Thursday, November 20, 2008


In Which We Marvel at Our Luck...

When it finally did break loose, hell broke loose slowly. As I turned my attention to Thomas and the Brownie, it was obvious they saw something behind me that was upsetting them. And now that my head was up, I could see out of the corner of my eye that there was someone (actually two someones) right behind me. But I couldn't turn to face them. I was still looking at Thomas.

Who had been pulling on something that I thought was his seatbelt. Who had yelled "Do something!" after the Brownie had shouted "Come here! Come here!"

Thomas was, I realized, activating his carjack proof plan, the one he had shared with me the night before.

It was a simple plan. It involved just two things.

The first thing was the item Thomas was actually pulling on. It was not his seatbelt. It was Blaze's leash.

The second thing?

Blaze himself.

"My plan is we take Blaze with us wherever we go," my son had told me the night before. "You know how he gets when he's in the car: he lays down in the way back, in the cargo place. And whenever someone comes by, he jumps up and does that crazy scary barking up against the window and he'll scare the carjackers away."

"I don't know," I dimly recalled answering. "You know I don't like to leave Blaze in the car." But then I reconsidered. "Well, he does like riding in the back there. And there's no chance of it getting hot enough tomorrow that he'd be in danger if we left him in the car. I suppose, if it would make you feel better, we could try it."

So of course we did.

And my, wasn't Thomas glad that we had. Despite his fear of the approaching men, he must have thrilled at the scene he imagined. I'm sure that he, like you, would revel in the moment when Blaze would come exploding over the back seat, barking his Killer Bark, the yawping, cyclical "WHOAH WHOAH WHOAH!" that makes deliverymen squawk and step back from the front door at home. I'm sure he could almost see Blaze bouncing off the side window in the back, his snapping teeth leaving great smears of crazed doggy drool on the glass and making the would-be carjackers turn tail and run.

It would be a great story in the retelling. It would be a fantastic blog post.

If only that was how it happened.

In the event, Blaze seemed particularly reluctant to make his requisite last-minute, day-saving appearance. When we had first arrived at the store and got out of the car, he was hunkered way down in the back and seemed to be fast asleep. Now, Thomas was putting all his weight on the leash trying to rouse his protector while the Brownie called for him to come. At last, I saw Blaze's big black and brown head appear over the top of the back seat. He had a look I can't say I've ever seen before, and it left me a little uncertain about his emotional state. But one thing was certain, he was already producing a generous ration of foam and drool.

And then, almost as if seeing the same danger Thomas had perceived behind me outside through the open door, Blaze suddenly jerked to life, sending loops of canine saliva every whichaway. In a trice, he had scrabbled over the back, then launched himself straight over the baby's car seat.

Right at me.

Delighted, the Éclair cried "Bazey!" as he flew over the top of her.

And then hell broke loose much, much faster.

Blaze hit me square in the chest, knocking me backward. I fell straight back, cracking my head on the tarmac, but not before brushing against the jacket of one of the men I finally realized was behind me. I knew this now, not just because I made contact with one of them, but also because both of them had been more than a little startled at seeing the dog that came bursting out of the van.

"Jeeeesus! What--"

"Ho, the fuck is--?"

They both must have jumped about 10 feet straight away from me. I lay on the tarmac, stars and tweety birds flitting back and forth in my line of vision. I couldn't breathe--there was a great pressure on my chest. That turned out to be Blaze, but he was already scrambling to get off me. He was trailing the leash--and some drool--and as both dragged across my face, I instinctively snatched for it. The leash, I mean.

I rolled as Blaze dragged me a few feet, the men still backing away. Then I was able to get to my knees and adjust my glasses, which had gone askew in the fall. The two men kept stepping backward, looking from Blaze to me and back to Blaze again.

"Hey man, you all right?" one of them finally asked, although he didn't look at me when he said it. He just couldn't seem to take his eyes off Blaze.

"Yeah, fine, fine,” I answered, rubbing the back of my head with my free hand. “This happens to me a lot. Sorry if my dog startled you. I-- What the f---?"

Suddenly I couldn't focus on completing my sentence, because Blaze had drawn my attention too. He was between me and the two men, facing them more than me. But all of a sudden, he turned slightly to the side and yarked up a great load of foamy bile. He whipped his head sideways, painting a crescent shape across the tarmac. The two men did a swift dance backwards to keep clear of the spray.

