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My Friend Merlin

June 26, 2015

Merlin Among the Violets
Merlin Among the Violets

It is hard to lose your best friend human or canine.

My dream since my mother died in 2005 is to retrace John Steinbeck’s 1960 trek across the US in, “Travels With Charlie.” If you have not read it, it is the chronicle of writer John Steinbeck driving from Long Island to Maine, to Isle Royal in Michigan, through Montana to the West Cost, South through his home town of Salines, CA, and back to Long Island via the Southern route in the days after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.  His partner, and goodwill ambassador, was a black Standard Poodle named Charlie.

My idea was to make this same journey with a black standard poodle, Merlin, and my father.  I would stop at the same places as Steinbeck and chronicle how the country has changed. My Dad would add absurdity to the trip; he is the most negative person on the planet. Putting the funds together for a trip like this is a feat I have not yet accomplished, but a person can dream.

About a year before my mother died, my father bought her a black Standard Poodle for her birthday. My dad liked to save change and he had several high-boys full of silver change and one of just pennies. He rolled it up over a number of weeks and it amounted to a thousand dollars. I am not kidding. So he got the idea to buy my mother a Standard Poodle because she talked a lot about Standard Poodles after seeing so many of them when visiting me in New York City.  My sister found a reputable Poodle breeder not far from her house and took him out there to see them. He placed a deposit and told them he wanted a large, black male with nice hair. It took almost nine months, but in November of 2003 they brought home a black, curly fuzz ball. My mother named him Merlin.

I first met Merlin at Christmas time in 2003 when he was 4 months old. I was impressed by how he walked on a leash at that age and how interested he was when he saw people. Standard Poodle puppies look and act like the full-grown versions of their smaller cousins. Very few people realize they are puppies.

I saw Merlin a few times when I came home for visits in the summer and at Christmas the following year. My mother died suddenly March 28, 2005, and I spent two months with Merlin and my father in Michigan. Merlin was good for my dad after my mother died. He walked that dog all over the city. He had never lived alone before and with Merlin there, he was not alone. He became known as the Poodle Guy. For six years Merlin was his buddy.

In 2011, my Dad had to have his leg removed at the middle thigh due to complication from diabetes. Feeling sorry from my Dad not only adjusting to life with one leg, but giving up his house and his dogs including his best buddy Merlin; I decided to move to back to Michigan so my father could stay in his house and keep his dogs. The transition was harder than I ever thought it would be. Merlin was the only bright spot. It was not long before he was my dog.

I love all dogs, but for me Poodles are special. They seem to understand every word you say and they do the goofiest stuff. Take a look at this video I made of Merlin and his favorite sewer. For some reason he was obsessed with this sewer behind the school that is across the street from my house. Some days I had to put his leash on and drag him away from it.

I learned to groom Merlin myself. Unfortunately, being a black poodle, it is hard to see details in photographs. Below is a photo of the first time I trimmed him in a cut called a Desi which is a pet version of the famous poodle “lion” show cut. The idea of the Desi is the poodle appears to be wearing pants and a jacket. I wanted to try a show cut, but it is a lot of work and not the best choice for a poodle who likes nothing more than trudging through the marsh and collecting burrs.

Black standard poodle in a Desi cut.
First Desi cut.

My Dad can be very difficult. He does not think the glass is half-full or half-empty, he thinks it is always shattered. That level of negativity coming at you every day is wearing. How did my Mother do it? Merlin was the bright spot in my day. He was always happy to see me and always ready to go do fun stuff.

On March 5, 2015, in the middle of his 11th year of life, Merlin died. I will not go into the details of his death only to say that it was due to complications from surgery and I was with him when he died.

I was devastated. The thought of coming home everyday and not seeing my Merlin was unbearable. To deal with this huge hole in my life, I started a search for a new Poodle. Merlin’s breeder died in 2006. I am a poodle girl and I cannot be without a poodle. It can take a while to find a Standard Poodle because you want to get one from a AKC preferred breeder and not one that breeds “doodles” of any kind.

