LB CITY GIRL: MY DOG-OF-A-YEAR OF LIVING TRANSFORMATIVELYBy Jeanine Birong
Crossing paths with that Chihuahua a week or so ago has given me a fresh enthusiasm for the old antidote that recommends taking the hair of the dog that bit you. Not that I don’t like dogs. An amazing Dalmatian named Firedog was my best friend for 17 years. When I was young my family lived in a farm house, and Firedog and I had many great adventures in the cornfields and at the nearby pond where my brothers and I would catch frogs and pick wild flowers. But I am not that little girl any more.
Some Eastern philosophies believe we become completely different people—that each of our cells is renewed—every seven years. But there are many paths on the journey toward personal transformation, and not to boast, but mine didn’t take nearly that long—it was unemployment, diagnosis of a medical condition, car accident and … voile!
The lessons? Astounding! I now know the real value of money, the invaluable and irreplaceable nature of the love of family and friends and what it’s like to wake up shouting, “I’ve had enough! I will do anything for a paycheck!”
Of course, none of this would have happened if I’d just sat around waiting.
My first step toward the new me was actually a two-step combination—first, doing something awesomely brilliant, and second, doing something equally stupid. I connected them with a device called a “knee-jerk reaction,” which you may remember Michael Douglas using in the 1993 movie, Falling Down, and is best explained thusly: “Life got you down? Then take life down with you, crashing and burning into smoky rubble.” It makes a mess, but everything is so much more dramatic and compelling.
On July 2, it will be one year since I saved a nine-year-old girl from drowning. She was blue when she was pulled from the pool. I never saw a dead kid before, and it seems miraculous that I still haven’t—that rescue personnel revived her. For whatever reason—it made sense at the time—the next day I quit the job I loved.
The job had its downsides: the hours were long, the boss yelled unpredictably and business was down throughout the industry. But it had perks: I met lots of cool people and saw lots of cool stuff andmade a lot of money.
Money. It never meant anything to me before, not when I used to eat $12 lunches and drink $4 coffees. But now I save bottles to get back the nickel I paid in CRV. I make my own coffee. I offer to “help” friends harvest fruit from their back yard trees. I buy my toiletries at the 99-cent store. My kids have even stopped asking for cash because they know the answer is, “No,” because I don’t have money. Money means something to me now.
But freelance work was hard to find, harder to get and it has stayed that way. As the money began to run out I got more and more frugal. But when the opportunities began to run out … the realization your profession—your passion—is part of an industry that may be dying or shrinking or at the least moving away is a harsh one. Do what you love, they always say. But the harshness of poverty teaches a different lesson, and it showed me that my only option for economic survival was a career change—or tweak.
But what else could I do?
Real estate! Selling houses! I thought it was going to be easy. I enrolled in a course that ended with a realtor’s license and another revelation: being a realtor is not easy—I’m still trying to close my first deal.
Meanwhile, still no money.
This time, I searched for a part-time job. Despite what everyone says about the economy, I found one within a week—on CraigsList. It was much different than anything I would have chosen, but my other choice was pennilessness, and so … welcome to Squaresville, Daddy-O! I’m writing home inspection reports for insurance companies.
The worst part, pride-wise? I actually like the work. I’m basically my own boss, and it pays OK. But I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how the hippie girl with an art degree ended up doing grown-up jobs like real estate and insurance inspections.
And now that I can no longer deny money’s importance to me—the ridiculous pleasure, the real joy I experienced on the day I could pay a couple of bills by myself, again—I have also been contemplating how that may affect other things I’ve always thought about myself.
But none of that was on my mind the day I crossed paths with the Chihuahua. I was concentrating on my insurance inspection—which includes photographing any “aggressive” dogs on the property. I’ve been meeting a lot of dogs, and most of them are pretty nice. They remind me of my old friend, Firedog, the kind of dog that would beat you to death wagging his tail. When he wagged, his entire midsection gyrated in counter balance.
Aggressive dogs? I guess I know the obvious signs, but as I say, I am not a dog person. Mostly, I have learned what I don’t know—that a dog’s ferocity cannot be judged by its size or cuteness. Or by its owner, such as the ones who hold back a snarling, 200-pound GermanShepherd or Rhodesion Ridgeback and say with a straight face, “Oh don’t worry, he’s really nice when you get to know him.”
Small dogs never really bothered me. I didn’t even see that mixed-breed Chihuahua when I entered the yard and began taking pictures and measurements, moving steadily around to the back of the house. Maybe it was asleep. But when it woke up, I wasn’t too alarmed—not even when it came up behind me barking like he was having a heart attack … not until the moment I learned that Chihuahuas have extremely sharp teeth.
It required my every inner fiber to resist using my measuring wheel to knock the living daylights out of that jerky little dog, but in the next moment its its owner showed up. Otherwise? Hmmm. Actually, in that moment, I realized what a truly different person I am today than a year ago.
Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?