Live from Colorado: The 2021 snowstorm

Last week, we here in Colorado were told to prepare for the mother of all storms. Some places could get four to six feet of snow! White fluffy destruction! It was supposed to start Friday during the day. Then Friday afternoon. Then Friday night. Anyone who’s watched hyped up storm coverage knows the drill. So I figured I’d shoot video of the winter’s biggest storm. Lucky you!

I started out mocking the storm (and staring directly into the camera like an unblinking freak), but — spoiler alert — it did show up. Final tally in our yard: two and a half feet.

This is my heart breaking …

We said goodbye to Sylvie on Wednesday. It was a beautiful, warm day, and we said goodbye out on the deck.

I knew this was going to hurt. I knew it like I know the sun will come up tomorrow. But still…

I know I’m supposed to talk about a rainbow bridge, a better place, and list all the ways in which Sylvie was the best dog ever. I’ll get to that.

But right now as I type this all I can see is the empty dog bed, think about how when I come home from one last trip to the vet today, she won’t be there to greet me. Our pack is down one. And my heart is broken.

Here’s what you need to know. I’ve been working from home since well before the pandemic. I spend more time with Sylvie and Lucy than I do with anyone else, including Cara. I talk to them, I sing to them, I curse at my coworkers in front of them. They stop me from going full Jack Torrance up here in the mountains. And now my silly little bundle of black poodle is gone.

She won’t be there to beg for treats or to insist on going outside for the third time in an hour. She won’t be there to do her all-terrain butt scooting. Rocks, dirt, tree bark, mud, snow — especially snow — she liked a good butt scooting.

Lucy’s curled up on my lap while I sit here getting snot all over my keyboard, my eyes swollen, my chest aching, my right hand reaching out for a dog that isn’t there, the dog I reached for when I needed to calm myself down.

When Cara and the dogs first moved to Brooklyn back in 2011, the four of us slept in a full-size bed. Lucy slept on or near Cara. Sylvie slept between us. Around the time I was being promoted to Editor of AdAge, I was dealing with a metric ton of anxiety, enough that I marched myself to the doctor and got a prescription for lexapro. And at night, as I lay there staring at the ceiling trying not to worry, I’d calm myself by running my fingers through her curls, over and over again, and try to match my breathing to hers before realizing the respiratory rate for a 16-pound poodle isn’t quite right for an adult male. 

I’d almost forgotten about that. So much has changed in the 10 years I knew Sylvie. She moved from Louisiana to live in Brooklyn. Then we moved from Park Slope to Bay Ridge. We also moved into a king size bed, where she was free to sleep as far away from us as possible. Then we moved to Superior, Colorado, then here to Conifer. These last few years, she slept at Cara’s feet. But sometimes she preferred to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, Lucy switched as well, and now spends most nights curled up between my legs or tucked into my side.

So I’d almost forgotten that I used Sylvie as a stress stone. And lately, Facebook Memories has been reminding me of a host of other things that five-year-old Sylvie did before she turned, somehow, into 15-year-old Sylvie. Other things I’d almost forgotten. She liked to chase and chew on pants legs and shoes when playing in the backyard. She (and Lucy) sometimes nested in a pile of shoes when waiting for us to return. She liked to play in the bed first thing in the morning, which was always a good way to get a human ready for the work day.

Like most dogs, she loved walks. For a dog that grew up in a house in Louisiana, she sure seemed to enjoy taking to the streets of Brooklyn. Or the idea of it at any rate. Because while she would jump and spin, yip and yap the minute she saw her leash come out, she was more than a little problematic when she was on that leash.

Runners? Hated them. Bikes? Hated them even more. When we lived in Bay Ridge and I really wanted to wear her out, I’d walk her down to the promenade, wait for a biker to come along, and off we’d go. I’m not so sure how the cyclists felt about that, but they were never in any danger of her catching up to them.

In fact, right at the start of our grand adventure, Sylvie’s problematic leash behavior almost put an end to our little family. 

