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Benjamin Franklin Broke My Alarm Dog

Tomorrow morning at 6:03, the invisible hand of Benjamin Franklin will reach to my bedside and wake me from a sound sleep.

I am in my office, the floor littered with books. I call it research. Next to me, flowing over the recliner, is a wild dog.

I had no idea she was a wild dog when, a year and a half ago, we strolled the aisles at the pound. All we knew was, of all the cages and all the pens, of all the dogs, this small fawn-coloured pup, at eight months old, breed unidentified, was the only creature that was silent. She watched us as we walked up and back, as we inspected the dogs for the one that pulled at our hearts. We passed her by. She was too old.

But my son kept returning to her, staring at her through the kennel chain-link. At that time it had not occurred to me she was the only silent pup there- the only dog not making an unholy racket.We had walked once through, looking at Corgies, Beagles, far too many Pits, Catahoula after Catahoula after Catahoula, and there was this one dog I could not identify and, still, second time through, silent, to which my son lingered closer and closer. Of course she was still eight months old so we walked again, fully planning, at least I was, on coming back to the pound once a week or so until the right dog arrived.

It was my birthday week. August of 2007, and I was about to turn forty-three. We were finally settled in our new old home, in a new practice, retired from an old job and marketing my new book. I wanted a dog.

It is never a good idea to get a dog. Never the perfect time. Just like a child, that perfect time does not exist, never comes. But the opportunity did,  my son and I were ready and, it seemed, absolutely, my wife was not. So all the stars aligned in as nearly perfect an order as they get and so we found ourselves at the pound.

And he kept going back to the fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified pup.

We grabbed a leash and opened the door. She sat there. We put the leash around her neck and she sat looking up at us. Silent. It seemed she wanted to be carried. She, already a bit too big for that, I, bending at the knees because I do love the sound of creaking so, we walked out to the yard—a father carrying his too-large child. Once there, once down, she walked by my side. When I ran she trotted right with me until I found myself on my back, flat, staring at the sky,head slightly ringing, my leash-arm straight behind me. Fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified walked over and stared into my face. Apparently, she had decided to stop mid-trot and have a liedown. At the door in from the yard, she stopped to be carried again and looked with disdain at the other dogs. Never a sound.

“What kind is the mute one?”

“We don’t know.” This was the Pound-mistress talking.

“The paper on the kennel says Lab question mark. She’s not a Lab.”

“Nope. But we have to write down something and we have no idea.”

“The paper also says she is untrainable, incorrigible, does not know her name, and is an escape artist. Can you tell me anything good about the dog?”

Pound-mistress explained to us they must, by law, write what the owners say when the dog is dropped off. But, and she moved close to my left ear, this family kept the dog out all day and let her in only late at night, never trained her, never called her by name. It was her opinion she was a good dog with no training that got stuck with a bum family.

We left, knowing what was going to happen. We should have pulled her papers and plunked the cash but I wanted my wife to see her.

And we looked back at her as we walked from her line of sight.

I planned on soft-selling the dog, working my wife up to a trip toward Eau Gallie and the pound with promise of old pottery and fresh fish. Instead, my son got to her first, with the pound open but one more hour after she got home from the practice. He told her we were going to the pound because it was only fair, Daddy says, for her to see the dog we’re getting. This resulted in the need of much more in the way of promises extracted from both I and my son.

Fine. In the car. Grab a Philly steak sub knock-off. On the way we talked about the description on the kennel door and what Pound-mistress said about fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.

Get to the pound, walk in the second time that day, into the building and quickly past the cats at which my wife sneezes and itches, out to the dogs and to fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.

The noise was awful. The barking, whining, howling. All but her. All but fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified. She sat at the kennel-front and looked at my wife.

“She is eight months old,” says Lee.

“Yup.”

“At least she’s a mutt.” My wife insists on mutts.

“No idea what she’s made of. Just random dog.”

We opened the gate and repeated the carry-out to the yard. She behaved perfectly, silently. When Lee noticed fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified never made a sound, that was all it took. Sixty dollars on the counter, come back in two days, a sad look back from my son and an even sadder look at him from fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.

The sign on the door said her name was Dusty. A common, nondescript name. Alek called “Dusty” and fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified perked her ears straight, sat at attention with the widest eyes I had yet seen on a dog.

Two days later we picked her up, groggy from the morning’s spaying, and she was cuddled home.

Within a week she was housetrained. With the help of Robert at Petsmart, we got training to train us to train her. Within a few weeks she walked with us, ran with us, leash or none. She sat, stayed, came and laid down. And in this time, she still did not bark.

