Monday, February 23, 2009

The hunt is on...

So we're officially looking for the "new Paco." It's not that I think Paco is replaceable since, obviously, that's impossible. But the fact remains that I need another dog in my life eventually.

I first got a dog when I moved to Oakland. My freshman year of college I'd had a bad experience where I was nearly raped. I managed to talk my way out of it at the time but, after that, made it a point to never walk alone at night. Come my senior year when I made the move to Oakland, I decided it was time to stop relying on human escorts and get myself a dog. Always an animal husbandry nerd at heart (not that my 11 years in 4-H prove that or anything), I quickly picked up some reading material and studied up on dogs. I read the book "How to Deal With Your Dog's Adolescence" on the hunch that, if a dog's adolescence was a fraction as terrible as human adolescence, then I'd be prepared for the worst.

Armed with my new knowledge, I marched down to the Oakland Animal Shelter and returned home with Ajax, a young mixed breed puppy who grew up to look and act like a Cattle Dog/Chow cross. She was an awesome dog and she (and her tennis ball) accompanied me everywhere.

In the year 2000 I hit the road in a van to travel across country, Ajax in tow. The first couple months were great, and then we ran out of money. And then the van broke down. So that's how I ended up stranded in Georgia for 6 months.

During that time, Ajax hit two years old and developed epilepsy. I was homesick beyond belief but refused to go home unless Ajax could come. Finally, my friend Amy called to say she'd be making a road trip back east to visit a few friends before the semester began, and she was willing to drive down to Atlanta and rescue me and Ajax. I was so elated, but then my traveling companion (who had been a boyfriend at one point... we'd broken up quite early on in the adventure but remained on good terms) broke the horrible truth to me: I was about to return to the Bay Area with no home or job lined up. Ajax needed to be on a constant stream of phenobarbitol to regulate her condition. He had a house with 1/4 acre of property, a job, and Sherman, his puppy who thought the world revolved around Ajax.

It broke my heart, but I did what was best for Ajax and left her behind in Georgia (she died a year later from a massive seizure).

Upon returning to the Bay Area I got a job at a dog day care to fill that void Ajax left behind, but being around dogs every day just made things worse. It took a while since I, literally, had to start from ground zero (I applied for the job with a handwritten resume and $2.60 in my bank account), but I eventually saved up enough money to get my own place, one where I could have a dog. And that's when I met Paco.

Fast forward many years and I now find myself without a dog again. And it feels weird.

When I was little I had a fantasy of what having a dog would be like. I imagined myself hopping in a large pick-up, my trusty dog jumping on the bench seat beside me, and off we'd go, feeding the horses and patrolling the ranch together. As I went about my daily life my dog would be there acting as a trusty sidekick. And at night we'd cuddle up by the fire.

Of course, in real life I do not live on a ranch. While Ajax would have been perfect in that setting, Paco was the perfect urban sidekick. They may be allergic to everything in nature, thus making them ill-fitted for ranch life, but I think pit bulls are perfect for the urban environment. Since I'm committed to staying in the city for a while longer, I want to find another pit bull who can be that go-everywhere-buddy for me.

I know it's just a matter of time...


Paco demonstrates just one of the many duties of an urban ranch dog: clearing the territory of varmints (in this case, Prop 8 supporters).

getting ready to protest

Friday, February 20, 2009

Breaking the fast

Today was Day 5 of the cleanse and tonight we broke the fast with vegetable soup.

The original plan was to go a week, but as the weekend approached and the possibility of attending the Grilled Cheese Invitational approached, we knew we had to break the fast in order to enjoy the weekend. So we hit the store around closing time, grabbed some veggies, and made a simple soup to ease our stomachs back to the land of the eating.

Two years ago I did the master cleanse for a week and, I gotta say, this time was much easier. True, I did get so spacey that I forgot how to do math for a day and, another day, Tim got so worried he insisted on driving me home, but overall it was pretty tame. Somehow the hunger never got in the way of what I was doing. It was a constant dull thud in the background, kind of like a little friend you forget about until he taps you one the shoulder and you remember he's there.

