Blog Posts

The Black Dog (and the white one too)

Facebook reminded me this morning that on this day last year, we brought Sylvie home from an overnight at the vet.

On the Saturday night, she’d had an episode. I heard a fall and woke up to find her on her side. The carpet underneath her was wet. We took her to the regular vet on Sunday, and they suggested we take her to the emergency vet, where she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and sent home with meds that we hoped would work.

They didn’t. After a week of almost normal behavior, she started a slide and after weeks of heartbreak, we said goodbye to her on March 3, 2021. The grief was crushing. I knew it would hurt — indeed back in the good old days I’d joked that when the time finally came, I’d need a full week off of work — but was surprised at the intensity. I almost wished for an office job so that I had somewhere to go other than the house, the house that I’d spent pretty much every single day in with Sylvie and Lucy since moving in. I’d been working from home since before COVID. Now the house was a little quieter.

But I had Lucy to keep me company.

Then her kidneys started to go. We put her on medication. It seemed to help some. But her appetite fluctuated wildly — as did her tastes in food. I think I first really became concerned in July when we brought home a bison bone full of marrow from the local steakhouse just to see what she would do. No interest. She’d have good weeks and bad after that. It never got as bad as it did with Sylvie but toward the end we couldn’t leave her alone in the house because she was blind and deaf and a little disoriented. We said goodbye to her on December 20, 2021.

So that was basically 2021 was full year of dog-related depression. (Fun fact: “the black dog” was used as metaphor for depression as early as 65 B.C.) I couldn’t even tell you if COVID (in general; I’ve yet to catch it) and the other nonsense have had any impact on me because it’s been hard to see beyond what’s immediately in front of me: the prospect of a dog-less house becoming a reality.

I’d say it’s one of the main reasons I haven’t been writing much. But that might be bullshit. I didn’t write much the year before. In fact, I wrote more last year. Granted, pretty much everything I wrote last year was horror and it doesn’t take a shrink to figure that one out. The book I’d promised myself to finish, I couldn’t get my head around. I’ve got the plot — sort of — but I don’t know if I want it to be half-ass funny or just full on gross and disgusting.

Many writers will tell you that they grapple with this sort of stuff and are forced to ponder an age-old question. Am I not writing because I’m depressed or am I depressed because I’m not writing?

After much thought, I can tell you the answer is: probably both!

This isn’t going to became sad dog dad blog on the regular. Hell, I haven’t written here enough for it to be anything on the regular. Maybe I’ll start. Or I’ll start and get bored with it. After all, there’s only so much I can write about staring out the window or editing pieces about programmatic advertising. I guess I could go into every excruciating detail about my runs, especially the ones on the treadmill. “Yesterday, while still staring at the wall, I hit my stride at mile two …”

We’ve lost our crazy little Lucy

When Sylvie got sick earlier this year, we put a nightlight in the bedroom room to make it easier for her to see at night. After she passed in March, we kept the nightlight in place because Lucy had gone mostly blind and the light helped her get around too.

Last night we slept without the nightlight. The room was so dark, so quiet, so still. Empty.

That’s how this story ends and I just wanted to get that out of the way. On Monday, we said goodbye to Lucy after months of illness took their inevitable toll. Cara and I are both broken-hearted. Living in a house with no sound of little claws tippy-tapping across the wood floor was unimaginable.

When we bought this house, the first “improvement” we made to the thing we’d just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on was to install the least-ugly baby gate we could find at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement. Like the nightlight, this was done mostly for Sylvie’s benefit. While she could make her way up and down carpeted stairs, she did not have a 100% success rate and we didn’t want one of her failures to happen while we were around.

Having installed the gate, we went down to Denver the next weekend to buy furniture and supplies for our lovely new house. When we returned home, Sylvie was the only dog greeting us noisily at the door. Lucy was greeting us noisily as well, but she was doing so from the stairs to the basement. On the wrong side of the gate. Apparently she’d jumped – or knowing Lucy, fallen – through the banister onto the stairs. So the second improvement we made to the house we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on was the installation of this ugly-ass netting to prevent Lucy from plummeting to her death.