I remember the day she did start making noises. It was late afternoon. Someone in the house was laughing. It did not sound familiar.I peeked into Lee’s office and nothing on Stargate seemed the least funny. No surprise there. I asked Alek but he said he’d heard it too and was looking for the source. He, too, thought it was his mother laughing. Dusty followed us.

Giving up, we each went back to what we were doing, Dusty in Alek’s room this time and I again heard it. Alek, running from his room, looked up at me and said, “That was her,” pointing to our dog, “and that is the strangest sound I have ever heard.”

When she is satisfied after a meal, and she eats sparingly, never gorging, she’ll spread flat on the floor and a low, guttural sound, not a growl in any way but from someplace deeper, more bass-rumbly, will resonate the room. When she wants something, she will open her mouth and high-pitched whistle talk to us. If she could manage to make it any louder I am sure the few remaining bits of household crystal I have not already broken myself would shatter. If we forget to feed her, she will stand by her bowl and whistle. If there is low water, she will nose it and whistle. When we come home with bags, she will not jump us but will instead back off, sit at the couch and, when the bags are down, lay back over the couch arm, belly up, and whistle for us to pet her.

Once, on a morning walk, Dusty and I passed a student of mine. I had been out of teaching for some months then and my neighbourhood is full or ex and barely-ex students.

“Mr. Tritt.” I can’t get them to stop calling me that. “Is that your dog?”

“Sure is.”

“You have a Dingo?”

“I do?”

Apparently she had been studying Australia and was more than a little surprised to see a dingo walking with last-year’s English teacher. More and more people asked us the same thing. A bit of research, a check with people who should know and, sure enough, we have ourselves a wild dog. Once upon a time I wanted a wolf. I’ll take my dingo dog any day.

Far from being a baby-eater, she is the most gentle of creatures. She will instinctively sit with the infirmed, laying her head on a lap, patiently allows little ones to pet or pull or poke. She seems to have no preference for any particular member of the household and will become mopey if any one of us is away for too long. If one of us is not feeling well, she is nearly impossible to move from the sick one’s feet. When Lee had a week-long flu, Dusty was in the bedroom doorway all day and slept next to her, half under her, under the bed, all night.

She will walk through a crowd with ease and not give other dogs the time of day no matter how much they bark. She has barked on occasion but rare enough that, when she does, we listen, we get up, we see what’s there.

Dusty the Dingo Doggy went from being a good dog to great dog to wonderful companion we look forward to coming home to, one that can stay in the house by herself, will walk out the back yard when the gate is left open only to sit on the front porch and wait for us to remember we had forgotten to let her in. She plays ball with herself, tossing it into the air and catching it again on the way down.

And there is one more thing she does—Dusty wakes us each morning. As the sun rises, as it starts to colour our south windows, she walks into our room, whistles, puts her front paws on the bed and jostles Lee’s hand with her nose.

Neither of us has ever been a fan of alarm clocks. This is perfect for us. Up with the sun, more day in each day, awake in plenty of time to eat, shower, dress, do what needs to be done and get what needs to be got. No jingles, jangles, bells or chimes. A whistle and a paw.

Each day she wakes us, slipping slightly more than thirty seconds later toward the Summer Solstice and back as the Winter Solstice approaches.

And then came Benjamin Franklin and he screwed it up.

We are big fans of Franklin. My wife from Philly and I from his quotes, quips and scientific queries. There is more to Franklin than most know. Sure, he was a notorious womanizer but, as seen for the times and locations he lived, that seems to detract little from establishing libraries, the Postal Service, and newspapers as cultural standards. It does not detract from the creation of bifocals, which I steadfastly refuse every time I get my eye checked (the ophthalmologist checks them both but I’m not sure why he bothers—I think just look to see the other one is still there), the flexible catheter (which I also have no experience with), the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, the odometer, and more and more. He invented the Glass Harmonica, an instrument of ethereal aural beauty (which, in the early days gave off lead dust, but I accept that we all suffer for our art).

As people who would be happy if our televisions got only Discovery, History, and the Science Channels, that means quite a bit. “Well done is better than well said.” Ben, I agree.

But one thing he did that is fully, forever unforgivable was the creation of daylight savings time.

To be fair to Franklin, he did not really invent it. He suggested though, while living in Paris, Parisians should be awakened each morning by bells and cannonfire so the stay-ups would tire earlier in the evening and conserve candles. He published this suggestion anonymously.

But the idea was taken up again, later, by William Willett who started pushing the idea in London in 1905. While good for local business that feed from late-shoppers, the original idea of saving candlewax is no longer quite as valid as once was. Electrical savings are found to be nonexistent with usage simply shifted to the dark morning hours in summer and dark night hours in winter in an economy that does not work simply dawn to dusk. And international commerce certainly suffers, though not as much as agrarian economies still tied to daylight.

