taking what I can get

For 300 days out of the year, Phoenix weather is boring. This statement, by the way, is blatant evidence that I am not a native Phoenician. These people, heat-addled as they are, insist that they do have a full complement of seasons, plus a bonus fifth season to distinguish the early dry summer from the later wet summer.

Those of us who come from other places sometimes have difficulty appreciating the subtlety of the Sonoran climate. To the uninitiated, it feels like this: Sunny and pleasant with the chance of rain two days out of the month; then sunny and warm with a chance of rain once in a month, then sunny and hot with very little hope of rain, then sunny and really hot and we don’t even remember rain; then sunny and excessively hot (that’s a NOAA term, not just mine) with so little memory of rain that even the birds start panting.

But after a few weeks of excessive dry heat (109 today, thanks for asking), we finally get wet summer, although “wet” is a relative term. Officially, the monsoon season starts June 15, but the calendar is usually well into July before the first storms blow in. And they literally blow in, with wind gusts to rival a weak hurricane. But the first storms are all wind. And by July, we haven’t had rain in months. So the first storms are dust storms. And the first of those is blowing in right now.

They come in suddenly, these storms, first a shift of the light, then the trees start tossing their branches, and then a wall of dust is bearing down and everything goes dark.

I knew it was coming. I felt the slight stickiness in the morning air–close to 30%, which doesn’t sound like much but dry summer hovers around 5%. When I took Frances for a walk before work, I saw the clouds clustering low on the horizon. I can’t remember the last time I saw clouds, so I knew something was on its way. By late afternoon, I was getting emergency alerts on my phone.

And here it is. A sky full of dust and litter and Valley Fever spores and lightening and soon the sirens will start up and tomorrow I’ll have to clean up the yard and wash the windshield and sweep the patio. But for now, I’m just glad to have some weather that isn’t boring.


the blind man and his hammer

I got glasses a few weeks ago. A pair of prescription reading glasses. Nothing flashy, just tortoiseshell-colored acetate frames. They’re lined with a pale purple on the inside, but you can only see that from certain angles. You’d be surprised how long it took to find frames without rhinestones or flowers or exaggerated horn-rims.

Or maybe you wouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe you have more experience with optometrics than I do. This is the first pair of glasses I’ve ever had, so everything was new to me. For one thing, I had no idea how long it was going to take. I had to wait a month for an appointment, which rolled steadily through the various parts of the eye exam but stalled when I tried to choose a pair of frames. There were hundreds, but once I’d vetoed the clunky, chunky, dainty, sparkly, logo-emblazoned or otherwise just-not-me options, there were…none. So then I had to wait a week for some special-order bling-free frames and those were better but not quite the thing, either, so I waited another week for these frames, which are just the thing, but then it took another week for the lenses to be made and installed, and even after that I had to have the sides adjusted for fit. I should have realized that you can’t just walk in at 9 a.m. and walk out with custom glasses at 9:30, but I was so eager to have these things that I caught myself checking my phone every hour during that last week, hoping for the message that would bring my glasses home to me.

Through the whole process, though, the thing that really got my attention wasn’t the astonishing number of ways that glasses can be ugly, or even the way I can stretch a minor errand into a month-long drama. No, what really surprised me was that so many people tried to cheer me up.

The optometrist and the ophthalmic technician both separately suggested that I might just think of these as “work glasses,” as if they were an awkward occupational encumbrance, like a haz-mat suit, and not something I would want to acknowledge in my life proper. The optician whose job it is to help people pick out frames kept telling me that since I was just getting reading glasses, I could “at least have a little fun with them.” As if a playful dose of pink or cheetah-print might lessen the pain. Away from the eye doctor’s office, friends grimaced and said sympathetic things like: “Yeah, it sucks getting old.”

Look, I don’t know why so many people are distressed by corrective lenses, but I quite like these glasses. In fact, my feelings toward these glasses are about as strong as is possible for inanimate objects. I love having them. I love wearing them. I love them so much I don’t want to take them off even when I don’t need them. They don’t make me feel old. They make me feel competent.

This past winter, whenever I tried to work, I ended up with a skull-crushing headache by noon. If I needed to sew anything, I spent five minutes stabbing thread toward the needle. If I had to untangle a necklace, I took it outside where the light was better. My handwriting is a bit unorthodox, I know, but my calendar became a mystery that I could barely decipher. One night I opened the dictionary to settle a dispute with Ryan and the pages shimmered and flooded in a wash of tiny print. But now? Now I can work for so long that Frances has to lay her head in my lap to beg for dinner. When I want to read, I put on my glasses and read. Threading the sewing machine? Pulling out a splinter? Painting my toenails? I put on my glasses, and I do it with pleasure. Right now, writing this? I’m wearing my glasses.

These things are like magic. And, like magic, they’ve brought out my better self.

Ordinarily I am about as careful with my stuff as is the average two-year-old. I shove my clothes into the dresser whether they are folded or not. I leave silver earrings on the bathroom counter. I kick good shoes onto the floor. The windshield on my truck has been cracked since September. But I tuck these glasses into their case as soon as I take them off and I polish their lenses at the first hint of a smudge and even though they have a replacement guarantee, I keep them far away from Copernicus the Destroyer.

I feel grateful to them, for one thing. I couldn’t see up close and now I can and—although I am also fond of my other senses—I really like being able to see. But there’s something else, too. I have a lot of bad habits and one is my habit of just putting up with crap. Mentally I tend toward depression and last year was a fairly bad year on that front and I was feeling hopeless and helpless and was treating myself even less well than I treat my belongings. Who cares, I thought. Why bother. Nothing is ever going to get better.

