On Aging

This may come as a shock to some, but the non-anthropomorphic truth is that dogs are not people.  Some folks treat them like people, expect them to act and react like people, and expect them to age like people.  Such folks are inevitably disappointed, even devastated when reality comes knocking.  I know.  My dad is the personification of devastation because he has chosen to view me as his furry human buddy instead of his canine superior companion.  When my twelfth birthday rolled around recently, and I began to slow down and show various other signs of age, Dad apparently refused to face the reality that I was in my golden years.  So, I sat him down and we had a little chat.  It went something like this:

Flap:  Let’s talk about aging.

Dad:  OK.  I’m somewhat familiar with the Aegean area of the Mediterranean.  What do you want to know?

F:  You really are a moron.

D:  And you’re an idiot.

F:  Why don’t you try listening closely for a change.  I’m getting older, and I can sense that you have stuck your head firmly in the sand, refusing to acknowledge what is in front of your eyes.  I’m twelve now, and that’s not too far away from the finish line for my breed.  Aside from the simple chronology, have you not noticed the signs?

D:  You mean the ones you slapped all over your kennel which say, “Senior Aussie.  Handle With Care?”

F:  Well, yeah.  But I’m also talking about how I don’t run like I used to, how I sleep a lot more, how I don’t hear very well, how I have trouble getting into the car, and how I don’t play as enthusiastically as I once did.

D:  Well, you could just as easily apply those conditions to Mom and me.  It might surprise you to know that we have indeed noticed your signs of aging.  And, yes, we act like we’re ignoring them because we worry for you and because it’s difficult to face where it’s all leading.

F:  Hmm.  Let me clue you into something.  I’m a dog.  As such, I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t worry about the future.  I live in the moment.  And while I’m in the moment, though I may be feeling aches and pains, and though I cannot do things I once was able to do, I do not fear that one day I will pass away.  I wish you didn’t either, but I understand that you and I are hardwired differently, and you can’t help stressing about things over which you have no control.

D:  Fair enough.  But this isn’t just a “thing” like the house needing painting or the car needing repairs.  This issue has emotion attached to it.  And so we worry about your diminishing capacities and about one day losing you.  You’re part of the family, and it’s only natural that we feel this way.  So, while you’re in the moment, give that a bit of thought.

F:  To what end?  I can empathize with your worrisome nature and your fears, but I can never truly understand them, just as you can never really know what it’s like to evolve to my higher form of thinking.

D:  Higher form?  You’re an idiot.

F:  And you’re a moron, but let’s see if we can rise above it all.

D:  OK, what do you suggest that Mom and I do as you continue showing significant signs of aging?

F:  Why not just try to enjoy each others’ company while we still can, and let the chips fall where they will?  You’re fond of   that quote:  “Worry is the dividend paid to disaster before it is due”, so why not adhere to it?  Look, let’s make a deal.  If you stop feeling sad and morose over my old age, I’ll stop feeling sorry for your unbridled stupidity.

D:  Idiot.

F:  Moron.

And that conversation, which will undoubtedly be immortalized as one of the great inter-species philosophical dialogues of all time, brought each of us to a new and happier existential state.  No, not the state of Nevada, but rather a state of acceptance and peace.  And to a realization that aging, whether it occurs in the Mediterranean or closer to home, is not something to fear, but a period to embrace.  Together.




Let’s Hear It For Uruguay

My dad’s baseball obsession can be traced back to when he was 5-years old and playing catch with his father in the backyard.  His dad clocked his slow-reflexed son in the head with a blazing 40 mph throw.  Some kids are motivated by watching big leaguers work their magic on a field of dreams.  My dad was inspired by a black eye and a concussion.  Go figure.

Over the years, Dad’s interests have greatly expanded beyond baseball.  Let’s see, there’s football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf…you get the picture.  And once every four years, the most popular sport in the world becomes a bit more than a passing interest.  Yes, the World Cup, soccer’s (or futbol’s) crown jewel holds Dad captive as if it had even the most remote bearing on his existence.  And, as usual and customary, Dad is compelled to drag the family into the depths of his obsession.

