barksville.ca

Hurricane Phyllis

February 2nd, 2011

Dear J,

I use “dear” certainly not because I really feel that way, but because I have recently read reports that all of this email and texting nonsense is starting to erode at the essence of the traditional letter. Eventually we’ll be left with nothing but the basest of rudimentary salutations like Yo or Hey You. So Dear it is.

Welcome back from South America. And though I am certain you regret not heeding my alternate destination suggestion of Brazil, where, I am told by people who know these things, lies the single largest concentration of beautiful uninhibited women on the planet, I trust your time spent in Peru, mostly at altitudes difficult to breath without oxygen, was fruitful as well. Oh well hind sight is 20/20. Just remember this little tidbit the next time you make travel plans: In your absence I polled 7 of the local spas specializing in esthetics and am informed that the number of times anyone has ever come in and made a request such as, “Yes, I would like the French clay facial mask, a pedicure, and while you are at it, a full Peruvian,” IS ZERO. Regardless, I am sure your VISA is on life support. Anyway as you have been gone for awhile I have saved up really quite a pile of nonsense and find I have no where else to send it but your way.

Fact is, things have been a bit tense here at Barksville-never a good thing really.  See, the “even keel” is a state of mind which I strive to maintain. For one thing it promotes healthier blood pressure allowing me to eat more salt which, let’s face it, is key. Also, excessive use of the explosive outburst, though comforting for some, really takes it out of me. To combat this I find I really must endeavor to keep things that can trigger anger in perspective. The most helpful tool, ironically, has been a concept that my ex wife introduced to me, involving the notion of “non-attachment” or freedom from “wanting things to be different than they are.” That way if you allow yourself to accept a different outcome than the one expected you manage to redirect feelings that might have otherwise lead to anger.

As you know I have done pretty well with this concept, particularly in the case of my first marriage, a source of great distress, where I was able to foster such non-attachment to the whole thing I shortly found myself very single. Ironic eh? Still, some days it is harder than others.

Take last night for example. Let’s say after a chaotic weekend of too many dogs at the inn, I had optimistically granted myself the surety that this evening would be more restful than the few previous. Who would have known that at about the same time I was settling into such optimism, Candace, the deaf and incontinent Rottweiler, bless her heart, was starting to feel the first few tinges of stomach discomfort that eventually were going to manifest into a spate of late night diarrhea the smell and volume of which I can’t really convey?  Who also would know that coming to my aid in cleaning these several messes would be neither Phyllis nor Constance who, poor dears, seemed both overcome with some coma inducing affliction?  This is where non-attachment comes in handy.

I’ve read about something referred to as “harmonic vibration or resonance,” a conspiracy of bad timing really, that occurs when, let’s say, a bridge that is designed to withstand any number of single huge gusts of wind can nonetheless be toppled by a series of lessor gusts if they are timed such that they use the energy put into action from those previous. Metaphorically, I believe, this is the kind of thing that is behind someone killing all of their co-workers with some lame excuse such as, “The Coke machine failed to produce change.” It’s like the perfect storm. As the evening turned to day I got to feeling a bit like that bridge.

Like I’ve said in the past, Phyllis sometimes suffers from headaches of a magnitude you can’t really imagine. She doesn’t really want you to imagine it, she’d rather they just didn’t happen. But they do. They present themselves in a couple of ways. One is to just strike, POW! In the middle of the night, followed by a day or two of her life spent in and out of the local medical clinic trying to have the ice pick removed from her ear. The other type often ends the same way but has the added bonus of a week or so preamble of generally feeling progressively awful but well enough to cope with most day to day activities. Unfortunately, as the situation worsens, this “coping” arrives at the expense of her normally sunny disposition. Complicating matters is Phyllis’ strong belief that if you deny something is happening there is a much better chance of it not happening. This way if I am not paying close attention to the indicators I am likely to be caught a bit off guard. And believe me, Phyllis is a master of maintaining her game face. It’s not like you are watching an ostrich plonk it’s head into the sand. Nope, she can keep you in the dark right up to the point of impact.  Eventually, however, even she can no longer hide it.

