…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Monday, September 03, 2007

neurotranscendence 2.0 —>

Hey, I have a fancy-schmancy new dedicated domain for this here blog, and since the hardest part of moving is leaving friends behind, I’m really, really hoping you’ll visit me at my new location:

Best friends forever—


Thursday, August 16, 2007

about those goats…

I make kind of a lousy sister, which distresses me not least because I’ve always harbored fantasies about how different my life might have been had my parents produced exclusively X chromosomes. A sister wouldn’t have intimated to me, just after our 1972 move, that our house’s former occupants, a family of four just like us, had all been murdered in my new bedroom. A sister wouldn’t have confined me in a padlocked homemade coffin until she could no longer hear my panicked hollering, later blithely noting that so long as I was able to shout she knew I still had oxygen. A sister would never have seized my clip-on bear collection and demanded the king’s ransom of two weeks’ allowance for its safe return.

Those of you with sisters may disagree with any or all of the above. Still, even if a blood-relative American sister could turn out to be a sadist just as easily as my blood-relative American brother, my Rwandan sister would never be so cruel, a certainty that makes me feel so much the worse that Veneranda Nyiahabimana, my first Women for Women International sister match, received neither correspondence nor goats as a result of my sponsorship.

It’s conceivable that Veneranda, given the option, simply didn’t care for any livestock at this time. Had I bothered to write, I might have gleaned more about her attitude toward goats by offering up my own goat anecdotes. I could have told her about the time, when I was in junior high, that a goat in the petting zoo at Knott’s Berry Farm—"America’s 1st theme park!"—cost me what felt at the time like a small fortune by eating the unlimited ride pass hanging from my belt loop, forcing me to buy another or face a rideless future—the future being the succeeding six hours or so. Then maybe I would have explained the U.S. concept of theme parks and why American children would want to go somewhere and pet goats.

I kept meaning to write. WFWI urges that sponsored women benefit as much from kind words as from material support. But the best intentions stretched before me until, finally, I received notice in late July informing me that Ms. Nyiahabimana had graduated from the 12-month program. (All sponsorship matches are limited to one year, at which time program participants are encouraged to put any acquired job skills and micro-enterprise financing to work, and sponsors are encouraged to make peace with the idea that while they may feel they’ve made a forever sister, their material support will henceforth be transferred to a spanky new sister.) I was delighted to see that Veneranda had provided her address for future correspondence, indicating that it’s never too late to right a wrong—provided I can locate someone versed in Kinyarwanda, because WFWI furnishes translation services only for active sponsorship relationships.

Despite my lax correspondence, I was eager to learn how Veneranda felt she had benefited from the program. And while I was disappointed that her exit interview didn’t address her lack of enthusiasm for goats, I was pleased that she noted improvements in her general housing conditions, health, self-confidence, and awareness of civil rights. And if I was at first chagrined that she listed knitting as her sole field of skills training undertaken, I quickly gathered that Rwandan women approach the craft with far less irony than do any of my stateside knitting friends.

Unemployed when our partnership began last year, Veneranda now identifies as self-employed in a nonagricultural (i.e., goat-disinterested) activity. She still struggles in raising five children, two of whom are hers by birth. The other three, she says, are nieces and nephews whose mothers, her sisters, are dead, as are her own parents. She has no husband.

Veneranda was around 15 at the time of the Rwandan genocide, and her living situation practically maps its ongoing social repercussions: Around 10% of Rwanda’s citizens were killed during that three-month period in 1994, leaving hundreds of thousands of orphans in the care of a population that was, when the dust settled, 70% female, thousands of whom were pregnant as a result of rape by militia men. Compounding mass rape with Rwandan laws forbidding abortion under any circumstance, the country now counts as many as 5,000 enfants mauvais souvenir (“children of bad memory”).

