I'm sorry, Ella, but you have to accept it. If you drag me a mile and a half to the park through a slushy wasteland on the front end of our walk, then there's no getting around a mile and a half home on the back end after you've worn yourself out. Stopping along the way and staring at random parked cars will not cause them to magically unlock themselves and chauffeur you home. I hate to be the one to tell you, but that's not how property works in our capitalist society. (Though it would be cool if it was.)

Also, the mail carrier is really trying hard to be your friend. Can you spot him a few points for that?

Ella gets flagged for detainment


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2014 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from 2013—well, okay, all our favorites—and it's far less pricey than in previous years! For a limited time you can get it from Lulu.com for the discounted price of only $11.99.

Click below and buy now, and you can keep acting Ella-Phantile all year long.

Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar

Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar

But that's not all! If you just can't get enough of Ella, we've created an alternative calendar for 2014—actually, it's our 2014 Ella-Ternative 13-Month Calendar! Same great low price! Thirteen different super-cute photos!

2014 Ella-Ternative 13-Month Calendar

Ella says, "Get 'em both!"


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
She strains at the leash,
Trying to turn the corner.
"Not that way," I say.

But Ella insists,
So I give in and follow.
Not that big a deal.

This short, narrow lane,
It's a valid path back home,
Not such a detour.

Along the sidewalk
We rush, my arm stretched out straight,
Not pausing to sniff.

She stops at the porch,
Looks at the door, looks at me,
Not old now but young.

We were gone six years,
Back now in the neighborhood
Not even six weeks.

I wish we could knock,
But our friends are not at home,
Not now, not for years.

They fled this city
Even sooner than we did,
Not fond of Gotham

But fond of our dog,
Who wags on their former stoop,
Not fenced in by time.

Their former stoop


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I've been playing around quite a bit with the new Vine app, which lets you post six-second looping videos to your Twitter stream or other social media service. You can create animations or employ other goofy effects, but everything must be shot in order. No after-the-fact editing is possible.

Something else that doesn't seem to be possible, as many disgruntled users are discovering, is reuploading a Vine that fails to upload in the first place. If your upload fails, it looks like you're shit out of luck. I found this out on Saturday morning when a Vine I'd been planning in my head for days failed to upload. If I could have taken the Vine app out of my iPhone and smashed the code on the sidewalk, that's just what I would have done.

Rather than trying to reshoot my video, though, I found a workaround. Vine does save your little square video to your phone, and from there it can of course be uploaded to other video-sharing services. YouTube doesn't seem to allow embedded videos to loop, but Vimeo does, so that's where my lost Vine now lives:



Take that, Vine.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I'm not sure how we missed this last Friday, but our little Ella dog had not one but two of her videos featured on Cute Overload! They're the first two videos shared in the following link:

Cute Overload: We've Found Nemo—He's Headed to Boston and NYC


Between her calendars, her videos, and her two appearances in Chuck Sambuchino's Red Dog/Blue Dog, she's probably better-known now than either of her two humans.




Here, Ella reacts to the Cute Overload news:




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2013 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from 2012—well, okay, all our favorites—and for the moment we're offering it from Lulu.com for the discounted price of only $19.99.

But wait! If you order today, you can take another $3.00 off that price by using the discount code 18DEC at checkout. That makes it only $16.99 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!

Click below and buy now, and you can keep watching Ella-Vision all year long.

Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar

Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
There are moments when you just can't get your camera up in time.

Tuesday morning Ella and I went to one of her favorite haunts, Warren Park, for an extended walk. Tennis ball in mouth, Ella bounded up the south side of the park's huge sledding hill in pursuit of a couple of squirrels. I followed along at the bottom of the hill, trailling a little behind her, expecting that at some point she would drop the tennis ball and keep going. As it turned out, she did, and the ball rolled almost exactly to my feet. I didn't even have to break stride to scoop it up.

As I was stashing the ball in my shoulder bag, Ella turned west and headed down the hill, having spied another squirrel in the middle of the grass. The squirrel ran west and vanished around the corner of the high chain-link fence that encloses the park's ice rink. Ella followed closely behind.

