SUBLIMINAL IS DIFFERENT FOR DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Word Prompt: Subliminal

Our three dogs think they have the whole subliminal thing down pat. Like last night.

Thunder was rolling through the valley. Not very loud thunder, but definitely thunder. Rolling. It might mean rain … or just the heat of the day breaking up. Our dogs are not particularly nervous about noise. Guns, fire-crackers, thunder? Meh. Only when lightning actually hits the house does everyone — human and otherwise — react.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s hard to not react when a bolt of lightning hits the house or relatively nearby. It hit a pole in front of the house and burned out two computers — and they weren’t even turned on. It hit the pump in our well — 450 feet (that would be almost 138 meters) underground.

I thought that was really weird, but the guy from the insurance company was unphased. He said the combination of electric current, iron, and water had a way of enticing lightning. Not so unusual after all.

I was really unbelievably grateful we had insurance!

Meanwhile, our dogs have figured out when there’s a storm, we check on them, just to make sure they aren’t getting weird. I don’t think they have any idea why we check on them, but they know it’s something about storms, so as the thunder roared across the valley, they poked their three little noses into the bedroom.

Bonnie was first because she’s the dominant canine. Also, she knows Garry will let her do anything.

“Hi there,” she said, waving a furry black paw.

Gibbs’ nose appeared next. “Hi Mom, Dad. How’re things hanging with youse guys?”

Of course, The Duke was grinning up at us. Panting a little bit and using one of his front paws to point to the kitchen. Where the food is. Because nothing makes a dog less apprehensive about rolling thunder than a quick snack.

They were so cute that I got up and gave them one of the little treats.

Gibbs

We have treats in three sizes. Small, which isn’t small unless your dog is a Wolfhound or St. Bernard. Pretty small, which is maybe the size of the upper joint of your thumb. And teeny, tiny … maybe the size of my littlest fingernail. That’s the one I give them when they are looking particularly beefy. They are all permanently on a diet, too.

But since they’d gotten me up and into the kitchen once, they were sure they had it nailed. As I was getting back into bed I heard the little “scratch, scratch” on the door. This is a big improvement over Bonnie and Duke’s previous method which was to fling themselves — TOGETHER — against the door.

Our interior door are not all that sturdy and this usually meant an explosion of dogs into the bedroom.  That did not go over well with me. Garry, of course, slept through it. Will he sleep through it after he can hear? Because having your dogs break down your door is pretty damned loud, deaf or not. Even if you can’t hear it, you can certainly FEEL it.

We discussed the whole “breaking down the door” thing. I explained that if they didn’t cut it out, I was going to put all of them into crates. They didn’t like that idea.

So now, it’s a gentle scratch and if I didn’t fully close the door, a little push and a few noses in the doorway.

That is our dogs’ version of subliminal. Really subtle. Below the level of our inferior human understanding.

Duke is smart. Too smart for his own good and not as smart as he thinks — and seems to feel we need clear instructions about how to do what we ought to do. Since he can’t type, he points. With paws and nose and sometimes, entire body.

They all lick their jowls, just in case we aren’t clear that what they are hoping for is food.

After I told them to cut it out and settle down, they did. But don’t imagine for a moment that they’ve given up. All the subtle hints — like pushing the 40-pound crate of food into the living room, for example — will continue. I suppose we could try to discipline our dogs. Make them “obey” us. But I’ve never really had an obedient dog.

They all do pretty much whatever they want, even when they know better. I don’t really mind because they are much more fun “au naturale.”

THE WOODSTOVE – A BIT OF ECOLOGICAL FICTION

The woodstove had been in the family a long time. No one really knew how long, but a few of generations for sure. It had heated the family home for years.

Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up.  The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.

For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.MaineCabinTXT

The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.

The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.

Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.

The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.

The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.

It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.

Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.

Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.

As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.

It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse.  Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.

It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died.  With the fish gone, the loons  didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.

That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.

THE DANCER

DANCE!

There’s rhythm and motion all around us. This week, capture some of it in a photo.

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I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016
I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

 

WHEN UMBRELLAS FLY

Although I ran this about a year ago, it definitely speaks to today’s prompt. It has the advantage of being true and funny, my favorite combination. Beware of flying umbrellas!


Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were, because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full-size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen.

He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

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“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to always be polite to grown-ups.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming in from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Beware of flying umbrellas at the seashore. They can turn you into compost. That’s bad, especially if your hands are full of hot dogs.

