Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Family

It was a perfect springtime day in Los Angeles as I drove West on the 101 Freeway to my oldest friend Kate’s house in the suburbs of Newbury Park for a family picnic. We had been close since the first grade. The sun was shining that Sunday afternoon but the air was cool and crisp, a hint of fresh flowers mingled with that citrus scent of orange and lemon blossoms from the San Fernando Valley. The hills along the side of the freeway were covered in luscious green foliage from recent rains, casting shadows against the blue sky. My family was with me in my RAV4, sitting quietly on my lap as I drove. I bought the roomy car to give Blondie, my then 12 year old pound mutt, enough room to stretch out. But she was far more comfortable on my lap, with my arms around her holding the steering wheel, her sleek neck out the window with her beautiful blonde hair blowing in the wind. I liked it too, inhaling her nutty aroma and getting her fur all over my clothes. It seemed we both needed to be close to each other as much as possible. There was no traffic that day, which was a good thing because I was late. I had overslept. I was living in a Beverly Hills guest house. Well, it was actually the pool house that my rich friends, the Caron’s, had converted into a sort of guest house and allowed me to move in after my latest break up. To call it tiny was an understatement but the rent was good. Rachael and Michael just wanted me to babysit their two daughters, age two and five, something that I loved to do since I didn’t have any children of my own. The bathroom shower didn’t even have enough room to turn around in and my living quarters would only fit my bed and my desk. I had a mini refrigerator outside, just steps from the pool.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meeting Berry Berenson Perkins

Along this bumpy journey, I met Berry Berenson Perkins, whose life couldn’t have been more different from my Valley Girl roots. Married to actor Anthony Perkins, sister to actress Marissa Berenson, it turned out that this socialite had more in common with me than it appeared on the outside.
Somehow, Berry and a little blonde dog I rescued from the pound helped me to overcome my rocky relationships and move into a place of self-love and acceptance, independent of any man but filled with canine love and support from a best friend.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Becoming Rudolph

