Category Archives: beaches

Cedar Water

The swimming season is coming to a close. Whether in Cedar Lake or the Pacific Ocean, the subtle shift has begun. Pockets of very cold water, previously a refreshing anomaly, are now asserting themselves like Trump followers. The vanguard will soon become the establishment and while “The Donald” will likely leave the race entranced and distracted by a new shiny object, the water will turn cold.

This saddens me because swimming is what I laughingly refer to as my exercise. I splash, guy4paddle, and tread water with joyous abandon. Between pretending I am Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt” and frolicking underwater, I feel energized, youthful and refreshed. A jogger friend scoffed at the number of carbs I burn and how little cardio effect I gain from my water play. I was going to let his criticism pass or more correctly roll off my back, but when he added I looked childish, I was stung enough to retort, “At least when I finish my workout I’m not all sweaty.”

One of the few things I took from Camp Ockanickon (aside from a lifetime hatred of oatmeal and singing “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin‘ Bread”) is feeling comfortable in the water. Camp was deep in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey on a dark, picturesque, spring fed cedar lake. Even at 4’ 4” I could not see my feet standing in waist deep water. This unnerved me and I failed the deep water swimming test (jump in and swim 25 yards any stroke) I was sent to remedial swim class every day after breakfast. As a non swimmers I could not join any other activity until I passed. Too terrified to leap into the ink colored water, I generally needed to be pushed. After splashing around frantically I would grab the pole and be fished out in tears.

In the afternoon during compulsory free swim time my stigma, wearing a red non-swimmer string around my wrist, confined me to the shallow area. Much worse, the caste system carried over to the mess hall, the cabin, and all non-water activities. Blue stringers (50 yards) and white stringers (100 yards) heaped scorn on us (“Red stringers, red stringers why are you here? Red stringers, red stringers have some beer!”). We would then be doused with whatever non-beer beverage was available.

I have been dancing around the most embarrassing part. I was the lowest of the red stringers: I wore nose plugs! Decades later I have difficulty admitting it. Even other non-swimmers scorned me. The plugs, pink to simulate a flesh tone I have never seen on a living person, was the only way I could navigate in the water. Blue and white stringers might deign to come into the shallow end but I quickly and painfully learned they were on a mission to pull back and snap the rubber strap. The sting subsides long before the red mark on the back of my neck. Perhaps that is why I never became a bra snapper in my adolescence.

Some of the counselors were college kids ready for “Hi Jinx” (it was the 50s) like sneaking out to the girls’ camp across the lake after lights out, then regale us with their exploits the next morning. Joey was different. He was an east Camden (N.J.) tough guy who someone (possibly a judge) thought could benefit from a summer of sunshine and fresh air. Even as a child I sensed his anger and despair marooned in a wholesome woodsy setting with a cabin full of brats. His surliness made what happened all the more surprising.

Joey was on lifeguard duty, supervising the shallow (red string/loser)area. Standing on the dock he beckoned me over. I’ll never forget his words. “Hey squirt! Yeah you, dum dum with the nose plugs. Blow a little stream of air out your nose when you go under. Just a trickle. Then you won’t need that stupid s_ _ _ on your nose.”

It was not a Hallmark moment, but I did it and it worked! It might have helped knowing Joey couldn’t care less. Other counselors had more patiently told me to blow air out. When I tried for them, I either panicked and, seeking to please them, blew all the air out at once, or I accidentally inhaled. With the breathing mastered my fear diminished and I was able to enjoy the water. Thanks to Joey I left camp a blue stringer.

My “instruction” was a momentary distraction for a bored, sullen teenager. Joey, if he is living could not possibly comprehend that I still give him thanks every time I wade into the water. “Blow it out your nose slow, dum dum!”

I am not talking about mentoring, adoption, or huge life changing sacrifices and good deeds. My focus is “Joey moments.” Serendipitous chance encounters where a word, an act, a small gesture made a huge difference. The classic is “The Lone Ranger” leaving before he can be thanked unaware of how he has altered history. I am not so grandiose but I really hope I have done small anonymous kindnesses that have been meaningful to others.

