Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Anniversary?

I haven't had a drink in three years.

There were no emotional ultimatums, no medical or court orders, no religious conversions, no stupidities of excess that prompted me to set aside my 20-year old way of life. I'm sure a hangover had some say in the matter, but that particular teetotaling influence rarely lasts longer than the weekend, so it wouldn't have counted for much. No, I basically woke up and decided to quit.

I once went three months without drinking but a Kentucky Derby party isn't any fun without whiskey, several mint juleps, and a hat, and so ended that dry spell. I now watch the Derby quietly at home. This time, however, quitting took on a new life, thanks to a sleep disorder and a television show. I needed to see a doctor about my insomnia and I knew that I needed to be alcohol-free if anything good was to come it. A sleep test ultimately determined nothing wrong with me physiologically and a cognitive psychologist said I just needed to make more time for sleep. I quit seeing her. Well, then, back to drinking! Not so fast.

A&E's "Intervention" scared me straight. First of all, if I had a problem it wasn't nearly as bad as it is for the people profiled on that show, and I didn't want it to be. Second, the very idea of being surrounded by crying family and friends telling me how much they love me is one of the worst things I can imagine happening to me. If I can avoid emotional outpourings, I will, even if it costs me a beer.

Notice I said "If I had a problem." Family and friends alike were rather surprised when I began requesting Diet Coke instead of Coors Light. No one ever said, hinted or implied to me that, maybe, perhaps, I should stop drinking. Either they're all heavier drinkers than I was (which seems reasonable) or maybe what I thought was a problem really wasn't. The closest I've come to "relapsing" in three years is taking occasional sips of diluted champagne during toasts and a couple of Dixie-cup sized drinks of some Peachtree City concoction. We have two bottles of Vodka in the house that Ida sometimes breaks open when I'm out of town and a bottle of Jack Daniels next to the Craisins. The temptations are there but I remain steadfast. Is there a problem?

Every decision in life carries a set of pros and cons, gains and losses, and my decision to stop drinking was no exception. Among the gains are not worrying about the state of my liver; lower Applebee's checks; coherent thoughts followed by reasonable actions; playing Scrabble; the whites of my eyes are actually white; and, yes, no hangovers.

My losses are marked by the things I miss. Of course I miss the buzz, but I also miss things like the companionship and social nature of drinking; really enjoying "Cops"; popping open an ice-cold tall boy, or three; and drinking during the holidays. I miss cold beer, red wine, margaritas, Seagrams & Sprite, gin & tonics, spiked eggnog, and Bloody Mary's. I miss scotch!

I've said that if I make it to 45, I'll start drinking again, but that's four long years away. Seems kind of extreme, four more years. Then again, I kind of got a streak going here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wabbitt Season! Duck Season!

Hunting season is in the air and it seems there's no shortage of enthusiasm for it. Despite supporting such anti-hunting organizations as Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Humane Society of the United States, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I actually don't oppose hunting.

Hunting is a necessary evil. Because humans like to kill off all the predators, many animal populations, especially those of the deer variety, have exploded, and so without hunting many more deer would starve, get hit by cars, die by disease, and end up where a deer shouldn't be, like in a convenience store. When we lived in Ithaca, NY, I often heard locals say that if you lived there long enough, you'd hit a deer. Fortunately that never came to pass, but we did see one get hit before our eyes and we came upon another one right after it'd been smashed by a minivan. The minivan drove off, but I got out of our car and pulled the deer's warm body from the road. Death by a hunter's bullet is far more humane and respectful.

Let me be perfectly clear: I do not hunt nor do I support all hunting. I oppose all "hunting" that involves 4x4 vehicles, GPS, private game parks, packs of dogs, baiting, the Internet or any other method or that device gives the human an undue advantage over the animal. I oppose bow hunting because of the suffering the animal endures as it often labors hundreds of yards before dying.

Hunting should be about the thrill of the hunt, not the thrill of the kill. People who feel the need to kill another animal are trying to compensate for their own inadequacies and probably shouldn't be allowed to own a gun. They are the idiots who drink to shoot, who "hunt" with sub-machine guns or handguns, who pay "guides" thousands of dollars to go to a ranch in Texas to shoot an animal that's native to Africa. They don't hunt; they kill. They are this woman.

A real hunter, as any moderate conservationist will tell you, cares about the land and the animals. They hunt to be outdoors, hoping to "bag" something but just as satisfied if they don't. They don't trespass and they don't exceed quotas. They respect the animal they hunt. They are old school, and I sense that there are fewer and fewer of them.

I don't buy into all the propaganda that's spewed to justify hunting. It is not a family event. BBQs, picnics, birthday parties, wedding, funerals, and holidays are family events; not tracking down and shooting dead an animal. Nor can you convince me that more than a handful of hunters are out there trying to feed their family. That's a sketchy way to get by and the family would be better off if someone just got a job. Hunting is no more a sport than poker or chess, and despite what the State of Georgia wants me to believe, hunting is not a God-given right.

Some day I'd like to don the bright orange of hunting season, carry a rifle and track down a deer or elk or even a bear. I'd raise the gun to my shoulder, set that animal in my sights, and pull the trigger. There wouldn't be any bullets in the gun, of course, because I don't have a hunting license (or a passport, now that I think about it) and I don't kill for sport. It's just not something I do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Dog's Life

This weekend saw the passing of Otis, the canine companion to some friends of mine. I never met Otis, but I know how much he meant to them and one can't help but be heartbroken. He wasn't simply a pet, an animal, a legal piece of property; Otis was a companion of immense proportions. He was sincerely and deeply loved.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for Chico, our neighbor's dog. Chico is a big mutt with a booming bark. He's well-fed, has shelter from the heat and storms and he has a huge yard in which to run. But that's about all he has. Days pass before I see or hear him get any more human attention than what it takes to feed him and to tell him to be quiet. Our neighbors have three boys, and I'm convinced that when we got Boo, they, like children do, nagged and nagged until they, too, got a dog. For the first month or so, Chico went everywhere with those kids, even making visits to Boo. Chico got bigger, though, and lost that puppy appeal, and two years later, he lives alone in the backyard, 24/7. The boys don't play with him anymore and when guests come over he's tied to a tree with a 6 ft. lead, often for hours. Completely unsocialized, Chico is now a nuisance, barking at most every sound and charging the fence when I'm in our backyard.

