Middle Management

MoseyOney the Magnificent

Pictured in the top photo is Mosey, our current Great Dane.  The bottom photo is of Oney, our first Great Dane who passed away in 2010.  Their personalities are so similar that Mosey may actually be a reincarnation.  To explain the Dane way of approaching life, Gruff suggested I re-run my column about Oney entitled “Middle Management.”  It originally ran in 2008.  If you’re thinking of adopting a Dane, it should be required reading.  I love this breed, but it seems that it is because they most closely mirror my own psychology.  I know, I need help. 

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We have a black and white Great Dane named Oney. The name Oney rhymes with pony and was the name of my great-aunt, Oney Lavinnia Davis. My great-aunt Oney never married despite having many suitors. She suffered from seizures and did not want to run the risk of passing that on to children. She loved all children but whenever anyone was pregnant, she always hoped that they would give birth to a robust, red-headed boy. Aunt Oney had a real thing for red-headed, freckled boys and I’m certain if given half a chance, she would have kidnapped Opie for her own.

My great-aunt was an industrious woman, gifted with all things involving needles and threads or fabric. She was a wonderful seamstress, fashioning extraordinary formals for my cousin. She was an accomplished lace maker, knitter, and crocheted all my dolls’ wardrobes. She had her daily activity schedule and stuck to it. So does my Great Dane.

My Great Dane Oney is devoted to her routine. From morning to night, she has a plan. Upon rising from bed, she heads directly downstairs to the living room sofa for a post-sleep nap. She believes in starting the day gently and how better to ease into things than with a nap? Then there’s breakfast, eaten with appreciation and grace. After breakfast, the pace quickens and it’s time for her first official pass of the day. This means that she absolutely must go out and inspect the entire property. It’s important for her to establish that during the night we were not invaded by marauders, cutthroats, or groundhogs. Once perimeter security is confirmed, it’s time for the post-inspection nap.

Fully rested, Oney is ready to take on more management duties. She simply can not abide displays of frantic energy of any kind. Screaming toddlers send her straight to bed. Border collies make her insane. If the English mastiff, Joe, and the Basset hound, Clara Jack, start to roughhouse and tussle, it must be stopped. Oney will get in between the two and try to block their contact as they pounce at each other despite her efforts. When that fails, she will put her paw on Clara Jack and push her to the floor. “When in doubt, stand on ‘em” is her leadership mantra.

More important to Oney than crowd control is resource management, or rather the allocation of the rawhide chew bones. We have three dogs, and I always buy four bones because this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned that when you’re passing out something with the desirability of a large beef rawhide bone, having plenty keeps peace in the pack. Invariably, and for the life of me I can’t explain why, one bone will become “the one.” It, above all other bones, will be the most delicious, the most desirable, and the most sought after bone in the house, maybe even on the whole planet. Now skilled manipulation and strategy become important. Here is where Oney shines.

If Clara Jack has “the one,” there’s not much hope of getting it from her unless one of Clara’s favorite humans comes through a door and she bounds over to them in greeting. Then the bone can be snatched away. That’s a tough scenario to manufacture, so Oney just has to be patient, in position, and wait for opportunity to present itself.

If Joe has “the one,” there’s no waiting involved. Joe sees himself as Head of Security here, and will bark ferociously at the front window at anything that seems askance within a two-mile radius of our property. All are warned. There’s a 200-pound mastiff watching you. All Oney has to do to get the bone is to bark once or twice. Joe will run to the front window to man his security station, barking the whole way. Oney will snatch the dropped bone and run upstairs. After Joe is through securing the house, he’ll return to where the bone was and wonder what the hell happened. I’ve seen this played out too many times to think it’s a coincidence. It’s sneaky, it’s devious, it’s effective; by God, it’s middle management material.

A variation of this maneuver is when Oney has “the one” and Clara Jack has been patiently watching and waiting for her opportunity to pull a quick grab-and-go. I’ve seen Clara sit there over an hour, observing, inching closer, her desire for the bone vibrating off her body. Oney gets tired of the bone but doesn’t want Clara to have it for reasons known only to Oney. Oney will get up, carry the bone right past Clara to a sleeping, oblivious Joe and drop the bone beside his drooling maw, making sure that he wakes up during this process. Joe rouses and thinks that the rawhide fairy has visited and starts to chew the gift. Clara who has devoted over an hour of her time to the pursuit of the bone just stares in disbelief.

Now that Oney has reaffirmed her superiority, it’s time for the official evening inspection of the property. Deer, foxes, and bear are warned that this is dog country, and not to defile the kingdom by trespassing during the evening hours.