Tom H. Cook has often imagined writing a letter of support for Joey to his probation officer or appearing in court on his behalf

tom and cooper dog

Toronto Visit

Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss.

—Peter Ustinov

“We’re just back from Tokelau.  Jack prepped with “Freddie” at Choate a hundred years ago. Anyway, Freddie’s the Royal Imperial Emperor now.  We told him not to make a fuss, but apparently he stayed some executions, closed the banks and schools, and put on this amusing little festival for us.  The kids enjoyed it.  And you, are you still out in the West somewhere?”

—Imaginary voice of a globetrotting Kenwood matron

 It is particularly difficult for me to write about travel, knowing the sophistication of the Hill and Lake Press readership.  That many of you do not make it to the back page is some solace, but it is still intimidating. I must adopt the proper world weary, bemused, detached tone of a seasoned travel writer.  Toronto was a gnarly, way cool, itchin’ time, and I cannot wait to chill there again as it is awesome to the max!!!

My son-in-law, Daniel Gillies, is working in Toronto for a few months on Saving Hope, a medical drama for NBC.  He brought the family’s yellow lab, Cooper, for company.  With a place to stay and “Coopie-Coopie” for a tour guide, we walked most of the city.  Having a large dog brands me as more likely a local, rather than an L.A. tourist.

We were pleased to learn that dogs are permitted on subways, trains, and city buses in off-peak hours.  In Toronto patio is a verb.  In the summer weather, people love to patio outside with a meal and drink.  Cooper enjoys a bowl of water just the other side of the railing.  The city feel is European right down to the smoking on the street.   Very few people fit my antiquated stereotype of square jawed mounties and blonde farmers’ daughters from Saskatoon.  Toronto is the largest city in Canada and fifth largest in North America.  One half of the population was not born in Canada.

Toronto is multicultural, racially diverse, and in a big hurry.  The downtown seems to stay up late.  Cooper and I saw hundreds of mostly 20 to 30-somethings out after midnight.  Seeing as how Toronto is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan cultural center, Cooper and I fit right in.  What you rarely see are law enforcement officers.  It appears to be a city that polices itself.  It does not hurt to have a 75 pound lab with you, but I never felt intimidated on any of our walks.

“The Beaches” is an Uptown-like neighborhood with shops, a boardwalk, swimming areas, and a well defined dog beach, all fronting Lake Ontario.  Like Target Field, the Blue Jays’ retractable roof stadium is great for baseball, and it is right downtown.  On Daniel’s day off the three of us went to Kensington, a hip neighborhood right next to Chinatown.  Toronto has a Minneapolis feel with parks and greenery everywhere.  The city is vibrant, almost despite local government officials.

Torontan’s seem to be amused rather than incensed by their own political scandal.  Mayor Rob Ford was once arrested for threatening his wife.  He famously warned the city that the Asians are taking over.  Currently he is in the news for trying to buy and annex city park land adjacent his home.   He is an obese man, well over 300 pounds, who looks like he could swallow Rush Limbaugh.  Months ago Ford vowed to lose at least 50 pounds.  Ballyhooed as a charity fund raiser, there was promise of twice-weekly weigh-ins at City Hall.  He appears to have gone AWOL and gained weight, not only abandoning the project, but ceasing to come into his office for any reason.

 Toronto, a doggone good city.

Tom H. Cook is back in the States plotting his next trip, a return to the Twin Cities in the fall.

 

 

 

 

Living at a Dog’s Pace

I have always considered myself a good and responsible dog owner: I feed, walk, play, pet, and clean up after.  My smart, devoted border collie, Hannah, and her clueless boxer brother Cowboy help me keep our two cats at bay.  Modesty aside, we seemed to have the whole dog and master thing down.  Our balance took an interesting turn when I agreed to provide a week’s care for my friend Catherine’s two dogs, (Prince) Henry, a puggle, and Jane, a sweet young border collie.

To say that Catherine is Henry and Jane’s owner is like saying that Napoleon didn’t like Russia, or that Michael Jordan was a basketball player.  She is playmate, consoler, mentor, master, and mamma to these very lucky dogs.  As a mutual friend remarked, “If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as Catherine’s dog!”  Catherine has scheduled her work and social life around Henry and Jane’s well-being.

