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“U Wanna Go Out” is my full-time professional dog walking and pet sitting service.  For more information please read that page.

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at the womens march, by Arayah

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Adopting Pancho

It took me about five years after Buddy’s death to be ready for another dog.

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My Buddy, age 10

In that fifth year, I started showing signs that I was ready.  I was asking a lot of customers in my grocery store checkout line about their dogs – I was really curious about the dog, but especially about their relationship with the dog.  These sometimes extended conversations made my checkout line even slower than usual, but I often just ignored the signs of anxiety or even irritation in the person next in the line.  “Hey, we’re talking about dogs here – this is important!”

I started talking about dogs in my weekly psychotherapy sessions.  Lorrie, my psychotherapist, had recently lost her beloved dog Poppy and totally understood why this topic was important enough to use a therapy session for it.

After one of these sessions, I came home and told my roommate Marvin (who was crazy about animals, and I knew would be interested in this) “In my therapy session today, I got really clear – I’m ready for another dog.”  Marvin seemed totally unsurprised by this and said with great poise, “I’ve got your dog.”  Well, I was surprised.  “You’ve got my dog!?” Marvin explained to me that his good friend Lucy had told him that morning that her MS had progressed to the point that she could no longer pick up her tiny (5 lb.) dog Toni – and she decided that it was time to give her up.

Sherri Lynn cashier with Toni

Toni the junior cashier, at Earth Fare

Marvin – who always spent time with Toni on his frequent visits with Lucy and was very fond of the adorable little dog – had that morning promised Lucy that he would help her find a home for Toni.  So he was, in fact, completely unsurprised by my disclosure.  Toni was an extremely sweet, very special little dog and he was sure we would be a match.

When we went to visit Luci and Toni, I was immediately smitten with this adorable little yorkipoo.  Lucy was obviously having a hard time with Toni’s imminent departure, but said “We have been saying our goodbyes – our karma with each other is complete.” Lucy’s roommate said two very telling things during our half-hour visit.  Shortly after I got there, she said “Toni is really liking you already.”  And as I was leaving with Toni, she said, “She’s really happy to be going with you.”

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Toni with Aunt Diana, in front of Battery Park Apartments

I adopted Toni at age 8.  We immediately became very close to each other.  People would frequently say, “She adores you.”  She was a rarified being – almost another species than a dog.  People on the street, who had never seen her before, would often say “She’s an angel” or “She’s an angelic little being.”

I had Toni for just two years.  A year into our life together, she was walking even less than usual and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.  The vet said, “Like people with heart disease, she may last a long time – or she could have a heart attack tomorrow.”
After a slow decline, she was diagnosed with liver disease and I knew her days were numbered.  Three days after the liver disease diagnosis, my friends Lisa and Karen punctured my denial: “She’s looking really terrible – it’s time to let her go.”  Three days later, I had the mobile euthanasia vet come to my apartment – and six of Toni’s best human friends joined us as we let her go.

I took Toni’s death hard.  People in our senior living facility almost immediately started asking me if I was going to get another dog.  I was very clear with them: “It’s way too soon to be asking me that – I’m not going to be ready for another dog for at least a year, maybe two.”

Toni died on October 1, 2018.  On December 22, I was at Petsmart – strictly to buy a “smart tag”.  I was doing professional dog sitting and was about to have a seven-day overnight pet sit with Freddie, a very cute 20 lb rat terrier.  I got the gig through Rover.com and Rover recommended that for an extended job like this you should get a smart tag with your information on it – and put that tag on their collar for the duration of your visit with them.

As I was looking at the tags at Petsmart, the overhead speaker announced that Rusty’s Rescue from Marion, NC, was having a dog adoption day.  Much to my surprise, I had just a few days earlier begun thinking about getting another dog.  On this particular Saturday, I was very clear with myself that no way was I yet going to get another dog – “but let’s go just look at them, to get some idea of what I’m looking for.” Famous last words, right?

The first two dogs I looked at were very cute, but didn’t stir my heart.  The third dog – sitting way back in her crate, was a chihuahua.  I have never liked chihuahuas.  But she looked at me.  She stared at me with her big brown eyes.  For what seemed like an eternity, she just would not break eye contact with me.  When I finally broke the eye contact, I think I said out loud “My doggie.”  I took her for a walk around the parking lot, but I knew that was just a formality – she was already mine, and maybe even more so I was hers.

