A wise man (OK, it was George Carlin…) once said that life is just a series of dogs. I told my wife before that it may be easier to gauge the length of our union by the number of boxes of doggie ashes on the shelf than to remember exactly how many years (39 days short of 35 1/2 years as of the date of this issue of the newspaper for those keeping track at home).
That said, this is not a column about dogs. Maybe tales of my current canine are a Story For Another Day, but for now doggie talk is just a way to get to the real gist of this. It’s what we writer types call a “framing device” — again, for those keeping track at home.
About a decade ago we were down to a single dog, a little Beagle demon named Diego and my wife thought he needed a companion. The Animal Foundation was having one of their freebie adoption days on the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend and we went down and waited in an insane line to check out what or who or whatever the right way to describe dogs that need homes is.
We ended up adopting a border collie/Aussie cattle dog mix named Luna who was my salvation. Maybe I’ll make her another Story For Another Day. I was devastated to a degree that my poor, long-suffering Spousal Unit found pretty scary when Luna died suddenly about 15 months ago.
But again, this is not a column about dogs.
When we got to the front of that crazy line, they had a couple of people “working the rope” like the shelter was an over-crowded nightclub. As we waited for our turn to enter the gates, I noticed that one of the workers had some words tattooed all the way up the inner length of his left forearm. Being too nosy for my own good (and bored silly after two hours in line), I asked him what it said. He held his arm up for me to read it.
Some people have real problems
That is what it said. It floored me. I asked him if I could take a picture of it. He consented and I still have the picture on my phone. It’s even tagged to be one of the dozen or so shots that rotate as wallpaper on my watch. It’s a kind of constant reminder.
Maybe it was the timing. I was in a pretty crappy place right about then. I had left my last cushy, good-paying magazine gig to start my own thing in the digital realm a few years earlier, right in the middle of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. It was not a financially smart move but it was necessary.
My boss and I had a toxic and destructive relationship and it was affecting my health and my marriage and it needed to end. When I left, he sued me.
The judge eventually said that his allegations were crap but also advised me to give him a couple of grand just to make the lawsuit — which had already put me into bankruptcy — end. It took us more than a decade to recover financially and we are still not back to where we were back in 2011 when it all happened.
We actually did pretty well with the web properties we started for a few years, but I took what was then a little part-time gig with Apple just for the medical insurance and in the next 18 months, revenue tanked and I started working more time for the fruit company than for my own stuff. Doom loop all the way. By the time we were at the shelter, I had moved into a full-time graveyard shift position with them. I hated every minute of it.
At that point, our house was worth, on paper, less than half of what we owed on it. We had gone from a solid six-figure income to something less than 1/3 of that. And on top of all of that, my band had broken up.
I was pretty unhappy with how my life was going, with all of the associated self-pity and “why me” attitude going. And reading that tattoo was like a veritable 2×4 to the side of my head.
I had — still do — a wife who loved and married me when I was 150 pounds too heavy and who stuck by me when I lost all the weight and had to kind of figure out all over again who I was. She stuck with me when I figured out that food was not the only thing I was abusing and stopped drinking. I have a smart, talented daughter with an insanely strong moral compass who moved with us to Sin City when she was 14 and didn’t end up pregnant or on a pole.
Our house may have taken a nosedive in value, but we still had a place to live. Sure, I had learned how to shop sales and clearance items at the grocery store, but there was never a lack of food in the house.
In comparison to many folks, I have it pretty damn good.
Nearly a decade before the tattoo incident, I had started a personal ritual of starting each day by reciting a list of the things I was grateful for. But that day was when I stopped just going through the motions of “putting it out to the universe” and made peace with the fact that what it really was — or should have been, at least for me — was a prayer. I started to do it with intention and really meaning it.
I’m not gonna say life is perfect. Staying ahead of the bills is still more of a struggle than I would like. But other than that? To quote another Great Sage, “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”
I have a job that I really like. I’m actively making music. My kid is on her own, struggling but getting by and still makes me proud every day to be her dad.
And I’ve got a great dog.
Life, wife, kid, people who care about me, my dog, a house, music and a pretty dang interesting life so far. That is my daily list. And I mean every word as I give thanks for it all.
And every single day, as I make my way from the southwest corner of Las Vegas out to Boulder City, I see people who are just… lost. Maybe addiction, maybe mental illness, maybe just tough breaks in life and most often some combination of all three. They wait on street corners and freeway off-ramps for someone to give them enough cash for food or shelter or drugs or booze, something to make the pain subside for a little while. And sometimes, they rage to the sky or anyone who will listen.
It makes my concerns seem petty. And I think about that kid with the tattoo and feel the gratitude again. Because, some people have real problems.