And yet, when I realized I couldn’t see, I got glasses. It’s a small thing, I know, and no more than you would expect from an adult. It seems too obvious to mention: I can’t see, I need glasses. But someday I’ll try to explain about depression and how it sucks all volition right out of my cells. Out of my mitochondria even, until the smallest problems seem insurmountable and the biggest ones seem like cosmic punishment for the crime of being me.

When I’m depressed, I believe to my core that if something is going wrong, it’s because I deserve to be unhappy, therefore I can’t do anything to fix it. As you might imagine, this is rather a self-perpetuating cycle. But in this instance, I did do something to fix it. I got set up with vision insurance. I asked friends to recommend doctors. I made an appointment. I picked out frames. I solved the problem. It wasn’t a big problem, but I solved it. And therefore I can solve other problems, too. Every time I put these glasses on, I am reminded that even if I am getting older, even if I complicate everything, even if what I want is not what everybody else wants, even if it takes me a long time, I can make things better.

So no, thank you. I don’t need any cheering up just now.

A friend of mine has an eleven-year-old daughter. I’ve known the child since she was a month old and she is one of the coolest people around. She’s a talented artist and a great student and plays both violin and piano. I bumped into her last week at a concert and noticed she was wearing glasses, which is new. They were blue and green, kind of square-shaped, and refreshingly bling-free. I thought they looked great and I asked her how she felt about them.

She grinned and leaned in toward me: “Aren’t they wonderful? I can see again!”

more than a number

But if we wanted to assign him a number, it’d be 4.

desert stray

That’s right. This little guy is the FOURTH stray dog I’ve picked up this year. Found him Friday morning when I was supposed to be doing my volunteer shift at a local garden. He’d been spotted several times earlier in the week, running scared in the nearby desert. At one point, a visitor reported that she thought she’d seen a mountain lion. A mountain lion…or an 18-pound Chihuahua mix. He was pretty feisty, that’s true.

In fact, even though he must have been hungry and thirsty, and even though the temperature was well on the way to 105 degrees when I saw him, it took me over an hour to lure him in. But with the aid of some bacon donated by the cafe, and a rope loaned by the staff, I collared him. He then spent a merry afternoon in the office (duties included eating kibble, soaking up the A/C, gnawing on a stick, and knocking over the trash can) while we tried to find out if anybody was looking for him. Answer: No. So now he’s being fostered by an all-breed dog rescue. Which, I’m happy to report, is not my house.

Let’s call this a win all round, shall we?

And that reminds me that I never gave a proper update about the other foundlings.

Dog #1: Luna the husky/shepherd mix was at my house for more than three months, during which time nobody ever answered my Found Dog ads or placed one looking for her. One day, I was taking her for a walk a few streets south when a woman recognized her. The woman told me that Luna had run away from her next door neighbors. They had kept her in the backyard, where she lived in the dirt among discarded furniture and appliances, and had been bred in order to sell the puppies. I have seen the house in question and the story rings true. When I mentioned that I’d had the dog spayed, the woman flung herself at me: “OH! God bless you, lady! I’ve been praying that she ran away to nice people.” When I added that she now stayed indoors and slept on a cushy dog bed, the woman started crying. Then she begged me to never, ever walk that dog on her street again.

Not a week later, some wonderful friends-of-friends heard about Luna and stopped by on a whim. The whim part faded as soon as they met her, and they took her straight home, where their eleven-year-old son was surprised when he got home from school. His parents decided to test the waters, telling him they were dog-sitting for a few days. On day two, he said: “I wish she was our dog. She’s exactly what I’ve always wanted.”

So now she is their dog.

Luna update

Dog #2: The little Bichon mix went to an excellent Bichon rescue. He’s still in foster care and is up for adoption. Even I have to admit that he’s very cute—for a small curly haired male dog.

Dog #3: Mayday the hungry Labrador was accepted by a local lab rescue group, but they didn’t have any foster homes available, so I agreed to be her foster home. What the hell, at that point, right? The vet who spayed and vaccinated her said she was about two years old and had probably been “without adequate nutrition” for several months, if not her entire life. He said it could take six months for her to get up to her optimal weight, which he estimated at about 70 to 75 pounds. She weighed 51 at the time.

A few days later, after May had recovered from surgery, I snapped a picture and wrote a bio and told the rescue group that she was ready to be listed as “up for adoption.” The list of adoptable labs went out via email at 7 a.m. I got the first phone call at 8. And, because foster parents are responsible for taking the dog to meet prospective adopters, I drove one hundred and thirty miles that day, acting as a sort of animal-social-worker-cum-matchmaker-cum-chauffeur. The first call was from Moon Valley, in far Northern Phoenix. From there, I headed to Fountain Hills, way out east of the McDowell Mountains. Then to Queen Creek, in the extreme southeast corner of the Valley. I told the woman in Surprise (forty miles west) that I’d let her know if nothing else worked out. I said the same thing to the lady from Williams (just south of the Grand Canyon and nearly 200 miles from here).

But I didn’t have to drive to Williams. In fact, I could have saved a lot of driving, because Miss May was a perfect match for the very first home, and vice versa. And so now she lives in a big house with a big yard and a big pool to swim in and an utterly devoted owner who takes her for two walks a day to help rebuild May’s muscles, which were wasted from starvation. She has two beds—one in the living room, one in the bedroom—and was the star of her obedience class. I get updates every couple of weeks, and the one from last week included a photo:

Mayday update

Good dogs deserve good homes, don’t you agree?

Four down. Twelve million* to go.


*I didn’t make that up to be dramatic. The estimated number of stray dogs in the U.S. is between twelve and twenty million. Twelve and twenty million. It’s gonna be a busy year.