A Day Out

Linda and I had a day out on Monday. We ended up going to Benicia (I had been there just the day before). We started with a self-guided tour of the art glass studios. Our first stop was at the end of H Street, near the marina, where Nourot and Smyers studios share space in a building that looks like it used to be an elementary school. Tall windows with a southern exposure are great for glass places, and both of these studios have beautiful work.

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Before we went in, we took some pictures of the two derelict buildings on the waterfront. They both look military, but I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the time period.

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On our way back to First Street we stopped at Lindsay’s Art Glass. It’s on F Street, about a block off First. The glass here was more in the tradition of Art Nouveau and Louis Comfort Tiffany. The proprietor also has some art apparel, mostly painted silk, and someone with a very good eye has arranged the fabric with the glass, creating layers of shapes and color, enriching the visual experience.

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When I’m here with the Benicia Crew, we usually eat at Sailor Jack’s, right on the water, but since I was branching out today, we had lunch at First Street Café. It’s located at the corner of First and East E Street, a narrow two-storied space with sidewalk tables and a long comfortable-looking bar downstairs. Upstairs is their wine and appetizer bar. We chose an inside table by the window, giving us a first-row view of Benicia life this gorgeous summer day.

Since dessert is the most important part of a meal, I’m going to start by describing those. The Café bakes its own pies, cakes and crisps. Monday’s specials included a strawberry bread pudding and a strawberry crisp. In both cases the strawberries had started off fresh, not frozen or preserved. I tried the bread pudding because I was intrigued by the concept. Linda had the crisp. Both came, at our server’s suggestion, warm with vanilla ice cream, the cream melting into the crispy topping. Mine had small squares of good bread, possibly sourdough (there was a bit of a tang); sweetened and toasty, not soft. Underneath the bread layer there was a pool of warm strawberry compost, not overly sweetened, with just enough tartness to be a contrast for the silky ice cream. People who like bread pudding as a spongy-sweet custard might not like this, but I thought it was scrumptious. Linda’s crisp had oats in the topping; equally delicious, she said.

Because I knew I was ordering dessert, I held back for my entrée and had the house salad; mixed greens, green apple chunks, candied pecans and cukes with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and bleu cheese crumbles. The greens were crisp, with a few leaves of some slightly bitter lettuce for contrast, the apple was fresh, everything melded together deliciously. Linda had the roast turkey breast sandwich, which comes, not out of a deli pack or off a roll, but from the breast of a whole turkey that is roasted on site. The sandwich had cranberry sauce and came with a handful of mixed greens. She was very pleased with it.

The Café gets its bread from Acme Bakery in Berkeley, and many if not most of the vegetables and meats are locally sourced. That does matter to me, so I mention it. It means, basically, that things are fresh. Our young, competent server was friendly and helpful, and didn’t rush us along. I’m sure their coffee is great, but we settled for water. Oh, and their menu is funny!

We shopped the street a bit and Linda bought an elegant top in shades of flame in a pocket boutique.

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Charlie, host of Charlie’s Attic

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How did we end up here?

While many of the street-side antique shops were closed, Charlie’s Attic, in the Tannery, was not. Normally they were closed on Mondays, but they’d come down to get a package ready to ship, and the next thing they knew they had a whole flock of customers. Linda bought a glass paperweight and I found a funny pair of bookends for the store.

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We walked along First Street’s waterfront, watching people fishing and trying to stay out of their way as they cast. Linda has lived in Hawaii for ten years, long enough that she is nostalgic for seagulls. (There are none in Hawaii.) She took a few pictures and we got some nice seascape shots. Across the strait, the Amtrak train rolled by, its whistle hooting mournfully.

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On the way back to the car we stopped at Benicia Bookshop. It was close to closing but he kept it opened while we browsed, about fifteen minutes past closing time. I found a book I’ve been wanting to read but Linda was frustrated in her attempt to find something for her grandson, who started kindergarten the next day.

