Colorado Interlude: Cranky, Half Blind, Always Hungry & Perfect/Hat Trick/The Vulture Tree

Cranky, Half Blind, Always Hungry & Perfect

It looks like there was an ice cream fight in the Beetle. Vanilla soft serve is smeared on the dashboard, the passenger seat, the steering wheel. It’s in the cup holders and making a gluey mess on the carpet. Last week I spent two hours detailing the inside of the car and now it looks like a snowstorm hit it.

Not only is it all over the car, my hands are sticky with it. Mercy, who is contentedly asleep, is covered in it. The top of one enormous bat ear is flecked with white as is her muzzle and her paws.

I didn’t eat any of it. Whatever didn’t wind up smeared all over my car, she ate. I bought it for her. It’s very hot out. She likes ice cream.

Ice cream is terrible for dogs.

So is rawhide, which has become her newest hobby, eating yogurt off my spoon, the entire beet my roommate gave her, and the 1/2 pound of raw almonds I split with her. Only the almonds upset her stomach. Her stomach, usually a temperamental nightmare, has stood up admirably to the onslaught of crap food.

Mercy is fifteen and has Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s Disease, for those who don’t know, is a benign tumor on the adrenal gland that causes the body to overproduce adrenaline. The symptoms are hair loss, crankiness, constant hunger, a pendulous abdomen and muscle atrophy.

As she usually hates everyone and eats everything, it wasn’t until she started losing fur that I got the idea something might be wrong. The pendulous abdomen was written off as old lady gut. The muscle atrophy, which happened gradually, I thought was just the result of her getting lazier since she retired from dog sports a few years back.  But about a year and a half ago her blood work came back funky – early kidney and liver failure, odd levels on things. Further tests confirmed Cushing’s Disease.

Mercy and I have been together for over thirteen years. When I got her she was young, mean, wild, brilliant and obsessive. She terrorized my two other dogs. She stole things. She dug voles up from the yard and killed them. She even got a raven once but it got away. She didn’t relate well to people – she is aloof and occasionally actively aggressive.

She was a nightmare. In some sort of effort to harness the sheer evil intelligence I started taking her to classes. Obedience. She aced it. Advanced obedience. She practically laughed at the other dogs. Agility. Too much precision work, too much concentration. Hated it. Sheep herding. Had fun her, was totally fearless and had good drive but too expensive for me. Flyball. She picked it up in a day and loved it. She loved it enough that she didn’t even try to kill the other dogs. I put her in competition and for years it seemed we were on the road every weekend for a tournament somewhere. British Columbia. Oklahoma. Iowa. Texas. Utah. Alberta.

For most of my adult life I’ve had jobs that were dog friendly. She came to the office with me, always sitting on the back half of my office chair so I had to scooch my butt up to the very front to sit down. My co-workers gave her treats and she traumatized the other office dogs as well as any children that happened by. Merc hates children.

Thirteen years have calmed her down some. She still is not much for strangers or being patted. She snuggles with me and the ex but doesn’t much care to have other people touch her. About four years ago she retired from flyball. She divides her time between me, wherever I am, and living with my ex and the rest of his dogs in the mountains. I’ve had her the past week – a week full of ice cream, rawhide, whole beets and all around poor pet ownership.

At fifteen she is nearly blind, bald in spots, more stubborn about food, more barky. In some ways I appreciate Merc more now than I ever did before. I lost my other two dogs, my beloved boys, fairly unexpectedly. Seamus died suddenly at age eighteen. Simon was diagnosed with sarcoma, also at age eighteen, and was gone in three weeks. Even months and years later the hurt is so fresh I’ve never managed to write about either of them. Mercy’s Cushing’s Disease, as much as I hate it, gives me the luxury of time. Mercy will be here next month and the month after but it seems dubious that she can make another year. I have time for ice cream and rawhides and long car rides to nowhere just because she really, really wanted to get in the car even though we were just supposed to be going for a walk. In knowing that she is sick I have permission to spoil her, to throw all of my old rules about appropriate treats and being decent to strangers out the window.

I never knew, with my boys, that the time was running out until it was almost gone. Logically I knew they were old and old dogs die but it’s still a shock when it happens. Losing the boys taught me this appreciation, this cognizance of time running out. I hoard this week, this stupid seven days of her crashed out on my pillow and barking at me endlessly for a piece of sandwich, like money. I make a point of memorizing the sound of her snoring in the front seat, take a mental picture of her rolling on her back in the grass.

I know now.

