Friday, July 18, 2008

Got dock?

Happiness is a warm pool, baby

“Every species is a multispecies crowd,” writes philosopher and dog-lover Donna Haraway, “So, how do dogs and people learn to pay attention to each other in a way that changes who and what they become together?” Yeah, how does that work –especially when my dog prefers rolling in a sea lion carcass than heeding my whistle?

Donna and her Australian Shepards tackle these academic questions through agility competition: lightning-fast races through an obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, U-turns, weave poles, A-frames, and balancing beams. Agility is dominated by nimble, sharp, sprightly little devils. Yappers, my dad calls them.

But my companion species, Zuzu (pictured above), can’t even time an aerial Frisbee catch. So last Sunday, at San Diego’s Wags for Wishes dog show, we decided to stick to what Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were bred to do: swim, fetch, and be muscle. If agility is the steeplechase of dog competition, dock jumping is the shot put.

Stanley, mid-flight, and handler Craig did well in their 'wave' (or round)

Dock jumping rules are simple. Handler and dog stand on a long platform, handler throws a toy into the pool, dog runs and jumps, longest jump wins. Not all canines are cut out for it, however. While waiting on line for the practice pool, I watched handlers coax, plead, beg, and even push their dogs into the pool (not recommended). One woman actually jumped in the water fully clothed (not recommended and kinda gross), trying to lure her skeptical Boxer.

Am I supposed to retrieve that?

I started to feel nervous as we moved up in line. What if Zuzu refused to jump? We had practiced retrieving on the beach, but never on a dock, with an audience. The wrangler (think umpire), Mark, waved us over to master Exit Ramp 101. Zuzu nailed it in ten seconds flat, then promptly turned around and leapt four vertical feet back into the pool. Well… at least we wouldn’t have a problem going into the water.

Mark gave us the signal and we stepped onto the dock. Zuzu took her spot at the far end and sat trembling, obedient as never before. I walked to the edge, took a deep breath. We locked eyes. I paused. Then “GO, GO, GO, GO, GO!” –I pitched the tennis ball, Zuzu blurred past and took flight. Splash. Applause.

Just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.

Mark ran up to us, a bit breathless. “That dog is champion quality!” he cried, “Are you entering her in the competition?”

“Well, I hadn’t thought about it,” I shrugged, surprised.

“She’ll be jumping 14 feet TODAY! You have to enter,” he insisted. “Tell you what –come with me and I’ll fast-track you through registration into the next wave. She’s a natural, just a natural,” he kept repeating.

The next hour was a blur of fur and water. Mark swept us through registration and cut us to the front of the practice pool line, twice. “Don’t release the ball too early,” he advised, “You want to make sure it flies five feet in front of her nose.” Barking Labs, flying Goldens, gleeful children, smiling Zuzu, the sun beat down and made my head spin. I was hooked.

When species meet and kick ass: Zuzu on her first professional jump

Zuzu didn’t hit 14 feet that day. She jumped 9’10” and 10’9” in her wave, respectively, which didn’t advance us to the finals and put her 52 out of 79 dogs. Not a bad showing for a first day, but with room to improve. Mark took us aside and told us about the Splash Dogs Dock Jumping World Championships in Scottsdale, Arizona in November. “Keep working at it,” he assured us, “You guys will be great.”

I kenneled Zuzu and went to size up our future competition. These dogs are pros. Like Nevada, the speedy little Border Collie who flies 23 feet after a yellow rubber ducky using the “chase method” –an agility approach that requires intensive training and preparation.

Stanley: "will stand for food"

Then there’s ‘Standing Stanley,’ a friend and fellow rescue Chessie. Following a jump in the 16-18 foot range, Stanley hams it up: standing in the middle of the pool, paws up, waving, winning the crowd. Kids go wild and demand photographs. This is the same dingo that won third place in the Imperial Beach Dog Surfing Contest last month.

Russell and Henry, en flight

Or take Henry, 2007 Splash Dogs Champion and the current world record-holder in Big Air. His ear-to-ear smile and goofy demeanor conceal his leaping prowess –this 6 year-old Chessie is the Michael Jordan of the dog pool. Splash Dogs had to extend regulation pool length just to accommodate his dunks. Henry’s best scores average in the range of 23-26 feet. In a single leap.

All for a dog cookie. And some rump scratches. Ponder that when watching the Olympics next month. And see you in Scottsdale, punks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Postcards from D.F.

On a recent trip to Mexico City with my mamá, I was able to scribble a few postcards to some of my regular correspondents. But thanks to "Months 7-10" syndrome -the peak of last-minute productivity in all dissertation fieldwork -handwritten letters from Avenida del Pacifico have been scarce.

So, to make up for my absence in your mailbox, read on for your "postcard" from Mexico City. Just like the real thing. Without licking all those stamps.

Dear [Insert name here],

Saludos desde el Distrito Federal! I'm taking a break from Tijuana to meet my mother in Mexico City for a week's vacation. So far, so good: though it's clearly unnatural for mothers and daughters to spend 24-7 together on holiday, no blood has been shed. Well, as long as you don't count a few F-bombs flung in a tense, vicious moment.

No trace of familial angst: All smiles in front of La Casa de los Azulejos

Necessary equipment when traveling with relatives

Mexico City is awesome! We're hot on the trail of murals, museums, and good restaurants. Walked the Centro Histórico, sipped cappuccinos at Bellas Artes overlooking the Alameda park, ate seafood with the power suits at Contramar, leaned back and absorbed more Diego Rivera murals than I can count.

An apothecary of sorts

Torre Latinoamericana viewed from Bellas Artes

Mom isn't a fan of chile heat, but I love tacos al pastor

Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Coyoacán

One unexpected highlight was participating in the capital's annual Pride Parade. After noticing a high number of leather pants and g-strings in the Zócalo -Mexico's hallowed central plaza -we bought rainbow flags and joined the party. My favorite: watching trannies thrust their crotches toward the Christian protesters holding placards ("Gay person, Jesus is your true friend"). What would Jesus do, indeed.

Rainbow flags, campesinos, and the church

All aboard for jello shots!

Needing a break from the fast lane, we took a bus Xalapa, Veracruz, to visit my friend Heidi for a couple tranquil days. Saw torrential waterfalls and smelled roasters in small coffee towns.

Waterfall in Xico, Veracruz

Heidi and I discovered an advertisement [below] for "Neurotics Anonymous." Note to self: after I get mom safely on her plane, send away for membership...

Lions and tigers and PhD students, oh my

Wish you were here! Love, kt.