I could tell from the rattling sounds I heard that the squirrel had climbed to the top of the fence. Ella loves chasing squirrels along fences, and when I saw the squirrel come scurrying back around the corner on top of the fence, I started fumbling my iPhone out of my pocket. A good squirrel-chasing picture was sure to follow.

I was standing probably thirty feet from the fence, and suddenly I noticed something the squirrel didn't. Forget the dog that still hadn't followed it back around the corner. Perched atop the fence, facing me, was a red-tailed hawk. The squirrel was running straight toward it.

Six feet from the hawk, the squirrel skidded to a stop. It stared at the hawk. The hawk turned its head and stared at the squirrel.

The hawk and the squirrel stood there frozen for a good five seconds. Then at the same instant, as I tried to get my camera app going without taking my eyes off the scene, the squirrel turned tail and ran back the way it had come, and the hawk flapped away in the opposite direction and landed in a tree.

Ella came panting around the corner of the fence, having missed all the drama.

I did capture the terrible video below of the hawk in the tree a few seconds later, but boy would that picture of it and the squirrel have been cool.




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
How can you live with a dog,
with its lifespan of ten to fifteen years,
and not realize how quickly the clock
is ticking?


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I think I've finally figured out how Ella can be all the way at the front end of our apartment and detect the presence of a squirrel in the back yard. Birds are the key. When a rodent invades their garden space, the sparrows set up a particular squawking racket that Ella has learned to associate with the presence of a squirrel. She hears that sound and charges toward the back door yipping and yelping like her tail's on fire.

Late one morning last week, alerted by one of these yelping fits, I rushed to the kitchen to open the back door for Ella. As usual, she tried to squeeze through the opening before it was wide enough for her. Then she clattered down the stairs from our second-story deck, and I could hear her charging around the yard like a wounded rhino. She started barking from near the gate at the side of the house, so I leaned over the railing to make sure the gate was shut.

What I saw when I looked down was a squirrel climbing past the security lights installed on the corner of our brick building. (I wished I had a camera but my iPhone was in the apartment, charging. The photo below is one I took a few minutes later.) Ella was on her hind legs, barking up at the squirrel. The moment the crafty little rodent saw me peering down at it, it changed direction and darted along the railing of the deck below ours.

I hurried toward the stairs, my only intent being to flush the squirrel in Ella's direction. (I'm a good wingman for her in that regard, as is Laura.) But the squirrel didn't stop when it reached the end of our downstairs neighbors deck railing. It launched itself through the air, over Ella's head, leaping six feet to snatch at the branch of a tree in the garden. In moments it had swarmed up the trunk of the tree and made its escape over the roof of the garage.

That left Ella whining and snuffling and rushing around the yard in frustration. I went back inside. A wingman can't do much to help when the prey slips away.

Squirrel's-eye view (sorta)


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
A couple of weird things happened yesterday. The first came relatively early, as Ella and I were out on our Sunday morning walk. Laura and I usually walk Ella together on Sunday mornings, but Laura had a cough and a fever so I was walking Ella alone. We try to walk her for a couple of hours on weekend mornings, to wear her out for the rest of the day. I took Ella on a long loop to the Lake Michigan shore (about a mile and a half from our house) to run around on the sand, then to a big adjacent park to chase squirrels.

At the doggie zoo We were on our way back home after nearly two hours out when Ella communicated to me that she would like to explore the alley we were passing. She did this by stopping at the mouth of the alley and looking down it pointedly. At this stage in our walks, I'm usually eager to get home so my custom is to tell her no and make her keep walking. But we had plenty of time that morning and I'd made her leave the park before she was quite ready, so I relented.

Ella spent a lot of time sniffing around a group of black plastic trash bins in the alley before she'd let me move on. Her fascination with squirrels is rivaled only by her fascination with rats, so I kept a close eye on her. We continued through the alley and then back up the next block where a squirrel with a peanut in its mouth taunted us from a tree behind a fence. Soon we were back on our original route home, but Ella tugged me into the next alley we passed. She made a beeline for another group of black plastic bins and darted into a gap between them.