And so, last Sunday he proclaimed that the World Cup championship match would be held in our backyard.  Dad chalked up the pitch and fitted himself and yours truly with shin guards, long socks, shorts and jerseys.  It was Dad, representing the U.S. team (yes, this was indeed a fantasy), vs. Flapjack, representing team Uruguay.  I can only assume that Dad chose Uruguay as my team because one of that team’s stars, Luis Suarez, was recently banned for 4 months for biting an opposing player.  As biting people is typically a dog thing, Dad apparently thought that Uruguay was a nice fit for me.  Mom was designated as the referee, and the game was afoot (so to speak).

Thirty-seven seconds into the first half, Mom slapped Dad with a yellow card because she didn’t like his attitude.  While this was happening, I quietly worked the ball into Dad’s goal, then did a victory lap around the field.  Mom allowed the goal to stand because she “thought it was cute.”  Dad was incensed.  He tackled me and we rolled across the pitch.  I was really into my role as a Uruguayan outcast, so I bit Dad on the shoulder.  He screamed at Mom to eject me from the game, but Mom red-carded him for yelling at her.  The game abruptly ended.  Uruguay one, U.S. nil.  Dad immediately  appealed to FIFA and then sequestered himself in his room in a dazzling display of dignity and good sportsmanship.

Mom and I sat in the living room like ESPN analysts and recapped the game.  She said, “Flap, what do you make of Dad’s behavior on the field today?  Do you think he went a bit overboard?”  To say that Dad goes a “bit” overboard is like similarly describing a Titanic victim.  I said, “Well, it’s difficult to understand emotional shipwrecks.  Perhaps it was something in his childhood.  I hear he suffered a concussion…”

The Bridge Takes Its Toll

When I’m a backseat passenger in a car driven by my dad, I typically place my front paws over my ears.  Between his blaring music (if one can classify what he listens to as music), and his endless tirade at anything that slows or impedes his progress, the cacophony is mind-numbing.

A few days ago, we were approaching the westbound entrance to the Oakland Bay Bridge.  As traffic came to a standstill, Dad’s incessant grousing became louder and more liberally peppered with the most colorful language.  My paws simply were not equipped to muffle the onslaught.  Here is a sample of what my ears endured:

Look at this ****!!  And, you know what, Flap?  All the millions they’ve spent on this piece of ****, and they still **** it up. Caltrans contracted with a Chinese firm which has never built a bridge.  Then, Caltrans officials visited China on many occasions during the process and stayed at lavish hotels.  Where did they get the money to pay their expenses?  From the **** bridge tolls they’re charging all these vehicles.  So, yeah, let’s just wait in this **** line for another hour to two so we can have the honor of paying four dollars to help subsidize another boondoggle.  Then, with all the defective bolts and cracks in the concrete, we’ll be lucky if we don’t plunge to our deaths.

And, as we came closer to the toll booth, it just got worse:

Look at that **** toll guy up there!  Could he be any **** slower?  What does it take to receive a five dollar bill and give one dollar in change…is he giving an oral history of the bridge to every driver?  This is **** outrageous!!  Where do they train these guys, at a Tai Chi academy?

What happened next, you might place squarely in the category of “karma.”  It was finally Dad’s turn to pull up to the booth.  As he screamed, “It’s about **** time”, he thrusted his left hand containing four-one dollar bills at the toll-taker.  Only one problem:  Dad forgot to roll down his window.  Dad’s hand hit the glass with a loud thud, Dad screamed in pain, and the bills went flying throughout the car.  One of them landed by my nose.  It smelled a bit like a rack of lamb, so I ate it.  It only took Dad three minutes to locate the other three bills, and as he furiously searched for the fourth, the long line of cars behind us began a chorus of honking.  I heard one driver yell, “Some **** people are just born stupid.”

