The One With Napoleon

Some time ago, Reggie and I were hanging out with Little Kitty on our stoop (Reggie loves the kitties) when around the corner came an affable golden retriever with her tail swishing like a windshield wiper. When she saw Reggie and Little Kitty, she came bounding over smiling that goofy golden retriever smile.  Little Kitty ran under a car; she’s a very selective kitty.

 

Reggie and Little Kitty

Reggie and Little Kitty

Being on leash, it’s harder for Reggie to get away from the slobbery affection. He has always been afraid of big dogs which he defines as: any dog bigger than him. He also dislikes most puppies. They’re all jumpy and herky-jerky, and his goal in life is to find a warm sun spot to lie down. (Like dog, like person, I suppose.) He is a medium-size dog at forty-five pounds, so there are a fair number of dogs bigger than him, including the golden retriever in our midst.

Reggie began backing up and looking for an escape route. Not finding one he started growling to warn the golden away. Perhaps not the brightest dog ever, the golden moved closer, far ahead of her person. (I won’t get started on how much I hate the flexi-leashes.) My options to get Reggie out of that situation were now closed off. His tail went down and he gave sharp barks. It was a dog version of a panic attack. The golden’s person rolled her eyes. “God. She’s just being friendly. (To the dog) Come, Sasha. You don’t want to play with this mean dog anyway.”

Reggie Noir

Reggie Noir

I imagine parents deal with this kind of interaction regularly. I knew the golden was friendly and didn’t mean any harm, but it doesn’t matter what I think (or know) to be true. If Reggie is afraid, then he is afraid. Some people send their dogs (or children) into situations where they’re uncomfortable, a.k.a. the trial-by-fire method. If the dog or child can see firsthand that the Very Bad Thing didn’t happen, then, the theory goes, they’ll be less afraid. There were times I’d found this to be true in my own life.  But much of our fear is the irrational kind—elevators, heights, airplanes, bigger dogs, (insert your bugaboo here) and common sense doesn’t play a role.

As Reggie’s guardian, it’s my job to protect him. I want him to trust that I’m not going to put him into a bad situation. Parents will surely relate to this feeling. Dogs (and very young children, I assume) learn through repetition. If a dog has what he determines to be a bad experience, he will put up defense mechanisms to protect himself from the Very Bad Thing. I decided I would do my best to operate within Reggie’s comfort zone.

Then doubt crept into my mind.

Reggie and I passed a woman walking her chocolate lab. I’d see them occasionally and always led Reggie away from them, despite that the lab appeared calm and easy-going.

“It’s okay if they meet,” the woman called to me.

I shook my head. “He’s afraid of bigger dogs.”

“How do you know?” She shrugged and walked away.

I was a little miffed by her ridiculous question. But I began to wonder if I was doing Reggie a disservice. Maybe by trying to protect him, I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to grow. I put him into a box, labeled it, and sealed it closed. Admittedly, it was easier for me. We had the rules of the game and I didn’t have to think about it. How many times had I done that to myself? How many times had someone done that to me?

A few weeks later we ran into them again. “Why don’t you let them meet?” There was an edge of frustration in her voice.

I felt myself bristling. Who was this woman to judge me?  She hadn’t been there for all of the barking and the panting and the whining over these many months. Then Reggie took it upon himself. He wagged his tail a bit and headed toward them. She gently patted him on the head, mere inches away from her hefty 70-pound lab. Reggie sniffed the dog and returned to getting attention from the woman. I had tears in my eyes. I was so grateful to watch him put his fear behind him and sad that I very nearly could have missed it by not allowing him the opportunity to step outside the box.

I was so joyful that I didn’t mind what I knew what coming next. “See?” the woman said as she straightened and walked away.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”  ― Orhan Pamuk

Have you ever felt stuck inside a box of your or someone else’s making? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

I still consider Reggie a DINOS (Dog in Need of Space). Not all dogs want to say “hi” to your dog and not all enjoy being petted by large or small humans. If you have a DINOS or even if you have a friendly golden retriever, check out Jessica’s fun and informative site. She says, “All dogs have a need for and a right to their own personal space. Some dogs have a stronger need for personal space then others.” Reggie gives Jessica and especially this post two paws up. :)

The One With A Cappella

It’s been said that not all who wander are lost. And then there was that thing about roads diverging in a wood.  Despite the romanticized hubbub about the benefits of being lost, I’m not buying it. I like to know where I’m going and how long it’s going to take to get there. I take the most direct route from point A to B. I’m stressed when I know where I am, but can’t figure out how to get where I need to go. (Metaphor, anyone?) I tend to get the most frustrated about getting lost when I should be the least worried about it—when I’m on vacation.

Problem is, when I get lost, it’s rarely an idyllic setting. I’m never ambling along a pretty country road with a charming farmhouse on a hill in the distance. I’m not strolling beside a classic river waving at a boat captain as a gentle breeze kisses my cheeks. No. If I’m lost, it’s in an industrial wasteland where columns of black smoke are pouring into the sky covering everything for miles in ashy soot. And it’s probably raining.