I saw a little shadow with a naked tail flash through the gap. Ella struck, and when she drew her head back a rat the size of my fist was wriggling in her jaws.

Several things happened very fast all at once, or in such rapid succession that I couldn't tell any differently. I let out a low, loud, gutteral yawp of surprise and fear. The rat let out a squeaky shriek. Ella released the rat. The rat flew through the air, flailing all its limbs, and scurried away behind the bins.

I dropped to my knees to check that Ella was okay, that she hadn't been bitten. (Of course she hadn't—she would have yelped, I'm sure.) She was fine, if you ignored the look of utter disappointment and contempt she leveled at me. Ella has been chasing squirrels and rats and rabbits and even the occasional opossum or raccoon for all of her eight and a half years. This was the first time she had ever caught one.

And I yelled like a scared puppy and made her drop it. "Oh, Nice Bill," she seemed to say with the contemptuous expression she turned upon me. "Are you ever on my whatever-smells-so-bad-even-I-won't-go-near-it list now."

I swear to God, she pouted all the way home.

The other unsettling thing yesterday was something I saw while I was out biking. Laura and I are training for one of the crazier things we've ever attempted—RAGBRAI, a 7-day, 470-mile bike ride across Iowa this July. I'll post more about that another time, but suffice it to say that I've been doing my best to adhere to the recommended training schedule with increasingly long rides along the Chicago Lakefront Trail. Yesterday I was supposed to ride 25 miles, but since I'll be working in California for the next several days, I decided to push it to 36 miles instead, my longest day yet this year by far.

That was fine, but as I was rolling south on the outbound leg of my trek I saw a police SUV parked on the grass between Lake Shore Drive and the bike trail. Off to my left, a small yacht was beached in the choppy surf, rocking back and forth. Down the slope, a police officer was talking to two men who looked, at least from a distance, to be in shock.

I passed the scene, then pulled over and watched the yacht rock for a minute or two, waiting to see if anything else interesting would happen. I figured that two unlucky or foolhardy boaters had tried to get a little too close to shore and had run aground. I shot a brief video and continued on my way.



I reached a good turnaround spot a couple of miles later, at the 63rd Street Beach. We live way up on the North Side, and I had come 18.5 miles from home. Definitely time to go back. (Especially since my phone battery died while I was taking pictures there, and I wouldn't be able to text Laura for the rest of the ride to keep her apprised of my whereabouts.)

So I headed back north, into the wind (sob!). As I approached the site of the boating accident, I saw a Chicago Police boat not far offshore. Two officers in lifejackets were making their way like commandos toward the prow of the boat. The first one there picked up some kind of long boat hook and readied it over the water. I couldn't see anything in the water. Apparently they couldn't either, but this made me worry that someone had been lost overboard in the accident.

Virgin America - I feel like I'm taking off ... for the future! There were at least three police vehicles parked near the boat as I passed. I didn't stop this time, and I have no idea what happened before or after I happened on the scene. I haven't found any news reports about a boating accident. I suppose I might find something in the police blotter if I knew where to check on Everyblock.com. I keep thinking about that boat, though.

Anyway, I made my 37-mile round trip in about three hours. I'm a little stiff this morning as I sit composing this on my Virgin America flight to Los Angeles. More on this trip later.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Ella had a tough night, with thunder and lightning hunting for her in the early morning hours. I had a hard time getting her out the door at dawn for her walk. Then I had a hard time getting her out of the yard. Then I hard a hard time getting her down the block. It was no longer storming, but Ella well knows that the thunder is just lurking around the next corner, waiting to spring out of hiding and attack us. She can sense it.

Normally Laura or I will walk her for a full hour in the morning, but Ella and I had only been out for ten balky minutes this morning when I made a deal with her. (And she understood the deal. She did, at least the key words.) I told her that all she had to do was poop, and then we could turn around and go home. She trotted along after me after that, not happy but at least hopeful.

We reached a townhouse development where we frequently chase squirrels. She trotted along the short side of that block just fine, but then she balked when we reached the corner. She would not budge. She was done.

