With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Archive for the ‘My world’ Category

Max and Bugs

Bugs and Max

Bugs and Max

Recently I did a little dog-sitting while some friends went out of town for the weekend. Since the dogs know me fairly well and they live close by on the next pier since (I happen to live on a boat in a marina), I thought taking care of them would be rather easy.   Uh-huh. I might be able to explain my actual experience in just one word: Schnauzers.

The two dogs have very different personalities. Max, a.k.a. Max-amillion, is aptly named because he has more energy than any living creature ought to. His other defining characteristic gave rise to his only other nickname, Attention Slut. If a human is in his presence, Max will be petted and rubbed and scratched.   He’s also very curious, always closely watching what you’re doing as if he’s supervising. His owner has told me how the dog will watch him for hours working on a motorcycle engine, looking at all the parts and occasionally making eye contact to telepathically ask, “Is this one of those new McCallister connectors I’ve read about?” If and when he finally gets bored with watching, before he wanders off he’ll give one last look at the partial assembly of engine parts, give a quick nuzzle to his pet old man – the equivalent of a pat on the back – and then project the thought, like a senior surgeon, “Okay, Dude, you seem to have it under control. Go ahead and ‘close it up’.”

Bugs, a.k.a. Bugaboo, a.k.a. Bugzilla, is pretty much the opposite.   Older than Max, he doesn’t move around nearly as much. In fact, he hardly moves at all. But just show him the leash and he rockets to the boat’s toerail near the finger pier.   He doesn’t expect to go for a walk; no, in his mind he’s about to go hunting. Guess what he loves to hunt? Bugs. Yep, Bugs hunts bugs.   Exactly what kind we don’t know, but that little fuzzy face finds food-like items in any small patch of grass. Just like another Schnauzer I used to know, I find myself calling him “Goat-Dog” and “Chupacabra.”

Okay, so every couple of hours I’d walk these two, but they weren’t so much walks as they were drags: Max would drag me by one arm – like a little tug steadily towing a much bigger ship – and I would drag Bugs. This is when I discovered that although Bugs has the reputation for being laid-back and lazy, what he is, in truth, is stubborn. You know that cliché about looking up a word in the dictionary and finding a picture of the person you’re talking about?   BUGS is the character who STARTED all of that with the word “stubborn”!

From patch of shade to patch of shade we’d go, Max dragging us both, my arms being the only stretch-able part of the chain. Max was always exploring, moving in a wide arc, just like a boat swinging on an anchor rode. And little ol’ bugs just loved, loved, lovvved to play the anchor. He’d plant his little feet, lock his little legs, and stiffen his little body, and just he didn’t care that his body harness was getting pulled tight over his head. I swear I saw that with the little living tractor Max straining on one end of the leash and Bugs planting his feet like that at the other end, the body harness was slowly lifting Bug’s back feet off the ground, tipping him forward. Well, even if we didn’t cover a lot of ground together, at least the little buggers got plenty of isometric exercise!

Once, stubborn Bugs was looking up into my eyes, watching me, as he slowly tucked his right forward paw, slowly rolled over his shoulder on to his back, and then, upside-down but still looking at me in the eye, did just ONE twitch to scratch his back in the grass. ONE twitch, still looking at me. In dog body language, I believe that means, “You’re not my mama; you’re not my daddy.   You want to go somewhere? Drag my furry ass!”

Over the whole weekend, I couldn’t get that dog more than 50 yards from his home.   I left him on the boat, once, so I could give Max a good walk. He eagerly walked off the marina, down the road, and over the hill, excitedly checking pee-mail everywhere along the way. When we returned, Bugs watched us come aboard, but he moved only his eyes: he didn’t even lift his head!

Saturday night I slept on their boat, just to keep the canines company.   Their boat is big enough to have an actual bed instead of just bunks, so I spread my summer-weight sleeping bag there.   I waited, though, until Max was “safely” asleep on the midships settee. I quietly went aft, silently disrobed, and without a sound crawled onto the bed. Before I could lay my head down, Max was there, nuzzling under my hand. “Pet me! Pet me!   Pet me in your sleep!”

Bugs joined us, too. He went right up to the head of the bead and plopped himself on a regular-size pillow, near my head. Sometime during the night I woke to the sound of panting in my ear. I was about to push him away, but then I drowsily thought, hey, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard any panting in bed, so what the hell, this was close enough. Eh, I’ll take it!

Overall, my time with the dogs went well, almost without incident. Just before “the boys” and I were going to drive to pick up their parents, while I was in the shower, lazy, laid-back, snoozy-bloodhound-in-a-Schnauzer’s-body BUGS jumped off the boat and trotted down the dock. Neither dog ever gets off the boat without permission, even when they’re excited by other dogs on the pier or ducks in the water. Bugs probably didn’t want to go anywhere in particular: he just wanted to let me know who was in charge. (“You’re not my mama; you’re not my daddy. You are not the boss of me.”) A half-dozen marina people who knew him followed him and caught up to him in the parking lot. A young girl who didn’t know Bugs was there, petting him, and, as I approached, shoeless on the gravel, she asked, “Does anybody know who’s he is?”

