Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The best Christmas gift ever

Four years ago tomorrow: 
Russell in the Christmas scarf 
he wore home from the shelter.

I couldn't imagine that any Christmas gift could possibly be better than the Lionel train set Santa brought when I was five. I was wrong.

The best Christmas gift I ever got arrived December 21, 2019 -- four years ago tomorrow -- when we adopted our Jack Russell terrier, Russell, from the shelter in which he had been dumped. 

According to the input form filled out by his previous owner, Russell was born in March, 2016. He was being surrendered because he “barks constantly” and didn’t get along with the Labrador puppy that had recently joined the household. The owner noted that Russell had been given to him or her by a neighbor who couldn’t deal with his high energy, that he is terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks, and that he loves riding in the car.

That asshole’s owner’s trash is our treasure. 

On our first date nearly 50 years ago, Judy and I discovered we have a mutual love for dogs. I wouldn’t have gone on a second date if she had said she didn’t like them, and I don’t think she would have if I had. Since then, we have always had two, sometimes three, dogs at a time. Most have been dachshunds, a neurotic wiener-shaped Germanic breed which, for some strange reason, we find endearing. 

Dachshunds  — at least the six we’ve had — are one-person dogs. That person, in our household, has never been me. All have been madly devoted to Judy. Our current doxie, Rupert — we call him Dupe —won’t even allow me to touch him; he runs to his mama to save him from the mean man. He only has eyes for her and I can’t help but love him for having the sense to know which of us is the better person though, I must admit, his ridiculous reaction sometimes hurts my feelings. 

We lost our last two doxies within a year of each other. Bonnie,16, died in 2017. As  always whenever we lose a dog, our hearts were broken but, as we always did, within a couple of months we went out and adopted another, Dupe. But Billy Ray’s death in 2018, a month shy of his 15th birthday, shattered our hearts into millions of shards. Though he was easily the dumbest, most stubborn and untrainable of all our dogs, Billy had a personality as big as Montana and left a void we thought could never be filled. We decided that, for the first time, ours was going to be a one-dog household. 

That changed early the morning of December 21, 2019, when I found Russell on, a Purina-funded website that features thousands of pets available for adoption from animal shelters and rescue organizations nationwide. I entered “Dachshund” into the search bar. Russell's picture appeared, and he was described as a “Dachshund/Jack Russell mix.”  He was at a shelter seventy miles away and was going to be available for adoption at 9 a.m. 

I woke up Judy, showed her the listing and, within minutes, we and Dupe were barreling north on I-75. We arrived just as the shelter was opening. Three other wanna-be adopters showed up to see him moments later, but we had first dibs.

We weren’t allowed to bring Dupe into the building so Judy stayed outside with him while I waited in a room to meet Russell who, when he entered, circled me repeatedly, like Indians surrounding a wagon train. When I picked him up, he gave me a kiss. I said “Sold” to the attendant and went outside to be with Dupe who, as usual, stayed as far away from me as possible, while Judy went in to meet him. Within minutes we were filling out the adoption paperwork as others who had come to see him asked if we were 100 percent sure of our decision. One couple begged us to reconsider and let them have him. 

As we headed to the parking lot with our new family member who had been sent off by the staff wearing a festive Christmas scarf, Judy announced, “His name is Russell.” Perfect.

That was a Saturday. On Monday, I took him to our veterinarian to be checked over. “He’s no more dachshund than you are,” the vet said. “He’s 100 percent Jack Russell.” We have since learned he’s a shorty Jack Russell, a version about two-thirds the size of a standard JRT.

Russell was housebroken from day one. And he made himself at home immediately, exploring every inch of the house to stake out the one spot he could call his own — our new white sofa. The first night, we made a bed for him beside ours. He looked at us as if we were out of our minds. He leapt up on our poster bed  — something no dachshund has ever been able to do — burrowed under the covers, and has slept between us every night since. Some nights he snuggles against Judy, other nights against me. Once he’s down, he doesn’t move until morning until we begin to stir. 