I try not to lie to our dog very often, but I was desperate to keep her moving and not compromise my authority (further) by turning us around. So I said, "Ella, there's a squirrel around the corner."

Nothing. She didn't budge.

"Wait, it's a rabbit. Rabbit, Ella!"

Nothing.

"Rabbit! Rabbit!"

Finally Ella's hunting urge overcame her thunder fear, and she raced around the corner, tugging me along by the leash.

And what do you know. There was a rabbit around the corner, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. We chased it half a block before it lost us in the bushes around someone's front porch.

Ella pooped about thirty seconds after that, and we headed for home. Thank you, rabbit. You kept my lie from destroying my credibility. You're the best.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Ella-gy

Jan. 19th, 2012 09:51 am
Dog at my knee Ella has now possibly ruptured her other CCL (cranial cruciate ligament, analogous to the ACL in humans). She's on tramadol for the pain (an anti-inflammatory would be better but they're really tough on her digestive system) and on limited activity for a week or more. This is actually good news, though, because when I described Ella's symptoms the vet's gut hypothesis was arthritis. Fortunately, the physical exam and X-rays did not support that diagnosis.

But those few moments of facing the prospect of arthritis only reinforce the sad knowledge that Ella is getting older. She's eight years old, well into middle age for a dog, and though we joke (somewhat desperately) that she has another thirty or forty years left in her, we know that's not the case. (It's more like fifty.)

News organizations keep obituaries of public figures ready to go, just in case. I keep thinking that I should start working on Ella's obituary now because I'll be in no shape to do it when it's needed. We are no respecters of species here—Ella is the third person in our family, and I know that when I have to write that blog entry I'm going to leave out some of the important details of her life and personality that I want so much to preserve.

There's the slight crookedness of her spine, which means that when you're walking behind her in a straight line you can see how her hindquarters are angled a couple inches to the right. There's the way she decides some mornings that she wants to walk all the way to the lakeshore and resists all attempts to turn her from that eastward path with a withering staredown. Pick your furry friends wisely There's the way she often misses the first step when she goes charging up the back stairs. There's the way, when she has a toy in her mouth, that she likes to bash you in the backs of the legs so you'll keep playing tug with her—even if that toy happens to be a stick three feet long and perfectly positioned to take you out at the knees. There's the way that she'll try to pick up even a huge fallen willow bough to drag around with her at the park. There's the way she can't control herself when you reach for the plastic bag with her basketball inside and starts hurling herself into the air to bite at it. There's the way that she invented her own game to play with that basketball, chasing it so she can push it around with her face. There's the way she kicks back dirt in every direction but the direction where she left her droppings. There's the way she loves to tease other dogs when they're leashed and she's not. There's the way she sometimes goes on a tear at the park and runs in huge figure-eights for the sheer joy of it. There's the way, when it snows, that she can't seem to walk four feet without throwing herself down on her back and wriggling around in the powder. There the way, when she hasn't eaten her breakfast, that the urgent devouring of it suddenly sidetracks her when we're trying to usher her out the back door. There's the way that, if we give her a treat before leaving her alone at home, she won't eat it until one or the other of us has returned. There's the way she scratches at the hardwood floor like making a nest before she collapses onto her side and curls up. There's the way she sighs and rests her chin on your knee while you're reading on the couch.

I have to make myself stop now, because I could just keep going. Just like Ella is going to, dammit.



While we're on the topic, some of you have wondered how I get so many good photos of Ella. The answer is, I take about ten times as many as I ever put online, and when I see Ella do something unbearably cute I try to make her do it again so I can capture it. This picture of Ella examining a toadstool, for instance? Totally restaged.

If you're curious to see what sometimes happens behind the scenes on an Ella photo shoot, this video should give you some idea. I'm not actually taking photos of her here (I'm shooting video, duh), but I am trying to incite her to keep doing cute things over and over again when she's clearly ready to go home already. Oh, well. At least she sleeps well after a play session like this.




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
[Spoiler warning: Mildly squicky medical details within. The squeamish may not wish their appetites spoiled.]

