Love, loss, hope and backup plans: Making now count

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So, it’s been a few months. I could make up a whole raft of reasons for the radio silence, but the truth is job-related.

Last July, I was laid off from the job I loved, and not long after my last post in February, there were signs of a happy ending/soft landing. In a fit of holding off until I could share good news, I put off posting.

But I’ve waited long enough, and now I’m at that place where you just say “Now matters. Live here!”

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An expert at living in the now

So here’s a little story about the job I loved and lost. It wasn’t performance-related (the exact words of the HR official who hand-delivered my layoff letter). I was really good at what I did. But it was funded by “soft money.”  Which is code for “grants.”

The particular grant I worked on for 10 years was funded through the Wisconsin State Legislature. The program was almost 40 years old, and provided a whole lot of bang for the $895,000 it cost state taxpayers. I could venture guesses as to why it was de-funded. But those would just be guesses.

My program was one of 16 around the state. We worked with adults – mostly women but some men, too – who had not been the main breadwinner in their households, but for any number of reasons found themselves in a position where they had to become the main breadwinner. My participants were divorced or separated from partners or spouses, married or partnered with someone who’d become disabled and unable to work, or who’d lost a job. In a couple of cases I worked with people who’d given up good jobs out of state to come home and see an elderly parent through his or her last illness. Those people had been supported by the parent’s pension or social security. One of them was paid through an agency that provided elder care to be their parent’s caregiver. All that ended with their parents’ deaths, and they needed to rejoin the workforce.

For 10 years, I got paid to listen to these people tell me who they were, then help them figure out how to reimagine their lives. Most days I went home feeling like the luckiest, most blessed individual on Planet Earth because, having already gone through my own version of the horrible realities my participants were living, I could serve as living proof that it was possible to come out on the other side.

It was something I would definitely have appreciated when I was where they were. Most were also completely inspiring – making courageous choice after courageous choice to make their lives better. (I’ve stayed friends with many of them, and that’s helping me now. As I said, luckiest & most blessed.)

I had a sneak preview this might be coming down the pike in 2007, when a state legislator (Jeff Fitzgerald was his name) decided to cut the program because, according to one of my then-colleagues, he figured that if it wasn’t at all the technical colleges, it didn’t need to be at any. (There was a 100-day standoff about the budget that year, and the 16 program coordinators from around the state took advantage of the time. We spent it informing our representatives about what we did. When budget was passed, we were in it).

“Your backup plans need backup plans.”

One of my mantras is “Your backup plans need backup plans.” My backup plans since the ’90s  have been freelance writing, back-of-the-house for catering and anything else someone would be willing to pay me for.

It turned out, though, that I like having a steady gig with benefits and co-workers. When I looked at it through my Program Coordinator lens, the reality of my patchwork resume – a bachelor’s degree in music followed by journalism and project management experience – meant the average HR department would probably toss it for being too scattered. And there was the reality of my age – ie: not 30.

I needed something bigger.

 

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A rhino is pretty big, even on a Scrabble board.

 

I couldn’t do anything about my age (and didn’t really want to). But I could address the resume. So I started looking at graduate programs. I wanted something that would pull everything I’d done together and take it all to a different level. I also wanted something that would make me as fire-proof as possible for a 50-something woman whose work experience and college degree were at least as well matched as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Which is the reason I went to library school. It’s a terrific degree – really versatile. People with library degrees work in all kinds of settings – IT, corporate, legal, financial, academic – the list is pretty long. And maybe it hasn’t gotten me a job yet, but the skills I’ve added to my existing toolbox have given me a level of confidence in riding out this layoff that I never would have had without it.

So, while I wait for my Prince Charming job to come along (I’m straight, which is why it’s not a Princess Charming job), my library degree is working for me. It’s also working for others. I volunteer two mornings a week at a university library, in one of their digital units. I’ve added book indexing and dissertation editing to the freelance journalism, marketing and technical writing/editing/content development I’ve always done.

