Ducque's Eye View

The Ducque

Email The Ducque

April 2009

Email The Ducque. The Ducque wants to know what's important to you. Email her at theducquewantstoknow@gmail.com with any feedback or ideas you have. What are you thinking and feeling lately? What topics would be interesting for you to read about on bandon.tv.? The Ducque is thinking about death and the economy. She is also wondering what's for lunch and where her next vacation will be.

I would LOVE your input on the following questions: Answer any or all of them. The Ducque will gladly give you an alias and plagiarize some of your ideas in future columns.

Have you ever been with someone who just died? What were your feelings and thoughts? Did this change the way you think about your spirituality? What are your beliefs about the afterlife? How has this experience affected your priorities?

How is the economy affecting you? Do you know someone who has lost their job? What changes have you made in your spending? How has this experience influenced your priorities?

What is your favorite lunch? Where do you like to eat in Bandon? Are you currently dieting? Do you have any unusual food combinations you could recommend to other readers? Do you have a cooking tip you want to share?

Where was your favorite vacation? What did you do? Have you ever felt like you were in Chevy Chase's movie Vacation? Where do you like to go within an hour of home to get away from it all? Have you ever gone someplace that is really overrated?

Thanks in advance for your emails. Be warned anything you write may appear in print. Let me know if you want a private response.

Disc, Dope & Dreams

November 2008

Prologue: Bubba Update

(See “Please Pray For Bubba, August 2008.) Bubba is MUCH better. One of the moments I will forever have crystallized in my brain is the night of October 10 when my big brother stood up out of his armchair (with the help of his walker) and hugged me. We both cried. It was so much more than we had prayed for… I hadn’t dare dream that he would have walked and talked again, let alone sneak a shot of port and a slice of Bear’s killer flourless chocolate torte. We’d brought a cooler of crab from the bay. Bubba requested crab cakes and Bear fried up the best Bubba had ever had. Good times, except for my darned back. This whole experience has been a little too much for a mere column. Maybe some day, or maybe a book? Who knows? Anyway, now for the November column:

Getting old and fat sucks. Over the past year I’ve been troubled periodically by back aches. No big deal. Take some pills. Alternate heat pad and cold pack. Rest. Take it easy and carry on. And I probably should re-lose that 30 pound I lost and regained. I’ll diet tomorrow…or next week…or next month. But I’d get better after a day or two or maybe a week…. Not so this last stint. My last family visit was punctuated by pain and insomnia, before, during and long after.

I’d gone to help celebrate my brother’s return from rehab, his daughter’s belated birthday, and her new pool landscaping. I’d thought we could give the family some respite and assistance so they could enjoy the party. Instead after the 12 hour drive, I’d essentially delivered with the Oregon treats a new patient for Bubba’s Dr. Daughters. Dr. Ele managed my pain and Dr. Ducqeanna kept my wine glass full. The only help I offered was breaking in the new spa.

I wasn’t good company Monday the 13th on our trip back to Bandon. When I don’t feel good I am bossy, cranky and whiny. At least Bear didn’t shoot me. (Although my lawyer friend said he would have been glad to have helped with Bear’s legal defense if he had.) Nevertheless I limped through work for two miserable days. That Wednesday night the 15th I got worse. A lot worse. Shooting, random, stabbing, dull, excruciating, numbing, tingling along my right butt, hips, leg, feet and toes. My Internet diagnosis for myself was “pinched nerve.” I called in sick and then I called my own beloved Doctor DoGood that Thursday.

I haven’t been cursed with the Coos County scourge of physicians who come to the area to pay off their loans by working in rural areas and then flee back to metro areas. I’ve had the same primary care physician the whole 14 years I’ve lived here. He knows me and he was scared. I could walk on my toes, but not on my heels, I was dragging my right leg and my right web wasn’t strong enough to push his fingers away. MRI stat. Oh, and yes Ducque you can have some codeine with your prednisone. I probably should mention here that the one time I had taken prednisone previously I had become psychotic.

Dr. DoGood called me first thing Friday morning and said, “Get thee to a neurosurgeon.” I went to North Bend Medical Center and picked up 2 CD’s of the MRI. No way I could go see Dr. Ele; Bear wouldn’t have survived another trip south; so he drove me to Eugene instead. I talked to Ele on the way. Despite making her own living cutting people she advised me to wait. She suggested I have an epidural instead and let my body heal itself. The Eugene specialist was outstanding, a knight in a lab coat. I would have gladly let him knife me that very night. Dr. Knight listened to me; explained my prognosis and diagnosis to Bear and he even consulted with Ele. He recommended surgery but agreed it was “reasonable” to try the epidural. He did mention that river in Egypt when I told him how much stronger I already was after only one day’s worth of meds. We mailed the extra MRI CD to Ele.

I’m not sure exactly what my real diagnosis is. I wasn’t processing info very well through a sea of pain and its killers. Words like “herniated” “significant stenosis,” “fragmentation” were thrown in along with “neural” and “discs.” I did get that my problem was located on the L4, L5 region. L is for lumbar and has to do with my spine. As best I could grasp I had a bone fragment pushing against a nerve.

I stayed doped up on prednisone and Norco that weekend. Bear waited on me hand and foot, periodically asking, “Are you crazy yet?” I talked to friends, family and co-workers about my options. Everyone had their own idea of what I should do. Amongst my many acquaintances it was divided about half for “don’t mess around, get surgery” and half for “avoid invasive procedures, try the epidural.” The neurosurgery I needed would be fairly straightforward with an excellent prognosis, but it was surgery which equals expensive and a three-week-homebound recovery afterwards. The epidural would be practically no risk and relatively inexpensive, but essentially doesn’t fix anything. The steroid injection just buys me some hopefully pain free time. Luckily I have insurance which pays for 80%, but my 20% co-pay of a lot of money is still a lot of money.