Last night we saw Slumdog Millionaire and somehow the occasional hunger pang made the acts performed for sheer survival in the movie seem normal. It's hard to imagine what real hunger feels like. Even on the cleanse you have a constant supply of lemonade, water, and Smooth Move (dinner!), but to go without anything for days is a sensation completely outside of my bodily vocabulary. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'd rather it be that way. But now I'm also convinced it may be a good idea to do the cleanse and/or fast more often just to remind myself I'm human.

We'll see how that goes. And, in the meantime...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quietly Cleansing

So today is Day 1 of the master cleanse.

We were supposed to start after we returned from Mexico, but then business trips and Xolo showers got in the way. We had finally settled on a firm start date and then Paco died. Not wanting to forcibly add more discomfort to the situation, we postponed again. But today we started the cleanse with no fanfare.

It's funny because normally this would be somewhat of a focal point in my day-to-day life, but if feels like a side note. There are so many other, much more important things going on that it's pretty much an aferthought. Granted, Day 1 is probably the easiest day, but right now it just feels like a dull thud, which essentially mimics my mindset.

It's funny how hunger and mourning are the same. One is physical and one is mental, but they're both based on loss. They both teach you to value what you have, not take things for granted, and suddenly you experience life with heightened senses. But only one requires a saltwater flush...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

For V-Day, A Love Story

A lot of people think Paco was a rescue. He wasn’t. I actually bought him from a backyard breeder.

The story goes something like this:

My friend Mara used to live in a house commonly referred to as “Hamilton Place.” It was located on Hamilton Court, a cul-de-sac off Harrison Street in Oakland, near the north end of Lake Merrit. It was an extremely large Victorian that housed six Mills undergrads and a huge storage space beneath, a space filled with the belongings of many people, as the girls upstairs often volunteered its capacity to friends that were in transit. I was one of those friends.

One day during May, 2001, I was either moving stuff into or moving things out of the space, I can’t quite recall. Their street was so tight that, in order to get out, you had to drive up the steep hill, make a three point turn in the cul-de-sac, pray you didn’t tap someone’s car, and then go back down the hill. On this particular day, while making the three-point turn, I noticed a red-nose pit bull with extremely large nipples sitting on a porch.

Two days later I returned to Hamilton Place with manpower in the form of Davon, one of the corner kids that used to hang out on Vallejo Street. This time while making the three-point turn, we saw a woman and a teenage boy sitting on the steps of the porch I’d seen before. D'angelo jumped out of the car.

“Hey, ____, long time no see!” he embraced the other teenager. They started gabbing. So I started small talk with the woman I assumed to be the boy’s mother.

“So, I noticed that dog the other day had really big nipples,” I said, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it quite that crudely. Or maybe I did.

“Oh yeah, she just dropped eleven pups yesterday,” the woman informed me.

We started talking and I told her about my situation. At the time I was living in a punk flophouse with motorcycle messengers, skaters, and construction workers, which is no place for a dog. But soon I was moving into a new place, one where I would actually have a room with walls. Once I was settled, I wanted to add a dog to my life ASAP. I had lost my old dog, Ajax, the previous fall and working at the dog day care every day just made me miss having a dog more and more.

She told me I was welcome to come back and buy one of her puppies when they were ready. I politely said, “Sure, I’ll check them out,” but in my head I knew there was no way. I’d never own a pit bull.

Fast-forward several weeks.

This time it was Jake’s stuff we were moving into the basement of the Hamilton Place. And he had a lot of stuff, so my truck and I were asked to join the moving posse.

I dropped off a load and headed up the hill to do the three-point turn. I wrestled the truck into the first part of the maneuver (no power steering) and that’s when I saw him. A little, dark puppy waddled its way across the porch, stuck its face in the corner, squatted down, and took a piss. I was hypnotized, absolutely frozen behind the wheel of my immobile truck. The spell was broken by a woman’s voice.

