losing what little grasp of reality I still had, while God was quietly laughing

focus on where you want to go, not where you are

You‘ve got a plan? Really?

Good luck with that.

When I was a teenager, my only two goals in life were not to be an alcoholic like my dad and to avoid English teaching.

Like my mom.

Guess what.

Since moving back to Germany in 2001, after living here as a small child, and finding out my clarinet playing wasn’t an option anymore (the Germans play a different system of clarinet apparently), I had to find a new career.

And start drinking, of course.

When in doubt, drinking is always an option. It takes the edge off. Makes you tolerable. Made me tolerable, at least. Or so I’m told.

Until it didn’t.

About to celebrate another not drinking anniversary and to be blunt, it’s about the best decision I’ve made up until now.

Not judgmental about others and their drinking, at least I try not to be, but for me it just wasn’t working anymore. I was losing what little grasp of reality I still had.

While God looked on. Quietly.

Now? My relationship with reality? Not so good.

As my alcoholic dad used to say:

‘Oh well.’

I wasn’t going to write about this, but then I read something and it touched me.

At that point I thought, ‘Oh, jeez. Am I really going to blather on about something as dreary and boring as how I used to be?’

Apparently I am.

I drank so poorly while back in Texas, that I was banned from quite a few of my favourite drinking establishments.

After driving my 1985 diesel Daimler into the front of a cafe in the Montrose, I apparently offended some of the patrons, as well as a friend of the owner.

A few months later, that same friend happened to be drinking at Valhalla, on the campus of Rice University, and announced in a loud voice as I entered, ‘If that guy’s allowed to drink here, I’m leaving.

Notorious isn’t the right word.

Sad.

I was sad. And sad to watch, purportedly.

As my car deteriorated, while parked in the Fiesta parking lot at W. Alabama and Dunlavy, my closest friends drove by and often considered how I could be helped.

I couldn’t be.

Their help I wanted was for them to spot me a tenner, so I could get some Shiner Bock and a fifth of whiskey.

Incorrigible.

Hopeless.

Without a rudder.

Back to how I began this whole thing.

My plan?

Not to start drinking again, that’s for damned sure.

I’ve been trying for nearly twenty years to move past English teaching as a job thing.

Have worked as a translator, journalist, Texter (as the Germans call a copywriter), dog trainer, babysitter, patent law clerk, stage hand, personal coach and I even spent a few hours doing Premier League colour commentary for an online betting company.

That was a lot of fun, to be honest.

All of it while not drinking.

Now?

I get gigs for translation, and at this point the odd opportunity to write an article comes along rarely.

An editor reaches out and asks if I can write about Pegida or some such nonsense — I always try to be available for such things. They normally fall apart before they ever get out out of the negotiation stage.

Am I difficult? I don’t think I am.

Ask my wife.

Wait, don’t ask her.

Ask my dog instead. She thinks I’m great.

Or she used to, I should say.

Some unemployed people say they’re ‘between jobs’.

Instead, I’m between dogs.

It’s miserable.

So? What’re you gonna do?

Good question.

You tell me.

Maybe write a book. Who would even want to read such a thing?

Maybe go back to northern Spain to walk the Jakobsweg.

Perhaps Miriam, the progeny, our new dog, and I should just go permanently back to our place in Italy and just enjoy the good life.

Make a plan and God laughs.

Sometimes louder than other times.

Can you hear him laughing now.

Softly.

Faintly.

It’s there if you listen.

He’s got quite a sense of humour, that God.

I don’t put anything past him.

That God.

You had a raincoat? and other obvious questions

our fair city on the banks of the River Isar

Good morning 2020 (written early New Year’s Day morning). What a wild ride it’s already been, and I’m still in my pyjamas.

My mother, who’s nickname when she was young was ‘Fafa’ so that’s what I call her here, and I have talked briefly, which because of the time difference between here and the States means it’s still yesterday there.

My sister-in-law and I also had a meaningful, end of the year conversation a little while ago in which we talked about her husband/my brother and what he was like as a child. That was something.

We also talked about me, which is unfortunately still one of my favourite subjects, and she had some insight about all of that, which I appreciated. All of that, you ask? All of what, exactly?

Well, this is the first time in almost twenty years that I haven’t had a dog to walk on New Year’s morning. You likely know of Ella and Louis, but before them there was a girldog named Lyle. She came with my first wife and me from the States, when wee moved here to Munich in 2001.

She was my only real responsibility as I was getting my bearings in this curious new land. German culture was weirdly unfathomable, which made no sense because I’d lived here as a small child. I’d learned to play German music and even sang in the godforsaken language before I understood what I was singing about. Nevertheless, I felt odd and like an outsider.