Apparently, I developed the skill of communicating far better with animals than with people, especially men. Dogs were particularly easy for me to turn to whenever I felt freighted at the prospect of being truly loved, afraid of showing what I thought were my fatal flaws to any man. I think it all started with my childhood dog, a mutt named Siesta. A short story I wrote about her was published in the book "Dogs
and the Women Who Love Them." 
The story starts off in my backyard in the suburbs of Los Angeles where I played deer family with Siesta. She weighed only ten-pounds but she was my baby fawn and I was her mother doe, my backyard transformed into an enchanted forest of lush alpine meadows where we roamed freely in the fierce mists.
One cold December morning when I was about six, I snuck into my mom’s forbidden private drawer on a Christmas mission. I had been warned not to touch her things and never go near that dresser. But I had seen the bewitching bottles and jars of sweet smelling potions and lotions. That day, I just couldn’t help myself. So, I carefully pulled the drawer open when I was certain mom was in the kitchen and searched through her make-up. I knew exactly what I was looking for, passing the bottles of Clinique moisturizer that I wanted so badly to open. I had to hurry. At the very back of the drawer, I found it, the bright red lipstick in its sleek silver case. Grabbing it, I ran outside as fast as I could, bringing my little dog with me to our personal Eden, the best room in the house, our backyard – there anything was possible.
This vast half-acre, more a park than a yard, provided refuge to make up my own adventures where all I needed was my imagination and my dog. Surrounded by ivy draping down the fenced in space created my wonderland with a mature walnut tree perfect for climbing, a young lemon tree bearing the juiciest and most tart lemons I had ever tasted, and two giant Cyprus trees where squirrels loved to play hide-and-go seek, driving Siesta wild. That day in December, Siesta and I were heroes, with no one to bother us except Mother Nature.
Our initial step on our way to becoming Santa’s legends was for me to paint our noses red. Siesta first. I carefully took the red lipstick in my hand, grabbed her by the snout and smeared it onto her entire black nose. It was not easy. Lipstick is not meant to cover a wet doggie’s nose. On top of that, a squirrel bolted across our yard when I was only half way through. Siesta exploded out of my arms to give chase, breaking off the tip.
I picked up the broken piece, now covered in grass, and jammed it back in the tube. I applied red to my nose (with some hints of grass attached). Once in character, Siesta and I trotted around the yard. Right there under sunny skies, we had both magically transformed into two little Rudolph’s, the famous reindeer from Santa’s sleigh.
Siesta gave me her entire attention as I sang my favorite Christmas carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. She trotted by my side, her face looked up at me lovingly as we ran along the perimeter of the yard. Nothing else in the world mattered except the two of us. I imagined we were in Santa’s stable at the North Pole, outside the magical toy shop where little green elves were getting ready for the big night when dreams would come true for all the good little boys and girls around the world.
The sleigh was loaded and Santa got on board. We were about to take off, rounding the corners of the yard, running faster and faster. I was in the lead with Siesta keeping up directly at my feet, her little legs spreading out as far as they could go. Our red noses were brighter than the sun. My strides started to lengthen; I was leaping high in the air, the wind against my face. I heard Santa:
 “What have you got on your face? Is that lipstick? Is that my lipstick on the dog?”
I tried to head Siesta off galloping in the opposite direction.
            “Susan Frances, I’m speaking to you.” Oh no, she’s using my middle name, I thought.
“Mom, we’re about to take off. Santa needs us to guide his sleigh or else all the good children won’t get their presents.”
“If you don’t come here right now, Santa’s not going to bring you any presents, young lady. In fact, I have a mind to send you away to the North Pole. All by yourself.” She grabbed my hand and dragged me into the house.
Red nose or not, I used my imagination to play deer family all the time with Siesta, envisioning her as a gold fawn with white spots, her big pointy ears resembling a miniature deer in the wild. Other people remarked that she looked like a giant rat. She was supposed to be a full bred Chihuahua when we bought her at a local pet shop but my parents speculated later that she was most likely a terrier mix. Whatever she was, that small grey dog with dark brown soulful eyes looked like she stepped in white paint then used the tips of her feet to brush streaks on her tail and chest.
Siesta got her name because that was the only Spanish word my father knew. The instant she joined our family, I never wanted to go anywhere without her. When I wasn’t with her, I missed her fur’s nutty aroma and her tiny feet that smelled like corn chips. She was supposed to be the family pet but everyone knew Siesta was my dog. She slept with me. She followed me everywhere. I carried her around in my backpack. She drank from my Betsy Wetsy doll’s baby bottle and ate doughnuts and bologna while sitting in a high chair.
That gray wire-haired, goofy-looking dog meant everything to me. I felt lost without her. I pushed her in a toy baby carriage, secretly fed her scraps from the dinner table and cuddled with her all night. I even knit her a hat and scarf for the winter, complete with holes for her pointy ears to wear when it was chilly outside.
Leaving her all day long while I was at school seemed like cruel punishment to me, although I liked my 1st grade teacher Mrs. Berger. She was a nice looking woman with dark, short stylish hair, bangs framing her brown caring eyes. She wore matching sweater sets and skirts with flesh toned stocking that made a swishing sound as she passed by. I don’t ever remember hearing her raise her voice but she always managed to keep the class in line.
She smelled like my all time favorite Lilly of the Valley, those little white flowers that reminded me of bells. Mrs. Berger was very ladylike yet intelligent; explaining to us everything in the entire world there was to know. One day, we were asked to draw a picture of what we would like to be when we grew up.
There were pictures of astronauts and actresses, pilots and zoo keepers. As each student brought his special work of art to the front of the room, Mrs. Berger smiled with delight.
Then it was my turn. I had on my ginger colored peasant dress with my favorite desert boots. My mom begged me not to wear those shoes with dresses but I loved them. They were my absolute favorite; dark brown rubber soled suede booties that came to my ankles accented with white socks.
I stood up confidently with my picture, walked to the front of the room, turned it around and held it high above my head. I smiled as I looked around the room: my picture was the best of all and I knew it. Mrs. Berger looked at me in her lemon sweater set, her hands resting in her lap, her smile frozen like the mannequins I saw when I had to endure shopping excursions with my mom. I had drawn a deer like the one I pretended to be with Siesta in my backyard.
I scanned the classroom; my friends were laughing and pointing at me, my face flushed red in embarrassment. Quickly, I brought the picture down. Could I have been mistaken? My face turned sour, my eyes angry looking at the kids I thought were my friends. My stomach ached making flip flops as I stood there not knowing what to do next. 
Mrs. Berger didn’t quite know what to either or what to say about my drawing of Rudolph, the famous reindeer from Santa’s sleigh, red nose and all.
“I see you chose Rudolph because he saved Christmas with his red nose,” she said, trying her best to give me a graceful way out.
“No, I choose Rudolph because I like him,” I shouted at her. I knew not to admit that I liked to pretend my little dog was my baby fawn.  
“Okay Susie, let’s let someone else have a turn.” She motioned for me to sit down. I stomped back to my seat, defeated but determined that when I grew up I would show them all. I would become a reindeer one day.
Later that year for our Christmas pageant, I sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer while my dad took time off from work to accompany me on the piano. The entire school came to the auditorium to listen during the annual holiday assembly. I was more excited that my dad was there than nervous about performing in front of about 500 kids. Besides, I had a naturally beautiful singing voice.
 As I belted out the words, I looked down; my brown desert boots turned into little reindeer hoofs and the stark white tiles of the floors transformed into snow banks. I closed my eyes and felt myself flying at remarkable speeds, the cold air and snow bothering me not one bit. I felt the pull of the sleigh as we landed on roof tops, Santa sliding down chimneys, leaving presents for all the world’s good little boys and girls. When I finished and the applause began, I opened my eyes. I took a bow and smiled. I had done the impossible. For just one moment, I had become Rudolph.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Sleep With Dogs

You might be like me, a good judge of character when it comes to dogs but lacking any sense when it comes to men. If romantic relationships present a challenge for you then you're in the right place. This serial blog, Sleep With Dogs, takes a look at the important relationships in my 20s, 30s and 40s, trying to make sense out of the choices I made. It is my sincere hope that in writing this blog I will be able to embrace all my memories, good and bad, and make a new choice for a future filled with love and acceptance...and of course, dogs.