Best of Breed

What are you doing Friday?

I have nothing on my calendar.

Come to the dog show with me.

But I’ve been to a dog show.

But this dog show is outside.

Where is it?

Ulster County Fairgrounds.

How far is that?

I dunno. Like an hour and a half maybe.

How long will we be there?

Vizslas are at 9:00, and best of breed goes last. Unless Eggi wins the breed we will be out of there at 10:30 at the latest.

So 10:30.

Well, probably.

Probably?

It hasn’t happened yet, but if she goes best of breed, we have to stay for groups at 1:00.

Ok.

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She looks great.

Last time she showed in the rain she was flinching.

Well, that was exciting.

It was.

Let’s go get a picture.

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So much for leaving by 10:30.

How long until the group?

A while. Let’s get lunch. I heard they have empanadas.

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What kind of dog is she?

A shih tzu.

I want one.

Of course you do.

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She’s never been in the ring with other kinds of dogs before.

She really doesn’t seem to care.

Heck no.

How many points was it?

Oh, man. I should know.

Second Guess

fullsizeoutput_3510T told me to get to the dog show early. Parking would be tight, she said. I changed my mind again about which car I was taking, leaving the big new truck at home and going with my small, trusty, 8 year old wagon. I packed the car, downloaded a new audiobook, did Eggi’s nails, brushed her teeth, and gave her a bath the night before. I woke up before my alarm, wondering if I’d overslept. It was 5:15 am.

I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m usually busy enough to be tired at a reasonable hour, but I’ve been waking up at 4 am or 3 am or 2 am, and running headlong into the thought that I won’t be able to go back to sleep. I excuse myself from stepping on that thought, and try to walk away from it, making no eye-contact and exchanging no pleasantries but if there is sleeping after that encounter I do not know how it is done. Imagine! Being my age and being bad at something as fundamental as sleeping! I’ve been practicing my whole life! The next day I will be tired by 3 pm, and drag myself through the second half of the day, and go to bed knowing I might be up again at first light.

Before leaving early for the dog show, I had the normal dog-centered morning routine, letting them out, and making their breakfast, and getting my own coffee. I rejected several routes suggested by the navigation app. I don’t pretend to be a Connecticut expert, but I am allergic to the state, and know which of its features (parkways, malls, boarding schools, I-95) trigger my worst reactions (excessive feelings leading to tears), so I opted out of the Merritt, favoring every tiny, oddly spelled, crooked two-lane road between here and where I was going.

I was on time. I asked the parking attendants if I could drop Eggi at T’s RV and they allowed it. I put her in an empty kennel, and parked on the sun-baked grass at the top of the hill.

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Dog showing is long stretches of waiting, punctuated by bursts of intense anxiousness.

First off, we had a puppy sweepstakes where Eggi would be competing against the 15-18 month old vizslas. The catch with sweepstakes is no professional handlers, so owners like me have to put on the distinctive sensible shoes and non-distracting work attire of people who show dogs, put a number on their left arm with several rubber bands, and go in the ring with the dogs.

I’ve been in the show ring with our even younger dog, Fellow, doing beginner puppy classes. Those judges are sometimes nice and also helpful, especially if they can tell you don’t know what you’re doing. Fellow did better moving around the ring than he did standing still, which was when he barked at me, threw himself on the ground, and amused himself with wriggling.

I got confused picking up my number and when I couldn’t find my dog’s name listed in the catalog, I went to the show superintendent to try to figure it out. The superintendent told me to follow a woman in a pink sweater, who was walking away with some other confused person with the same problem. While the pink sweater woman tried to find my number, I realized that I had my entry and judge’s program in my car, so I went back to T’s RV to get my car keys, and then up the hill to my car, and by the time I was back at the vizsla specialty ring with my entry the woman in the pink sweater was gone. The ring steward looked at me like he’d never seen me before, and handed me my number; there never was a problem, other than I had looked on the wrong page of the catalog.

Then I went to get Eggi and forgot to get a dog treat to tuck under my number in case I needed to get her refocused on me. When I realized my error, the only person I was comfortable enough to ask to borrow some didn’t have any. Did I really need it? I would find out.

Once we were called into the ring, I felt like a child who thought they knew how to drive a car because they’ve seen grown ups do it. Put your hands on the wheel, and stop on red! Hold the leash with one hand, and stand your dog! The judge came over and fixed it when I put Eggi’s hind legs out too far.