I MET A MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today …

Gee I wish he’d go away.”

Childhood ditty 

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never lonely because I had friends who understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. More accurately, they consolidated and acquired a more sophisticated persona.

“They” became a “she.” My narrator. And she as been with me my entire life. A companion for sure, but also a “shadow me.” She sits on my shoulder and almost never shuts up. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I can blame it on the narrator. It’s all her fault.

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My narrator remembers everything. She fills in my back story. Technically, I’m in charge of my life, but sometimes, I wonder. My narrator seems to know what will happen before I do. She never stops telling my story.

She is my third person perspective on life — as I live it in real time. I’m so accustomed to her running commentary, that during her brief silences, I become alarmed by her absence. She is so much a part of how I make sense of life (the universe and everything, thank you Douglas Adams), I’m unsure whether or not I could understand anything much without the accompanying narration.

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As long as I can remember, my narrator — who is me but not me — has had no name except maybe a form of mine. She is writer-Marilyn. She has a job. To fill the gaps in my story. To add “he said” and “she said.” To describe the things people do. Sometimes supply a little mood music, suggest changes to the script, and scenery. She “fictionalizes” reality.

My unreal pal distracts me and has no respect for “the moment.” No respecter of persons either, she will make me laugh precisely when I shouldn’t. Over the years, she has gotten me into trouble with bosses, teachers, spouses, and complete strangers. I can hardly explain it’s not me laughing at them … it’s that damned narrator.

Despite the perils of the relationship, I’ve learned a lot from my nameless friend. She has taught me to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope, and despair. Because she weaves the story lines together into the epic of my life, I have a better world view, a more cohesive vision of how I fit into the fabric of others’ existences — and how other people fit into mine.

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She complicates my life and at the same time, simplifies it. My only job is to follow the script, even when it makes no sense, and to fix the typos when I spot them. My narrator takes care of the rest.

STOOPID QUESTIONS

ANSWER A STUPID QUESTION
The BLACKLIGHT CANDELABRA

I was shopping in a department store and had the pleasure of overhearing a mother and her (approximately) sixth grade son having a conversation. They were in the men’s underwear section and the son was not particularly happy with the experience.

The boy says to his mother, “Why do all these packages have men on the packages? Why can’t they show women wearing the underwear?”

We all know the obvious and most clearly correct answer. Don’t write about that. Instead, your challenge this week is to devise a sociological, psychological, or other intellectually infused explanation for why underwear manufacturers don’t sell their product using irrelevant images like other businesses do.

Stupid Questions R Us. I used to work in advertising, an industry about which it can be said — without fear of argument or contradiction — there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

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Or, for that matter, a stupid answer. It is an industry with a passion for stupidity. It embraces it. An industry in which the demographic bottom line makes a slow third-grader look like a budding Einstein.

When I worked at Doubleday, we used to put warning labels on books. “Warning: May contain sexually explicit material.

Usually, there was no sexually explicit material. It was boilerplate and we put it on boring books to make them look spicy. We received complaints, too, from our customers. Who had sought in vain for The Good Parts, but had found nothing but … literature.

We pointed out we had said “MAY contain sexually explicit material.” We hadn’t actually promised it did. No guarantees, implicit, implied, or whatever.

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In the name of pure research, I asked my husband if he, as a man (not as my husband, as a reporter, or as an otherwise intelligent human being) thought naked women in men’s underwear advertising would be a good idea. He said (and I quote): “Well, it would probably be a smart advertising ploy.”

Psychological, sociological, or cultural explanations? Nah. Irrelevant. It’s about money. Advertisers will do anything to sell the product.

Sex sells. It always has. Always will. Put a naked body on the cover of any book and it will sell better (not to me, but to somebody somewhere). The same book without a naked person will sell fewer books. Fact, not opinion.

Getting back to the important issue of marketing men’s underwear. The kid had a point. While I think women wearing the men’s underwear might confuse customers (presumably men), as you can see, there is far from universal agreement on that point.

Of course there ought to be sexy, naked women selling men’s underwear. They should be gazing at it with longing. Rubbing it all over their bodies while they gasp with pleasure. Caressing their breasts with it.

As for the larger question — why aren’t men’s underwear manufacturers already doing this kind of advertising?  Who says they aren’t?

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