Despite such souvenirs, Rwanda’s women have been pressed to put their bad memories behind them. Veneranda, in her brief letters to me, wrote only of the importance of family, her faith in Jesus and prayer, and her gratitude for my sponsorship. “God bless you,” she wrote, or at least that’s how her translator interpreted her handwritten Kinyarwanda. She wondered about my family and living situation; and she requested pictures, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. And that’s where I ran aground in my commitment as Veneranda’s sister.

The money’s easy enough, autodebited monthly from my account such that I hardly even miss it. But interpersonal matters are more complicated. Though I’m anything but closeted in my daily life—and could seriously give a flip how I’m perceived by folks who disapprove of “my lifestyle”—I’ve been at loose ends over just how honestly to describe my family to Veneranda.

“I have a female life partner and we’ve been together for nearly 13 years,” I might write, “which reminds me, how do you feel about President Kagame’s desire to update Rwanda’s penal code by criminalizing consensual same-sex relations?”

Or how about, “I’m pleased to hear that you take solace in your spiritual beliefs, though I don’t myself believe in God.”

Veneranda certainly isn’t in the minority in Rwanda, where 90% of citizens identify as Christian—and only 2% claim no religious affiliation. Roman Catholics account for roughly two thirds of the Christian majority, with the lion’s share of the rest falling to the Anglican Communion, the 77 million–member worldwide religious body currently engaged in a war of wills with the U.S. Episcopal Church, (presently) a province within the Communion that Anglican archbishop and primate (seriously, that’s the term for Anglican grand poobah types) Peter Akinola, who leads the African council of provinces, threatens to excommunicate en masse if the American body won’t stop treating the goddam gays as legitimate folk, a “plunge into unrighteousness” epitomized by the 2003 consecration of openly gay—and noncelibate—V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Go, ’piscies!

Do not underestimate the vexation felt by Archbishop Akinola over the homo problem: “As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality.”

I’ve been called many things in my life, but this is almost certainly the first time I’ve been likened to a greenhouse gas.

As for Team Roman Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI’s views on homosexuality differ from Archbishop Akinola’s only in tone, and are more influential, articulated as they are from the throne of the head bully of the largest bully pulpit in the world: “[Homosexuality] is a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder...”

Now, I know that our affiliations don’t define us. Nor can we each be held accountable for the views and statements of our leaders, religious or otherwise. I would hope, after all, that Veneranda doesn’t collapse my worldview with that of the current U.S. administration. But the words and attitudes of perceived authorities bear influence that doesn’t always confine itself to the philosophical sphere. For instance, according to FBI statistics, hate crime incidents against sexual minorities—gays, lesbians, transgender individuals—spiked by double-digit percentage points during President Bush the Younger’s first term, throughout which he campaigned feverishly for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Lest that spike be confused with some kind of overall trend, violent crime on the whole saw steady decline during those same years.

Rhetoric kills. Rwandan propagandists’ violent exhortations to kill all Tutsis were broadcast on a popular radio station that blended music programming with hysterically pitched political talk shows. The shows' hosts sowed hatred and disgust for Tutsis while convincing rural Hutus that they would face genocide themselves if they failed to eradicate the other—along with any fellow Hutus who refused to join in the slaughter. Such motivations and actions seem far beneath the murkiest depths of human reason, especially as delivered through an entertainment medium, but I don't have to strain very hard to hear Bill O’Reilly’s or Rush Limbaugh’s voice urging listeners to wreak violence and destruction on all who are not like them.

So, what has all this to do with Verneranda? Well, I suppose I wonder if she might be predisposed to hate me. I wonder if Veneranda has been taught to love antigay Rwandan president Paul Kagame, and what he stands for, because his political party’s rise to power ended the genocide—even if it’s widely believed that his party was also responsible for the assassinations and ethnic tensions that led to the genocide in the first place.

Hey, here’s President Kagame with President Bush!

I think my reluctance to write Veneranda hinges on the fact that I know how easy it is to judge someone in the abstract. For instance, I know that there are complicated, thoughtful, open-minded Christians who view Scripture in relative terms and unreservedly accept me, until proven otherwise, as a worthy human being, and one whose sexuality is not pathology. But if all I know about a person is that he or she is a devout Christian, because of my own anecdotal and statistical knowledge, I may not anticipate such generosity of spirit.