Well, suffice it to say that Dad finally found another dollar and we continued on our less than merry way.  Dad said, “Flap, would it have killed you to help me find the money back there?  I thought Aussies were supposed to be empathetic and helpful…look at you, just lying there.”  I guess he’s right.  I should have immediately formed a search party.  Oh well, with the rack of lamb still lingering on my taste buds, I guess it was my own karma that I get lambasted.

Later that day, on our return trip, we approached the Benicia Bridge.  I stretched my paw up front and inconspicuously rolled down Dad’s window.  I’m sure he would have remembered.  Oh yeah.


Don’t Pout About Drought

California is as dry as my moisture-less humor, as parched as parchment, as arid as Mojave sands on a relentlessly blazing summer…well, suffice it to say that we’re in a drought.  Now, this state has seen many droughts in its recorded history, but this is one of the worst.  And, when times get tough, people rise to the occasion and demonstrate the singular characteristic which has allowed humankind to perpetuate itself:  Survival of the fittest.  Charles Darwin, who was well schooled by his Australian Shepherd, opined that only the thirstiest will survive a drought, because they will resort to any means to obtain water.  When you consider that animals are mostly water (except Dad, who is mostly a desiccated composite of tissue and gooey stuff which science has yet to identify), you can understand the need to kill thy neighbor in order to drink thy fill.

And so it was that I discovered a tiny irrigation line running from my water dish, under the fence, to our neighbor’s yard.  This explained why my water supply had been evaporating at an alarming rate.  I confronted the culprit, an Irish Wolfhound named Seamus who has a legendary thirst and a talent for installing drip irrigation materials.  At first, he denied syphoning my water.  Then, when I brought my considerable legal acumen to bear, he became defensive.  So, employing my superior agility, I wrapped the irrigation line around his neck until he agreed to leave my water alone.

When I explained the Seamus situation to Dad, he was patronizingly complimentary.  He began blabbing about California water rights, the imposition of water use restrictions and the like, and said that my resolution with Seamus, while effective, was a very simplistic and violent solution to a larger, more complex set of problems.  Such problems, he said, must be addressed by learned individuals acting patiently, reasonably and respectfully with one another.  I listened.  Then I “accidentally” knocked over my indoor water dish so I could witness first hand my learned companion as he patiently, reasonably and respectfully cleaned up the mess.

Later in the day, after a homeowners’  association official (aka water police) witnessed me lifting my leg over a plant in the front yard, he cited my dad.  You see, we can only water grass and plants two days a week, and my irrigation activity did not occur on one of those two prescribed days.  Dad was furious.  I tried to calm him down by quietly explaining about California water rights, restrictions, etc.  You can probably guess how that went.

Now, I’m in my dog house, staring out at a waterless yard and thinking about my joyless dad.  I guess there are many kinds of droughts.

Over The Hump

One of my mentors, an Australian Shepherd who also happens to be a world-class psychologist by the name of Dr. I.M. Lickenmyself, once concluded that there are actually four personalities that each of us possess.  The first is the individual we think we are.  The second is the individual as perceived by others.  The third is the individual we think others perceive.  And the fourth is Gwyneth Paltrow.

First, I think I am a perfect example of everything great and good in the world.

Second, everyone who knows me must agree with my own view of myself, if they are in their right minds.

Third, I think others perceive me as I perceive myself, except for my own pack (i.e. Mom and Dad).  They both consider Dad to be the alpha male, Mom to be the alpha female, and I’m something akin to chopped liver.  This concerns me.

So I scheduled an appointment with the good doctor to discuss my pack and how their perception may have a deleterious effect on my effervescent personality.  For some reason, he directed my focus away from my addled pack members, and onto something else entirely.  In fact, the entire hour was concentrated on leg humping.  His contention is that male dogs (and evolved females) who hump a leg at least twice a week are generally very well adjusted, and tend not to care what others think of them.  I told him that I had no desire to mount anyone’s leg, and still consider myself at the pinnacle of mental health.  But he convinced me to go home and give it a try for a couple of weeks.