That first year, I drank too much Augustiner and Austrian Veltiner, I smoked my Gauloises, and I walked my dog. It was all pretty straightforward. Below is a photo of my friend Elaine’s dog, Poppet, and me in Tottenham. Well, it’s our shadows. When I’m without a dog, I greet every single one I see. Right now, I’m meeting a lot of dogs.

Poppet’s and my shadows…

Here’s the story I want to tell today, and I assure you that there’s a moral. I’ll be explicit, rather than make you guess what my motive is.

It’s about gratitude and perspective.

A woman told a few friends and me a disheartening story about her horrible childhood and how she always felt like an outsider. She could’ve been telling my story, but that’s beside the point. ‘It’s not always about you, Ken.’ Yes, I get it.

She told us about standing in the rain in her raincoat and looking up at the sky and somehow, in her childlike wonder, asking what on earth the reason for everything was. Asking God or the universe or whatever was out there why she was even here. Why did she even exist? What was even the point?

Aphrodite and the setting sun

After my friend told her story, we were all really quiet. It was so depressing that we were simply mute. Until one quiet voice meekly asked, ‘You had a raincoat?

The raincoat obviously wasn’t the point of the story, but clearly the woman who was almost afraid to ask her question must’ve had an even worse childhood. For her, the mere shelter from the rain was absolute and utter luxury.

I try to remember that everyone I encounter could be dealing with trauma that he or she doesn’t even want to think about. It’s a trick I use to be more compassionate. Sometimes it works.

Sometimes I forget. My New Year’s resolution this year is not to forget.

I should be more compassionate. Especially to those who’re in my inner circle. They very well might get my best, but they simultaneously get the worst of me, as well.

I resolve to give them more of my best. A lot more.

Featured

if you don’t like it or think I should grieve otherwise, you could perhaps go read something else

‘The subtle mental shifts we experience over time and how they lead us down our paths’

Heidi Jones

There’s my writing prompt. It’s from my friend Heidi, who I saw recently at my thirtieth high school reunion.

That was a trip, by the way. Like a psychedelic one, I mean. The good kind of trip. Glad I don’t do that anymore, though. It was hell on my psyche.

Mine is about fighting. My mental shift is about anger and how I deal with it.

You likely don’t know this about me, but if you know anything about astrology, I’ve got a curious and kind of unsettling chart. What do I mean?

I’m mostly fire. A burning surging seething wildfire, even. That’s only part of it, though. My moon is in Cancer, like the old Joni Mitchell song talks about.

Heidi, remind me to tell you about Trina in that same song, ok?

Anywhoooo…moon in Cancer, which is water, of course. However, my sun and my ascendent are both fiery and passionate. A person with my chart is troublesome.

Truly.

But I don’t put any truck in astrology. Just a bunch of hooey, right?

Right.

Heidi asked a difficult question, because I’m still in the process of transitioning. From a bitter bastard of a scoundrel to a hopefully less angry individual, but that’s still unresolved.

I’m not a nice person most of the time. I’ve mentioned it here before, but I can present a polished version of Lahikmajoe online or in my public life, but in private?

Ask Miriam. Really, ask her. She’ll be direct about it. She doesn’t need to cover up my rough edges.

Sometimes she even appreciates them.

Yet how was I before? I just walked away from conflict when possible.

Let me tell you a story about me when I was new in Germany, yeah?

Here I was in a foreign land, in which I’d lived as a small child and always wanted to return to, not able to communicate so well in the German language. I had my dog and my beer, and I was ok.

Truly.

People in the park were mostly cool, but sometimes there’d be what I call an ‘angry German‘. They’re still out there, in case you think this is a twenty-year-old phenomena that no longer exists.

Even today, I run into really angry locals who’re furious about something or other. Sometimes I stepped in their way or tried to park in the parking spot they thought they’d seen first. You get the idea.

Not all of them are like that, in case you’ve gotten your proverbial knickers in a twist.

#NotAllGermans

Back to my story though, eh?

There I was in the park, new in the county as I said, and some German starts hollering at me for reasons I can’t even begin to comprehend. He says some nonsense about an ‘Anzeige‘, and I know from the context that that’s bad. A Strafanzeige is a fine you get for breaking the law. It’s not important for the story.

So? I walk away.

Simple, right?

You can’t give me your Anzeige if I’m not here for it.

The person never called the police. It was a threat that I knew he or she was in no way going to follow through on.

Ever.

That’s how I used to deal with my anger, Heidi.