I got lucky and found a great dog in about three weeks. I wanted another black poodle, but this guy from Targa Poodles in Saline, MI, charmed me with his temperament. Here he is the day I brought him home at ten weeks old.

White standard poodle puppy.
Meet Charming

I named him Charming. He is like Merlin in that he is a poodle.

Merlin walking with GG.
Merlin walking with GG.
Two dogs walking on leashes.
Charming’s first walk with GG.

That is where the similarities end. When I first brought him home I kept thinking Merlin would like him. I still miss my Merlin. Charming makes me laugh and he keeps me busy. Not only do I have to teach him the regular dog stuff like walking on a leash, sit, stay, recall do not potty in the house; but I have teach him to like baths and grooming. We are learning together. I have never raised a puppy myself. I always adopted older dogs. This is a lot of fun.  See what I mean?

Muddy white poodle.
He’s so Charming!

Yes, that is marsh mud. This type of getting dirty takes a special talent. Merlin taught GG about the marsh, and GG taught Charming.

Maybe I will write, “Travels with Charming.”

Here is a video I made staring Merlin not long after returning to Michigan.

In memory of my friend Merlin.

Water plays a role and everyone’s life. Ditch, stream, lake, river aqueduct, marsh, swamp, puddle; I am certain every person has a special water place in their memory. There are many to choose from when you grow-up in Michigan surrounded by the Great Lakes. I chose this spot along the Detroit River because it was …

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Kids Don’t Walk to School Anymore

March 3, 2015

I live on a quiet suburban street. In fact, I have returned to the house I grew up in. There is an elementary school and a middle across the street; I attended both. The traffic is insane at drop-off and pick-up for both schools. I do not remember it being like that when I was in school. When it rained, cars would line-up in the driveway of the school, but they did not clog the street as you see here. And they drive like manics. When the weather is bad as it is today, many parents keep their kids home or must deal with this. The school bus from the high school across town also drops off students at around the same time. We need more good urban planners! Continue reading

Speed Racer and My Superpower

February 13, 2015

Speed Racer banner 1970s

Speed Racer banner 1970s

We moved to the new house in 1970, so I must have fell head-over-heels for Speed in 1973-74 when I was seven and in the third grade. That year our local TV station WJBK Channel 50 UHF Detroit began running the cartoon at 3 pm about the time school got out for the summer.

Speed jumping out of the March 5 ready for action.

Speed jumping out of the March 5 ready for action.

I say cartoon, but this was no ordinary cartoon. The people were real people; no wise cracking rabbits or dancing mice. And they found themselves in real situations with real dangers like evil gamblers, assassins and kidnappers; things that were on the news. People actually died in this cartoon.

Speed was an 18-year old world-famous race car driver and he drove the unbeatable Mach 5 designed by his father Pops Racer. His friend Sparky helped keep the Mach 5 in tip-top shape, his girlfriend Trixie was a resourceful gal, she could drive the Mach 5 as good as Speed in a pinch and fly a helicopter when needed. Then there was his younger brother Sprital who had a crazy chimpanzee named Chim Chim. Okay, so one animal, they were the comic relief.

Speed and Trixie

Speed and Trixie

Speed was dreamy; large blue eyes, dark hair, super-long eyelashes; I was smitten. He was the magic age of 18, at 7 I thought anyone who
was 18 had special powers, 18 was what I most wanted to be. Speed was cool.

Dreamy blue eyes, long lashes, dark hair…sigh...

Dreamy blue eyes, long lashes, dark hair…sigh…

No matter what Speed faced, he never gave-up. When he was blinded in a crash he continued to race the dangerous Alpine course and won. But before he won he risked losing by warning his arch enemy (he had many), Snake Oil, crack driver of the Car Acrobatics Team, that he had an oil leak and his car would explode. Snake, of course, did not heed the warning. But Speed was the better person putting life before winning. How could you not love that?

Racer X to the rescue!