In the past, clocks were simply adjusted through the year to divide the day into twenty-four equal parts. The hours got a little longer or a little shorter and things ran quite fine that way.

We think with all our technology we can’t run that way now, but with some areas on DST and others not, we still become fully fowled up. Even in areas that do use DST, there are pockets that do not and time zones that opt out which, this month, are an hour behind and next month are not.Some US counties even opt out.

I say, make six a.m. the time when the sun comes up. We can certainly make clocks that can handle that. If the day is a bit longer, we have a few extra inter-hour minutes between five and six am. If shorter, fewer, but six comes when does the sun.

That way my dog would not be broken.

She was waking us at 7:16, then 7:15, 7:15, 7:14 and, the next day, gently, whistly, at 6:13. Daylight savings time had ended. This morning, as the sun peaked in through the windows, it was 6:04. Next week it will be before 6:00. Come DST again our dog alarm will move ahead one hour and, try as we might, we can find no dial or button to adjust her.

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Posted by on November 21, 2008 in Culture, Family, History, Nature, Social

 

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Day of the Manatees

US1 through southern and central Brevard County is an easy drive of sparse architecture and brilliant liquid beauty along the Indian River. The Indian River is wide and shallow, averaging three feet deep and often navigable by foot from the quarter mile to eight miles between bank to bank. Not a river at all, really, but a rod-straight saltwater sound, it is barely separated from the Atlantic by more than a spit of land.

Along the river are salt-marshes, inlets and coves and it was past one of those many coves I drove Saturday morning on my way from Palm Bay, five miles north, to pick up Evanne. That day we were making a kiln of coiled newspaper at my home, breaking into a bag of terracotta clay with about a dozen people to make runes, Tellstones, whatnots small in size. People were due at noon.

As I drove, the shoulder, commonly narrow enough only for an emergency stop, widened into a grass-filled clearing level with the lapping river. Only about forty feet deep and perhaps one hundred feet long, normally empty and affording a view of the wide river and the narrow division of land which broke the ocean and created the sound, today it was bordered, as the trees cleared, by an upright half-sheet of plywood asking, in large caution-orange paint, that we take home one of the many pit-bull puppies available. Behind it were parked what were certainly to be too many cars to be explained by free puppies. Against the shore were clumps of people – adults, children – with cameras, binoculars, pointing fingers off the bank at a space some thirty feet distant.

At fifty miles per hour I can’t see much. Cars, people, cameras and a boiling of water where they point. In the river’s tumult were dark shapes, significant in size, one breaking the surface of the water. While I cannot see what they are, by the time the tableau has taken its place behind me, as the car curves past the Honda dealership, I have figured out what they were; manatees.

I have been here a year. I have not seen a manatee though I hear about them and their friendly nature, their bad breath, the texture of their skin.

I speed up. I am but five minutes from Evanne’s and reach for my phone to call her, to ask her to be ready so, in the truck, we can go back, park, walk to the bank and, I hope, see my first manatees. The phone rings.

“Are we on for today? I figured we were because you said we were, but Jack said I should check.”

I was due to pick her up at eleven that morning. It was ten ‘till.

“I’m four minutes away. Can you be ready? I’ll explain when I get there but I don’t want to talk while I’m driving.”

I drive too fast. She is ready and gets into the truck.

“I think I passed a group of manatees right off the road. I think. I want to stop and see. We have about an hour. If people have to wait a bit for us, for this, they’ll have to wait.”

“Really? I’d love to see them.”

People rush so much. Everything, it seems, is on a time frame. For picking up Evanne on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, I chance not seeing the manatees. I drove by them. I think briefly of passing them by again; people are due at my house. I drive back quickly. Too quickly. Time again. This time I stop, pulling over the double-yellow line into the clearing and between two cars.

There is a whirlpool deep with dark silhouettes of bodies long and broad. I can see this through the windshield and open the glove-box to take out the binoculars, the monocular and we get out.

Approaching the water, I hand the binoculars to Evanne. “I asked for a discount on the binoculars, since I can use only one lens, but they just laughed. I don’t see why I should pay for something I can’t use. You turn this to focus.” She takes them out of the case, I twist the wheel between the lenses as she holds them. I take the monocular out of its case and stuff the vinyl into my back pocket. I put it to my right eye and point it out to the roil in the river.

We are two among a constantly renewing eight or ten people watching the spectacle in the water. Three manatees, it appears, one female and two male: mating season. We watch, one then the other, the one again. Breaching, tails slapping the surface, mist blowing from nostrils, grey backs above the water. At once it appears there is a jostling, it appears one has attacked another. We watch. We listen.