But there was one time I got lost on purpose.

I was traveling solo in Florence, Italy. It was dark, but not too late. I’d stopped at the Piazza della Repubblica for the third day in a row to get my favorite apricot cookie from the pastry shop on the corner. This was before my phone was smarter than me; I had a map and my memory to find the way back to my pensione.

The streets running through Florence’s city center might have been planned by children playing a game of pick-up sticks.  The narrow lanes run every which way and some didn’t even appear on my map. But now that I was a regular at this patisserie, I’d developed a sort of muscle memory with the route. It was a right at that handbag store, then a left, past the bank with the enormous wooden doors, then another right along the Vespa parking station, and a final left with my hotel on the corner. One wrong turn and it was all over for me. I’d be forever stuck in a cobblestone labyrinth filled with tourists wearing their backpacks on their fronts who would be of no assistance.

Then I heard the most wonderful chorus. I followed it like a hound on a scent. Down the smallest of side streets I went, trying to find the source, with no regard that I could end up roaming around Florence for eternity. Their voices echoed off the buildings making it difficult to find them, but I was determined.  If Barbra Streisand, Audra McDonald, and Judy Garland had their own glee club, this is what it would have sounded like.  For fifteen minutes, I must have walked up and down every street in the vicinity, worried the whole time that they would end their tour de force.

I made a left down a street I was sure I’d walked before, and there they were, standing in front of a shuttered shop. A small crowd had gathered in a semicircle. It was…heavenly. I found out later that the women were three American exchange students and preferred the acoustics of this street. They liked the idea that their voices floated up above the red-tiled roofs of Florence. They were sharing their art with the city.

A Cappella

Everyone can sing, but not everyone can sing well. I’m in the latter group. In fact, I’m a terrible singer. I only sing in the shower or on solo car rides so as not to inflict my Tiny Tim voice on others. Only my hairbrush knows the depths of my embarrassment. Well, my hairbrush and Reggie, who has arrived at resigned acceptance because I feed him.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

 

Due to having a voice that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, I have a reverence for people who have this gift. It took me an hour to find my way back to my hotel that night in Florence, but I floated on their voices all the way there. Maybe I should allow myself to get sidetracked more often. Maybe I don’t always need to know where I’m going. Sometimes that’s the best way to be uniquely surprised and inspired. Sometimes it’s “not till we are lost…do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Come to think of it, now that I have a “smart” phone, I haven’t wandered in a while.

 

When was the last time you got lost? Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Old Stone House

Today is Independence Day in the U.S. and I’m taking you on a special Tourist in My Town trip to a little place a few blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn. The first and largest conflict of the war is about to begin, and this stone house is going to play a crucial role. Old Stone House Brooklyn It’s August 1776 and Brooklyn is mostly wilderness. There are a few ports and farms dotting the landscape. There are more sheep than people. Inside this stone house were the Vechte family of Dutch origin. They harvested oysters from the nearby Gowanus marshes and took them to market in Manhattan. They will eventually live in this house under British occupation and quarter British soldiers, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When they look out into the harbor, they see 400 British ships, carrying more than 32,000 soldiers. There is a general feeling of panic, especially among Dutch settlers who number in the thousands. They have no loyalty to the crown or to the rebellious colonists. They came to America for some peace and quiet and religious freedom.

Sketch of the British fleet in the NY harbor, published in Harper's Magazine on the Centennial, 1876

Sketch of the British fleet in the NY harbor, published in Harper’s Magazine on the Centennial 1876

General George Washington has brought the Continental Army to Lower Manhattan, convinced this is where the British will attack. Control of Manhattan means control of the harbor and the Hudson River, a crucial supply line. But he is wrong. The British go with the element of surprise and instead move into Brooklyn.

Image via NYPL Digital Archives

View of Lower Manhattan from the harbor. Image via NYPL Digital Archives

It is now the First Maryland Regiment’s task to keep the the British contained in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the Marylanders are seriously outnumbered. Early this morning Washington has realized his mistake and sent some of his Continental Army by boat to Brooklyn Heights for reinforcement. He heads to the top of Cobble Hill (which the British will soon level) to gain a vantage point of the fighting. Watching the Marylanders, Washington reportedly says, “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose!” The Old Stone House becomes the focal point of one of the skirmishes, changing hands several times until finally a fresh group of Hessian troops (serving the king) joined the British to take the little house for good. The First Maryland Regiment loses about 260 men—some take direct fire and some drown when retreating through the marshes. Fewer than twelve men make it back alive.

The Old Stone House on the eve of the battle. Image via Wikipedia.

The Old Stone House on the eve of the battle. Image via Wikipedia.

