Latest 3 Things

Monday, March 26, 2012

3 Things I Learned From Jack

Seven months ago, after thirty seven years, I finally increased the size of my family to a number greater than one.  After completing the cognitive and academic Bataan Death March that is the Nevada Bar Exam, I decided to fulfill a life-long dream of owning a “frisbee” dog and began to search in earnest for border collies in or near Las Vegas.  After locating a rescue on the other side of town that specialized in border collies and Australian shepherds (a breed I had never heard of), I planned a Sunday trip.  The next day I was visiting a foster home and a furry-faced Australian Shepard horribly misnamed “Ziggy” by his foster family came to live with me as “Jack.”  The intervening time has been filled with as many adventures as misadventures.  I’ve laughed at his hijinks, cried when I almost lost him; I’ve been amazed at him and confounded by him, and all the while wondering why I waited so damned long.  But more surprising than anything, was that I learned more from this 50 pound bucket of fur, slobber and love than I have from most of the other people in my life.  And so, as a tribute a great first seven months, here are 3 things I learned from Jack:

1.  Time for Two.  I am a lover of great and wonderful toys.  From the first day I set eyes on a Nintendo Entertainment System, I have held a special place in my heart for the visceral joy of controlling things on a screen.  Arcades were welcoming halls of wonder, when the vagaries of normal social interaction escaped me.  And computers were a gateway to a place where all things were possible, when it seemed I lived in a world where impossible was a way of life.  But no matter the nearly unimaginable detail in modern virtual worlds, no matter the reminiscent joy of seeing my old friends Mario, Luigi and Sonic after years gone by, no matter even the fulfillment of a childhood dream to have an arcade in my own living room - there is still something lost in this type of play: playing with others.  Even the most complex and rich solo experience fails to capture the simple bliss of having a friend along.  Jack has a big back yard, more toys than he can remember to bury/dig up, and a ton of free time on his hands (paws).  But nothing makes him happier than having someone to throw things for him to chase, someone on the other end of that tug-o-war, or simply someone to pay a whole lot of slobbery attention to.  When other people are around, his natural lethargy turns to a nearly limitless energy and as long as someone is willing to throw something (no matter how tired he might be) he is willing to chase it.  Jack’s simple lesson: cherish your time with others, for it is the best you have.

2. Stranger Danger.  Thankfully, Jack is not much of a barker.  I didn’t know this when I met him, and didn’t ask the rescue staff or his foster parents about it - even though I probably should have, especially given the high regard which I hold peace and quiet in.  But as it turns out, I got lucky, and Jack likes it quiet, too.  But unlike me, speaks only when absolutely necessary - and this is when he senses danger, someone or something he doesn’t trust.  Of course, Jack’s a smart breed - a herder.  He can’t be head faked easily and you don’t want to be the person trying to keep his toy-du-jour away from him.  But he’s still a dog and it’s not like he can perceive the obvious things that we do.  That said, it turns out that he’s an excellent judge of character.  At first, if he doesn’t know you, he’ll bark if you show up anyplace but the front door.  It doesn’t matter how cute you look, or how nice you talk to him, he’s not buying any of it at first.  Once he’s decided that you mean no harm to house or family, he’s still not ready to be friends.  A good once over with the nose, and then back away again - just to give it a few minutes to see what you’re all about.  In short order, he’s made new friends (turns out that it’s damn near impossible not to love the little bastard) and all is well.  There have, however, been a few instances of people that he never took a liking to, and I really should have paid better attention to that.  Jack’s simple lesson: be wary of everyone at first, and wait a bit before letting people get close - people that can’t be trusted are usually obvious if you just sit back and watch for a minute.