It was the first time I took Sylvie and Lucy for a walk in Brooklyn without Cara. It was a nice summer day. I’d taken off from work so DirecTV could come by. After the appointment was over, I decided to walk the dogs to Prospect Park. I thought maybe if I’d tire them out with the half mile to the park — a long distance for tiny dogs not used to much walking — and we sat in the grass for a while as bikers and runners did their thing, they’d get acclimated. The walk there went fine, but soon enough it became clear that it hadn’t worn them out. They still wanted to murder every bicycle. So I headed out into the middle of Long Meadow — out of sight of bikes and runners. In the middle of throwing down a blanket, Sylvie started pulling at her leash and then, somehow, slipped right out of her harness and shot across field straight for … a little girl running along with her parents. Everything slowed down at that moment. I could see her biting the girl and being put down. I could see her running beyond and into traffic. 

None of that happened, obviously. But had I lost Sylvie, there’s not a doubt in my mind Cara would have left me just two months after moving to Brooklyn. And there’s not a doubt in my mind because she told me as much. Cara made it clear from the start that any attempt to play “it’s me or the dogs” could only end one way — and it wouldn’t be in my favor. 

Cara’s was — is — a fierce doggy mommy. She’s a fierce person in general. This has got to be harder on her than it is on me, yet she managed to go to work today while I sit here in my little puddle of sad. 

Sylvie, of course, was Cara’s. Both dogs were. Sylvie was five when I met her, so I missed all the real puppy years. But I’ve seen pictures and the cute is enough to lay a man down. When I first met Cara, it was clear she was crazy about her dogs. I thought the whole thing was a little silly.

We know how that turned out — me sharing food, sharing a bed, cooking entire steaks for them. But the bond between Cara and Sylvie was always the primary one. Sylvie made that clear from the start. She took to me easily enough. She took to strangers in general. She’d bark at you a bit but was easily bought off by a treat and some scritches — whereas Lucy would bark at you for the duration of your stay. It’s why people always said Sylvie was the sweet one and offered to take her if something happened to us. (Poor Lucy has mellowed in her old age.)

But even though Sylvie took to me, she would not tolerate any monkey business with her mom. Not while she was watching. Hugging, kissing, dancing. All guaranteed to get her barking at us. She also spent the first couple of years humping my arms, which I assumed had less to do with sex and more to do with domination, letting me know who was really in charge. 

And, yes, to be clear, I just said that my female dog humped my arm. Sylvie wasn’t overly concerned with traditional gender roles. She lifted a leg to pee. Every time. I’ve become so used to it that I find it weird when other female dogs don’t lift a leg. 

Sylvie looked dashing in her blue and green turtleneck sweater. But put her in a frilly dress and she just looked — well she looked like she wanted to murder you in your sleep. Because Cara’s mom makes custom dog clothes, Sylvie got put into dresses far more often than she would have liked. But she also got a lot of use out of that sweater.

For a dog born and raised in Louisiana, Sylvie sure did like the cold. And she loved the snow. This video is one of their first snowfalls in Brooklyn. 

And this one …

This video is here in Colorado just a few weeks after she returned from emergency surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

We almost lost Sylvie at this time last year. We paid a lot of money to try to save her. Not only did it work, but she had a really good year. We had a really good year. Like Cara said, if we had to pay twice what we paid, we would have done it. I’d harbored a little bit of hope that last year’s scare would have prepared me for this, would have toughened me up some. But no.

Some would say it’s unmanly to cry so much over a dog. But I’ve seen enough grown men bawling over dogs to know better. And some would say it’s unseemly getting so distraught over a pet. Especially in a year in which over 500,000 people have died of COVID in America alone. 

But there is no shame here. No one loves you like your dog — not your children, not your parents, who, as humans will be disappointed in you from time to time. The only thing you can do to disappoint your dog is not give it more chicken. 

And honestly, I don’t know what else to do with all of these feelings other than pour them all out here. Hell, I have a feeling I’m just getting started. I haven’t even touched on what the month since her first episode felt like. 

All of which is fine. People like to read memorials to gone dogs. My friend Jim Mitchem even put together a book of them and I help sift through all the entries. It’s not because I’m sadistic.

