Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whomp, Whomp, Whomp

I used to think that all the world’s problems could be solved by using one of two solutions: lobotomy or sterilization.

I have, in my old age and (I hope) increasing wisdom, come to the conclusion that while lobotomy and sterilization might be justified in certain instances, I need to add two other solutions to the repertoire. Those are the extreme head-on collision on the expressway, only between two deserving subjects, and the lesser solution, a regular Slap Room.

The first three are pretty much self-explanatory. The only problem anyone brings up with them is who gets to decide. The answer, of course, is: I do.

I also get to decide who goes into the Slap Room, but the general criterion for the Slap Room is lack of awareness, what my colleague and head of the English Department M.C.G., used to call negative AQ. AQ is like IQ, intelligence quotient, but you already know, since you are aware enough to read this, that AQ stands for Awareness Quotient.

When I was teaching, students who didn’t follow directions got negative AQ points, which I dutifully posted on a chart in the room.

I would extend AQ from the classroom to all sorts of other situations. For example:

Texting while driving would result in thirty minutes in the Slap Room (or death, which ever comes first) for each offense.

The woman who wore the T-shirt to court (and is now appealing the contempt of court jail time) that said “She who has the C**ze Gets to make the rules.” Another half hour in the Slap Room in addition to the jail time. And the lawyer who is handling her appeal would get the same amount of time.

The people who bring their little children to the dog park, in clear violation of the posted rules would get time in the Slap Room. The amount of time would depend on how many children, how long they stayed, how many big dogs were already at the park, and if they could read or not. Less time for the latter. More time for arguing about it.

Last winter a woman had a young child with her at the dog park, and when I pointed out - after I put my dogs on short leashes! - that the rules prohibited him, she told me that her child had been around dogs and knew how to act. She was non-plussed when I suggested it wasn’t the child that might instigate an attack, but an unbalanced dog. (Read my previous blog. We put Stella down because she began to attack people and we could no longer trust her, especially with children.) The dog park woman didn’t get it. Even when I told her there was no amount of liability insurance in the world that could compensate for a child being mauled by a dog. She thought I was kooky. Slap Room for her.

And she gets a lot of extra time in the Slap Room, not only because she flouted common sense, but because she set a terrible example for her child that she was above the rules.

I think there should be time in the Slap Room for people who text while having dinner with me and people who have to report their every move to their friends on their cell phones in line at stores. Or worse, those who sit behind me on the train and talk about their sex lives, their marriages, and their intimate operations.

People who use their children as pawns against their spouses and former spouses merit time in the Slap Room. Probably lots of time for every offense. They should also be relieved of custody at the same time.

People who are so self-absorbed they want to tell us their entire medical history and that of all their neighbors, belong in the Slap Room until they decide there are other topics in the world to talk about.

I suspect that people who enable their pets to misbehave deserve time in the Slap Room. This includes the ones who bark constantly, especially before dawn, when I’m lying down for a nap, or when I step outside my house. It also includes people who sneak people food to my dog. They may be aware of my rules, but they chose to ignore them. Slap Room. Now!

On the other hand, people who enforce silly rules indiscriminately deserve time in the Slap Room. Drawing a picture of a gun or using a stick to play Cops 'n Robbers at school may be a zero tolerance offense, but the people who institute it and those who enforce it deserve time in the Slap Room. When I first started teaching, I always confiscated squirt guns from students, and then emptied them, usually on their crotches. No doubt I’d get time in the Slap Room for that, but I thought then - and still believe - that the punishment should fit the crime.

I’m sure you have lots of ideas for the Slap Room, and we’d all like to see them, so please post them at comment below.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our Dog Stella

We are sad today. I took Stella to be euthanized.

Stella was a beautiful dog, and a smart one. When we went for walks, she pulled a little even on her Gentle Lead, but she always stopped at corners before we crossed streets. I trained her to do that so she wouldn't run into the street if she escaped from her leash. When we turned, I could tell her left or right (once I figured it out) and she would turn the proper direction. At home, if we told her "Lie down," she would find a corner and curl up. She would chase a ball, but never retrieve it. And she loved to go to the Indiana Dunes State Park and run on the beach for hours.