My first experience occurred this afternoon.  Dad was dozing off in his recliner, and his leg was hanging off the side of the chair.  I assumed the position and commenced.  Dad barely moved.  He mumbled, “Not now, honey.”  Then Mom walked into the room, looked at me with disdain, and said, “That’s disgusting, Flap..you can do better.”   I can do better?  Was she referring to my technique or my choice in partners?  I didn’t really care.  The experience was a supreme disappointment and left me feeling..well..a bit unclean.

So, I’ve decided to stop ruminating about all matters psychological, and will cancel all future appointments with my doctor the quack.  And if my pack sometimes engages in conduct which challenges my sanity, I’ll just think, “What would Gwyneth do?”

I’m Ready For My Close-Up

My friends have been ‘hounding’ me to get into show business.  They said I’d be a natural.  But I was dubious.  I just didn’t know if incredible good looks, magnetism and superior intelligence were enough.  So, I thought I’d test the waters and”get myself out there” by creating a short DVD and sending it to my numerous contacts in the industry.  It looks and sounds something like this:


[Voiceover, with accompanying action video]

He has sired over fifty offspring…after being neutered.

He bathes himself, and then hoses down his human companions.

He once smelled a fire in the house, and was the first to break out the marshmallows.

He is the most interesting dog in the world.

[Flapjack resting in his dog house, beautiful female Aussies squeezed in next to him; zoom in for closeup as he speaks to the camera]  “I don’t always drink out of the toilet, but when I do, I prefer the seat up.  Stay thirsty, my friends.” 


Well, today I received the first of what I anticipate will be many offers.  A major studio wants me to star in a re-make of “Lassie.”  Using state-of-the-art make-up and computer graphics, they can make me look like a Collie.  Ridiculous.  I countered by offering to star in “Aussie”, the story of a super dog from the planet Hydrant who comes to Earth to rescue abused animals, bring their abusers to justice, stop global warming, and start a new line of butt-flavored dog biscuits.  I even sent them the script that I wrote while I was eating breakfast this morning.  So, now I’m waiting for the green light so that I can make these fools millions of dollars.  When it inevitably happens, I will remember all the little people – like Mom and Dad – who sacrificed so much for me (cough).  Maybe I’ll get them a bit part in my movie.  They can play the clueless couple who adopted me, not realizing my origins or super powers.  Come to think of it, they won’t have to do much acting at all.



Observational Hearsay

Some of my observations involve observing the observations of others.  I suppose these would be considered observational hearsay.

My dad has read MY books to school children and to seniors…from kindergartners to nonagenarians.  He once said that he feels like an old man when he reads to young children, and like a teenager when he reads to the elderly.  How astute.  Of course, he once said that he gets brain freeze when he eats ice cream and indigestion from pickled herring.  If you give unlimited numbers of chimpanzees typewriters (err…laptops) and a lot of time, a great novel will emerge.  After enduring years of Dad running his mouth, I’ve reluctantly accepted the inevitability of him uttering a phrase on a rare occasion that strays from his typical irrational drivel.  And, for him, I suppose a rational, drivel-less statement would be  a celebratory event.

But I’m still waiting for it to happen.  As a canine companion, it is my job to be forever optimistic and supportive of his efforts.  So, as some folks believe that they will one day win the lottery,  I believe that Dad will one day say something profound.  We all have our dreams.  But here’s the thing:  If he does say something worth hearing, it may come at any time..even in his sleep (which is probably more likely).  So, I must maintain constant vigilance and remain unerringly  observant.  There’s only one problem.  As I have aged into a distinguished, polished and seasoned veteran of the Aussie persuasion, my once acute hearing has significantly diminished.  Oh, I can still hear sounds, but it has become increasingly difficult to discern words.  So, unless Dad miraculously has a profound thought and commits it to writing, I may miss it altogether.  That is akin to missing some astounding astronomical event that only occurs once every 500 years.

