travels with gnarley

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Ever since he was attacked at a dog park last year, Fredo has had hysterical outbursts around dogs his size or bigger. They'll sniff him, and he'll stiffen. It's a countdown to the nervous explosion, a panic attack of high-pitched screaming and gnashing teeth that invariably leaves the other dog startled and confused.

"The fuck is wrong with you, weirdo?" their body language, and mine, says. We don't go to dog parks much anymore.

I awoke in Seattle at 4am Saturday, and I decided to take Fredo to our old dog park. It was of course empty. We walked to where I scattered the ashes of Ed, my late, great, non-moronic, non-pussy, pathology-free dog. I stood over her grave and let the memories flow. The time we came to that park so she could meet her brother as adults and she greeted him by wrapping her legs around his neck and throwing him to the ground. The time I caught her lying on my couch, feet up, with her head on my pillow. The time she ate an entire pizza for which I'd spent two hours driving. Great times.

I was wiping away a manly tear when Fredo loped into view and hiked his leg on Ed's grave.

When we were leaving the park, other people were arriving. A gigantic Great Dane—a wonderful, gentle breed—saw us and sped over, using those hilariously awkward, giant Great Dane playful strides where they lift their massive paws five feet off the ground. As this dog galloped toward Fredo, I thought "This is not going to end well." But Fredo did nothing. He stood rigid and watched the Dane thunder right up to him.

Poot! shot a little turd.

what i miss about seattle

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It is not, as I would have thought, the natural beauty. (It's hard to beat mountains and a beach.) No, it's buying my iced teas at a gas station. In Seattle, this takes 20 seconds, tops.

Not so in Cooterville. Even if the guy in front of you isn't buying a pack of smokes and a lottery ticket, there's still the inevitable small-talk with the cashier about their children. Although they've clearly never met before, they are instant, time-stopping intimates. This happens to me every single day, and I'm starting to spend this free time calculating how much of my remaining life-expectancy they're burning through. Sometimes I dearly miss Seattleites, who would never, ever dream of asking someone beneath their caste about themselves.

bugger

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I recently hired a guy based in Toronto. When he came on a call today, I heard his voice for the first time. He unleashed his impenetrable Scottish accent, and I felt deceived. Globalism sucks for discriminating against accents.

assignment of blame

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I put on weight in Pittsburgh. Who knew that drinking constantly could do that? Somebody should alert the media. I'm now taking it off, which means a whole lot of sobriety, flavorless food, and not going out...except to exercise.

It is Day 10. Thanks to diet time-dilation, it feels like day 838. Past John can bite me.

singularly old

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My friends largely paired off long ago. They're evenly split into the "growing old together" crowd and the "growing old near one another" crowd. I wouldn't mind joining the first group, but I'm clueless about how to avoid the second. I'd rather die alone, and, well, it seems increasingly likely that I'm going to fulfill that prophecy. If this seems like a lament, it's really not. I'm comfortable keeping my own company. Plus a lifetime of evidence suggests that I'm simply not very good at relationships, and to me that suggests a Group 2 destination. Can I blame my parents for that personal failing? Obama? Really, I'll entertain any theories other than "Maybe I just suck."

It's not for lack of practice, however, which brings us to today, when I was driving down a road I'd never been down before, and I spotted a pedestrian. "She's cute," I thought before I recognized her as someone I dated briefly 100 miles and 19 years ago.

Ordinarily, I would chalk that moment up to grand coincidence, but when you're single into your oldfartdom, it kinda feels like a mathematical inevitability.

race kerfuffles

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Yesterday:

Me: "A elderly black guy just called me a cracker."

d'Andre: "On behalf of all black people, I don't apologize."

Last year in Pittsburgh, upon seeing my house:

d'Andre: "Ghetto pass revoked."

Me: "Wait, I had a ghetto pass?"

d'Andre: "Fair point. Ghetto ban extended."

that's a problem for future yinzer

I spent a long time trying to articulate exactly what it was about Pittsburgh that drove me insane. I kept coming back to "culture of low expectations." Workers don't show up as promised because no one expects them to. People whom I paid extra to deliver and install a purchase were surprised when I wanted it installed anywhere but the driveway, because no one expects more of them. People hired to improve indoor air quality think you're nitpicking if you complain about their tracking lethal neurotoxin around the house, because they usually charge extra for this service.