3.  The Best You Can.  Since the very first time I saw one, I wanted a frisbee dog.  In college, where I learned to throw a flying disc farther and better than I ever imagined, my desire become even greater.  After all, what could be a better match than a dog that loved catching frisbee and an owner that loves throwing it?  Alas, my career and location always seemed to make the idea an impossible one - until finally, it didn’t.  I wasn’t even sure that Jack liked frisbee, and again, I didn’t ask.  I just knew he was the right breed - and I hoped against hope.  As luck would have it, Jack loves the frisbee.  On our frequent trips to the park, as soon as he spots it in my hand, he starts trying to run out in front of me and get ready for the next throw.  Like his adoptive father, he is easily distracted, but not when the frisbee is in my hand.  In that moment, he has a laser-like focus, and he tracks every move it makes.  When it flies, he hits a dead sprint, sometimes even outrunning what I had always assumed would be impossibly long throws.  I quickly learned that when you don’t have thumbs, picking a traditional disc up off the ground (i.e. with your mouth), can be a somewhat frustrating experience - so we went and got something a little more flexible, and problem solved.  The other problem with not having thumbs is that you can’t do much in the throwing-it-back department, but he doesn’t seem to mind the run.  And so we play, me throwing and him catching and retrieving - he suffers my sometimes errant throws, and I suffer him slobbering on my disc.  We have a hell of a time, and with respect to everyone I ever threw a frisbee with, the best time I ever had throwing one - despite the fact I never get a chance to catch.  Jack’s simple lesson: it’s not how you play, but that you play that counts. 

* * *

I’ve often heard that people end up with pets exactly like them, sometimes even in appearance.  I was never really sure of how this occurred, given the myriad of ways in which people come to own pets.  I’m not sure I even place much credence in the idea.  I mean, take Jack: he’s a complete spaz; he has an insatiable appetite for playing (even at odd hours of the night); he will eat to excess if you put treats in front of him and seems to particularly enjoy chicken and anything sweet; he’s cute in sort of a unique way; and stronger than he looks; he’s profoundly lovable, but can also be an insufferable pain in the ass; he’s smart, even for his breed, but also has a weakness for pretty girls, which can distract him from just about anything; he naps at odd times, speaks up when it gets too quiet and, in the end, loves as hard as he’s capable of - even though it sometimes falls short.  C’mon now - who do you even know like that?     

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

3 Political Prorogations

We’re a scarce two months into our latest Presidential election year, and already I am profoundly sick of politics.  Keeping in mind that I count myself as someone who is actually interested in politics, this is particularly troubling - because for the average American (who, for the record, can’t reliably identify the Vice President) the current election coverage must be about as enjoyable as watching reruns of American Idol.  And in a way, I feel for the producers of this mindless mush.  It can’t be easy to come up with new material after the campaign has been going on this long, and it’s not as though they have diverse and interesting personalities to work with in the first place - I’ve seen better developed characters in pornography (well, at least I’ve heard of them).  But there are some bits of it that I just can’t take anymore.  There are some parts whose repetition appears to betray their own foolishness beyond the point where I can ignore it any longer.  And so, in the interests of keeping the remaining nine months of political coverage at least marginally tolerable, here are 3 political moratoriums that must be imposed:

1. Go To Heil.  I’m the last person who should complain about the overuse of simile (or hyperbole for that matter).  In fact, robbed of those particular literary devices, I suspect my entire essay project would reduced the written version of me screaming.  But when comparing things for sake of reference, we must always be careful not to take too much license.  Or to put it another way, we should take care to not ever compare modern politicians, political parties, or even white-collar criminals to a historical dictator who engineered the greatest genocide the world has ever known.  And if you’re still not getting it, comparing anything that happens in modern-day America to the Third Reich, the Nazi party or Adolf Hitler makes you sound just as blindly ignorant as those who deny the whole thing ever happened.  Honestly, there weren’t this many references to Hitler during World War II - so just what the hell are we talking about?!  Inflammatory rhetoric is one thing, but euphemistically referring to the political platform of either major party with allusions to Hitler’s Nazi regime does dramatically more to cheapen the sacrifice of European Jews, to expose one’s own bigotry and highlight the smallest world view since we discovered it wasn’t flat than it will ever do to frame up anyone’s disagreement or disgust with modern-day politics.  It’s not as though there a shortage of evil characters (both fictional and otherwise) to use in this type of discourse.  In the past year, a half dozen or so brazenly brutal North African dictators have been deposed, countless swindling and greedy white collar criminals have been exposed and Justin Bieber has released an album of...(wait for it) REMIXES - so why do we even need to refer to the Nazis?  You can’t find good enough evil closer to home?  The bottom line is, as soon as you pull the “Hitler card”, I know everything I need to know about you, including all the reasons I’ll ever need to never listen to another word you say.  Stop it already.  Unless it’s waving a swastika around, you’re the small-minded, hate-monger for using this needless hyperbole.