I felt conspicuously clumsy taking Eggi down-and-back and then around the ring. I felt conspicuously clumsy trying to get her to stand square and look at me and not sniff the grass or scratch herself. I felt conspicuously foolish for not having a piece of chicken under my number. I felt conspicuously clumsy when we were picked for second place and I did not know where to go. We got a brown ribbon and a check for $14.63. I put Eggi away so she could decompress before her other class (with the handler T, in the afternoon).

I never did get around to changing out of the dress I wore, and so it meant that someone I did not know approached me afterward to say I’d done a good job showing Eggi. I said thank you, but suspected that the person was being mean-nice, and really what they wanted to say was “HOOOOO NELLY! Y’all don’t know what you’re doing out there, huh!?” If it was mean-niceness, though, it was conspiracy of mean-nice folks, because two other strangers encouraged me, too.

The best of breed competition was after lunch. Because of the specialty sweepstakes in the morning, there were over twenty vizslas in the ring for this class. The sun was high and bright, and the line of dogs and handlers stretched from the deep shade of the tent out onto the grass.

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The judge walked around making eye contact with each dog and bitch entered, and when she was finished she moved everyone into the shade. Next, she sent them around the ring one at a time.

Eggi looked great.

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Eggi loves to show.

Eggi loves her handler.

I’ve owned vizslas since 1992, so they don’t all look alike to me, but Eggi (foreground) and her sister Vivva (right) really do look alike.

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Eggi’s handler T gets her attention even when she isn’t asking for it.

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After the judge inspected each dog, sent them down and back and then around the ring, she sent everyone back to their places and went around the ring one more time. Suddenly she started picking dogs, selecting Fellow’s sire first. Other than this dog, I was unfamiliar with all the judge’s choices. And then she was done.

Eggi was not chosen.

But she looked great in there.

We made our goodbyes quickly and headed up to my car. It was very hot inside. I punched up the navigation app and we headed home some other, winding way. After about ten minutes, I began to wonder why the car was still so hot. I opened some windows, but kept the AC on full. Ten minutes later the car was still blowing warm air at me. When, I wondered, did the AC in my car stop working?

 

 

 

 

The Last 50 books I Read

I did not read as many books in 2018 as I did in the previous two years. We got a puppy in March, and  another in late December, so maybe that’s why. Maybe I also started paying more attention to the news, but after a few months I knocked it off. Maybe I remembered a piece of advice I got a number of years ago: Don’t Watch Bad Goes.

My favorite work of fiction among these titles is “Milkman,” by Anna Burns, followed by Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.” My favorite non-fiction was Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir.” I have continued to try to read books by women authors, but have made a couple of exceptions since making that pledge.

January 2018

Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton,” which is like “The Handmaid’s Tale” but historical fiction, so less stressful.

Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist”

Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine”

“Dust Tracks on a Road” an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

February 2018

“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss, the super adventures of the daughters of monsters

“The Ice House” by Minette Walters

“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V. E. Schwab

“The Power” by Naomi Alderman, fun times in the land of misandry tag.

March 2018

Mary S. Lovell’s “Straight on till Morning: The Life of Beryl Markham” (which took me a year to finish)

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

April 2018

Gish Jen’s portrait of creepy suburban Asian Americans “The Love Wife”

The steam-punk hippo western, “River of Teeth,” by Sarah Gailey

“Home” by Marilynne Robinson

May 2018

“Lila,” by Marilynne Robinson

“All the Answers,” a graphic novel by my Twitter friend Michael Kupperman

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson (a reread)

“Woman at Point Zero,” by Nawal El Saadawi

June 2018

“Smoke gets in your Eyes,” by Caitlin Doughty

“Everything Happens for a Reason,” by Kate Bowler

Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach”

July 2018

“Tin Man,” by Sarah Winnab

“The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

Barbara Ehrenreich’s grouchy “Natural Causes”

August 2018

“A Mind to Murder” by P.D. James

Svetlana Alexievich’s “The Unwomanly Face of War”…interviews of female soviet war veterans

“The Dry: A Novel” by Jane Harper

Jack London’s “White Fang,” which I listened to on Audible because it was free, and really, I almost couldn’t get past the extremely racist and tiresomely sexist bits, but the dog stuff was pretty engaging, especially since I was traveling with a dog when I listened to it.

Gail Caldwell’s “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” …a salad of dogs, friendship, and cancer, tossed in a dressing of sobriety

September 2018

N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season”

“Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,” written and read by John Waters, an excellent road trip audiobook.

