Friday, February 25, 2011

My dog, Elaine and Mr. MacLeod

Brad and I used to have this great dog, Elaine, that we got in graduate school in Lexington.  We were in school and moving around a lot and we wanted something to love, but we weren't ready to have children yet.

We could not afford her, but one uncharacteristically Spring day in March, we perused the newspaper and found someone selling Labrador Retrievers out in the country.  Elaine was the last one left because she had a skin disease.  The breeder explained that when you pet her that large chunks of fur would break off.  The vet who had treated her, thought this condition was temporary, but she couldn't be sure.  The breeder was just going to keep her if we didn't want her because apparently her children had grown fond of this puppy with sporadic fur patches. Elaine was offered to us at $125.

Brad and I determined that our "safe word" would be "misdemeanor" on the way out to the country.  Therefore, if one of us wanted to stop and the other one didn't in the heat of the moment, we would not be saddled with a dog that one of us wanted and the other one didn't.

Well, we met the breeder at this basketball arena where her son was playing and there was Elaine.  She was pathetic.  She didn't even look like a lab.  She was a mosaic of fur and raw, pink skin, but the price was right and my husband picked her up and declared, "We'll take her!" before I could figure out how to work the word "misdemeanor" into a sentence.

We made all of our parenting mistakes with Elaine.  If we had had a child in Lexington, he/she would be in a foster home somewhere.

That dog was super athletic, though.  She would jump off of a doc running full speed to retrieve a tennis ball.  She would jump five feet off of the ground fifty yards away and contort her body in such a way as to defy gravity to catch a ball in her mouth.

One of my many professional incarnations during graduate school was as a baseball official for this man that I worked for at an advertising agency at the time.  He ran a collegiate baseball league about 20 miles from Lexington and, in addition to my burgeoning career in advertising,  I was in charge of overseeing each game.  My boss was also a scout and he created this league so that scouts would be able to see his son play and he might obtain a scholarship.

I loved my boss, Don.  He had been hugely successful in the advertising business, specializing in equine promotions.  He had been super stressed out and was overweight and had recently suffered a heart attack. He explained to me that he gave most of it all up so that he could focus on his kids and their dreams.  He kept a few key clients to "pay the bills" of his agency - but what he loved was his family and their goals and to put it in his words "stopped giving a shit about all of the rest." I guess a near death experience will do that to you.

Anyway, I HATED being a commissioner.  I would drive 20 minutes after my other dead end job to the ball field and play catch with Elaine for hours while the boys played their games.  I had many entrepreneurial adventures along the way.  There was the "concession stand" idea where I put together a makeshift concession stand out of a large cooler, a small Weber grill and a folding table after stocking up at Sam's with cokes and other junk.

This was followed only by the "t-shirt" idea where I had league t-shirts printed up for the parents of the players.  Both failed miserably or were impossible to control simultaneously with my new baby, Elaine.

Elaine was an absolute nightmare.  I took her everywhere with me like people do with their kids nowadays and I would receive pitying looks from the parents in the stands when she got away from me to interrupt the soccer game next door by taking over the ball and running into the adjacent woods with it.  She was also fond of stopping baseball games, when she again broke loose to catch a fly ball in her mouth.  She was out of my control, but true to my parenting form at the time, I looked the other way and figured it was everyone else's problem.

One day I arrived at the park early and to my delight there were menacing clouds above that, in my mind, threatened to cancel the game that was to begin in 15 minutes.  A flash thunderstorm broke out and along with the other parents and players, I sat in my car and waited for the sweet sound of hail to begin.  I had never prayed so hard for anything in my life up to that point.  I was logging 4-5 nights at the ballpark and it's benefit of allowing me to leave work early was not worth it's price.  Elaine's hot stinky breath began fogging up my windows and I was desperate to go home.

In a large sweeping gesture, the clouds opened up to reveal the sun, and the parents and players began exiting their vehicles and warming up for the game.  Desperate and delusional, I burst from my vehicle, Elaine trailing behind me,  ran to the pitcher's mound waving my hands wildly, and declared it too muddy to play.  I told the coaches, the players and their parents that we were all to go home under these dreadful and unfortunate circumstances.

They all stopped for a minute, stared at me quizzically, and then continued to unload their equipment and pretend pitch to each other.  I started to cry then and got into my car (this was even before beepers, I think, or maybe only rich people had those.  I can't remember.) and raced frantically to the nearest payphone to call Brad.

"What is the matter with you?" he whispered into the phone at his internship.  "You can't call off the game.  You don't even have the authority to do that.  You are just supposed to be a warm body that unlocks the gate and occasionally sells hotdogs.  Those parents paid for their kids to be in that league.  It's beautiful outside.  It hasn't even rained out here.  No go back and do your job.  Ron's been good to you."

Still frantic, I pleaded with him, "I can't go back there now.  I just made a huge ass out of myself.    They were so mean to me,"  I sobbed. "They just kept practicing, Brad."

He was stifling his laughter now and I could just picture the smirk on his face, "Listen, don't freak out. The rent is due this weekend and you need to keep your jobs.  Go back and just tell everyone that you didn't know any better and apologize."

So, I went back, set up my concession stand with my hyperactive dog and waited for the double-header to be over.  From time to time, the parents in the bleachers would bring up the episode by saying things like, "Hey, I think I see a rain cloud.  We better pack up."  or "You sure you wanna unpack your Weber today, they say it's fixin' to storm."  Everybody would have a good hearty laugh at my expense, I would turn red, and then they would purchase one of my overpriced, undercooked hot dogs.

The next day when I came into work at the agency, we had a team meeting around the conference table.  I was super nervous and humiliated, but I was young, so I also operated on this perpetual level of cluelessness that insulated me from the rest of the world. 

Mr. McLeod began the meeting by bellowing, "What in the hell happened last night at the ballpark, Johnna?"  He was coughing now through fits of laughter.  "I had parents calling me, telling me that you tried to call off a double header after a little thundershower...That must have been quite a scene, girl.  I bet you learned your lesson."

Everyone at the table who had apparently been holding their breath up up to that point, burst into guffaws of laughter.  " Now after the meeting, I want you to come in my office and I am going to teach you how to write equine copy.  Then I'll let you take the rest of the afternoon to deliver a proof to Calumet Farms where I have scheduled a tour for you."

You know, until you are a little older and you gain some perspective, do you truly understand who has been the most influential in your life.  They may be influential in their kindness, or influential in their acceptance, or influential professionally.

Mr. MacLeod was all of these.  In researching for this post, I discovered that Ron MacLeod, founder of Bluegrass Collegiate Baseball and MacLeod Advertising, had passed away in a hospice facility in September of 1997 at the age of 66.

Elaine is gone, too.  We had her for 12 years and I found her one morning at the bottom of our stairs. Thankfully, she died in her sleep.  She taught me how to be a parent by learning from your mistakes.

Rest in peace, you two, and thank you for the integral role you have played in my life.

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