Time in A Bottle

The Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR in the rain at night.

I was walking down Lex. That’s what my mother-in-law called Lexington. It was twenty blocks to East 72nd street. And twenty blocks back. I spent the first three or four blocks doing the math. Counting blocks.

The next few blocks I got a little overwhelmed by emotions. She hadn’t lived in Manhattan for seventeen or eighteen years, and hasn’t lived on this earth for over a decade. But I still miss her.

I remembered when I met her. It was my first time on the East Side. We were there for Easter. I wasn’t the first girlfriend brought home, and the relaxed banter around the table made me think that my presence didn’t have any great import. They come and they go, I surmised.

It was the biggest apartment that I had ever seen. There was a substantial foyer, with a bunch of furniture–chairs, tables, couch, lamps–and a big closet. On the right was the hallway to the bedrooms. One for the twins and the other a master bedroom with a separate dressing area with en suite.

The main living room was spectacularly huge, to me. It had multiple sitting areas and a most impressive oriental rug that, if rolled up, would likely take three men to carry. Someone would need to support it in the middle. The dining room was off to the side and led to a more regular-sized kitchen. The Future Spouse slept on the couch near the balcony. I slept on the pullout couch on the other side of the room, miles away.

There was a lively discussion around the family-laden table on that Easter Sunday. Catching up on school and jobs and the status of a cousin who was moving on to a third husband. The Future Spouse totally missed the middle husband. They come and they go, I suppose.

One thing that the Future Spouse did not miss, however, was the menu. There was a beautiful leg of lamb, peas and mashed potatoes. I am not a fan of lamb or cooked peas, but was brought up to eat what was in front of me without complaint, and, indeed, with gusto and praise to the cook. I wasn’t raised by wolves.

I had politely piled my plate with a reasonable amount of food that I was neither allergic to nor made me retch. Despite that, someone studied my plate.

“Well at least you like the mashed potatoes.”

I. Thought. That. I. Would. Die. Right. Then. Why couldn’t I just simply disappear? Maybe there would be an earthquake to distract us?

Embarrassed, I swiftly kicked his shin, sent daggers from my eyes and placed a forkful of lamb in my mouth followed by effusive compliments about the delicious meal. I mean really!

The woman who was the hostess and who would become my mother-in-law quickly spoke over the impolitic comment and acknowledged my truly heartfelt praise. She also shot a nudge–perhaps a virtual dummy slap?–over the top of her glasses to my companion who was rubbing his shin. The Spouse to this day claims that this was a strategic move to make me less nervous. I know that nobody supports that crazed claim.

As I turned down 72nd, I realized that I had five more blocks. I had forgotten about York. But I remembered now, even though I hadn’t walked this street for over a decade. I fought back another wave of emotions. It was still a part of my memories of home. A home, in this case, I was welcomed into.

Busting Loose

A yet to be "rehabbed" street in Shaw. Around 7th and L, NW. Close to the cop shoppe.

Growing up, a meaningful block was a half-mile long. Nobody walked much, so it wasn’t a big deal, but the distances between stuff were actual distances. Walking three blocks was a mile and a half. Distances were covered in miles per hour, thank you very much.

When I first moved to our nation’s capital, these were pre-GPS days–I know, right?, I pulled out the map to see where I was heading. It was on the other side of the beltway. Using my historical point of reference, I figured it would take about 60-70 minutes. It took me less than 20, and that might have included a little bit of time when I was lost.

Geographically, D.C. is a small place.

Today I told The Spouse that drinks were on me at the hip watering hole that just reopened. I decided to hoof it from downtown. The Spouse hit the pavement from The Mall. It’s a sign of the times that we would even consider walking. Five or six years ago, when the development was in planning, I would not walk that corridor. Boarded up shops, drug deals on corners, and no reason to be there. Nope. Seventh Street was a car route.