And then there’s this blog, which started as a gift to myself. Thank you for reading it, and especially thanks for reading this post, which is mostly a ramble/meditation to get myself back into my once-a-week posting routine. A whole lot has happened in the past few months, not the least of which was finishing my first knitting/quilting hybrid project.

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My first knitting/quilting hybrid project.

Coming attractions ,with illustrations

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It’s all gluten-free all the time at the Kinnikinnick Bakery in Edmonton, Alberta.

 

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The Humane Society said Matey was a “three-month-old Shepherd mix.” She’s not.

 

 

Reductio ad Essentialis:Diet time at The Landfill I Call Home

This holiday season, my sister got me a pair of socks that sprung a hole the first time I wore them and a pen my brother-in-law brought back from a trip to China whose individual components waged a civil war in my coat pocket. (The pieces are still in there.)

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They say “Good Luck Socks.” I wore them once and used up the luck.

She also got me a pair of Roots sweatpants that fit perfectly, and an envelope with Sweetheart’s and my name on it. Inside was a note and a check for $200. The note instructed me to use it to hire someone to help us with cleaning and organizing The Landfill We Call Home.

It was a lovely gesture. Debby is well acquainted with my travails around cleaning and organization. I definitely have too much stuff. But Sweetheart is in a league by himself, and I’ve lost control of the situation.

Once upon a brief time, I lived in a house where everything was in order. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, a mini heaven-on-earth. It was the first time in my life I remember waking up and not thinking “I have to clean the house today,” because the house was already clean and I was able, with minimal effort, to keep it that way.

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This is not my house. It belongs to friends of mine, and when I go there, it feels like heaven. That period when I was able to get and keep things in order was, too. (Posted because I couldn’t find a photo of my house from back then.)

 

Then, I was in a car accident, Youngest Daughter moved in and, shortly after that, Sweetheart and his stuff.

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This is the chaos that followed my order. It was pretty demoralizing.

I want to live in my own heaven again, with Sweetheart. Which is, itself, a good enough reason to clean and organize. But there’s another reason, and it is that I love my children.

Moving my mother across six states five years ago was a really eye-opening experience. I was the one who packed and boxed and helped her to figure out what to take and what to leave.

She had pills that were older than my adult children and issues of Good Housekeeping that dated back to my high school years. There were bed sheets from when I was a kid, and bank receipts that pre-dated the Kennedy assassination.

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Mom’s Great Migration, a snapshot.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of cool stuff, too.

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Cool things from  Mom’s (above & below)

But this baby packrat did not fall far from the mother tree when it comes to accumulating stuff. Whether I get old enough that my children have to help me move or I expire in my own digs, the last thing I want to leave them is a mess.

Which leaves only one alternative. (Well, two if you count burning the house down, but that would create a whole new set of problems.)

The house needs to go on a diet. I’d say it needs to lose approximately 2/3 of its internal mass.

Which is why Debby’s gift threw me into a bit of an existential crisis. Given the scope of what needs to happen, I wasn’t sure $200 would be enough to effectively begin to address it.

“It’s enough to rent a dumpster!” Sweetheart said.

A wholesale toss-fest sounded too much like a possessionary version of the {insert name of favorite} Diet. First Ex was a big crash/fad dieter. He’d lose a bunch of weight on whatever diet du jour was in vogue at that point, then gain even more back. A wholesale purge with the possibility of ending in storage locker rental was too big a risk.

Also, it didn’t feel right. This, to quote Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, was a “delicate” situation.

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“These things must be done delicately, you know.”

So, for the past few months, I’d risked losing that check somewhere in The Landfill I Call Home (our house eats things) while I pondered and waited for the right thing to do with it.

Which turned out to be my friend Annie. She was closing the vintage clothing shop she’d run for years to start an estate sale and organizing business.

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Annie, behind the counter at her fabulous vintage clothing store. (Photo Credit: One of Annie’s other friends.)