I waited until my niece got the CD. She called me the night of Wednesday the 22nd. At that moment, I wanted her to advise surgery so I could see cute Dr. Knight again, have a three week vaca from work, and quit hurting. Instead Dr. Ele said, “Your back looks like a war zone. You need to strengthen your abdominals. I told you Aunt Ducque, get the epidural and start taking care of yourself sooner not later.”

I still didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to choose one or the other. I was turning into an addict and I knew Dr. DoGood is tough about continuing to prescribe narcotics and that Bear’s patience in taking care of me wouldn’t last forever. I had made it through the oral steroid taper without gojng too nuts. I was better, but I still had to take it easy. A day of working was pushing my limit. There was nothing more to my life. No hiking or country drives or gardening or playing. I did not want to live in this kind of limbo.

So, I decided to ask my Dream Self which choice I should make. When I lived in San Francisco in the 1970’s I belonged to a group of folks who recorded our dreams and shared them. We tried to help each other interpret messages from our unconscious. Dream Self has to do with spirituality, intuition and inner wisdom. As hippy dippy as it may sound, this concept has helped me a lot over the years.

As I lay me down to sleep that night I whispered, “Dream Self. What is the right answer for me? Should I have surgery or the epidural?” I fell asleep meditating on the mantra “surgery vs. epidural.”

I woke up about 2:30 AM with a vivid recollection of this dream: I was in a long flat similar to the ones I had lived in when I was in my 20’s living in San Francisco. And I was in my 20’s, not my 50’s. My 24 year old daughter Duckling was also there. So were the teenage babysitters who lived next door and took care of her when she was a baby in Portland. These young women were also in their 20’s, not their 30’s. One of these four dream aged 20-somethings had put a 1/3 of a bottle instead of 1/3 of a cup of laundry soap in the big red washer/drier combo at the edge of the room. (Since I’ve been hurting I’ve been watching an inordinate amount of television. There’s a commercial for this washing machine that plays a lot.) The machine had flooded and we were all on our hands and needs trying to mop up the sudsy mess before it went out of the door.

Huh? Say What? I beseeched, “Dream Self, this is too confusing for me. Remember I’m sleepy and taking drugs. What shall I do? Surgery or epidural? And KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) it this time.

I went back to sleep and woke up around 5:00 with this thought, “I’d rather take a vacation in Hawaii than have surgery.” Now that was clear. Thank you. With this realization spelled out for me I interpreted that my dream was suggesting why use a third of a bottle (surgery) of soap when a third of a cup (epidural) will take care of the problem. I also realized that the cost of the surgery and the three week recovery time would be about the same as a vacation to Hawaii.

Whatever. I had decided. I called Dr. Knight’s office as soon as it opened. Thus began the hurry up and wait. He made a referral to a local physiatrist to do the epidural. Dr. Epi is only in our area a couple of times a week. I had to schedule a consult, get pre-authorization from the insurance, fill out lots of forms. Is your pain sharp, stabbing, burning, dull or numbing? They had a diagram of a naked man where I had to transfer symbols according to the location of my discomfort and the type of my discomfort. “All of the above” would have been simpler than my arrows and footnotes.

The good news is I’ve crawled through all the hoops. Jumping is beyond my range of motion at this time. Dr. Epi prescribed me a lot of meds, but I’m actually taking fewer pills a day. Despite Dr. Knight’s denial remark, I do believe I am getting a little better and stronger every day. Of course I can’t know if I’ve made the right decision. That will come with 20/20 hindsight. But I have affirmed my body’s ability to heal and I have recommitted to a healthier life style. I’m trusting my internal process and still trying to figure out all of the messages from my dream.

The epidural is scheduled for 3:45 on Monday November 3.

Writing Delinquency

Edited By and Dedicated To Christmas Cheerberry

September 2008

My name is Ducque and I’m a delinquent. I know this must be true because my favorite editor, we’ll call her Christmas Cheerberry (CC for short), told me so. Wikipedia says: “Delinquent means one who fails to do that which is required by law or by duty when such failure is minor in nature.” Now there is no law that says a Ducque must write, but I as I look inward I realize I do have a duty to myself to follow that dream. I’m also irreverent and attention deficited, so as soon as CC chided me on my “Writing Delinquency” I was off and writing in my own paradoxical style just to prove something.

Since I tend to get confused easily, when CC identified my problem as “delinquency,” I interpreted it as “addiction.” My brain jumped to “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Then to further confound the issue I started thinking of the Twelve Steps as a means to do something (write) as opposed to not doing something (drinking, drugs, gambling, whatever.)

Are you with me so far? Out of this juxtaposition there arose a new (for me, anyway) truth: If I am to write, I must nurture my obsession to writing and words. So, with apologies in advance to AA and all the other Twelve Step Programs that have done so much more good in this world that I will ever hope to achieve… I started devising 12 new steps personalized for procrastinating prose pencillers like me “to work.”

1) I admit that I am powerless over the urge to write. I’ve spent 48 years postponing it or otherwise pushing it aside but wherever I work or play I always end up volunteering to be the secretary, design the policy and procedures, rewrite the lyrics of popular songs for the occasion du jour, or rhyme invitations. Since clearly I am driven to write, I will write for the sake of writing and never expect minimum wage in return.

2) I believe that a Higher Power can trigger my Power Within to restore some sanity, albeit transient, if I put my feelings on paper. I can cry, shout or laugh about real life but until I’ve communicated with words I have no closure.

3.) I will decide to turn my imaginary people and their lives over to the care of the writing goddess even when I don’t understand them or it. All I can do is develop, outline and name characters. Until their personality takes over the plot twists I know the story has no substance. I will suffer stilted dialogue and CC’s gentle criticism waiting for that mojo flow. My story won’t live until the character claim their own personality traits.

4.) I will make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself and then write an essay about my newly found truth. For a writer, soul searching doesn’t count until it is on paper.

5.) I admit to CC and the future Reader that without them my writing is like the proverbial unheard tree falling over in the lonely forest. I will identify my audience and cater to their vocabulary and humor.

6.) I accept that as CC, maturity and experience remove my defective prose I will develop more bad habits. We can edit a piece to death but it will never be perfect. At some point I will let my creations go with all of their flaws to be read and judged by the all important Reader.