I walked the dozen blocks, passing the new convention center, spiffy hotels with five-story atriums, rehabbed buildings, shiny new box apartments, a grocery store with wine and a ton of prepared foods, and a few windows still boarded up. For now.

There were still the few blocks of subsidized apartments, but they’re much less notorious. There was still a cop going back and forth with a citizen. They were being observed by a sidewalk full of the neighborhood a few yards away. Nobody was cuffed. The convenience store was surrounded by folks waiting for the bus. The air included the smell of tobacco and weed. But no piss.

The city was always tiny, but now the walk from the FBI building to the burgeoning condo, bike path, coffee shop and restaurant fueled blocks formerly known as the hood and now known by their hip nicknames was much faster than a cab during Friday rush hour. In less than twenty minutes, office commuters can traverse to the land of brown liquor with artisanal ice, biergartens, craft roasted coffee, dog groomers and hipsters.

These thirteen blocks span less than a mile, not the 6½ that I would have expected in my youth. As the city gets closer together, it gets bigger for some people and increasingly inaccessible for others.

The Spouse remarked on our independent walks through what had been a tough area. I noted that there was new paint and landscaping at the public housing complex across from the shiny new grocery store. The rec center that had an awesome makeover was full of little and mid-sized kids that did not live in the new studio and studio +den apartments with the marble counters and stainless steel appliances.

We don’t want the city to lose the people who have raised generations of families here. Both of us, at the same time, said we really hoped that there was enough room for everyone. I better go call the Mayor.

Kittehzzelz and The Beast

It was a stunning morning. Cool without chill. Sunny without blaze. Perfect for a stroll, not just for business but for pleasure, too.

We walked past the Bobcat front loader at the end of the street. The Beast examined it with his snout and sprayed towards it with his leg lifted. We turned the corner.

The windows on the first floor apartment were open, letting in the day. They let out a tinny sound from a radio. I think it was smooth jazz.

We approached the end of the block, then what to our wondering eyes did appear? A Pokémon. In the wild.

Fortunately The Beast was nonplussed, even when it jumped up and down. Even when it was beating its wings. It was as if he didn’t see it. I held his lead tight as I captured the flapping bird. We were safe.

I don’t know much about our current infestation of these pocket monsters, except we’re supposed to catch them all. It didn’t appear, however, that The Beast would be of much use. I wondered whose side he was on. Still, I was grateful that he didn’t lunge at it as I really prefer my arms snug in my shoulder sockets.

We turned the corner heading toward the tracks. I did a mini face-palm when I realized I did not have any bribes–I mean treats–in my pocket. I usually put one in my hand as we approach where the train might appear. The damn dog can get downright ornery, barking and pulling and stepping on my feet and forcing me to step out of my shoes. The idea is to offer a treat as a distraction. Not that they do any good. It’s more so I feel like I can do something. It’s all an illusion.

We turned the next corner, heading closer to home. The walk had become blissfully uneventful. We walked past the treehouse where The Beast’s buddies lived. There was a panoply of water hazards in the yard: a small blow-up baby pool, a large blow-up big kids pool and a water table with little buckets, cups and spoons.There was a huge old tree that provided shade for the hazard takers. There were no hazard takers or dogs in sight, though.

We crossed the street to the house that has the huge side lot. The grass was freshly cut. It was cropped like Howie Long’s flattop, where it looks thick and lush for its exacting trim. I saw them first. The wild kittehzzelz.*

It was weird that my phone didn’t vibrate as we approached these mini-monsters. There were two kittehzzelz. One was gray and white and the other was orange. They were stretched out on the lawn enjoying the cool shade as it’d be a few hours before the sun made it over the house. As we approached, they flipped onto their bellies in unison. Their heads swiveled as one toward us. The Beast noticed these Pokémon in the wild. I knew because he was pulling me in their direction.

I planted my left leg as far away as I could and lunged or maybe lurched, literally dragging the dog. I gave a quick check to his collar. He took a step toward me. I decided to maintain speed and direction away from these creatures of interest. I didn’t have a tool to capture and dispose of them.

