Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Zen of Butt Scratching

In my other life I'm a senior project manager at Mandeville Sign. It's a third generation family owned company that's been around for ninety-two years, a long time by any measure. I've been there for fourteen of them but last night I left in the wake of a sweeping lay-off. "Heavy is the head that wears the crown." a well known line uttered by the great Jack Nicholson in the 2006's "The Departed" came to mind, the gravity of the decision clearly taking it's toll on the company's president. In recent months, he'd taken to bringing his miniature poodle "Tito" to work with him. Two of his kids were off to college; he said he didn't want to leave Tito at home in an empty house. Since Tito spent most of the workday lounging quietly on his dog bed in the President's office he was never an annoyance and in fact, was a pleasant reminder that I was working for a family business.

Sleeping last night was difficult. While I was not included in yesterday's lay-offs, there are most certainly more to come as the relentlessly grim financial forecast shows no signs of clearing anytime soon. Early this morning I was greeted at the side of my bed by Archie. If I've worked with you, you've heard me mention him and if you've worked with me, you've probably heard me say that I allow my dogs on the bed "by invitation only" never of their own accord. He sat patiently at bedside hoping for an invite and I obliged. As he curled up with me I scratched his tush, a favored activity for most dogs, Archie being no exception. He began letting out quiet, barely audible grunts and wheezes that I only hear when he's in the "zone", supremely content and happy. Thoughts of my future lifted, if only temporarily and instead I wondered if my boss and co-workers weren't at home getting a break from the gloominess with Tito, Chico, Ruby, Rocky, Shadow and Oola (to name a few). I hope they are. Our dogs do pick up on our tension, reading even subtle changes in body language, tone of voice and general behavior. They are often remarkably gifted at relieving tension as well.

There's a rolling e-mail, I get it once every 18 months or so, about the simple pleasures our dogs value so greatly. My wife Sue will tell you with an all too knowing grin that I am not sentimental at heart. So it is with an unsentimental yet genuine zeal that I encourage dog owners, particularly those feeling the stress of the recession, to consider and engage in the profoundly simple pleasure of butt scratching. By all means include your own tush in the bargain though in my experience I have never been able to appreciate it with the same depth that my three dogs do.

Of course the Zen of butt scratching extends in trademark existential fashion to other simple pleasures as well. Walks, fetch or some time with a tug toy. These are healthy and effective ways to blow off steam and they don't cost anything.

The recession, depression, call it what you like; will end. For myself, I hope Ben Bernanke's predictions of 2010 are pragmatic. In the meantime I'll endeavor to emerge from it more grounded. Scratching dog butts will play a role. My dogs, your dogs, and the dogs at the Warwick Shelter.