What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate

In the classic film, Cool Hand Luke, shortly after the prison warden punches Luke and sends him rolling down the hill, he lets loose the 11th most memorable quote in movie history:

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!

It might also be the most misquoted quote in movie history. Most of us add an article and aver, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” I’m not sure why I thought you would be interested in that bit of trivia, because the movie has nothing to do with this post.

Indeed, this famous line came to mind this morning as I was feeding our 8 month old wolf-husky, Togo. If you follow my tweets or have friended me on FaceBook, you know that Togo is the given name for that larger-than-life canine, Wonder Pup.

In recent days, I’ve been thinking that Wonder Pup probably needs another super-hero name. I’m thinking Destructo-Dog . . .

In the 5 months he’s lived with us, Togo has:

  • Shred six old towels that were originally part of his bedding. In truth, he is so gifted at reducing them to small, uniform-size strips that I’m thinking he has a promising career ahead making bandages for the American Red Cross.
  • Eaten the pillow cushion in his igloo.
  • broken porch swingRipped up the porch swing cushion. For good measure, he then chewed through the webbing that the cushion rests on — twice. (For the record, I was against repairing the webbing after the first incident, but other family members insisted that he had learned his lesson.)
  • Torn out all the fuel supply tubing on our propane grill AND, after knocking the whole thing on its side and removing the cover (which he also chewed a hole in), chewed off most of the wooden handle to the lid.
  • Totally decimated at least 4 puppy chew toys that were claimed to be virtually indestructible. I suppose that “virtually” indestructible means that it would be next-to-impossible for a computer-animated dog to tear them up.
  • Discovered the secret of gaining entry into an enclosed hose reel. Once that was done, he pulled out 75 feet of heavy-duty garden hose and tied what appears to be something like a bow hitch to the leg of the swingset. And punctured the hose in the process.
  • Randomly dug holes throughout the back yard.
  • Chewed the insulation off the pipes to the heat pump compressor — twice. (Okay, so I was the one who thought he wouldn’t do it the second time. But in my defense, I did think that the jalapeno pepper spray would deter him. Who knew that he has a predilection for spicy food?)
  • Gnawed through the conduit with the electrical wires to the heat pump compressor.
  • Slowly and methodically removed every single living branch to a bush in our hedge that’s function was to supply him with shade.

And he’s only 8 months old . . . and upwards of 50 pounds (I’m guessing more like 60) . . . and one of the happiest fellows you’ve ever seen.

Except when he and I have to have a talk.

denuded bushWe had one of those talks on the day he completed his denudation of the bush. We sat together and surveyed the carnage. I said those words that every dog hates to hear: “no” and “bad dog” and “you should be ashamed.” Which, of course, to him have the same meaning as “yes” and “good dog” and “you are such a smart boy.” But let’s face it, despite what all the dog training books say, Togo knows he’s done wrong. He may not be certain exactly what it was, but he knows he has messed up.

So for a few minutes, he ducks his head and refuses to look me in the eye. As I continue talking sternly to him, he eventually extends his paw to signal his repentance and to assert his covenant that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Minutes later, I re-enter the house to announce that I believe that Wonder Pup and I have reached an understanding. Within the hour, though, new evidence appears that would lead any sane person to believe that

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!

In those moments, I think about finding Wonder Pup another place to live — a place where he can run and play and chew to his heart’s desire. Then he ducks his head and extends his paw.

togo & killAnd I pick up the severed branches and shredded towels, pay the serviceman to repair the heat pump, call for a bid on a fence to keep Togo away from the heat pump, carry another 20 pound sack of Puppy Chow to the back porch, and dutifully throw his ball.

Even failure to communicate can’t keep us from loving dogs and people who try our patience some times. There’s just something about that outstretched paw . . . or hand.

Foster Dog Revisited 17

With the Boston Marathon tragedy Monday and the violent explosions that rocked West, Texas yesterday, I found my spirit a little empty when my writing time arrived this morning. So, if you don’t mind, I thought I’d ask my original muse, Foster Dog, to help out. For those of you who are new to my blog or my twitter feed, Foster Dog was laid to rest last June. She was a friend, a therapist, but mostly she was a dog. And that may be what I liked about her most. Some of the Foster Dog tweets are anchored in the current events of the day — like an announcement by President Obama about the United States’ future in space, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and the mystery surrounding the arson at the Texas Governor’s Mansion. Others are simply the nonsense that builds between a person and a dog and then leaks out into cyberspace. I hope you enjoy installment 17 — a short respite from the serious news of the day.