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Pancho in one of her favorite places – in the car.

By the time I drove away with Pancho, we were already totally bonded.  Three days later I took her on a walk on my favorite stretch of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, where I had taken Buddy many times.  I knew that a leash was unnecessary.  She stayed right at my heal for the 30 minute walk.  We belonged to each other.

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Panchita and I bonded fast – like right away.

 

Pancho and the bears

About a half-hour after getting home this afternoon (maybe 20 minutes ago), Pancho – who had been periodically going to the back door and letting out a perfunctory woof, at the dog across the street I thought – started barking very insistently. I thought maybe that same dog had come across the street, but something made me put Pancho’s leash on her before went out to see.

As soon as we stepped out the door, there they were

cub

Again, no photo of our three bears – they disappeared into the woods too rapidly and I felt no urge to pursue them. But both times the smaller cub had shimmied up a tree.

– about 30 yards away, in the middle of the backyard. I think they probably are the same three bears we saw two days ago, maybe a half-mile down the Mountain-to-Sea Trail: mama, big cub and little cub. As soon as they saw us and Pancho’s barking – now coming from the patio – got much louder, they headed for the back of the property, but in no big hurry.

Pancho for a long while kept very attentively watching their exit point into the woods. Were they lingering just past the border of our yard? Probably not. It’s just that neither of us is really used to bears in the backyard.

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Panchita the canine bear alert system

Wait! Where is Pancho now, as I write this?! A moment of anxiety for me. As I stand up from my table to look for her, she also stands up from her resting place under the table.
Now, a few minutes later, as I write this, where has she gone? When we were out here in the backyard the other day, she stayed right by me. But now that she’s getting more comfortable here at Monica’s house, how far might she wander? I – who have never let her free outside, apartment dog that she has been – do not know. The street in front of the house is a very sleepy end of a dead end street. Monica says the only people who travel it are from the house across the street – and they are used to watching out for their and Monica’s cats.
Sure enough, that’s exactly where she had gone – out into the street and I don’t know how far down it. I’m simultaneously proud of her independence and thinking I want to keep an eye on her.
“Go Pancho! You’re a good little watchdog! Do keep letting me know when there are bears around!”

Soul friends

Last year I lived in seven houses in ten months.  Some of them were roommate squabbles – I hated them or they hated me.  One was a landlord issue: he hated us and we hated him. One of them hated my little five pound yorkipoo dog – the completely adorable Toni, who was clearly a menace.  This whole saga was as harrowing to my friends following my adventures as it was for me. They were afraid to read their Facebook for fear of what I might have posted now.

So when  my friends heard on Facebook that I was moving into the famous Battery Park Apartments, they did victory dances all over Asheville. Famous for the location – right downtown, directly across from the Grove Arcade. Famous for the amazing history of the old hotel.  Famous for the year to three years it took people to get in. (I was lucky and waited only a year.) Famous for nice large remodeled 1 bedroom apartments right down town rent controlled need-based senior living charging rents that all over town would get you a studio with free cockroaches.  Famous for the reputation that you could live there three months and not see anybody under sixty. Famous for the word that nobody ever moved out except on a gurney.

My friends were so relieved that I had landed there that a month later when in one of my bad moods I told one of them that I needed to move out, he said, “No you don’t.. No you fucking don’t.  If you so much as attempt to move one stick of furniture out of that fucking apartment I will come down there myself and rip that chair out of your feeble old hands and sit on your fucking chest until you get your head out of your fucking ass and agree to stay put.”  And then he told me what he really felt.

I have bipolar disorder that in 20 years my meds have never gotten under control.  I have no middle ground – I’m up or I’m down. In the interest of fairness, my raging biochemistry tends to give me roughly the same amount of time up as down. Lately I’ve been 2-3 weeks up and then 2-3 weeks down.

Some parts of my moods are relatively predictable.  When I’m moving – which has been every other week lately – I gear up for the move.  At four a.m. I’m throwing shit in boxes. After a move, within a week I am crashed flat on the floor.  As I was moving into the Battery Park Apartments and for the next week, I loved everything. I loved the layout of my apartment, I loved the views out my fifth floor windows.  