I got in touch within five minutes of hearing the news. She came over for dinner and a tour of the house on Thursday. We scheduled two three-hour sessions – one for each of us.

Mine was yesterday. But in the runup, I decided to start clearing out dresser drawers so Sweetheart could have an entire dresser to himself. In the process, I began winnowing. Sweetheart saw what was happening and joined in. By the time Sunday was in the rear-view mirror, I’d thrown away three pair of shoes, a pillow and piled up a few new rags.

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Annie, hauling away what I parted with after our work session. The porch and front hall look much lighter!

I also packed a huge suitcase. It’s full of clothing that still fits, but that I don’t need or haven’t worn for years. I’m off to Canada this week to see my sister.

I have a round-trip ticket. But for the clothes in that suitcase, it’s a one-way ride.

Dear Non-terrorist Muslims & White Men; Dear Impending Grandson: A pair of open letters

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If a man and a water buffalo can be friends, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Dear Muslims who are terrified of being collateral damage because of yesterday and white men who are terrified of being collateral damage because of all the shootings and massacres.

I do not think all of you are terrorists.

Sincerely:

Amy

PS I still think all the legislators who are worshipping at the feet of Wayne LaPierre  are spineless, wormy cowards.

 

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See that ukulele, Grandson? When you can sit up and hold things, I am going to start teaching you how to play. Also, this is a picture of me engaging in behavior that caused our governor to compare me to an ISIS terrorist. Just so you know. Your Bubby isn’t really fierce, but somebody thinks she is…..

 

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Butterfly ranching, Grandson. It’s another one of the great things we’re going to do together!
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And we will put together jigsaw puzzles, because it’s really fun.

Dear Impending Grandson:

While I am looking forward to meeting you, I’m wondering if you might want to reconsider your upcoming entrance to a world in which anyone seems to be able to get an assault weapon. While this is scary, what is really scary is that when a white man uses an assault weapon to mow down a bunch of people, he gets carted off to jail and is even, sometimes, treated to a hamburger while in custody.

This does not seem to be the case with black and/or brown people, who too often are shot first, and turn out to have had no weapons (or to have merely been playing with toy weapons) later. This is why, black, white or brown, you and your future cousins will never get a toy gun  – at least not from me.

As is the case with every other grandmother I have ever known, I am going to do everything possible to ensure that you are never in a position where some zealot with a gun (in uniform, in jeans, in underwear, in a wetsuit, in whatever) decides to shoot you first and ask questions later.

We have made a mess, and I am deeply sorry. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a little girl who is going to be a couple of weeks older than you are. Her parents have pledged to throw a lot of money  at making the world a better place for her, and, I hope, for the rest of her peers.

Still, Grandson, you and I are going to do some great stuff together. Until you gain a little weight and grow a few teeth, you’ll be a captive audience. I plan to talk, read and sing to you (sometimes with and sometimes without guitar and/or ukulele accompaniment). I will play you many instruments and tell you stories. Some will be made up just for you. Some will be stories I told your mother and aunts when they were small. Some will be new.

When you are bigger, we will read together and I will teach you how to play the ukulele and the guitar and the cello and the piano. We will bake bread and make French Toast. I will help you become a monarch butterfly rancher and maybe even a beekeeper. We will go in-line skating at the Lakefront.

You will teach me things, too, because you are going to be brilliant and interesting.

Anyway, I’m sorry about the mess of a world in which you’re about to make an entrance. I’m going to do everything I can to make life easier for your mom, and for you.

Love:

Your Bubby

A bottle of wine and a cat: Surviving the first dogless days

 

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Tuki & Sweetheart, relaxing. This was after she’d reached the point where we let her on the couch and before the point where she couldn’t get up there by herself anymore.

 

The house is so quiet. No one needs to go outside before we go to bed. There are no clacking feet in the middle of the night, the prelude to a trip down the stairs and outside into the dark. No one needs to go outside first thing in the morning. And no one is chasing Sweetheart out of the driveway when he leaves for work.