The Beast disagreed with me. He was trying to head to the kittehzzelz nest. I put my head down and squared my shoulder as I attempted a long stride away. He usually falls in line, but not this morning. Not only was he being civilly disobedient, but he was turned in the direction of opposition.

I yanked and dragged. He wasn’t budging. This was becoming very annoying. I tugged harder. So did he. He was intent on staying put. I turned around. I was shocked to see a crazy orange kittehzzelz almost nose to nose with the dog. The Beast was more curious than anything. Usually smaller creatures run away from his dangerous heft. Not this kittehzzelz. I’m like, is this thing rabid? Where’s its sense of danger? Then it happened.

The kittehzzelz was evolving from a medium sized ball of fluff to a more ferocious self. A kittehbobcat, maybe. It made itself much bigger. It changed its shape to increase it’s  girth by arching its  back. Its eyes were about twice the size of a minute ago. It spit, too.

I was all like, why the hell are you compelled to come up to my dog and get aggressive? I didn’t have a pokeball or anything–not even a treat–to throw at it. So I yelled at it. I was getting worried. I needed to get to work and I didn’t feel like pulling a vicious, rabid kittehbobcat off of my dog. And this vicious kittehbobcat sure seemed like it was ready to attack. Really. I am not making this up.

I threw my entire weight into pulling The Beast away from the mesmerizing monster. I dug my feet into the sidewalk to gain traction. I inched The Beast away, and the vicious kittehbobcat took two steps closer. Using my outside voice, I called it a mean cat. It spit again. The Beast let go of his protest and moved with me. He was still facing the vicious kittehbobcat, but at least he was now backing away. The kittehbobcat stood it’s ground and hissed and sprayed.

The Beast begrudgingly moved with me, but still had two eyes trained on the orange monster. I followed his gaze to see the vicious kittehbobcat turn, mockingly lift its tail and trot back to its companion. That one got away.


* Loyal Reader, do NOT, tear apart your pokedeck trying to find this mythical creature. I think The Beast found the only one. Also, I made up this name.

Mine, With a Twist

chocolate and vanilla ice cream twist in a cone. i prefer a dish, tho.

After laying in a tube for 90 minutes listening to the worst, anti-rhythmic EDM while getting my pictures taken, and after a better than average but not quite good and certainly less than awesome overhyped fast-casual lunch, I decided to walk back to the office. And get some ice cream. Not really ice cream, but frozen custard. It’s a form of soft serve, I guess. But creamier.

I was actually pretty full after my eden bounty of flash cooked greens–broccoli and green beans and snow peas and zucchini and edamame and bok choy–with quinoa and a pair of nondescript sauces. Maybe if they gave you only one sauce they would have concentrated on making it more worthwhile. Doubling meh is like multiplying by one. You don’t get less meh. You don’t get more meh. Just meh. At least there was sriracha.

As full of green as I was, a frozen treat was still appealing. And, if I walked the 12 blocks from the hospital, I could both walk past the custard shop and mitigate my calorie lapse. Perhaps not a full win, but dangerously close.

It was super sunny and super breezy. So sunny that it was sizzling on the sunny side of the street and so breezy that it was chilly–like zip up your sweater chill–on the shady side. I criss crossed the street to regulate my temperature.

At first, I thought I was walking on H Street. The city blocks look pretty identical near the World Bank, but I caught myself before going off course. I did have to cross back to the shady side, though, since that’s where the custard store was.

Was is the operative word here. I passed by a dive bar that is mostly in the basement except for the bistro tables they serve under a big awning on the sidewalk. The bar smells better outside, for those of you tallying at home.