So for a week I liked most everything.  OK, except my neighbors. What am I doing living with all these old people?  Yeah, at 72 I cleared the bar for living there ten years ago, but I’m not like really old.  I’m a young person walking around disguised in an old suit. So I kinda, in that first week, stayed clear of my neighbors.

Then, after a week of being up and mostly liking everything, I crashed and hated everything – especially my neighbors.  Old – I’m not old. Or disabled, mostly crazy – I just have a little bipolar disorder. But the symbol of what I wanted to avoid in my neighbors – the woman I most wanted to avoid (she helped me to write this part – and insisted I use her real name) was the woman out in front of the building – all day every day, in overalls every day.  Chain smoking all day every day. Smoking is not allowed anywhere in the building. Like light the next cigarette off the last cigarette just before it burns your fingers – all day every day. After long hard struggles over a couple of years to get off of cigarettes, I had eight years ago gotten free. Her especially I wanted to stay clear of.

So I went three weeks down.  Then I had a stroke. It didn’t kill me. It didn’t leave me paralyzed – or with any long term symptoms except some balance issues, and the risk of having another.

Three days later, I checked out of the hospital a new man. I had had my brush with death and had come back from the brink.  I was more than happy to be alive. My depression had passed and I was again wonderfully up. I wanted life – all of it. I wanted to embrace my new apartment – including my neighbors.  So when the friend who had been caring for Toni picked me up at the hospital and dropped us off in front of Battery Park apartments with my little overnight bag there were no parking spots. “No I’ll be fine getting myself in, really”.  

In front of the building, the icon of Battery Park Apartments – the woman with the overalls and the cigarettes.  She looked too young to live there – and it turned out she was. She had gotten in for a disability ten years before.

“Ok, I’m gonna make friends with her first.”  “Hey, how ya doin?… Nice day, huh?… Can I bum a smoke?”

From there began one of the most amazing friendships of my life.  I discovered that – although her schooling, back in Mexico and here in Chicago was sparse and lousy – Diana was extremely smart – brilliant in some areas, interesting, a great communicator… able and willing to share deeply about herself as well as being a world-class listener.  Extraordinarily generous.

And adored my Toni.  Most everybody actually did – but Diana more than anybody.  And Toni, who mostly loved everybody, especially loved Diana.

And we smoked together.  What started as sharing a smoke, then a couple, became a full-fledged habit.  Two days after having that first cigarette, I went to the smoke shop to buy one pack so I wouldn’t be mooching off of Diana, who clearly was of modest means. (I had no idea.)  When it was my turn at the counter, I totally shocked myself by ordering three packs. “Who is that voice?” When I got outside, I talked to that voice.  “What are you doing? I just want a few cigarettes.” The voice said back, “Who are you trying to kid? You’re in it now.”

Soon Diana became Aunt Diana for Toni.  Diana sat for her when I went out. Toni, who for some reason had stopped sleeping in my bed, napped with Diana.  Toni, who never really cuddled with me, with Diana would sleep here – up against the side of her head.

Diana then went from Aunt Diana to christening herself “Mama”. It accurately reflected her relationship with Toni.  We became co-parents. Never a hint of romance on either side: We have checked in with each other a couple of times. We are blessedly clear of that. But we had become an ersatz family.  When I announced to our smoking posse – all spokes in the wheel to Diana’s hub, people love to be with her – in front of the building that I had to leave to take Toni to the vet, to find out why she was walking even less than usual, Diana asked “Can I go?”  She dropped everything and didn’t smoke until we got out of the vet’s office. After running a lot of expensive tests, the vet said, “She has congestive heart failure. Like people with heart disease, she could have a relatively long life or she could die of a heart attack tomorrow.’

Diana and I digested the news together, we grieved together.  Our baby might not make it. Our little angelic being – who had always seemed to inhabit a rarified atmosphere, above this earthly plane – now seemed more precious than ever.  

Then came the liver disease.

Diana: “I still have a good feeling.  I think she will live a long life.” Me: “Her liver is shot, Diana – she’s not going to be here much longer.”