7.) I humbly ask CC to fix my commas and tense while forgiving my puns. It is those alliterations and corny commentaries which give me my voice.

8.) I will make a list of all persons I have harmed, and be willing to tribute them in my book-to-be dedication. It is the sometimes unfortunate truth that a writer must describe her friends’ foibles and tell their secrets in addition to her own.

9.) I remember that to become a writer I must write, write, write; regularly and routinely. I will practice submitting writing for publication without allowing rejection letters to injure my self esteem or stop the stream of written words. I will suffer writer’s block squirming in my chair until the story returns.

10.) I will continue to take personal inventory and search for the universal truth within it. I will make lists of writing topics to stimulate me when inspiration and motivation are on vacation.

11.) I will find quiet time to enhance my conscious contact with the Creative spirit, praying for thoughts worth communicating and the vocabulary to express my own brand of gentle wisdom.

12.) I respect the power of the pen, or pencil, or word processor or PC; and even when I am being flippant, I promise to remember that I am responsible for the words I write. I will strive for spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, reach out to other authors, and practice these principles in my work.

A writer also needs readers. Therein lies the rub. If I don’t submit, no one can publish and my friends can only give me so much feedback on my witty and provocative emails. Every budding writer knows the story of the 27 editors who turned down Dr. Seuss. But until I tender my words to the market, and suck up my tender fears of rejection I won’t have the audience I crave. That is why a parole officer, I mean editor, like Christmas Cheerberry is so important. Writing is communication, and words on paper (or an e-zine screen) are naked without body language, tone of voice, or facial expression. Even though I get what I mean, I need at least one person who is honest to read and suggest revisions to my work so that those who aren’t privileged (or do I mean punished?) enough to live in my head can understand my meaning. The thoughtful feedback of CC first can ultimately help me tighten my thoughts and vitalize my verbs so that others will want to read my words.

In conclusion, if I want to write, I must write and then find someone to read it. Nike advertising campaigners knew what they were talking about when they said, “Just Do It!” Yoda was expressing truth when he said, “There is no try, just do.” No more writing delinquency. Follow your program and go forth Jedi writers.

Please Pray For Bubba

August 2008

ducque and bubba

Friends and family have always been my most precious treasure. That’s lucky since I don’t have financial fortune. In my mid 50’s I pretty much still live paycheck to paycheck. My riches are banked in celebration and travel. My eulogist could safely say, “She knew how to have a good time.” One of my great teachers in the art of living life to the fullest is my brother Henry known in these chronicles as Bubba.

Born under the sun sign of Leo I love to party in the summer. Almost every weekend from July through September there is a BBQ, a festival or just us girls sitting on the deck… Such a jolly night I was having on July18th. My first best friend in Coos County the Goddess (of Golden Lame’ Crabbing Club fame) was visiting from California. Goddess, her good buddy Lovely, and I had feasted on Dungeness that we didn’t have to work for and greens from my garden.

The martinis had started pouring at approximately 5:05 when the workaday was over. We’d had wine with dinner and graduated to my last bottle of Fetzer port while sitting in my living room looking at old photos. Six hours and six drinks later the phone rang.

It was my niece Dr. Ele (See “The Neurosurgeon Bakes Cookies,” December, 2007) who was stone cold sober. Her dad, my Bubba, had fallen, hit his head on a curb, and been life flighted to the nearest major medical center. He was in surgery. Ironically this was a brain surgery Ele could not perform, although I knew immediately the other doctors and nurses would be under serious scrutiny. She loves her father and has inherited our family’s bossy gene.

What a rush of emotion I experienced. Guilt at my slurred speech while I was talking to Ele…. Fear that my brother was going to die… Panic about what I should do… Sadness that I could do nothing… Déjà vu superstition remembering my oldest brother and cousin who we had lost already this year… Then love for my brother and our family… Appreciation of the support Goddess and Lovely were offering… Reminiscence of the merriment we’d all shared over the years.

Oh my gosh, the next weekend I was due at Ele’s house for a family festivity. We were going watersliding for Li’l Ele’s and her Li’l Bubb’s birthdays, pre-celebrating Bubba and Bubbina’s 49th wedding anniversary, and toasting Bubbina and my upcoming birthdays. I had promised Ducqeanna, Bubba’s middle daughter and the niece who was named after me, I would write about her in my next column. I was half dreading, half anticipating the fireworks when my bullheaded boyfriend Bear (who I lovingly refer to as a rightwing redneck republican) and my bullheaded brother Bubba (who I lovingly call a lefty liberal democrat) met for the first time. Why would such a tragedy strike now on the eve of such entertainment?

The truth is you don’t get to choose your fate. Accidents, fire, disease, divorce, unemployment, abuse and other bad stuff happens, often when we least expect it, and usually when we can’t plan for it. What you do get to choose is how you respond. We only die once and most of us don’t decide when or how that will be. But every other moment in every other day we do get to opt for how we will live.

Bubba’s friends and family did him proud. Old school friends, co-workers and neighbors flocked to Lubbock. You really have to love somebody to suffer that heat willingly in July. Dr. Elle micromanaged the medical treatment. Dr. Ducqeanna, a psychologist, organized the social support system. Bubba’s daughter Angel flew in from one of the Carolinas. His son Bubba, Jr and grandson Bubba 3; our sister Darlin’ and her daughter Angel all drove to his bedside as well. All these people pilgrimaged to Texas to be with Bubbina and pray for Bubba’s recovery. You might have noticed that our family’s Okie heritage is manifested in recycling names. My presence was the glaring omission I’m afraid. You see I can only afford to fly out once and I wanna be there when I’m most needed.

