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July 11, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

The hypochondriac’s diagnosis

I have wanted to live in New York City for as long as I can remember. When my family or school came here on trips — which was pretty often — I’d get chills on the wait to get through the tunnel, looking at the skyline. Everything was larger than life: the buildings, the food, the billboards. People were always in a hurry, off to something important, I imagined. It was another world — so different, and, to my adolescent mind, WAY more exciting than anything going on in tiny Delaware, where I grew up.

Well, I’ve been living in New York for 16 years, and I still love it. But, really, New York: You suck at summer.

You see, everything is still larger than life — the smells, the crowds, the bugs, the rats, the bad attitudes. And I’m willing to put up with for the other nine months of year, with minimal complaint. But the summer heat and humidity makes all that total misery.

The rest of the city doesn’t seem to mind — everyone’s out and about on the weekends. But all I’m inspired to do is watch Lifetime movies or Project Runway marathons in the A/C. And it’s getting worse every year. What’s the point in going out if I’m only going to be drenched in perspiration in five minutes, assaulted by what-the-fuck-IS-that? and forced to stand under the armpit of someone in the subway for whom everyday showers — and deodorant — are optional?

Last night, while watching “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” I actually started longing for fall (what they’re showing of the show is fall/winter, 2010). And when that show kindles any sort of desire, something’s wrong.

But fall and winter in New York are so much better. I like it when it gets dark earlier here. A long walk is a pleasure, not a death march. And the clothes are better.

I’m pretty sure I have reverse seasonal affective disorder.

Or, I am just fucking old.

June 13, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

Diary of a failed activist

I arrived yesterday afternoon at the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, ready for protest. As I wrote last week, I was proud to be part of the We Will Not Be Shushed 24-Hour Read-In. Book in hand, I was ready to join the hundreds — nay, thousands — who would be lining the steps and beyond, reading, to call attention to the planned library-system budget cuts.

There would be so many there that we were limited to 15-minute reading slots — for crowd control, I assumed. I’d have been content to sit out there and read all day, but hey, whatever they needed. My slot started at 1:15.

I got to the library steps at 1 p.m., as directed in my email from the organizers, but there were no silently reading throngs. There was a check-in desk and  some people sitting in chairs under a tent, watching a woman reading. Everyone else was seated at tables with umbrellas.

“Really?” I thought. “There’s plenty of room to sit. They’re making us have reservations for tables?”

Ian, my partner in crime for this afternoon of civil disobedience, came bounding out of the library. “So, when do you go up there?” he asked. He hadn’t received a reading slot, but I didn’t see the harm in having him sit near me and read. After all, we were just going to sit on our asses and read awhile then give up our spots to the next literary protestors. Right?

“Go up where?” I asked. “There? No. We’re just going to sit somewhere and read.” I swallowed hard. “Right?”

“Um, I dunno, Sheila, that woman’s been up there behind the microphone reading for a long time,” Ian said.

“No!” I said. “I can’t do that! I can’t read in front of a crowd. I can’t. I won’t…I didn’t think it was this.”

“What did you think it would be, the Million Man March? That we’d shut down Eastern Parkway?” Ian said, laughing.

“Um, something like that,” I said.

We sat at a table and watched the people get up and read at the microphone. “A piece from Edgar Allen Poe,” said one. “A passage from Herman Melville,” said the next.

I considered the book in my bag; a gigantic tome called The Brightest Star in the Sky by my favorite writer, Marian Keyes. It was the Brit edition and had an especially gaudy cover. For reasons of publishing-world politics and packaging, she’s ghettoized as “chick lit” and likely not very well known among the hipsters that were sitting in front of the microphone. I’m not a book snob and I read everything freely in public — but in silence. I get nervous and stumble over words. I messed up a reading at my grandfather’s funeral. I couldn’t do this to Marian, or to me.

Ian pushed me to do it — “it’s not about the material; if you’re so worried, run inside and get Ulysses.” But I’m not a public speaker, and like skydiving, it’s not a fear I feel I need to overcome to live a full life. But I decided it would only be fair to ‘fess up to the organizers. Especially because I had mentioned it on this here blog and I didn’t want them to come back and yell at me, which they would’ve been well within their rights to do if I had just not said anything.

