Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Evil Mastermind and the Squeaker.

At the end of May we acquired a new dog in the family. Well, at least we think he's a dog. He might just be an escapee or retired Dr. Seuss character. With a name like Wrangler, one has to wonder.

Cooper seemed to accept this addition to his personal space with the usual aplomb, though he quickly judged that this creature was not up to his intellectual standards. He's proven handy to keep around for the entertainment factor, so he is tolerated as long as he didn't get too pushy.

Wrangler rules the roost when it comes to toys. Toys are his raison d'etre. Anything that squeaks, especially. Cooper quickly figured out how to push Wrangler's buttons. Any time he wants to tease Wrangler, Cooper will get ahold of (all of) Wrangler's toys and parade around him, causing Wrangler to go into a frenzy of barking and panicking that he'll never get his toys back.

But tonight Cooper took it to a whole new level.

We were eating ice cream. Both dogs love ice cream. But Cooper LOVES ice cream. Sarah and Scott finished theirs first and Cooper claimed rights to licking their bowls clean. I was still working on mine, and Wrangler was patiently waiting for his turn.

Cooper also saw I had some, but he didn't get in line or try to out-brute Wrangler for ice cream he knew full well he didn't deserve. Instead, he turned back to Sarah and the drawer where he knew his own squeaky toy was hidden safely away from Wrangler's obsessive personality.

So Sarah gave him his toy. And he proceeded to parade around until he got Wrangler's attention. And he got Wrangler's attention, all right. Wrangler jumped and barked and whined and growled and fussed until Cooper finally gave over the toy. Wrangler, all happy, proceeded to squeak-squeak-squeaky-squeak-squeak...

...and Cooper made his way, oh-so-confidently, over in front of me and my nearly-empty ice cream dish.

No amount of begging or enticing could possibly persuade Wrangler away from that toy. He was stuck to the squeak like a fly on honey. And Cooper sat in full confidence of his right to that ice cream dish.

Cooper, the master manipulator, once again won his day and the third ice cream bowl.

And the Squeaker squeaks on.

Arranged Carriage

I held out for 7 months, 24 days 16 hours and 30 minutes, but on August 5, I crossed another threshold in re-integration into American society: I became a car owner.

This was my first car-buying experience as the one car I owned previously was a hand-me-down. I have to say that the experience of purchasing a used car really is rather like an arranged marriage.

I entered the transaction with my prerequisite baseline criteria: 1) manual transmission, 2) good gas mileage, 3) and reliable mechanical condition considering what I was willing to pay. I was fully prepared to walk away if I couldn't find what I wanted that day.

The car dealer was my Yenta. And, as I suspect is true for most Yentas, he had his place in the transaction, but he was hardly going to become a trusted friend. He had too much to gain by the success of the transaction and too much to lose in the failure to be considered completely trustworthy. This despite all his reassurances about how, "he had a daughter too, and he would love to see her in this car."

Fortunately - or unfortunately - my first criteria (the manual transmission) automatically meant that my field of choice would be pretty narrow. All the more reason I would be willing to walk away and find a new Yenta. Lucky for this Yenta, he had an appropriate range of offerings. Even luckier for my Yenta, he was able to offer me something near to love at first sight.

But appearances and resumes can be deceiving, so we had to do the test drive. From what I've read and heard about arranged marriages, often there is a brief meeting - sometimes no more than a drive-by, sometimes just a quick introduction, sometimes even a short courtship. Occasionally you don't know what you're getting until you've gotten to the altar and are signing on the dotted line.

I'd say this test run was somewhere in the middle ground: I got to get in, take a turn around the block and make sure a tire didn't go rolling off into the street and no sawdust came flying out of the engine, and that was it. Worse though, I didn't actually know how to drive manual, so all I could do was take it on faith and my father's word that the transmission and clutch were in semi-decent shape (thank goodness he agreed to come along). It was a used car, so it came with no guarantees. No warranties. For better or worse, sickness and health, once I chose it, I was stuck.

So I drove the near-to-car of my dreams (but couldn't afford). And I drove the car I thought I deserved (and could afford). I looked at a couple others that I didn't even really think about.

Then came the wheeling and dealing. Nice car, too expensive (and I felt a little guilty for beating up on its clutch). Not-so-nice car that would likely have maintenance issues, but I could pay for (and I wouldn't feel guilty for beating up on the clutch). Or walk away and try again another day.

I've seen bartering for a bride in Madagascar. I've even had my own price in cows calculated. I can't say that the whole dickering over the cost of a car was really that much different - except that perhaps I wouldn't have been as personally involved if it was my own marriage.

In the end, we agreed that I would pay a little more and get the better car. And after more paperwork and waiting around, I was soon joined to a complete stranger.

And now the real work of a partnership begins. I don't know the car and it doesn't know me. But we know we have to make it work because we're both far too invested to give up on it. I have to learn to drive manual transmission. It has to put up with me long enough to get past those rough spots. I'm trusting it to be as good as its price tag warrants. It's trusting me to maintain it so it can live up to its reputation. And I think we're both hoping for a little bit of fun.

Really, not all that different from what thousands of people who have been matched to another human for life. Except that realistically our relationship will only last a maximum of ten or so years. Like most women, statistics hold that I'll outlive my partner. And then I get to try something new.

Friday, August 07, 2009

In which I wait my turn

"Wait your turn, honey."

A mom admonishes her two-year-old child to return to her place in line at the library. There's a running joke that "queuing-up" is the national British sport, but truly we Anglos have the cultural norm of observing "first come, first served" down to a science. Polite parents start indoctrinating their children when they are very young with this policy, some even going so far as to encourage the further nicety of allowing the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant, those with only a few items, or even those with small children, through the line ahead of ourselves. And we retain the utmost wrath for those brazen enough to show no concern for a fellow human being and push their ego and agenda ahead of ours.

I heard that Africans and Asians were a much more communally focused culture, one that strove to "save face" and avoid embarrassments at all costs. I reasoned that this meant they would look at those around them and identify the ones most in need to be put first. They would wait their turn, knowing it was not their personal agenda that was the most important, but that of the greater good.

So it came to a shock to me to realize just how wrong this essential skill in polite human interaction turned out to be in the wider world.

When you go to a bank in many other countries, if you stand back and allow the person currently completing a transaction any privacy, you'll never get helped.

If you go to a government office with paperwork or a question, you'd better be prepared to step on toes and use your Western size and weight to bull you through the crowd to the counter in front of the clerk. And no indoor voices, please.

And heaven help you should you ever want tickets at a limited-seating event. In that case, be sure to sharpen your elbows the night before and wear your heaviest motorcycling boots. Camping out in line isn't going to do you and ounce of good if you're not ready to stomp on some toes when the doors open.

How is it that survival in cultures that downplay the personal ego hinges on one's ability to block out every other person's concern but their own? And yet, in our culture which promotes individualism and taking care of Number One, our survival as a community seems to rely on our ability to respect the rights and even needs of others?

It seems balance is required in everything - and the one thing that keeps chaos from reigning in our land is that parent gently reminding a child to "wait your turn."

And yeah, it's good to be home and to leave my steel-toed shoes in the closet.