How things went

Four of us left the house to go to the vet on Saturday morning. Three of us came back.

Tuki and I sat in back of Talia’s SUV. Sweetheart sat in front. T had put the seat down on Tuki’s side and spread blankets out, so she could lie comfortably. She’d also bought a bag of freeze-dried duck hearts for her Best Girl. I spent the ride feeding them to the grateful recipient.

When we got there and got her out of the car, Sweetheart took her over to eat some snow. It had snowed the night before. Fitting, as it had done the same thing the first night she’d been with us all those years before. That morning, she’d been in constant motion, dancing all over the yard, sticking her nose in the snow and tossing what she didn’t eat, openly delighted at this toy that spanned everything she could see.

I walked into the office. Joanne was sitting behind the counter. She’s been the receptionist there since before Tuki was born. I put my head down on the counter and burst into tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s the hardest thing we have to do.”

She took us into the exam room and got a blanket so Tuki wouldn’t have to get up on the table. Tuki, never one of Park Pet’s grateful patients, stayed true to form, growling at the vet. Dr. Poehlmann told us what would happen – first a shot to send Tuki into the Happy Place where Everything is Wonderful (or that state of mind where, as Talia said later, Tuki would be doing things like staring up and saying things like, “Wow! My paws are SOOOO big!!”). Then, five minutes or so later, she would shave Tuki’s back leg, insert an IV and inject the drug that would stop her heart.

Sweetheart held and petted Tuki, so she was distracted when Dr. Poehlmann put the needle into her left flank. The vet stepped out. We got Tuki settled onto the blanket, and Talia and I laid on either side of her and stroked her. We talked and sang to her.

When Dr. Poehlmann came back, Tuki was unconscious. Dr. P shaved Tuki’s leg. She told us that the knee was very swollen and that Tuki had practically no muscle in that leg.

“I take comfort in biochemical information,” Talia said. “Can you tell me exactly how the drug works?”

I don’t remember what Dr. Poehlmann said. It had to do with interrupting some process or other.

Pho and tears

After it was over, we dropped Sweetheart at home. Talia bought pho for lunch, and we ate at Oldest Daughter’s house. We hugged Layli, my granddog, and talked about Oldest Daughter’s impending baby (yes, I’m going to be a grandmother, which feels very weird although I’m told by all my friends who have grandchildren that it is amazing). And, of course, I cried some. But it was easier because I wasn’t home. Then, I was. I spent the rest of the day sobbing.

I was a little better on Sunday, though not much.

“You need a bottle of wine and a cat,” Sweetheart said at one point.

On Monday, Sweetheart took the car to work. I managed to get all the dog things – water dish on a stand, food dish, food container, grooming tools and toys – gathered up and put away.

Then, I picked up her bed. She slept, ala “The Princess and the Pea,” atop a dog bed under which several blankets were piled.

I am not ready to wash it, or throw it away.

Goodbye, Tuki, and thank you for 15 amazing years.

I’m writing this with a view.

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Tuki is lying with her head on my outstretched leg. In two hours, she will be gone and I will be bereft. I’ve never had to put a dog down before.

In between writing, I put my hand on her head and stroke the space from just above her nose and between her eyes with my thumb.

We’ve had nearly 15 years together. Our 15th Doggiversary would have been November 30th. That was the night I found her, a three-month-old stray puppy gamboling in the grass with a friend’s dog.

“Who’s the other dog?” I said, as we watched the two of them frolic from a porch above the patch of lawn where they were having a grand old time giving chase.

“No idea,” she said.

I ventured out into the dark for a closer look. Lucas, Ann’s dog, was a seven-year-old Schnauzer/Yorkshire Terrier mix. He weighed about 10 pounds. The other dog was bigger but, as I got closer, I could see how young it was.

