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 …”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Went for a short 2.5 mile hike at Staunton State Park. Took Dine Meadow trail to Mason Creek. Detoured up Dine Cliff climbing access, which was pretty steep and provided great views. Then back up Mason Creek. Be sure to play the video of the frozen waterfall with sound on.
To some of you, this is going to sound like a borderline insane question.
Do you wash your whole body while showering?
Normal, well-adjusted people who aren’t nasty are probably wondering, “Ken, what are you talking about? Of course. You get in the shower, let the water run over you and soap up your entire body for that fresh, clean feeling. EVERYONE does that.”
Apparently, everyone does not!
According to more than a few tweet discussions I’ve seen on Twitter this year — and anecdotes from friends of friends — there are people who basically just skip their legs when showering. They reason that if their legs were covered by pants and did not sweat, then said legs are not dirty enough to require a full lathering.
I’ll admit that I’m not the cleanest person in the world. If it’s a cold winter day and I didn’t leave the house or if I just sat in an office all day, I might skip a whole damn shower. Or try to. When Cara cottons on to this, it turns into a whole thing.
But when I do take a shower, I wash everything. Top to bottom. Including legs and feet, which, let’s be honest, are getting harder and harder to reach the older I get.
So when I found out that there are people out there who skip entire regions, I was shocked. It was like finding out that Santa Clause isn’t real or that Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is just a cover song.
Some of these leg-skippers claim to wash their naughty bits and feet as well. But do they? DO THEY? If they’re skipping a full third of the body, can we take them at their word that they’re soaping the sacks and cracks? I’m not so sure.
Prior to moving into the new house — yes, we bought a house — I’m sitting in our rental, listening to the various noises it makes when the heater kicks in or after a toilet gets flushed.
And it occurs to me that we just spent a ton of money on a place where we will sleep, conceivably for the next 30 years, and we have no idea what it sounds like at night.
You can test-drive a car. Some dealers will even let you take them home for 24 hours. You can try on your clothes. Hell, you can sample beer, wine, and food before buying. Some animal shelters will let you try out a dog or cat to make sure it’s a good fit for your family.