Foster Dog announces new space program. “We will bypass moon and we’ll send all Old Roy dog food first to an asteroid – and then to Mars.” (4/16/2010)

I reminded Foster Dog that she had been absent from FaceBook for a while. “My publicist suggested time away . . . to build anticipation.” (5/5/2010)

Refused admission to local Cinco de Mayo celebration, Foster Dog offers backyard squirrels a turn in her specially-engineered salsa sauna. (5/5/2010)

Foster Dog snuggles in, eyes shut, tail wagging softly against her over-sized porch pillow. “Just thinking about Mom,” she confides. (5/9/2010)

Learning of my day trip to Austin, Foster Dog asks to come along. “New bushes planted as part of governor’s mansion makeover,” she explains. (5/9/2010)

“How’s the arson investigation going?” I asked. “Can’t seem to get past the fact that no one knows who the arsonist was,” Foster Dog says. (5/11/2010)


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If I Wake Up on Saturday . . .

I guess it was because I am taking a few days of vacation. But I had totally forgotten about this whole Mayan calendar, end-of-the-world event.

As I backed out of my driveway to head to the office for a while (it’s my vacation and I can spend it wherever I like), the local radio announcers were joking around about tomorrow being the grand finale. For some reason, I didn’t find that amusing. In fact, the very thought made me change directions.

Literally, I turned my car around and headed to the local supermarket.

You see, it is my understanding that, on occasion, the deli there prepares jalapeno sausage kolaches. I have always wanted to try their jalapeno sausage kolaches. And if the end is near, I was going to do something about it.

As I wheeled into the parking lot, I steeled myself for disappointment. What if this was a hoax? What if such delicacies weren’t going to be on display — waiting for my arrival?

I normally address my angst over anticipatory failure by calmly checking my facts. My hands shook as I fired up my iPhone and scoured snopes.com for clues. Nothing.

I turned my attention toward the front of the store. Nothing unusual to see. At least, as far as I knew. I don’t really spend a lot of time staking out the early morning comings and goings of my neighbors at the local United.

Seeing no alternative, I stepped into the brisk December air and hurried inside. Shortly past the registers, I turned to the left. Even from that great distance, I could see the deli display and a large pan of foil-covered objects.

“No, no!” I thought. “Those are too big to be kolaches. Why, oh why, haven’t they prepared the one food item I crave before the end of the world!?”

Even though I had accepted defeat, something in me — perhaps the drive of the indomitable human spirit — made me continue toward the counter.

Closer, closer I crept. I realized that my breath had caught in my throat. Oxygen-deprived, eyes bugging out just a bit, I rested my palms on the edge of the display and released a slow sigh as I viewed the mountain of egg and bacon burritos on the tray before me.

“Can I help you?”

The voice startled me back to reality. The deli associate moved closer to me.

“No, I’m just looking,” I answered.

“Are you okay?” he asked. As I stood silent, he continued, “You look a little pale and I thought I heard a little moan.”

Pulling myself together, I asserted, “THAT was a sigh . . . and I’m fine. I was just hoping that you had some jalapeno sausage kolaches today.”

“Other side of the display,” he rejoindered. “We made about 50 today, what with the big, end of the Mayan calendar happening tomorrow.”

sausage kolaches“Oh, thanks!” I said as I stepped around and picked up my prize.

“Come back to see us!” the deli guy said. “By the way, we always make jalapeno sausage kolaches on Saturday.”

I suppose he intended to offer me some hope. But, it was useless. You see, now I’ve checked jalapeno sausage kolaches from my corner store off my list. The sense of quest is gone.

Should I awake on Saturday, I will eat my cheerios and dream new dreams.

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Unfinished Projects and Foster Dog

Saturday mornings often hold quiet moments when I head to the office to sort through my to-do list, rethink my projects, and drag out one that has been neglected for a while.

Lately, I’ve been making an effort to be more intentional about some of those writing projects. So, if all goes well, three days a week I toil away at rewriting a legal reference guide (an actual paying job!), two days a week I see what I can share on this blog, one day a week I research or write for PeaceBytes.org, leaving one day each week for one very special endeavor.