I disengaged.

My first marriage? I walked away. Left a lot of money on the table, because I got the only thing I wanted from that marriage.

Ella and her brother

The dogs.

They were my treasure and now they’re gone.

I’ve got new, wonderful treasure, but it just ain’t the same.

Oh well.

You know I adore my wife and our astounding little progeny. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a grateful happy man.

But I miss their floppy ears. I miss how Louis got up in the night and rearranged himself while everyone else was trying to sleep, and how Ella watched over us in the park and made sure her brother kept up.

He wasn’t the smartest dog, if I’ve not said that in a while.

My dogsitter Gitti lost her Joanna a few years back and she moaned about it on Feckbook for ages. I’m sure some friends wished she’d just get over it.

This is my grief. This is how I’m processing it.

If you don’t like it or think I should grieve otherwise, you could perhaps go read something else.

how can you mend a broken heart? with a Vizsla puppy, of course

der kleena Theo – a dogsitting miracle

Now, you’d probably immediately jump to the conclusion that the term miracle, in this case, is a bit over the top. You’d be wrong.

If you know anything at all about me, you know that I’ve spent a lot of the last nearly fifteen years posting photos and stories about my sister and brother Vizslas #EllaandLouis.

They were a central component of my life even before my divorce in 2013, and in the intervening years they somehow took care of me more than the other way round.

Of course, I fed and housed them. Certainly they needed the same love and attention that any and all dogs need.

Yet this breed – an Hungarian pointer extraordinaire – has simply stolen my heart. All of them.

Any VIZSLA has the same gentle, loving disposition as all of the other ones. They’re so sensitive that you can’t train them anything like other dogs.

A harsh word is taken deeply personally by a Vizsla, and as a result you can only use positive reinforcement to get what you want. They’re quite bluntly a breeze to train, as they’re desperate to please their people/person.

Long story short, Theo’s (the gorgeous Vizsla puppy in the photo above) parents need help periodically, as she (the dogmom) isn’t allowed to take dogs into her office. Hence my offer to pitch in when they need a dogsitter.

To be candid, I’d take care of Theo without any remuneration — however, Miriam’s reminded me on more than one occasion that we’re in no position financially to volunteer such time.

If anyone else in Munich needs a dogsitter, give me a call. I can imagine a dogsitting job as a side hustle — why not?

Theo’s quite simply saved my day and this adorable boydog is already on the road to winning my heart.

It’s a broken heart, so it could use some mending.

Feuerzangenbowle and those silly dogs

What in God’s name is this one? I’ve lived in Germany this time around for nearly two decades, and there are still times I feel like I’ve just arrived. Regularly, I have an expat problem that’d be solved by me being a bit more tolerant.

That’s preposterous, isn’t it? I’m a guest in this country, and yet I still want them, the natives, to fulfil to my expectations. I expect them to change in order to make me a bit more comfy. Really?

Now why am I calling Germans ‘natives’? It’s easy really. Normally you might think of my host country as a group of hard working and dour people. That’s the stereotype at least. One exception, of course, is Karnival, which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or even Carnival in Rio.

They’re wild, and I’m not exaggerating. Around the Christmas season, they also get a little freaky when they have holiday parties and celebrate like they’ve got no care in the world. A few weeks out of the office and heaps of time with the family – it’s a recipe for heavy drinking.

Speaking of heavy drinking, have you heard of fire tongs punch? Here’s a description:

Feuerzangenbowle (German: [ˈfɔʏɐtsaŋənˌboːlə]) is a traditional German alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine. It is often part of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve tradition. The name translates literally as fire tongs punch. The popularity of the drink was boosted in Germany by the 1944 comedy film Die Feuerzangenbowle.

It is a traditional drink of some German fraternities, who also call it Krambambuli, as the red color is reminiscent of a cherry liqueur of that name which was manufactured by the distillery Der Lachs zu Danzig in Gdańsk, Poland.

Wikipedia

That drink will get one incredibly drunk, I assure you. I know from personal experience, but that was a long time ago. I’ve not anything to drink in quite a few years, but I still vividly remember what drinking this stuff was like.

Apropos of the Feuerzangenbowle, I’ve been invited to Weilheim to see a performance of the original stage play, and I’m going. Even have an extra ticket I’m trying to give away. If you live near Munich (or Weilheim, even better) and want to go, call me. I’m not online on Sundays, so you’ll have to use that old-fashioned telephone.

The last thing I want to mention is that although I’m not posting about it as much as I’m feeling it, the turmoil of losing Ella has been a bit breathtaking, but not in the positive sense. I’ve found myself in the weirdest moments tearing up at the thought of her and her brother frolicking in the wild yonder there.