“Hey! Hey, you! I remember you. Didn’t you want a puppy?” It was the woman I had met a few weeks earlier. Despite my initial protests, she finally convinced me to turn off my engine and come out and meet the dogs.

For over an hour I sat there with the family and their dogs, both mesmerized and horrified by what I saw and heard. Mama Dog had dropped eleven puppies, they told me, but only 8 survived. Two died shortly after birth and the third somehow broke its leg and they ditched it at the vet after they learned how much it would cost to fix it. “We just left,” she bragged, then laughed and mimicked talking to the vet, “’Hell, now you gotta deal with it!’”

Of the eight surviving puppies, four had been sold already (I later did the math between the first time I saw Mama Dog to the day I met Paco… the puppies were only 5 ½ weeks old). Two of the puppies were female and brindle. They were lively and wrestled with each other incessantly. The two boys were much more lethargic, and Paco, the runt, was about half the size of his chocolate brother. “We’re gonna take the rest to the flea market tomorrow to get rid of ‘em,” they informed me.

All the puppies had huge bellies, swollen from worms. I held Paco and scratched him behind the ear and felt something crunchy under my fingers. I looked down and saw dozens of fleas scatter. Mama Dog keep circling and growling at me. If she got too close they’d take a wire coat hanger and shake it at her, threatening to whoop her with it. Daddy lived out back, and was so happy to have a visitor he nearly knocked me over with his enthusiastic “hello”.

The sun went down and I was still sitting on the porch with the puppies. At this point I’d been dog shopping for weeks. I’d been to every shelter in the area many times over but I just hadn’t found “the one”. In fact, I thought “the one” would be female and a border collie cross. This little dark pit bull was about the furthest thing from that I could find, but I couldn’t deny the bond I had felt instantly when I saw him waddle across the porch and take that piss.

Of all the dogs, he was the least outgoing and wanted the least interaction with people. In fact, he didn’t want to be handled *at all*. He was the smallest, and the sickliest. He was so flea infested that the parasites had managed to burrow their heads under his skin like ticks (at the time of his first vet visit he weighed 3.2 lbs and, when he was dewormed, he pooped solid worms for days on end).

I imagined him being sold to some kid at the flea market the next day, living in a backyard tied up, and then getting dumped when he was deemed to be a nuisance. And the kid probably wouldn’t care since the dog didn’t want anything to do with him, either. I imagined a mother’s voice booming out the back door, “I told you, git rid of that damn dog!” Internally, it made me cringe.

“So, you want one?” They were trying to close the deal.

“Well,” I finally said, “if I was going to pick one it would be that one.” I pointed at Paco.

“That one? That one?” she asked incredulously, “Shit, you can have him.”

I thought that was pretty generous, considering she originally had asked for $250 per puppy, but then she thought it through more.

“Let’s do this, give me $40 because I at least need to cover the cost.” The pups had not gotten any shots or dewormer but they had been taken to the vet for a preliminary visit. I believe the broken leg puppy was dumped during that visit.

I agreed to her terms, telling myself I would just nurse the dog back to health and then find him a real home. But who was I kidding, it was love at first sight.


paco at 6 weeks

Paco at 6 weeks wearing a sombrero that once adorned a tequila bottle. If you notice his fur looks grey or blue because it was dead, and his forehead is suspiciously bald, a feature that almost earned him the name "Grandpa"... I'm kind of glad "Paco" won.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Letter to a friend

A few months ago my good friend/customer/possible soulmate, Shanda, envisioned the perfect collar for her dog, Lemonhead, and contacted us. This is the result (and that's the Lemon himself modeling it).

The Lemonhead

Coincidentally, Lemon and Paco had the same exact neck size, so I took the completed collar home that night, had Paco wear it, and then promptly made him an identical one the next day.