She spent one night with us, and those of us not crazy in love with her from the jump (my then-husband) were moving in that direction. Animal Control picked her up in the morning so she could be reunited with her owners. We filled out a “first dibs on adopting” form if no one claimed her.

Fast forward three weeks.

The Humane Society says we can adopt her. But, they say, she has kennel cough and they want to keep an eye on her for a couple of days. The next day, they call and tell us to pick her up. We bring her home.

A week later, we’re at the vet for the second time. The first vet said it was bronchitis and threw pills at us. The second vet says, “I don’t know if this dog is going to live through the night.”

I ask how what it will cost to see if we can save her. Money is short, but I decide I can handle giving up three months of cell phone service.

As we leave, I can hear her shrill puppy cries as the vet tech and vet insert an IV.

The next morning, the vet calls.

“Good news,” he said. “The antibiotics did the job. She popped up this morning and gobbled her food. We want to keep her another night.”

Fast forward to now.

There are not enough or the right kind of words to express the universe of love, kindness and joy this dog has brought me. She was the valedictorian of her manners class. You could leave a plate of food in reach and she wouldn’t touch it if it wasn’t offered. She caught two squirrels, and tried to be a good friend to all her feline housemates, some of whom were more receptive to her overtures than others.

So, I am going to get dressed now and the three of us – that 13-year-old, who is now 28, and Sweetheart, who’s been my best human partner for 10 years – are going to do the last, best right thing we can for someone we love.

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Muslims, Jews, History, Cities: A Dispatch from Refugee Heaven

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This is my kitten, Grover. Grover had been beaten pretty badly by a group of ferals when I got him, and still has scars. I chose this image because of that and because  everyone on the Internet loves cat pictures.

By now, everyone is probably experiencing what it is they experience after a major tragic event that ripples out from wherever it happened and into their daily routine.

The day after ISIL/Daesh shared its latest commentary on modern civilization, one of my friends posted this story. It’s dense, but worthwhile for anyone who wants a real understanding of what this movement is all about. If you’re too busy, here’s a six-word summary: “Let’s return the world to 630!”

Here, in my own backyard, I’ve been reading about US governors (my own included) falling all over each other in their haste to announce that Syrian refugees will not be allowed to enter their states.

I know that while many Muslims don’t hate Jews, some do, and would hate being compared to us. But there’s no way I can unsee what I’m seeing, which is a contemporary version of the run-up to the Holocaust with these refugees taking the role of the Jews, ISIL/Daesh playing Nazi Germany, and the rest of the world playing itself.

There’s a Canadian book on Jewish immigration policy during that period called “None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948.” The title comes from a comment made by Frederick Blair, then head of immigration for the Canadian government. It was his answer to the question about how many Jewish refugees should be allowed into Canada after 1945.

I was at a neighborhood meeting last night where two aldermen talked about the number of vacant city-owned houses available for sale. I’m sure mine isn’t the only city trying to figure out ways, in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, to deal with this issue. I’m sure it’s not the only city that would love to see those houses filled with hardworking people who would increase the tax base.

No one wants to invite the Angel of Death in for tea and cookies. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be vetted. I am saying that there are three million refugees who would probably think they’d gone straight to heaven if they could walk to the store without being blown up or shot or beheaded or raped or enslaved. Refugees who would be thrilled to pay taxes because it meant they were able to work and earn money.

Here we sit, in our cities full of boarded-up houses and empty apartment buildings. Here we sit, living in heaven and not even realizing it.

Screamers, speeders, and drawn guns: Just another night in the neighborhood

Being woken out of a sound sleep by angry screaming is not my favorite way to be woken up. I much prefer my usual way of being woken up – a hug and a kiss. Then, Sweetheart hands me a cup of hot coffee.

Sometime after going to bed Saturday night and well before Sunday’s sunrise, though, I was jarred awake by screams. It was a mild night. We’d left windows open, so I couldn’t localize the sound precisely, but I was hearing it from the south- and west-facing windows.