Most of the day’s tasks completed, the pace mellows again. Evening meal is eaten, followed by a sound pre-sleep nap on the sofa. All dogs are officially off-duty now. There is sincere snoring until the word is given that it’s time to crawl up the stairs and officially go to bed. Oney’s last management duty of the day is to allocate sleeping space to all on the bed. Gruff and I have reserved spaces, and the three dogs meld themselves into the remaining nooks and crannies. The Basset overheats easily so she prefers space under the ceiling fan, but Oney and Joe both want their blankets thrown over them and tucked in before the lights go out.

Life as a middle manager rocks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Old House

A brand, spanking new column is up at the Blue Ridge Country magazine web site.  It’s entitled “This Old House.”  I am tickled pink with this one, as it gives y’all a fairly accurate peek into our life here in the Valley.  It’s less Country Living and more Psychology Today than you might guess.  As always, your comments are welcomed both here and at the magazine site, where they’re constantly evaluating my popularity and/or law suit potential.  Love y’all.

Mill Creek Stories Column: This Old House

Bad Buddhist

Brsa Orange Delight 'Starbeck' HCC

 

(This piece first appeared on my old blog in May, 2011.  I still struggle with this issue today.  I am trying my best though.  Not being a vendor at the flower show helps.)

I absolutely did not want to write this piece. I fought like a rabid badger to prevent this story from appearing in public. I am deeply ashamed of myself and saw no good reason to reveal this story to anyone. I have tried for more than three months to write anything but this, but it’s just no use.

This story held all my other story ideas hostage and would not let go. This story demanded to be exposed and until I did that, I was locked in block. My mind was thick and stupid. I couldn’t write anything fresh and funny until I told everyone this hairy, horrible, admit-to-the-whole-world-that-I’m-a-total-bitch-ass-monster fable of disappointment. I totally screwed up. I hope telling this will make amends. I hope it lets me write humor again.

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” ~ Buddha

I have been a practicing — and I could not mean that more sincerely — Buddhist for over twenty years now. I have committed myself to aiming for the peaceful mind, holding compassion for others foremost in thought and actions, and trying to walk the positive, calm path. While I am at home surrounded by comfort, security, my loving husband and my dogs this is a piece of cake. I got this. I pretty much nail the whole “one with the universe” thing and I expect to start levitating any second now. I am so freaking enlightened I scare myself.

“Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.” ~ Buddha

Unfortunately, I am often called upon to leave the house. My goal is to walk in public and carry the same serenity that I achieve within my own four walls. For short trips out, I can do this. Well, if everyone plays nice. And then there’s the special Tourette’s Syndrome affliction that is specific to when I’m driving. I’m working on that. Anyway the point is, I have to practice Buddhism a lot harder when I’m with other people.   A lot harder. But this is the whole point. Any jackass can be calm and centered if they’re by themselves. It’s taking the act on the road that’s killer.

My husband and I are orchid vendors at the Philadelphia Flower Show. It is physically, mentally and emotionally depleting. It is nine days of plastering on a dazzling pageant smile, standing on concrete from 8:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, answering questions that are often where-the-hell-is-security levels of weird, and making too little money in this economy for this level of effort.

The first weekend of the show all the vendors are excited and happy. The show is full of possibilities, a potential treasure chest of profit waiting to be swept into our booty bags and carted home. We are all springtime fresh, full of expectations, and barely able to control our giddiness. I strongly suggest to all consumers that they visit the show the first few days it is open. Trust me. It’s a better experience for all.

“In a controversy the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” ~ Buddha

The last weekend of the show the vendors are beat to crap and beyond. Our backs have compressed from standing on concrete for nine days making all of us shorter in both stature and temper. We’ve totaled our take and it’s nowhere near our expectations. My tiny booth costs just over $5,000 for the event. The vendors that have taken multiple booths are stressed to their eyeballs. We’ve not slept well in days. We are dehydrated and cranky. We have caught whatever communicable bug is circulating amongst the show attendees and we’re getting sick. Even if you don’t realize that you are the 253rd person to ask me about the goddamned Home Depot “Just Add Ice” orchids this week, I know it. I know it and I am about to lose what’s left of my mind because of it.

At this moment in the show, I am struggling to plod on until the doors are locked and breakdown begins. I am focused on getting out in one piece. I desperately want to bury my face in my mastiff’s neck and sleep in my own bed. I just want to go home. I am so tired that I am near tears and I don’t know why. I just am.

When it is announced over the PA system that the show is officially closed and vendors are allowed to break down their booths, a cheer and applause rings out loud enough to be heard through all of downtown Philadelphia. This outburst holds more sincerity and emotion than any sports event could ever muster, it is the cry of hopeless prisoners being released.