"Geez, he must be sick," the other guy observed helpfully, as he continued to back away. Then, almost as if they had a shared a telepathic cue, he and his buddy quickly kept walking across the street and out of our story forever. Despite Thomas' assurances that they were coming straight for me, I suspect these two guys were just innocent passersby, heading somewhere else as fast as they could, hoods up and hands in pockets, trotting quickly by to get out of the cold.

But if they had harbored any carjacking intentions that day, I think it's safe to conclude that Blaze grossed them out of it.

I stood outside there, almost transfixed, as Blaze emptied himself of mass quantities of yellow-green bile. I had seen him throw up plenty of times before--it seemed to be one of his specialties--but never in such lavish amounts. I half-expected to see him eject his liver at any moment.

The Brownie was the first one to speak and so broke the trance that seemed to settle over me.

"Dad, he's really sick. We've got to call 911!" she cried, tears welling in her eyes. She has a strong emotional attachment to the dog, and not without ample reason, to be sure. But if you ask me, her affection and devotion is a little out of proportion to the rest of her family. When I was sick with double-pneumonia and had to stay in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen and IVs for a week, the Brownie could barely bestir herself to come with her mother to visit me or give me so much as the stingiest hug when she did. But if Blaze yelps from so much as a rabies shot, she weeps for him and says prayers to Jesus to help keep her beloved dog alive.

"You can't call 911 for a dog," I said, crouching near Blaze, who by this time was making odd, moist burping noises. They seemed to be coming through his nose. I picked him up, which was kind of a mistake, since it squeezed one more jet of bile out of him. I went around to the back hatch, opened it with not a little difficulty, and laid Blaze back in his favorite spot. He rewarded me with a particular warm, bubbly burp, right in my face.

I closed the hatch, ran back to the front of the van, got in and fished around. Under the seat, I found a roll of paper towels and threw them behind me. "Tear some of those off and put them on the floor in the back, all around him. Mom's gonna kill me if that dog pukes on the rug of her car." I heard the sounds of perforated towels parting as I put the car in gear and we tore out of there.

By the time we got home, the Brownie was full-on sobbing (“Dad! I thu-think B-B-Blazey’s dying! Wahhhhhhh!”). Thomas was stricken and silent. And I guess the angst was catching because over the course of the drive I found myself laboring under the burden of an ever-expanding sense of panic and worry. I had been so focused on the kids and my various responsibilities to them that I had not considered what I would do if Blaze got sick or hurt.

It sounds crazy to say it, but I had been thinking of him as my back-up. If I had fallen down the stairs and broken my neck, or just plain dropped dead from an unexpected heart attack, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had clutched onto the feeble life-preserver of an idea that Blaze would get help. Or failing that, he’d at least stick close to the Éclair and guard her and the other two with his life. Now he appeared to be out of commission and for the first time, I realized how truly alone I was this weekend. All of a sudden, I felt like throwing up a load of bile myself.

And then I had my mind changed for me. For, as soon as we were parked in the garage, we all moved like a well-oiled machine, as a team. Thomas expertly unbuckled his baby sister and handed her out to the Brownie, who carried her in while Thomas went around to the back of the van and stoically collected the used paper towels, replacing them with fresh ones. He left Blaze in the car and came in to wash his hands while I fished the phone book out and looked up the number for the vet. I knew they were normally closed by this time on Saturday, but I called anyway, hoping that the answering machine might offer up an emergency number. Miraculously, at that very moment, one of the staff was there to check on the animals in the kennel areas, and she answered the phone.

“Listen, this is MM. My dog is really sick. He’s been barfing up bile and--“

She cut me off. “MM? Aren’t you the owner of--? You mean Blaze? Our Blaze is sick?” It had been so long since I’d brought Blaze to the vet that I had forgotten: the staff there adore my dog. When we first got him, he had been suffering from dehydration and malnutrition and he had spent a week or so recuperating under their care, which must have been lavish and fawning, given the staff’s reaction any time I brought Blaze in thereafter. Whenever I walked through the door, whoever was on desk duty would start making little squee noises of glee and page the rest of the staff, who would burst through the swinging door leading to the back and surround Blaze. I might as well have been a ghost, for all they noticed me. So when I told the staffer what was going on, she didn’t hesitate a second in telling me to come in immediately, while she would place a call to the vet at his home.