Then again, if I fail to casually mention my female life partner and my spiritual disbelief, just as a heterosexual Christian would unreservedly speak of her husband and faith, how is anyone lacking such prior acquaintance to know that gay atheists can actually be pretty OK people?

So, Veneranda, how awesome is it that WFWI brought together two such disparate souls? You, with your unshakable faith in God, despite about a thousand reasons to doubt his presence in your life. Me, with my wary skepticism of the world’s dominant mythologies, despite any number of advantages for which I might offer thanks to some entity larger than myself. You, with your five children, those you’ve borne and those for whom you care because someone must. Me, with my constant nagging, however psychic, about goats—like you need any more “kids.” But even as you reject the goat husbandry lifestyle, I trust that you accept it as a valid way of life, maybe even one that’s “in the blood” for certain folks. Despite our own differences, I hope that we can still be forever sisters, because we actually do have quite a lot in common. We both live in a world where the human appetite for violence is unfathomable, where sexuality is too often weaponized, and where women are often charged with rebuilding what men have destroyed.

I’ll keep your address on hand in hopes of one day finding a translator, but it may be a while; while Kinyarwanda is the dominant language in your country, fluency in same is rare here. I do know someone who can translate my letter into flawless French, and it may be far easier for you to locate a French-Kinyarwanda translator than for either of us to find someone fluent in each of our own languages. That idea, I know, veers perilously close to an actual I Love Lucy plot. Has Lucy ever been translated into Kinyarwanda?

While we sort out our language barrier, I hope it won’t make you feel too much like a test-sister if I go ahead and write to my new sister, Halima Uwimana. I think you would like her. She, too, is a single mother of five, one of whom she bore herself, and she writes that she enjoys praying with her family. She asks after my husband and children and requests a picture—if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I’m sensing a trend here. At any rate, I think I’m ready to address Halima’s questions, and I’ve received a mysterious sign that she’s ready to hear the answers: It may simply be a mistake in translation, but I prefer to think my sister Halima is speaking directly to me when she begins her letter “Dear brother…”

Monday, July 16, 2007

shifting gears

“Hey, do you guys fix and sell bikes?” a passerby stopped to ask one Sunday as Sporks and I tinkered with our bicycles in the garage.

At first it seemed like a random question, but then I took an objective look at our garage, noting the shop stand; the shelves full of spare pedals, saddles, and other bike parts; two bikes in various states of undress, their tires propped against the fence; and three other bikes hanging about.

“No, sorry,” I said. “We just really like them.”

After a brief discussion about where she might find a cheap used beach cruiser, she went on her way, not realizing, I’m sure, the tribute she had paid me. Imagine me, a bicycle mechanic!

If you’re like me, you seldom appreciate the talents you have, instead eyeing with envy skills you lack. I, for instance, have not as yet revealed anything in the way of musical aptitude. As much as I love music and covet the ability to make it, notes and chords and…stuff aren’t at all intuitive to me. I can poke at keys on a piano or strum something vaguely recognizable on a guitar, but only by rote and not at all soulfully. If only my parents had pushed me to be a well-rounded child, I’ve thought poutily, then I might have developed my musical gifts early, when our skill sets are elastic. And if such had been the case, the reasoning continues, I would undoubtedly be making my living as a singer-songwriter today.

Instead, I make my living as a copy editor. I’m pretty good at it. Give me a muddled manuscript and I can bully it into making sense. I may even be able to make it sing, manipulating the words—mostly the author’s, some my own—and orchestrating the commas and their poorer punctuatorial relations into some kind of musical flow. On especially rare occasions, I’m even artful enough to get away with making up words, like punctuatorial.

But in my continuing quest to decide what I want to be when I grow up, I’ve lately flirted with the idea of going to school to become a bicycle mechanic. Not hard flirting, mind you, rather the kind of flirting one might engage in while already in a committed relationship.