Gimme the grody stuff )
I'm not usually home when our dogwalker comes to take Ella out at midday, but yesterday I was. Once a day, Ella gets a treat called an Oinkie, which is basically tube of a smoked pig skin wrapped around a sweet potato center. Because of how they look, Laura and I call them Ella's "cigars."

Fat cat robber baron Anyway, I was working in the study yesterday afternoon when I heard Paul opening the back door. Ella heard him too, of course, and came trotting into my office with her cigar in her mouth. She stopped by my chair, looked up at me, and set the cigar carefully down on the floor. Then she looked up at me again and scooted out the door to greet Paul. The implication was clear: Will you please watch my treat while I'm gone?

Or, as Laura put it in a text message when I told her what had happened: You are the keeper of her most precious items!!!

It's eerie how clearly Ella sometimes manages to communicate her intentions. It's obvious what she wants when she brings a tennis ball to one of us and wags her tail, but some more complex messages are just as easy to parse. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, Ella came to find me in the study once again. She stood looking up at me and wagging her tail until I took notice of her, then turned and trotted to the door. She looked back. Okay, she wanted me to follow her, so I did.

Geometric bear She led me through the kitchen and out the back door, which was open. (We had left it open for her. She didn't do that herself!) She very deliberately bent her nose to the surface of the back deck, sniffed around for a second or two, pointed her face here and there, then looked up at me, wagging her tail.

Now, I happened to know that Ella had been chewing one of her cigars there on the back deck the evening before, so I knew what it was she was looking for. But even if I hadn't, I would have understood perfectly that something she had left in that spot was missing, and she wanted my help finding it. So, thus recruited into service, Laura and I spent the next five minutes scouring the apartment for Ella's missing cigar. When we found it, Ella grabbed it from me and ran out the door. She hasn't figured out yet how to put across the concept of "thank you."

For all that her intentions are sometimes so clear, there are many other times when she's trying to tell me something and I have absolutely no idea what. I often think of Ella as a furry little person instead of a dog, but on those occasions I'm reminded that it's an alien creature living in the house with us. I wonder if she's as confused and curious about all the odd things her alien housemates do and say.

Bonus Ella video! )
Hi, gang! The new Ella calendar for 2012 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of great collages of all your favorite Ella photos from 2011—well, okay, all mine and Laura's favorites—and it retails from Lulu.com for the low, low price of only $17.99.

But wait! For a limited time only, we're offering a 20% off discount. That's a whole year of Ella for only $14.39. But wait! Through tomorrow you can take another 20% off that already crazy price if you use the discount code BURIED at checkout. That's only $11.51 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!

Click below and buy now, and keep the Dog Lord of the Sith on your good side!

Ella Vader 2012 13-Month Calendar

Ella Vader 2012 13-Month Calendar
Flying bear! Today the fabulous Ella turns eight. This morning, to celebrate, I took her to the beach for her morning walk. She flung herself off a ledge of sand, and it was so cute that I asked her to climb back to the top and jump off again so I could take a picture. She is such a good dog, she did just what I asked.

I made my first ever post about Ella on April 12, 2004. That was just a couple of days before Laura brought her home from the Chicago suburbs to our Queens apartment. Ella a little over six months old. She's been part of our family now for nearly seven and a half years, and it's hard to remember a time when she wasn't with us.

Happy birthday, Ella! We look forward to celebrating eighty more with you.
We often say, my wife and I,
that Ella is our first dog,
the one you make your mistakes on.
But for me, that isn't true.

My first dog was Jessie,
a runty black shepherd mix.
Some of the mistakes I made
with Jessie were things like

Don't scold the dog unless
you catch her in the act.
Don't let the dog bite you.
Don't ever hit the dog.

Don't buy a dog with someone
you don't like, let alone love.
All mistakes I wouldn't
ever ever make with Ella.
Between five and six this morning, I had a pretty awful dream. I was somehow in a big grungy rusty white panel van with my family, who I guess were visiting town. Except it wasn't my family as it exists now. It was my parents circa the mid-seventies and my four youngest brothers and sisters circa the mid-eighties. My three other siblings were not around, but for some reason I was being forced to go to church with the family—a stake conference, to be precise. I didn't want to go, but there didn't seem to be a way out, and as we parked in gray dusk light near the church I realized angrily that I was going to miss meeting my friend Kevin that evening for beer (which is actually on my schedule for tonight).