We rack and stack as fast as humanly possible, running material and plants out to the van and sprinting back to the booth for more loads. Imagine my disappointment to see that a florist in a large rented truck had sideswiped our van and failed to mention it. I know this florist hit our van because in addition to the damage being at the exact height of his bumper, the paint chips from our van were still clinging to his vehicle.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. I got angry. I was mad that the florist didn’t have the decency to tell me he’d hit my van. My name and phone number are plastered on three sides of the vehicle, it’s not like he couldn’t tell who owned the van. Honestly, the delivery van is ancient. If he’d come to me and confessed that he’d hit the van I’d probably have let it go, the damage being purely cosmetic.

 “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” ~ Buddha

I sought him out to discuss the matter. He started the conversation by calling me a liar, telling me he had two witnesses that said he had not hit my van, and I told him that was meaningless because I could conjure three witnesses who said he did. We walked outside and en route I referred to him as sweetheart which offended him. Really? You’ve just called me a liar, and the word sweetheart offends you. Darling, sweetheart was so far down the quickly edited list in my head that it was not even in the top ten choices of what I really wanted to call you.

Here’s where I made my second mistake. I snapped. I started screaming and shaking. The calm, centered, enlightened being who had been hovering near the exit completely fled the building and was replaced by a violent lunatic who was consumed by thoughts of snapping this asshole’s head back by the scrap of hair he had left and drawing a serrated knife across his trachea. Buddhist go bye-bye. Psychotic Samurai is in the house!

My husband saw what was happening and intervened, calling the gentleman something we could all agree was far more offensive than sweetheart. They argued and hollered while I stood, twitching, on the dock. Of course, no agreement was reached. It seems that this guy’s very life depended on his not admitting that he had possibly done anything wrong.

We cut our losses. We left. We drove the five hours home in near silence, only speaking to ask each other if we really wanted to sign up for the event again. Not sure. Not sure at all. We were on the waiting list for the Philly show for seven years. We’ve done it three years now. It’s not what I thought it would be. What is?

I am disappointed. I am disappointed in the sales numbers. I am disappointed in the gate. I am disappointed that someone could sideswipe my van and think that it was okay not to mention it. Most of all, I am disappointed in myself. Even though I was tired to the bone, it was wrong of me to want to hurt someone. It was wrong to explode. It was wrong to rage.

I am deeply disappointed that I crumpled so quickly when faced with a simple test of my composure and compassion. That’s all this was to me in the end. It is a failed exam. I flunked out.

This situation belts me across the face with the humiliating realization that in twenty years of learning and trying to follow the tenets of Buddhism, I have not come nearly as far as I thought I had. Not even close. Now I wonder if I have enough time left in my life to understand that which I’m seeking to achieve. I hurt myself because I wanted to hurt another. When tested, I failed. Miserably.

 “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.”  ~ Abraham Lincoln

Middle Management

Oney Brennan

(This post originally appeared on my old blog in August, 2010.  Surprising everyone, Oney passed away in October, 2010.  It still hurts.)

 

We have a Great Dane named Oney. The name Oney rhymes with pony and was the name of my great-aunt, Oney Lavinnia Davis. My great-aunt Oney never married despite having many suitors. She suffered from seizures and did not want to run the risk of passing that on to children. She loved all children but whenever anyone was pregnant, she always hoped that they would give birth to a robust, ginger boy. Aunt Oney had a real thing for red-headed, freckled boys and I’m certain if given half a chance, she would have kidnapped Opie for her own.

My great-aunt was an industrious woman, gifted with all things involving needles and threads or fabric. She was a wonderful seamstress, fashioning extraordinary formals for my cousin. She was an accomplished lace maker, knitter, and crocheted all my dolls’ wardrobes. She had her daily activity schedule and stuck to it. So does my Great Dane.

My Great Dane Oney is devoted to her routine. From morning to night, she has a plan. Upon rising from bed, she heads directly downstairs to the living room sofa for a post-sleep nap. She believes in starting the day gently and how better to ease into things than with a nap? Then there’s breakfast, eaten with appreciation and grace. After breakfast, the pace quickens and it’s time for her first official pass of the day. This means that she absolutely must go out and inspect the entire property. It’s important for her to establish that during the night we were not invaded by marauders, cutthroats, or groundhogs. Once perimeter security is confirmed, it’s time for the post-inspection nap.

Fully rested, Oney is ready to take on more management duties. She simply can not abide displays of frantic energy of any kind. Screaming toddlers send her straight to bed. Border collies make her flipping insane. If the English mastiff, Joe, and the Basset hound, Clara Jack, start to roughhouse and tussle, it must be stopped. Oney will get in between the two and try to block their contact as they pounce at each other despite her efforts. When that fails, she will put her paw on Clara Jack and push her to the floor. “When in doubt, stand on ‘em” is her leadership mantra.