When we got her, Stella had never seen or used stairs. But she learned quickly. At Agility - Obedience class, she hated to be off the floor. She wouldn't cross the little bridges or climb on a platform with a two by four base. The time the teacher tried to get her to cross one of the bridges, Stella just peed all over. The teacher cleaned it up, tried again, and Stella peed again. The trainer works at our vet's and every time Stella saw her, she peed. We figured Stella was afraid the trainer would make her walk the plank once more.

When it came time for me to take her to the bridge, I let go of her leash and she took off across the room to the fabric tunnel. She ran through it, turned to me and smiled, and then headed for the door. We got one of those tunnels and she loved to show off for company in our back yard by running through it.

At the dog park here in Homewood, she acted like she was the Empress Bitch of the World. She would chase Brando, her nominal brother, up and down the park lickety split with one of his rear legs in her mouth. I never could figure out how he could run that way. Or how she never let go and covered two hundred yards and back at a full-out gallop. She was good friends with most dog park dogs, but she always asserted herself with new ones.

Recently though, Stella began to exhibit fear problems. If I crossed my legs when I was sitting on the couch, she always jumped, and lately she skittered across the room to the farthest corner. When she met a new dog, she was likely to growl and bare her teeth instead of sniffing, and last month she bit the end of a Weimaraner's ear off. It bled like mad, as ears do, and we paid the vet bill.

More recently, she started lunging at people and snapping at them. She nipped the man who shovels our driveway, and I was thankful he wore gloves. When I reached down to her on a walk recently, she nipped at me. A couple weeks ago a visitor walked calmly up the driveway with Ann and held out her hand to Stella. Stella snapped at her, bit her hand and punctured the skin.
We have a lot of people come to the house, and in the past Stella wasn't so fear-aggressive. Her behavior, however, escalated in recent months. We have liability insurance. But I could never live with the guilt if she maimed anyone, especially a child.

After lengthy consultation with our vet and the trainer, after discussion with Derek, who is also a veterinarian, and after much conversation and thought, we realized we couldn't continue. This morning, after the period of time required by law after a bite, I took Stella in to have her put down.

I held her head and petted her as the vet found a vein in her rear leg and injected her. Stella relaxed, closed her eyes and slept briefly, and then she was dead. She died peacefully and without pain in my arms.

Stella was a beautiful, wonderful dog in many ways. But because of her temperament and because she was probably abused as a puppy before we got her from the Humane Society, she never learned to trust us. We can't trust a dog that doesn't trust us.

We will miss Stella. We hope she is herding heavenly sheep.

As always, feel free to click comment below.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day

Sunday is Mother's Day, a bittersweet day that we try to avoid, like Father's Day.

Our son Daniel, our only biological child, died in 1993, and our mothers are both gone too. It's not exactly a happy day for us.


Our good friend Tim, whose parents died while he was in high school, gave us his two boys a dozen years ago to be grandparents to. We love David and Jonathan dearly, and have enjoyed watching them grow up. David is finishing his junior year at Beloit College and Jonathan has three more weeks of high school. He was named Outstanding Broadcasting Student at last night's awards banquet at his high school. He plans at this point to attend the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee in the fall.


Two of my former students Derek and Shannon, brother and sister, chose me their dad shortly after we got grandkids. Shannon has a wonderful boyfriend who has three great kids of his own. Our beautiful granddaughter Ella who will be a year old in August, is Derek and Jo's. They live in Colorado where Derek is a veterinarian.

I frequently hear that you can't choose your family. I have to disagree. We have a wonderful chosen family, people who enfold us with love.

I also have a chosen sister, Laurie, who is on the faculty at Stanford, where she received her Ph.D. a couple of years ago. Chosen cousins Rochelle and Margaret live in the Chicago area and we see them frequently, but not as often as we'd like.