I often marvel at how by sheer luck and through no effort of our own the quality of one's life can be vastly different than that of another. To simply be born in this country means your quality of life is manifestly greater than that of millions in other countries. The poorest American will have a better life than his equal in Nigeria or North Korea, not because he earned that better life but because he was lucky enough to have been born here. The lucky and the unlucky.

Otis was lucky, Chico is unlucky. Through no fault of his own, Chico is resigned to a solitary, loveless life. The kids say they are moving at the end of the month to a smaller house, and if that's true, I'm not sure what the future holds for Chico. He's not adoptable so if he goes to a shelter, he'll be euthanized. He'd make a good guard dog but the life of a guard dog is not much better than that he lives now. I fear he'll go to dog fighters. Untrained as he is, Chico would be a bait dog. Chico's fate appears uncertain, and I can't see it ending happily.

My brain understands why there are so many Chicos out there: culture, education, finances, the Bible, speciesism. My heart can't understand, though. All dogs, all companion animals, all animals, really, should live a life like Otis did, and if a person can't or is unwilling to provide that life, then they don't deserve such a companion.

I like to think that there are more dogs out in the world living a life like Otis did than there are those living Chico's life. It's estimated that Americans alone will spend nearly $47.7 billion this year on their animal companions and pet products is one of the few industries that actually grew during the recession. Clearly to many Americans our animal companions are family and are treated as such. It's just sad that's not the case for all of them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's a Date!

I noticed the following dates on my nifty National Wildlife Federation calendar:

9/9 is Rosh Hashanah
9/10 is Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan)
9/11 is Patriot Day

Interesting, don't you think? In a time of limited optimism (Middle East peace talks) and despair (rampant Islamaphobia) the stars have aligned themselves in such a way that we have a Jewish holiday followed by the end of an Islamic holy period followed by a day to remember those who died in "Christian land." It's too bad we can't schedule a day each year when all these religions could just get along, or "coexist" as the bumper sticker pleads. Maybe something like "Get Along Day" or even "Coexist Day," a day where every person of every faith just sets aside their beliefs and fists for 24 hours. One day out of 365 will not, I think, put your deity out too much.

I'm not so naive that I think all people will get along or that we even should get along all the time. Peace is always elusive, but we should try, we should always keep trying. The extremists, the people of hate, they don't want to try and they don't want you to try either. It's the extremists in Israel, Iran and the US that dominate the agenda. They get the press, the attention, and then the small-minded among us start to think like them, and before you know it you got kids growing up in households that don't want to accept that other people have lives and cultures as valid as their own. Those kids become the oppressor's or terrorists or TV/radio show hosts, and it all becomes one nasty cycle of intolerance and violence.

The chances of these three events happening 1-2-3 like this again are slim, so we should make the most of it and maybe for the next three days hope that no one burns a Quran or bombs a marketplace or demolishes homes with a tank. If you can't muster up the tolerance within yourself to do so, then do it for those we honor on Sept. 12, the Sunday following Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr, and Patriot Day: that'd be Grandparents Day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Very Superstitious

I was really happy to see August go. It seemed extra long and hot this year; the mosquitoes and bugs were relentless; and Glenn Beck got way too much attention for someone who knows so little. I was also happy to finally be able to change the months on my calendar and see what animal graced September. The blood sea star staring up at me had lost its charm half way through August, and yet as much as I wanted to, I wouldn't look ahead to see what September had in store for me. See, I believe that looking ahead to the next month means that I assume that I'll make it to the next month, when, in fact, I might not. So, I choose not to tempt Fate and opt to bide my time until the first day of each month to change my calendar.

Harry from "When Harry Met Sally" chose to read the end of a book first so that he knew what would happen in the event he should die before finishing the book. That's certainly one approach I could take - check out all the months once I get the calendar - but I think that just gives Fate, God, Karma, Wakan Tanka, Zeus or whatever even more of reason to cut things short for me. I mean, if I know that December is a polar bear, then what's the point of actually letting me see December? I choose not to give them any more reason than they already have.

I do cheat sometimes by looking at the thumbnails on the back of the calendar; still, I don't know if the Black-Footed Ferret is May or October. I only know he'll appear at some point that year. Technicalities like that are important. So is the anticipation of waiting.

Otherwise, I'm not all that superstitious. I routinely walk under ladders, seek out black cats, and I don't understand the spilt salt thing. I don't break mirrors because they're expensive, especially now that I'm boycotting both Target and Wal-Mart (where's the principled consumer to shop?!). I only buy lottery Quick Picks. There's no lucky shirt in my wardrobe and I can't think of a single routine of mine that's conducted to specifically ward off bad luck or bring me good luck.

I do carry a rosary in my pocket whenever I leave the house, so maybe I'm more superstitious than I want to believe. Despite having never been confirmed or accepted the authority of the Church or even taken the time to learn what all those beads mean, it doesn't make sense for me to carry a rosary...but I do...religiously. Seems harmless enough and no rabbits had to part with their hind feet for my peace of mind. I like rabbits; I wonder if there's one in my calendar.

September is a keel-billed toucan.