Tag Archives: dogs

Good Old Cooper

May God endow you with pain.              Baba Farid, Sufi poet

JoAnne (wife/editor)  “What are you writing about this month?”
Me “I thought I’d write about Cooper.”
JoAnne  “You have already written at least three columns about him…”
Me “Do you know how many entire books have been written about Winston Churchill, Stephen Foster, and Sacajawea?”

JoAnne (a bit exasperated and recognizing she has again fallen into an exchange where logic is useless.  Nevertheless she continues gamely) “They were famous people. Cooper is a dog.”

Me (exchanging a conspiratorial wink with the behemoth at my feet) “That,” I say, pausing for emphasis, “Is what he wants you to believe.”

*                    *                *               *                 *                  *                  *                    *

Cooper was a wedding present my daughter Rachael and son-in-law Daniel gave to each other almost eleven years ago.  Cooper is an over-sized yellow Lab who comes across as an oafish, hale fellow well met, ready to ask about “the missus” and your golf game.  A tail thumping Rotarian glad hander, who will grab your clothing and pull you to the ground to rub his belly.  At dinner parties he settles down after the meet and greet and plays the perfect guest.  Careful not to take the host’s favorite chair, he avoids politics and religion and does more listening than talking.  He seems to blend into the woodwork.  It is not until dessert is about to be served that the host realizes that an entire pumpkin pie that was on a high counter is missing.

Cooper is a trickster, perhaps in the coyote or Sufi tradition.  He has been pulling stunts like this for more than a decade.  Traveling with Daniel, he adjusts seamlessly to months of fast-paced downtown living in a Toronto high-rise.  Charming the doorman, he is off, walking without a leash through the financial district.  He could be just another securities trader concerned about the downturn in the China market.  What gives him away is not that he is a dog, but that he is not on a cell phone.  He knows that a cold wet nose to the back of a knee can redirect a chatting, oblivious business person and keep things moving.

Daniel and I believe Cooper is a prankster, far smarter than he appears.  In repose he is a Zen-like cipher, a Rorschach test.  We love to speculate on his past.  He often acts the part of a tweedy, befuddled, long tenured classics professor oblivious to the toilet paper stuck to his foot.  We are convinced this is just his cover.  Was he C.I.A.?  I am not sure where that rumor started.  Did he prep at Hotchkiss and get recruited to be a helper dog before washing out?  Was he once a companion to an elderly man who was finally unable to care for him?  He gets very excited when he sees very senior citizens.  He still pees like a racehorse in one spot as if he used to receive very few walks and had to make the most of every outing.

“Coopie” was already an old soul when Rachael and Daniel found him in a shelter in the San Fernando Valley.  This would lend credence to him having been in The Company and then discarded.  While all the other dogs barked and pleaded to be noticed, Cooper slept undisturbed as if he knew the kids were coming for him.  He ambled off just hours before facing “the green mile.”  He has been family ever since.

That is what is making his present condition so gut wrenching.  Cooper is probably about fourteen and has led a full if circumspect life.  His eyes are clear, and his appetite legendary.  His back legs are now too weak to support him.  After a few steps he likely tumbles over.  He remains good natured and nonplussed by his worsening condition.

After fall his tail thumps loudly, signalling that poltergeists have again tripped him up.  He rises with aid, his dignity and sense of humor intact.  Doctors have ruled out hip dysplasia and arthritis.  He baffled the neurologist; his X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI were unremarkable.  He has received laser treatments, acupuncture, and is on more drugs than Michael Jackson.  Cooper has a rear harness that allows us to take some of the weight off of his back end.

The veterinarians say he does not seem to be in pain.   Still, it is like watching the once graceful Willie Mays attempt to play centerfield for the Mets at forty-two.  No one wanted to cut the future Hall of Famer.  If you squinted just right for a play, he was still the “Say Hey Kid.”  Fans cheered mostly from relief every time he made it back to the bench alive.  “Coopie” still takes great joy in eating and a good nap.  He is “still in there” and we cannot let go.

When informed an injured athlete is “day to day,” Keith Olbermann will add, “Listen, we’re all day to day.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  This was an incredibly difficult story to share.  For happier Cooper columns and others visit sanduponthewaters.net. 

Ethics Make My Head Hurt

You did what?  You’ll probably get someone fired or gum up a machine!!!               — JoAnne Cook

Ethics make my head hurt.  I read the horror stories about Foxconn, the Chinese conglomerate that manufactures and assembles Apple products.  Their management style would need to improve greatly to become merely draconian.  Corporate response to disenchanted workers subjected to mind-numbing routinized labor and claustrophobic dormitory living has been to thwart further suicides by installing more suicide nets!  (The flogging will continue until morale improves.)  Still I am writing this on my Apple computer, which I prize nearly as much as my iPad (see HLP 10/11) and my iPod, rationalizing that China is another culture, and very far away.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are not that far away.  Mac McClellan, writing in the March-April issue of Mother Jones, and Spencer Soper in The Morning Call, an Allentown (PA) newspaper, chronicle the working conditions at online retail facilities.   Before you stop reading, shake your head at the nonsense that passes itself off as community news, harrumph loudly, and turn to the real estate ads, give me just a few paragraphs.

