The Keeper


Trixie, adjusting

“Don’t let her out of the crate for the first four months,” was the stern advice offered by the flinty woman from Angel City Pit Bulls.

“Don’t throw the tennis ball.”

“Don’t let her on the furniture.”

“Don’t let her pull on the leash.”

“Don’t let her get over-stimulated.”

“Don’t let her climb on top of you.”

“Don’t let her cross in front of you on the leash.”

“Make her hold her sit before she leaves the crate or the house.”

“Never let her on the bed.”

Guess how many of these rules failed to last the first week.

This is how the school year winds down


Only ten more days of parents…and administrative meetings…and reading papers, then grading them….and reading more and grading still more….those end of the year papers…and dealing with -sip- parents…and correcting tests…and writing letters of recommendation for borderline cases and dealing with parental expectations…and did I mention -sip- the committee assignments I’ve agreed to for next year?

And did I mention Mrs. X and her list of demands?

Oh! You have something you wish to add, Giles?

Oh! You have something you wish to add, Giles?

Where was I? How was you day, darling?

Where was I? How was your day, darling?

Van Nuys, Oregon, mon amour


Was last weekend it? Will it prove the last fleeting glimpse of Pacific Northwest-like conditions we shall see for some time?


Will it be Thanksgiving before I peer out the kitchen door and say: my goodness, what wet leaves we have today! Thank God it’s over. Mother nature has forgiven us at long last. Let’s put on our boots and walk Fryman in gratitude.

A Handmaid’s Tale Foretold

The class struggle in Van Nuys

The class struggle in Van Nuys

Let’s see….this works out to $3.57 an hour for the 40 weeks one “carries” the rich white lady’s child.  This doesn’t include post-birth recovery time.

Nor does it include time spent undergoing three contractually required in vitro fertilization procedures. No pregnancy, no payment.

The “Gestational Carrier” is expected to provide her own insurance and transportation.  Hospital delivery costs which would ordinarily be borne by the biological parents will instead be off-loaded on to the policyholders of the surrogate’s insurance.

The surrogate also agrees to submit to any testing or counseling whenever required by the Intended Parents. Also, in the case of multiple embryos, selective reduction. Meaning abortion, on demand.

How do I know this?  It says so right on the website.

Wasn’t the first critique of the patriarchy the reduction of women to baby-making machines?  Does this mean rich liberal (presumably, in LA) women are the New Patriarchy?

“Our Gestational Surrogates are some of the most loving, dedicated and responsible women you will ever find. They have been thoroughly and thoughtfully screened….”   Yes, from a tear sheet flyer on a street corner on Oxnard.

When I took this picture I didn’t notice the other flyer just above it. The quote from Acts 16 is a recitation of Paul the Apostle’s imprisonment by the Romans. Carl Jung would say this is not an accident.

The Audition


To Mid City did Mr. and Mrs. U kettle in glacial traffic on Saturday, to meet Trixie, who showed us her best sit, which was not very long, but revealed a certain eagerness to please nonetheless.

After striking out at Best Friends last week we were put in touch with a foster organization called Angel City Pit Bulls which pulls dogs from the city shelters and provides them with domestication skills.  Trixie was advertised as crate-trained, non-cat chasing and small dog loving. Mrs. U fixated on her after one look at the website and did not relent until we got in the car to see her.

I had my doubts. Picking dogs out of a wish book puts common sense at a disadvantage to the eye.  Mrs. U was already evincing an ominous pre-determination to buy:   “Isn’t she adorable? You do think she’s adorable, don’t you? I can’t wait to meet her.”  Oh boy.

We were greeted by a flinty woman named Royce who had a very precise choreography for the supplicants who came to meet her rescue dogs. We waited in the front yard.  Trixie was brought out to sniff our shoes, circle us a few times and lead us to the back yard, where her leash was removed so she could get down to business, which was cracking open a big can of tail-thumping adorability.

Emotional blackmail in action

Emotional blackmail in action

Royce didn’t suffer foolishness from dog-indulging adoptees like myself, who unwisely asked her if she had a tennis ball I could throw.

