Consciousness creeps in differently when waking to baby animal sounds. Sort of whimpering, pleading and protesting. JoJo is almost four months old and she has to pee. And…she demands her breakfast. She’s been squeak-whining for a few minutes. Natasha sleeps soundly. I roll over and squint at the clock in the dawning blue light.
5: (Eyes not quite working yet.)
5:42: I force myself out of bed, unzip her crate, stumble, and she scampers toward the kitchen. We’re planning on seeing a matinee of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood after going to a brunch at an old favorite in Berkeley. Now that we’ve moved across the Bay, some things are easier (going to The Homemade Café) and some things are more complicated (going to The Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco). Boyhood is only playing at a handful of theatres. At least there’s plenty of parking.
Twenty minutes later, as I’m starting to collect some thoughts and beginning to write, JoJo is shrieking uncontrollably. Just above the laptop screen, I see Boumie, retreating from her. She’s holding her front paw awkwardly while wailing. The play-fighting has gone too far. Over the past week or two, the rough-housing has reached new levels. JoJo launches herself from the couch like Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. She springs from the stairs, from the back porch, from anything that gives her leverage and better aim at Boumie’s poor head. She pounces on Boumie, who weighs three times as much and is about four JoJo’s in width. JoJo goes into kamikaze attack-mode, a la Russell Westbrook to the rim, and Boumie responds in kind. Sometimes it appears Boumie is simply defending his four legs from her tiny pinchers. Other times, he’s the playful aggressor, lifting her in his teeth by the scruff of her neck or aiming at her front paws. I give them timeouts by diving for her as she flies by and pinning her to the rug, gently, while she pants uncontrollably. The vast majority of the time, the two seem deliriously happy. This is not one of those times.
I sit next to JoJo, trying not to panic, holding her in my arms. She’s been shrieking for 15 seconds or so when Natasha walks in. Her sleep abruptly halted, Natasha cradles JoJo and calmly feels her front leg and paw. Nothing bent. Natasha lets her down and JoJo limps awkwardly into the hallway. It breaks my heart to see our little mama like this. She’s trying to walk it off, but it looks to me like she’s going bound for the DL. She plops down with an unhappy noise. I’m angry at Boumie, though it makes no logical sense to be angry at him. I look him dead in the eye, making my eyes big and say with some kind of controlled force, “No, Boumie!” then, slightly softer, “Gentle. Gentle.” He looks confused and surprised. If he could speak, Boumie would say, “She started it.”
Having two dogs feels like five. We went from a one-dog family to a five-dog pack. And she only weighs 13 pounds. JoJo Spitfire. JoJo Ma. Little Mama. Monkey. Monk. An older lady walking a wiry thing that looked like it was part-Chihuahua, part-rat said, “Look at that little dog. Looks like a ba-boooon.”
“Let’s go back to bed,” says Natasha.
“Okay,” I reply, feeling somewhat shell-shocked by the morning’s events and liking the idea of the warm, cozy bed. I put JoJo back in her crate and zip it up, turning her on the small oscillating fan.
9:10: “Let’s get.” Natasha has showered and is getting ready. “Ten more minutes?” I realize this sounds like a teenager speaking. “No time. Let’s go.” I roll over and peel off whatever lingering dreams may have slipped onto the pillow and then make my way into the shower.
9:40: We’re in the car. The place is close enough that it’s not out of the way, but far enough that we should hop on the freeway. This is the new reality. Going almost anywhere means a quick freeway sprint if there’s no traffic, and a freeway slog if there is. El Cerrito is just north of Berkeley and Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco. We’re early enough that the freeway trip is painless. We find a parking spot on the side street. I swing open the door. New. Seems more secure. Wider.
We first came here in 2000, when we were living in Berkeley for the summer, taking classes. We were 20, and, in addition to sociology and music classes, I was working a summer job that involved selling organic bread at farmer’s markets. The small corner brunch place, nowhere near Telegraph Ave., where we were living, always seemed to beckon. The people were kind. The booths were wooden. The coffee and water were self-serve. The muffins and coffee cakes were delicious.