October 2018

Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir”

Catherynne M. Valente’s rollicking “Space Opera,” which is as good as Douglas Adams but without his heteronormative nonsense.

November 2018

“Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin…I read her book about Lincoln when I was in the leadership cohort in business school and I swear I quoted it in at least five different papers. My leadership challenges these days are all dog-related, so this one didn’t grab me the way the Lincoln book did.

“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan

December 2018

Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider”

Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, because if you are reading this, you are, actually, a feminist.

January 2019

“A Conspiracy of Truths,” by Alexandra Rowland. These are times for books about liars and storytellers and spies.

February 2019

“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

March 2019

“Milkman” by Anna Burns, and I can’t wait to reread it.

April 2019

“All Systems Red” by Martha Wells, the first of the Murderbot novellas, which are my favorite sci-fi in decades.

“Trump Sky Alpha” by Mark Doten, in which the current US president brings about the end of the world

Chuck Wendig’s “Blackbirds”

Joan Didion’s “The White Album”

“Born a Crime,” an autobiography by Trevor Noah, who reads the audiobook. Parts of this were so funny I had to stop listening to it on an airplane because I was laughing so loudly I was afraid I was being rude.

May 2019

Jane Rawson’s “A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists,” which was kind of like “The Phantom Tollbooth” but for gin drinkers.

Peter Shinkle’s “Ike’s Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler,” which I read because Peter is one of my oldest brother’s closest and oldest friends. Turns out I liked it anyway.

“Artificial Condition” by Martha Wells

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” 1960s essays by Joan Didion, which I listened to as an audiobook read by Dianne Keaton, who sounds so gloriously Los Angelean, with her sloppy diction and flat delivery, I’m ready to pack my books, give away my sweaters, and move (slowly) to Malibu.

Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” …I don’t know how it took so long for me to get around to this book because it’s the kind of thing I like, and I found it very satisfying. I bet my mother read it in her book group right around 2000, and sent me her copy when she finished, and I dismissed it with an eye roll as the kind of thing my mother would read with her book group. It is beautifully written, intimate, engrossing and larger than life, and has connections to Marilynne Robinson’s, Peter Shinkle’s, and Tara Westover’s books.

Little E at the Big Show

There are dog shows, and then there is the one that everyone has heard of, the one in that movie about dog shows, the big one in New York City: the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Eggi qualified her very first time in the show ring, by winning a major, and I didn’t know that when it happened, and really didn’t know what that meant. 

Eggi arrived at Westminster and was the only open class bitch in the vizslas. Her sisters both finished their championships about ten days before and would move up to compete for best of breed. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and their classes were Tuesday. 

733A2406-x-MaggieA snow storm was forecast to begin around 8 am that day, changing to freezing rain in time for the evening commute. We decided on Sunday to book a room for two nights at one of the hotels served by the dog show shuttle. Monday afternoon I drove up and picked up my friend S and her bitch, Vivva, who is Eggi’s sister. At the hotel the sisters rode the elevator, used the artificial turf potty balcony on the 12th floor, and chased each other around the room.

Our show day started early. We caught the second shuttle which left from the front of the other dog show hotel, the Pennsylvania, which I had been warned to avoid.

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Eggi shivered most of the ride. At the show I took her to the exercise pens to pee several times but she wouldn’t even smell the situation. She stayed in her kennel until it was time for vizslas.

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S had hired a professional handler to show her bitch, but did not want to sit in the front row of spectators lest her dogs spot her.

733A2401-x-MaggieA woman in the front row turned and said to no one in particular, “I don’t know why anyone would bring a class dog to Westminster!”

Eggi had no competition for the open bitches, so all she had to do was beat the open dog to take the best of winners ribbon (and the point). I’ve watched Eggi do enough showing to witness the losing. We’ve lost to dogs with pointy little heads, and bitches that misbehaved. The class dog was scrawny and small, with a shrimpy pelvis and a pointy little head.  Did that guy even feed his dog? I got that surge of adrenaline that you get when you really really must not lose. 

733A2395-x-MaggieAnd then, it was over.

Eggi got her winners bitch rosette and took best of winners. Her sister V got an award of merit.

I watched pointers and akitas and a little of the Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retrievers after that. The thing is that what the put on TV (the groups and then best in show) skips over the bulk of a dog show, which is what happens in the breeds. Every dog you see representing their breed has beaten a bunch of other, winning dogs and bitches to get there. This is the real meat of any dog show sandwich. If all you ever see is the best of breeds and the best in show, that’s just the pickle and toothpick; you’ve missed out on the unique pleasure of a dozen of the same breed of dog, prancing or lumbering around in a big circle, being halted and stacked, having their bites examined, and the judge making their choices with the pointing of a finger or hand. It’s all over in an instant if you don’t pay careful attention. 

