The Adventures of DoBell and Pyama

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Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Blam warning

Within 5 minutes of posting my previous entry, I noticed 5 comments.

I hope it's clear to y'all that none of our friends are actually insurance salesmen, peddlers of herbal toxin-cleansers, or mortgage brokers who are able to give you a low, low rate. Well, at least, none of our friends admit to it.

This is clearly blog spam -- "blam," let's call it. I wonder what the technology is behind it, that they can respond so quickly. It can't just be a Web crawler, can it? The world is an interesting place.

I'm going to delete these messages, but if there are a few that I've missed, please do not click on any of the links. They can trace where the click came from, which will only attract more blam to our blog.

Thank you kindly!

A bit o’ France in Old Virginny

Sometimes you don’t have to travel to foreign lands to experience bureaucracy and miscommunications. Sometimes you can find it right at home.

I just spent two and a half hours at the Social Security office today, trying to get a corrected S.S. card for Doreen. As you might expect, the bureaucrat at the window refused to accept my papers, and I walked away empty handed with nary an apology or a free pass to the front of the line for my next visit.

The wait was so long that I quickly finished today’s paper, and was left with nothing better to do than to stare at a portrait of George Bush giving back a vacuous stare. (Some portraits really do let you get a sense of a person’s soul, like Michael Jackson’s mug shot.) I wonder why government agencies feel compelled to have portraits of the commander in chief. It’s weird. I mean, in France, the bureaucrats don’t have portraits of Chirac in their offices.

My unsuccessful visit today tops off a string of disappointments I’ve had lately. For example, I signed up for Netflix a few days ago, and I just received my first DVDs. I had asked for the Decalogue, but they sent me instead. This seems to be a motif in my life lately, asking for 10 and getting 8½.

I’ve tried Fellini. I don’t like him. Laurie Anderson once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but really – is a movie about movies or a novel about novels any better? Call me pre-modern, but I like things like, oh, plot and character. Fellini movies and Robbe-Grillet novels: my idea of hell.

Well, not completely. Sartre was on to something when he said “Hell is other people.” I think he may have been thinking of the staff at TJ Maxx, where I went the other day to buy a basket. I couldn’t find any, of course, and looking around, the entire store seemed to be staffed by surly, tattooed women who seemed to be employed (not to be confused with “working”) only to satisfy their parole officers. They scared me. So I walked around till I saw a friendly looking Ethiopian girl who was actually doing some work. I approached her.

“Excuse me, do you have any baskets?”

“Yes! They are in the front. Come walk with me, and I will show you.”

I followed her to the front of the store. She pointed at the shopping baskets near the shopping carts.

“Oh no,” I said. “I wanted to buy a basket, for a gift. To make a gift basket.”

“I am sorry. These are not for sale.”

Apparently I look like someone who would buy a gray plastic TJ Maxx shopping basket for a gift.

“Yes, well, these aren’t what I wanted. I want a traditional basket, you know. Made of hay or straw or papyrus reeds or something like that.”

“I am sorry, I do not understand.”

“You know, like Little Red Riding Hood.”

She gave me a blank stare. I started singing.

“A tisket, a tasket, I lost my yellow basket….”

Blank stare.

“Or like the Easter Bunny,” I ventured.

“Bunny?” she replied brightly. She pointed to some plastic lawn ornaments.

“No, like a basket for the bunny. The Easter Bunny.”

She picked up one of the bunny lawn ornaments and started looking at its ears.

“I am sorry, I do not understand.”

“That’s ok. Thank you for your help.”

“Thank you for shopping at TJ Maxx! Have a nice day!”

I left TJ Maxx and walked to Target, which also seems to be staffed primarily by surly, tattooed women. I asked one of them if they had baskets.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Can you find out for me?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes, sighed, and told me to wait a minute. She walked away. And never came back.

In the meantime, a fellow Target shopper who overheard my conversation came up to me.

“Are you looking for baskets?” she asked.

“Yes. Do you know where they are?”

“Is this a decorative basket? A gift basket? A fruit basket? A baby basket? There are lots of baskets at Target!”

“A gift basket,” I said. “I just want to put some food in it and wrap it up.”

“How fun! What kind of food? How much food? Is it fresh food or canned? Did you get candy? Do you have a bottle of wine? What color do you want? Do you want a tall basket or a wide one? What are you going to wrap it with? Do you need some raffia? How about tissue paper? Did you finish your food shopping? Who’s the basket for? What’s the occasion? Which birthday is it? Is it a special one, like 21 or 40? Do you need a card to go with the basket? How about flowers? Target has everything!”

Clearly I had encountered some deranged Target groupie who thought I was shopping for fun. This woman was scarier than the surly, tattooed staff.

I pretended to answer a cell phone call from my wife, who was going to meet me soon, any minute now, right at the front of the store.

I scampered off and picked up a cheap paper gift sack. It’s not as fancy as a basket, but that’s how things are going these days: ask for 10, get 8½.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A quick drive across Dixie

Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been putting off writing about the second leg of our cross-country trip because it’s rather boring. After leaving Dollywood, we spent most of the day in the car driving through Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. We made a few stops, none very interesting. You have been warned.

Our first stop was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It looks a lot like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia – rolling hills, second-growth forest, fake log cabins. We did not see any bears, despite all the signs. Unlike a lot of the Western national parks (Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia), Great Smoky Mountains wasn’t created to preserve anything particularly spectacular. It was political: the National Park Service simply wanted a park on the East Coast. That’s why, I suppose, Great Smoky Mountains looks like a lot of places on the east coast.

