Year of the Dawg (#212)

It’s Chinese New Year, and it’s also my third blogoversary! I bet y’all think I’m gonna do an uplifting or informational post about the Year of the Dog today, right?

Nope. Today I’m gonna talk about just how much a new mattress can improve your life.

******

When my Chinese-American husband and I didn’t get pregnant on the first try, I consulted my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister. She told me not to worry and gave me her foolproof method for getting pregnant.

When I got off the phone, Andy said, “Well? Well?!”

“It’s kind of a lot of work,” I warned him. I took a deep breath and said, “We’re supposed to have sex every other day.”

“What?” Andy breathed. “Sex every other day?”

“That’s what Dr. Sis says,” I told him. “Every other day for 10 days after I finish my period.”

“Making a baby is awesome!” Andy shouted. After he calmed down, though, he groaned and said, “Time to get that new mattress.”

We’d been putting off the new mattress because we knew we needed an expensive one. The need for an expensive mattress was Andy’s fault. While the man was a perfect husband in many ways – good person, good job, good sense of humor, good cook, good around the house – his physical form was riddled with design flaws. He had retinas that were prone to tearing. Same with his meniscus – in both knees. He had infection-induced asthma. A cyst in his heel. His hearing isn’t that great either, although I suspect that might be by choice, especially when he ostensibly slept through my screaming, “Get up! The dog is puking!” at 2 AM.

Worst of all, Andy had recently learned he had compressed discs in his back. Physical therapy could only do so much. The doctor told him to get a really, really good mattress. Do you know how much a top-of-the-line mattress costs? It costs at least two mortgage payments. My Chinese-American husband is very frugal, especially about luxuries he can’t truly enjoy because he’s unconscious. He balked, opting to sigh and groan and moan about his aching back.

As soon as Andy learned there would be loads of conscious fun time on a mattress, he picked out the most expensive one. He called daily to see when it would be delivered. The day it arrived, Andy came home early and we got busy…

Only to be interrupted by the doorbell. The dogs went nuts.

We dove under the covers.

“They’ll go away,” Andy said. “Let’s pretend we’re not home.”

The doorbell stopped – and pounding on the door began. “Autumn? Autumn! Did you get something delivered? I saw a truck!”

It was our neighbor, Gin. Gin was one of the original owners in our neighborhood. She was a widow who’d raised five kids on the block, now lived alone, and was pushing ninety. Gin charged across the street when she saw me gardening, thrilled to have a new neighbor that hadn’t lived or heard all her stories:

“You know that gurneys and wheelchairs won’t fit into these little houses, right? When my husband died, I told the paramedics to stay outside, then I wrapped him up in a sheet and they carried him out that way.”

“I was one of the first people to visit China after Nixon! And I have a cheongsam from Hong Kong, too – did you know they have a polo club there?”

Gin was a bit of a hoarder, but she was also a giver. She’d pop over with a Halloween house flag “to match your black cats” or gorgeous glass Christmas ornaments “because I saw your tree in the window and it looked so pretty!”

Gin’s paperweights.

Once she learned I had a paperweight collection, she gave me two more.

She had advice on the summer fungus that attacked my roses.

Andy helped her when she struggled with her trashcans, even though he complained that she’d trap him with her stories for hours. He decided to share the joy, and sent the guys who investigated him annually (for his top secret security clearance) over to interview Gin.

One of them came to our house afterwards and said, “Ha, ha, do you have any real neighbors that I can interview in under two hours?”

Since I worked from home and often brought her baked goods, Gin got in the habit of popping by whenever she felt like it. I’d been raised to be a good hostess NO MATTER WHAT, which meant I probably made Gin feel a little too welcome, too regularly. It never occurred to her that I might be working on a book – or a baby.

Gin kept hollering. “Autumn! Are you in the backyard?! Hello!”

Andy whispered, “How long before she goes away?”

I giggled. “She’s not going away.”

“What? Never?!”

