…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

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.


Blogger sporksforall said...

Well, since going where you didn't mean to is my theme today, I wonder what Scout thought of "the outside." I mean he's seen the street before on walks. Which, I dare to put this forward, make him whine and whimper with excitement. Too much stimuli isn't good for his brain.

I'm not so sure about the bouncehouse thing. Some of the folks you were with don't seem the best candidates for bouncing off of.

Glad, as always, for a scout post...

7:55 PM  
Blogger WenWhit said...

Must the bounce house bear the countenance of a clown? Clowns are creepy.

I simply adore your writing, my friend. When the subject involves Sporks, Biscuit, He-Scout, and repair work, you may be sure it's a home run in my book.

6:32 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

I've missed you, scout. This post made my eyes well up with tears. Sincerely. (No, it's not PMS.)

Now, on to other things. I was pleased to read that Scout and Biscuit have bonded! Nothing like a beloved pack to bring joy to a sweet doggie face.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Gyrl said...

I would like to get in touch with you.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous hopskipjump said...

Another thought-provoking essay that sneaked up on me (again) unexpectedly (how do you do that)- a seemingly "lite" tale that got me pondering issues of freedom and confinement. The freedom of animals in their un-selfconcious state, the pseudo-freedom in a guilded cage, how we are all confined within our world-view as well as our skins, how confinement can be like security, how freedom gone wild can make a mess of a garden... I look at my cats and mourn their confinement and their loss of their wild selves, yet I am so glad they are safe. How confined, we long for freedom and, when freed, we long for confinement - the cat who wants out, then in, then out again... Hey, hope you stay well!! Hop

1:03 PM  
Blogger Slangred said...

I was delighted to find a new post had snuck in there, scout!!! I second hopskipjump's praise of your writing and ponder-provoking skills.
And I congratulate both scouts on having come into one another's lives. You're both good souls.

5:04 PM  
Blogger alice, uptown said...

Previous comment deleted due to grammatical errors.

As I started to suggest, shouldn't the hospital have a half-crafts fair? It fits so nicely with the half-here, half-where? theme of the psych hospital where my mom used to work. I think she liked it there because she had the keys and could leave the premises. It made her feel much more sane than she did when she walked into her house filled with her crazy family, since we weren't going anywhere.

So good to hear your voice again! Don't be such a stranger, if you have the time only to visit occasionally. We've missed you.

8:03 PM  
Blogger weese said...

heeey you're back!
and so is your dog.

welcome back Scouts.

10:25 AM  

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