It was only the prospect of a cruise along the Mexican Riviera that allowed her to even consider leaving her babies.  I was honored to be chosen as the temporary caregiver on the basis of this platform: frequent walks, twice daily dog park visits, timely but not excessive feeding, and a promise to sleep at Catherine’s house during her absence to provide her dogs as much normalcy as possible.  What follows is my scrambled memory of the licking, scratching, barking and good times we had.

My Week With Dogs

Outnumbered four to one, I opted for total emersion in the dog culture.  I needed to go in as the pack leader.  My weaknesses are poor hearing and sense of smell, as well as being slow, clumsy, and too big.  Under strengths are my uncanny ability to find food and the ability to drive a car to the dog park.  I believe it was the food thing that clinched my election as alpha dog.  There were licks all around, some barking and chasing, and of course treats for all!

Now that I was top dog, I readily gave up my un-doglike pursuits, such as television, computers, telephones, and newspapers.  Dogs do not see technology as bad, or confusing (like your Aunt Clara does); they just see it as taking valuable time away from sniffing, chewing, and resting.  The five of us ate, walked, wandered, and slept together. Baths and me shaving were voted down by acclimation.

A week is not sufficient time to turn into a canine Jane Goodall, but I did my best to live at a dog’s pace.  We awoke with the sun and after a quick trip outside (I did not go full dog), it was time for breakfast, a truly momentous occasion worthy of dance and joyful noise.  The rest of our day was filled with time at the park, wrestling matches, long walks, basking in the sun, cooling off in the shade, and imagining the next meal.

Each of these dog’s life activities has a function.  While the park provides needed exercise and play with others, it also solidifies our pack.  At home our seemingly random play skirmishes reenforce our position in the pack.  Our walks are fact-finding missions and a way to sniff out anything that would challenge the established order.  We need considerable resting time because a car door slamming, the passing of an unneutered Lab, a fire engine siren, a boor blabbing on a cell phone, or a noisy squirrel must all be investigated.

The gang brought me, the alpha dog, all dangers, real and imagined.  I maintained final say on what action was necessary.  Our pack was Tea Bagger conservative and hyper-reactive to any perceived change.  The troops were able to return to sleep instantly; not so their leader.

Hannah initiated most of our activities.  She was second in command and, like Radar O’Reilly, seemed to know my plans before I did.  At home she usually watches over me, but the new order seemed to suggest that I had been delegated to Henry’s care.  We spent the week being guys, each of us clearly relishing hanging out together.  We cuddled and took frequent naps.

Cowboy had come to us as a rescued dog, as was every dog in the pack but Henry.  Cowboy’s traumatic early years have left him timid and afraid, despite his impressive physique.  The slightest noise startles him and frequently starts a chain reaction of barking that rumbles through the house.  What is very sad is that he does not know how to play.  He watches the rest of us fetch, tug, and chase but he does not know how to join in.  Still, the pack accepts him.

Jane is the wild card, smart and ambitious, a lizard-chasing hunter.  She and Hannah are “The Girls,” indefatigable, curious, running in and out of the dog door and upending poor Henry.  Jane enjoys being mentored and chewed on by Hannah, but since she leapfrogged over Cowboy and Henry in the hierarchy, she may have bigger plans.  (“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”)  I feel like telling Hannah to beware the Ides of March.

I read while others licked, but that aside, I tried to stay in rhythm with the pack.  The days had a natural flow, and our week ended too soon.  Looking back, I feel myself going over to the dog side. I loved my life as a dog, and I still feel the call of the canine.

 

Tom H. Cook is a no longer local writer.  He has grudgingly returned to working and interacting with humans, although he will never view corgis the same.     