10:00: I write my name on the wait list. There are options. Share booth? Counter? Outside? The list is full of crossed-out names. Just a few listed ahead of mine, despite the people waiting outside. I pop my head back out. “Do you want to sit at the counter?” Natasha can’t hear me. As I walk closer, a blind older man with a walking stick asks, “Are you talking to me?” One thing that Berkeley and El Cerrito have, that San Francisco no longer has: a wide range of people. The southern side of Berkeley, bordering Oakland, is especially diverse. You can judge me for caring too much about who surrounds me in a restaurant. I’m not staring at my phone the whole time, so I notice things. We pick up on conversations. Natasha is irritated by the loud ones. I’m irritated by the superficial ones. This place is unpretentious, and, unlike many SF brunch spots, reasonably priced.
We’re seated quickly. “Yes,” to the counter speeds things up. The two guys working the grill are in constant motion. A tall, skinny guy in charge and his seemingly new sidekick with the fixings and the pancakes and waffle orders. They work well together, mere feet from our gaze. The pile of home fries is dumped onto the flat-top grill, spread out, seasoned, and evenly rotated every few minutes. The orders come fast. Their hands work faster. The poppy seed crumb muffin does not disappoint. The whipped butter is real. As I refill our small glasses of water and my coffee, I see Carl, party of one, the man with the walking stick. He’s sipping from a mug.
10:35: My hunger causes the wait to seem interminable, but the rest of our meal eventually arrives. Instead of getting Eggs Benedict, or one of the in-house variations they offer, I opted for the healthier egg sandwich. Still tasty, but not as satisfying. Attempting to eat healthier, and in smaller portions, is a pain in the ass. I’m not rigid about it, so I’m never exactly on a “diet,” but I do choose to eat healthier options some of the time. Why restrict myself when I’m at a place that I love? At least there was some delicious bacon in the sandwich.
11:30: As we ascend the escalator to the cinema, we are excited. The anticipation of a film that you really want to see, isn’t that the best part? We go to the automated kiosk and avoid the line.
12:00: Sold out.
12:30: Sold out.
1:00: Sold out.
1:40: Sold out.
3:30: We’re stunned. “3:30?”
“Wow. That’s four hours. What about the dogs?”
“How about tomorrow?” We end up getting tickets for Monday afternoon. We slink away. Nothing like the anticipation of a film you really want to see. We stop at our new supermarket, which is massive, for pie crusts and OJ and leave the market with three full bags of groceries. Yesterday I picked some ripe apples from the tiny tree in the backyard, then chopped them up and shared some with Boumie and JoJo in the afternoon sun.
1:30: We’re watching Last Comic Standing, while reclining on the couch. There are genuinely funny moments. The editing is so constant that you never get a feel for the comedian’s “set” but we’re enjoying it. Natasha is on the rug, with JoJo, brushing out her little coat. JoJo’s fur is still coming in. Within a few months, she’ll look more like a sweet little Keeshond, and less like a sweet little monkey-with-raccoon-eyes. JoJo resists her Mama’s pin-downs, but eventually relents. Natasha is so good with the dogs. I’ve attempted to brush Boumie. Some fur comes out, but he never quite looks right the way his lofts and swims in the breeze after she’s done with him. Keeshond’s have amazing coats. The outer coat is thicker and darker and protective of the elements, while the inner coat is downy and soft like angora. Brushing means lightly removing the parts of the inner coat that have become matted. People who know Keeshonds always complement the brushing.
3:45: I’m picking green beans and cherry tomatoes. The house we moved into keeps getting better. The raised vegetable garden is in full bloom. We can’t believe our good fortune to have found this home. It’s a gift... one that includes a mortgage, a security system, three bedrooms, and a serene backyard that produces apples, tomatoes, green beans, and blackberries.
First I set out to pick a few cherry tomatoes. Then I discover more green beans, under the canopy of umbrella leaves. The blackberries are tricky. Thorns are everywhere. This must be a bramble. I go back for gloves and a trimmer. I pull at the spiked branches, snip them, and then step back, and aim, as if throwing a javelin, for the growth just beyond this patch, which dips down into a barely visible creek, separating the property. Some of the branches clear the runway. Others get stuck amidst other blackberries. I put down the trimmer and investigate the new clearing. Some of the berries are a deep purple, falling into my fingers in a syrupy mess. There are those that are still tiny, unripe, and green. The best ones slip off the blossom cleanly. I place them into the bowl. The sun is causing a river of sweat to snake down my back. “Whose life is this?” I think to myself.
Natasha is getting the apples ready for a pie. I drop off the berries and take Boumie out for a late afternoon climb up the hill to the Little League field, with expansive views going in and out of sight down below. Both the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridges are visible most days in the late afternoon light. I wonder when this will feel routine and not surreal.