I have, therefore, asked him to write everything down for me.  In the three weeks since I made this request, he has written “Stay” and “Lie Down.”  And those words were meant for Mom.   It’s hopeless, but I am adapting.  Today, I will swallow my canine pride and be fitted with a hearing aid.  Anything to maintain ALL my powers of perception lest I miss the verbal pearls spewing from Dad’s mouth as waste from a sewage pipe.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?  If Dad falls in the forest and makes an intelligent observation like, “Dammit..who put that f–kin’ log there?’, who will know unless I am there to dutifully observe and record these words of wisdom?  But if I record his statements, and that’s my observational hearsay, how can you be sure they are accurate?  Trust me, I can’t make this stuff up.

Some Of My Best Friends Are…

Can’t say I didn’t expect this.  In a society where media sources will kill to be the first with a breaking story, it was just bound to happen.  Yesterday, I posted a response to the cat-hero story out of Bakersfield.  I very politely and respectfully pointed out that cat-heroes are unlikely and that there may have been more to that story out of Bakersfield than meets the eye.

After I posted, I received a call from an old canine ‘friend’ who engaged me in a discussion about cats.  In retrospect, he was intentionally trying to push my buttons and elicit some angry comments from me about cats being a scourge to society.  Well, it didn’t work..at least not exactly.  I merely told him that we all have to learn to live with each other in peace and harmony, even if some of us are on the lower end of earthly existence, like cats.  I didn’t know that he was taping the conversation.  I didn’t know he would later leak the tape to CNN (Cat-Nip Network).  I didn’t know that my old friend would resort to back-stabbing and go all Judas Iscariot on me, just for a kick-back of a few chew toys .

So, now every news outlet has the story, and I have been portrayed as a cat-hating bigot of the lowest order.  It’s truly unbelievable how fast the wheels start spinning.  Yesterday when I was in Los Angeles, I went to my favorite grooming salon – The L.A. Clippers.  They refused to serve me because of my comments.  This morning, I was informed by the community home owners association that I was banned from all local parks.  The local pet supply store has prohibited my presence.  The AKC is fining me 1500 dog biscuits and is permanently removing my name from its registry.  My book publisher has renounced its association with me.  Why?  Because everyone has quickly jumped on the bandwagon and labeled me guilty of species-ism.

First, I take offense with the phone conversation being taped without my knowledge or consent.  Secondly, some of my best friends are of different species.  In fact, I’m a ‘sterling’ example of inter-species inclusionism.  When I was a pup, lost in a forest, I befriended all manner of species, from ducks to porcupines (although, I must say that the latter was a prickly relationship). and I maintain those friendships to this day.  Additionally, I associate with cats on a routine basis.  True, they come into my yard uninvited and are too nimble for me to catch them, but it’s an association nonetheless.

My stellar reputation has been besmirched.  Another dog in my place might be stunned by these events and sit around in a catatonic state.  Not me.  I intend to fight.  I am filing numerous lawsuits, and I have a fool-proof strategy which will ensure my victory.  I would tell you what it is, but I’m not letting the cat out of the bag.  I’ve said too much already.

Cat Hero? I Think Not

Yeah, I know, you’ve seen it all over the internet and on every TV channel.  A cat in Bakersfield, CA rescued his young male companion by apparently fending off a dog who attacked the young boy.  The boy will recover, the dog will be put down, and the cat is a hero.  End of story.  But is it?

Now, I like cats as much as the next dog (which isn’t much), and I believe they are capable of meritorious conduct…like being amused by a ball of string, coughing up hair balls instead of swallowing them, and acting like they’re doing you a favor when they eat the expensive food you bought for them.  But heroic conduct in the face of injury or death?  Ah, c’mon!