Usually, just past the tables, there’s a sandwich board. It’s more like a siren’s song, enticing pedestrians to the call of ice cream. No sign. It wasn’t there. As I approached the storefront, it seemed dark. Because it was. All of the interior counters, machines, sneeze guards and menu signs were gone. Inside there was wood stained medium-brown, a chalk colored linoleum floor and a random piece of plastic tubing on the ground. Lights out.

I felt like this was a little bit right. I really didn’t have much stomach space for ice cream, so it was good.

Although, it was sad. Sad that the store closed. The custard was really good. In fact, it may have saved a life–that day that a bunch of the most stupid people who had screwed up in the most avoidable fashion and blew my deadline without a recovery plan? Yeah. That day I just pushed my chair back to avoid cursing them blue-black and stomped to the ice cream store and cooled down. Inside and out. Everybody survived. Although the stupids were terrified of me from that day forward. That worked, too. All I had to say was, “ice cream,” and I owned them all.

I powered on, past the empty treat spot. I saw the food trucks lining the square and craned my neck on the off chance there was an ice cream truck. Nope. Just the standard rolled in a tortilla or in a like-a-tortilla fare. I thought I had given up on my sweet urge, but I guess I was wrong.

As I stepped into the street to cross the next block, I remembered the by-the-pound frozen yogurt store. This was actually what I wanted–just a little bit of desert. It’s self-serve soft-serve. I could totally regulate. It was only a few steps further. I walked in.

The store should be a mess, what with all the shitty tourists coming back from the White House pouring and heaping and spilling with their distractions that created inabilities to steady their bowls underneath the spouts, but the staff kept it fastidiously clean. So impressive.

As I walked in and scouted for a container to fill, a six foot four inch patron with steel toed boots wearing a kevlar vest and carrying an exposed, but holstered, weapon was on his way out. He had more than filled his twenty ounce container. Strawberry juice and slightly melted soft serve were seeping from underneath the clear plastic top clamping down the wreckage of fudge and maple syrup and blueberries and chocolate chunks and flaked coconut topping the cheesecake and mocha cappuccino froze-yo. I asked him if he had enough. He was sheepish. It was supposed to be for two, but he admitted that he was going to eat it all. And say that he didn’t stop to get any.

Emboldened by his display of abundance, I surveyed my choices. Skipping quickly past the sorbets I saw not only frozen yogurt, but a dispenser of custard. Vanilla and raspberry on the far side. There was vanilla and chocolate yogurt that could be twisted on the near side. The fabulous man who was keeping the store scrupulously clean was also sweetly friendly. “Can I help you?” was his earnest question.

“No thank you,” I said as I spied the paper bowl. I picked one off the top and stepped to the chocolate yogurt. I knew what I was doing.

Placing the container underneath the spout I paused with my palm on the handle, getting a quick feel for its heft and resistance. I wanted just a smidgen and a mishandling of the handle would deliver the thud of a huge glop. I drew in a breath and lifted and then almost immediately returned the lever. Perfect. Now to the far side.

My preference is always for a vanilla to chocolate ratio approaching 3:1. The buttery fullness of the vanilla is best when punctuated by the sharper chocolate flavor. And the chocolate is smoothed and delicious-fied by vanilla. I raised the cup very close to the spout, I wanted the custard to concentrate itself on top of the chocolate.

Next I went to the corner with the toppings. Most, frankly, looked disgusting to me. Not because of their presentation–again, kudos to the staff. I looked among the nuts–shaves of almonds, raw walnuts, goopy walnuts. No. No. No. In the back I saw a bottle with chopped salted peanuts. Perfect! I shook out a few. I glanced across the two dozen bins until I saw the smushed Heath bars. I teaspooned a bit along the edge. Done.

My cup was hardly filled. It weighed and costed out at $2.52. That’s way less than a frappuccino. And then I added two drips from the ladle of free hot fudge. Napkins and a spoon and I was back on my way.

