Friday, July 28, 2006

Inherit the Wind

I learned to boil water somewhere between my first steps and the multiplication tables. The reason being, I grew up in Tampa, which naturally makes me an authority on hurricanes and proper emergency protocol. Florida is, of course, a peninsula and according to my third grade teacher who liked visual aids, a hand, if you will. Thus, Tampa becomes the thumb and my little neighborhood of Ballast Point was, for lack of a better anatomical example and no reflection on its good citizenry, the wart on the thumb.

In essence, I lived on a peninsula on a peninsula on a peninsula. Water, water everywhere. And during hurricane times, “not a drop to drink”, unless you liked your water on the robust side, infected with E-coli, churning with camo-clad, Uzi-toting microorganisms, gearing up for a junta regime. As a toddler, I never had to be scolded for drinking my own bath water. Florida children seem to have an innate sense of what is and what is not potable.

During my childhood and young adult years, I rode out more than my share of full-blown hurricanes not to mention a goodly number of tropical depressions, though my community was always the vanguard of the evacuation route. With so much water on three sides, whichever way the storm came in, we were the first to be flooded out. As soon as the power died on our old black and white Philco, we tuned into WFLA on my pink, plastic transistor radio for the latest reports. “The Ballast Point area is strongly advised to evacuate and seek higher ground.” That was us.

Yet we merely boarded up our windows with plywood and enough duct tape to encircle the globe, then watched our neighbors as they packed up their panel wagons and headed for motels in the center of the state or to the National Guard armory for a couple nights of relative safety on rickety army cots.

My family never budged. Why such a foolhardy lot, you ask? In a word, Doozy. A frizzle-haired mixed breed of a dog with a predilection for the thigh portion of anyone in a uniform. She, like all other pets, was not allowed in the emergency shelters. And on my father’s meager G.I. salary, we couldn’t have afforded a motel in the eye of the storm let alone safe in the middle of the state. Doozy was an outstanding swimmer, even so, turning her out to fend for herself in a hurricane was simply unacceptable to one very hysterical ten-year-old girl, me.

This was one of those epiphany moments in my life. When I realized I had within my tears the power to get my father to do anything I wanted. Even ride out a level 4 hurricane for the sake of a mongrel dog.

Fortunately, for the civilized universe, I rarely used this power for evil. Unless you consider causing my entire family and our reclusive neighbor, plus her yappy little dog to be blown to smithereens by 120mph winds and washed away in snake-infested waters, and end up floating somewhere along the coast of Belize a bad thing.

Fast forward about ten years. In 1972, during Hurricane Agnes, I was vacationing with my parents on Madeira Beach, a tiny strip of land attached to Florida by bridges on either end. After surviving the many previous hurricanes, safe in our own home even when strongly encouraged to evacuate, we felt a certain smug sense of immortality, something akin to the Clinton administration just prior to the Monica debacle. We refused to have our holiday interrupted. After all, once the baby was born, who knew how long it would be before I would get another vacation? Oh, did I forget to mention I was nine months pregnant at the time?

Our rented cottage, in good weather, was a quick one hundred yards from the briny gulf. When the first advisories hit the airwaves, the water had run the ball up to the fifty-yard line and the emergency broadcast people (you know, the ones with the loud, annoying test that always comes on during the last 30 seconds of a good movie) were telling everyone on Madeira Beach to make their way to one of the bridges, ASAP.

My mother, who hated doctors anyway, began to prepare for a home delivery, just in case. She started talking about what an adventure this would be to tell my children someday. My father began scouring the island for a two-story building.

The EBS folks came on with an update.
“Anyone still on Madeira (that would be us), seek higher ground. The bridges are out, we repeat, the bridges are out.”
I could hear in his voice that he wanted to add, “and may God have mercy upon your idiot souls.” Mother cheerfully began to tear the bed sheets into strips.

The shoreline was now about to meet up with the goal line. Our cottage, built like most beach houses, stood high on wooden pilings. Still we watched as the waves rose to the level of the windowsills. Debris of every kind crashed around under the cottage. I was practicing my hoo-hoo, hee-hee breathing and trying to envision this technique somehow working together with treading water.

In the meantime my mother was boiling water, when my father came in looking like a cross between the Gorton fisherman and Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments scene where he parts the Red Sea. “ I’ve got good news—I found a doctor. The local veterinarian has agreed to stay on the island!”

However, as if to carry on the family tradition of stubbornness, my unborn daughter didn’t budge either, but remained in her cozy, prenatal world for another three weeks. The waves subsided just as the waters began to spill over our window ledges, and the tide receded leaving the shell-littered shoreline a beach combers paradise.

Once again, my family had dodged the bullet—gone against the better judgement of those who know best and lived to tell the tale. Mom and I packed our vacation gear and readied to go home. Dad thanked the vet profusely and promised to bring our aged Doozy in for rabies shots.

All that was left to do, now, was explain to the cottage owner why every set of sheets was in shreds.

© G.Slater 2006

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Rello, Reorge!"

If you don’t own a dog, you may not be aware that when someone from the country buys a vehicle, especially a truck, dogs are part of the accessory package? Like undercoating. It’s true.