One popular method of exposing how she really is feeling comes via a little game of “Conversational Russian Roulette.”  Simple really. In this case the “gun” is Phyllis’ side of the conversation. The trigger is pulled when something coming from my side of the conversation is deemed irksome.  The bullet, should you be so unlucky, is her inability to hold back anymore and you are treated to an unexpected and explosive response.  As with the real Russian Roulette you start out with pretty good odds. The twist in Phyllis’ version is that each time you manage to effectively dodge a bullet, she adds another until eventually the gun is fully loaded reducing considerably your chances of safely navigating through the conversation.  A game can last five minutes to a day or so. Multiple rounds of this shit can prove corrosive to one’s ability to be civil. Don’t mistake my whining. She does extremely well with all of this. I would have crawled in hole like a little baby never to return were it me in her position. She’s tough my Phyllis. But, like the bridge, in combination with other bothers it can eventually take you down.

So the day after the night of diarrhea is morning 4 of the above described situation. By now Phyllis’ head has progressed to the medical attention stage. I am fried and so is she. I just need Constance to get ready for school and on the bus and then Phyllis and I will make our way to the clinic. While she does this I will get the dogs out to do their morning business and then attend to hopefully the final load of explosive fecal goo Candace managed to deposit on the side of the couch. Constance has been up for the past ½ hour. A perfect world would have seen her occupying herself by feeding the horses, getting her lunch ready and maybe helping me organize the 18 dogs we have milling about the place. Instead she has spent all but the last 15 seconds(required to run out and catch the bus)gagging at the smell of dog shit and scowling at my prodding her to get a move on while she performs an irritating ritual of minute hair adjustments and tries on several different yet basically identical“outfits” leaving all but the finally chosen one in a heap on the floor. Her exit consists of running down the hall, grabbing her pack and stuffing the lunch I have made, with, believe me, true love, into it, and finally a brief inquisition as to what I have done with her math book that she had left “RIGHT THERE,” pointing to the table. I tell her, as I am washing up from hopefully the last clean up of diarrhea, I most likely threw it out into the snow. This, I admit might have been childish. She eventually finds it under the heap of clothes in her room. “Bye Kyle,” she pipes running out to the bus in a foot of snow wearing inappropriate footwear, essentially slippers really, and just narrowly avoiding the imaginary brick I have just tossed at her head. It always amazes me how quickly she can turn from quite acrid to bubbly.

Throughout the shit clean up and Constance evacuation ordeal there is the question of organizing “a rather difficult group” of dogs.  We have two exits from within our house. One is at the front of the house and one is at the back. As a rule the mellow dogs go out the front and the ruffians out the back. Some insist on spending as little time in either area preferring to muck about your feet all day. Today’s particular antagonist is Clem the Weimaraner.  After demanding to be let back in prematurely by repeatedly smashing(literally)into the glass door and barking like a car alarm he commenced pacing about staring intently and creating this desperate whistling sound and running into me at every turn. At the best of times your average Weimaraner looks as if it is in the midst of a surprise prostate exam.

Out back a relentless din of barking erupts. Stopping it involves running down the hall to the back door and trying to locate the perpetrator-always easier said than done. As I sling open the door it all stops and I look down at 5 silent dogs wagging their tails.  Only when I’ve made it all the way back to the kitchen to continue with angel’s lunch does it start again. Repeat. This can go on all morning if you let it. On my return from about the fourth mission of this nonsense I look down to see that the cause of Clem’s more than usual distress is an overwhelming urge to retch all over the freshly cleaned floor. The one success story of the morning is that I manage to get him out the door in time. Speaking of retching, Phyllis has started by now and it is definitely time to get to the clinic before things truly deteriorate. I start bringing all the dogs in and placing them in their individual crates or couch locations depending on the dog-the lock down as we call it. Except for a minor puncture wound from Pixie, an ill tempered Shih-tzu, this goes pretty well.

Time to gather up Phyllis.  I enter the bedroom to tell Phyllis we can finally go-only to hit a spot on the floor that is beyond belief slippery, so much so that I slide into the end of the bed and crack open my shin. Later investigation will reveal that part of Constance’s hair management routine involves the generous application of a product called “Mane n’ Tail” which as the label indicates is meant to untangle the most stubborn of tangles a horse might encounter. What it doesn’t say is that if the thirteen year old uses it for her own hair and then leaves the bottle sideways on the floor there is a good chance of some of the stuff leaking out and unknowingly turning any surface into a skating rink. I limped off to the truck and away we went.