I still thought we might have her a few weeks longer.  When two days later my friends Karen and Lisa convinced me that she was looking terrible, that it was time to let her go, i realized how much denial I also was living in.  As I grieved, I feared what this conversation with Diana would be like. Perhaps, finally, this would be our first big fight. When I told Diana it was time to let Toni go, she was amazing, astonishing.  “Hey, you’re the real parent. You know her better than I. You hear her labored breathing all night long. You’ve got to make the call.” And she really, truly, totally fell in behind the plan.

I arranged for the Four Paws mobile euthanasia group to come to my apartment the next morning, Monday morning at ten a.m. I called a few of Toni’s favorite people to come be with us.  Amazingly, four of five were free – and each loved Toni so much that there was no question of them coming.

At the releasing ceremony, Diana was as strong as I thought she would be.  She held her baby tenderly. At one point, one of my friends gently said to her, “Maybe you could let Majo hold her now.” I had not even noticed that she might be taking too long a turn. The next day, we wheeled Toni in the stroller she loved three blocks over to Montford, to bury her in Amanda’s back yard, which she also loved.  I dug the grave, we together laid Toni in it. We cried.

A week later, i shocked everyone by saying that – still clearly grieving over Toni – I was going to quit smoking.  I had tried several times lately and failed bitterly. “I’m going to do it the right way this time – get lots of support from the state ‘Quit Line’ help resources.”  Toni’s death made me want life more than ever. “These things are killing me. I can’t breathe right any more.”

Diana and I had the conversation.  We no longer had our baby to pull us together. Toni died on October 1. If i stop smoking on my quit date of October 29, what about us?  I was very clear that there would be no more children to pull us together. “I won’t be ready to let another dog into my life and my heart for a minimum of one to two years.” Diana said, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose you.”  And in some ways she has. We no longer start our days with that first smoke of the day at 7 a.m. I no longer make several trips a day out to the front stoop. If there are more than two smokers out there at a time, my sobriety feels threatened and I stay away.  I hate the cold, while – even with her Mexican blood – Diana endures it out there most of the day.

But we both crave and continue this friendship.  I will leave the building by the front door even when my car is in the parking lot out back.  I will endure the cold for a while to talk with her. Her smoking for some reason never threatens my sobriety.  We go down to World Coffee on a warm sunny day and sit outside and she has six cigarettes. We wrote this story together.  

We are soul friends and we know it.  We will never let each other go – until one of us goes out on a gurney.

I have been totally clean of cigarettes since October 26 and have not had a craving. The Quit Line counselor the other day asked me the two questions: “How much do you want to stay off of cigarettes – 1 to 10?”  “Ten, no question.” “How sure are you that you will stay off them?” “Eight.” I could weep.

Hey, if you have any time after the show, you could walk with me the three blocks back to Battery Park to meet Diana.  Diana hates crowds and knew this was not for her. She was my first audience for the finished story the other night and gave the whole thing her blessing.  She’s sitting for Panchita aka Pancho – a five year old adorable female chihuahua, my totally loyal Mexican sidekick that I adopted two months ago.

Kinship with All Life

Last night I was depressed.  Actually I have been depressed for a couple of weeks and last night it took a particular form.  The form it took last night was “My life has no meaning” – or more specifically “I’m doing nothing that has any meaning.”  As I examined this further, I realized it’s not true that my life has no meaning – rather, I’m not doing the things that give my life meaning.  Caring for animals gives my life meaning, but my dog has died and right now I have no active dog walking or pet sitting business.  I am a writer and writing gives my life meaning, but – for the last few days that I have not been writing – that source of meaning has not been there.  Funny how its absence for just a few days could have such a devastating impact on me.

Realizing all this is very helpful to me, but tonight there’s more.  Today, at church and at a memorial service downtown, has been all about the tragedy at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.  When I tried to have my post tonight be all about dogs, I just couldn’t do it.  Dogs are a beautiful species.  I could picture a dog so noble that their death might even seem tragic. Yet for 11 innocent people to be killed because someone hates who they are – even my doggie’s death at a relatively young age, profoundly sad as it makes me, does not seem as important.

No, something in this is out of kilter.  I’m teetering awfully close to saying that dogs are not as important as people – and maybe they are not, I don’t know.  But I did feel profoundly sad when my dog died – and I’ve got a hunch that that grief opened my heart to the victims in Pittsburgh.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about parrots – and my next animal just might be a parrot.  In the meanwhile, I might volunteer with the local parrot rescue agency.  I can’t picture going through my life never having another dog, but I think there’s stuff I can learn about life from parrots.macaw

I think we need other species in our lives.  One of my favorite books is Kinship With All Life.  If we feel kinship with dogs and parrots and people of other races and religions – all of this stretches our heart, makes us more the person we were meant to be.  It can maybe even fill our life with meaning.

