Bruno, or Feeding the Mouth that Bites You…

bruno21.jpgMany of you know by now that a few weeks ago, we welcomed a new, four-legged member to our family—an eight-and-a-half-week-old Airedale Terrier pup.

This is monumental in some ways. First and foremost, Jodi is not big on pets. Early in our marriage, not only did she deal with multiple dogs and pregnancies, sometimes simultaneously, but she also dealt with a boneheaded, dog-loving husband who was away from home a lot and failed to see why leaving her home with child and with a puppy was a big deal.

Second, I am a dog lover and do not remember a time when we didn’t have at least one dog, and usually two or more. Our most recent canine companion, a mini Schnauzer named Puck, passed away almost three years ago. The kids and I have been pining, but very carefully not pressing, for a dog ever since. Continue reading

Dog-Tired, or the Good, the Bad…and a Puppy

I’m dog-tired.

My dad used to say, whenever I would complain of not sleeping well, “When you get tired enough, you’ll sleep.” Over the past year or so, I had taken that to heart: if I found myself tossing and turning in the wee hours, I would get up, brew a cup of coffee, and write, figuring I’d sleep better the next night.

Generally it worked—but these days I know what Dad really meant.

The good news is that I’m working full-time and making just enough to keep us afloat another month. The bad news is that I’m working two part-time jobs, and one of them starts at 3 a.m., which means the alarm sounds at 2 a.m. and to function, I need to go to bed around 8 whenever possible. (Like tonight.)

The good? My early-morning job involves four hours of steady exercise, loading packages as quickly as I can. I’ve lost 10 to 15 pounds, and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in probably 20 years. I’m no longer sore at the end of the day. I rise, stretch, down a cup of coffee and a protein bar, then drain a water bottle and say my morning prayers on the way to the warehouse.

The bad? I joke with Jodi that I get paid to go to the gym each morning—but who in his right mind goes to the gym at 3 a.m., for four hours? I come home tired, filthy, and soaked with sweat, usually after everyone has left for work and school; I see my wife and kids for a little while after school and work, but usually turn in not long after supper.

Most afternoons and evenings I’m too tired to write much. I nod off at the keyboard. Continue reading

Road Trip Review, Part 1: What Were We Doing?

On Sunday, May 1, just as soon as I got home from First Communion Mass and changed my clothes, Emma, Trevor, and I left for a week-long road trip. So many of you were curious about where we were going and what we were doing that it became a source of amusement to keep you guessing.

Now that we’re back, it appears some of our friends still insist there must be some method to our madness. Surely we didn’t drive 60-plus hours in seven days for kicks?

I assure you: there was very little method. Only madness. Or maybe dadness.

It all started in September 2008, when I took Bren (then 10) and Gabe (then 8) on  a road trip to the East Coast for a Yankees game, a Yale football game, and various other amusements. We had a great time, and when we returned (and ever since), Emma and Trevor have reminded me I owed them a trip. We’ve talked about various destinations over the years, but when we got serious about a year or two ago, they agreed: they wanted to go to Florida.

“Florida,” I said. “Really? Florida?”

“Yes,” they insisted. “Everyone goes to Florida. We never have.”

Exactly, I thought. Everyone goes; we never do. What I said out loud was, “Well, if that’s your choice…but we’re not going to Disney or that kind of thing. If we’re going, we’re doing something I’ve never done.”

“Like what?” they asked.

“Like go to the Everglades. Or the Keys. Or go fishing.”

They looked at each other and grinned. “Okay!” they said.

“Alright,” I said, “I’ll start figuring it out.”

Their grins grew even bigger. “We’re going to Florida!”

They’ve been excited since.

I’ve been to Florida twice: once as a three-year-old (I have vague memories of visiting family and Disney World — Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and Mickey’s big plastic cheek made lasting impressions) and again with the high-school marching band (I mostly recall the bus ride down and back, a big waterpark in Orlando with a crazy steep slide called Der Stuka, a.k.a. the Wedgiemaker, and not knowing the marching music because as a football player I rarely marched). My recollection of the state itself was pretty green ranch country punctuated by neon t-shirt shops, tourist-trap towns, and RV parks. I wasn’t excited to return, until I started planning the trip.

Our purpose — our primary goal — was to drive to end of the road and eat good food along the way. That was it. Beyond that, I wanted to see gators in the Everglades; they hoped to see whales or dolphins and new country. Some months after we decided to go south, we connected with an Airedale breeder in Alabama, and thought, God willing, we might come home with a pup.