What do I love most about Russell?  Everything. I love his short white coat with the caramel-colored polka dots. I love watching him snooze, curled up on the sofa atop  the microfiber pillow I bought for him at Big Lots. I love the way he dances for his breakfast and supper. I love how he rolls over and lets me scratch his belly as he purrs like a cat. I love the way he cocks his head when asked a question, as if pondering his answer, which is always “yes." Russell, do you want to go for a walk? Hooray, let’s go! Russell, do you want to go in the car? Absolutely! Russell, are you ready for dinner? Sure! Russell, would you like a treat? Of course!

Most of all, I love how happy he is and how he spreads his happiness around. Despite having been given away at least twice —the last time by someone who was his everything who loaded him into the car he loved to ride in, then drove him to a shelter —Russell is always happy. He loves people and, inexplicably considering his history of being betrayed by them, trusts them. A human who had been treated the way Russell was would never be able to trust again. A dog can. Yet one more reason I prefer dogs to people.

Every morning Russell and I take a two-mile walk to the tennis center. Everyone along the route knows him and he greets them, his bobbed tail wagging a mile a minute. Many squat down to pet him and he aways gives them kisses. I can’t tell you how many people say, “He’s so happy that just seeing him makes me happy, too.” Russell puts his admirers in good moods. They can’t help but pass some of that happiness on to others. He has nothing material to give them but what he does have is love and joy, the best gifts anyone can give.

I have been crazy about each of the dogs we’ve had over the last 48 years but my love for Russell is something special, one of the most profound joys of my life. He reminds me every day how grateful I am I got up early the morning of December 21, 2019, and, for some reason, logged on to I wasn’t looking for a dog. We weren’t in the market for one, but something led me to that web site. Nobody will ever convince me we weren’t meant for each other. God just mistakenly sent him to two other homes before he wound up in ours.

People who know Russell’s story say he’s lucky to have been adopted by people like us.

But we’re the lucky ones, and we know it.

From Russell’s home to yours, Merry Christmas and may lots of love and joy be yours over the coming year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Rolling Stone Keith Richards' frugal (and gorgeous) wife

I generally write one blog post a month and here I am, writing my second in 24 hours. 

I read this morning that Rolling Stone Keith Richards, 80, and his wife, Patti Hansen, 67, are celebrating their 40th anniversary.

There’s little about Richards you don’t already know, but here’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell about Hansen.

We were living in Manhattan in the late 1970s, the heyday of designer jeans, when she, as they say, “burst upon the scene” as a model for Calvin Klein. Her image was everywhere  — in tv commercials, and plastered on subway walls, on the sides of buses, at bus stop shelters, and on Times Square billboards. As a native New Yorker and one of the world’s best-known models, she got lots of free PR in her hometown. Having grown up in working class Staten Island, Hansen had a strong accent identifiable to any New Yorker as unique to the city’s smallest and most remote borough, and she never tried to disguise it. Even then I sensed she was down to earth, unlike the other models who hung out at Studio 54 who came across as plastic, pretentious and vapid. Not to mention Hansen was (and she still is) gorgeous.

She and Richards married in 1983, as her modeling fame (and the designer jeans craze) was waning. They moved to Weston, Connecticut, half a mile from my house in neighboring Wilton, and raised two kids, who attended the public schools. They still live there.

One day in the 1990s, I was browsing in a liquor store in Georgetown, an unincorporated area where the borders of four towns, including Wilton and Weston, come together. As I was looking around, I overheard a discussion between a clerk and a blonde with a Staten Island accent who, when I looked closer, was Hansen. She told him she was having a party and was looking for a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. 

He went to the shelf and got one. She asked the price, and when he told her, she replied, politely, she didn’t want to pay that much and asked if he had another Irish cream-based brand that cost less. He did — Carolans -- and the price difference, if I remember correctly, was something like $3. She bought a bottle of Carolans, thanked the clerk for his help, and left.

The clerk and I looked at each other and laughed. There she was, the wife of one of rock music’s biggest stars worth millions, quibbling over $3. Like the good Staten Island girl she was, she couldn’t bring herself to pay that much more, so she bought a cheaper knock-off brand.

The esteem I had always had for her rose even higher that day. She hadn’t let fame or money go to her head. 