I approached the table. “Excuse me,” I said to a kind-looking woman. “I had a 1:15 slot, and, I’m so sorry, but…I didn’t know it would involve reading aloud in front of a crowd. I thought it would be…something different.”

“Oh,” she said, “and you’re not comfortable with that?”

“Not at all, ” I said, “I’m so embarrassed, and I’m really sorry, I just can’t do it.”

“That’s OK, it’s not for everyone. It’s important that you came,” she said.

I continued to apologize like a fool, because I felt like one, and this harried-looking guy came over to me. “When is your slot?” he demanded.


“So, now,” he said, irritated.

“Um, yes, I’m really sorry,” I said, back to the groveling (I don’t know you and I’ll never see you again but please forgive me!)

“Do you have something to read?” he asked, still annoyed.

“Yes, it’s not that, it’s that–”

He didn’t wait for me to finish, just stalked off (btw, he was a hippie, and as I said last week, I don’t go in for that hippie crap, so there you go). I slunk back to my chair, assured Ian that I wouldn’t be publicly flogged (which I’d have preferred to publicly reading). “Ok, MLK,” he said. Which made me smile.

I am glad I went, because it was for a cause I really believe in. Next time, I’ll just be sure not to be such a ditz and investigate further before I sign up for something like this. And who knows? Maybe I’ll sack up and get over my fear if I plan in advance. Eh, probably not. If I have too much time to think about stuff like this, I’ll give myself panic attacks. As I said before, it’s like skydiving.

I suppose it was naive of me to think thousands of people would turn out to support the library. That’s sad, really — it would’ve been fantastic if they had.

June 9, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

I wish there were Chicken McNuggets today

I reached into the mailbox and pulled out one of those flimsy envelopes where you pull off the strips and yank the insert out from the side. The return address was “The City of New York Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Veterinary Public Health Services.”

“Weird,” I thought. “Erica’s license isn’t up for renewal until November.” Then I had a moment of panic: OMG — did something happen on one of her midday walks, in a dog run? Is someone claiming she did something? Well, she didn’t, goddammit!

Then it hit me: Ames. It’s not time for Erica’s license renewal, but it would’ve been time for Ames.’

Amy — aka Ames to me; the Lady to my best friend, Robb; the Queen to her amazing dogwalkers, Eva and Engela; the Princess to my dad — died last October. But she came to live with me the second week of June in 2007, as soon as I moved into my first pet-friendly apartment.  Finding a compatible dog was my first order of business. No puppies or breeders for me: I spent a lot of time walking dogs at BARC in Williamsburg, and I definitely wanted a shelter pup. Middle-aged and mellow, and a German shepherd, on the smaller side, as the building had a size limit.

Ames was a small, mellow, German shepherd rescue. What she was not was middle-aged, like I had been led to believe. At our first visit, the vet said he didn’t think she was seven. “What is she, like 11?” I said and laughed. He looked up at me, but he didn’t laugh. “Oh, really?” I said.  He said it was a common practice for shelters, and he himself had done it when he worked at one. “You didn’t notice the cataracts?” he asked. “Um, no,” I said, and then, there they were, along with the gray in her muzzle. “And now you’re in love,” he said.

I was. For a few weeks, I was heartbroken. Shepherds lived to 14, 15…I expected seven years with this dog, not two or three. And I was pissed. Over and over on my way to work in the morning, I mentally composed angry letters to the rescue group — how could you mislead people like that? It’s unethical! It’s unfair, and I hate you!

But the letter remained only in my head. It wouldn’t change anything–they wouldn’t stop the practice, and doubtful they were doing it maliciously — they were trying to move an old dog. I’ve been working at an advertising pub for a decade now — reality and marketing rarely have anything to do with one another, I get it. Really, I might not have stopped on Ames’ picture if it’d said “10 years old” next to it, and, in retrospect, that would’ve been a tragedy. And, bottom line, Ames was going nowhere; I’d no intention of asking them to take her back because of her age.

It was something I had to come to terms with, though, and that took some time. Didn’t help that every fucking old lady on Court Street would volunteer, “Hoo! That dog is OLD!” when we walked by. But once I did come to terms with it, everything was great, and I developed a huge affection for older dogs because I spent all my time with one.  I took her home for Christmas, to the beach, everywhere. She could be left alone for long periods of time, b/c she slept about 20 hours a day, and never had an accident, but I was always happy to have a reason to come home. And she took her job as a greeter very seriously, even when her arthritis got really bad. You could have had the shittiest day imaginable, but a dog overjoyed to see you just makes all that evaporate.