My adorable, amazing, hopelessly lovable five-pound yorkipoo Toni has died.

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Toni in better times, running through the park.

She had complications of heart disease (diagnosed three months ago), liver disease (one month ago) and kidney failure (diagnosed the day before we put her down).

On the Thursday before, September 27 – the day after what had for me been a happy birthday – two dear and solid friends, having just spent a half-hour with me and Toni, took the risk of saying it straight as they saw it:  “This dog is in very bad shape.  We think she is dying. You need to not make her linger.”

This threw me for a loop.  In the month since a substitute vet had told me that Toni’s liver was three times its normal size, I had been making my peace with the idea that she was not going to make it – would not get well.  But there were those moments that she seemed to really enjoy our little posse – people and dogs – who hang out in front of the building.  The times she would decide she needed a treat from the very kind staff of The Dog Door just next to our apartment building and would take off in her inimitable swollen-belly waddle.  I actually would attempt to imitate it, right on her heels, to everybody’s delight.  Good times, happy times with my doggie – she can’t be ready to die yet!

I talked with my friends, especially the very compassionate and perceptive Diana, a neighbor in the building who had in just a couple of months come to be like a co-parent to Toni. If it’s possible, she loved her as much as I did.

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“Aunt Diana” got so close to Toni in her final weeks that she became “Mama”.  Toni would just go limp in her arms and stay there – totally content – for a long time.

 

I took my predicament to my Facebook friends – posted it on Thursday evening, just hours after my two wonderful friends had confronted me about Toni’s condition.  I have a lot of wonderful Facebook friends: perceptive, compassionate, good communicators, dog lovers.  Many of them are also real-life, face-to-face no-book friends – which increases my trust in them.  Their response was speedy (and it did seem like time was of the essence), compassionate, perceptive – and amazingly consistent.  They told me three things:

  1. The dog will tell you when it’s time to let them go.  This was the most consistent piece of feedback – probably eight different people said it.  At first this seemed especially woo-woo, but then it almost immediately got confirmed.  Marlisa had described how her little dog looked deep in her eyes and she knew she was being given permission to let her go.  Toni had not looked deep in my eyes for a long time, if ever – but in the next couple of days she did it a lot, for a long time each time, and I had no question that she was saying something like, “It’s OK, it’s time to let me go.  I’m suffering too much.”
  2. Don’t make them linger.  Be strong, do what you have to do.  This piece of advice poured in on Friday and Saturday.  By Saturday night I was out of denial – there was no question for me just how sick Toni was.  I knew what I needed to do.
  3. Do it at home, not at an animal hospital.  Five people said “Use 4 Paws Farewell in-home euthanasia vets – they’re the best.”

Four Paws office was listed as opening at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, which was amazing in itself.  By 8:05 I was on the phone with them and by 8:30 we had gone through the business and procedural steps (not “details” – all of them too important to be called details) and ascertained that they had a lot of availability for tomorrow, Monday.  I did not want to make Toni linger – suffer – for another extra day.  By nine a.m. I had called the five other people I wanted to be with Toni – and with me – people that Toni and I both loved.  Another miracle: by noon I had heard from all of them, 10:30 a.m. was available for all of them – including John, who took a day off of work to do it – and I had confirmed the time with the vet.

JOhn and Ralph 3

John lost his beloved dog Ralph just a few months ago (while Toni and I were living with him).  But that wasn’t the main reason he wanted to be with us on Monday (enough to take the day off of work).  He had fallen really in love with Toni – and she with him.  It was gorgeous to watch.

This post has run on long enough – let me write up the next couple of steps in another post (or more – there’s a lot here that could perhaps be helpful to others).

 

I sat for these two dogs for two weeks recently (with the company of my tiny white dog Toni) – and fell for them.  And they fell for me – because I fed them and I am a person and dogs love people.  