Heinz Field is go-to example of the effects of this culture. It's a horrible stadium. Where other cities built beautiful, or at least visually neutral, civic assets, Pittsburgh built a hideous, ad-infested yellow eyesore on their beautiful waterfront. It looks like a NYC cab, if a cab could seat 65,000. Functionally, it’s the worst of the league’s new stadiums. The sight-lines are such that if someone exactly my height sits in front of me, fully a third of the field is blocked from view. This is a principle understood since the time of the Romans, but Pittsburghers uniformly think I'm being patikilir [sic].

"So just move your head. Jesus, John."

"The point is I shouldn't have to. If you're going to build a stadium, why build a terrible one?"

They'd just blink at me, uncomprehending. To them, the way things are was and remains unavoidable. The future is a dimension as unseen by Pittsburghers as “up” is to an ant.

Here in Cooterville, we had some high winds last week. A tree branch split, dangling precariously above power lines. Within a few days, it was removed. This is delightfully unremarkable in the real world. In Pittsburgh, I saw fallen trees’ entire weight being supported by straining power lines for 14 months. They were there when I moved in, and they remained there when I moved out, if substantially lower. Every time I drove past them, I felt a wave of disgust. Of course these people are waiting for the lines to snap before they do anything about it. I could hear their incredulity in my head. "How else would you do it? Jesus, John."

sleaze of the year

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FullSizeRender.jpgAn acquaintance, let’s call her Freida, was setting up a memorial for her dead daughter, and she asked my advice about crowdsourcing. I volunteered to set up a memorial web site with hooks to a nonprofit PayPal account. Freida gratefully acknowledged me in a speech at the kickoff fundraiser, and I hadn't thought about it in the months since.

And then last week, I started getting emails from the site. Whenever I set up a site, I initially add myself to its email recipients so that I can verify that everything’s working. This time, I’d forgotten to take myself off.

The mails are receipts from PayPal. Freida is buying herself stuff using the donations. Among other things, a pair of shoes is being shipped to the memorial fund, at Freida’s home address. The hideous shoe pictured, in fact. The one that looks like hotel carpeting in Kazakhstan in 1958.

“How can she spend money that her friends donated to her dead daughter’s memorial? I would feel so guilty!” said Allie.

“That is because you are a decent person,” I replied. “Frankly, it limits you.”

watching jerry springer

There's a bar with great wifi near my hotel, which means everyone who works there knows me. Noon shift. Tuesday mid-afternoon shift. Late shift. Weekends. I am, I have learned, "Double Maker's John," which while impersonal is far kinder than many of my more personal nicknames. I'll take it.

No one there knows anything about me, due to their chronic lack of caring, but I know everything about them. They're mostly girls in their 20s, so "everything" does not run particularly interesting. The woman who tends bar at lunchtime is my favorite simply for lack of hysterical prattle about boys not returning texts. I assume this is because her grandson, at 2, is too young to have a phone.

One waitress, Christina, has never actually served me but we've chatted often. She's adorable, with her brown ponytail pulled through a baseball cap. After a particularly mind-numbing session of listening to a drunken, off-duty 22 year old bartender talk about her texts while texting them, I was relieved to see Christina. "You know you're the only person here who hasn't told me the story of her life?" I said. "I just want to thank you."

She then told me the story of her life.

She began by talking about an ex from 15 years ago. Considering that I had her placed in her low 20s, I was visibly surprised. It turns out she's actually 36. Helloooo, ponytail! I'm John!

"I have three kids!" she added, still laughing at my mistake.

I tripped over my next question, because in most cultures it would merit my being slapped. Here, though, it merits wondering: do they all have the same dad? I couldn't think of a polite way to ask it, so I instead asked, "Is...Dad still around?"

"No, they're assholes," she snapped. Now I wanted to know if she knew who the father was for each child. Meanwhile, Christina resumed texting her married ex, whose "mediocre" wife for whom he "settled" does not know that Christina remains his emotional intimate.

I munched on my taco and fondly remembered the five-second window when she was attractive. It was glorious.

purely hypothetical

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Remember that time when you were talking to yourself in the car, and you said something so vile, you pulled out the webcam and deleted all its files?

Me neither.