Perhaps the female has told one of the males she has had enough. Perhaps has had all she wants. Or one male has challenged, is ready to fight, been rebuked by the female. Then all is calm and they are taking turns again.

The sound skips over the water and mixes with, spurs on the chatter around us .

“It’s a manatee orgy.”

“Manatee gangbang.”

“She’s tired of them and wants a ciggy.”

Snickering, laughing. Rude comments.

I think to myself, talk to myself, I wonder at the anthropomorphizing. Why put them into a human frame? Have we done such a good job of it? After all, they’re the ones making love in the water, having sex in the river, taking turns, out in the open, no worries, no cares, procreating, playing (perhaps), not thinking of tomorrow, not yesterday, just now, in action and moment, life lived as present-tense verbs.

What’s our problem? We want to live, be healthy, or, at least, be comfortable while we live long. We want to live and live and live. Quantity over quality and tomorrow over the moment. We want to have things, more things, one more thing, then something else, another. More and more. We want shelter because we will be more comfortable, live longer if we are out of the cold, out of the heat, out of the sun. Longer, more, tomorrow, worry, next year, better place. Then, we look at the manatees in the river and give them our thoughts, our desires and our reactions when it is we who wish to feel like them, give up the home, live in the water, have sex on the shore, think of nothing and have only now. But for the fear, we would. But for fear of the end, we would. And so, we pretend they are like us as imagining we are them simply begs dissonance, wonder, confusion.

It is quarter ‘till twelve. Evanne reminds me we have people who will be waiting for us. I respond by going to my truck and getting my polarized sunshields – big enough to fit over my glasses. With these, I can cut out the reflection of the water, see through the surface. They are one more thing. I bring them back and hand them to Evanne. We pass them back and forth. Finally, binoculars, monocular are put away. I’m reminded it’s time to go and, back to the truck, we do just that.

We drive way from the water, out to US1, and, as we recross the double-yellow I can still see the swirling of the water in my mirror.

The afternoon comes, the company does as well. Stones are made, a kiln is built. I make a dinner of salmon and steak, both on the grill for hours now, lowly, slowly and vegetables cooked fast in a large, flame-surrounded wok.

Over dinner, Craig tells us about the park nearby, Goode Park, and the manatees. He lays on the dock, the one that floats. His hands lay in the water, waving gently and the manatees come to him and to have their bellies rubbed. Bellies rubbed? I have never heard of that. Manatees again.

I am to do a workshop that evening: a singing workshop. Old Aramaic chants. It is at Goode Park. I picked it because it was close by; six blocks away and I plan to walk there. Goode Park is on Turkey Creek, which connects to the Indian River.

Walk there we do. It is seven in the evening and the workshop starts at seven-thirty. It starts when I get there but I would not start late. I will start on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, and, if there are any, I chance not seeing the manatees.

I walk with Evanne and Valerie to the dock and, as we step, it moves beneath us. I see nothing but lay down on my belly, as do the ladies. I put my hands in the water and wave them in and out just under the surface. In and out. Nearly instantly, surprisingly, a nose, four inches across, breaks the surface, closed nostrils open, hot air expelled and it smells of old vegetables., eyes are wide, focused on my face. Eyes like mahogany shooters surrounded by grey flesh. A short-nose elephant in the water.

I reach over and pat the head. It is smooth, warm, comfortable. Round, firm, comforting. Another comes up, sleekly, quietly, graceful in way I have seldom seen and I am thinking how something so impossibly shaped, so ungainly on land could be the utter animation of grace and flow and while I am thinking this another sneaks up, unseen, unheard. So large and so quiet.

I pat it with both hands, rubbing either side of its head. As I do, it snuffles at my palms, left then right, opens its mouth, licks my fingers and moves forward placing its head once more between my hands.

It turns over, deftly, silently as I rub and my hands are on it’s belly: soft, muscular, warm and I rub it as long as it will have until it moves back and my hands are on it’s chest, its flippers are thick, nails large and tough and I can’t help but feel them and I hold its hand. Hand, so much like my hand, five nails, fingers joined by skin and cartilage but five fingers, five nails. A moment passes and the hand I’m holding places, easily moves, mine back onto its chest, making its desire well and clear; it wants its chest and neck rubbed.

It is raised from the water, belly and a portion of its side above the surface, visible. On the grey skin, in the flesh, are four yellow scars, at regular distances, at the same angle, nearly and inch wide and each about a foot long. I would see this again and again as the manatees would come up, each in turn, scars and scars.

And so, our bellies to the ground, theirs to the air, we rubbed them, as long as they would have, into the warm night.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2006 in Culture, Nature, Social

 

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