Amazon began shipping books in 1994. Expanding to a limitless array of products and riding the wave of the Internet, the company has become the 21st century rebuttal to the quaint notion of shopping by driving, finding parking, dealing with surly, barely conscious, retail clerks in a too air-conditioned, insipid music-blasting, brick and mortar retail store that is out of what you need despite calling ahead to make sure they have it.  Amazon stock (which I neglected to buy) has grown eight fold, and the company made $34,000,000,000 in 2010.  With 33,700 employees and free shipping, what’s not to like?

 

As it turns out, quite a lot.  I never really questioned how a point and click brought anything I wanted to my front door so quickly and tax free.  Amazon is the biggest, but almost all online retailers ship from vast warehouses, with several companies often sharing space.  Located in rural areas on vast tracts of land with tax incentives, near rail lines and major highways, they are often the only game in town for employment.  Ma and Pa stores, Woolworth’s, and a recognizable downtown are long gone, driven out in part by low Internet prices.  This is the future going forward, fast, cheap, and barely in control.  I do not believe many of us connected the dots between a displaced, desperate workforce and an Internet industry that is not yet twenty years old.

Mac McClelland is a 31 year old journalist, who went “underground” like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickle and Dimed in America. The Secret Hell of Online Shopping chronicles her employment at a vast online warehouse, probably in Ohio.  She describes the workplace as cavernous and silent despite the thousands of people filling orders or standing at conveyor belts.  Temperatures range seasonally from 60 to over 95 degrees. Ten hour days are standard, longer near the holidays.  Most employees are pickers or packers.  As a picker she walked 12-15 miles per day on  concrete.  Armed with a scanner and an impossibly high quota of orders to fill, she and thousands more were continually “counseled,” prodded, and demeaned by supervisors to work harder, faster and error-free to please the customer.  Failure is met with demerits which are also accrued by being even seconds late returning from one of the two 15 minute daily breaks, perhaps because the bathroom line was too long.

The pace is intense and workers are disposable, fired at will because there are 15 people in line for every job.  Conversation is not forbidden, but there is simply no time. It is a joyless Orwellian world with everyone being watched and every second needing to be accounted for.  McClelland writes poignantly about the “workampers,” people who drive RV’s around the country from temporary job to temporary job, docking in trailer camps.  Many are retired couples not able to make it on their savings.

What I did not realize is that Amazon, Netflix, Staples, Office Depot and the other giant companies do not commonly employ entry level warehouse workers directly.  They contract with a 3PL or third party logistics staffing agency.  One of the biggest is Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS). A 3PL sounds benign, but the competition between “temp agencies” for multimillion dollar contracts is brutal.  This filters down to the employees.  Just enough workers are hired at the lowest wage allowable (between 8 and 11 dollars an hour).  Asked to perform at maximum efficiency like robots, human problems like sick kids and car trouble are not factored into the equation. Workers are barely able keep up with the ever-increasing demand.  This is how companies are able to slash prices and deliver products super fast and offer free shipping and still post profits in the billions.  It comes at the expense of employees pushed to their breaking point.  McClelland asks if the workplace has to be this bleak and stressful to make a profit.

The 3PLs play the bad cop, the heavy, the wicked stepmother, shielding Amazon and other household names from lawsuits and negative publicity about their labor practices.  The retailer retains plausible deniability, avoids paying benefits, and discourages unions, as the workers are only temps, no matter how many years they are employed.  A carrot held out to new hires is the promise of a full-time job with the parent company.  Most are either fired or quit before that happens.  There is no regulation or licensure of these contracted companies.  If the first step toward change is public awareness, then the second is accountability from the online retailer and their responsibility for the policies of their 3PL.

Would you pay more for a free range chicken, or grapes picked by a union-protected field worker?  Scrolling the various Internet sites for the lowest price is just modern shopping.  How about paying a little more to ensure the picker and shipper in charge of your order are treated in a humane manner, given occasional time off and healthcare benefits?  Perhaps you would say it is the responsibility of Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon and #30 on the worlds wealthiest list at 18.1 billion.

A desperately unhappy person in China may have assembled my computer.  A seven year old in Malaysia likely stitched my sneakers, and a pregnant woman in Allentown, Pennsylvania who cannot afford to be on bed rest shipped them to me.  How am I supposed to feel?  Someday, the robots will take over.  For now many workers eek out a living in warehouses that bear little resemblance to the places you and I may have worked to get money for college decades ago.

I am hoping that someone younger and smarter will blog, tweet, or twitter about the conditions and hardships of warehouse workers today.  I’ ll provide the slogan, There is no such thing as free shipping!