We left about six-thirty, which had been part of our plan as a way to avoid commute traffic. The plan was an unqualified success and traffic on the way back was light. It was a lot of driving and I was tired, but it was a fun day.

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Shining Like a National Guitar

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Here is Doug Adamz playing National Steel at The Last Record Store on Saturday, August 16. He is playing from his new CD called… well, you get it.

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Doug is family friend of my longtime friend Linda Kane who was in town.

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Doug is a great guitarist and a wonderful songwriter, with lyrics that are soulful, sad, clever and often funny.

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Here is his website.

Here is a page to Light Rain, his American belly dance music group.

Here is a You Tube video.

The Last Record Store is still here, selling vinyl and CDs, new and used. They have rock, hip/hop, pop, soul, blues, world music, soundtracks, reggae and a fine selection of classical. While Doug and Linda were visiting I took the opportunity to feed my Beethoven stash.

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This is Doug (the other Doug) one of the owners.

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Doug A played for about an hour. He has a rosewood guitar he bought at Sonoma County’s Guitar Festival, a luthier gathering, but he didn’t have time to play it.

The Last Record Store in on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa, due north of the Santa Rosa Junior College, in the long green building that houses the Community Market, Gaia’s Garden and the record store, like a long green time capsule with parking in the back.

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Lamborghini

A strange looking car pulled out in front of me on Highway 128, making me brake more sharply than I wanted to. It was white, with black trim, so low it looked kind of flat from the back, a top-down convertible. It looked a little bit like a high-performance speedboat, and the name in gleaming chrome script across the back was long. It started with an L. The loud engine roared as I drifted up behind it close enough that I could read it.

Lamborghini.

Along the highway from Napa to St. Helena, the driver of the L engaged in antics that would have qualified him for “dumbass” status if he had been driving a Camry, things like using a left-turn storage lane as a passing lane, illegally, and passing on the right. For a few moments, the car found its mate, a black Lamborghini. I felt like I was watching an automotive version of Spy vs Spy. Soon, though, the black L turned off and the growling white car was alone with the more docile herd animals, Camrys, Lexii, SUVs and Civics.

Eventually it caught up with two more Lamborghinis, one black, again, and one guacamole green. They sat at a red light, three in a row, looking like the Lamborghini club or a trio of vehicular cool kids. Then the driver of the white Lamborghini, whose white car had largely inoculated him from judgment of his rudeness and his bad decisions – because, dude! It’s a Lamborghini! – lost his credibility in one minute. The light turned green. The green and black cars advanced, snarling their dominance, but not the white car. The white car waited, and we, behind him, waited too, because he couldn’t get it into gear. How sudden, and ignominious, is the fall from grace.

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Doubletake; Fun Adventure, Just Not For Me [Update: 8/15/14]

[UPDATE: Those of you who already read this; remember my testosterone comments? I stand by those, but I want to note that Rob Thurman is female. I didn't know that! I guess this proves women can write annoyingly gritty as well as men, at least to my unobservant mind.]

After my discount, I paid $2.40 for Doubletake, the seventh Cal Leandros urban fantasy adventure by Rob Thurman.

Without my discount, I would have paid $4.00, Mockingbird’s sticker price. While I enjoyed it for $2.40, at $4.00 I would have been disappointed in this testosterone-laced supernatural adventure.

To be fair, this is Book Seven. I might have been more engaged and slightly less irritated if I had shared earlier adventures with the half-human half-monster Cal and his half-brother (you’re seeing a pattern emerge) Niko. Not that Thurman’s character doesn’t name-check his previous adventures all the way through the book.