Two surgeries, a fever, possible pneumonia, a ventilator highlighted the touch-and-go process of that first week. It was a motley band of cheerleaders in that ICU triumphing when Bubba fluttered his eyes open, or raised two fingers at the command of his drill sergeant doctor daughters. There were tears when he was having a less responsive day or as someone got impacted with the reality of mortality. But even in the midst of misfortune they knew how to have fun. I tended to call for my daily update when the crowd was ordering food. I often heard an, “Excuse me Aunt Ducque,” while one of my polite nieces told some waitress, “I’d like your ultimate margarita please.” I usually had to strain to hear through my cell as children squabbled or dishes clinked.

All in all I think this is a tribute to the way Bubba lives and has taught his family to live. Bubba is bawdy and passionate. He loves good food and rum, adventure, and hanging out with friends. His laugh is roaring and infectious as he exchanges jokes the children can’t hear. He is generous and judgmental, with an opinion on most any subject like all good dilettantes. There were times in my wannabe hippy years when he fronted me rent money while nagging me to get my life together. He has traveled through Europe and South America.

July 2008 was one of the few birthdays in my 56 years I haven’t heard from him. Last year he was going to be in Italy so he called ahead and sent a check for Bear and I to go out to dinner. Bubba has never been one to tiptoe around conflict; I’ve always known exactly where I’ve stood in my brother’s viewpoint. Most Sundays you’ll find him in church, and I know my absence there is noted. But despite my mistakes, his disapproval of my lack of wedding vows, and the angry words siblings exchange I totally know in my soul that he has always had my back. We would not be experiencing so much heartbreak if he did not have so much heart.

Juxtapositioned upon my image of Bubba lying hooked up to tubes fighting for his life are my life-long images of a bigger than life brother. He was raised as a middle child with our older brother and their younger sister. Being 14, 16, and 18 years younger than my sibs, I was often more “daughter” than “sister” to the three of them. I can see Bubba standing tall and blonde at his wedding next to tiny, dark Bubbina when I was a just turned seven year old flower girl. I remember waving bye bye to them when they journeyed to Bogotá, and then a couple of years later welcoming home my Spanish speaking brother and his bilingual family. I remember going to classes with Bubbina who did a better job of learning English than I ever did of speaking Spanish. Bubba supported a family while he finished college working nights as motel clerk. Then he taught in a community college while establishing at least three other businesses that I can remember. I don’t think he ever wanted to return to the poverty of his youth.

Bubba retired at age 50 to play and he has played hard the past 12 years. I worried last May when he spent his birthday returning to Colombia. He didn’t get kidnapped and came back defending the new president’s efforts against the FARC. In between managing real estate and globe trekking he has found time to keep in contact with a multitude of friends and relatives (our mom was one of 13 children), support his favorite Catholic charity, and offer free advice to all of us who will listen.

Personally, I think our family has done a magnificent job of following his model. Any one of us would do whatever we could to make it easier for all of the others. In the midst of our apprehension we have found time to share our love and continue living. While I can’t portray the depth of our family’s sorrow in these pages we are committed to creating more memories. Ducqeanna and Bubba’s Angel shoo-ed their sister and Mr. Ele home the weekend after his fall so the grandkids could have their birthday party.

Ducqueanna might have said it best. She called it a “humbling” experience to see the outpouring of support to her father who has made his mark on so many people’s hearts. All the prayers, the willingness to interrupt our busy lives, the international phone calls add up to a life that has mattered and still matters to lots of us. While Bubba’s vulnerable condition is a reminder that our days on this planet are numbered, it is also an urgent message to make the most of those moments we have left.

Week 2 was harder. The longer someone is non-responsive the more scared his loved ones become. What if he never wakes up and lives his last days in limbo? Connected by cell towers Bubba’s family reminded one another to stay in the here and now; we listened to each other’s fears and we murmured lots of “I love yous.”

Life went on. Ele left to take care of her patients, her kids and her chickens. Bubba Jr went his own direction to take care of his son and his obligations. I went to work every day and celebrated my 56th birthday. Darlin’ and I coordinated our calendars and bought airplane tickets to Texas so we could take our turn supporting our brother and sister-in-law after their kids went home.

Ducqeanna and Bubba’s Angel (B.A.) stayed with their anxious mom and their uncharacteristically quiet dad still on life support. The west and east coast sisters made the most of their unplanned time together. Did I mention Bubba’s hospital is in a dry county? So Ducqueanna and BA drove themselves to drink. Fortuitously, the next county over had a liquor store. I’m not making this up. IT WAS A DRIVE THROUGH. Always one for new experiences the sisters, who formerly lived in Napa Valley, walked into the store. Texans are notoriously courteous and the 20-something clerk, surprised at seeing customers with feet, offered to help them choose their libation. My wino nieces, knowing that most Texans prefer beer or whiskey, replied “No thanks; we’ll figure it out.” And I’ve been instructed by my namesake to write there was a surprisingly good selection of California vintages.

Meanwhile, the clock ticked on. Bubba had a couple of good days, they moved him out of ICU and he slipped back into unconsciousness. The next day he stabilized back to eye fluttering and following simple commands. Angel drove her mom home so Bubbina could close the homestead down, pick up more clothing and download business records. It will be awhile before she gets to go home again. While they were away fluid filled Bubba’s spine, was drained and he was out again.

On August 2, Bubbina’s birthday Ducqueanna was alone with her daddy. I called and she was telling me how odd it is to see his eyes open and him not be connected to his environment in a meaningful way. I heard her voice choking up and I felt despair in my tummy. Ducqueanna had been reading him inspirational works and telling him how much she loved him. I suggested we mix it up. She put me on speaker phone and I read him a slightly naughty joke that my Amiga had emailed me. He smiled at my voice (which I’m told is a copy of our deceased mother’s) but not at my funny story. But he started to wake up… When Bubbina, Angel, and his good friend from home arrived he was definitely more alert than he had been since his fall. He smiled at their jokes and tried to mouth words in response to their questions about goat cheese. He had three good hours! While this might not sound like a lot, it was the best birthday present Bubbina could have received.

We know it’s going to be a long haul and no one knows what shape Bubba will be in when he emerges from this trauma. But he has turned a corner. The doctors say he can be discharged to a LTAC (long term acute care center) and his family has found one they think will fit his needs. He’s due to fly to California on August 5. Considering how things have gone, I’m holding onto my Texas tix so as not to jinx anything.