Our next stop was Chattanooga, home of the elusive Chattanooga Choo Choo, made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the 1940s. Coincidentally, the 1940s is also when the Chatanooga Choo Choo stopped running. Considering the train no longer runs, we had a dang hard time finding it. In fact, we gave up, and headed to Lookout Mountain.

Lookout Mountain is a monadnock just outside Chattanooga, and the site of the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” in the Civil War. There were no clouds on the day we stopped, but we did enjoy a great view of Chattanooga from Craven’s House.

After Chattanooga, we drove through Birmingham, the Pittsburgh of the South, perhaps better known today as the site of large civil rights protests in the 1960s. On Good Friday in 1963, Martin Luther King was arrested in Birmingham for leading a peaceful protest. From his jail cell, King wrote the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, an eloquent defense of civil disobedience.

After Birmingham, our next big drive-by was Meridian, Mississippi. If we hadn’t arrived after dark, I would’ve liked to have stopped at the Jimmie Rodgers Museum, honoring the father of country music. Although Rodgers yodeled a lot, he was known as the “Singing Brakeman” – not to be confused with the Singing Sheriff, the Singing Cowboy, the Singing Buckaroo, the Singing Ranger, the Singing Outlaw, the Singing Reverend, or (especially) the Singing Blacksmith. Nicknames were so literal back in the day; now we just have Diddy.

From Meridian, we drove through Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the Rev. Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist preacher and Ku Klux Klan member, was on trial for the murder, immortalized in the movie “Mississippi Burning,” of three civil rights activists in 1964. For over forty years, Killen had been a free man, because the state of Mississippi had declined to prosecute him, and an all-white federal jury deadlocked. It was only in June that the state of Mississippi decided to re-open the case. It might’ve been interesting to see how much things have changed in Philadelphia, but the hour was late, and we were trying to beat a hurricane to New Orleans. But that’s a story for another day.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A fashion emergency in Cleveland

I got back last week from an interview in Cleveland -- probably the worst interview I've ever had in my life. I literally wet myself. I've spent the last week at home recovering, drinking beer and deadheading petunias while humming "Kumbaya."

The problem was that I was way too nervous. I've been trying to get this interview for almost a year now, and when I finally got it, I wanted it to be perfect. I spent too much time sweating the small stuff: Will the buttons on my shirt be broken? Did I get a decent haircut at the salon? Ecru or white?

I also got, for the first time in my life, a manicure. Despite assurances that it's relaxing, I found it intimidating. I know a lot of guys fantasize about being the center of attention in a room full of girls, but trust me, it ain't all that. It's more like walking into a weird alien society, where everybody seems to speak your language (except the manicurists), but where you still have no idea what they're talking about or why everybody is laughing and giggling -- sort of like a bad British "comedy" show.

For you guys who haven't had the pleasure of ever going into a nail salon, let me describe it. The room is full of noxious, possibly flammable, fumes. The manicurists are dressed in lab coats, like dental hygenists. The implements they use to scrape and hack at your cuticles look like a dentist's tools. In the corner is an autoclave used to sterilize tools, just like a dentist's office.

I hate visiting the dentist. The only way the nail salon could be creepier is if, like my "kid friendly" dentist did once on Halloween, my manicurist were dressed as a clown. I still remember that dentist visit: the good doctor with a pink Afro and painted tears on his face, snapping on a latex glove and holding up a sharp, knife-shaped tool. "So, have you been a good boy and flossing regularly?" (I'm not afraid of clowns anymore, though I think you have to admit that someone who wears a red rubber nose for fun is a little deviant.)

But I digress. On interview day, I walked in feeling nervous. The first interviewer offered me a glass of water, which I declined, since I tend to spill things. After a few minutes, my voice started cracking, and the interviewer had trouble hearing what I was saying. "Hang on a minute, let me get you a glass of water." Oh no! He could see I was nervous, which, of course, made me more nervous.

At the end of the first interview, I started walking out, when to my horror, I spilled some water on my crotch and down my leg. Fashion emergency! Think quick! Unfortunately, the first (and only) thing that came to mind was Mr. Bean. Needless to say, this is not the image of peak performance that coaches tell you to visualize.

We were running a little late, so I was loathe to ask for a minute to run to the bathroom. (And What Would Bean Do in the bathroom anyway?) Instead, I walked to the second interview, padfolio in one hand, half empty cup of water in another, staring at my stained, wet crotch.

The second interviewer saw me and got up to shake my hand. I tried deftly shifting the half empty cup of water from my right hand to my left hand while tucking my padfolio under my arm. Alas, I am not deft. I spilled some more water on my shoe before I could give the second interviewer a wet handshake. (Note to self: eye contact would've been good at this point, instead of a second glance at my wet crotch. At least I didn't point to my crotch and ask "Can you see this?")

So there I am, sitting in wet pants with drips of water on my shoe, thinking of Mr. Bean. I start fidgeting with my fingers. My voice starts cracking again. I take another sip of water, finishing my glass. It does not help. I fidget some more. I try taking a sip from my empty glass. Ugh. My confidence goes into a death spiral. I mumble something and take another look at my crotch.

I knew when I walked out of there that I didn't get the offer. I asked the HR person for some feedback, and she was actually very helpful. (They usually aren't.) She said they were impressed with my skills, but had concerns about my "presence." They didn't want me present for the third-round interview.

C'est la vie. At least I learned some lessons (leave the water behind, don't stare at your crotch so much) which will help me on my next interview. I'm trying now to stop visualizing Mr. Bean, and instead visualize Stuart Smalley: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

That should do it, don't you think?