Hat Trick: A Recurring Theme

Years ago I interviewed for a job at a hat company, right after I left animal sheltering. It was the worst interview of my life. Not because the woman was rude – she wasn’t. She was very nice. The whole interview went seamlessly. There was a nice tour of the hat factory and the warehouse. I was introduced around. It was lovely, really. Until we got to the end of the tour and whatnot and she sat me down, looked me in the eye and asked me the worst interview question ever:

“So how do you feel about hats?”.

If anyone has a good fucking answer for that one, let me know. I know how to answer all the bullshit questions you always get asked in interviews – where you see yourself in five years, what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses, blah blah blah. But how do I feel about hats? How the hell am I supposed to feel about hats?

In reality I hate hats.

No, I did not say that. Instead I stuttered out something about keeping the sun out of your eyes and the importance of accessorizing. Obvious bullshit. Obvious. I did not get the job. I assume it went to someone who was passionate about hats.

I argue with myself about what I hate more: hats or the way my forehead freckles in the sun. Freckles are adorable on fair skinned, light eyed people. Freckles are not adorable on Black Irish girls with an olive undertone to their skin and hazel eyes. In thirty five years no amount of zinc or SPF 8000 has managed to keep the forehead freckling from occurring.

This year I resolve to wear a motherfucking hat if I’m going to be out in the sun. I have a couple of cute ones – a pink and brown trucker cap. A little Gap army hat. A Billabong cap.

For the first time this year I put on The Hat. I’m taking Merc for a long walk and it’s sunny and then I have to work outside for a while. I put on the trucker hat, braid my hair into pigtails, put on extra lipstick, my darker black glasses. A-fucking-dorable.

The problem with hats is that once you start the day with a hat, you are married to it for the rest of the day. Hat head. After I’m done outside I go run errands, still wearing The Hat.

The guy at 7-11, usually so friendly, don’t seem to recognize me. When I hand him the money for my soda he looks at me hard for a second.

Sorry, he says, it’s The Hat. Weird. You don’t look like you.

I go to my favorite thrift shop, the one with the outrageously expensive clothes for ridiculously cheap. $200 jeans for $8. J. Crew sundresses for $4. My favorite girl is working there, the one who goes through picking out clothes for me, chopping the prices down on everything. I love her.

The Hat, she says, it has to go. She hands me a little checked sundress, a pair of jeans and a long Body Glove sweater. $2o for the whole lot of it, she tells me, and I know you’re iffy on the sweater but it’s perfect for you. When I come out with the sundress on she grins approvingly.

See? She says. You’re such a tiny little thing with those big long legs but you would never know with That  Hat. It, like, makes you look bigger. You can’t wear hats. You need to throw that out.

Last time I wore the little Gap hat someone told me I look like a female Che Guevara. I’m sure someone else would find that sexy or a compliment but I didn’t. Thanks, comrade.

In Nicaragua I bought a girly knock-off Billabong hat from a street vendor to wear during surgeries – keep the ticks off, keep the hair out of my eyes. Street vendors, who usually would slap their grandparents to sell you something, frowned when I tried it on. No me gusta, she said and handed me a bandana. Mejor.*

I bought it anyway and wore it twice.

How do I feel about hats? I feel like they’re great for some people but they make me look like an unrecognizable chunky revolutionary.

That’s what I should have said.

A Weird Aside: The Vulture Tree

As the end of my two month sublet in Ft. Collins comes up I notice The Vulture Tree. I had always noticed this one huge pine tree at the end of my street in Olde Town had a bunch of large birds circling it all the time but I never paid much attention. Crows, I assumed. Ravens. Big ones. The tree smelled funky and there’s always mountain of bird crap underneath it.

The other day I look up and on the branch, ten feet above me, is a vulture. A large, disturbing vulture staring at me with this look in it’s beady little eye like it’s wondering what I would taste like as roadkill.

In the middle of downtown this tree is full of vultures. They must nest up there. That’s what the smell is.

Vulture trees, in case you’re wondering, smell like wet dog hair and barbeque sauce. I have no idea why. And the whole thing is fucking creepy.

*no me gusta – I don’t like it. Mejor – better.

Photo notes: 1)Mercy as professionally photographed five years ago. 2) Merc racing in St. George, Utah – 2006 (?). 3) Mercy taking up the back half of my desk chair last week. 4) The girly rip-off Billabong hat. Viva la lack of good sense – I will tell you I look like shit in hats and then post a picture of myself wearing one to prove it. Nicaragua, 2009 5) Turkey vulture photo, boosted. Yes they look that. Gah.