    

 

 

 

 

Hannah and Cooper

I wanted a Cooper dog.  Rachael and Daniel, my daughter and son-in-law, have a yellow lab mix they rescued two years ago.  Cooper’s past is a mystery.  He is somewhere between three and seventeen years old and is a jolly, flatulent, eighty-five pound couch potato.  A friend to all, he is the sedentary, overweight football-watching uncle I never had.  Cooper makes himself at home wherever he is. At our house he assumes his position on the most comfortable and expensive piece of furniture and only stirs at 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM to inhale a meal.

Like cries of “Norm!” on Cheers, calling “Coopie!” is almost an involuntary reaction when the big guy comes for a visit.  He drags you by your shirt or pants leg and like Joan Rivers insists that you “taullk” and catch up on petting him and singing his praises.  He particularly loves the Sesame Street song C is for Cookie when “Coopie” is substituted for “cookie.”  After the tummy-scratching (his) and arm licking (yours), Cooper settles back to watch the other dogs and people tussle and carry on.

After the death of Stella the once-insane boxer, we were looking for a companion for Cowboy, the grieving widower boxer.  Rachael and Daniel have an unerring skill of rescuing wonderful dogs.  (Either that or there are thousands of great dogs being put down each year.  I choose to believe the former.)  And so, before we left on our big Tahiti-Australia-New Zealand adventure (HLP 3/07), we told the kids that if they chanced upon a great Cooper-like dog in the month we were away, to go ahead and adopt her if they did not mind providing the care until we returned.

Since we draw the line at two dogs per family, vacancies are as rare as Supreme Court seats.  Careful consideration would have to be given.  The position available was for a full size female dog, and for the first time, a non-boxer would be eligible.  This was based on how much we loved Cooper and Sunny, the kids’ other dog, a delightful chow and collie mix.  My preference was for a large, overstuffed, sweet companion I could grow old with that would appreciate long naps and short walks.

Before we had taken off our shoes, been probed and had our passports stamped at LAX, the kids called and said they had found a dog!  As patriarch I retain the power of veto, but JoAnne and Rachael and Daniel would have the necessary three votes for a ¾ override, a power which they exercise frequently see (T. Cook v Thai Restaurant, 2002), or (T. Cook v Wedding Guest List, 2003).  Aware of the precedent and the fact that the furry bundle was already in their car and networking a powerbase of her own, I chose to be magnanimous, build consensus and demonstrate flexibility, unlike some leaders I could name.

We are entering our third month with “Hannah” a year old Australian shepherd-border collie mix.  I would have written about her sooner, but this is the first opportunity I have had to catch my breath.  I believe Hannah is smarter than a fifth grader, and certainly light years ahead of all of our boxers.  She’s about 16 months old.  Found last summer in West Hollywood, she was taken in and housed for seven months at a veterinary clinic and shelter.  I mention her history only because she appears to have suffered no ill effects from her life on the streets or her long kenneled confinement.  She loves everyone.

She is a voracious learner and explorer, raising questions about what is under certain shrubbery and how fast our aging cat can run.  These are questions that our long line of boxers never contemplated, let alone acted upon.  Hannah bonded with JoAnne and me immediately. Her deep eye contact suggests she may have had some EST training.  She is so inquisitive it can be exhausting attempting to stump her with any task easier than long division.

She is our Hannah Banana the world’s squiggliest palindrome, and she lives to please us.  Alas, this is not in the pipe and slippers, Smithers to Mr. Burns, or Radar O’Reilly to Colonel Blake manner.  Hannah looks into my eyes as if to say, “Except for the power of speech and opposable thumbs, I am your equal.  Let’s go out and play. It will do you good.”  So my dreams of a placid retirement have been shattered by a dog that will likely outlive me.  She is determined that we get out and share activities,  rummaging through dumpsters (for me) and herding dogs at the local dog park, an inborn passion she cannot resist.

 

Hannah is like having a young girlfriend, but rather than requiring a comb-over and a new wardrobe, she continually challenges me to amuse and teach her. I believe she is capable of learning anything short of Three Card Monty.  The weak link in this is me learning dog commands and conveying them to her.  We bought The Dog Whisper, but neither of us (i.e. neither Hannah nor I) has read beyond the first chapter. As much as I would have enjoyed drinking beer and watching TV with “Son of Cooper,” little Hannah has me out at the dog park every day. She is an absolute treasure.  She has stolen my heart and probably strengthened it.

