fingernails, jewelry, makeup, and perfume were all dialed up way too high. She was hard to miss, tottering on high heels and sporting an electric purple pants suit.

Next to her on a trolley was a mountain of bags, and she was directing a man—I assumed he was her husband—on the finer points of collecting the remainder of their luggage.

Her high, shrill voice pierced through the din, à la Mrs. Kravitz from the old Bewitched show. I cannot remember her husband’s first name—let’s call him Mark for the sake of illustration—but she badgered him mercilessly: “Mahrk! Mahrk! Don’t forget my train case. It’s right they-ah, next to that duffel bag. Not that one! That one! Sheesh, you’d think a husband would recognize his own wife’s train case…”

Ad nauseum. She barked at porters, at fellow passengers, at the airport staff, at the flight crew, at just about anyone who came within a ten foot radius of her.

And the topper was this comment, which she repeated over and over, mopping her brow with a flouncy handkerchief: “It’s so hawwwwwwwwt here. My gawd. The heat. It’s making me faint. Who knew it would be so hawwwwwwwt here?”

I couldn’t help thinking in response: Ma’am. Think about it. You’ve flown several hundred miles closer to the equator. In late May. Did no one tell you that the weather would be tropical? Is this a surprise to you, that it’s hot?

Apparently so, for as the rest of us were in shorts and tees, she flounced around in her purple pants suit, pointing, waving, and complaining nonstop while poor “Mark” scurried behind her.

I nudged Eileen and tipped my head in her direction. Eileen caught sight of the spectacle for herself and hid a smile behind her discreet fingers.

We got our things and made our way to our hotel shuttle.

After stowing our bags in the underside compartment of the bus that would take us to our resort, we boarded. There were scant few seats left, and the passenger list was clearly a bunch of 20-somethings who had all been married the day before and who were on the verge of beginning their honeymoons.

The only seats available were in the very back, along a bench designed to sit four but that presently only held two.

Sipping a complimentary Orangina, Eileen and I made our way to the very last seat and nudged in alongside the other couple.

Waiting for departure, I started to smile to myself over the sight of Mrs. Kravitz, and I said to Eileen: “I wonder if that lady in the airport ever found her bag.”

The male half of the couple we were sitting with burst into a grin and asked: “Was she wearing a purple pantsuit?”

Six words that changed my life by bringing into it one of my most treasured friends.

It turns out, they were familiar with this princess in puce because she had sat next to Colleen on the flight. And had whined about just about everything on that part of the trip, too.

JT and Colleen and Eileen and I palled around for most of that week (well, except for ample alone-times, it was our honeymoon, after all!). We shared tables at mealtimes and did some touring as a foursome. My sense of humor and JT’s were alarmingly similar—plenty of puns, double entendre, and cartoon voices—and it was clear that although our new wives didn’t exactly “get” what made us laugh so deeply, they were willing to endure the goofiness. We exchanged contact info before the week was out, wished them well, and made our way home to start a new married life.

Fate intervened when, a few years later, I switched jobs and JT and I ended up working together for a short time. Many a late Friday found us dorking around again, eager for the weekend.

The years rolled by. I could always count on John making me laugh, and I could call him when my mood was particularly black and know that, by the time I hung up, I’d be wrung out with giggles. We leaned on each other through tough times: financial worries, sick kids, aging parents, the passing of pets. He was and is my go-to guy when I need a laugh. When we were together as couples, we teased each other about looking at wedding photos and not seeing each other in them. This was to be expected, given that we hadn’t met until the day after the wedding! But the standard gag-question became: “Why weren’t you at our wedding???”

Another tradition evolved: Non-Sequitor Christmas Gift. Each December we would get together for a dinner, and at some point, one of us (details lost to history) bought the other a totally out-of-the-blue, completely useless, apropos-of-just-about-nothing Christmas present. Gauntlet thrown, the next year, the ante was upped. I believe I purchased him a CD of Christmas carols as warbled by The Brady Bunch kids.

The tradition continues. Last December, I bought JT a DVD copy of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians; he got me a solar-powered figure of Queen Elizabeth (her hand waves when she’s exposed to sunlight).

This year will mark 25 years since our wedding. Certainly a day to honor Eileen and the good times we’ve had and the challenges we’ve overcome.

But also a chance to thank a distant traveler who brought a good friend into my life.

So thank you, Mrs. Purple Pantsuit. Whoever you are.