Dog Poop and Personal Rituals

My dog has his favorite spots to poop. It all looks like grass to me, but not to him. This can be frustrating when I need to get somewhere quickly and he’s waiting for just the perfect opportunity to loosen his bowels. Just get comfortable already, I want to say.

I should be more patient. We all have instances in which we need things a particular way and can’t totally explain why. The blinds should be flipped up but the toilet paper roll must face down. We want a big spoon for ice cream but can only eat cereal with a little spoon. Before we take a free throw, we have to blow a kiss to our family; after a goal, we must point up to the sky.

These are all little things that make us comfortable. Without them, things just don’t feel right. And regardless of their intrinsic value, they are important because people feel they are.

So, pick your spot, buddy. I’ll wait.


Drivers in That State Are the Worst

Something magical happens as soon as we cross state lines: The drivers become horrible. It doesn’t matter where you’re going or why, but that other state always has worse drivers. When I was a kid coming up from California into Portland, it was the Oregonians. “They drive live maniacs in the rain,” relayed my white-knuckled parents from the front seat.

Moving to Nevada, it was the opposite. “They don’t know how to drive in the rain,” earnest Californians told me. (Meaning Nevadans actually slow down when Mother Nature asks them to.)

Californians themselves do not escape notice. My wife, no stranger to the gas pedal, told me with some awe that she had been mercilessly tailed by semis and school busses alike on a recent trip to the Central Valley. At one point, she only evaded being rear-ended by doing her best Steve McQueen impersonation and taking a left-hand turn at 50 MPH.

Yet, however much those of us in the western US may disparage the driving of our neighbors, the debate is ultimately unwinnable. After all, we all know which state truly has the worst drivers: Florida.


I Miss All the Crying

For the last month, I’ve had to travel extensively for work, coming home only for the weekends. Inevitably, in the security line or at the gate or inside the plane, there will be a family with a child about the same age as mine. The child will be crying or on the verge of tears — flying, after all, can be scary. The parents try desperately to shush the child. All those emotions are fine, the say, but can you please express them quieter?

I don’t mind the crying. I used to, pre-parenthood, but not anymore. I see those kids and I just miss my own. Usually in life when we miss something, our brains conveniently edit out the most uncomfortable or negative sides of them. It’s why we keep drinking one glass of beer too many, forgetting the hangover that follows. It’s why we keep getting back together with the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who’s no good for us.

So, it’s a powerful thing when we can see one of the toughest aspects of parenting — comforting a child who can’t be comforted — and say, “I miss that.” That’s real love.


Fresh Is a Meaningless Word

I’ve been staying at a hotel for work all week. It’s a boutique hotel, so there’s no restaurant downstairs — just a cafe and bar that serves simple breakfast stuff in the mornings. I was there before the server this morning, and watched as she rolled up the cover to reveal all the baked items and juice and fruit underneath. They’d been there overnight.

“When were these muffins made?” I asked.

“Yesterday. They’re all fresh.”

The oxymoron sirens sounded in my head, though the server did not hear them. I’m not sure what others’ definition of fresh is, but mine firmly disallows muffins made the previous day. And orange juice squeezed more than 12 hours prior. To me, recent means, at the earliest, today. Many bakeries sell day-old baked goods at a discount precisely because they don’t taste as good as the stuff made that morning. Krispy Kreme has made millions by putting up signs advertising donuts straight out of the oven.

But the f-word has been on a precipitous decline anyway (my use of it in other articles notwithstanding), at least since Subway trademarked “Eat Fresh”. Does fresh mean that the lettuce was removed from the package that morning? That the meat was recently thawed? Was it fresh out of the bag? And then there’s farm fresh, factory fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh. The word is meant to make something sound healthy or new, but it’s used in so many situations in which it is neither that it’s lost its meaning.

We may need a fresh word to replace it.


Making Assumptions from Behind the Steering Wheel

Last week, somebody driving by our house called Animal Control on us. They reported that our dog was outside without any water in his water bowl. Animal Control came out to find not only a full water dish but also my family playing with him. Clearly, our adopted dog, who we took with us all the way from Florida, is not neglected.

But someone assumed he was. They couldn’t see a water bowl so assumed it wasn’t there. They didn’t know we work from home and have an open-door policy with our dog, allowing him to come inside or go outside as he pleases (just a bark is all we need), so they assumed he was outside by his lonesome all day.

We often assume the worst about other people in daily life. We don’t have the facts, so we make them up to form a narrative that makes sense to us. And our narratives, like our television and movie plot lines, veer into dark territory. The guy in the car accident was probably drunk. The married coworker without the wedding ring is probably having an affair. And the dog outside in the daytime is probably neglected.

It’s impossible to understand others’ lives — the ones they live 24/7 — by observing for a few moments as we drive on by.