I said, “He’s mine! Well, sort of – I’m watching him.”

Nearby, Jane said, “Well, NOT VERY WELL!”

Okay, Bugs. You did a fine job of making me look irresponsible and making sure half the marina knew about it. Okay, Bugs.   You da’ boss.

After the Escape

After the Escape – “Ya, ya, ya, blah, blah, blah. You’re still not the boss of us!”

These two are fine examples of the Schnauzer breed. Whatever a Schnauzer’s individual personality might be, there’s a lot of it!




2014, Mik Hetu, author of Napism.Info (for people who take their naps “religiously”)


Summer is Here

Summer is here 400

There is a day well into the official, astronomical season when summer truly arrives.  It is no specific day of the calendar, and it is usually a different day for each of us.  It is a day well past the first few hot days, and it always takes us by a calm surprise.  It is the first day we feel the summer season and its connection to all of the summers in our past.

One day last week in the early evening I drove up to Baltimore to see a friend on his boat.  He had returned from a cruise to Mexico and Cuba (he’s a citizen of Great Britain) and had brought his skipjack-style boat back to its birthplace in hopes of finding a new owner interested in local sailing history.  He tied up to a friend’s dock in a creek I knew well but hadn’t been to in quite a while, so for me driving to it was full of reminders of good times from years ago.

Going across the high span of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, from that height, with that late-in-the-day angle of sunlight, the waters of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay beyond appeared remarkably blue (but I knew damned well that close-up the water is much more of a dirty brown!)  The water’s color was set off by the full greens of the bordering trees and grasses, and after I crossed the bridge span a very white egret lazily flew across the road, it’s pure color a contrast, an accent to everything in sight.  Damned if this industrial side of Baltimore didn’t look and feel full of natural life.  In the words of Seals and Croft in their old song Summer Breeze, “July is dressed up and playing her tune . . . “

I pulled off the highway near the decrepit shell of the old Bethlehem Steel factory (that’s the pic above), noticing, in the foreground of the rusting steel structure, quite a variety of green lowland vegetation, all of it seeming especially verdant and lush by comparison to the decaying building.  I drove on, windows down because the AC in my Jeep Wrangler quit working a couple of summers ago.  Different smells flooded over me, washing in through the windows as I passed through patches of shade, a long dip in the road near the brackish water, behind a diesel truck, and over some fresh tar patching.  No one will ever make a perfume to mimic it, but sometimes, just sometimes, hot concrete and tar smells surprisingly good (but only because it revives memories made in hot city weather!)

The simple sights, the familiar smells, the sunshine, the heat, a slight breeze in the trees and over the water and brushing over my tanned body, the feel of my muscles as I relax after a day of physical work, kicking back with old friends . . . ya, summer is here.


2014, Mik Hetu, author of Napism.Info (for people who take their naps “religiously”)

The Painting Pickets Blues

Pickets 400

This past week I painted a deck with something I’ve never used before, Behr’s Deck-Restore. Pouring it out of the 5 gallon can, it was thicker than chocolate syrup! It reminded me of bottom paint for boats, and that stuff reminds me of gooey tar. It seems like an excellent product for protecting wood, but the thickness of it makes for slow, slow painting. Hence, the song that wrote itself as I worked:

I can paint a house, all day long
Ya I can paint a house, all day long
And all day long, I feel like,
I feel like singing a smilin’ song

I can paint a room, all day and all night
Ya I can paint a room, all day and all night
Ya when I paint a room, I feel,
I feel not great, but I feel aaallll-right

I can paint a porch, it’s in the shade
Ya I can paint a porch, it’s in the shade
Ya when I paint a porch,
Oh, lordy, I got it made

I can paint a deck, I can paint a paa-ti-ooh
Ya I can paint a deck, I can paint a paa-ti-ooh
Ya, ‘cause when I’m painting outside,
It helps the time, the time to flow

I can paint a picket
Oh, hell, I can paint a picket
But, but I say, ask me to paint a pack o’ pickets,
And I say, aww, man! Frick it! Frick the pickets! I hate frickin’ pickets! Painting pickets sucks! It’s mind-numbing, dull, dull, dull work! Tedious and slow! I frickin’ hate frickin’ painting frickin’ pickets! Frickin’, schmugger-frussin’, makka-saaly, stoopid, stoopid pickets!
Oh, yaaaa . . .

(As I’ve said many times, if you can’t entertain yourself, you can’t fairly expect anyone else to.)

What kind of name is that?

My name is Mik, and my family name is Hetu.  When I meet people in person after meeting them over the phone or after they’ve heard my name mentioned, many times they’re surprised that I am not some kind of Asian.  It’s a reasonable assumption, especially if you say my name quickly.  More than one person has mentioned to me “Mik Hetu” has a sound pattern similar to the Japanese word for emperor, “Mikado” (familiar to the world if only through the Gilbert and Sullivan play The Mikado.)  Many years ago, I found a way to have fun with this, and it has become my stock answer to the question, “What kind of name is that?”