When we replaced the deck on this house, we were happy to be getting new railing that would be up to code and impossible for the dogs to slip through. Within the first three minutes of being introduced to the new deck, guess who walked right through the railing. 

Lucy had many nicknames, but “little turd” (said affectionately, of course) was a prominent one, deployed frequently when she was doing something that seemed designed to bring about her own demise. Like launching herself off of stairs and couches or wherever she happened to be perched. I often said there was something catlike about Lucy, but unlike a cat, she almost never stuck a landing. She preferred bellyflop, face-plant, and head-first neck-cruncher to boring old feet-first. Earlier this year, after her eyesight started going, I opened the door to let her into the garage and instead of running down the steps like she always did, she jumped – right into the door of Cara’s car. 

Lucy also liked climbing under things. Like the couch. Or the bed. Or the bar. Or a car. Or a wooden stove that had a fire blazing in it. She also liked getting stuck in things and places. Like between the mattress and the headboard. Or inside the TV stand. This was before my time, but according to Cara, Lucy once got her head stuck in the hubcap of a car. 

How? Who knows? But that was a question Lucy often prompted. “How did you even do that?” As in: “How did you even open up that box of chocolates and eat so much that you ended up spending a night at the emergency vet? You crazy little turd.”

Lucy’s philosophy in life seemed to be “Fuck around and find out.”

Things Lucy did not like after finding out about them: baths, snow, wearing clothes, wearing shoes, animals walking in her yard, people walking in front of her house, people walking into her house. Me. At first. 

Take it off

When I first visited Cara’s home years ago, both dogs loudly made their displeasure known. Sylvie calmed down soon enough. But Lucy, I think, barked the entire time I was there. And if I left a room, she’d follow me into the next one to bark at me there.

She was a barker and I’d have put her in the Little Yappy Dog Championships if there were such a thing. Granted, Sylvie usually started the barking, but Lucy would continue the barking. She would not be outbarked. She was five pound of fury.

When they first moved to New York, they barked at people walking in front of the apartment. Which is an issue when you live in New York because there are always people walking in front of the apartment. So we hired someone to help us train them. If you had any interaction with Sylvie and Lucy during their New York days, you realize that this did not work at all. One thing the trainer recommended was walking them twice a day and taking them to the dog park to wear them out a little. On the way to said dog park, the trainer noted that Lucy seemed super smart and somewhat bossy and was likely going to take over the joint. And she did. Or she tried too. She was fearless at first. Yipping and yapping at all the other dogs. Until one day she was rolled onto her back by an overeager puppy half her age and three times her size. But still we went. Well, the three of us did. Cara couldn’t handle the stress. And we only went to dog parks that had a dedicated section for the little guys. There, Lucy could pick on dogs her own size. Or yell at them. Though the weirdest dog park memory I have of her is becoming obsessed with a Chihuahua-Yorkie puppy that was about the size of a bird and licking the poor thing until it was soaked to the skin.

Lucy could be a challenge. And I think that’s why people liked her. Oh, sure, they SAID they’d take Sylvie over Lucy because Sylvie was easier to deal with. But everyone feels flattered when the crazy chick picks them. 

Lucy eventually came around to liking me, of course. In fact, she went through a phase after we moved into this house where slept between my legs or curled up in the curve of my stomach or  tucked tight under my armpit every night. I’m a restless sleeper, but I tried not to be, suffering through an aching back or contorting myself ever so slowly so as not to wake her. 

Because it meant she loved me as much as I loved her, which was a lot. 

Things Lucy loved: Me. Cara. Cara’s mom. Cara’s dad. My mom. Aunt Julie. Chris, her dog sitter. And, probably above all else, Sylvie. Which was fitting, since Cara originally got Lucy to keep Sylvie company, much to Sylvie’s initial annoyance. But Sylvie came around. How could she not?

This has been a hard year for us on the dog front. They say when you have two dogs you have twice the love. This is very true. But you’re also in for twice the pain. And we lost both of them this year. Sylvie got sick at the end of January and died at the beginning of March. Lucy got sick in June and slowly declined for the remainder of the year. I have a lot to say about all this, but I can’t trust myself to write about it without sounding mad or crazy or depressed, all of which I am.