A lot happens in Doubletake; there’s even a plot. It’s just at the end, nothing is resolved. Based on one book, I would say this series devotes its primary attention to the overarching storyline – what in TV they call the “mythology”—rather than the individual story in each book.  Here is a spoiler-free summation:

Cal and Nikos fight beasties and banter/ Cal is half-monster/ flashback to evil sociopathic mom/ “What’s that big metal thing up there?”/ gaybaiting/brothers before others/ “It’s a giant killer robot!”/ Evil-other/ bro-stuff/Desert Eagle/mom was evil/more gaybaiting/mom was slutty/bros before foes!/Niko’s adversarial dad shows up/bro-stuff/monster stuff/first adventure fails/ another Desert Eagle! They’re given’ ‘em away!/ monster stuff/ bro stuff/evil-other broods and monologues/Beasties!/ Killer Robot!/mom was evil and slutty/ Twist ending/Scary fight scene!/Bro stuff!/ ending/happily ever after for right now/ Or is it?

(Okay, this is really, really picky and I would probably know the answer if I’d read the earlier books: mom was evil and slutty and would sleep with anyone, I assume. But the race that Cal comes from were supernatural apex predators, the Auphe. They think themselves superior to everything, especially humans. So why would an Auphe have sex with a human woman? Did she get it drunk first or something?)

Did I mention the testosterone? It oozes out between the pages of this book is such thick globs that women who are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant probably should not read this book without a doctor’s approval.

Cal and Niko are such seriously enmeshed siblings that they give the Winchester brothers on Supernatural a run for their money.

In some respects, Cal is like Richard Kadrey’s character James Stark from the Sandman Slim books. Doubletake gave me a chance to remember how much I like Sandman Slim. Stark is also a half-human badass and there are plenty of male hormones swirling around those books too, but somehow – and maybe it’s an east-coast/west-coast thing – there’s  more oxygen in Kadrey’s books. Cal’s endless mantras about brotherhood just suck all the air out of the story.

Now, the action sequences are brisk, and the otherworldly creatures inventive, even if the constant low-level sexual harassment of Niko by the male pansexual puck Robin Goodfellow is not as funny as it should be, and there is a nice touch of Simon R. Greene in the humor. There is an audience for Thurman’s series. It’s not me. I’m guessing it’s white, male and aged 18-34.

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After the Apocalypse: But Seriously…

I wrote about my internet-free experience on the Mendocino coast in a rather light-hearted manner. It was not a problem for me, except that it forced me to confront my a) internet addiction and, b) ability to distract myself from doing any real work.

That wasn’t the case for everyone, though. I mentioned, in one line, the problem for some businesses, whose credit card line was wireless. You can still charge a credit card manually; take down all the information and the person’s phone number, then enter the transaction when the system is live again. It’s a pain but feasible.

When I checked out of the Allegria Inn, Paulo brought up an issue I hadn’t considered. Paulo is a volunteer on the local fire department. The town was worried, he said, so worried they were planning a town meeting (next week, probably) with the fire chief. Many people east of Highway One, or in town for that matter, gave up land-lines and went to wi-fi phones (fusion service) because of the cost. Many of those people are geographically isolated. Some of them are graying. When the fiber optic line went down, they were without any way to call for help if they needed it.

Paulo and the man who runs the kaleidoscope shop both said that the agreement when AT&T brought in fiber optic was that they could create a fully redundant system. That may be true. Knowing a tiny bit about AT&T and its commitment to service, I find it unlikely. People believe it, though. Clearly, there is no redundant system.

AT&T has never been wild about the idea of providing a quality product that their competitors get to use to offer better service from, so there’s no real incentive for them to do anything that would just be good for folks. Perhaps they can be forced to install a redundant system, or put all the wires underground, as they contracted to do originally. If somehow AT&T get a regulatory order or a judgment to do this, the folks in Mendocino County can expect it to happen in about ten years. By then we’ll all have data jacks in our brain-stems that connect to the satellite network so it will be far less of a problem.

It raises some interesting questions, not just for the Mendocino Coast but for me, here at home, where we have fusion and our fiber optic cables are mostly underground. I need to consider that during the next big disaster (earthquake, flood, alien attack) I may not have phone service. I may have cell service.