“Nope. She can see our car, she can hear the dogs, she knows we’re home.”

“We’re doomed,” Andy moaned.

“Autumn! Autumn!” called Gin. “Where are you?”

Andy sighed. “I guess you’d better go answer the door.”

“Or…YOU could answer it! And solve a little problem for me,” I said, a brilliant realization dawning.

Andy answered the door in his bathrobe. As Gin’s jaw dropped, Andy explained that yes, a truck had come — with a brand new mattress. “Autumn is a little busy right now. But I’m sure she’ll see you soon and tell you how well the new mattress works.”

Gin went home without saying a word.

The next day, I brought her some cookies and started to apologize.

She cut me off. “Oh, no, Autumn, no, I am so sorry! I had no idea. It’s been a long time, and I think I’d forgotten what it was like to be a young married couple. But then I saw your husband in his robe and my!” Gin trailed off, fanning herself. She gave me a grin and said, “What is it you young people say? Andy is quite the sly dawg, isn’t he?”

I agreed. Later, I saw Gin chatting with a few other neighbors. Word got around. Andy and I got a few snickers questions about our new “mattress.”

In the Chinese Zodiac, Andy was born in the Year of the Dog, which starts today with the new moon. Andy even embodies the very best attributes of the Dog; he’s honest, faithful, smart, and has a strong sense of responsibility.

But in my neighborhood? Andy is the Dawg.

Football vs. Furry Friend (#211)

I grew up in Washington, D.C., on football, in a football town. The Vice-Principal of my Junior High was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Every time Dallas played D.C., he’d get on the PA system before the game and taunt the student body, telling us how Dallas would win the next game. We’d respond by singing (yelling), “Fight on, fight on, till you have won/ Sons of Washington” at him in the hallways.

My high school football team lost to the juggernaut that was T.C. Williams (of Remember the Titans) every year, but we sent several players to the NFL. I went to a huge football school in college, and continued rooting for them as an alum. In the Rose Bowl, I cheered my college team on in person  (a very poor person, those tickets weren’t cheap) as they won the National Championship. At the Fiesta Bowl another year, they lost and sent me and my friend JM into a depression (and near bankruptcy because tickets AND hotel).

Even though I loved the game, with its addictive turnovers and sudden swings of momentum, it’s always been clear there is something rotten in football. From day one, the players payed a heavy physical price, while the NFL was considered a “nonprofit” for decades. And while the fans’ loyalty to their team was boundless, the reverse was never true. Teams demanded new, tax-payer funded stadiums. They switched cities like extortionate toddlers if the locals couldn’t – or wouldn’t – meet their demands.

When the grim medical findings about repeated concussions surfaced, the NFL did its best to sink the reports. Former players still haven’t been fully compensated for mental and physical disabilities suffered while making billions for team owners. Many players with CTE have committed suicide.

The NFL still turns a blind eye when their star players assault women.

And don’t even get me started on how the NCAA exploits its college football players, sending them onto the field of inevitable injury while pocketing billions. Like the enslaved Roman gladiators, the NCAA football players aren’t paid and can’t hold a job, but work up to 60 hours a week – which brings to mind very ugly slavery analogies, given that many of the players are Black Americans.

These were just some of the many, many reasons to give up football.

But I didn’t. I watched the games, bought the jerseys, and even wore the pajamas of my favorite teams.

You know what made me give up football?

My dog.

*****

Beowoof – Woofie for short — was a rescue dog. Born in a Los Angeles Animal Shelter, he was adopted, abused, and returned. Someone had hit – or kicked – one of Woofie’s back legs when he was a juvenile.

The joint was slowly degenerating when we adopted him at six months of age, though Woofie didn’t often limp. We saw several specialists, and debated everything from amputation to pins that would hold his degenerating hock into a static, but stable, position.

In the end, we opted for pain meds and ice, holding surgical options in reserve. Woofie was a big dog, needing as many legs as possible to hold his weight. He also loved to stretch out his back legs.