Somewhere in the August 15-25 time frame I will go to my brother’s bedside wherever that may be. Hopefully I will be able to forego Texas for Marin County. My fondest dream is I will be able to talk to Bubba again, hear his soft never lost Okie drawl, have his sharp mind challenge my thinking, and that I can read him this column. Whatever his cognition, maybe he will have some sense of how much I love him.

In conclusion it is with humility I ask my bandon.tv readers, please pray, meditate, send out healing energy or well wishes, in whatever faith you hold or belief you practice for the continued recovery of my brother and for strength and humor for his family. And may you all whatever your particular sorrow might be find something about your life in which to rejoice today.

Cha Cha Steals Ducque’s Heart

July 2008

Through a series of circumstances that could only happen to a Ducque, I ended up being a foster mom three months ago. My two year old darling is the cutest shiteranian (half shitsu, half pomeranian) in the world. Cha Cha doesn’t know she’s a dog. I think she believes she’s a princess. She has shitsu bangs that cover her marbly brown eyes (just like Bear’s.) The drive through lady at Mickey D’s saw the resemblance immediately. She wished Bear Happy Father’s Day for the first time in his almost half a century of life. It was a proud moment.

Cha Cha is the daughter we never had. Unlike most mere canines, CC has hair, not fur. So she doesn’t shed. My friend, the Queen of the Coquille, pointed out that admirable asset. Queenie has a pet of the same mixed lineage. (See Ducque column “A Girls’ Guide to Crabbing, Clamming and Fishing in Coos County”, March 11, 2004 for more about the Queen. Bear was then known as the King.) Dogenella, as the Queen likes to call her, has multicolored hair of blonde, brown, silver and white hues (just like Ducque’s.) In April, when the precious beast came into my life, she was shaved around her belly, but I let her hair grow long and silky. Like most two year olds, I had to coax her to let me brush it, but when I did it shone. Cha Cha’s pomeranian tail is all hers. She wagged it like a fountain flowing every time she greeted me. She’s so proud of her fanciful appendage. She always lifts it up just so before she does her business.

Despite being 8# (weight) by 8” (height) Cha Cha is ferocious. Early on in our love affair, she escaped her leash and collar to confront three guard dogs. They didn’t know they were being cornered by a pooch. They thought it was the 8 foot tall chain link that kept them from turning ChaCha into “Snack” which is Bear’s nickname for her. I learned to expect this behavior whenever we encountered dogs, especially large ones.

My favorite “Vicious” story happened the first time she visited Bear’s country cabin. Cha Cha adored me from the beginning and followed me everywhere. So when I went out to my car at the top of the driveway to get my provisions for the weekend, and CC followed, I wasn’t too worried. Then much to my surprise she shot down the driveway, under the cow pasture’s fence, and across the dirt road to apply for the unadvertised job of herder. The cattle were having none of that. Have you ever seen a line of bovine soldiers marching into battle? It can be a terrifying sight when your precious puppy is their target. One hoof stomp and it would have been all over. I called desperately, Bear clicked his tongue at her and she dodged danger to return to the safety of our bed. After that death defying dash I learned to tie her up when we were outside.

Cha Cha slept with me every night I had her. When it was cold in April she would burrow down under the covers to my feet and lick my toes until I fell asleep. I should market that soft tongue as organic Ambien. My insomnia was temporarily cured. She inched her way upward throughout the night and would cuddle in the nook of my knees or the small of my back. It is immensely comforting to wake up to a live heating pad next to you. As the weather warmed and her hair grew she tended to sleep on top of the bed. Initially she knew her place was at the foot of the bed, but as she continued to squirm her way into my heart, she ended up sleeping tall on Bear’s pillow throne. One thing I never understood was how such a small thing could take up so much room. Although her length couldn’t have been more than a couple feet according to a ruler, she had the capacity to stretch and gumby-out over most of a king sized bed.

Unfortunately her many charms interfered with Bear’s and my “intimacy.” Whatever I was doing CC wanted to be in the middle of it. She helped me dig in the garden. She mopped my kitchen floor for scraps. She barked at the bad guys on tv. She sat in my lap while I drove or worked at the computer. So she didn’t understand why sometimes I wanted to close the bedroom door. It is impossible to get in the mood with your beloved when your other beloved is whining and scratching a few feet away. Krab suggested we stash her in the car outside of hearing range. That worked but…. It interfered with the spontaneity and there is something about jumping out of your love nest, throwing on clothes and going outside to retrieve a peeved pet that takes away from the moment. Letting her stay with us was out of the question. Besides the obvious reason of her wanting to be a part of everything I did, Bear said it felt like we had a doggy judge with scorecards rating our technique and performance.

I called Cha Cha my Circus Dog. She could leap across the bed with a single bound or into my arms when I came home from work. She walked on her hind legs and danced for treats. Bones were her favorite things. She would growl and capture, then caress with her paws, while she gnawed them into smithereens. Aside from bathing, everything she did was her favorite thing. When we took our thrice daily walks, she got so excited she would skip. Running on the beach was sheer joy.

All my friends were enamored by her sweetness. When she accompanied me to dinners or BBQs someone always snuck her people food. That was fine with her since she didn’t believe she’s a dog. I went to California for a few days to help my ducqueling daughter move into her first ever apartment by herself. But that’s another story. Bear and Krab squabbled over who would have the honor of entertaining CC while I was gone. Krab said, “But I LOVE her.” Bear countered, “But she’s used to sleeping with me.”

Bear won. He learned that CC is a chick magnet. Visualize a really big guy walking a tiny mutt on a leash. What woman could resist? They stopped him on the streets of Old Town to pet and coo. One of the babes he attracted in his strolls described Cha Cha best. “She certainly is confident.” My experience of Cha Cha walking me was similar. I had lived in my little cottage for ten years without knowing my neighbors. Within the first month of Cha Cha’s stay I had chatted with most of them. Plus having a dog enhances one’s commitment to exercise. If you don’t walk them, you have to clean up after them. Ewww.