If I lived back in a canyon on the coast range in Mendocino, I probably wouldn’t have either.  Maybe a battery-operated two-way radio would be a good investment.

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After the Apocalypse

My first clue came Sunday afternoon when instead of getting to Facebook, I got a spinning wheel. I checked my little icon in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen, and I had three bars. When I rolled my pointer over it, it said, “Connected.” And still, the wheel spun.

I pulled out my very-retro Verizon antenna and plugged it into the USB slot. The Verizon account initialized and connected. And still, no internet.

On my email, I kept getting a Send/Receive error.

Okay, plainly something was happening to limit my internet access. This was surprising. I’d stayed in this room in December and used the inn’s wifi connection; it ran perfectly. It didn’t really matter anyway. I wanted to post some pictures to Facebook and complete a blog posting, but that could wait. If there was anything serious I could use my smart phone.

And then, minutes later, I decided to wanted to look up the word tympani, to make sure I was using it correctly. I pulled out my phone, entered “dictionary.com” in the Internet spot and got… nothing.

It began to dawn on me that something was seriously wrong.

The hotel did not have wifi.

I’m a strong person, so I didn’t panic, yet.

I had other things I could do, and I did them. Like, go for a walk and take pictures. Like, read a book. Like… go to bed early.

The next morning… still no internet. No problem. I’d take my laptop to Moody’s Coffee or one of the restaurants that had wifi. I was resilient. After all, I’d just gone three whole days without television, hadn’t I? And there had been one in the room and everything… and I didn’t even turn it on. I could survive this.

I went to the Gallery Bookstore in Mendocino and then I began to piece together the extent of the catastrophe. The two clerks explained that it wasn’t my hotel. It wasn’t just Main Street. It was the entire town. The entire town was cut off from wifi! From the internet!

I took cleansing breaths and pictured a safe and happy place. Then I asked how this could have happened.

It seemed that in two separate places, bad things happened to fiber optic lines. One was on Ukiah-Comptche Road, where some overhead lines had been snagged and pulled down. One was near Albion, where something else had happened; they didn’t know what.

(And by the way, if I ever, ever, in a piece of fiction, made up a scenario where two separate stretches of fiber optic cable got lunched in two separate situations, my critique group would never let me hear the end of it.)

What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to look up “tympani” now? How was I going to post my raven pictures to Facebook? And what about the tourists? Those happy people from Germany I’d talked to on they way down to the store — how was their daughter going to post her selfie?

But I clawed myself back from the edge of that crumbling cliff of desperation. I had chocolate. I had books. It would be okay.

The San Francisco Chronicle came to my room each morning. I hastily scanned it for any stories about internet outages and ETA of repairs. Since, for the Chron, Petaluma is their idea of Northern Coastal California, and they probably think Mendocino is in Oregon, there was nothing.

I went for walks, I did some revision, I read. Then I packed up my laptop and drove north seven miles to the Botanical Gardens.

The gardens were beautiful, even more gorgeous than they had been the previous year. And… they had no internet. Fort Bragg had no internet as well. The contagion was spreading! I pictured myself driving resolutely north, until I got to… I don’t know, Fortuna or some place, parking in a Holiday Inn parking lot, trying password after password as I attempted to poach their wifi. If they even had any.

Was there some kind of coverup going on? Why weren’t black-helicopters throbbing overhead, dropping emergency… I don’t know, satellite dishes? Where was the mobilized response to this humanitarian crisis?

(In the bookstore, two enterprising clerks created a wifi hot spot with their phones so that they could look up something for a customer.)

(By the way, they have these things in the Gallery Bookstore. They’re called dictionaries. I slipped over and picked one up when no one was looking, and looked up “tympani.” Good thing I did, too, because it’s not just a drum, it’s a specific type of drum, and that wouldn’t have worked at all.)