2. Flipping My Lid.  One of the best things about getting older is the profound perspective it gives you on things.  I don’t know anyone in their 30’s or 40’s who wouldn’t like a chance to go back and talk to their 20-year-old self and tell them just how ridiculous they’re being, how not important the things they’re worrying about are, and how they really might want to consider picking up a few shares of Apple.  The fact is, one of the best things about our minds is our ability to change them.  Over the years we aggregate facts, experiences and interactions which can change even our most treasured and fundamental beliefs.  Religious zealots become atheists.  Bodybuilders become yogis.  Sometimes, on rare occasions, even Nickelback fans start liking real music.  The point being, I don’t trust anyone who never changes their mind.  If I still believed the things I believed when I was 21, I’d be a complete wreck.  Hell, the same is true for most of the things I believed five years ago, and some of the things I believed last year.  We make mistakes, even the best and brightest amongst us.  What informs as to who’s really paying attention is whether or not we learn anything from them (and whether we make them again).  And so, the idea of “flip-flopping” as the highest form of betrayal by a politician has me baffled.  I want my politicians to get smarter as they go, and yes even during their terms in office.  I would love for an elected official to realize that once they really looked at an issue, they had it all wrong and switch positions.  We don’t elect politicians to think a certain way no matter what - if that were the case, we’d simply elect mindless party drones who would just vote the way they were told (don’t worry Tea Party, I know you’re already working on that idea - I’m not infringing a patent here).  I’m sure there are a few people out there who aren’t getting any wiser as they get older, who aren’t learning from their mistakes and becoming better people for their experiences - but I’m happy not to know them, I hope they’ve had the good sense not to procreate and the last place I want them is in charge.  

3. Losing Touch.  Look, I know we have this romantic idea that our politicians are just like us, just with a different job and slightly nicer suits.  But that’s about as enlightened as believing that reality television is real.  (Spoiler Alert: There’s a script.  Yes, for all of them.)  The reality is that politicians, at least the successful ones, are our modern-day royalty, and they can be expected to be about as in touch with “the people” as the Kennedy clan.  In fact, they have people for that.  Yes, that’s right, they have people for being in touch with “the people.”  And before you get all righteously indignant, try to remember that despite your superhuman expectations, they are still only people themselves.  And inasmuch, that’s the only similarity you can expect between them and the proletariat.  Do you really want the people in charge of the world’s largest collection of nuclear devices, the world’s most influential economy and the world’s most complex bureaucracy to be invested in the day-to-day struggles of you or your Aunt Ida?  Because, here’s the deal: I don’t.  I don’t want the President to be in tune with the people, I want him to be in tune with the United Nations, NATO, and whichever crazy dictator has most recently started slaughtering his own people.  I don’t need him to understand about traffic problems during my commute when the federal deficit has gone totally insane and we’re pork-barreling bridges to nowhere.  In fact, the very last thing I want is for the people in charge to have much of an idea about what the rest of us are going through on a daily basis.  There are over 311 million of us, and because we can’t all expect to be heard, none of us should.  We aggregate our voices through representatives, polls and economic behavior - and if we are loud enough, we can be heard.  And that’s how it should be - because when one voice demands to be heard above the crowd, we end up with school shootings, compound stand offs and lone gunmen that the FBI has to take down.

* * *

I have little idea what to expect from politics anymore.  We’ve gone through the looking glass so long ago that I’m now pondering the paradox of what might happen when you go through it again and from the other side.  Somewhere deep inside me, I hope against hope that this results in the impossibly simple result of ending up where we started - where some modicum of of sanity, temperance and intelligence informs the impossibly complex world of modern politics.  Unfortunately, the side of me with its eyes open, its dreams jaded by a five-year stint in Los Angeles, and fair bit of mathematical reasoning knows that heading through another mirror will only land us in increasingly smaller and less distinguishable versions of what we started with, until we’ve got nothing at all.  What is truly troubling about politics, however, is not that it isn’t an accurate reflection of who we are, it’s that it is.