Remember Bear’s own Cat Cat, the creature that hates the Ducque? (See the April, 2007 column “The Cat or Me?” for details.) At first Cat Cat was wary of Cha Cha. “What is this thing you have brought into our home Papa Bear?” But then one day while Cat Cat was out on her morning safari, Cha Cha watched her from the window inside. Cat Cat brought in her breakfast mouse and Cha Cha snatched it and gobbled it down. Cat Cat understood immediately this was a big kitten who did not know how to hunt and needed to be fed. Her maternal instinct kicked in and she was out the window and back with another rodent in a flash. This time she dropped the live mousey on the floor and taught Cha Cha how to chase and kill. Double Ewww. But I must confess I was also a little proud of my Artemis.

When I returned from Sacramento I woke up one morning to find little red stains on the sheet by my feet. Since I had welcomed menopause last year, I had to conclude that my baby was in heat. Triple Ewww. I researched the internet and learned that you could use little boy’s underwear with the fly as a tail hole to stop the mess on your carpet. I drove to Pony Village to look for boy briefs but was distracted by the pet store in the parking lot. Omg, I never knew such stuff for pets even existed. While I was there I asked if they had a product that might help. I was just looking but then I saw a pair of red and white checked pants with ruffles on the butt. They were simply adorable. For the most part I buy my own panties in discount packages. Even when I have splurged I had never spent $14 for a single pair. But these “Fancy Pants” were perfect. Something possessed me to pull out my plastic and purchase puppy panties. Ahhhh.

Bear was at my house and could only shake his head when I showed him my find. He refused to have anything to do with it. I found a pad in the back of my bathroom cabinet, cut it in half and inserted it in the plastic pouch provided in the crotch. Then I called Cha Cha to model her new outfit. Grrrrroooowwlll. She uttered the guttural sound she usually reserves for raccoons and ran away. Five minutes and five tries later I finally had tied the bows on the sides of her hips and freed the struggling bundle back down to the floor. She had the pants off in five seconds flat.

It was my turn to shake my head. I carefully removed the pad, folded the cute puppy panties and slipped them back into the package. I put them in the sack with the receipt on the bookcase by my front door so they would be ready for me to grab on my way out to work to return the next day. Well, of course in my Monday morning flurry, I forgot the package. I went home at lunch that day to walk Cha Cha and retrieve the returned goods. There was no sack on my bookcase. I found it and the receipt on the floor below. But where were the Fancy Pants? After a thorough search of Ducque’s Den I found them hidden under my rocking chair. Cha Cha always gets the last word.

Walking a dog in heat is a unique experience. The golden lab around the corner and the pug across the street were most interested in CC. She scorned them but had her eye on a jack terrier in Bandon and a miniature bulldog we passed on the street. That wouldn’t do. What would we do with jackshiteranian or bullshiteranian pups? So we just rode it out.

I was beginning to view Cha Cha as my second daughter when her mother contacted me. Mom and her 8 year old boy were back on their feet and ready to have CC back home. All of my friends and co-workers were most concerned about me. I was attached, but I knew the right thing to do was to return CC to her real family. I told myself it would be nice to have my house to myself, not having to rush home from work to walk the dog, to have sex whenever I wanted, not to be crowded out of my own bed, and it is I guess. I was glad that I didn’t have to comfort her over the Fourth. Fire crackers are hard on pets.

Even Bear said “I love that little dog. I hope she comes back into our lives again.” (Aside. Now how long did it take him to tell me that he loved me? Stop it Ducque. This story isn’t about you.) Sigh. I now understand something of what pet owners feel every day. There is something so basic and pure about the love of an animal that can’t be described in people terms. Dogs have such a capacity to be totally in the here and now. Animals have instinct. When I hurt my back Cha Cha was my heating pad. After a long day she always made me smile. She forgave me when I ignored her and basked in whatever attention I deigned to give. As much as she hated baths, she always let me snuggle with her after. She introduced me to my neighbors and walked me three times a day. As much as I hate doggy breath I will miss her unconditional love.

My Crazy Onion

May 2008

Let’s face it. We are all full of craziness. Some of MY madness involves an obsessive ritual regarding the correct way to load the dishwasher, a phobia about mice, and a belief in talking cats. Others I know experience night terrors, voices in their head, or preoccupation with suicide. Maybe your personal psychosis is related to heights, dancing naked in the woods or double-checking every door and window before you go to bed at night. Taken to the extreme, jealousy and anger can be related to paranoia and persecution. It is my firm belief that no matter how mentally healthy we are, we all have quirks that could be read about in an abnormal psychology text book. Or at least everyone I have ever met has.

What I’ve been thinking about lately is how we unpeel the layers of our craziness as we get to know each other. We, or at least I, pretend I am “normal” and “healthy” when I am first introduced to someone. I arrive on time to our appointment. I keep my desk neat the first few weeks on a job. I keep my addictions, fears and delusions to myself. I want to put my best web forward and give others a chance to think I’m a good egg at first. But I can only hide the fact that I’m a slob and chronically late for a little while. Thus cometh offeth the first layers.

Once someone knows a little something about my foibles the illusion of sanity starts to shed fairly rapidly. It takes too much energy to mask all of my zanity. Since I believe one of the most interesting things about meeting someone new is figuring out what his peculiarities are and how they mesh with your own, layers 2-10 are exposed in a blink of an eye. It doesn’t take long before new acquaintances know I bite my nails, my middle name is Luetta, and I have a tattoo of a yellow duck on my left breast. I’m not very good at poker. Mostly my friends love me both despite and because of my eccentricities. So I appear to rush to share… I wouldn’t be a likely candidate for blackmail.

Ahem. Not 100% true. While there are many other oddities I wear like a badge, the next stratum of onionskin is more reluctantly stripped. I’m more careful about when and to whom I share my feelings about death. Although I’ve got decent ego strength, there are parts of myself that I believe to be unlovable. I have residual pain from my divorce and the estrangement of my son that I prefer not to discuss.