All I will say for now is, man did we love that little dog. She had a great life. We spoiled her rotten. Up until the very end. We became better (definitely more patient) people because of her. And now the house is so quiet, so still. Empty.

The hundred dollar pillow

When you hit a certain age, a number of activities you once engaged in as a youth start to cause you physical pain. Activities like running, yardwork, household chores, sitting down, standing up too fast, and sleeping. 

Yes, sleeping. In fact, the sleeping thing might be the most insulting. All you want is a few hours of silent slumber to recuperate from that muscle you pulled while tangling with a fitted sheet, and the sleep itself is causing harm. Your back hurts. Your hips hurt. Your neck hurts.

As someone who had minor back surgery years ago, I know how to handle the back and hip issues. It requires a daily routine of fairly easy core exercises. So I just live with the pain because hell if I’m gonna do core exercises.

But the neck pain was something I didn’t want to live with. It made me grumpy. OK. It made me grumpier. And a grumpier Ken is no fun to live with. 

Clearly the thing to do would be to go out and buy a better pillow. But I’ve watched over the years as Cara tried this pillow and that pillow and then this other pillow. The bed in one of the spare rooms is currently buried under a three-foot drift of pillows. If you ever sleep over and don’t like the pillow you’re initially given, just ask. We have about 67 backup pillows. 

I tried my head on a few of those and none seemed much better than the other. 

This might be due to the fact that Cara sleeps either on her back or her side. I sleep almost entirely on my stomach. (Yes, I know this is not great for my back, but it is what it is)

But recently I came across pillow reviews for stomach sleepers and the best pillow for stomach sleepers was deemed to be a Sleep Number pillow.

That made a certain kind of sense. The folks who make mattresses that can go up, down, sideways, that can get puffier or flatter, hotter or cooler, float around the room like a magic carpet, well, those folks could probably put all their science and technology into a pillow that could work for me.

The pillow is called The PlushComfort Ultimate. How awesome does that sound? Pretty awesome. Like maybe there was some nanotechnology or artificial intelligence involved. 

So it was off to the Sleep Number store at the mall. (Fun fact: The mall is home to three mattress stores and a Tesla store. Sleep Number is for those who like precision and maybe numbness. Tempurpedic is for those who like to sweat their asses off at night sleeping on acoustic foam. Amerisleep is for those who want to sleep on a mattress made of flags that plays the Star Spangled Banner all night. Tesla is for those who want to sleep in a car.)

By the time we made it to Sleep Number, we’d hit about 600 other stores, and I was getting a little hangry. Still, I managed to hide my disappointment when the technology of this PlushComfort Ultimate pillow turned out to be the slumber equivalent of three kids in a trench coat. Apparently, Sleep Number has gone around to every grandmother’s house in the country and scooped up those 20-year-old flattened out pillows Mawmaw has hanging around in the back room. Then they’ve put three of those into one pillow shell. When it comes to adjusting your pillow height, the Sleep Number solution isn’t some sort of magical hydraulic system, it’s … unzipping the shell and taking out one of those flat pillows. Or maybe two! Go nuts! 

So of course I bought the damn thing. For $89.99. I’m calling the Hundred Dollar Pillow because I’m dramatic and bad at math. And if they’d had the king size in stock I probably would have bought the stupid thing for twenty bucks more.

In my defense I was desperate for a solution AND they were having a buy one, get one half off sale, and Cara needed a new pillow and, honestly, I’m both a sucker and someone who has a hard time saying no to a salesperson once I’ve engaged.

Anyway, I got the pillow home and the first night decided to sleep with all three of the inserts ini there. It seemed a little high but I thought my giant watermelon of a head would flatten the thing out during the night. But my head was no match for the PlushComfort Ultimate. Indeed, the pillow put up such a fight against being mashed down, my ear hurt the next day. So I removed one of the inserts, which resulted in the $89.99 pillow feeling a lot like a Mawmaw pillow, but who was I to question the technological geniuses at Sleep Number? 

And guess what? The damn thing worked. 