Another thing I had to come to terms with? She was not really a dog, in most ways, and she, not I, was the boss of our little household. Not a cuddler. Try to feed her “dog” food? She would overturn her bowl to signal her disapproval. And if she didn’t like the human food you’d left her, she’d find a unique way of telling you that, too (I once came home to find an omelette I didn’t finish folded neatly into the bathroom rug). Feel like taking a different route on your walk this morning? Not if she didn’t feel like it — and she never did.  Sounds like a diva, more crotchety grande dame. She moved in, established her rules, and it was my job to obey.

I didn’t realize until tonight, when I got home from work, that this was THE week, but I’ve been in a sort of inexplicable light, good mood. I’ve gotten a lot done, work’s been going pretty smoothly, and, funnily enough, earlier today I looked up volunteer opportunities with The Grey Muzzle Organization, an advocacy group for older rescue dogs that I’d considered volunteering for months ago, after Ames died. So I guess on some level I was aware.

Anyway, always considered June 6 or 7 Ames’ “birthday,” and her dinner would be a six-piece Chicken McNuggets, which she LOVED and devoured in about a minute. So, today, I wish there were Chicken McNuggets.

Prince\’s \”I Wish U Heaven\”

June 8, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

I don’t go in for that hippie crap…

Not because I don’t believe in most flaming-liberal causes (I do, fervently). It’s mostly the dirt and the excessive hair on men and the clothes I can’t get down with.

However, on Sunday, fresh as a daisy and in clean clothes, I will be attending the We Will Not Be Shushed 24 hour Read In at The Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch at Grand Army Plaza. Libraries have taken a beating in the U.K., and NYC’s public library budget is set to be slashed by 27%. 

The library is important, even if you’re all into your Nook or Kindle or whatever — some libraries are enabled to lend books digitally. They can’t do that, though, if they’re hobbled by drastic budget cuts.  It’s a true community service.

So, if you’re around, you should go. You have to sign up for a four-hour  15 -minute reading shift. As protests go, sitting on your ass and reading for a spell is a pretty low-effort way to make a statement. Maybe see you there?

June 1, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

9/10 Pants and a Very Big Bra

My dog, Erica, fancies herself a total badass. Part pit, part boxer, she’ll chase anything that makes noise and goes fast. Small animals, beware: I’ve seen her try to chase a squirrel up a tree, truly believing she could go vertical just because she wanted the little tree-rat badly enough. And if you try to come into the apartment without having been properly introduced, well, what happens next is your own fault.

Really, though, she’s a softie. Dogs? She could give a shit.  But she loves people more than anything, and wants to be around them all the time. And that’s a problem for some dogs; they can get very lonely by themselves and develop separation anxiety. Erica has a wee touch of this. So I’ve been the dog-mom equivalent of an overbearing Park Slope parent, reading message boards and bothering the vet and buying all kinds of interactive toys that are supposed to stimulate her brain to distraction and exhaustion so that she sleeps until I get home.

None of that was really necessary, because, turns out, she occupies by herself doing what other little girls her age (a little over 3) do — by playing dress up. This is how she greeted Eva, her dogwalker, at the  door today:

Yep, that’s my bra. Which she obviously snatched off bathroom doorknob, where I carelessly left it this morning, and inserted her head through the armhole, and just chilled out like that until Eva arrived.

So…does she miss me? Is she still bored, despite the long morning walk, the kibble-dispensing ball and kongs stuffed with ground turkey, the music streaming all day, and the dog prozac (yeah, told you — Park Slope-level crazy parenting)?

Maybe I should start leaving a collection of things for her to try on. I wouldn’t want to stifle her creativity.

May 25, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

Pissed on and pissed off

Yesterday at the dog park, a sweet-looking middle aged lab mix approached me. “Hi,” I said, and leaned in to pet him.

Then the fucker cocked his leg and peed on my jeans.

Absolutely true story, but a metaphor for so many things. So I figured that’d be a good starting point for this here blog.

And, karmically, I am so owed.

April 1, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

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