Shanda and I are a little in the same head space right now. She works in the animal industry, lives in Florida and, on this past Christmas Eve, had to make the difficult decision to put down her dog, Lemonhead (aka. Frodo). While it doesn't necessarily help you heal faster, somehow it's helpful to know you aren't the only one out there feeling the way you feel. Here is a letter I sent to Shanda today:

Actually, you are bonkers, but more so for carrying your own bags [the trend of bringing your own bags to the grocery store has not yet caught on in Florida] rather than grieving like you are. I was thinking about you all night last night and this morning. Like you said, not that it really helps, but it kind of does to know you're not the only one out there.

There has been so much change in a short amount of time that it almost seems like Paco's death was a lifetime ago. Frankly, I was not able to go into work until after we found out that we got the new studio. The old place was just too depressing. It was seriously bumming me out when Paco was alive, and the thought of going there after Paco died was just too much. The only way I could stomach it was knowing that we were able to jump ship soon.

Since every routine in my life hinged around Paco, it was vital to break that habit. If everything was still exactly the same as it had been before he died, I don't think I'd be handling things nearly as well.

It's kind of like quitting smoking (which I've done more than once). You have to change your entire lifestyle. In fact, in one of the only activities that remains relatively the same, driving, I lose it almost every day. That's actually where it hits me the hardest, but I've gotten really good at navigating traffic through blurry tears and have decided I don't give a shit if other people see me cry.

As dumb as it sounds, the first day I was blaming the collar. I figured it was cursed. I mean, first Lemon, then Paco... then I realized that was an insane theory, but sometimes you're just so angry you have to blame something. And then I blamed The Roach. In theory, if we hadn't gotten her then our landlord wouldn't have insisted we fix the fence, Paco would have still had his trick board, and never would have tried to go over the fence. But that line of thinking doesn't get you anywhere, either.

I know you feel directly responsible, but even if you hadn't been the one to make the decision or Lemon had died a natural death then you would probably still find either some way to blame yourself or blame some insane theory. That's just part of it. I can't even imagine carrying the weight of that burden, but at some point you'll have to forgive yourself (now you see why most people wait for their veterinarian/behaviorist to make the decision for them... too bad you're both rolled into one).

In the meantime, take a vacation, get a dog, or institute some sort of change. I'm going to be doing all 3, lol! Don't get me wrong, I love The Roach to death. It's hard to keep crying when she does something adorable or hilarious, but, from the get-go, she was never supposed to fill the role of "dog"... she was supposed to be the bridge between Paco and Pirate. Right now the house is feeling a little feline heavy, so we need to get a dog in here soon. I think I'll start the search later this month. Every day with out a pit bull in the house just feels kind of empty. I know I'm not quite ready yet, life is still a little too jumbled, but as soon as the new routine starts, I'm adding a dog to that ASAP.

Okay, need to get a move-on. I've gotten into the routine of staying in my PJs until about noon every day, not the most productive of habits.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Barely keeping it together

Last night I had my first dream about Paco.

I think I've been relatively lucky in that I've managed to avoid it so far, with the exception of the night he died and my dream about him and Xochitl (So-Chee) having the same forehead and, therefore, she was really his love-child. That night I woke up sad, but Paco had appeared as a ghost or presence, and it was obvious he wasn't coming with me when I woke up.

But last night I dreamed that I had arbitrarily set a euthanization date for Paco and it was the day before I was to put him down. As I looked over my porch railing onto my country estate (my dream house was totally pimp), I saw Paco running the acreage with my friends' dogs. His front leg was stiff and reminiscent of his actual dead body pose, but the rest of him worked just fine. I wondered aloud why I had chosen to put him down, and began rethinking my decision.

"I don't care if his front leg doesn't work," I told my friends, "I just want Paco. I'm not going to put him down anymore. I don't care if he's old, grey, and his body doesn't work. I just want Paco."