I think it’s because when we grieve for our pets, it’s something pure. The love our dogs have for us is uncomplicated. The love we have for our dogs is the same. With humans, we sometimes have to try hard not to speak ill of the dead. Human relationships are messy. We say and do things to hurt each other. That doesn’t happen with dogs. 

I guess stories we tell about dogs, even the sad ones — especially the sad ones — remind us that our fellow humans are capable of such pure love, and yes, such pure grief. It’s something hopeful.

I’m not feeling so hopeful right now. I just returned from the vet. I dropped off the oxygen tent and oxygen concentrator. Donated all the pills we didn’t give her. When the vet tech came out to take the stuff, I lost it. Again. And when we got home and Lucy spent the first fifteen minutes searching the house. The same. 

And that’s okay, too.  Nothing will ever love me like Sylvie loved me. And I’ll never love anything else exactly the same way. I know she had a good life. I know she was spoiled rotten. I know we did right by her. I know this, but I feel like she deserved even more. More walks, more hugs, more scritches, more chicken, more steak. More life.

Because Sylvie wasn’t just a good girl. She was the best girl.

The right joke at the right time

Credit: Disney (or whoever owns these guys now)

So last week at work — or “at” work, I guess, since we were all in our respective homes — we were doing the video conference meeting. Part of it was one of those “get to know you” games that everyone says they hate, but secretly like because people like to talk about themselves, especially in no-pressure settings.

A coworker revealed that she worked in a prison laundry right out of school.

I took a breath. The prior week, my friend Shawn shared with me a joke related to a prison reading program. It’s something that would be classified as a dad joke these days, a pun so bad, you want to shake the hand of the man who created it — and then maybe slap him.

I kept my mouth shut. She was talking about a prison laundry. Nothing to do with reading. And I have a knack for derailing meetings with my own crap anyway.

But then she said, “Honestly, it was one of my favorite jobs, because you had to spin the sheets forever, and I got loads of reading done.”

Oh, god, I thought. The perfect set-up. It had to be done.

After a couple of other folks commented on her prison laundry gig, I jumped in. “So you read a lot of books while on you job? At the prison?”

“Yeah. Tons,” she said.

“Soooooo,” I started. “Would you say that the job had a lot of … prose and cons?”

Then there was the split second of anticipation. Would it land? Or would I just see a screen full of confused faces? I didn’t know if a joke that is much more apparent when read would work, but thankfully the virtual room full of editor and writer types got it immediately.

The groans that went up were the sort that punsters feast on, the kind that can get you through an entire winter. And that’s the entire story.

If you haven’t bought my latest book yet, it’s on sale for $1.99 on most e-reader platforms until the end of the week. Amazon, B&N, Kobo. You can also get the print version everywhere book are sold. And if you have read it, leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads or what have you.

The last five books I read …

Hey, you there. Yeah, you. Looking for some books to read? Well, I’ve been reading and since I read a little bit of everything there’s probably something in the below list you’ll like. I recommend them all. So, in reverse chronological order, the last five books I read were …

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. My friend Shiela recommended this one to me, partly because it mentions my hometown of Opelousas about a hundred times. The novel starts out centered on twins Stella and Desiree, Black girls born in the fictional Louisiana town of Mallard. But Mallard has an interesting history. It’s a town settled and populated by light-skinned black people who could pass for white (which might sound familiar to folks from the area). No spoilers, but that ability is central to everything that follows in this multigenerational novel that leaves Mallard for New Orleans, D.C., Boston, L.A., New York and back to Mallard again.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Drew recommended this wild ride about Willis Wu, a man unable to see himself as much more than Generic Asian Man in the film of life. His outlook is so constrained that his biggest dream is maybe one day becoming Kung Fu Guy. It’s a weird, wild ride and a refreshingly challenging read.

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton. I came across this one on Twitter. I think I was following this Denver-based author before I knew he was an author. I’m always looking for fun reads, especially ones that update or play around with a genre and that’s exactly what White Trash Warlock does. There are elves and gnomes and warlocks (and Lizard People!) here, yes. But “here” is modern America, with the action starting in Oklahoma and moving to Denver — with side trips to a parallel universe. It’s the first in a series.