Salesman: “Would you like us to install a black lab or a golden retriever?
Truck Customer: “I think I’d rather have the shepherd mix, and what the heck, throw in a bed liner.”

I lived in the city for five years and can’t remember dogs as passengers in too many trucks, or cars either, for that matter. Well, occasionally, you’d see a little old man driving with the Chihuahua on his lap or the elderly lady with some froofy white animal curled up on the back window ledge of her Monte Carlo--could have been a dog, but then again, it may have been a pillow.

I don’t remember seeing many city dogs riding shotgun, looking for all the world like they knew exactly where they were going. No, this is a country thing. And we should claim it proudly.

You will see this rural phenomenon played out best at the county’s landfills and recycling centers. Don’t ask me why. I’ve never taken a wet-nose count but I’ve noticed, as I’m heaving my Hefty Bags into the dumpster or parceling out my plastics and my cardboards, that a large percentage of vehicles coming through the gate each Saturday has a canine companion along for the ride. The friendly volunteer that punches my “dump card” as I arrive even has a stash of doggie treats on hand for each Fido occupying the shotgun seat. That’s got to tell you something.

I have no doubt these dogs were at the front door, waiting to go, the moment the trash bags were brought out to the truck, similar to when a dog is shown his leash--let the joyous wagging and leaping commence. They just seem to know.

And did you ever notice, when the driver gets out of the vehicle, the dog will move over behind the wheel as though he’s ready, in case there’s an emergency, to move the car for his owner?

Sheriff’s deputy: “You’ll have to move this truck. This is a no parking zone.”
Rex: “Ressir, right array, Reputy.”

In the life of a country dog, the “ride-along” is a rite of passage, not a given. It’s something that has to be earned. Proper passenger-seat behavior calls for sitting up straight, no upholstery chewing, no flea scratching, no hanging of the head out the window no matter how intoxicating the air might smell, no matter how much road kill you might drive past, and under no circumstances will there be any slobbering on the gear shifter.

After proving himself, the experienced, well behaved, ride-along-dog might even earn the coveted red bandana, his very own Frisbee, and the privilege of accompanying his owner to the dump each Saturday morning. Besides a reprieve from the neutering clinic, what more could a dog ask for?

City dwellers own about as many dogs as those of us here in the country. I’m sure they are just as fond of their pets as we are. So why don’t they take them to the bank, to the pharmacy, to the post office? We do. How do we account for the high number of rural folk bringing Ol’ Shep along for the ride?

Maybe I just haven’t lived the rural life long enough yet to answer this puzzling question. Perhaps I should consult The Dog Whisperer. Or, then again, maybe it’s just a country thing.

©g.Slater 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Vinylhydrophobia? No Problem.

This is the year I finally do something for humanity. Sorry, pulling the plug on my column is not an option. I’m not quite ready to give up the fast-paced, high-powered, three-figure-income world of journalism just yet, so you can put that thought out of your head right now. No, what I have in mind is long overdue and even more philanthropic than the act of me packing up my Hewlett-Packard and its Cheetos-encrusted keyboard.

Oh, I had my chance once, back in the seventies, to do some real good but someone beat me to it when they invented the flip-top toothpaste cap, patented it, and got it on the market before me. No, really. And, the other day my husband called me into the gadget aisle of the grocery store to take a look at something I had thought of years ago. A little scrub brush attachment for the spray hose on your sink. But did I patent it back then? Did I get it on the market? Did I ease the suffering of housewives all those years ago when the thought first occurred to me as I scraped week-old tuna casserole off dinner plates with the heel of my shoe? No, I didn’t. Oh, for shame.

Now, thanks to another of my brilliant ideas, I have a chance to redeem myself. Let me give you a little background.

vinylhydrophobia -n. the fear of being in the shower and having the force of the water create a suction action thereby causing the shower curtain to draw inward toward the unsuspecting bathing subject resulting in the slimiest portion of the curtain affixing itself to said bathing subject’s ankles and calves further resulting in a wild case of naked heebie-jeebies.

Yes, I’m not too proud to admit it. I’m a vinylhydrophobic. After all, talking about it is the first step to getting healthy.

I suffered for years with this debilitating fear until I summoned enough courage to do something about it. Now, not only have I invented a product that will bring relief to millions of tortured bathers around the world, but I have also discovered a new phobia, named it, and begun a foundation: the National Vinylhydrophobia Association which promotes awareness, research, wristbands (in an appropriate bath-water gray), and pot-luck suppers.

My prototype is a simple apparatus, but sure to take the heebie-jeebies out of the phobic’s next shower. I call it the “Slime-B-Gone, Bather’s Little Helper, Curtain Control Device”. (Yeah, maybe I need to tweak the name just a bit.) A plastic expandable, belt fits around the waist. A handy plastic “arm” attaches to the belt and folds out to hold the shower curtain away from the bather, thus leaving the bather with both hands free for washing instead of pushing the slimy curtain off of the legs. An added “swivel” feature allows the “arm” to move around the belt, thus the bather may turn from front to back while still holding curtain away from body. I’ve thought this through, folks.

However, the only problem now is getting into the patent office before that naked guy in the parking lot, the one wearing a shower cap and having the really bad case of the heebie-jeebies.

©g.Slater 2006