How many millions of cats reside in households across this great land?  And how many kids have been attacked by dogs?    Considering the numbers, you would think tales of cat heroics would be commonplace.  But, have you ever in your life heard of a story such as this?  No?  Join the club.   That in itself makes it suspicious.  Oh, I don’t dispute the facts:  The cat attacked a dog who was ripping at his young companion’s leg, and the dog retreated.  But did the cat do this to save the boy, or for some other reason more consistent with cat behavior?  I think there are much more plausible reasons for the cat’s response:

The boy had cat treats in his pockets which the cat expected to receive.  When the dog attacked, the cat’s natural instinct was to protect the treats;

The cat is – as most cats are – insane;

The cat had been planning to attack the boy, and was angered when the dog beat him to the punch;

The dog was actually a rival cat dressed in a clever dog costume.  Because he was partially blinded by the dog-head mask he was wearing, he believed that the boy was actually his feline enemy, and he attacked;

The dog had been trained by the boy’s parents to chew a bit on the boy’s leg, then the wily parents sprayed the dog with an herbal formula known to infuriate cats, while holding the cat back until just the right moment.  The surveillance camera rolled, and Voila!!  Instant fame;

The boy had a history of taunting and traumatizing the dog, to the cat’s enjoyment.  When the dog had finally had enough and attacked the boy, the cat chased the dog off so that the boy would survive to continue making the dog’s life a living hell.

On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible that the cat acted selflessly and heroically, just as it’s possible that I was an albino wart hog in a former life.  So, consistent with my judicious breed, I will maintain an open mind and will reluctantly consider the cat a hero until he is proven otherwise.  It’s only a matter of time.  The cat will undoubtedly slip up, and the truth will emerge.  Perhaps they’ll one day do a cat scan on this ‘hero’ and find that there are no heroic genes to be found.  Aussies are  quite patient.         



All Politics Are Local

While it may be true that my existence primarily involves eating, sleeping, writing, adventure-seeking and coping with the absurd antics of my human family, I am certainly not oblivious to the geopolitical events in my community.

In our little corner of the world, neighbors have historically enjoyed a tenuous peace with only occasional dust-ups, usually instigated by my naively provocative dad.  But in recent months, two households have threatened to tip the peaceful balance.

The first of these is headed by a patriarch named Vladimir Crouton.  He owns a huge, residence on many acres atop a hill.  He has money, political influence and a defiance matched only by his immense ego.  He has drawn attention to himself by riding horseback shirtless (Crouton AND the horse), through the neighborhood, and engaging in martial arts competitions with any comers who are physically inept.  Through a combination of financial manipulation (i.e. bribes) and credible threats, he has managed to assume unprecedented power in the community.

At a recent community party, a female rock group named Feline Fracas was performing.  They used some racy language in a song which satirically poked fun at Crouton.  He used his influence to have them arrested on some trumped up charge.  Later, he threw his own party.  He spent untold thousands at his estate, brought in tons of snow on which partiers could cavort, and even saw to it that the Feline Fracas members were released from their unjust incarceration.  Crouton was the toast of the town.  All this, of course, was to improve his image.  Then it all fell apart.  After the party, he proceeded to annex the adjacent property.  He allowed the owners to remain, but they had to promise unqualified allegiance to Crouton.  The annexed neighbors, of course, could have asserted their legal rights, but they didn’t dare.  And, as the police and homeowners’ association are either in his back pocket or are apoplectic in the face of such power, Crouton feels sufficiently empowered to set his sights on other properties in the area.

The second household is headed by a lady (although her gender is in question) named Kim Jonung.  She owns a property which was once part of a larger landholding until it was partitioned.  Kim now owns the northern portion, and her estranged family owns the southern property.  By all accounts, Kim is a megalomaniacal, power-hungry, militant psychopath..but otherwise, a nice young lady.  She had her uncle executed because he forgot to kiss her feet, but she did so with courtesy and decorum.  The community is concerned because she has threatened neighborhood annihilation and has detonated nuclear devices under the community lake to back her threats.  Unlike Crouton, she has no apparent motives for her conduct.

Sanctions against these two miscreants have thus far been unsuccessful.  So, here we are.  I have stayed apprised of these troubled areas as events have developed.  But I’ll postpone any direct involvement until we are truly on the brink.  In the meantime, I’ve got more important fish to fry…like some small issue in the mideast portion of our community.