The Halldark Holidays anthology, edited by Gabino Iglesias. What if we took the concept of those cheesy Hallmark holiday movies and … turned them into horror stories? That’s the premise that Iglesias, the author of the mind bending novel Coyote Songs, dreamed up late last year. He put out a call for submissions, found a publisher, picked stories, paid writers, and put this anthology together in three months. (I submitted but my piece was chosen.) The result is 22 stories that range from gory to terrifying to downright funny. My favorite of the lot is “What Happens in the Dark Will Soon Happen in the Light” by Michael Harris Cohen.

Last One Out Shut Off the Lights by Stephanie Soileau. Full disclosure: To my knowledge, I’m not related to the author, but Louisiana being Louisiana, I half expect one of my Soileau relatives to make the connection for me. This literary debut of short stories is set mostly in Southwest Louisiana, and anyone from the area will recognize the humor and warmth of the people — but also the pig-headedness and less charitable traits. Cajuns, rednecks, and immigrants move against backdrops of swamps and refineries. The last story in the collection, “The Boucherie,” was probably the most charming. But I’ll say that “Haguillory,” which started off funny, took a turn that had me almost throw my phone across the room.

If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear what you think. And if those don’t do it for you, you can always pick up my latest, Duck Duck Gator. It’s available everywhere, but the e-book is on sale for $1.99 for a limited time.

Joe Biden: Job Killer!

President Joe Biden wasn’t on the job a full day before Republicans on Facebook were screaming that he was a job killer. Said jobs were being murdered in their crib by Biden pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline

This is great news! People are back to squabbling over actual policy and using something resembling facts to do so.

Whatever side you fall on, the fact is, some number of jobs will never materialize if the pipeline doesn’t. The KeyStone XL pipeline was going to create jobs for those who fabricated and laid the pipes, for those who maintained the pipes, for the refineries down in the gulf, and even those who had to come in and clean up hundreds of miles of Montana wilderness and apply Dawn dish-washing liquid to wolves and grizzly bears after the first rupture.

Arguing over policy is far preferable than people making excuses for a lunatic in the White House who in the span of one week tried to threaten the state of Georgia into manufacturing votes, called his super-Christian Vice President a “pussy” for not shredding the Constitution, and then inciting a mob that, among other things, tried to have that VP murdered. 

Wow. What a wild and whacky time it was two weeks ago.

Granted, there are still people posting ridiculous things about Trump, portraying him as a victim, a patriot, and, most laughably, a Christian. I call this one “The lion, the bitch, and the big bird.” 

But let’s leave it to someone else to deprogram the hardcore cultists.

We’re here to talk about Joe Biden killing jobs. Not Trump trying to kill Democracy. Or, for that matter, Trump’s incompetence in handling COVID-19 (happy anniversary, America) killing, you know, 400,000 actual people. After all, the Trump version of the Republican party doesn’t care about actual adult humans. Once you’re out of the womb, you’re on your own. And if you have the gall to have diabetes, or a weak heart, or, god forbid, be an old person in a nursing home — well, sorry Charlie, it’s just your time to die. 

Anyway. Jobs. Here’s a chart!

Here’s another chart for folks who think the stock market is the economy and claim with a straight face that their retirement accounts didn’t grow every year for the previous 10 years.

Here’s the interactive version of the unemployment chart if you want to play with it.

Did unemployment drop under Trump’s first three years? Why, yes. Yes, it did. That’s fabulous news. But as with almost everything in his life Trump inherited this from super socialist Barack Hussein Obama. Unemployment had been dropping for six continuous years.

And as with most of the other stuff he inherited, he squandered it. See that huge spike there? Yes, that’s COVID-related. And while Trump did not cause COVID, his complete refusal to have any sort of cohesive federal response not only led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, but to the loss of millions of jobs.

Would another president — any of other president of any party — have done a better job? Who knows?! But yes. Absolutely yes. 

COVID would have led to a spike in unemployment regardless of president. But had we done what New Zealand had done — a full on lockdown for six weeks and adults wearing masks instead of whining like three-year-olds — we could perhaps be getting back to something approaching normal.