Now, if you’re a stomach sleeper, I’m not suggesting you run out and spend a stupid amount of money on this pillow. That said if you, like me, are having issues and spend most of your nights trying to sleep in a bed on a pillow, investing in a good pillow might make sense. Even if the pillow only lasts a year, it works out to four bucks a night for better sleep. (You can trust me on this one. I used a calculator.) But if this is too rich for your bedhead, the problem might be that you’ve been using a pillow that’s too big and too firm. So maybe go down to Mawmaw’s house and see if she has a couple of them old striped down pillows hanging around. Give that a shot.

Oh no! The sex-traffickers are back at Target

Looks like it’s time to hide your kids and your wife. According to the never-wrong news source, “Some Lady’s Facebook Post,” strange men are once again following families around the clothing department of Target with an eye toward throwing them all into a white van in broad daylight.

I don’t know what it says about social media, but it’s sort of annoying that even these sorts of stupid, divisive, uninformed, mostly-fake memes, have to be recycled every few years. Can we not get something new to freak out about?

This hysteria seems to have originated in Oregon back in 2017, where some woman took a picture of a guy and claimed she and her family were being stalked. Or, wait, maybe it started in California that same year, in an Ikea. Nothing came of either case. 

These posts are typically the result of an overactive imagination mixed with some old-fashioned racism (a lot of the posts I’ve seen claim the guys “look Mexican”) and straight up narcissism.

Here’s the truth, lady. NOBODY WANTS TO KIDNAP YOU OR YOUR KIDS. They’d probably return yall after half an hour even if they did. 

Not to let facts intrude into social media fantasyland, but this is the exact opposite of how trafficking works. According to Lara Powers who wrote about this at the time, “I have encountered thousands of child sex-trafficking cases in the United States. I have never seen, read or heard about a real sex-trafficking situation in which a child was abducted by traffickers in broad daylight at a busy store under a mother’s watchful eye.”

Maybe a creep did follow you around the store. I worked in retail and there were plenty of creeps, some of whom even liked to pleasure themselves in the dressing room. But that’s a far cry from sex trafficking.

If your child is going to be trafficked, kidnapped, or sexually assaulted, the number one contenders are:

  • Your ex
  • Your current
  • Your priest or pastor
  • A teacher or coach
  • QAnon members
  • The leader of the gang you didn’t know your child was in
  • Assorted scumbags who’ve inserted themselves into foster networks
  • The Florida congressional delegation

You need some sort of power-dynamic in play and, more often than not, trust of some sort. The rando in Target has neither of those things.

What I find (almost) funny about this is that the same person who will immediately (and sometimes repeatedly) smash the share button on these Facebook posts is the exact same person mad at the media for “spreading fear” and “being divisive.” This isn’t the media. This is you. You are spreading fear and being divisive. You are the fake news.

And don’t get me started on the inability to do basic risk assessment. “Even after 700,000 people have died of a disease, I think it’s worth the risk to send little Sally to Saint Anti-Masker’s Church of the Unvaccinated. That’s just freedom and common sense. And look, I’ve heard the rumors about the youth-group leader who drifted into town with no backstory and that weird bracelet on his ankle, but he seems SO nice. … We all know the real danger is walking around Target on a Monday.” 

None of this makes me pro-sex trafficking. And I sincerely apologize if you, like Nicki Minaj, have a friend’s cousin who was kidnapped from the underwear section at Target. Truly, I do. 

Enjoy your shopping. 

What a horrible thing to wake up to

After my first trip to the bathroom last night, I returned to bed and was dozing off to the sight of our dog Lucy snuggled up tight in Cara’s arms. And then I heard this. (Turn your sound up.)

I think it was a fox. There’s an outside chance it could be a mountain lion. They both make wretched sounds at night, the sort of thing that makes your sphincter clinch. Noises that make it easy to see where early horror stories originated. I’ll tell you this, if I was a pioneer back in the day, or Native American before then, and had to listen to this at night without the benefit of being on the second floor of a house with nice sturdy walls, I might have just thrown myself in a river rather than try to sleep through that every night.

And the audio here doesn’t remotely do it justice. Whatever it was was off to the southwest, but it sounded like it was right outside the window — right outside all the windows.

Special bonus track: If you listen really closely, you’ll hear an elk right around the 16-second mark. It was off to the north somewhere.

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.