The church was a strange one inside, with a chapel that was much wider than it was long, and with the congregation seated on rising auditorium-style benches looking down at the pulpit. The only door in or out was in the corner behind and to the left of the pulpit, so if I tried to leave everyone would see. As I tried to work up my courage to leave, I realized that I wasn't wearing Sunday clothes like the rest of the family. I had on white shorts and a black T-shirt with something printed on it. (Probably something obscene, I don't know.) Feeling hideously exposed, I turned to my parents and loudly announced that I was leaving and they couldn't stop me.

Outside the church, I found Ella on the porch leaning against the wall beside the door. Apparently she'd been in the van and someone had left it open. Anger surged inside me. Ella was very groggy and didn't even lick me as I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. She flopped bonelessly, like a rag doll, and somehow I knew she'd been hit by a car that pulverized her skeleton. I kicked open the door to the church and strode into the chapel bearing my dog like an accusation. "You did this to her!" I screamed.

That's when I woke up.

Gee, I don't still have any issues.
This morning,
with a high of seventy degrees in the forecast,
amazing for a November in Chicago,
I drove the dog to Warren Park.
That's where we go for a special treat
instead of our usual neighborhood walk,
because the squirrel chasing is most excellent,
and there are never any cops there to harass you,
a scofflaw walking his dog off its leash.

We like to run up the steps of the sledding hill,
which a parks department sign actually proclaims "Sledding Hill,"
and then charge down the slope,
after which we make our way around the skirt of the hill
where the squirrels rummage through the leaves
like so many bargain hunters.
We crunch crunch crunch across the orange carpet,
and if we're lucky we spot a squirrel far enough out
in the open that Ella can chase it full-bore
back to its tree.
She has never once caught one.
Or at any rate never killed one.

Next we like to follow the cinder jogging path
all the way around the little nine-hole golf course embedded
like an off-center yolk
in the albumen of the park,
and that's exactly what we did this morning.
I walked in the leaves at the side of the path,
trying to encourage Ella to do the same,
but unless she has a rodent, lagomorph or marsupial in her sights
she prefers to walk on pavement. Go figure.

We were on the south side of the golf course,
the tall chain-link fence meant to protect us from flying balls
off to our left,
when I saw two men coming our way along the path,
youngish men—younger than I, at any rate—
neatly bearded men dressed in long robes the color of wet sand.
It was already warm enough out that I was regretting
the heavy coat I wore over my hooded sweatshirt.
I snapped my fingers imperiously,
calling for Ella to return to my side,
to leave the path and get out of the way
of the two youngish men engaged in animated talk.

Infidel dog

Ella is a good dog, shaggy-bearded herself,
and she mostly listens. But I know that Muslims
are afraid of dogs, or wary, or I think I know this,
having watched many women in headscarves
whisper urgently to their children to stay out
of our path. At least,
I assumed these men were Muslims. I admit I don't know
the taxonomy of robes and caps and beards.
They could have been Coptic Christians or even Jains for all I knew.
At any rate, they didn't have turbans on
so I knew they weren't Sikhs.
But despite my commands, Ella didn't leave the path
entirely. She shifted toward me, trotting along
the very edge of the pavement, but didn't leave it altogether.
"Ella," I hissed. "Come." She spared me only a sidelong glance,
certain she had already obeyed me to the extent required.
Letter of the law.
I only wanted to be a good neighbor.
The men were yards away.
Dogs are not consistent with Islam.
I braced for whatever.