Ignoring advice from his subordinates, British General Howe decides not to press on to Brooklyn Heights where he has most of Washington’s Continental Army nearly surrounded. He probably figures Washington will see the hopelessness of his situation and surrender, thereby avoiding more casualties. But on this night, a great fog rolls in over the East River allowing what remains of the Continental Army (including cannons, horses, and supplies!) to steal away in rowboats to Manhattan. The men row a mile each way, some as many as eleven times, hoping the fog will conceal them from the hundreds of British ships in the harbor. At daybreak, Washington himself is the last man on the last boat and the British awake to find the Continental Army has vanished.

maryland-400-monument

Maryland 400 Monument in Prospect Park

Have you recently visited any historic sites in your city?

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Bicycle

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

 

Reggie and I are taking a late afternoon walk. It’s on the steamy side. The sun is at that particular angle where you cannot escape it. Shady spots are hard to come by until the sun lowers itself behind the brownstones.

There is a boy on the sidewalk ahead of us. He’s wearing knee and elbow pads and a bike helmet. He’s walking his bike, a throw-back banana seat number, which he’s outfitted with stickers of characters I’m too out of touch to recognize. His mother and younger sister— judging by the large round eyes that seem to run through their family— are sitting on a stoop playing I Spy and waiting for the boy.

He looks older than the typical kid learning to ride a bike. Maybe he’s just big for his age. Or maybe it’s a byproduct of living in a busy city with crowded sidewalks and streets. Or maybe his mother is overprotective. Whatever the reason for the apparent delay, today is his day. His mother has given him a starting point near the end of the block and he is to ride to meet her midway.

These beautiful people in Amsterdam had learn how to ride.

These beautiful people in Amsterdam had to learn how to ride.

 

As he attempts to get going, the bike is jerking from side to side. If he is recalling a bad fall and it’s making him nervous, I’d understand. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B. ) He’s trying to control the bike through force, but he has to learn that it’s a gentle finesse that will keep him upright. He has to have the confidence that he can do it, before he can do it.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned this yet. I see him getting more frustrated by the moment. Finally, impatience (combined with 90 percent humidity) wins. He loses control and the bike tips over. He’s fine physically; emotionally is where it hurts most. He wants instant gratification. He wants to be a protege. He wants it to be easy. Like riding a bike.

He kicks the bike now lying on the ground and starts to cry. Not little a little sniffle, but giant tears and choking sobs. He takes off his helmet and throws it on the ground. By now his mother has come over. She’s saying the soothing things that all kind mothers say. “No need to be so upset. You’ll get it soon enough. It takes a lot of practice.” She’s speaking from experience of course. With age comes the knowledge that most accomplishments are hard won. Figuring out the ropes of a new job; learning a new language; driving a car without running anyone down. Mastery doesn’t happen overnight. He doesn’t know this, and it’s not something he can learn by hearing it.

And he doesn’t remember the difficult things he’s already learned. How often did he fall down and get back up when he was learning to walk? How many times did he try to chew on his mother’s hoodie before he understood it wasn’t edible?
As Reggie and I pass the boy and his mother, I feel a twinge for him. How many times in his life will he run into the wall? Will this moment give him the fortitude he needs to persevere when “life hands him lemons”? Will he give up on anything that he can’t master quickly?

I think about how I would answer those questions. It’s hard not knowing what comes next, always feeling like a “newbie.” Every time I sit down. to write, I feel this way. When will this ever come together, I wonder. Running into this boy is a life lesson, a reminder to relish the the beginner’s mind. I love this guest post on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits in which Mary Jaksch writes that beginner’s mind “leaves room for intuition.” Being a beginner isn’t a bad thing. If we can allow ourselves to not worry about being perfect, being a beginner gives us the opportunity to be a state of wonder and learning,

The boy’s mother collects his helmet and bike and puts her arm around his shoulder. She’s trying to build up his confidence. I hope she’s also telling him to enjoy the beginner’s mind.

 

When was the last time you had “beginner’s mind”? 

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 

 

The One With the Mermaids

On the summer solstice each year, Coney Island transforms itself from a crazy, depraved, whimsical amusement park into a crazy, depraved, whimsical amusement park crawling with scantily-clad party-goers. That’s right, dear readers. It’s time for the Mermaid Parade!

The Mermaid Parade winds its way along Coney Island’s main drag (pun intended) and spills onto the boardwalk. It’s been going on for 30 years and has grown to more than 1,500 participants. Officially, it’s billed as an art parade, “a celebration of ancient mythology and honky-tonk rituals of the seaside…opening the summer with incredible art, entrepreneurial spirit and community pride.” Unofficially, the Mermaid Parade is a romping good time where people get sunburns in places where people shouldn’t get sunburns.

Without further ado, here are some photos from years past. Heads-up: apparently mermaids spend a lot of their mer-cash on pasties and fishnets.

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

 

Mermaid Parade

 

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

Mermaid Parade

 

How will you be spending the summer solstice? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!