The town was without wifi from 5:00ish Sunday afternoon until 5:00ish Tuesday afternoon. I had books, and chocolate. I was one of the lucky ones. Seriously, though, August is a big tourist month in Mendocino, and many businesses have given up landlines for less expensive cellular; not only for their phones but for credit card processing. This introduced a whole new level of difficulty for them. On Tuesday, neither the Chron nor the Press Democrat carried anything about the outage. I would have looked it up to see what the ETA was on repair… but that would have required the internet.

(And my revisions, they were good. It’s funny; I write better when I don’t decide in the middle of a sentence that I need to go to Youtube and listen to Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” all the way through just because I’m using the metaphor of carrying voices in my piece. It’s amazing.)

We pulled through. The town is better for it, stronger. We’re a team now. We know we’ve got each other and… wait, a Facebook Quiz? Which Brady Bunch Child Are You? Sorry. Gotta go.

 

[Update: The official story on Mendocino Community Network's (MCN, the local isp) site is that a vehicle accident on Ukiah-Comptche took out the lines; that AT&T is replacing 12,000 feet of fiber optic cable, not a mile's worth as I first heard. No mention of the second incident in Albion. MCN carefully cites AT&T for every statement in its update, so maybe AT&T doesn't use coincidence as a plot device either.]

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Day Three (Saturday)

Besides her smarts and her charming personality, there were several things to like about Pooja Menon, the agent at the conference this year. Pooja is from a west coast agency that actually represents some speculative fiction writers. She is familiar with fantasy, at least from the YA genre, having read Hunger Games and some early Cassandra Clare. Those are pluses.

I really enjoyed my consultation with her. Somehow, I never take the consultations at the conference seriously enough, and 2014 was no exception. I sent her the same 10 pages I submitted for the workshop and the contest. She thought it was a strong story with a good plot, an interesting world and enough character and conflict. Unfortunately, though, it’s a novella, which, as she pointed out, I can market on my own… and which I already knew.

She did give me her card and ask me to query her when I have something finished. I told her I have a completed adult SF novel completed. She’s willing to look at a query; if she thinks it’s viable she will pass it on to the agent who is dedicated to speculative fiction.

She had very few comments about the work I did submit; she wanted me to intimate a particular conflict earlier than page 10; she also disliked a couple of my expressions. One, in particular, intentionally made use of old vernacular, because I am trying to set a certain tone. I think she wasn’t familiar with the original expression I was toying with. She also said she didn’t like short sentences. I do. I use them. I won’t change that. That could be a conflict.

Generally, though, seriously, she was very complimentary about my writing.

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Day Two (Friday)

That’s me, at Friday night’s reading by the contest finalists. Linda Goff, who drove up from Santa Rosa and spent the night in Mendocino, came to hear me read and took the picture. (Linda and I meet a couple of times a month and do writing exercises together.)

When Jules, our irrepressible MC and local poet, introduced me, she said, “She’s going  to read the whole novel! In five minutes!” When I got to the mike I said, “But I’m going to do it really, really fast.”

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It is my blog, so I put my picture first, but I did not read first. I read fourth. Some  fine writers got up there ahead of me.

Gloria Jorgensen read a short story about a southern family. She did two accents; “Yah,”she said, after Jules, our irrepressible MC, introduced her and had a question about her name. “Yah, it is Skond-ah-navian, yah.” Then she slipped effortlessly into a smooth as honey southern accent.

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Chloe Saviego, second place finisher in poetry, read a poem called “How to Talk to Your Brother.”

The third place poetry winner, Vinny Peloso’s, work was more like language poetry. While intellectually I can see how it was good, I was not particularly moved by it. It’s a matter of personal taste.

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We didn’t get pictures of everyone. Here is who read Friday afternoon (first place winners):

Bill Baker, Winner, novel (Bill actually read Thursday afternoon.)

Margit Sage, Winner, short fiction.

Casey Fitzsimmons,Winner, poetry.

Nicole Idar, Winner, non-fiction, was not present.