More important to Oney than crowd control is resource management, or rather the allocation of the rawhide chew bones. We have three dogs, and I always buy four bones because this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned that when you’re passing out something with the desirability of a large beef rawhide bone, having plenty keeps peace in the pack. Invariably, and for the life of me I can’t explain why, one bone will become “the one.” It, above all other bones, will be the most delicious, the most desirable, and the most sought after bone in the house, maybe even on the whole planet. Now skilled manipulation and strategy become important. Here is where Oney shines.

If Clara Jack has “the one,” there’s not much hope of getting it from her unless one of Clara’s favorite humans comes through a door and she bounds over to them in greeting. Then the bone can be snatched away. That’s a tough scenario to manufacture, so Oney just has to be patient, in position, and wait for opportunity to present itself.

If Joe has “the one,” there’s no waiting involved. Joe sees himself as Head of Security here, and will bark ferociously at the front window at anything that seems askance within a two-mile radius of our property. All are warned. There’s a 200-pound mastiff watching you. All Oney has to do to get the bone is to bark once or twice. Joe will run to the front window to man his security station, barking the whole way. Oney will snatch the dropped bone and run upstairs. After Joe is through securing the house, he’ll return to where the bone was and wonder what the hell just happened. I’ve seen this played out too many times to think it’s a coincidence. It’s sneaky, it’s devious, it’s effective; by God, it’s middle management material.

A variation of this maneuver is when Oney has “the one” and Clara Jack has been patiently watching and waiting for her opportunity to pull a quick grab-and-go. I’ve seen Clara sit there over an hour, observing, inching closer, her desire for the bone practically vibrating off her body. Oney gets tired of the bone but doesn’t want Clara to have it for reasons known only to Oney. Oney will get up, carry the bone right past Clara to a sleeping, oblivious Joe and drop the bone beside his drooling maw, making sure that he wakes up during this process. Joe rouses and thinks that the rawhide fairy has visited and starts to chew the gift. Clara who has devoted over an hour of her time to the pursuit of the bone just stares in disbelief.

Now that Oney has affirmed her superiority, it’s time for the official evening inspection of the property. Deer, foxes, and bear are warned that this is dog country, and not to defile the kingdom by trespassing during the evening hours.

Most of the day’s tasks completed, the pace mellows again. Evening meal is eaten, followed by a sound pre-sleep nap on the sofa. All dogs are officially off-duty now. There is sincere snoring until the word is given that it’s time to crawl up the stairs and officially go to bed. Oney’s last management duty of the day is to allocate sleeping space to all on the bed. We humans have reserved spaces, and the three dogs meld themselves into the remaining nooks and crannies. The Basset overheats easily so she prefers space under the ceiling fan, but Oney and Joe both want their blankets thrown over them and tucked in before the lights go out.

Life as a middle manager rocks!

There Be Dragons Here

Amos Henry and Joe

 

We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.

Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.

Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.

I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd.   To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.

On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?

This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.

I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.

“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”

“Oh my God, is that a cat?”

“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”

“Is that cat still here?”

“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”

“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”

“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”

“Wait, is that the same cat?”

“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”

“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”

“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”

“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”

“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”

. . . . and repeat.

You Had Me at Hello

Joe Asleep Close Up

Our English mastiff is getting on in years. His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable. In Joe’s massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.

Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect. Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise. Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future. Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Joe’s suspicions are triggered by certain events, sounds, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat. Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative “Hello,” this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response. Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately. So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.

Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry. All security personnel to Sector Three. And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic. The Basset hound does not participate. The princess hound couldn’t care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.

Joe’s reaction to the word “hello” has gotten so visceral, I’m thinking of changing the way I answer the phone. “Hola” did not fool Joe. Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, “yellow.” “Wazzup?” doesn’t seem quite professional enough, and “Dude!” even less so.   I guess I could use “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.

We’ve recently suffered an irritating rash of telemarketer calls, so Gruff has devolved his phone greeting to the formal, “Please identify yourself.” My man is so gracious and friendly. Now you know where Joe gets it from.

I know that some of you are wondering why I just don’t break Joe of this habit. Fair question. It is useful to me to have a 200-pound mastiff who feels protective. We are way out in the hills and fending for oneself is a time-honored tradition in these parts. Fending is much easier for a plump, middle-aged, non-athletic, diabetic chick when you have a concerned mastiff by your side.

I’m willing to grant Joe a little leeway in the area of his early warning systems. He has discouraged uninvited people from coming into the house before, and I respect and appreciate that. It doesn’t matter that I might be inconvenienced, or that callers are confused. It’s what Joe needs.

Bonjour, y’all!