Eulogy for a GMC

Apologies to Churchill and King George VI

My friends, when the death of the truck occurred in February there struck a deep and solemn note in our lives. It stilled the diesel clatter in our yard, and the screaming belts that made countless human beings pause and look around them. A new sense of values for the time being took possession of us, and a Ford SUV presented itself to us at the same moment in its serenity and its sorrow, in its splendor and in its expense, in its fortitude, and in our suffering.

The truck was greatly loved by all our family. It was respected as a vehicle and a Puller of Trailers far beyond the many roads over which it drove. The simple dignity of its life, its manly virtues, its sense of duty–alike as ruler and servant of the vast highways and passengers for which it bore responsibility–its gay growl and happy rumble, its example as the truck of the fleet, its courage on pavement or off–all these were aspects of its character which won the glint of admiration, now here, now there, from the innumerable eyes whose gaze fell upon the GMC Sierra 2500.

We thought of it as naval lieutenant in the towing of the boat. We thought of it as head cowboy when, calmly, without ambition or want of self-confidence, it trailered our beloved horses up and down the west coast of America. We thought of it, so faithful in daily commutes to Redmond, and later, to a commuter train station parking lot in Westchester, New York, so Large when parallel parked on a city street, but responsive during stop-and-go traffic, and yet able to stop when necessary, so uplifted above the clatter of ordinary traffic, yet so attentive to the driver, so able to drive over a curb, or pothole. All this we saw and admired, its conduct on the roads of America may be a model and a guide to heavy duty pickups throughout the world to-day, and also in future generations.

Through the last few months of the truck’s life, with the squeaky belts, rust, iffy AC and mice living in the engine it endured–its life secretly hanging by a thread from day to day, and it was all the time cheerful and undaunted, stricken in body, but quite undisturbed and even unaffected in spirit. This has made a profound and enduring impression, and should be a help to us all.

It was sustained not only by its natural buoyancy but by the sincerity of its American make. During these last years, landscapers and contractors spoke to us in admiration of it, making informal offers if we ever intended to part. Once, the Bacon Provider was asked (in Spanish) if he could haul some horses from a horse show. In the end, death came as a result of putting me in a dangerous situation, instead of after a happy day of sunshine and sport.

In this period of mourning and meditation, amid our cares and toils, we may draw comfort for tonight and strength for the future from its bearing and fortitude. There was another tie between King George and his people. It was not only the sorrow and affliction that they shared. Dear to the hearts and homes of its six seats is the joy and pride of a united family. Only once were we pulled over for an unbuckled seat belt, and once for speeding. No family in these tumultuous times was happier or loved one another more than our Family Loaded up in the truck, heading for a weekend adventure.

No vehicle got more maintenance than the truck did. The Bacon Provider made certain that he changed the oil, check the tires, and had the brakes serviced.

Let me tell you another story. When we had our Seattle house painted, the painter struck one side of our truck with his, and he took a few hundred dollars off the price he charged us. We never did get around to fixing the dent. It seemed to be a revealing trait by which we could identify it in a crowded lot of other pickups.

There is no doubt that having a truck is a handy thing, In the present generation it has made possible the acquiring of barbecues, and tools, lumber, and plants. It connected us to our friends and neighbors who needed to take a load of household goods to Goodwill. We were offered money for it when we left Seattle, but we felt it was necessary for getting our pets to New York. It was always cheap to fix, and the last repair was under $300. The truck had become a mysterious link, indeed, I may say, a magical link, which united our loosely bound but strongly interwoven

For fifteen years our GMC Duramax Sierra 2500 was our truck. Never at any moment in all perplexities in Seattle or New York, city or suburb, did it fail in its duties. Well does it deserve a farewell salute.

It is at this time also that our compassion and sympathy go out to the Bacon Provider, who used it for years as his daily driver. Their partnership was a love match with no idea of regal pomp or splendor. Indeed, there seemed to be between them the charming mismatch of a Medium Cheese Executive and a Workman’s vehicle.

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They were under the floor mats

May I say–speaking with all freedom-that our hearts go out to–night to that valiant Brand, GMC, with the blood of America in its veins, that sustained us through toils and problems. May they be granted the wisdom to design a full-size SUV capable of pulling a large two-horse trailer sometime in the near future.