When I woke up I thought he was still alive. And then I got really sad.

handsome guy

This whole week has been an eye-opening experience for me. I realize that I'm not yet ready to go out in public and make small talk (as demonstrated by my colossal demonstration of water-works at the Burning Man party... well, I'm assuming from the age and general tendency of the guests to rub me the wrong way that it was a Burning Man party), I'm one step away from rage (pouring paint into the metal pan versus the disposable liner will invoke a fury worthy of the WWE ring), and if I cry a number of times less than the fingers on one hand, then I can call it a good day. Basically, I'm barely keeping it together.

In vocalizing my emotional state to Aaron earlier this week, I realize that I'm kind of constantly on the verge of breaking down. If things are going normal to good, then it's okay. I feel and act fine, though it's hard for me to get truly elated. But if something goes wrong, I feel stressed, or if the conversation turns toward a topic that reminds me of Paco, I kind of lose it. It's like I'm walking on a tightrope and the slightest breeze of negativity forces me to lose my balance and go spiraling down.

Perhaps the best thing that this week has offered is the chance to build the new store. It's given me something on which I can focus and meditate. At first it started out as a group project, but that stressed me out beyond belief. Once I realized I had to take sole ownership of the endeavor, it became the cathartic experience I needed it to be.

With silence and space on my side, I have been able to visualize, plan, and build. I taped a photocopy of Paco prominently on the fireplace for inspiration and it's been working. I was an apartment painter for years and later a mural painter, but have been burnt out on painting since the '90s. However, with this project I've regained my former zen and am taking joy in the process, rather than feeling a haste to get to the end. I pay painstaking attention to the details. With every brush stroke I feel like I'm building it for him, and that has been the therapy I so desperately need right now.

Today we purge and pack the old studio and tomorrow we move. Before/after pictures will be posted later... I'd hate to give away the surprise makeover before it's time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fence Destruction 101

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is the photo essay of Paco's fence tear down/rebuild wake. We began Friday afternoon. Linda, her husband Bill, and Donyale came over to tear down the fence and put in the posts.

The fence before:


This is the view looking out from the house. The other side is the really disturbing one, as you can clearly see Paco's pre-death struggle, but I will refrain from posting pictures of it. I've had over a week to get used to it, you haven't.

The tear down took about 5 minutes. Here I am getting aggro:


And this is what our yard looks like without a fence:

yard sans fence

We had to break up the cement so we could dig the post holes down far enough. Linda, who was initially scared of the sledge, learned to really like it:


We mixed cement in a wheelbarrow and set the posts:

setting the posts

Admiring the work:

admiring the work

Paco managed to leave his mark:

ode to the brown guy

The job ended up going way faster than we expected, but we had to halt work and let the cement dry overnight before we could go any farther. So we took "Soche the Roach" out to the bar.

The next day we got an early start. Volunteer labor began showing up. Even my parents made a guest appearance:

los parentals

We measured twice and cut once...


... put the planks in place...


... and trimmed off the excess...

cutting the planks

... bam!


Everyone had a job. This was the puppy brigade (see if you can spot a sleeping Xolo):

puppy brigade

The fence was topped off with a 2"x6" and a 1" trim. Everyone grabbed a paintbrush, battled the insane fumes, and the fence was sealed and complete in no time. The results:

new view

You can see the puddles of sealant:

freshly sealed

By the light of day:


Already the change is profound. Just to not have to look at that fence makes a huge difference. And it was quite touching to see everyone who came out to help celebrate Paco's life.

His ashes arrived Thursday, so he was able to attend as well. His kitchen table shrine kept getting bigger and bigger as people added to the cards and gifts that have been arriving all week. More than a few tears were shed, but overall the mood was positive, which is how Paco would have wanted it. In fact, I think he would have rated it a "two-bowl" party.

And it's a good thing so many folks showed up to help as our in-house Mexican labor was not up for the task.

lazy mexican labor