Even allowing for bathroom trips and dashes upstairs to grab books and videogames for the waiting room, we were back in the car with everyone (the Éclair too) buckled and ready to go in less than two minutes--a land-speed record for us. Within another seven minutes, we were at the vet’s. After the staffer who let us in made a fuss over Blaze, she hefted him (shaking loose a startling series of moist burps that sounded almost like hiccups) and carried him back to one of the exam rooms, leaving me and the kids to wait for the vet’s arrival.

I thought it was a hard job keeping the Éclair from touching everything in the department store and the toy shop, but I was soon to redefine my definition of a hard job as I did my frazzled best to keep the Empress from scooping up a clump of hair that was under the waiting room fish tank, or trying to upend one of the containers of complimentary dog biscuits that sat at various tables around the waiting area.

Then a car pulled up outside and our vet got out. I told Thomas and the Brownie to watch the baby while I got up and met the man at the door, apologizing for disturbing his weekend.

“Not a problem,” he said. “My wife was going to the mall and wanted to leave the kids with me, but when your call came in, she had to take them with her. So thanks for getting me off the hook.” Then he winked. Had this happened earlier in my weekend, I would have understood and envied his joy, but now that envy was being slowly replaced by a new feeling. I gave a quick wave to my little team as left the waiting room and followed the vet through the swinging door into the back.

I explained Blaze’s symptoms. “So he’d already thrown up at home, then did it some more after riding in the car?” the vet asked. I nodded. “Well, it may not be worth worrying about. If he was already feeling sick, a car ride would only make it worse. Dogs get carsick too. Let me take a look at him. I’ll be out in a bit,” he said. I showered him with profuse thanks and went back out to the waiting room, half-expecting to find the two older kids engaged in reading to the Eclair.

But when I got to the waiting room, it turned out that all three of my kids were gone.

I did two full circles on the spot, looking everywhere. They weren’t hiding behind the reception desk, nor in the bathroom. I poked my head back through the swinging door and caught the staffer who’d let me in, thinking maybe the kids had gone in the back to visit the dogs and cats that were being kenneled there that weekend. But the staffer was the only one in sight.

Now just a little frantic, I pelted through the waiting room and burst outside. It was almost totally dark out there, and although the wind had died down, it was cold. I squinted and scanned the lawn in front of the office building, then saw my van under a street lamp and headed there, thinking the kids might have gotten in it. In our haste to get into the building, I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to lock it.

As soon as I reached the van, though, I heard some laughter and squealing and turned to my right.

There on the side lawn of the building were my kids. Heedless of the cold and the dark, Thomas and the Brownie were playing leapfrog and doing cartwheels and somersaults, all for the entertainment of their baby sister, the Empress of Everything, who was alternately screaming for joy and munching contentedly on, oh dear God, a dog biscuit.

I stood for a moment, watching this scene unfold. The baby was as happy as I’d ever seen her, and her big brother and sister were absolutely focused on entertaining her. At one point, the Éclair toddled back a few steps, causing the Brownie to dash over and grab her hand just before the baby would have stepped backwards off the curb and surely fallen. Then together, the two girls held hands as they walked back to Thomas. He stopped somersaulting and came over to grab the baby’s other hand--even though it was the one that contained the dog biscuit and must surely have been drooly and gross--and together they started swinging her, higher and higher. In the glow of the street lamp nearby, I watched her little body arc, saw her face alight with pleasure.

Thomas and the Brownie gave each other a satisfied look. They treated the Éclair like a treasure, and watching over her was one of the few things they did well--or at least without fighting--together. In that moment, all my tension and anxiety melted away, and I felt a great swell of affection surge up in my heart. In my preoccupation with the moment-to-moment demands of my family, I had quite forgotten how much I genuinely enjoyed being with my children, and how lucky I should feel to be able to spend this kind of time with them.

“Dad!” Thomas cried, suddenly noticing me. “Are you okay? You have a funny look on your face.”

“Fine, I’m fine,” I said, wiping my eyes a little. “Just watching you guys. Thanks for taking care of your sister--although you DO know she shouldn’t be eating dog biscuits, right?”

Thomas swallowed hard. “Those cookie things in the waiting room were dog biscuits?!? I ate three of them!”

“Cookie ting!” the Éclair agreed, holding up her uneaten half of the biscuit.

I was about to wrestle the biscuit out of her hand--a task I was NOT going to enjoy--when we heard a shout from the doorway and saw the kennel staffer motioning to us. Suddenly realizing how cold it was, we all dashed back in, the big kids ahead of me while I tucked the Éclair under my arm and carried her like a football.