I really love peanuts with ice cream. I laced my spoon through the vanilla custard to add a dab of chocolate yogurt with toffee. After two more blocks I realized that the ice cream had exactly no flavor. It was just a conduit for the toppings with no added value. I looked into my bowl with the melted edges of the frozen-yo puddling at the bottom toward my hand. I wiped my lips and placed the napkins on top of the milk product. Three more steps and I found a cement encased trash bin.

So done. Two more blocks and I’m at my building. Done with the hospital, lunch and dessert and ready to settle in for a short workday.

You might think that between the bad music, the average lunch and the taste-free ice cream that it was a disappointing day. But, you’d be wrong.

Between seeing my favorite tech who willed me strength when I had my first MRI, trying a new fun place that inspires my own bowl making and being able to control getting just a little bit of sweet to top off my day, it was far from disappointing.

It doesn’t always have to be a homerun to be a fabulous day. You can win on a base on balls. Like today.

Doc & The Beast: Continuing Adventures

NOT a good boy. The Beast.

Finally, the morning fulfilled the promise that has been teased this spring. Sunshine bounced off the shrubbery and landed a soft, warm kiss on my nose. I clipped the collar around the cold, wet nose of my companion, and we headed out.

As per usual, he started off in his herky-jerk pull. First he jerked to the right. I yanked him toward me. He then herked straight ahead. I admonished him, sternly but ineffectively, but we were going that way anyhow. I halted him when we got to the gate. The bushes that bound our front yard have grown taller than me. Well, not that tall, but are big and thick enough that I can’t see if someone is coming.

It’s important for us all to be forewarned. First, pedestrians can be quite surprised if they walk into what strangers generally marvel at as a “big dog.” Then if the dog is surprised, that mutual surprise becomes a tangle of the neighbor tripping backwards saying, “whoa!” or sometimes, “holy shit! is that a DOG?” and the dog embracing the movement and shrieks as an opportunity to make a new friend who may, in a moment of shock, drop a sandwich.

This becomes a jump-jive lurch and a wrench of my shoulder. Really the wrench of the entire right side of my body from shoulder, to pectorals, to the 3 of my 6-pack that hides underneath middle-age and sometimes through my adductor longus. UNLESS, the person is coming from the other side, then it’s the pivot wrench in which the only thing planted is my left leg. Please pray for that knee. So I hang on to the leash for all that is good in the world and offer my profuse apologies for the unwelcome charge. And I can’t help to pick anything up since I need to redirect The Beast. I spin and swiftly walk away, with a weak wave, a grimacey smile and another cluster of sorries.

That didn’t happen this morning. It’s all about that strategic pause and being ever-vigilant. It’s also all about an empty sidewalk. Issue avoided.

I was ready for work and didn’t have any pockets. I clipped my house key to my sweater and stuffed a plastic bag with a few treats in the elastic at the top of my skirt. It was a a stunning morning indeed, and The Beast, after making sure that the Soviet exile kitty-cat was not hiding underneath the Mini, fell into my pace.

I didn’t have alot of time so we were taking the abbreviated route. There were many new spring smells, but he used the lead I gave him to maximize his sniffs and minimize his corrections. There were some sticks to chew through and napkins on the sidewalk that he was not allowed to investigate further.

We turned the corner and passed the bike share that was half-full of cherry red units. This turn directs us toward the tracks. As we approach the last third of the block, I need to be hyper-aware for approaching trains. I usually use a combination of cooing, bribes and two-handed leash reminders to make the next turn.

It was just as I was looking up ahead and as the beast was retrieving his pee-mail left by other canines on the trunk of the old tree that it happened. The smelling at the base of the tree changed to him rolling his head and neck on the ground. At first I thought he was having a seizure of sorts until I saw him place his shoulder and euphorically rub through that shoulder, neck, ear and nose in, in, in, something.

Oh, God!

So disgusting. I pulled him off it and did a super quick assessment. It didn’t seem to be a dead animal. But it was definitely a gross enough pile that I choked back a gag and dragged him from his holy place.