While I’ll admit that, for me, a major industry attractant is the wardrobe, there are others: I enjoy hanging around bike shops, tools are cool, bikes are sexy, and basic bicycle technology—not the quality of components or frame materials but the way a bike works mechanically—has remained static for about a hundred years. That can’t be said of cars, which in a single generation have morphed from the family sedans our dads tinkered with on weekends into vehicles with engine cavities so inscrutable those same dads can only stare forlornly at the tightly packed network of housings and hoses, wishing they could tell us why our goddam “check engine” lights keep flashing.

I got my first taste of wrenching at a hands-on “advanced bicycle maintenance” seminar offered at a local bike shop. I was the only one who showed up, resulting in plenty of personal attention—as well as an earful of sensitive information. My instructor, let’s call him “Dave,” had become a certified mechanic, he said, in response to his fiancée’s demand that he relinquish his former career as a host at swingers’ parties in Chicago. Dave’s was a niche market: He served as a “fluffer” at gatherings of white heterosexual couples who fantasized about having three-ways with black men, he being one such man. Dave didn’t actually have sex with anyone. Rather, his job was to, (a) entertain couples who indulged in the fantasy aspect alone, and (b) prime couples who might be inclined to contract with a hustler, should one happen to be available, coincidentally, at that very same party. Dave may also have appeared in one or two erotic videos, but if he did, he stressed, he didn’t engage in sexual contact—rather, he (may have) played the porn trope of the third-party voyeur, that ubiquitous fellow who stumbles on a couple having sex in, say, the copier room, he being there maybe to fix said copier, and gets so turned on by their naughty public display that he must then remove his own pants and play with his pee-pee. Anyway, his fiancée, a corporate attorney, thought maybe they should move away from Chicago and that maybe, once a couple thousand miles away from his networking circle—in which he operated under a pseudonym connoting meatlike properties—he could do something…else. And he loved her, so he went to bicycle mechanics school.

Dave inspires me, not for the obvious reasons but because when I think about the almost total lack of overlap between his former skill set and that required of a certified bike mechanic, I imagine that my own transition would be a breeze. After all, wrenching is wrenching, whether fixing broken drive trains or clunky sentences. If you want your wheels (subject) to move, you need to pedal (a verb), but if your chain (subject-verb agreement) is broken, your trajectory (sentence) will stall. With all other parts in harmony, your journey (idea) will ramble beyond control should your brakes (punctuation) fail. If you want to move not merely forward but toward a specific destination (direct object), you’ll need to pedal and steer (a predicate), as opposed to merely pedaling (an intransitive verb).

Of course, just as experienced copy editors can spot disagreeable text without diagramming sentences, competent mechanics are able to localize a bike’s problem without having to think through how bicycles work. And just as enthusiasm for reading doesn’t necessarily equip a person to edit what he or she reads—though we all occasionally want to chuck a book or magazine across the room because the person who is being paid to write but is not therefore a writer is incoherent, predictable, annoying, abstruse, contrary, or plainly inept in directing their story—riding a bicycle gives me no particular talent for fixing one.

Thanks to Dave’s instruction, I can do more than clean a chain and fix a flat, though my efforts at adjusting derailleurs and truing wheels are amateur at best. Happily, I don’t let that stop me from hiking my bike up on a shop stand and performing a professional pantomime, turning cranks and shifting gears as I watch the chain’s motion and listen for disagreement. As with language, there’s a certain music to all components working in harmony (and as with music, my overambitious manipulation of said components often results in discord).

Still, I can sling my guitar or drape a mechanic’s shirt over my shoulders and fool casual passersby into thinking I am what I am not, and for just a moment I’m not what I am: a comma jockey, wielding no instruments or tools but a dictionary and corrective pens. Not that I think my skill set is unimportant. A poorly punctuated maintenance manual results in confusion at best and mechanical breakdown at worst. And I do so wish that Joan Osborne had asked, “What if God were one of us?” even as I recognize that though Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” might inspire images of an egg-retentive hen, “Lie Lady Lie” just isn’t…musical.