Sunday is Mother's Day, but we'll be avoiding crowds where people say, "Happy Mother's Day" without realizing the implications it has for us. Instead, we'll be going to Shannon's for brunch.

It will be a bittersweet Mother's Day as usual. But we will spend it with people we love.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Return to Blog Writing: A winding essay

When we were young and foolish and filled with optimism and promise, we bought a run-down Queen Anne house in Joliet, built in 1892, also filled with promise.

We subscribed to Old House Journal, and tried not to 'remuddle' it, but I'm sure that despite insulating walls and ceilings, removing paint from all woodwork in the downstairs, refinishing the maple floor in the kitchen, adding electric circuits, re-surfacing all the upstairs ceilings, and all good thing like that. Despite all that, I suspect we really botched a lot of it.

It was an interesting house, huge, with seven bedrooms and three large living rooms all on arches. We moved after living there eleven years because we wanted our son to go to a safe high school, and we didn't have a lot of confidence in Joliet Central. Nor were we willing to pay for parochial school, me being a good public school teacher and all.

The house was filled with surprises. We found drawings under the wall paper, for instance. In the crawl space under the front part of the house we found ancient beer bottles left by the builders. On the dirt floor in the cellar I tried to pick up a pipe in the corner and found it was a tree root. And in the attached shed we found samples of things the second family to own the structure had created.

The inventor (of a spot remover of some sort, as I recall) Manhoog Seron bought the the house about 1910. Levon Seron bought it from his father and lived there until he died in 1975, when we bought it from the estate. Levon's brother Seron Seron (SEER uhn sir ON) invented the strap that holds athletes glasses on while they play sports before we bought the house.

The attic held one of the most interesting surprises in the house, which was remodeled in 1924. Because of the remodeling, the stairs to the attic were eliminated and I was able to climb into it through a scuttle, a hole in the ceiling of a closet, which is what most houses built today have.

In the attic I found a picket sign, too large to lower through the scuttle, protesting the 1911 massacre of Armenians by the Turks, the Armenian Genocide.

A friend on facebook brought all this back to mind the other day when she posted a notice about the Congressional Resolution on the Armenian Genocide. This is a very political issue which has to do more with our current relations with Turkey and other Muslim countries than with what is good and right.

I personally don't understand the necessity for a resolution calling the massacre a genocide. It happened almost 100 years ago, and while recent history to most people remains my current events, even I was not around at the time.

I have a good friend whose Armenian-born father led a group of people orphaned by the massacre out of Armenia, which is east of Turkey. Some members of the family ended up in the United States and other ended up in South America. They went where countries would accept refugees.

Back to the resolution, however. It seems to me that the Congress has enough to do - not that they could get together and order pizza at this point - about current issues in the United States.
Unfortunately, members of Congress, both the House and Senate, seem to spend about five hours a day fund raising. That means that they, the people we elected, accomplish very little that doesn't pass ideological party muster. And that doesn't mean it's good for the United States, only that it's good for the political party. Frankly, that sucks.

Worse, however, is that lobbyists end up writing legislation. These are people paid by special interest groups, some of which are good and some of which are bad. Unfortunately, they ALL end up being bad because they insert into our laws their own biases.

That's why my insurance company can tell my doctor which medications he can prescribe.

That's why the bridge to nowhere was funded in Alaska.

That's why in Illinois, the legislature gutted pensions for public employees and have never funded them in the first place.

Our senators and representatives, both federal and state, need to start being responsible to the people who VOTE for them, not the back room wheeler dealers, not the lobbyists who donate heavily to their campaigns, not the corrupters of officials.

This essay is a long, winding road from the old house in Joliet. But the resolution on Armenian Genocide is an irrelevant issue one hundred years later. Congress keeps trying to get things right somehow, despite being totally out of date and close to irrelevant.

No wonder the Tea Party-ers are fomenting a grass roots revolution.