Friday, February 26, 2010

go for the gold

For the second time in a month we have had an honest to goodness can't-get-the-back-door-open-because-of-the-snow-drifts blizzard. We haven't had many significant snowfalls the past few years so it was a reminder of what winter weather can do that we had two major storms dumping snow within a few weeks of each other making February a busy month of clean up. Recently, a school age boy offered his perspective of the winter season before the first big storm roared in and closed the schools. At that time he pointed out that we had only had what he decreed as 'week-end snow.' 'Week-end snow' does not bring the magical day of reprieve from all duties related to reading, writing and arithmetic so the storm shouldn't bother to blow through at all according to this second grade meteorologist. As long as I don't need to be anywhere I like a good snowfall as it slowly transforms the landscape outside. Sometimes, it is just the restorative break that you didn't know you needed until you got it.

The mountains of snow also provided the perfect backdrop for the Winter Olympics. I can't sit back and relax and watch Olympic athletes on display in their respective sports. It makes me very tense knowing how much time and dedication comes down to a fraction of a second or the slightest wobble of a step. I know that is the very essence of the Olympic intensity but it simply rattles me too much to be entertaining. There are always tales of insurmountable obstacles that have been overcome and heartbreaking near misses that stun the athlete and the supporters in the crowd. The images of skiers crashing into banks of snow or the figure skater who lands a jump seated on the ice. How do you shake that off? The thought of carrying that through the years emotionally after all the dedication and work that was invested is mentally numbing.

At the Calgary Olympics in 1998 Gerard Kemkers, a speed skater in the 10,000 meter race, fell on the fifth lap of his race but he made what he considers himself to be the biggest mistake of his career in the 2010 games. Last week, Kemkers, who now coaches a Dutch skater who has dominated the sport since the 2006 Olympics, Sven Kramer, mistakenly yelled for Kramer to take the inside lane which ended with Kramer being disqualified from the race. The call was made in an instant and Gerard Kemkers had to deliver the news during Kramer's cool down lap, unaware that his coach had made such an error. Kramer had finished the race with his fists pumped in the air thinking that he had his second Olympic record and gold medal of the Vancouver games and now his coach is breaking the news that his call of poor judgement has cost Kramer a victory in his 10,000 meter race.

Kramer's time of twelve minutes 54.50 seconds was stricken from the records. A South Korean whose time was 12:58.55 was awarded the Gold medal earning him an Olympic record, a Russian who trailed Kramer by 7.57 seconds got the silver and a fellow countryman took home the Bronze.

Now, Kemkers has two bungled Olympic mishaps to haunt him. One that happened to him and one he was the cause of for someone else. I felt bad enough for Kemkers, the coach, as his mistake came to light, only to find out about his own personal speed skating Waterloo back in Calgary. I wish I had never heard about that now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