So we all, or most of us—I can’t speak for retired fluffers or Bush administration appointees—stick to what we do best, happy in the knowledge that there are others out there ready to do for us what we suck at most. But don’t think for a moment that I’m therefore willing to concede my guitar or my mechanic’s shirts, because the one thing in which we all excel on common par is dreaming.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

elopement risk

Scout, the sweetest, cutest dog in the whole wide world™, and among the most industrious, has been crafting his own dog doors from which to exit our yard.

First, a dog-size hole appeared in the side gate. It wasn’t a dog-shaped hole as seen in cartoons—that would have been really cool—just a ragged security breach. We thought it was a fluke at the time. After all, that gate had consisted basically of long-since-rotten particleboard an ambitious kitten could have destroyed. Still, it came as a surprise: We’ve had at least one dog for all but about six dark days since we bought our house, and none before had expressed the slightest interest in escaping the confines of our admittedly dystopic yard.

The day of hole #1, Sporks called me at work to tell me the dogs had gleefully met her in the front yard when she arrived home. My heart jumped half a rib in my chest, because I immediately went to what-if land: What if they’d run away? What if I had forgotten to put Scout’s collar back on that morning—the collar I’ve been removing at night because I’m a sucker for a dog with mournful eyes that plead It burns! as he paws pitifully at the silky fabric draped about his neck? What if they’d run out into the street, each of them having the car sense of newborn bunnies, to become two more casualties of the NASCAR drivers-in-training who live in our neighborhood?

But such worry was entirely retrospective because, as Sporks told me, there they were in our only partially fenced front yard, happy as clams at high tide to be able to greet her TWO WHOLE SECONDS sooner than they might any other day, when they have to wait forever for her to get out of her car and cover the five long strides from the driveway to our backyard gate.

The next escape incident occurred several days later, when the dogs were separated for a full half day while Biscuit visited the groomer for her summer cut. A bereft Scout, who has surpassed mere cordial cohabitation with Biscuit to form a near-pathological attachment to his MENTOR, put a neglectfully convenient ladder to use and jumped the fence into the front yard. When Sporks returned home with Biscuit, Scout was lying on the front porch, no doubt exhausted from all that fretting. He seemed to harbor no inclination to go beyond the front yard; he was just bored in Biscuit's absence and, in all likelihood, wanted to change up his scenery.

I can relate.

You may remember my mentioning back in February a brief stint in the mental hospital. It was, readers, an experience so lacking in stimuli I was inclined to attend everything on the daily grid, even nonmandatory groups addressing avenues far outside my personal experience. One can never really know too much about probationary meds-compliance issues for drug offenders. Then, in addition to the mandatory group therapy sessions and psychiatric consults, there were the optional occupational therapy classes: crafts (I finished only half my basket, leaving me nothing to show for the effort; completed crafts are kept in the contraband cabinet—yarn hangings, though undoubtedly rare, remain a concern—and the half-baked works of discharged patients are unraveled and recycled); sing-alongs (what happens in the psych hospital stays in the psych hospital, or so I warned my discordant fellow inmates); and “exercise.” The physical activities on offer were pitiful: either supervised time in the gym (a couple of stationary bikes and some free weights, the latter's presence striking me as queer in a population denied shoelaces) or a supervised outside walk—neither of which option exceeded 30 minutes per day.

I don’t think one need be a mathematician to calculate that a population of folks fed six times daily (three "square meals" of fatty institutional food, plus three snacks), the vast majority of whom are on one or more prescription meds with weight-gain and/or metabolism-slowing side effects, really need at least the option of more than 30 minutes of exercise daily. Still, that was what was offered, and I jumped at every opportunity. During my scant four days inpatient, the gym was opened an even scanter once; on the other three days, we went for a walk.