That’ll take us to 9:00AM

I guess what I haven’t mentioned so far is that on top of all of this, just yesterday and not yet knowing how poorly Phyllis was really feeling, I had convinced her to break a 20 year tradition and get her hair cut by someone new.  “Change things up a bit,” I’d said. You know, really, in retrospect, this was a bad idea. One of the symptoms of these headaches, once they are in full swing, is that the ability to put a thing in its proper perspective really suffers. In this case what I thought was quite a lovely haircut had become “probably the shittiest haircut ever performed on the face of this earth by a woman so maligned in her understanding of what the CUSTOMER HAS ASKED FOR she should be tied to a post and stoned to death.” Cajoling a girl in Phyllis’ state out of such a head space is not going to happen casualty free especially when you were the one that urged her to do it in the first place. I do make an attempt, however, by saying, “I say we give her a Peruvian.”  She looked at me like I was a Martian. And so, as Phyllis alternated between puking into a bucket and lashing out at that little twat of a hairdresser I continued to dodge bullets and drove us to the clinic.

Today Phyllis was going to be awhile so I return to Barksville to man the ship so to speak. I am all for a bit of a short break, maybe a coffee and a bit of writing before getting back into the fray. See, not unlike the rest of the population, if I had my druthers I would do precisely nothing for the bulk of my days. Nothing that involves the notion of “toiling” that is. Writing useless twaddle like this and cooking the appropriate meals matched with tantalizing wines doesn’t count. Nor does surfing the web for unattainable, financially speaking, holiday ideas for that matter. The pursuit of this can actually use up a fair bit of energy truth be told. And so Phyllis at the clinic and Constance incarcerated at school I set about fulfilling my quest for inactivity, that being the writing of this letter….The dogs, on the other hand are for something basically on the opposite end of the spectrum.

That was six weeks ago and as you can see I am not quite finished but I will press on now constructing the finale on memory instead of observation.

As I recall not a lot of writing happened that day as the dogs were basically relentless. I had to resort to running them around the yard until they had rid themselves of all that energy otherwise directed at barking seemingly just to piss me off. (Now if I am to follow the advice of my new copy of “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White that sentence would end something like, “off with which to piss me.”) Whatever. As the day progressed things were starting to mount and I couldn’t help but notice that the non-attachment thing was starting to wane and I had started to resort to some rather assertive dog handling. I mean nothing to pique the interest of the S.P.C.A. but more in a patience running out sort of way. For instance, we have one here named Chelsea who goes berserk if I leave her in a crate while I feed the rest of the dogs. So the understanding is that I feed her first and then she will sit on her chair instead. Her perennial hunger drive always gets the better of her and before you know it you are tripping all over her while you try to get the other dog’s food ready. I know from past experience that I can gently lead her back to the chair and give her a stern “stay” and she will last a minute or two and then we repeat that in little increments until I essentially blow up. Or, I can skip all the in between steps and just put her on her chair-only this time the second she so much as twitches I charge at her like a rutting rhinoceros screaming with spit flying and the veins popping out of my neck. In this fashion we convince her to remain seated until all of the feeding is finished. The key here is that you aren’t actually mad, for that would have deleterious effects on the said blood pressure, but rather acting in a manner which convinces her that you are mad. If done properly she is happy and so am I. However as each of the 18 dogs on the premises confronts you with the need to employ similar modes of shorthand the line between acting enraged and being so starts to fade.

Anyway by now it was time to go and get Phyllis from the clinic.  She got in the truck, pointed at her hair, and started to cry. If it’s a “good” headache we are done with the clinic. If not we will be back again before the day is through. This is not a good one. There is always a bit of time for a game of Roulette however.  Back at home on her way to the bedroom she spies a single dirty plate beside the sink and starts slamming things around yielding to a sudden requirement to sanitize the kitchen while mumbling things like “What pigs you two are.” It’s the morphine, I convince myself and try to get her to go and sleep. By now, however, the ol’ bridge is starting to swing.