Here is who else read Friday evening:

Non fiction:

Catherine Marshall, second place

Beth Eyre, third place

Short Fiction:

Doug Fortier, third place

Novel:

Terri Nicholson, third place

Jane Armbruster, honorable mention

I had to leave after this group finished up, but Jules inaugurated Open Mike by reading a raucous, bluesy, loving and irreverent poem about Mother Earth we her big-head monkey children. A delight! And my admiration to the intrepid Open Mike readers who followed.

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Day Two; the Challenge of the Mini-Fridge

When you set the temperature in your hotel room mini-fridge too cold and you freeze your half & half so that it is a cube of solid dairy product that you cannot pour into your coffee, that’s not an insurmountable problem. When the nectarine you planned to have for breakfast is the firmness of a hardball, that’s not insurmountable. No. You know what’s insurmountable? When you freeze the chocolate fudge so firmly that the little plastic knife won’t penetrate. That’s an insurmountable problem.

Fudge is supposed to be smooth, velvety, soft; not jawbreaker hard!

The half & half thawed pretty quickly actually, and I turned the temp up, but the fruit is still in popsicle mode. One unexpected good outcome; my blue ice packs are still solid and will be good for the drive to Mendocino on Sunday.

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Day One: Black and White

I walk across the dry field that runs alongside the highway, my hundred-pound purse pulling on my shoulder. The strap digs into my flesh and it hurts. I stop at A-frame coffee and order a mocha. I didn’t get one in the morning; there were too many cars in line at the tiny drive-up coffee hut, which I have been told is Fort Bragg’s best coffee secret.

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A cheerful young man in an orange aloha shirt takes my order. While I wait, I look around. From across the highway, which is empty at this moment, runs a dog on a leash. A man is running along behind it. The dog is moving so purposefully and fast that I think the man could kick up his feet, cartoon-style, and float along behind the black and white canine like a balloon. Even from here, I can see how shiny the dog’s coat is. It stops to sniff a car tire and the human regains his bearings. They head for the A-frame.

I get out my camera. The dog is an American Staffordshire terrier, better known as a pit bull. He’s not huge, but he is muscular. They come up alongside me and the dog leaps into the bushes, snorting and sniffing. “May I take a picture of your dog?” I say, raising the camera. The man nods and I take a few bad shots.

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“May I pet your dog?” I say. I always ask, not just with pit bulls, but with any dog.

The man looks at me, his forehead wrinkled. He doesn’t answer. A second later he shrugs. The dog wanders over and sniffs my shoes, then my pants leg. I put down my hand, fingers curled and let him sniff my knuckles. He does, without much interest, then nudges my hand with his nose. His right ear is sheared off; torn rather than cut, although the tear looks healed. I stroke the dog’s chest once. The dog lets me. He doesn’t seem thrilled at the attention.

“Um,” the man says. “He has bitten a few people.”

“Oh.” I continue my second stroke and slowly pull my hand away, thinking, “You couldn’t have told me that thirty seconds ago?”

“Yeah. He’s not my dog. I’m just taking care of him. He’s my friend’s dog, and I think my friend said he’s bitten a couple of people.”

“Okay.”

“My friend’s in jail so I’m looking after the dog.”

The dog is back rooting in the bushes, tail wagging.

“Miss?” the cheerful young man says, “Your mocha’s ready.”

“Thanks.” I say. I pivot, pick up my mocha. “Well,” I say to the man, “you two have a good day”

“Thanks.”

As I walk over the bridge, I feel a retroactive qualm of fear. It starts in my stomach and rolls up through my body like an earthquake, ending in a shiver. I’m not afraid of dogs, and I can read most of them pretty well. I do have a vivid imagination, though, and my memory is all too quick to helpfully serve up a double handful of stories of pit bull attacks.

I think of the man, dragged across the road by a determined dog. I think of the lost ear. I’m afraid things aren’t going to go well for those two, and I’m afraid it’s the dog who will get the brunt of the bad luck.

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