The walk occurred on hospital grounds in the staff parking lot, but still, it was outside! We got to leave the sameness of the hospital halls and dayrooms and nurses' stations to pass through the doors alluringly marked with cautionary “Elopement Risk” signs (which never failed to provoke an image in my head of patients running off to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding, taking their vows in pajama pants and unlaced shoes). I remember thinking how strange it was to so enjoy a walk through a parking lot—just to smell new smells, however tinged by the whiff of asphalt tar, and see the world immediately outside those elopement doors—and at the same time not want to go any farther. After all, I hadn't committed myself on a lark, and the world beyond the parking lot was uncertain.

When Sporks called the dogs in from the backyard on a recent Saturday morning, only Biscuit responded. She called several more times before she ran to tell me that Scout seemed to have gone missing. She went out front and called his name loud and long, while I went to investigate hidden places in our backyard that might yield a somnolent dog. Scouring the nooks and overgrown hedges, I missed the obvious: a slat in our six-foot wood fence whose middle had gone missing. Before I even noticed the broken fence, Scout wormed back through the hole from the outside in and came bounding through the backyard, wagging his tail as if to say, “Look, I made the fence better!”

Sporks generously offered to go to Home Depot while I kept the dogs in the house. She returned with four new planks, three of which we put to immediate use: We replaced the plank Scout broke, another that was on its last wooden leg, and the one next to the latter because it was so warped we couldn’t fit the new plank in without removing it. Scout looked on with a wounded expression, as if he had presented us with a craft he made—like, say, a half-finished basket woven from dark brown yarn—and there we were, blithely unraveling his effort.

I felt for the little guy. After all, the yard may be big and full of diversions, but how many holes can you dig, how many relics can you excavate, how many times can you bark at the same dumb neighbors doing the same dumb things before you need a change of scenery? I was in country for just four days and the sameness of them seriously threatened whatever sanity I had brought to the party. Still, I have to be the mom here, not to mention the dad, nailing up the holes and keeping him safe, and that’s no fun at all.

Sporks and I have been planning to landscape the backyard for some time, and this year we're committed to actually doing it, especially given that Scout has an unfortunate tendency to bite the heads off weeds—cute with dandelions, not so much with foxtails. He’s aggressive toward other plants as well, as evidenced by our diminished birds of paradise, our no-longer-viable Brazil plant, several upended and de-potted aloes, and the climbing mandevilla that one day permanently ascended. Any colorful border flowerbeds or precious little vegetable gardens would quickly lose a war of attrition with the little yellow dog. And who are we to stop him? We may pay the mortgage, but the dogs put in the most yard time and squatters’ rights do apply. That’s why I’m thinking we may want to go in a different direction and make the backyard so enticing only a fool would want to escape it.

And while I'm at it, may I propose that bounce houses would make a mighty fine (and inexpensive!) addition to psychiatric hospitals.

Ho yeah! The only problem with this padded room may lie in getting patients to leave it! Until such time, consider me an elopement risk, but don't worry—I’m like as not to confine my meanderings to the front yard.

Friday, April 06, 2007

going offline, kinda

One of my primary goals here has been to exercise my writing voice after many years of sloth. After about 15 months in the blog business I feel ready to see what I can do in the long form. Some say my blog entries are already novel-length, but my longest post to date was only around 2,000 words, which would amount to approximately eight print pages. Most publishers are more amenable to novels in the neighborhood of 80,000 words, and truth told, they'd prefer that at least some of those words reference topics of more universal concern than my boob(s), my hair, my dog, my neuroses, etc. In fact, it would probably be best if I abstained from first-person pronouns completely, but that would be impossible for me.

So I've been writing lately, though I haven't so much been blogging, and I feel neglectful of my little blip on the Internet, so I thought I at least owed it a gone-fishin' sign to acknowledge my awareness of that neglect. All of this is not to say that I've retired to my study and please quiet the children as I mustn't be bothered. I'll still be posting here. I'm just freeing myself of blog guilt so that when I do post, I'm doing so for all the right reasons, up to and including my desire to talk about and your need to know about my boob(s), my hair, my dog, and my neuroses.