“Well, no one in the family is quite sure.  You see, my family is half Canadian French and half Canadian Indian, and nobody’s really knows which side of the family the name came from.  Actually, we all argue over it all the time because the two sides assign vastly different stories.  I prefer the Canadian Indian meaning of the name, but I’m told the French meaning is much more appropriate.”

The listener will usually bite.  “Really?  More appropriate?  In what way?”

“Well, remember that it is very cold up in Canada, so long ago the natives learned to pack a lot of meaning into as few words as possible.  In the language of several tribes of Canadian Indian, Hetu means: Snowy, snowy night, when the winter wind blows from across the water, and the children have no food to eat and cry themselves to sleep at their mother’s breast as she sings to them softly and worries about their father hunting alone under the moon as his father did, and his father’s father did before him.”

Half the time, the listener’s eyes glaze over before I get through it, but half the time, he or she will say, “Really! Wow!  What’s the French translation?”

“Oh, that’s much easier to remember.  It’s simply: Full of Shit.”

They laugh, and well, y’know, I’ll take that as a compliment . . .

Morning Coffee Out Back

After a night of bad sleep, I woke up before the alarm and lay in bed, staring at the changing digital numbers. Deciding to have that first cup of coffee before I showered and shaved for work, I stumbled downstairs, took my favorite mug out back to the deck, and began my day.

My townhouse development is not too far from the highway, so from over the hill comes the incessant sticky swish of rolling rubber and the occasional whine of an anxious, fast truck. In the afternoon these same noises remind me of coming home tired from work and being stuck n commuter traffic, but in the morning they make me think of going places and seeing people and new things, camping and vacations and bad coffee on a misty sunrise at an unfamiliar gas station. In the mornings, somewhere in that soothing stream of traffic I can hear my future explorations.

The highway sound is just the background, the back beat rhythm of the morning song. There’s usually a car pulling out of the development with its radio leaking out a window, doors being shut hard and followed by footsteps on the sidewalk, a child calling her dog and the dog barking at some bark-able item, and the ugly birds in my backyard. Grackles, I think they’re called, and they make surprisingly horrible noises, like little alien machines possessed by something demonic. They’re balance, though, for the little Disney tweeties that visit my neighbor’s birdfeeder and the mourning doves that coo from their telephone wire perches. The calls of the birds, their fluttering to the feeder, the clicking of the squirrels and the scratch of their claws on the tree bark: all blend together with the slight snare drum brush of tree leaves stirring under an intermittent breeze. Mornings are far from silent, but thankfully they’re full of quiet sounds. I sipped my coffee and imagined a sappy cartoon where in some tiny clearing in a forest in view of a tall city a silly rabbit uses his ears to conduct an orchestra of plump birds and much too cute baby animals.

I exchanged g’mornings with my neighbor, also out on her deck, and then I watched her lose control of her newspaper when she tried to re-fold the comics page. Sheets fell, slid off her table, and dropped to the deck. She looked at them lying at her feet, but she reached for her coffee instead. I like her.

I was sitting on the top step at the end of my deck, surveying my realm, all 10 feet of it, when who saunters into my domain but Spike the Cat. He’s a big ol’ furball from across the street who likes to give me dirty looks on his way to lurk beneath the birdfeeder. I watched him carefully pick his way through the grass, in and out of loose shade from the trees overhead and patches of light. Low-angled sunlight is the best, morning or evening. My grandma used to point it out to me and say, “Butter light is better.”

With my elbows on my knees, I looked down at my bare feet and the wood grain of the deck steps. I was wearing my old heather-gray sweats, the hard-to-find old style with a drawstring instead of an elastic waistband and an old T-shirt, bought while on vacation years ago and now showing a few fingernail-size holes and frayed hems. I enjoy wearing my suits and ties, and I’m perfectly comfortable in them, but they’re clothes and a persona that I put on for whatever fine reason. My old sweats and T-shirts are what I wear when I’m at home, when I’m doing absolutely nothing but being me. I can’t remember the specifics of any particular good day or night had while wearing these old clothes, but whenever I put them on, I certainly do feel a hint of the mood of several years’ worth of relaxed times.

I sipped from my mug, remembering who gave it to me and when and why. That was years ago, and I still use the gift frequently. The second but higher function of all possessions is to hold memories.

From the next townhouse building came the aroma of grass cut the night before, and I thought of the two million lawns I mowed as a teenager. I pictured the old grass-stained brown leather boots I had then, and the swallows that flew crazy circles around me to hunt exposed insects as I worked that big yard on the hill, and my high school friends . . . my high school friends. Time flies.

Thinking of time made me think that I should probably get ready for work. As I stood up and stretched, I looked up at strong, dark gray tree trunks supporting living canopies of brightly lit green leaves that partially screened a clear and very blue sky, and I thought no, no, can’t go in to work yet: it was time to enjoy another cup of coffee.

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