We knew before we left he wouldn’t have puppies for us yet, but we decided to stop through anyway to meet Randy and Pat and their dogs, which also enabled us to rendezvous at an old favorite spot for ribs in downtown Memphis (a place I used to love in a previous life, working for Hanley Wood Marketing and visiting our clients at FedEx).

Aside from no-see-ums the first night in the Keys and sunburn the next day, it was a great trip. I’ll share much more in words and photos in the coming days.

Farewell to Puck

Our new pup, circa 2002

We lost Puck today. At 13 years old, he was certainly not a young for a dog, but definitely not old for a Schnauzer. He had begun, in recent years, to sleep longer and run less, and earlier this fall, he had some teeth removed. At that time, the vet said his blood work was clean and extolled how healthy he seemed for his age, but warned that at this stage in a dog’s life, anything can happen.

And it did. Over a matter of weeks, Puck went from old to frail. He never complained, but slept more, ate less, and stayed closer to the house and us. He was slower on the stairs and slower to respond to our calls and whistles. Then a few days ago, he lost his balance and struggled to stand. Our other dog, Boomer, had done this several times in his old age — he would usually sleep for the better part of a couple of days, then be up and around again. Only Puck didn’t recover.

He was 13, and our kids are age 16 to 2, so he’s been a part of the family for as long as they can remember. We miss him.

Puck, all Christmased out.

We got Puck from a Schnauzer breeder on an old farmstead in rural Michigan. I wanted another dog — a smaller, indoor pet, since Boomer was big, woolly, and hated being inside. Jodi is not a dog person, but gave in to my persistence and the boys’ pestering. (Or was it vice versa?) He was an adorable pup (my Dziadzi — Polish for grandpa — was not overfond of our Airdales, but looked at our Schnauzer and said, “Now that’s a dog!”), and full of curiosity and mischief. I was struggling to come up with a name that reflected both his Germanic roots and his personality, and my choices were getting more and more outlandish. At one point, the name Wolfgang came to mind. I had Mozart on the brain, but was freely associating, and thought of the chef, Wolfgang Puck, then of the Shakespeare character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I looked at our impish pup, and the name fit. (Of course, only later did I discover how a grown man shouting, “Puck!” out the back door sounded to the neighbors, or how many Minnesotans would instantly assume I was a hockey fan.)

Steamy summer roadtrip…

He’s always been an easy keeper and a good traveler. In fact, the only trouble he’s ever been came from a tendency in his younger days to know exactly when we were preoccupied by something else and high-tail it around the neighborhood. During the day, he would turn up in someone’s garage, or walk in through their front door with their kids, and they’d look at his collar and call. At night, he’d run yard to yard, and I’d drive with my head out the window, listening for jingling dog-tags or a neighbor dog in an uproar, trying to catch up to him.

After Boomer passed, Puck no longer wanted us to travel anyplace without him. If he sensed even a hint that we were preparing for something longer than a day trip, he would look for an opening, jump into the van, climb as far back in as he could, and refuse to come out unless I removed him. He would lay in whatever open space he could find in our overstuffed minivan, never bothered the kids when they were eating, and was content to sleep in the vehicle, in garages, in tents, wherever, as long as he could come with us. On cold winter nights, he would curl up under my old Carhartt jacket, head and all, and be there in the morning, ready to greet the frosty dawn.

He loved dog biscuits and pop corn and being scratched above the collar bone, beneath the collar. He used to love chasing tennis balls, but only in the house. He never liked to be picked up or manhandled — I could do what I wanted (he would even roughhouse a bit with me), but he only tolerated Jodi or Brendan lifting him, and nobody else. In recent years, he tended to get out of traffic when little kids were around. He tolerated other known dogs, but strays drove him berserk. Cats made him quiver with nervous energy; he was never quite sure whether he was supposed to chase them or not, and they seemed to relish his uncertainty and rub it in his face.

The old man, a couple weeks ago.

When we told the kids last night that it might be his last, we recalled three other special memories. Jodi remembered how our little ones, especially Lily, bonded with Puck by dropping food from their highchairs, and when they realized he was eating it, making a game of it. I remember him shifting from front foot to front foot and softly ruffing at us when he thought we were paying too much attention to baby Lily and not enough to him.

I also remember how perceptive he could be. He had a habit of sidling up to whomever he thought was most likely to pet or snuggle him — he would sit on your toes, even, or thrust his soft gray head up under your hand. But when we lost little Jude, I remember him insisting that I pet him as I lay on the couch or the bed, quiet and sorrowful. He nudged, prodded, cajoled, as if to say, C’mon…better days are ahead!

And he was right.

Goodbye, old man. Good dog.