Yes, I was lucky to have them for such a long time. They cared for me in a dark time, and more importantly they gave me a daily opportunity to take care of someone else. Bear with me here, ok?

Despite me being a new parent, I’ve got plenty of opinions on parenthood. If you listened to me talk, you’d think, ‘Why’s this guy mansplaining raising children to me?‘ Having said all that, my takeaway is that as a father (or mother) must often put his needs on the back burner. It’s how it is – for me, it’s the feature I most need. To think less of Lahikmajoe, I mean.

A dog’s life expectancy…please don’t remind me

‘Stop it with the photos,’ Ella insists

When I go on a trip, especially if it’s more than a few days, the worst part is taking the dogs to the Hundepension and saying goodbye. Don’t get me wrong: I know I’m about to go galavanting around somewhere bombarding my feed with photos of the sky in some far flung locale or food I’m eating that makes people think, ‘Hey we have food here, too. We don’t need another shot of today’s Tapas…

I don’t want to come across as complaining when I’m out here making such a big deal of what a good time I’m having. And to be really candid, a long screed about the frustrations of travel could be equally annoying. Again, it’d come across as ungrateful and somehow entitled. 

However, not being with Ella and Louis is a major drawback of being gone, and particularly now more than ever. Why’s that, you ask. Well, the clueless, bumbling Louis and his wise-beyond-her-years sister Ella are not getting any younger. 

Only yesterday, I wrote a quick caption on a photo that went like this: 

Had to say goodbye to #EllaandLouis. She understood the whole concept of farewell, while her brother? He found another ball & couldn’t be bothered with such sentimental nonsense.’

Then I got on a big jet plane and arrived in a city I didn’t know and juggled figuring out where to go with poor or nonexistent wifi along the way, and at some point I checked social media to discover…

Plenty of people read that text as some sort of final goodbye to one or both of the dogs. Immediately, I could see how that had been misconstrued, so I quickly assured the most worried/agitated of my dogs’ fans and thought to myself, ‘I should write about this comical little mixup, but at the same time now would be rather opportune to talk about a longer project I’ve been mulling over for ages.

Still life with mini basketball

A book about Ella and Louis’ adventures from their perspective. I’ve considered it for years. I’ve got enough amazing photos of them for at least one book. I considered a new site or a web series or whatever it is the kids are doing these days, but last year I worked on a book for somebody and the thought of my own couldn’t quite be shaken away. 

So, the question is: why now? What happened that makes it so urgent to finally get these ideas down on paper?

To explain that, I’ll have to tell you about the guy I used to know with the Great Dane. He loved that dog immensely, and while he was out walking someone would invariably walk up and say, ‘That’s a gorgeous Great Dane. What a shame they only live nine years or so.

It didn’t happen once or twice. It didn’t happen every once in a while. It was a daily occurrence. A constant reminder of his dog’s mortality. He wanted to pull his hair out and say, ‘I know my large breed dog has a shorter life expectancy than smaller dogs…please don’t remind me.

Which brings us back to my dogs. They’re so healthy and equally happy and I’m reminded nearly every day of how I need to savour every moment. That’s where writing about them comes in. 

Would you read something like that. Photos of these insanely photogenic hounds with anecdotes of their take on life. Does that sound like something people would want more of?

Happy Eleventh Birthday Ella and Louis…there’s a celebratory Schweinsohr in it for you

Eleventh Birthday of Ella and Louis.JPG
Is this really what eleven looks like?

Well aware that this isn’t the best photo I have of Ella and Louis, I’m  bit pressed for time. See, it’s their birthday and I’ve been rattling on about these exquisite hounds via social media and responding to queries about them from people who haven’t been following them for years. Which is hard to believe if you think about it.

Numerous people have told me they started reading my stuff only after getting pulled in by images of those two red dogs.

If I wrote a blogpost about them every time they touched my heart, this would be a blog devoted entirely to the smart one and her less than bright brother. That’s all I’d talk about, and there could even be a number of you who’d prefer that anyway.

Here’s the thing, though: how do you get across just how important these two are to me? How might I adequately express why I get choked up at the thought of anything happening to either one of them? The people who are already nuts about dogs already get it. I could write this for them, and they’d nod their heads and insist this is a perfectly reasonable passion for nonhuman beings.

That’s too easy for the likes of me. Instead, I’d love to find the right words to even win over those who shake their heads and say, ‘Why would anyone devote so much time and attention to such creatures? It’s just a dog, after all.