“Never play fetch with a dog. It increases their prey drive.”

I learned other things. Like I was wrong to let dogs on the furniture and never on the bed.  I wonder what she would think if she knew Woody not only slept on the bed but on top of me, his head resting on my thigh, queefing contentedly.

Trixie came from the South LA shelter and had the scar tissue to prove it, but the time she had spent at Royce’s house was put to good use.  She exhibited none of the zombie-ified, stressed-out behavior we saw at Best Friends.  She had obedience skills. Which raised another issue: How different those dogs might be if they had a month in foster care.    How many would be charming me into submission at this very moment? Is it fair to assess a dog in those conditions?  Need a dog be charming at all? Character is revealed in time. Who’s to say how one will pan out as opposed to another?  How do you choose?  Do you take the first dog who seems like she doesn’t have problems?  Do you take the one with the silky coat or the one with the patch over the eye?  Do you keep kicking the tires from shelter to shelter?   Should one look a gift dog in the mouth?

Mrs. U was giving me pleading looks.  “Darling, she wiggled toward us, and she gets along with cats.  A bird in hand…”


I was defenseless. I was a man with no good reason to say no.

We ordered a 42-inch crate and several hundred dollars worth of toys and specialty food the minute we got home.  Happy Mother’s Day.

Did we do the right thing?

Did we do the right thing?

Three slides of Cratchit-ville

The Casita

The Casita

The Trailer

The Trailer

The wild mustard weeds

The Tangled Bank

The person who lives in the casita recycles scrap. The person who lives in the trailer works at Wal-Mart. There are six rabbit-warren encampments burrowed within the sunflowers. I have no idea who lives there or where they go during the day.

To be a Pit Bull in the Valley


Perhaps it was a good thing each of our dogs chose us.

Lucy pushed her way to the front of a scrum of puppies boiling from a pile of wood chips. She gnawed our fingertips with Disney-esque alacrity.

Woody jumped the neighbor’s fence the day we closed escrow, parked himself on our front porch as a house-warming gift. He slept on our bed that very night, then every night for the next 12 years. The neighbor was glad to be rid of him.

Giles followed us home one day on a walk, panhandled a free meal, and never left.

Jack was a foster dog who somehow never made the car ride back to the rescue shelter.

They insinuated. They wiggled in.  They knew a good thing when they saw it and they stayed.  We never really weighed the pros and cons of any of them.  They just worked out well.

Circumstances never obliged us to go a shelter to pick out a dog before now.  Woody being buried in the garden for nearly a year, properly mourned and missed, we have reached the point of readiness to journey to the Best Friends shelter in Mission Hills.

Picking one was more difficult than we expected.


One would think pit bulls would be easy.   Shelters are bursting at the seams with them. They would be so happy to see us, so slavishly grateful, the hardest part would be winnowing down the many, many semi-finalists to a manageable number.

None of them picked us.

Half of them didn’t even walk to the front of the cage to say hello.  Of those that did, all but one wouldn’t look me in the eye.  Some issued warning barks.

It was humbling. I entered the shelter like Daddy Warbucks at the orphanage, dangling the promise of a life transformed: a big yard, siblings, plush bedding, daily walks, toys, trips to the beach, blue skies and grass. I slunk out as just another shnook, another in a line of interchangeable human faces at the bars.   And these were the good pits, the ones selected out of the city shelters for their sociability.

Reading the kennel cards, one saw they had issues. Cat chasing. Food aggression. Territoriality. Separation anxiety. Some had been adopted before and returned.  People come and stare at them each day, trailing the chaotic scents of the outside world on their shoes.  Then they leave.  People leash them up, walk them around the play area, then return them to their cells and never return.

DSCN1560 (1)

Operating out of a learned sense of caution, drawing on instincts inherited from the wolves who first drew near to the fire circle many millennia ago, they’re sussing us out.  Perhaps waiting for someone in particular. Perhaps just not me.  Will they know Him when he comes?