to a dear buddyroo

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Holden Caulfield's opening statement in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I can vividly recall the chair I was sitting in when I started to read those words. There is nothing better than being gripped by something you start to read and you instinctively know that you are going to get lost in it.
Much of what was written about J.D. Salinger in his lifetime referred to him as a 'recluse' when, in fact, he was leading a simple life in a quiet town on the Connecticut River. Perhaps, in an effort to explain why anyone at the peak of his career would do something as unthinkable as to walk away from it all, his story wrote itself for those who didn't understand. Obviously, he liked his neighbors and the town of Cornish, NH and the residents treated him like a regular guy and not a literary icon who lived in their midst. It wasn't a conspiracy of any sort that his neighbors not only respected his privacy, but helped him protect it, when strangers inquired about where his residence was from the proprietor of the local general store. The story goes that the ruder the request of the nosy stranger the more inaccurate the details provided. In this self confessional world we live in, with the infamous '15 minutes of fame' that seem to have stretched to at least an hour now, it is a testament to the residents of Cornish that they still have not revealed anything more about Salinger after his death. He was allowed to live his corduroy pants and sweater existence in a town he was fond of and attend church suppers just like anyone else. He was the guy who got his paper every day at the general store, had a favorite diner where he liked to eat his lunch alone and he got to be the guy who scribbled in his notebook and sat at the end of the table where they kept the pies at the church suppers.
Holden Caulfield, Salinger's protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, longed to find a place that was 'nice and peaceful.' It seems that Salinger was able to do just that. He wasn't the mysterious figure in the window that some made him out to be but the man who wanted his privacy. Being alone at lunch doesn't necessarily mean that you are lonely. He tipped the young servers at the church suppers and agreed to allow neighborhood children to use the hill on his property for a brisk trip on a sled on a snowy day. It seems that there was a mutual respect between Salinger and his neighbors and not some contractual binding agreement that demanded their loyalty to his wishes. In this day of eroding respect for others this town is an example of the human spirit of common courtesy and decency. We could all take a page from their book.
The letters of correspondence of J.D. Salinger and a friend are being reviewed and dissected and one has to wonder why the friend parted with them at any point. There is some speculation that it is perhaps owed to the fact that Salinger refused the friend's request to furnish him with an autographed copy of Catcher in the Rye. In the letter to the friend he offers the explanation "Most stuff that is genuine is better left unsaid."

Friday, February 5, 2010

don't ask, don't bark, don't tell

Man's best friend. That is until he barks in a New York city apartment. The same week that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, calls for the end of the sixteen year old 'don't ask, don't tell' law which would abolish what he refers to as "a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens" in the United States military, word comes of Nestle, a daschund-terrier mix residing on the Upper East Side with his human companions, who had his vocal cords cut in order to reduce his bark to nothing more than a raspy whisper. Someone in Nestle's building threatened to go to the co-op board about his barking.
A recent article reveals that it seems it is a common practice for dogs to be subjected to a procedure called 'debarking.' These dogs range from those living in private homes, to those on the show-dog circuit and includes drug dealers who want their attack dogs silent to conduct business in the shadows. The procedure of debarking has been around for decades but those veterinarians who perform the surgery don't often advertise that they do so.
Animal rights advocates denounce the practice as robbing a dog of the very essence of what is natural for the animal in order to communicate. In an article that I read it states the list of situations and things that Nestle would bark at, one of them being the new puppy. So, the owner doesn't do any type of behavior modification or call in a trainer but has the dog's vocal cords cut in order to comply with noise regulations set in his co-op building and there is now another puppy? A puppy who according to the owner who was interviewed may be headed for a similar fate. In addition to the veterinarians who don't advertise that they perform the procedure there is also a dog breeder and handler mentioned who wouldn't give his last name after being interviewed. If you are going to subject an animal to such a practice own up to it.
Both of my dogs were adopted from the North Shore Animal League. They are a no kill shelter that gives every animal a chance. After my first dog left us much too soon I went back to the North Shore to find my dog that I have now. He reminded me of my first guy and in a state of still grieving my first dog I walked out with a little bundle of blonde puppiness. He had that musky puppy smell with his adoption papers tucked under his thin blue collar that marked him as a male. That puppy was given the impossible task that is placed upon the dog who is adopted after the loss of a beloved companion.
My dog barks at the mailman every day. Every day. The mailman joked to me one day "is it just me he doesn't like or does he bark like that at everyone?" Dogs bark at mailmen for a reason. In their loyal minds they are protecting their home and that pesky mailman is the one guy who hasn't gotten the message and keeps coming back! When we lived in an apartment building years ago with our first dog I remember someone saying that when your dog barks at the front door you have no idea if he barked at someone passing by in the hall or if he just sent someone suspicious away from your door. How many times have you heard the story that had a happy ending about the people who narrowly escaped the burning building or the person who slipped through the frozen lake because the dog was barking? Sometimes, when I read stories like that it makes me like the dogs more than the people. Where's the Dog Whisperer when you need him? I have a plaque over my back door that reads 'Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.' I try.