It's not that I thought anything worse
than embarrassment might transpire,
but my dog does have a history.
She grew up in Queens, and she still has some of that attitude.
We socialized her with people pretty quickly,
my wife and I, but that didn't prevent her from
barking her selectively bred head off at any unfamiliar creatures
we encountered on the street,
ones with strange colors, shapes or motions.
Woman in full burqas, like shambling mounds of midnight.
People in big hats.
People on crutches or in wheelchairs.
Black people--a sad reflection of the diversity
of visitors to our apartment.
The worst was the time she lost it at an old black woman
in a wheelchair
in front of a funeral parlor
on Astoria Boulevard near the elevated tracks.
As we dragged her in a wide, apologetic berth
as far from the frightened woman
as possible.
As the woman's decked-out younger companions yelled at us.
As if we'd trained our dog to hate old black women in wheelchairs.
That was the worst.

But it's not as if Ella has never met a Muslim man before.
We used to walk her up Steinway Street in Queens,
right past all the Middle Eastern restaurants and pastry shops
and bookstores, and the men's social clubs with the curvy hookahs,
and even past the mosque.
Some people avoided us, though we never walked her
up the middle of the sidewalk or in such a way
as to block anyone's path.
We didn't mean it as a provocation
but more as a statement, an exercise of our rights
to free association, an exercise in multiculturalism.
And not everyone avoided us. One time
a group of three thirtyish Egyptians stopped us
as we walked Ella up the far edge of the sidewalk.
One of them with a reedy mustache and a look of childlike wonder
asked if our dog was friendly. "Yes," we said.
He asked if he could pet her. "Of course," we said.
We made her sit.
Ella could care less about most strangers, but she doesn't like
surprises, so we told the man to reach out slowly.
His fingertips barely grazed the hair on the top of her head,
while Ella sat patiently and yawned.
"Good dog," we said, while the man straightened up
with a smile as wide as the world on his face.
You could see him already composing the story in his head
that he would tell his friends,
about how he petted a dog
and didn't even get struck by lightning.
He'll be dining out on that one for years.

We loved that neighborhood for reasons like that meeting
on the street. We loved it for our friend Ali,
who would never touch Ella because he was cooking
in his little restaurant, but who always had a kind word for her,
and still asks about her when we visit.
I love it for the times I stayed out all night drinking
with Ali, who knew everyone, for the times he Virgiled me
into the social club across the street from his restaurant,
where I smoked shisha with the Egyptian men and listened
to monologues on history and hieroglyphics,
on all the important things that Egypt invented, or did first.
Our travels in Cairo and Luxor and Petra and Amman,
talking Islam and politics and Christianity
with virtual strangers in coffee shops and cafés,
sometimes seemed the inevitable endpoint of our years
in that neighborhood, which we loved.

What I'm trying to get at is, I don't hate Muslims,
and I especially don't want any Muslim to think I hate Muslims,
or that my dog hates Muslims.
Which she doesn't.
The two men on the path had nearly drawn even with us,
and Ella still hadn't moved off the pavement.
But there was enough room for her and the nearest man to pass
each other without touching, which they did.
"Good morning, sir," he said to me with a cheerful trill,
his face like a gibbous moon, beaming.
"Good morning, how are you today?" I said with a smile
as wide as Lake Michigan,
a smile trying a little too hard,
wanting to be seen as a friend, not a fraud,
and reflect the genuine shiver of camaraderie I felt.
"Very well, thank you," he said, dipping his head.
He, the respectful, non-threatening immigrant,
me, the welcoming, tolerant native,
both playing the part of open-minded, ideal world citizen.
Maybe he was born here, I don't know, and maybe I was not,
as far as he knew.
No matter.
We both still played our proper roles—
roles still, even if based on a true story,
inspired by real events.
I might wish for a deeper connection,
a meeting of the minds,
but at least we all passed on our leisurely errands
without baring our teeth,
without drawing our guns,
and I can live with that.

Ella, more alien than us all,
paid none of our human posturing the slightest mind.

Cheap bitch

Nov. 5th, 2010 02:51 pm
Don't call Ella cheap, but she did just get less expensive. Take an extra 30% off her 2011 calendar when you enter the coupon code EARLYBIRD305 at checkout! (Offer good through November 15, 2010.)

Ella-Mental 2011 13-Month Calendar

April 2014

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