Until we chat again, be well.

Friday, March 23, 2007

a birthday haiku

For Sporks

Thirty-nine candles blaze
Burning bright, oh, dazzling sight!
Mind, don't lose the cake

Friday, March 16, 2007

meet me in el monte

RePete wasn’t the dog we went to see. He was on our list, but pretty far down—maybe seventh—and I honestly didn’t expect to get past number 1. I had constructed a full-figured fantasy around number 1, “Lenny,” in the 24 hours since I had first seen his picture at the Beagles & Buddies Web site.

Lenny, the rescue organization’s site said, is a beagle–Australian shepherd mix, only two of my favorite dog breeds ever! His description also noted that he’s an extremely high-energy dog. And doesn’t it seem that his one blue eye can see right into your soul? He could be my people filter, warning me off the baddies! I had called to ensure that Lenny was still available—he was—and inquire what his adoption donation would be: $150, the bottom end of their scale. What a steal! I shopped him by Sporks and we decided to go meet him over the weekend.

B & B is located in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, the kind of town where smoking toddlers in diapers play in the street unsupervised. We were a little queasy about the n’hood when we drove up, but we got over it. After all, we’re not so fancy ourselves, and it’s not like swank types are clamoring for dog rescues to lay chain-link within their city limits. Besides, my little Lenny was in there; we needed to bust him out so that he could come home with us and be my best friend forever.

At the entrance gate we handed over our application, which I had downloaded and filled out before we arrived, and which a rescue volunteer prescreened to ensure our worthiness as potential parents. Good thing it wasn’t one of those born-again Christian rescues. The only Scripture in this joint was the “Caring for Your New Dog” pamphlets furnished by the makers of Pedigree dog food, who, by the way, have the right food for your dog at every stage of his life.

(Speaking of which, the proliferation of pet food varieties must stop, because I’m a notoriously indecisive shopper capable of entering full-blown catatonia when confronted with too many choices. I understand that today’s range of pet nutrition represents a vast improvement over olden times, when we fed our cats Purina Cat Chow and our dogs Purina Dog Chow. But under the Hill’s Science Diet brand alone, 34 different varieties of dog food are sold, not counting the Prescription Diet line, under the banner of which 39 additional products are offered, including a potato and venison formula, because dogs love them some taters and deer, and—I shit you not—an anorexia-recovery formula. Maybe dogs are hunger-striking because we’re feeding them POTATOES AND VENISON. Seriously, pet food makers, enough with the choices—unless you can come up with a food that makes dogs stop craving cat shit.)

We passed muster and through the gates into a little courtyard area where greeter dogs sniffed us and La Diabla, whom we had brought along for vetting. Lenny was not among the greeter dogs but in the kennels out back. We followed the din of barking and baying until we reached kennel seven, where I saw that solitary soul-seeing eye reflecting the high sun in a moment of halcyon stillness…just before Lenny’s turbulent psyche vomited forth.

This will shock and amaze you, readers, but Lenny turned out to be a very high-energy dog! Like, bowing-out-the-walls-of-his-chain-link-enclosure, on-crack high-energy. That furtive glance at his single blue eye set off his crazy bell and he barked me into the next kennel.

But maybe he was just nervous on first meeting. I decided to wander a bit, give him some time to realize I’m the BFF he’s always wanted but dared not dream possible. In the meantime I’d flirt with some other dogs, maybe make him jealous for my affection.

The first dog to activate my aww reflex was a reserved-looking lemon beagle. As instructed by those who know such things, I took care to introduce myself properly, with relaxed body language, no direct eye contact, and the back of one hand extended ever so casually for sniffing. The little gal approached shyly and sat quietly on the other side of the fence, wagging her tail. So far, so good. I inched my hand a bit closer, whereupon she lunged, gave it a quick nip, and ran away, barking ferociously to alert the others that something wicked their way came.

