I've picked up many nicknames in my life. Very few have I actually ever embraced since well I actually like my name when people pronounce it right. But there are a few nicknames I like, the latest one started a couple of months ago, junkyard dog. It was at a race where 4 of us were in contention for a bit but most of the second half it was two guys vying for the win and me and another vying for the 3rd. It was an 8k race and I would do a closing 5:30 mile for last one, passing him up going up hill. That was the friend who would describe me a later as a junk yard dog that can't be shaken... Well I was stirred enough to take home the bronze that day.
I really love the nickname though. I got interviewed for the Underdog Podcast this week (the last few interviews have all been podcasts when they finally realized my face was built for radio) and at the end one of the questions they ask if what makes you an underdog and I said no I'm a junkyard dog, chasing you down or in that case up a hill for the best place I could get. Heck, I like the term junkyard sog so much I think Elaine's might let me dance with her to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" at some point during the reception.
I grew up on streets in Mexico where dogs run free. Heck I grew up in a town that has the same name as a dog, Chihuahua. (When I hopped over to the US at age 8, it was a frog's name, Kermit). No they didn't walk free, they ran free. The fenced in ones where the ones there to protect homes because it didn't mean matter how much you owned we all had covered windows and glass and spikes on fences. I can think of no one who had fancy stuff but we knew what to value. In a time where much of my family was trying to come to the US, the land of opportunity, I was happy chasing cans and then walking backward to play hide and side. I was happy where we all grabbed each other by the arm and kept growing and created a human chain that moved faster and faster and more dangerous for whoever was on the end... maybe one of those times I flew off the end and landed a rock is what damaged my brain earlier on. There was the special treat of Mexican coke once in a while and my toys were nails on a board with rubber bands to make shapes. I loved helping clean so much I wanted to grow up to be a janitor... maybe someday I'll day still pull it off. When my mom tried to send me with one of my uncles I screamed and cried and yelled and he wouldn't take me in that condition. There's a reason my older brother was here before me.
But I came to this great country where they recognized I had academic potential and once I learned the language, I was a GT student, then valedictorian. Even then in high school, never having lived in a city that had a college, I thought maybe I was supposed to go work in the oil field like much of my family but some people encouraged me to go to school and the librarian and her husband who I had worked for flew me out to Napa Valley where I went to school at Pacific Union College. Two degrees suma cum laude with honors with many trips San Francisco nearby, an internship in LA and a class in London had opened up my worldview to realize that the world was a little bigger than Mexico and small town Texas. I'm not sure which one had me barking more.
I've been all 8 of the World Wonders since and loved it, absolutely loved it. But I pushed the envelope at well really all of them in one way or another. But I loved the ancient history and stories but this kid who was supposed to be a janitor... everytime I've been in those places, I've gone and walked around. Somehow smoking hookah in Egypt, that messy neighborhood in Brazil, the east industrialized side of Austin, the poorer side of Calcutta, this junkyard dog felt a little more at home than he does in fancy places. I am aware I write this with some cognitive dissonance with the wine fridge in view with some leftover champagne from New Year's (if someone's asking well is it French champagne and I am condescendingly thinking if it's not French, it's not champagne). I romanticize running on dirt streets with sandals or cheap shoes which would lead to getting spanked in the hall for running in 3rd grade and then track teams and cross country teams and races and headlines. But then again that came where I met my fiancee, the child of immigrants from Taiwan who went to some prime schools her entire academic career. I've wondered why we work but part of the attraction is that back when we were friends as we went out to eat she made fun of someone eating chicken wings with utensils saying that's part of the fun part of eating chicken wings, the primal feeling of eating it with your hands. It's that she invited me to my first trail race where I had to run through a lake about the time I'd usually start kicking cause the distance till the finish line wasn't far. It was that she trained for Spartans and the technical parts but also that we jumped with pleasure in the mud and cold water. It's a guy who was raised and wants to hold on to her primal still settling the sophisticated things that he's learned in love with a girl who was raised sophisticated and still finding the primal things she's learned. This may be reflected in the venue that she picked out for our wedding, a Wildflower Center. She picked it out because it wasn't a venue created for weddings, it was a venue created to protect wildflowers, to somehow channel something that naturally occurs. We've communicated that theme to the photographers, we aren't posing for you, whatever you get, you get. That goes for you coming to the wedding too, we want to interact with our guests not pose with them! I am guessing we'll also feed each other desserts with our bare hands.
I raise a little girl who has had straight A's and perfect attendance for several semesters now. She's picked for a few academic things here and there but she still wants to splash in puddles when it rains. We're headed to Utah this weekend where I'll ski for the first time since college which will still be less than a handful of times. It will be her first time but I bet you money I get snowballs thrown at me whether or not I'm paying attention. She climbs trees and jumps off rocks and still spends an absurd amount of time on her outfits and hairstyling. She wants to pick raw berries but at 10 years old asks for a pasta maker for Christmas. She's got the balance better than anyone I know and I hope she holds onto it but... of course that's her choice. She's absolutely a different child than I was, there are times I joke about how we should trade childhoods. But I think she's shaped and raised me. It's funny, while I was eligible for citizenship for years, I never took it primarily because the oath, as it should, requires you to stay "that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign" place. I say what I mean and I mean what I say so I wasn't ready to give up the memory of Mexico or the desire to return to it... until my child was born and if my kid was an American there wasn't any place that I'd return to so I became one too.
I have a dog who in about a month will be 14 years old. I've had her since she was born. She was a stray when I was volunteering as a teacher in the Marshall Islands. I brought her back with me, two third World Immigrants enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the Marshall Islands, dogs are also more protectors than traditional pets but on campus we had a female dog that was impregnated and people only took the male newborns (those bitches aren't valued the same as the male dogs). There's no such thing as proper pet food so the dogs eat scraps and since the most common meals there are chicken and rice and fish and rice, they eat those bones that here we warn are so dangerous for pets. To this day, when there is chicken at the house, Puppy gets some of those bones. (She was named puppy cause I kept trying to figure out how to get that Puppy away from my house... I'd say that didn't work out so well except the way it worked out was exactly how it should be). Every time one of my sophisticated friends gives me a hard time when they see me giving her bones, I remind them of her age and that it's gotten her here much longer than most dogs live period. Heck these days I even remind them that after I got cancer I ate dessert more... Life's too short in my book to only eat healthy. Maybe, just maybe, that's why we're both okay. I moved out of my parents home when I was 14 so if she makes it and I see no reason why she wouldn't, she will be who I have lived with longer than anyone in my entire life. Even now she tries to get out without a leash to explore. She'd be gone for a long time when she pulled it off younger. Now it's a little short but then or now, she'd always make it home. Maybe it's a couple of junkyard dogs that found home with each other but know that opening it to these two ladies has made it even better.
Every year I make 8 New Year's resolutions. Most years they're very random, with little association to each each. Some years a few rhyme and this year is one of them where most, not all, but most are just about focusing on guarding the right junk. So there are people who've wondered why I've taken some of the opportunities I've taken and passed up some of the ones I've passed up... maybe some will argue this junkyard dog don't know no better. Maybe but just maybe we know how to keep chasing when needed, to protect what we know is valuable which we call home and where we see friends, strangers, passers by. Even if most people view it as heaps of garbage, we are guarding something that some some of us realize is forgotten treasures.