Now I must leave the treasures of the past and turn to the future. Famous have been the reigns of our vehicles. A purple Chrysler Town & Country Mini-van, and then a gold. A Volvo wagon the Graduate still drives. Nagymama’s Porsche. Some of the greatest periods in our history have unfolded under their sceptre.

Now that we have purchased a Ford Expedition Max, our thoughts are carried back nearly 15 years to the magnificent vehicle, presiding over the deck of a ferry to the San Juans, embodying and inspiring the grandeur and genius of the Turn of the 20th century. We are required to embark on new adventures. And, because we have more room, we can take all the dogs.

In fact, we have already driven it to the Adirondacks and back.

I, whose young parenthood was passed in the august, unchallenged, and tranquil glories of Seattle at the turn of the millennium, may well feel a thrill in invoking once more
the anthem:
“OMFG we bought an SUV!”

More Losing

So when Eggi won a major, she qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Show, and about 10 days before it we had planned to do one last weekend at the Big E. I drove the truck because the Bacon Provider had taken my car to Vermont for a meeting. Eggi and I set off after dinner on Friday night, and it was a cold, dark drive, but the pickup seemed fine. In the morning we had an early start, since were first in the ring at 8 am. I started the truck early to let it run and warm up,. It was only 2F. I loaded Eggi, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road.

We’d gone about a mile when the engine died. With no engine the behemoth had lost its power steering, so I had to throw everything I had into the steer to pull over into a parking lot . I had no trouble restarting, and assumed the problem was the extreme cold. Or, like, it was an alternator thing. I still had time to make it to the show, and it was only about 15 minutes away. I let the truck run about 15 more minutes and hit the road again.

The engine died again.

I wrestled it into another parking lot (this time it was a veterinary practice that wasn’t open yet).

It was clear I was not driving even the few miles from  here to the show. I texted all the interested parties (my husband, the breeder, my handler). No one could make it to me in time to get us there. The Bacon Provider suggested I get an Uber. I sent him a photo of the corn field I was looking at.

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My handler suggested I call AAA.

AAA said they’d have a tow truck to me within the hour. Not in time to get us to the show, but I didn’t have another option. I texted my son and his GF and they said they’d come get us.

An hour passed. The truck was running, with warning lights about the battery not charging. I felt like I was right about it being the alternator. We were warm enough, and out of the way of traffic. The veterinary practice opened. Techs arrived, followed by patients and pets. No one asked if we needed help.

I checked with AAA. The time of arrival had changed. Another hour passed.

I heard from the breeder. Eggi’ sister Vivva had won enough points to finish her championship that day. My kids texted that they were an hour away.

Towards the end of the third hour, the truck started to get cold. It was still running but the fans weren’t blowing. The temperature outside had risen to the mid-20s. The gauges on the dash were no longer lit. I got Eggi out and walked her around. The tow truck finally arrived. 

We climbed into the cab. Eggi sat on my lap. The shop was a six minute drive from the spot where we waited. The Graduate and his GF arrived to pick us up while I was giving the shop my contact info.

 

The next day I took Eggi back to the show, where she took second in her class. Her other sister finished her championship that day. 

 

One of my new friends, a very successful breeder of pointers, told me that even with a really great dog you lose more than you win. 

On Monday we went back to pick up the now-repaired truck. The shop said it was a frayed serpentine belt.

A Conversation I Overheard

Captain: “What are you wearing?”

Eggi: “Dunno what it’s called. I’ve got the girl flu.”

Captain: “The what?”

Eggi: “The curse.”

Captain: “That sounds bad.”

Eggi: “You know, Aunt Flo.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Come on, Red tide.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Shark week.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Code red.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “On the rag.”

Captain: “…er…”

Eggi: “Ladies’ week.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Red army.”

Captain: “Red army?!”

Eggi: “Time of the month.”

Captain: “…uh?”

Eggi: “La semaine ketchup.”

Captain: “Ketchup? I like ketchup.”

Eggi: “Surfing the crimson wave?”

Captain: “Are we going swimming? I love swimming!”

Eggi: “No, no…like a visit from my relative from Rotenburg.”

Captain: “Is it someone I know?”

Eggi: “Le petit clown qui saigne du nez?”

Captain: “Ooh, ooh! Clowns! I love clowns!”

Eggi: “Oh come on. Checking into the Red Roof Inn?”

Captain: “…”

Eggi: “Oh, look, a squirrel!”