Blaze was waiting for us, lying on the floor while the staffer cooed at him and stroked his fur. He lay in a euphoric daze, licking his chops in pleasure, stopping only occasionally to snort or make some other strange noise.

“Well,” the vet spoke from the open bathroom door, where he was washing his hands. “It looks like Blaze has allergies. The way he’s sort of snorting and hiccupping, plus the vomiting, it’s all pretty consistent. When they get allergies, it can really upset their digestion.” I nodded in understanding. I had allergies myself and knew all too well how something as innocuous as post-nasal drip could leave you begging for a few Tums. “His stomach was probably upset all day,” the vet continued. “And then when he got in the car, well, that was it.”

“At least he was able to use it to scare the carjackers away!” Thomas said, causing the vet to give him, then me, a sharp look. I just shrugged and shook my head. The vet gave me a small bottle of pills that he said would help settle Blaze’s stomach, and advised me to start giving the dog a single Benadryl tablet every morning. “It works on dogs the same way it works on people,” he said. I thanked him profusely, then I paid him profusely for the privilege of having him tend to my dog on a Saturday evening.

I was almost giddy with relief as we got back in the car. Despite my attempts to convince everyone (not least myself) that I was going to have a fret-free weekend with the kids, I had obviously been holding onto more than a little angst, waiting for some shoe of disaster to drop on me from a great height. Now the crisis had passed and really, it hadn’t been that awful, not with my team ready to help out. “So, what shall we do tonight?” I asked, as we turned down the street into our neighborhood.

“I want to set up these toys and do a video,” Thomas said, shaking his box of recently acquired Star Wars toys. “And maybe we can finally update my Art Lad blog. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time.”

“I want to do some coloring with Elizabeth,” the Brownie answered. “I thought we could work on a welcome-home card for Mom when she gets back tomorrow.”

“Lilbeth! Color! Mommy!” the Eclair agreed.

From the far back, Blaze answered with an enormous blubbery burp.

“What about you, Dad?” Thomas asked. “You should do something fun too. What do you want to do?”

I looked up, catching their eyes reflected back at me in the rearview mirror. “You know what, Thomas?” I said, as we pulled into driveway and found ourselves home once more. “I think I’m already doing it.”

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I've read your blog from beginning to end and am always thoroughly entertained by what I read. It's hard to believe how much trouble one person can get into throughout his life. I applaud you, sir, for your ability to get into, and then out of, trouble so frequently. Glad everything worked out for you.
What a dad. :) I'm glad Blaze is okay! Also, so excited for an art lad post. It has been too long!
Don't ya just love those moments? They seem to be too few and far between in the daily grind of life, but when they, they're wonderful.

Tell us, what was HLS's reaction to Thomas' retelling of the "carjacking" incident?
AWWW! This post actually made me cry...and laugh! Thank you for another wonderful story! Your life is certainly never boring, is it? Lucky for us.
I just realised-Blaze was in bed with you? He's over his fear of your bedroom?

Art Lad Blog! YAYYY!!!
Glad everything worked out OK, MM. Looking forward to some fresh stuff from Art Lad.
Very nice. I laughed at Thomas' cookie things remark. I hope Blazey is doing better and that your tackle to the tarmac didn't have any lasting ramifications. Thanks for the 4-parter.
i wonder what he's allergic to, and i'm glad he's okay. if i'd have been thinking, i'd have known that blaze would be the perfect plan to foil carjackers - one way or another.
What a sweet story :) I'm glad everything turned out okay!

Did you ever go back to Kohl's to get those sweaters?
That was great - well worth the wait. Thanks - and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
I am smiling, really smiling, for the first time today. well, the second--my own little guy made me smile earlier. what a crazy, invigorating weekend for you and the kiddos. could HLS have had anywhere near as much excitement? thank you for finishing these installments in a timely manner--I was kind of worried!
Hilarious and touching all at the same time!

BTW, my kids just LOVE dog biscuits and eat them for fun... so don't worry about it...
From one Dad to another - well done! (And really, really well communicated!)
What a terrific story, sonds like you are one fantastic Dad. Will definately be back again for more stories.
Another great story. Thanks for letting me share it a bit earlier than expected, MM. That made my day.
Thank you so much for writing...I always enjoy your posts so much. I'm glad that everything worked out for you and your family.
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