Oh well, it’ll pass. Phyllis is finally sleeping and soon enough Constance wafts in like a breath of fresh air home from school. She needs to go to a piano lesson but has forgotten her music at her dad’s house and it is imperative that we get this right away as she hasn’t practiced once since her last lesson. I tell her in the kindest way, “Go piss up a rope.” She takes exception to this. We pack in the truck to go get her music. Half way to her dad’s house the phone rings. Clark is sitting at the gate 2 hours before he said he would arrive wanting to pick up his dog-the one he dropped off unannounced at 7 in the morning. We open at 8. Clark likes to talk a lot. He starts every sentence with a sigh. We head back to the house. I get his dog. He hasn’t brought any money (again). I do my best not to engage as he really would go on for the rest of his life if you let him. Truthfully I wasn’t very nice. We get back in the truck and get the music. When we get home her piano teacher calls to remind her that her lesson had been canceled. when pressed, Constance vaguely remembers something along these lines but responds negatively when I call her on it. Suspecting she is now free from any other obligation she embarks upon a mission to watch the TV while I get things organized. I suggest an alternative to this plan.

With Phyllis feeling poorly and mostly out of commission there is left some slack needed to be taken up in the operations here at Barksville and as it turns out I am looking to little Constance for a bit of support and hence not really feeling the TV thing just now. This is not going to be easy. Not only does she treat most appeals for aid as preposterous impositions on her extremely busy life, getting her to help out, in this instance, is going to first require breaking the hypnotizing trance the TV seems to hold over her. She is listening with ear buds because I can’t stand the noise and she hates being distracted when it comes to TV. I am going to go out on a limb here but I would wager that I could remove one of her fucking kidneys using only primitive tools and no anesthetic while she was under the spell of that TV and she would be left none the wiser. After a few subtle but ignored attempts to break through her wall of concentration I opt for a more direct approach. “Constance!” I say, hauling the ear buds from her ears. “Wha-ut!?” she manages, noticeably irritated. “As you know, your mom’s feeling poorly so I wouldn’t mind if you could feed the horses while I feed the dogs.” Looking down at her I sense she is confused as to what exactly it is that I am getting at. “I fed them yesterday,” she spouts finally with one eye still on the screen. “Feed them now or I swear I’ll kill you,” I suggest. She thinks for a minute but by all indications seems insufficiently moved to actually move. “On second thought,” I say, swatting the off switch, “I’m not going to kill you, I’m going to kill the God damn TV for the next 24 maybe 36 hours.” Now she’s moving.

With the dogs all fed and everybody out for a short run I leave Constance at the helm and run my well coiffed girl back to the clinic for hopefully the last time.  On the way back I pick up some Sushi for Constance to avoid messing up the kitchen.  “Watch the dogs O.K?,” I say to Constance. She doesn’t look up but grunts in the positive while she eats her Sushi and mouthing the words to the show she is watching. She confesses to being on her third screening of this particular show.

I head to the bedroom.  Ahhhhhh, feet up. Silence.  Half an hour or so passes when the bedroom fills with the paint peeling stench of canine fecal matter.  I get out of bed to investigate. I look first at our little Judy to make sure she hasn’t died and gone septic in the last 10 minutes. Nope the smell is coming from further afield. I walk down the hall thinking it has got to be near. I make it to the kitchen. Still nothing. I spy Constance at the TV. She doesn’t notice me. I walk right up behind her. I look to my right and there, not five feet away from her lies, if you would imagine, a pile of shit the size of an entire melted container of Haagan Daz spreading out on the floor. It is gag worthy. If such a thing is possible, Constance seems completely unaware of her proximity to the foul mess. I go to the bathroom and get the appropriate tools(we are good at dog shit management around here)in this case a dust pan and a squeegee. It requires three trips to the bathroom and a final going over with bleach and paper towel. Any signs of the entire operation have eluded Constance. I stood behind her for a minute wondering if I should club her with that math book that she will be asking about in the morning.

I retrieve Phyllis for the final time. She is substantially improved. With everything done that needs to be done for awhile and Phyllis finally able to eat, I bring some food and retire to the bedroom to hang out with my lovely wife who really is lovely.  Just in time she has returned from the dead. The Roulette gun is safely stored, safety on. Today has passed without a breakdown due to “harmonic resonance.”  We talk. Peaceably. Calmly. We laugh. She finds me more funny than irritating. I mean let’s face it almost everybody finds me often irritating.  Why it’s almost as if nothing ever happened.

Best of all, I have a sneaky suspicion that tonight I am going to sleep like the dead. I turn out the light and say, “Good night Phyllis. I love you.” She purrs, “I love you too.” A minute goes by.  “But, I can’t believe what that bitch did to my hair.”

I remain,

Looking forward to hearing more of your travels,

Kyle

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