For three years, Nancy and I were the foster parents for Zoe, also known as “Foster Dog.” During that time span, I tweeted various adventures or nuggets of wisdom from that big white-furred, blue-eyed girl. Because of her popularity, I even began re-running those tweets on this blog.

When Zoe passed on in June, I lost my muse. I discovered she wasn’t merely my excuse for writing or an alter ego character. Foster Dog was a lifestyle. We spent time together. She was a focus of not only our lives, but even the lives of our neighbors. Friends and strangers for blocks around knew Zoe. Kids would run to the street to pet her and talk to her. And, especially if the little one had recently had a snack, she would often respond with a good lick to the face. And we would stop and ask about them.

Those enriching experiences of time with a dog were about her, of course. But they were also about a greater connection with others. A connection I hate to lose.

So, I have initiated a new project — one that had been on my list for six months. Many people — okay, three or four — had suggested that I do a little more writing about Foster Dog. The first several hundred words made their way to that new project file in my writing session yesterday.

The working title is “Foster Dog, Annotated.” My plan is to take the collection of tweets about Zoe and to add a little background about her and about the context of those little micro-adventures — and, if I can work out the details on how to format and produce the little book, a collection of pictures.

My belief is that the finished work will be of more value to me and my family than anyone else. But that’s okay. A stronger belief is that there is no shame in not completely finishing.

That’s the nature of life. Our existence is comprised of unfinished projects. We all have dreams, bucket lists, and even regrets we want to address. We work through our days and we review our inventory. We check a few things off and we move on.

For years, I’ve made the mistake of gaining satisfaction only when I’ve marked a project completely off my list. That’s our culture. We ask about accomplishments. We fixate on what’s finished. We glory in final products. Yet, there’s more to life.

Only recently have I discovered the joy that comes from nibbling at dreams — doing only what I can today and feeling fulfilled by what I was able to do. That perspective makes each new day one of hope and excitement. And, when my head hits my pillow at night, releases me to dream of new hopes for tomorrow.

I hope you can find great joy in nibbling at life. Set high goals. Dream beautiful dreams. But don’t forget to embrace the connections and God-given pleasure along the way.

Where are you . . . at?

I’m taking a stand. I’m stating my position.

I want you to know where I am.

I don’t want you to know where I am . . . at.

“At” is a funny little word. It’s a preposition. Prepositions are words that are combined with nouns or pronouns to form a phrase.

Life was much simpler when I was learning to write and to speak. The rule was, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Straightforward, to the point, precise. Of course another rule was “Don’t write incomplete sentences.” That, of course, means that I shouldn’t have written a sentence like “Straightforward, to the point, precise.”

In this new age of communication, we are taught that some rules can be broken. Over time, some rules just go away. Thus it is that we can now end sentences with a preposition.

But, I have to tell you, I’ll never accept the sentence that ends with “at.” When you write it down and send it to me, I will mark it in red and send it back. When you email it to me, I’ll roll my eyes and hope that I can delete your message or mark it as spam. When you say it to me, I’ll mentally picture you in a . . . well, very demeaning way.

“Where are you?” Not “Where are you at?”

“Let’s check and see where we are.” Not “Let’s check and see where we are at.”

“At” is a preposition that sets time and place. It can be a very important word that brings precision to your message. But that precision is dependent on other words. “At,” like all prepositions, points. Without nouns and pronouns, “at” points to nothing.

In my admittedly warped view of the world, attaching “at” to the end of a sentence or question totally obliterates the time-space continuum. It’s like making a dramatic gesture — five seconds after you stop talking. To me, it’s nonsensical.

So, why am I so agitated about the use of “at?”

Because it’s a little word, governed by a simple rule. It has the potential to be powerful. Its abuse conveys no meaning and blemishes the reputation of its abuser.

“At” is like every other word. It matters. Words matter. In this time of cascading communication, make your words count. Make your words matter.

When you speak, I really want to know where you are.

There is a larger lesson. Those among us who are the most effective leaders are governed by simple rules. The principles defined by those rules are powerful. When leaders violate those rules, credibility is lost and reputations are destroyed.

Little things you do matter. At this moment, when others desperately seek women and men of character, let your principles guide you.

I really want to know where you are.