And any other president would have at least shown some humility when jobs temporarily started to come back last summer. But of course, folks had to brag — actually BRAG — that this was the best employment growth ever. Firstly, it was a lie (shocker). Secondly, even if it were true, so what? This is the equivalent of me swiping all of the money out of your savings account, waiting two weeks, then giving you a $100 back and bragging that you haven’t seen this sort of income growth in your entire life. 

Now, I fully expect that folks can run off and get their own charts and talk about the types of jobs being created and lost, about balancing environmental concerns with human concerns. But again, we’re arguing politics, rather than “Should we torch democracy and anoint Donald Trump as our God King to own the libs?!” And the focus is on Biden, an unremarkably average politician, as opposed to someone who fancied himself the second coming of Stalin until it turned out it took more than watching TV, tweeting, and playing golf.

That almost feels like progress. Boring, stupid, almost pointless, American politics.

Until Trump’s impeachment trial starts up.

Did this dog-licking deer try to break in and murder me?

Friday afternoon while working from home, the Ring camera alerted me to motion out front.

It was the FedEx guy.

Five minutes later, more motion out front.

It was UPS.

I retrieved both packages. And not four minutes later, more motion out front. Figuring it was USPS, I made my way to the door and peeked out the side window before opening it. It was this guy.

He looked into the window. He licked the deck a bit. He seemed to be waiting for me to open the door. Then he walked down the deck to peek in the other windows.

Maybe he wanted our Christmas presents. Maybe he was hungry. Maybe he wanted to get in the house and slaughter us all. You never know with a deer.

He then walked back to the front door. I was sort of surprised he didn’t shout out “Candygram!”

Our front door has a little hatch in it. You know, in case we ever open a speakeasy and people have to give us a password to get in. I opened this and told the deer to go away. He simply moved closer to hear what I was saying.

Eventually he gave up and wandered off.

Or so I’d thought. Turns out he simply went around to the back of the house to check out the back door situation.

Sneaky bastard. He did leave eventually.

A neighbor told me he had to chase this guy off because the young buck was licking the dogs through the fence!

Oh. And the deer made the news for following people in the park down the hill. I think this person was being overly dramatic with the attack language. But more dog licking was involved!

I’m starting to think it was this guy from earlier this year who followed me around out in the yard.

That one seemed interested in dogs as well

Anyway. It’s cute and all. But don’t feed the deer.

This is my brain on Christmas music

It’s not even Thanksgiving and I’ve already listened to days’ worth of Christmas songs courtesy of SiriusXM in the Subaru and the Alexa on the kitchen counter. And since there are only about 15 good Christmas songs, you end up listening to the same ones over and over again — which does something to the brain. So, below, thoughts that have flown through my addled mind while decorating (yes, the tree is already up) and cooking.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Imagine all the people who sang this song in 2019. “Next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” my ass. (I also always want to end this song by singing “Have yourself a merry little Christmas cow.” Because I think a happy little Christmas cow would make a person happy.)

Continue reading “This is my brain on Christmas music”

Behold! My fourth novel!

Makes an excellent gift!

Hi there. Is this thing on? It’s been a while since I’ve given you anything other than wildlife videos and poodle stories, but have I got some news for you.

My fourth novel, DUCK DUCK GATOR, is being released Oct. 20 in print and as an e-book. You can pre-order it right this very minute. If you shop at your local indie bookstore, drop in or give them a call. The book is being distributed by Ingram, so it should be in their catalogs now.

If you’re an online shopper, go directly to these links: Amazon. Kobo. Barnes & Noble. And however the hell you do such things with Apple’s bookstore. If you want to support a local indie bookstore but don’t know where to start, IndieBound can help you out.

In fact, I’m begging you to pre-order it. Because we’re all just servants of the algorithms, pre-ordering is one of the best things you can do for a book.