This cartoon featured two, three and even four part episodes that always ended with Speed in great peril until the very end, so you had to tune in the next day to see if Speed made it or not. They were very good at making me believe it was possible he would not make it. There was a running story line through the episodes, something not seen in other cartoons, Racer X was really Speed’s older brother Rex who had a fight with Pops and ran away from home. Racer X is always on hand to help Speed. I thought it was possible I had an older brother I did not know about who would come in disguise and solve my 7-year old problems. I think this is the origin of my interest in brother stories.

Speed’s house was within driving distance of many exotic locations like Monacco, The Alps, Italy and Germay. There is one episode set in Africa.  It was no ordinary cartoon and me, my sister and brother never missed it. It did not matter where we were, we heard those first few hums of the opening theme and we came running. Three ‘o clock was the time of our daily candy snack and my Grandma, who lived with us, would have former plastic margin tubs ready with our candy. We lined-up on our stomachs glued to the TV stuffing our mouths with candy. It was one half-hour our Grandmother did not have to wonder what we were in to. At some point, WJBK expanded the show to an hour. It was bliss seeing both parts of an adventure in the same day. I even wrote the TV station a letter thanking them for this.

Although I remember it being longer, I think my love for Speed lasted only one summer. He was pushed out by a fireman; paramedic John Gage.

Left to Right: Dr. Joe Early, Fireman Roy DeSoto, Fireman John Gage, Dr. Kelly Brackett, Nurse Dixie McCall

Speed Racer is a Japanese produced series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida. It was first produced in comic print additions and was titled Mach GoGoGo. The books were so popular in Japan they paved the way for the formation of Tatsunoko Produtions in 1962. The 52 episodes of the series I saw as a kid aired on Fuji TV from April 1967 until March 1968 and then was re-voiced for the American market sometime after that.  A live action movie was made in 2008. Speed races on in Manga additions today.

Don West and Judy Robinson from "Lost in Space."

Don West and Judy Robinson from “Lost in Space.”

Watching some episodes for this post, they seem to be missing something. Me and my siblings had very vivid imaginations when we were kids and often played as if we were our favorite TV show characters. Or we sat around and made-up stories using the characters; 1970’s fan fic. We mixed characters from Speed Racer, Lost in Space, Gilligan’s Island, Emergency, Starsky & Hutch and occasionally The Brady Bunch and The Monkees with John Denver joining mix at some point.  You had to accept whatever the other person did or said. One memorable “story” had Don West, from Lost in Space, caught in a love triangle between Ginger Grant and Judy Robinson that came to a climax when he had to decide who to save first from the head hunters; Judy or Ginger.

Ginger Grant for "Gilligan's Island."

Ginger Grant from “Gilligan’s Island.”

Each of us had a character that was ours and the others could not change it. Speed became the property of my younger brother when my crush fell onto John Gage, whose character I owned. Speed and Gage became good friends and with their buddy, Johnny (John Denver, my sister’s character) they owned a store and put on a variety show each week. Gage was the youngest of 12 sisters in my world and Speed became a lovable buffoon when he was not behind the wheel of a car. It is these characters I remember. The ones we created and embellished over the years.

I got a cassette recorder for Christmas and we began recording our “stories.” One masterpiece involved, Gage, Speed, Johnny and Starsky. We took turns playing Starsky. It was called Pine Tree to Pine Tree Travel and was about Starsky and friends getting flung from one pine tree to another because of various scenarios we concocted. It kept us laughing through three rainy days. I have searched for this tape in my parents attic, but it either was recorded over or thrown out.

Starsky and Hutch

Other writers tell me my superpower is character. Writing this,  I know now where that ability comes from and why I have no trouble writing male or female characters. When I was young, I just did it with out a thought. It took me a long time to re-learn that as an adult. Do not question it. Accept that it is. It seems I have found the source of my superpower.

Please enjoy the action-packed, cliff-hanger episode of Speed Racer “The Most Dangerous Race” Part 1. You can find Part 2 and Part 3 on YouTube. Part 3 is where Speed drives blind, not to be missed. You’ll see the roots of my flair for drama. LOL!

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