Before we move further in dissecting my onion, I’d like to introduce a concept a couple of guys named Joe and Harry developed in 1955. They called it the Johari Window and if you want to read more you can google it, or check out this link. In summary it talks about four aspects of ourselves: 1) the “open” part that we know and that others know about us; 2) the “hidden” part that we know about ourselves but others don’t know; 3) the “blind” spot that others know about us but of which we are unaware and 4) the “unknown” part that neither you nor anyone else knows much about. In our personal pursuits of self, new characteristics becomes uncovered as we explore deeply or sometimes when we least expect it.

It is the “hidden” and “unknown” panes of the window that preclude closeness. Deep inside of me there is a big ball of vulnerable and ugly. This is the part of myself that I don’t like and/ or don’t know. My own sticky, heavy, disgusting core is composed of hateful words, vicious deeds and psychotic beliefs. I’m talking about the part of me that causes me to lash out and overreact at innocent comments that get too close. Very recently I have begun to stalk around the framework of these two panes. As I tentatively touch their edges I am beginning to believe that inside them lays a fragile memory of deep hurt we felt as children who were bullied or ridiculed. We declare this private nucleus “off limits” to others and even ourselves.

I think though that just maybe by hiding our “weakness” we are not tapping our strength. Out of horrible or unspeakable pain rises the wisdom to cherish that which is precious in life. You know flowers are fertilized by dung. The more sorrow we have endured, the more capacity we have to appreciate simple joy. When we come out of a tunnel we have a choice to be bitter and hang onto that darkness or to recognize the strength that has gotten us this far in life and build upon it to light our way forward.

We both love AND hate those who close the chasm between us and true intimacy. Will they betray us again, or will I find someone who understands and accepts my imperfections? Read on.

The other Tuesday I had blood work scheduled the next morning so couldn’t eat or drink anything after 7. I asked Boyfriend to eat on his own before he came over so I wouldn’t have to be around temptation. He ate so early that he got hungry again before bedtime. While I was taking my nightly bubble bath he poured himself a glass of wine and opened a can of soup thinking he could finish before I emerged. Often I take long tubs, but not that time. I came out of my soaking sojourn soggy and susceptible and caught him mid bowl. I was enraged at his audacity in doing exactly what I had requested he NOT do. Okay, it is crummy to eat in front of someone who is hungry and can’t eat too. Bad Boyfriend. But it really is not wrath worthy. Nor can I honestly justify crying myself to sleep over Campbell’s chicken noodle, but nevertheless I did. Wednesday I woke up cranky, drew a phlebotomist who had to poke twice and didn’t get caffeinated until two hours after my usual two cups. Misery begets misery.

As I scratched the surface of my “hidden” pane I realized I was carrying old hurts of times when others had things I wanted, fear that the next day’s blood work would reveal I had to go back on cholesterol meds and proof that I can’t depend on Boyfriend when I need him. Pandora ’s Box was a cylinder covered in a red and white label that had been opened by a big guy.

That afternoon Boyfriend called me at work to tell me he was coming over again that night. I was surprised. Normally we don’t spend two consecutive nights together on school days and after my drama it would be more in his character to avoid me for awhile. I arrived home to the smell of sizzling pork chops, a freshly vacuumed living room and clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces. This time my tears were from joy. Boyfriend had seen through my “blind” spot of feeling overwhelmed with my hectic schedule and being too tired to clean and cook for myself.

The onion shed a few more layers that week. Working together my guy and I unearthed a piece of my “unknown” pane and moved another step closer in the process. Does this mean that he is my hero and I can trust him with my soul? Does this mean I will never come unglued again without provocation? Probably not. But it is cause to celebrate that humans can change and needs can be met. And even when I am at my most unlovable, I can be loved.

Fairy Tales

February 2008

When I was a little ducqueling it was a major production to force me to see a medical professional. Imagine picking little ducque up and carrying her kicking and begging into the car, dragging her into the office and chasing her down the hall when she slipped away while mom is checking in with receptionist. Lollipops were nice, but you could get those at the grocery store without getting stuck with a needle. Back in the 1950’s penicillin was newish and mostly injectable. My family practitioner administered it for every cold. I hate shots. Add screaming to the unruly child image above. So, the bad news is I was one of the people who contributed to bacteria growing so virulent. The good news is even in my hippie wannabe daze I was never tempted to shoot drugs.

The only thing I liked about going to the doctor was Highlights magazine, the hidden pictures within the big picture part, to be specific. They hadn’t invented boo boo strips with cute cartoons yet. I loved to read and had several magazine subscriptions of my own. But according to my mommy, doctors and dentists were the only ones allowed to subscribe to Highlights. As I typed that just now it sounded suspicious to my middle aged millennium mind. I googled Highlights and individuals are allowed to subscribe. Do you suppose Mama was tricking me into going to the doctor without crying? Another childhood myth down the drain…

Oh no. That reminds me of another story. When I was in my 20’s, I lived in San Francisco and was ready to crusade against every injustice that crossed my awareness. My friend Michael told me that the City paid for heaters in palm trees because it was too cold for them to grow in that climate on their own. His buddy assured me that everyone knew that; there had even been an article in the Chron. I had the flyers designed to picket the powers-that-be that prioritized plants over impoverished people who couldn’t afford to heat their flats. Before I got too carried away my snickering pals told me they had just made the heaters up.