I walked to the phone, listening to whether the screechers were moving in a particular direction. When I got through to Police Dispatch, I told them it was two, maybe three people. Then, I woke Sweetheart.

He went outside.

I put on a sweatshirt and went downstairs. The dog was in the living room. I rolled my eyes – what was he thinking, walking out there by himself? – and held the door open for Tuki. Sweetheart was standing on the grassy median between the sidewalk and street in front of the house next door, watching two women and a man. They were standing in the street close to the sidewalk on the other side. The women were screaming at each other, the man chiming in less frequently. They stopped when they saw the dog.

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Tuki, standing at the point where she was when the combative lady threatened to tase her. She and the two other screamy people were standing in the street a bit behind the parked car opposite Tuki.

“Is that dog on a leash?”

One of the women was asking.

“No.”

“I got a taser,” she said.

The dog, having just taken care of some dog business, was busy sniffing the ground. At 14 ½, with a bad back leg and an arthritic back, she’s not exactly a threat. But she still looks to someone who doesn’t know anything about dogs as if she could be.

I was in the process of deciding exactly how to respond when the first squad came around the corner. The SUV stopped short of the trio standing in their way and an officer got out.

“Is everything okay?” His voice was friendly, neutral.

“Fine, officer,” one said. “Nothing’s going on.”

“Where did all this blood come from?” His tone was no longer neutral, and as he spoke, another SUV rolled up behind the first one. More officers got out. Another car came around the corner and stopped – I thought it might be an unmarked car. It was the paper carrier, who couldn’t get around the two squads.

He’s not a fan of Tuki, who hadn’t noticed him placing the paper in front of the next-door house. So, before he got wise to her presence and she to his, I offered to deliver the rest of his papers. We walked back to his car together. The back was piled from the floor to nearly the top of the seats.

“That is a $&#(load of papers!” I said.

As he reached for the right ones – a Chicago Tribune, a New York Times and two Milwaukee Journal Sentinels – he told me it was because he was delivering an extra route.

I walked down the street, putting the papers where they belonged. In the time that took, three more squads arrived in quick succession. Officers were talking with the combatants one at a time; the others were sitting on the curb. As I was laying the last paper in front of Linda’s, a beat-up 90’s junker came screaming around the corner, its driver flooring the gas as he pushed the engine to its limit. He was probably clocking 50 mph.

His reaction to the phalanx of squads at the other end of the short block was to do immediately what the cops were yelling.

The car screeched to a stop in front of Linda’s. I could see the driver through the open car window – an overweight man, Hispanic or African-American (the light wasn’t good enough to see more clearly).

The police were yelling loudly enough that I could hear it from the porch. So I knew he could hear it from the car.

“Why are you driving like an idiot?” one said.

“Get out of the car!” said another.

He did not get out. He sat there, with the engine running.

The officers were not impressed.

“GET. OUT. OF. THE. CAR!!!!

That was when he started, very slowly, to back up, away from the other end of the street. Away from the squad cars. Away from the officers. Away from Sweetheart, still standing in front of the house next door with Tuki beside him, and away from the combatants on the curb.

At the other end of the street, one officer yelled his plate number. Three officers began walking toward the car, guns drawn.

“STOP. THE. CAR!!!!”

The driver stopped and got out. I walked down to where Sweetheart and Tuki were still standing, watching the proceedings. We wondered aloud what kind of summer we’re in for if this was how the first warm night of the season was going, marveling at both the speed of the police response and our dumb luck at them being on-scene when the wannabe Demolition Derby driver shot around our corner.

Two officers came over to talk to us before we went inside. One took down my information after asking whether I’d be willing to be the complainant for a disorderly conduct action involving the screamy trio.

The other approached us shortly after.

“I want to talk to the only sensible person on the street tonight,” he said. “And that would be the dog.” He knelt down in front of Tuki. She buried her face in his chest as he rubbed her head and skritched her ears.