 

Tom H. Cook lacks the energy to lead a boycott.  He is such a bleeding heart, he enclosed a dollar bill in his red Netflix envelope. That is why JoAnne was so alarmed.

 

 

Dogs Outnumber the People

Generally it makes sense to write about a family holiday event after it happens, if at all.   Crazy Uncle Louie face down making snow angels on the shag carpet.  Teetotaling Aunt Bessie accidentally getting into the spiked punch and using her false teeth as castanets, or the kids making a surprise skating rink by damming up and flooding the garage.  This is good stuff you cannot make up.  A few humorous anecdotes, a bit of wit and wisdom, an encompassing comment on the universality of humankind, and wishes of peace and prosperity in the new year.  These columns practically write themselves.

My family and friends are less colorful.  These are nice folks, and I love them all, but I cannot remember any of them doing anything zany enough for me to write about.  This year may be different, as there are a few added ingredients.  The “perfect storm” analogy has become so cliched it is used to explain school board election results, a pot luck with only potato salads, or an entire HR department getting matching tattoos.

Still, while it may not be a storm, or close to perfect, my doppler radar indicates this may be a memorable holiday.  I have always been one to surprise JoAnne with extra people for dinner because I thought the resultant mix would provide either kumbaya warmth or degenerate into an uncomfortable evening of back biting and name calling.  As a fan of chaos, I am looking forward to this holiday season.

I am writing now because I will probably be involved in home repair, or at the very least, carpet cleaning and will certainly not be in a reflective mood by this time next month.  If all goes according to plan, we will have eight dogs beginning the third week of December and through New Year’s Day.

The “cousins” are coming!  They are daughter Rachael’s three rather large and very friendly dogs.  She and her husband Daniel are wisely leaving the country and we get the kids.  Our boxer and border collie (Cowboy and Hannah) love to romp through our very small house with their cousin.  Henry and Jane are a sweet puggle and border collie pair that come over most days as they live nearby with their mom, a close friend.

These seven know each other well, but the piece de resistance will be Sadie, a chocolate lab from Minneapolis who will be the surprise guest of honor.  Our dear friends Jay and Cheryl have just retired (Cheryl from the U of M) and are coming to stay with us.  They are driving Miss Sadie.  Our son Ben and daughter-in-law Erin have real lives and will sadly arrive dogless.  A few brave human friends are invited, but much of the time we will balance on the tipping point with the dogs outnumbering the people, which is fine with us.

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Tom H. Cook is a sometimes writer who lives on a busy street in Redondo Beach, where firetrucks are not uncommon.   AAAARROOOOO!   

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Getting Ready for the Wedding

To:  Jean Deatrick/Jane Johnson

Editors Hill and Lake Press

My life is a pleasant blur and, given the rush of activity around me, I am unable to submit a column for this month.  I know that the graduation issue is much appreciated by the community and I am sorry to miss the opportunity to participate, but things could not be more hectic around here.  Our daughter Rachael is getting married in a few days and her fiancée Daniel’s parents just arrived from their home in New Zealand.  We all decided that a civilized first meeting would be a dinner at our house.  Cooking, cleaning, shopping, I do not know how JoAnne did it all.  You know I’m kidding. It was a team effort, except for the bathing of the dogs.

It is the morning after and we are still basking in the glow of a wonderful evening.  Daniel’s mother Heather is warm, friendly and gracious, and his father John is perhaps even sillier than I am.  The night was uproarious, momentous, and satisfying.  How does it happen that your children become friends, adults, and good dinner table company?  It seems so recent that we had to struggle to get both Rachael and Ben to eat with us without the distraction of the phone or the TV.  To have both of our kids, with their partners, and everyone laughing, talking, and eating together, was just not something I could have imagined.

Rather than get married in any of the numerous churches, parks, botanical gardens, halls, arboretums, community centers, beaches, sweat lodges, vacant lots, bowling alleys, or private homes in Los Angeles County, Rachael and Daniel are wisely ignoring my advice and having a destination wedding in Napa Valley.  The rationale, as I understand it, is to spread the inconvenience about and have the ceremony in a spot that no one can easily access.  The hope is that it becomes a vacation getaway for everyone.  Rather than have people adjourn to a moose hall with a cash bar and dance by jukebox (my suggestion) we will all be out in a vineyard hundreds of miles from home, bonding and eating grapes.

I am glad that Rachael and Daniel made up the guest list.  They attempted to balance New Zealanders with North Americans, relatives they have never seen with close friends, and still keep it under 75 guests.  The Kerry and Bush strategists would have understood the dilemma.  Can you invite one cousin and not another?  When the dominoes start falling you can end up with a total stranger (someone’s date) taking the spot of an uncle.  I think in the first draft guest list I was on the bubble.

If  you think that others have been through similar wedding preparation madness, use this as my column and I will provide an uncensored account of the festivities next month.

 

Thanks,

Tom