 

Tom H. Cook would like to shamelessly plug his son-in-law’s film, which he shot in Panama.  The first six minutes are viewable on YouTube.  Type in “Wait for Me” and then “Panama” or “Daniel Gillies”. Rachael has a cameo at the beginning.

 

 

 

Retirement in Redondo Beach

The summer Hill and Lake Press has historically been a children’s issue with clever, witty, and innocent poems, pictures, and stories.  Despite the fact that I write in crayon, my submissions in past years to the July-August issue have been tactfully returned.  Because of the children writers strike this year I am pressed into service.  Normally I would support the young artists’ demands (scented markers, unlimited gummy bears, and the freedom to use the word poopy in a non-salacious context).  The editors were able to break my iron will and steadfast solidarity by letting me write about my summer vacation.  Sorry kids, but who can pass up the opportunity to tell others about a trip.

My wife and I are staying just south of Los Angeles in Redondo Beach, where we are tracking down stray relatives and friends.  There is no sign of the Urban Coyote, who may be out here peddling scripts and doing meetings.  I am, instead, working on shaving every three or four days, body surfing, eating avocados, and going to Dodger Stadium.  The rest of my time is spent foolishly. 

Driving is a challenge in the L.A. area.  On 35W or the Crosstown you check to see if anyone is coming before you change lanes.   Here it is a given that many cars, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and large trucks covet the exact spot you are currently inhabiting.  I am reminded of the old Red Skelton line about the freeways.  He said, “Southern Californians are real baseball fans…out here you are either a Dodger or an Angel.” 

Word from home is that it has finally stopped raining and all plans for an NRP-funded ark have been abandoned.  Everyone I meet  here (after the requisite discussion of the weather) wants to know about Jesse.  I am toying with the idea of being from Michigan.  The politics here in southern California is more conservative than I am used to.  There is still a Proposition 13 feel in the air, and it is a laisse faire world.  All is well for those who can manage on their own.  I have long believed that each of us has a cosmic banana peel with our name on it, and we will require support of some kind.  Here it seems people live happily, busily, hurriedly, but without a net.

If I am so critical, why am I here?  That’s simple:  I love the beach.  I have swum and paddled in the city lakes.  I have enjoyed moonlight dips at friends’ lake cabins, but there is something about the ocean that grips me.  I feel most whole and complete in the ocean.  It is truly a “Roots” experience.  Being in the ocean takes me way back to my distant ancestors who must have been ocean dwelling single celled protozoan. 

In more recent years I have resigned myself to compromises and diminished expectations, such as our federal income tax refund check.  Practicality and prudence aside, I do not want to pass from this life without ‘quality beach time’.  As a friend said recently, “Yeah, I’m middle aged if I live to be 110”.  This ocean fantasy will probably not win me the Albert Schweitzer award for humanitarian service, but I feel the sands of time moving.  

As a child, I mourned growing up in New Jersey and not being able to get to Atlantic City, Wildwood, or Asbury Park.  If I were a  Minnesota native I probably wouldn’t hear the siren song of the sea.  But to be sixty miles away and unable to will myself to the shore is something I still lament.  Granted, this is not Oprah material. (“ Our next segment is a real tearjerker:  Adult children of parents who could not swim and were too tired from working to take their kids to the beach.”)  Still, without getting too existential or pop psychology about this, I have been in charge of my own life since I was 46, and if I was going to make it to the west coast for the summer it was up to me.  Thanks to the generosity of a number of friends, most notably Michele, who has adopted Stella (the mad beast) for the summer, I am in Los Angles having made slightly better time than Balboa.

So here I am, and I love it.  In time I will miss garage sales, work (or at least the money), and the friends who have had the decency not to come and visit.  In the meantime, surf’s up, hang ten, and have a wonderful summer.

 

Tom H. Cook conveniently forgets that he was a shy, pale, thin, non-athletic, virgin with conspicuous ears who would not have experienced most of the things he feels he missed, had he only been ‘under the boardwalk’ in 1964.