If she and Richards are throwing a party to mark their anniversary. I hope she will give herself permission, just this once, to splurge on the good stuff, because 40 years is something worth celebrating.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Today's question: "Are your genitals the ones you were born with?"

Saturday night, my wife and I were watching the finale of "Happy Valley". It's one of the best series on TV. If you haven't watched this brilliant English crime drama, I highly recommend it. Just be sure to turn on the closed captioning because the Yorkshire accents spoken by the characters are as unintelligible to Americans as Scottish. Or Swahili. But I digress.

Suddenly, I felt a throbbing pain in my left shoulder. 

As everyone -- especially folks my age -- should, I've committed to memory the symptoms of a heart attack. A sudden pain in the chest and/or arms and/or shoulder is one of them. There were no other symptoms but the pain was intense, growing and scary. One minute I was fine. The next I was doubled over. A half-hour later, after Advil failed to relieve even an iota of the pain, I went to the ER.  

Five years ago, following a colonoscopy, I wrote a post pointing out how ridiculous it is that medical workers are required to ask every surgical patient the same two questions. Every person I encountered that day (except my wife) asked me my name and birthdate. Apparently they thought either A) I was an idiot or B) I might be an imposter, posing as a patient who was scheduled to undergo the procedure that day so I gagged him and left him tied him up in a closet and showed up claiming to be him because I love having colonoscopies and all the attention I get.

I was informed it was a rule. They had to ask those questions of every patient.

Saturday night, everyone at the ER -- the receptionist, the guy who walked me to the exam room, the nurse, attending physician, and radiology technician -- asked those same stupid questions. 

And as I was lying on a gurney with my shirt off, waiting for an EKG, the attending nurse asked another question. It's one I’ve never been asked and I bet you haven’t either: “Are your genitals the ones you were born with?”

I was gobsmacked. For starters, the question ended with a preposition. She should have known better. Secondly, my genitals were covered by my jeans and I can’t imagine I was giving off vibes that would have given her any reason to doubt I was an ordinary 72-year-old male with his original genitals; I had washed off my mascara and taken off my favorite leopard-print bra from Victoria's Secret before I left for the ER. Last but not least, I hadn’t come to the ER because I was having a problem with that part of my anatomy so what difference did it make if, in fact, mine weren't original? Asking a potential heart attack patient about his genitalia is as silly as asking a patient with a broken leg about his tonsils.

“Why are you asking me this?”

She replied it’s a new rule, a question the hospital requires workers to ask every patient. Not wanting to delay the treatment I was sure I needed to survive, I answered “Yes” and, in retrospect, I’m almost sure I was right about that, but, to be honest, I don’t remember anything from the day I was born. A nurse at the hospital could have pulled a fast one and switched mine with some other newborn’s.  

I have since thought of all sorts of smart-ass answers I could have provided.

“No, the ones I was born with were much smaller.”

“Last time I looked they were.”

"No, I cut my originals off with a chainsaw while on an acid trip and the ones I have now are plastic."

“I’m not sure. You're the medical professional. Why don't you take a look and you tell me?"

After a thorough examination which, I couldn't help but note, excluded my genitals which may or may not be original, the doctor gave me a muscle relaxer and pain pill and ordered blood tests, X-rays and a CAT scan.

When the results came back, I was greatly relieved to learn it wasn't a heart attack. It was a shoulder spasm. The doc said ligaments had suddenly seized up and tightened around the muscles in my shoulder, like a noose around the neck of a criminal being hanged. The likely cause, he said, was arthritis, a condition I didn’t know I had. He asked if I had ever injured my shoulder or collarbone and said that, if so, that might be the cause of the arthritis. While i don’t remember the incident, my mother always told me that, back when my genitals were covered by a diaper, I broke my collarbone falling out of my high chair. Mystery solved. 

The doctor prescribed a week of steroids along with gentle stretching exercises and, three hours after I walked in sure I was about to die, I went home. 

Although the shoulder still hurts, I am feeling much better, but now I am worried. I wish my mom or the doctor who delivered me were alive. If they were, one of them would have been able to provide a definitive answer to the question the nurse asked but neither are, so I guess I’ll never know for sure.