Now that we have established my gullibility, let’s get back to the point of this column. I still find hidden-pictures puzzles particularly fascinating. That is why I love Mongo’s Photographing Fairy series so much. Sometimes I can see his creatures and sometimes I just see kelp. But it always stretches my own imagination and reminds me of my own miraculous visitations. (Plus I have my own names for his subjects.)

hidden faces

At the risk of seeming credulous I now confess that I believe supernatural beings and forces exist. I believe magical creatures live within the corners where our internal and external worlds intersect. I believe you can find fairies where any of the four elements (fire, water, air and earth) meet. I believe there are angels who guide us between the past and present and on into the future. And finally, I believe when I need it most there is a piece of magic waiting for me. All I have to do is open myself to it.

hidden animals

Now the answer to my prayer is not always exactly what I requested. And yes, whenever there is good and light, by definition evil and darkness must co-exist. Truthfully, I don’t comprehend exactly what combination of Judeo-Christian principles, Eastern meditation, myth, folklore, and pure imagination comprises my spiritual reality. I also know that whatever I figure out today might not fit for me tomorrow. Nevertheless, at the risk of sounding nuts, the rest of this column will address and describe some of my personal fairy tales.

When I was young I spent a lot of time alone reading and dreaming. Although I was told that superstitions were false notions of the uneducated, sometimes I would walk the whole mile to school without stepping on cracks and never venturing under ladders. To this day I search for wood to touch in order to avoid tempting fate when I make a boastful or optimistic statement. Wictionary defines “knock on wood” as an action taken to ward off some misfortune, that is discussed, but has not happened yet. The explanation I like best in Wikipedia regarding this superstition is wood is a symbol for an oak where dryads live. I like it that I am calling on the protection of tree nymphs when I tempt fate.

As I grew older and had children of my own, we read fantasy stories together. I don’t save a lot of books. I’m more the library patron; the read and recycle type. But I still have several volumes of C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, Cicely Mary Barker, and Ursula K. Le Guin in my home bookcase. The recurrent themes of these fables have survived the ages and my sporadic spring cleaning. One of my most glorious memories of mothering is chasing a rainbow with my two kids in a station wagon. We left their Mt. Tabor school and headed east towards a multi-colored arc, pausing at whim to search the streets of Gresham for treasure. When hunger struck we stopped at the end of the golden arches for Happy Meals before returning home. No leprechaun or pot of gold, but that afternoon is immortal.

The ducqueling's dad is part Druid, part Catholic. We both believed hiking in the forest was good for our offspring. For the most part they liked it too, but sometimes their little legs got tired and they would be done before the hike was over. On many such occasions I would make up stories to distract them. One of my daughter’s favorite characters was someone who lived in your eyelashes called Ooohna. Ooohna was very observant, and helped point out things you might miss on the path, as well as putting sleep in your eyes at night. When I first created her I had formulated a story with character and plot. But over the years she developed a life of her own and I never knew beforehand what lessons she had in store for us. I became the medium that channeled her pixie-ish wisdom. What started out as a product of my imagination developed a life of her own. Such is the stuff sprites are made of.

I’m divorced now and my kids are all grown up. But I still love to walk in the woods, sometimes, against prevalent wisdom, by myself. Loyal Ducque readers might recall “The Magic of Mushrooms” from November of 2003 and/or “Spaces In Between” from December of 2006. What I didn’t acknowledge in my writing then, but affirm now, is the mystical pieces of these experiences. (But be careful when you go to look these old Ducque tales up. When I tried to find them on February 10 all that was left of them was an animated duck, some colored links and a whale’s pic. The Internet imps had turned their blue background white effectively causing their white ink to disappear. It is most difficult to read white on white. Luckily the Magic of Mongo resurrected these mortal musings the next day.)

In the fall a special spirit I have named “The Chanterelle Squirrel” (CS) arises in the forest to guide me to where the ‘shrooms are. I hear a chattering squirrel song half warning, half beckoning and I veer off course towards the music where I discover a patch of golden treasure. One patch leads to another and then some more. Unfortunately CS is a playful critter who can lead me astray deep into brush. He steals my knife and sprinkles twigs and leaves in my hair. Too often I end up in the bottom of a steep gulch that I have to crawl and climb up accompanied by the raucous clamor of squirrel laughter.

One of my most terrifying experiences is documented in “Spaces In Between.” Although I had walked that particular section of Winchester Trails dozens of times before and since, nothing was familiar that day. The forest greens were darker and more surreal. I remember turning around once and the trail I had just hiked was no longer visible, almost as if someone or something had swept a pile of sticks on it for camouflage. I think the temperature dropped 10 degrees in about half an hour. When I wrote “Spaces” I was referring to breathing spaces, breaks in our daily doldrums. I was talking about runs of luck. But I also wonder if there aren’t parallel planes of existence? Isn’t it possible that a paranormal realm could share space with our mundane reality? Who is to say that CS didn’t join force with a militia of mischievous elves who moved all of my landmarks around that November?

In summation, I believe that our lives are epics in which we play out our universal and individual themes. Although brownies help in houses and goblins steal socks from the laundry, most magical creatures are more at home in places without walls. When we don’t box in our imagination, we are free to dream our own fairy tales. Without artificial barriers like “appropriate” and “impossible”, we can define our own quests and grapple with our own struggles; be they as deep as “right and wrong,” or as basic as “right and left.” Believing in magic requires the ability to suspend disbelief and allow hope and fear to surface. Does that have to be so hard? On the mornings it takes an act of faith just to get out of bed, I sometimes summon gremlins to steal my covers and poke at me. (Boyfriend can be quite the ogre as well.) While fairies might just be Archetypes to communicate with children, are you ready to risk Tinkerbell’s life by saying you don’t believe?

Really, what is reality? Psychological studies have proven that if the same group of people is shown the same scene, or the same set of photos, they recall different segments with different degrees of accuracy. There was a recent 'You-Tube' circulating the ‘Net that asked the viewer to count the number of times a ball was passed. With the focus on the ball no one noticed a guy in a gorilla suit strolling through the court. With our focus on getting through the day, how easy would it be to miss a tiny Thumbelina if we don’t even notice Giant Gorilla Guise?

While I trust my five senses, to some extent I know there is something more to this existence than what I can define in words. Some might call it sensation, impression or metaphor. Others might see it as religion. As for me, I view fairyland, or natureland, as something in between heaven and earth.

For a listing, albeit incomplete, of some magical creatures click here.

Note from Mongo: more hidden pictures can be viewed here.

previous columns from the ducque