Boumie and I find the field occupied by real-live little leaguers. We surreptitiously throw the ball on the path behind the field. A few times, the ball bounces through the brush and Boumie disappears from my view (likely appearing out of nowhere to the little boys on the diamond). Thankfully, Boumie returns without distraction. He loves the thick grass of the outfield here. I give him a few throws near the back fence, long out of the hitting range of most 10-year-olds. We make our way back down the hill toward the house. Natasha is in the middle of True Blood when we return. I hop in the shower. Before dinner, we are planning some alone time, deliberately avoiding the plague of canine coitus interruptus.
After I dry off, I notice there are five minutes left on the oven timer. I tell her I’ll take it out. The golden brown crust looks perfect. The apples make me drool. I place the pie on the counter to cool.
6:30: True Blood is over. I’ve been chopping tomatoes and carrots for a salad, while watching Clayton Kershaw dominate the Cardinals. We close the bedroom door. Finally… our time.
6:45: Through the bedroom door, we sort of hear a noise. To be more accurate, there is a noise, but I do not register it. Probably Boumie’s paws hitting the floor after a hind-leg stance of counter surfing.
7:00: We emerge from the bedroom and Boumie is licking a now empty tin pan. There is a tiny bit of crust left. The apples are gone. He moves slowly and awkwardly. We’ve never seen him looking so bloated. It’s both hilarious and a little worrisome. I keep muttering, “He ate the WHOLE pie. The WHOLE pie.”
About a week ago, he ate a plum that had fallen from my nephew’s hands. Plums have big pits. I called the vets and they explained that most of the time a medium-sized dog would pass it without a problem, but it can be disastrous when it causes a blockage. They recommended inducing vomit to be safe, explaining they could do it at the hospital or I could do it at home, using hydrogen peroxide. Fortunately, we kept some in the bathroom. I called Natasha and told her I was going to try and induce. I took Boumie in the backyard, on the wood chips, next to the cherry tomatoes, and anxiously tried to unlock his jaws, while tilting his head back, the big brown bottle in one hand.
After 10 minutes and what seemed like way too much hydrogen peroxide squirting with little way of knowing how much he actually swallowed, I waited, foolishly begging Boumie to throw up. “Come on, Boumie. Throw it up. Come on. Good boy. Let it out! Throw up!” After what seemed like another 10 minutes, Boumie finally gave in and out came the plum, the pit sitting neatly in the middle of the pile.
Now, after Natasha got off the phone with the vet, we were doing it all over again. Head tilted back. Strong white teeth locked in a vise. Trying to aim for the corner of his mouth. Natasha held his head back. I squirted the bottle. Then Natasha held him and squirted. Swollen-stomached Boumie just waddled around in circles, looking brutally uncomfortable. Nothing was coming out. I wondered if the pie was absorbing the liquid. Maybe counteracting the effect.
You might be saying, “Let the dog shit it out. It’s just a pie.”
Well, that is one option. One enormously messy… and possibly dangerous option. Turns out just eating a lot of crust can cause bloat and bloat can kill a dog. The stomach enlarges and puts pressure on other organs. Dogs, like cattle, can die from bloat. So it was the right thing to get him to toss up the pie. He tried to shit it out. Not much came and what did was messy. He’d emptied his bowels on the walk. When we tried to give him more hydrogen peroxide, he ran inside the house and avoided us, a trail of wet brown liquid under his anus. I chased him inside, afraid of a bigger mess. Natasha couldn’t stop herself from laughing. (It was pretty hilarious). I reached Boumie just as he jumped on the bed. I jumped toward the bed, forcing him off before he laid down. We had him back outside. He was retching. Positive signs. Still nothing.
We waited. Wondering if we’d need to bring him in. Boumie has always loved apples. We’ve even called him an Apple Hound at times. The crunchier the better. His eyes were not looking good. Moving like a cow. He tried to lie down, but that didn’t work for him. I picked him up from behind and rubbed his belly. Natasha was on the phone with the vet. She saw me and started laughing. I had him hoisted up like a wheelbarrow, patting his belly, swishing his fur around like an idiot.
A few minutes later, it finally came. He circled slowly on the grass. Kept circling.
Finally, there it was. The apples I’d picked yesterday from the tree directly above poor Boumie, who was still retching quietly, having emptied his stomach. The half-digested apples collected in a soup of bile and hydrogen peroxide.
“Guess we’ll have to make another pie,” we agreed.
—Follow Jonah Hall on Twitter: @darkoindex