I’d like to talk about fleas. But first I’d like to talk about people. One of the tricky things about being a person is figuring out how to make yourself feel better without hurting yourself. We like to go for the big guns: Sugar! TV! Online shopping! Doritos! Heroin! What we really need are weird, personal, harmless ways to self-soothe. (I’m getting to the fleas, I promise.)
I’m not saying I’ve figured this all out, but I have stumbled on a couple of things. In college I realized that peeing outside was a huge stress reliever. I used to pee behind a palm tree in my co-op yard, hidden in the shadow cast by the street lamp. It was weird, I know, but also primal and reconnecting and effective. I recommend it.
Recently, I realized that combing Squinchy for fleas is also really soothing. It’s the ultimate primate expression of connection and caring, I guess. Squinchy doesn’t have too many fleas, but he does get some and I’ve noticed something about them:
Fleas roam in groups.
I’ll comb most of him and not find any, then find three or four in a clump. I got to wondering what you call a group of fleas. Is it a pack? A flock? A herd? Which led me to wonder — are they grazing or hunting? The answer is either neither or both or something else all together. Kabam! There goes dualism. And I feel so much better. Thanks, fleas.
In college I took a poetry class from a guy who brought a littered beer can to class every week. It was a class about the modern nature poem, but he spent a lot of time picking up the can and saying “I understand this [mimes drinking] but not this [mimes throwing on the ground].” I guess that relates to every American nature poem of the 20th century or something.
Anyways, I took Squinch and his brother to the river today and there was a campfire littered with beer cans and plastic bags. Classic Snoqualmie redneck party. One of my students just wrote about the giant garbage patch, so I decided to pick up the trash. Keep it out of the ocean. I understand this but not this, said my professor in my head as I poured the beer dregs out on the sand.
But I disagree. I think I do understand. It’s something we all do. But rednecks are just more upfront about it. How many times have I listened to a story about climate change on NPR while driving around in my car? I can’t point any fingers here. I was getting maudlin about the smell of stale Rainier and cottonwood trees, when the dogs started barking at a lady in a bougie jogging outfit. I apologized and she told me to be careful because “there was a leash law and there might be other dogs.” Which is something I just can’t see the throwers of the beer cans saying, especially since what she really meant was “don’t let your dogs bark at me.”
Sometimes, I just prefer the redneck thing.
It’s 2014, folks, which until recently was the future. To make the most of that, here are some innovative ideas for the new year.
Addiction Stores: Like a mini-mart but more so, these stores would sell everything addictive. Sugar, booze, tobacco, video games, porn, buffalo chicken wings, quilting fabric…. Credit goes to Nate for this one. It might not make the world a better place, but it sure would be efficient.
Dog and Owner Yoga: They have yoga for babies, why not for dogs? That way, people wouldn’t have to choose between yoga and walking their dog. Oh no — Google tells me this actually exists. Should I be happy or worried?
Six Pack Keyboards: Keyboards that work your abs. Gently. So you don’t really notice. I’m serious about this one.
Squinchy is the kind of dog you have to talk to. This is a fact; my friend Brigid, who is reading up about dogs because she doesn’t have one yet, said so. It is a characteristic of his breed. This is good, because I’ve always talked to him in full paragraphs. This is also good because if I wasn’t talking to him I would be talking out loud to myself.
More than just talking, though, Squinchy invites song. You are my Squinchy, my only Squinchy, you make me happy, when skies are gray, I sing when I scratch him in the morning. If I’m feeling silly, I make a parody out of my mom’s parody of a Comet commercial I’ve never heard. Squinchy: you make my teeth turn green. Squinchy: you taste like gasoline…. I sing him into everything. Christmas time was full of Oh Holy Squinch, and Squinchin’ Around the Christmas Tree. “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine is a frequent one, especially the part about he ain’t got laid in a month of Sunday — I caught him once he was sniffing my undies, which needs no modification. (Sorry, Squinch, I know that we cut your balls off and sent you into a life of cross-species platonic devotion. But remember, He’s my Squinchy. I’m his honey. Never gonna let him go.)
Of course, this could say more about me than about Squinch. After all, the five year old I babysit is always telling me to STOP SINGING! But I’m not the only one. Nate adapted a Presidents of the United States of America song: Squinch sat alone in a boggy marsh, totally emotionless except for his heart. Mud ran up into Squinch’s pajama’s, totally confusing all the passing paranhas. My cowboy flea classic “Oh Home on the Squinch” isn’t the only surrealist Squinch song, I guess.
My class wrote him a ballad, with lines like Squinchy is awesome. He loves his possum. He looks like a blossom and he loves to do summersaults.
And even Nate’s roommate sings, Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Squinch.
So I lied. It is not sunny in Seattle. In fact, when I wrote that last post, the sun had already sort of gotten hidden behind some fog and it has been foggy ever since. I keep expecting Sherlock Holmes to pull up in a hackney cab.
But the thing is, in my head fog is pretty much the same as sun.
Gratuitous picture of Squinchy as a puppy — but note the boring clouds.
Here’s why fog is like sun:
1. Often it burns off and the day turns into a sunny day.
2. Even if it doesn’t, I know the sun is really close, just on the other side of the fog.
3. It is Interesting Weather, as opposed to week after week of strato-cumulus drizzle.
4. Fog is not rain. This, I know, is a logical fallacy, but I’m comfortable with that.
Don’t tell the Californians, but it has been sunny in Seattle. We have had a week — more! — of pure sun, broken only by atmospheric fog. Vitamin D is in the very air. This is the week in January that keeps the whole Northwest from going postal.
Not only has it been sunny, it’s been cold. We’ve had frost. We’ve had ice. And, in the words of an infinitely quotable five year old, “if it rains it will snow.” Give that one to the Zen masters.
Squinchy knows how to enjoy the world. He rolls on the frozen puddle in the vacant lot like it is a ripe dead salmon. He sleeps by every fire.
If you are needing any help making the most of winter, curl up somewhere cozy and listen to me read you a story. It will only take a minute and fourteen seconds. If that’s not enough, click on some of the other ones. I can promise you British accents. But don’t do this during the daylight. Get out into the sunlight, if you have it. We want you to stay sane.
Squinchy almost did me in last night. We were sleeping at my parents’ house in the room off the bathroom downstairs. I was sound asleep, when Charlie, my parents’ dog, woke me up by scratching at the door. He wanted to go drink out of the toilet, thank god. If he hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened to me. But he pulled me up out of a deep, foggy sleep into the awareness that something was very wrong.
I was sweating like crazy, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, and felt nauseated and loose at both ends. The air felt like poison. I stumbled into the bathroom, threw open the window, interrupted Charlie’s drink, and collapsed onto the toilet. I was sweating and shaky and had a roaring in my ears I have only had once before, standing naked except for a pink stocking cap on the side of a frozen mountain in Idaho. That is a different story, but I knew the roaring meant I was on the edge of passing out. I braced myself on the wall, leaving invisible sweat prints I’m sure you could find with your tongue if you felt the need to lick my parents’ bathroom wall.
Turns out, the air was poisoned: poisoned with dog farts. Dear, sweet little Squinchy, who slept through it all in his own haze, was poisoning us both with his terrible Special Christmas Dinner and Compost Pile Foraging Gas. I worry about his old age. And I never thought I would say it, but thank goodness for Charlie’s toilet water habit: dying of dog farts on Christmas night would be a bad way to go.