Put off the lemon beagle’s scent, I sidestepped back over toward Lenny to give him another shot at recognizing our love match. Results were consistent with initial findings.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you again—don’t you know I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt? Fool me three times, and I’ll call you Chelsea.

As I said, we had jotted down a few other dogs we liked from the Web site, just in case Lenny turned out to be, well, Lenny. But we quickly dispatched the list: Midnight the whippet mix was doing vertical flips in her run; Jake the basset mix didn’t have enough energy to keep La Diabla and her ADHD company; Jolie the coonhound mix, we were told, “just isn’t ready to meet people yet”; and Rosie the beagle, it turned out, had revealed a talent for climbing six-foot fences without breaking a pant.

The last dogs on our list were littermates Pete and RePete the mixed-breed mixes. Pete had been adopted that morning, but his bro RePete was still there.

RePete evokes for me generic dogdom, the sum of all dogs, every breed and no breed at once. I thought I had a dog aesthetic—a visual one—that forbade terribly ordinary-looking earth-tone dogs, but as I got to know RePete, he seemed perfect. He and La Diabla took to each other like Dick and Jane. He was curious, calm, and playful—and kind of beta without being a pushover. And that face, that black-spotted tongue, those soft floppy ears, those winsome eyebrows, and look at the way he sits sidesaddle!

Anyone who reads Sporks’ blog knows that we brought RePete home a couple of weeks ago: I’m a little behind on the blogging front. And since then we’ve been trying to suss out his heritage.

Shepherd, for sure, but certainly bred with smaller sorts—Chihuahua? And there’s that black-spotted tongue, so maybe we can throw some chow in. Sporks suggested shar-pei as a possibility.

Then she said something I’d been quietly thinking myself, that the way his forehead wrinkles and his tail curls is suggestive of the devil breed: basenji, as in “destructo the wonder dog” Carter and her nervous bladder.

Did saying it aloud make it more real? He barks, so how much basenji—“the barkless dog”—could he really have in him? There are some folks, Sporks noted, who breed basenjis and Chihuahuas together: Maybe he has a bahuahua parent?

I like this notion of mashing names together such that every dog, however mixed, has a breed identity. The American Canine Hybrid Club lists dozens of them: the giant schnoodle (giant schnauzer/standard poodle), the dorkie (dachshund/Yorkshire terrier), the bagle hound (basset hound/beagle).

So I have to be ready, when approached at the dog park by fascinated onlookers who want to know all about my beautiful boy, to say, without a hitch, “Oh, yes, he’s a bahuashepchowpei. It’s a rare breed, especially in this earth-tone variety.”

RePete is now “Scout,” which I know may be confusing, that being my blog nick and all. It’s the name I chose for my child, girl or boy—should I ever have one—after I read To Kill a Mockingbird in junior high. It’s so coolly androgynous, with implications of both daring individualism and ethical humanity—the kind of child, or dog, I’d be proud to call my own.

Maybe I should change my name here. But there are a couple of folks who link to me who find it tiresome to type “neurotranscendence”—I can’t say as I blame them—and therefore link to me as “scout,” so changing my blog name to, say, “myrtle” would be confusing to new visitors, whom I don’t want to alienate. (Shout-out to new visitors!) Then again, visitors reading future posts who are unfamiliar with all the fascinating details of my life may think I’m referring to myself in the third person when I mention Scout, which can be not only irritating to readers but embarrassing to me should I write something along the lines of, “Scout’s been eating cat shit again.” Clearly the name problem is not something I’ll resolve in this post.

At any rate, I am completely smitten with my boy. I think about him at work, I can’t wait to see him when I get home, and everything he does further goes to prove that he is—objectively—the sweetest, smartest, cutest dog in the whole wide world. Even his penis is cute!

So, no, Scout isn’t the kind of dog you go to see. He’s the dog who romps into your life when you’re pretty sure you’ve struck out. My best relationships have always found me, and always when I’ve least expected them.