Just a dog? I know. Why would I want to reach such a person in the first place? Good point. I often say to myself that these two give so much more than they take. Once again, that’s only going to make sense to the already converted. Preaching to the proverbial choir, as it were.

I even want to persuade cat people about these two. I know, I’m mad. Truly off my rocker.

So, Ella’s sitting behind me as I sit at my desk writing about them, and she just gave me a look that said, ‘You see the irony of blathering on about how much you love us, but here we are NOT GOING OUTSIDE, which is all we really want. You do see that, right?

Yes, Ella. I get it. It’s time to go out. Has been for a while.

For those of you who see a photo of Ella and Louis and insist that you want MOAR photos in addition to the one I just shared, today’s for you too. I’ll stumble over to other platforms and do some unrepentant spreading of the canine adoration.

Happy Eleventh Birthday, you two. There’s a celebratory Schweinsohr in it for you.

Dragged with vim & vigour

Ella and Louis taking Johanna for a walk

Taking the hounds out for a walk takes on a whole new meaning when you’re wearing your roller blades, doesn’t it?

So much holiday preparation going on this last weekend, but we still had time to go out and seize the day. Apparently, aside from decorating Christmas cookies, letting Ella and Louis pull her along was the best part of the weekend.

Can completely understand. I second that emotion, even.

Mild as it’s been, enjoying late autumn

 

IMG_4048
Louis the boy dog at Lake Starnberg in Upper Bavaria

It’s been mild, we get it. November was rather warm here in Munich, and there hasn’t been much sunlight. It’s a good time to hole up and read. Or write.

However, when you’ve got dogs, there’s only so long you can stay inside. I’ve tried to convince the hounds to take themselves out, but they seem to appreciate my company. So outside we go.

The above photo was taken at Lake Starnberg a few weeks ago, and what a gorgeous day that was. There’ve been plenty of those lately.

Why am I throwing in a photo of Louis and not much else? Well, a little while ago, I wrote Once you get a taste of The Daily Argus, you can’t get enough. It got plenty of attention, and I even got a nice comment from the people over at The Daily Argus.

Here’s exactly what was said:

Hi Ken! Thanks so much for your kind words about Argus. We’d LOVE to see posts about Ella & Louis. Let us know if you ever come to Austin and we can get the pups together. I’d love to hear about living in Munich, also. We’ve traveled extensively but haven’t been anywhere in Germany yet – Munich is high on our list. Cheers!

Looks like we’ve got new Vizsla friends. If you’ve not yet been there, take a look at The Daily Argus. Good stuff.

I’ll leave you with a nice shot of a snail I got the other day:

IMG_4029

 

Once you get a taste of The Daily Argus, you can’t get enough

This YouTube video made my day, and I was already having a rather good one to begin with. A good day, that is. It’s a Vizsla trying to get a Tater Tot…the YouTube blurb says that after the taping, Argus eventually got the object of his desire. Heart warming, eh?

You know this is my favourite breed, right? I haven’t blogged about them in a good long while, but I’ve got sister and brother Hungarian Vizslas called Ella and Louis.

They are the centre of my world. It’s hard to describe how much joy they bring me daily. I had a friend in college, whose mother was Hungarian, and the family had a Vizsla boy dog. He was such a sweet and intelligent hound.

My family growing up always rescued dogs from animal shelters, and I continue to think that adoption is normally the best option for house pets. However, when I met that first Vizsla more than 20 years ago, I vowed that one day I’d have one of these dogs.

And what a joy it’s been.

So, after seeing the above video with dear Argus, I was thrilled to learn he’s even got his one blog. Can you believe it? Look, here it is:

The Daily Argus

Isn’t that delightful. And they’re even in Austin, which is one of my old stomping grounds. Wonder if I’ll run into Argus when I’m back over there visiting family at some point.

This reminds me: For years, I’ve considered writing some sort of fiction (or nonfiction even) with Ella and Louis as either the subjects or the main characters. I’ve got so many photos of them from when they were puppies, as well as throughout their lives, and even up to just last week. Endless photos, I’m telling you. Doesn’t matter how many I’ve taken of them wrestling and posing and panting, I can’t seem to get enough.

Is that something you think people would be interested in? Stories of Ella and her slightly slower brother Louis? Would you read that?

There have always been some people who follow me online just to see more photos of these gorgeous dogs. Well, here’s one for the likes of you:

IMG_3103
Much younger Ella and Louis basking in the sunlight

Oh, by the way. Thanks again to Argus for giving me a reason to blog about my favourite dogs. That video with the Tater Tot showed perseverance, didn’t it?