And how would he stealthily sneak up onto the forbidden couch at 2 AM with just one back limb?

You’d never know our goofy, super social dog had been traumatized and injured. That dog sprinted out any open door in search of playmates. He lived for the dog park, and never seemed to mind how easily other dogs knocked him over. He always won tug-o-war against our other rescue dog, Fey. He tried to play with every dog, cat, or human he ever met.

The only thing Woofie hated was football.

He didn’t start out hating it. He happily hopped up on the futon next to me while I was glued to the TV at the end of college football season. He gobbled up loose chip bits and napped.

Until my team fumbled – two yards from endzone.

“No!” I howled. “Goddamn it, what the fuck is wrong with you?! No, no, no!” I pounded my fist into the back of the futon, right over Woofie’s head. Then I jumped off the futon, snarling and stomping in front of the TV for at least 10 minutes before realizing my dog was gone. During a commercial break, I looked for him in the kitchen, certain he’d gone counter surfing.

He wasn’t in the kitchen. Or the bedroom. Or the bathroom. Or the living room, dining room, or bedroom.

I found Woofie huddled next to the dryer. Shaking.

My happy-go-lucky, irrepressible hound was shivering in fear.

I felt awful. Had my couch-bashing had brought up bad memories? Had I given my dog a PTSD episode? Or did he just think he’d done something wrong, or that I might hit him instead of the couch?

I didn’t know exactly what had terrified him, but I had to make it stop.

I tried to coax him out with food. He didn’t move. I tried love and belly rubs. Nothing. Tennis balls and toys. Still nothing.

I turned off the TV.

Woofie stopped shaking. He gobbled up treats. We played ball. We had belly rubs. I told him I was sorry, and that he was a good boy, over and over. He seemed fine.

The next day, I settled in to watch the NFL games while my husband made snacks. Two minutes later, Andy appeared and said, “Why is Woofie shaking next to the dryer?”

I turned off the TV. Woofie returned to normal and left the laundry room. But from that day on, every time he heard the sound of a football crowd and referee whistles, our dog went to the laundry room and shivered. Regular TV shows didn’t bother him. Volleyball didn’t bother him. The Olympics didn’t bother him. Only football sent him running.

Over the next few months, a combination of food, an extra calm human, and the mute button helped Woofie conquer his fear of football games .

I, on the other hand, never got over my dog-traumatizing trauma. I was ashamed that I’d lost my temper so badly that I’d mortally terrified my formerly unflappable dog.

I was ashamed that I’d let football have so much power that it could infuriate me to the point where my afternoons — my dog’s afternoons — would be ruined.

I began to see how much of my life had revolved around football. Not only did it wreck my mood and my bank account, but I’d started scheduling the gym, dinners with friends, and vacations around the games.

How was life taking a backseat to a game? And a morally bankrupt game, at that?

“Oh my God,” I moaned to Andy. “I’m in danger of becoming JM’s father.”

“The guy who wouldn’t come to our wedding because it was during football season and he had to be at the game?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think you’re that bad,” said Andy. “I was thinking you’re more like Dave the Auburn fan.”

“The one who threw his TV out the window when Auburn lost?” I asked incredulously. “That’s worse!”

So I gave up football.

It felt odd at first. I missed the excitement of watching the games and reading up on the latest news. People would comment on my old team sweatshirts and launch into “Did you see that catch?” commentary, expecting a whole conversation about “our” team.

But then it felt like freedom. My weekends opened up. I spent more time in the garden or at the dog park. I didn’t have to stress over my teams’ losses or rushing home to watch my teams.

Best of all, I no longer had to tie myself into knots, justifying my addiction to a game that the actual players will never win. I didn’t have to explain how I could support an industry that supports racism, misogyny, greed, and cruelty.

It kinda felt like giving up the Republican Party.

And you know what else happened?

My fur baby was fearless once more.

In sad news, at a recent high school reunion, my older sister learned that two of her former, football-playing classmates have CTE.

One of them isn’t expected to live much longer.