Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Foolish April

Just as the swallows return to Capistrano every year, so do the snowbirds return to Maine every spring. Bless their recently-retired hearts, my snowbird across-the-street neighbors, their Labrador, and their leviathan-class camper returned to the neighborhood yesterday. We didn't have the nicest weather available to greet them, but the husband reported that they were glad to be home again anyway. Kodiak, the Lab, must have thought he would never see Maine again. When he clambered out of the camper into his front yard, he was so happy to see the old homestead that he ran around the yard howling for joy.

I can only imagine what went through our snowbirds' heads this morning when they awoke to their first morning back at home to see this...

...but I won't publish a transcript of what they must have said. This is a family blog, after all.

The Public Has Spoken

I don't know why it's so hard for me to realize that other people actually do read my blog, and that they even check for updates. People actually have called me to ask me if I'm okay because I haven't pubished in a while, and and have been sending emails, wondering what's been up.

The answer: A helluva lot. It's been Deadline Time here at the Baa & Grille, which means I've been spending so much time creating my famed immortal prose for work that the last thing I've wanted to do after work is -- you guessed it -- more writing. I'm happy to announce that after a year's worth of development, my project finally shipped yesterday. I'm taking tomorrow and Friday off to celebrate, and then it'll be time to get started on the next one.

I promise to be more chatty online now that things are a tad quieter at work. I also promise to do something about my desk! At the moment, it looks like the returns counter at Best Buy crossed with an explosion at an office-supply outlet. I have a hard disk here, a wireless print server there, another one over there... all waiting to be installed, and waiting for the piles of papers and documents atop their boxes to find other, more organized homes.

Talk about a busman's holiday -- or at least a geek's holiday: The other thing I've been trying to do in my laughable spare time is to teach myself some more about Web design and its underpinnings. I can drop photos into iWeb with the best of 'em, but my knowledge of the latest tweaks and technologies is dropping far, far behind. It's time to bring myself back from the Stone Age.

Samurai Obedience Handler

Perhaps I'm dating myself when I ask whether you remember John Belushi's old "Samurai" skits from the days when Saturday Night Live was still funny. Of course you do -- pretty much everyone who reads my blog is a baby boomer, and everyone else has DVD players and YouTube. Anyway, whenever something would go wrong and the customer would complain, John Belushi would pull out his trusty wakizashi and commit seppuku on the spot. (Don't get me started about what I think outsourced customer support ought to do!)

Anyway, I'm thinking maybe a wakizashi would make a fine addition to the equipment I take to obedience trials. After Seamus's and my last appearance at the Charles River trial, committing seppuku seemed like the only honorable way out.

The gods have punished me for my hubris. There I was, looking over the trial at the easiest rally course I've ever seen, and thinking we were going to take home all the ribbons in the rainbow. I agonized with my fellow competitors when their dogs didn't respond right away to commands, or if they started to wander, and I was sure that Seamus and I would execute our performance with a precision seen only at military drills or at performances of the Rockettes. (You pick.) When my friend Alison and her Beardie scored "only" an 87, I commiserated, hoping she wouldn't feel too bad when Seamus and I flew through the course with a near-flawless performance. I could have aced that course with my cat. I should have entered with my cat.

Fatal mistake: I forgot to consult Seamus about this. Now, we've been taking rally classes every single Sunday since last May when we completed our RN, hoping to complete our Advanced title this spring before it came time to hit the conformation road with Dinah again. We worked out our bugs at the start line. We practiced our off-lead work again and again and again. I struggled to refine my handwork, my footwork, my posture, my eye contact... everything. We were (I thought) ready.

Honestogod, I never saw it coming. When it came our turn, we lined up at the start. I removed Seamus's lead and handed it to the steward. He held his sit at my heel. His eyes never left mine. The judge, who appeared to be a nice, friendly person as well as the designer of nice, friendly courses, asked, "Are you ready?" I indicated that we indeed were.


Seamus took off as though shot from a circus cannon. He raced around the course, sniffing in all the corners, snarfing the food out of the bowls on the offset Figure 8, jumping on the judge, and dancing around to show all the spectators what fun rally was. He seemed to have completely forgotten all he knew about rally *obedience* -- heck, he completely forgot who I was! I must have gone to fetch him back to heel 20 times for 14 stations, and each time he'd follow me to a station and then take off again.

There are two things you're never supposed to do in the AKC rally ring -- well, three, actually. You get the big "thank you" if you touch your dog, raise your voice, or utter the f*** word even when you need to the most. Since I started my performance "career" in herding, I come from the school of thought that maintains that as long as the clock is still ticking, there's still hope of salvaging a performance on the brink of going wrong. Here's where I should have taken out the wakizashi instead and ended my misery, or at least taken Seamus by the collar and thanked the judge... but noooooo. I actually tried to salvage that performance. I sang to Seamus, and my voice reached a few operatic highs that couldn't quite be construed as raising my voice to my dog... but it sure did wonders for my budding opera career. Stubbornly, I continued around the course, trying to fetch him back to me to perform even one or two of the stations. (We did very well on the jump and the serpentine.) I muttered to myself that someday I would see this as funny. I was careful not to mutter the F word.

Maybe the judge should have given me the hook long before the finish, but she could see that I was trying, anyway. Seamus was very trying.

Finally, we reached the end, where Seamus sat proudly at the exit gate to sympathetic applause. I praised him for at least stopping correctly, gave him a pat and a treat, and then made a hasty departure. Simply disappearing into the air wouldn't have been quick enough for me at that point.

As I carried my camp chair and crate to the car, a friendly-looking woman with a Golden Retriever asked me, "Are you the owner of the Famous Seamus?" I made a motion as though slashing my wrists.

Bless her heart, she went on: "I just want you to know that we've all been there. My first attempt at off-leash handling went pretty much the same way. It will get better."

Then she went on: "But no one will ever forget Famous Seamus. I sure won't."

Neither will I. I've pulled our entries from the two other trials we would have entered this spring, and we're going back to class to do three things to improve our performance: train, train, train.


sue said...

NOW, that I have cleared the tears from my eyes, maybe I can actually leave you a message.... I would like you to think that they were tears of "oh how sad"... but truth be known.... my sides ache from laughing... I can just see him!!!!you wrote that so beautifully that I almost could have been there watching!!! I am sorry you didn't pick up a leg... but you definately get good brownie points for adding laughter to my day!!!!! OH and great to see you back!!!!

Flymaine said...

OMG!!! I am cracking up, tears rolling and I am gasping for air!!! I wish that this had been recorded on u-tube!! I just love that Seamus...he has a humbling quality...and you sure sounded humbled! Don't dogs just have a way of keeping us real and in the moment...sometimes on the verge, but in the moment nonetheless!! Love the story!

I remember the rally seminar that you and I went to and how Tucker flipped out half way through the course when he realized that the judge was looking at him. Doubtful that a hole could have been big enough for me to crawl into. I went from being utterly proud of Tucker, to questioning my ability to ever be a competent handler never mind a card carrying member of the POC.

Flymaine said...

Update: At the Flyball Tourney in Dover this past weekend, several of us recounted your story of "Famous Seamus meets Wide-open rally course!" We were in tears! Most saw it first hand and said it was indeed as humorus as your posting. Several were able to mimic the operatic interpretation of Seamus' rally obedience adventure! All were very understanding of your predicament--having "been there done that" though without the zeal you mustered to re-capture his albeit temporary attention.