A tiny little bit about the book:

When Tony Battaglia wakes up in a Brooklyn hospital after a successful heart transplant, he’s expecting a new lease on life. But after a decade of stitching together the most ridiculous footage on the most outrageous reality shows, the TV editor never would have guessed he’d be on one. It turns out that his new heart belonged to “Gator Guys” star Lonnie Lalonde Junior—and Tony’s business partner has signed him up for a dramatic surprise appearance on the show. And things are about to get even more complicated. Tony travels to Blackwater, Louisiana, only to discover that Lonnie’s death was no accident and the main suspect is one of the stars of competing reality show “Mallard Men.” In South Louisiana, reality is stranger than reality TV. 

Kirkus Reviews calls it a “witty whodunit with heartfelt characters.” A.R. Moxon, author of The Revisionaries, says “Ken Wheaton conjures Elmore Leonard, yet delivers his own brand of magnificently entertaining character-driven colorful criminal pulp.” Sally Kilpatrick, author of The Happy Hour Choir and Oh My Stars, calls it “every bit as addictive as the reality shows it revolves around.” 

Read a little more about it here.

If you have any questions, drop them in the comments. (But no, I don’t have a giant box of free books.)

Video: Bear raid

We’re having our deck ripped out and replaced. The deck is where we kept our hummingbird feeder. We were warned early on not to leave it out overnight because the bears would come for it.

I forgot it out there a few times and nothing ever happened. This might be because that particular corner of the deck put the feeder about 15 feet off the ground. If a bear wanted at it, it would need to come at the deck from the other side and hop the railing. Bears up here do that, but it’s likely none ever caught the scent of the feeder.

This week, Project New Deck started. The old deck has been ripped out. So I moved the hummingbird feeder (and a seed block) to a tree out front. Tuesday night, I remembered to bring it in.

Last night, I was messing around with the grill (also moved out front), going back and forth, saying “I’ll grab the feeder on the next trip.” I never grabbed the feeder.

Guess what happened.

It almost looks like Mama Bear was holding everyone back behind the construction dumpster and then gave the signal, “Go go go!” Everyone scrambles to the tree. I think the moment when most of them split is when we rushed to the bedroom window and were, “Hey you darned bears, get off my feeder.” (Actually it was more like, “I can’t believe you forgot the feeder. We talked about it. You probably did it on purpose.” In my defense: Not THIS time.)

But if you look closely, you’ll see one of the cubs climb the tree. He skipped the hummingbird feeder and went for the bird seed block. (It’s got berries and some kind of fat in it.)

I went down, turned on the lights, and he eventually climbed down. Then after a while — a long while — I went back out and grabbed the hummingbird feeder and the seed block and was not eaten by a bear. This time.

The ghost in the yard

Woke up this morning to go to the bathroom. Around 4:45. Got back into bed. Just as I was about to drift off, I heard a loud cracking sound, a branch breaking out front.

I’ve watched nine deer walk through the yard so I figured it wasn’t deer. I reached for my phone to see if the Ring camera had picked up anything. No alerts. So I put it on live mode.

You can check out the video above. Gray pre-dawn light. At first glance, nothing. You Ming notice the top of one of the aspen trees rocking back and forth, despite an absence of wind. It’s just to the left of the column. Keep your eye on that spot. There! Did you see it? Something black moving. And a branch falling over.

I hopped out of bed and went to the window. There was definitely something moving. But between the light and the trees I couldn’t quite make it out. Then I noticed movement closer to the road. An elk. About medium build. I looked back to the original spot and it finally stepped out into the drive.

An impressive bull. Full rack. I’m going to guess 600 pounds. And he’d been almost impossible to spot due to aspen trees with trunks maybe three inches around. I wasn’t the only one fooled. The Ring camera still hadn’t gone off by this point despite him being in full view in the driveway. Maybe it’s because they move so slowly.

A third elk came into view, this one closer to the road as well and drifted through the yard without a sound. This one was a male as well, which makes me think even the big one was still on the young side and this was a group of juveniles. (I’m not an elk expert. I might be mistakenly applying mule deer habits to them. But the young mule deer bucks rove around in groups this time of year, like young punks on the prowl. The only thing they’re missing is cigarettes, tattoos, and the deer equivalent of a sneer.)

Finally, as the big guy made to leave, the Ring picked him up. You can’t see him all that well, but when he lifts his head for a moment at the start of the video you can see his antlers.