I cursed a fair amount the rest of the way home. I needed to clean him off enough so I could get to work. Which I did. He would get the full salon treatment this evening.

The Petco has dog-wash stations. For a Hamilton they supply all you need to wash your dog–aprons, shampoo, sprayers and big silver tubs.

Although The Beast was not obviously foul-smelling, I knew (mostly) what he had rolled in. He needed a full refresh.

We took a real walk, the better to wear him out before tonight’s new experience, and I coaxed him into the car. We insaned it to the pet store and were gifted with a parking spot exactly in front of the store. Good omen!

The Beast likes the dogstore. He sniffs around for treats, pokes at the toys and occassionally leaves with one. And cookies. He always gets a cookie.

The cashier looked at us and asked if we were going to the tubs. I’m wondering how she knew. I told her it was my first time. She nodded and asked if we could wait while she took care of the man buying something special for his cute brown moppet dog who began leaping in place at our entrance. That leaping in place was quite a talent.

The attendant walked me to the back of the store where a woman was shampooing her sweet moppet dog in one of the three tubs. Guess moppet dogs are in. There were no other eighty-pound Bambi dogs.

We stood at the wash station. I surveyed the area. Rubber mats on the ground and the bottom of the tubs. Good, neither of us would slip. There was a water spray and cleats on the side. There were some shampoo leashes hanging. I guess the cleats were to hitch the leash.

I took a breath and looked at The Beast. He may have seen a flash of my apprehension. I gave him a treat and moved him toward the bath. He looked at the stainless steel tub and eyed the open door. He looked at me and as much as said, “Seriously, Doc? What the hell do you think is going to happen here?”

He wouldn’t get in. I lifted his front legs in, like we do with the car. The idea was to get the front part in and then I’d lift the rear. This was NOT his idea. He splayed not only his legs out, but grabbed onto the edge of the tub with his paws. He dug in. I couldn’t get behind him in time. He brought his legs back to terra firma.

The attendant asked if we wanted to use a lower tub on the other side of the “salon.” Sounded good to me. I tried to walk him the nine steps to the other tub. He pulled back like a Jeep with a winch. I was on the other end of the rope. He was working to reel me in. I produced another treat and some soothing words. I had to coax him to take the goodie. This was not a good omen.

I out-winched him and pulled him to the other tub. The woman bathing her sweet moppet dog was judging me. I know. I felt it.

I lifted his front paws into this lower tub. He had clearly used the first tub experience as his rehearsal for a true protest. He would not be moved. I hopped up into the tub myself, thinking that I could get him to loosen his resolve if he saw how easy it was. There I am standing in the dog tub and the dog immobile outside of it. Another couple came in with their dog.

The guy looked at me standing in the tub with The Beast doing his sit down strike. He said that his dog would be just like The Beast. I’m looking at him and then his dog. I wonder aloud if the dog was twenty-five pounds. The woman offered, “Sixteen.” Sure, just like my dog. They lifted her up with one friggin’ hand and murmured sweet pleas for forgiveness as they did their washing. Meanwhile, the moppet dog woman was still secretly judging me. I caught the shade.

I got out of the tub since that was not working and pulled another treat out of my pocket. I was running out. It didn’t matter, though. The Beast refused to turn his head toward me. I told him there’s a cookie, and while I got a recognition via one raised eyebrow (yes, he has eyebrows, I’ll show you sometime) he did not turn. I was standing between him and the stainless steel tub. He would not deign to look toward that hated stainless steel tub. I stepped to his other side, and he looked at me away from the stainless steel tub. I gave him the treat. And I gave up.

I was beyond the judgement of my washmates. Beyond the judgement of the attendant who asked me what I was going to do as I left the wash station.

I needed a solution. I asked for dry shampoo. The Beast put his head in a box of toys. I paid the $20 for the dry shampoo and left. But no cookie for The Beast this time. Nope. No cookie. Not this time. Not a toy either.