Adorable is wild and woolly – she loves me in a joyous way.  She jumps on me with her muddy paws and leaves muddy streaks down my helpless short pants.  It would be worse in the late fall with long pants. I barely protest. It so sweet and funny – she loves with such abandon.2 dogs and a foot.jpg

Mighty mopes in the corner of the yard – under the playground set, digging hard.  In the bushes. She comes closer only to hide under the chaise lounge with the red cushions.  She comes closer still to give her love/ask for love by rubbing her head against my legs (no jumping here), twisting her head to look at me upside down – do you love me now?

They are a perfect team, with all their difference.  They run up to the gate next to the back door to bark furiously – though in no way menacingly – at some imaginary person or dog next door.  Alternately, they race to the boards up on top of the hot tub to protect the perimeter from some other imaginary interloper.two dogs hunting.jpg

They both resisted food the first three days I sat for them, just to test my confidence in them.  They knew they would eat eventually, but I didn’t know it. Likewise, the only one occasion when they refused to come out of their crate, it was just to mess with me.  Go ahead, put us in this crate – we’re not afraid of no crate. We’ll stay in this crate longer than you can tolerate – you’ll break before we do.

When they came around and acted healthy again – ate normal, came out of their crate like any healthy dog would do – it was not for me, though they later (only later) came to love me.  It was because they love you, their people – Mary, Pat and Zelda. They love you with a passion. They love me only because I am a shadow of you.3 dogs closer.jpg

They love you because dogs are bred to love people and because you represent for them the best that people have to offer.  And part of the best that people have to offer is to love dogs the way you love them: Adorable Lover and Mighty Hunter.  Your wonderful dogs, who you loan briefly to me – the dog sitter – lucky dog that I am.

Saturday, September 29, 5:30-9:30.
Battery Park Apartments, 1 Battle Square, downtown Asheville 28801, out the north side of the Grove Arcade
reach me: heymajo@gmail.com, 828-582-9822.

Have you been in the elegant and historic Battery Park Apartments?front taller still.jpgLobby

The lobby?

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The glamorous 13th floor Roof Garden penthouse party room?roof garden

Out on the western facing balcony to see the mountains – including Mt. Pisgah to the left (out of sight from this photo, but very visible from the balcomy) – and sometimes a great sunset?west balcony.jpg

Or the eastern facing balcony to capture the art-deco City Hall or the much more mundane County Building?east balcony.jpg

Have you ever helped me to warm this house in my fifth floor western (Canton) and northern (Montford) facing apartment #503?  Most likely not – I’ve just been here for three months.  If you know anything about my gypsy ways over the last year, you will know what a big deal it is for me to warm this house.west from my apartment.jpg

Three big windows facing west.

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One big window facing Montford to the north.

Help us to eat potluck (5:30-6:30 – extra points for not bringing hummus and crackers), dance the night away to the music of locally famous DJ Kutzu (two sets – 6:30-7:30 and 8:30-9:30), feast on my poetry (7:30-8:30, or go hang out on the balcony). Hang out in my cozy apartment #503. Sign the journal – leave a wish for me and my house.

Building rules say to vacate the party room by 9:30.  Stop by my apartment #503.  Let’s party late if we feel so inspired.

Don’t be intimidated by all the talk of no parking downtown on a Saturday night.  Allow 10 extra minutes for a little walk and park on a Montford neighborhood side street or there will be parking behind the Visitor Center on Montford Avenue no matter how many tourists or what country singer is playing at the Civic Center.

Children and partner friendly – as long as they are friendly.  This very festive evening will all be too much for my hyper-sensitive (and sick) little yorkipoo doggie Toni, so she will be playing elsewhere that night (aside from the poetry – she and her sitter Diana love my poetry).  Tony hello.jpg

No drinking in this church-affiliated building, except in private apartments like mine (leave me a beer as a souvenir if it’s an imperial stout or a Belgian ale, take any extras home if they are IPA’s).  Wine drinkers should not look for help from me – it would be a waste of good wine. No smoking even in private apartments, but you can go out by the sidewalk if you got ’em.

The building requires that the front door be locked at all times, so we need eight 30-minute greeters.  Do it with your partner or pair up with a friend – or just get off on meeting people. Greeting is a sacred act.  Let me know if you are interested.  heymajo@gmail.com.

RSVP if you would (so redundant), so I know who to get excited about seeing and who I will need to see another time.