Of Dogs and Men

The end of the year has special meaning around the Cummings house. As we end the Christmas holiday we celebrate the birth of our olden golden, Moxie, on the 27th, my own half-birthday on the 29th, and now the half-birthday of the growin’ golden, Ludo, on the 28th.

Don’t pretend you don’t celebrate half-birthdays, too, you party animal. It’s an event.

At times like these I like to reflect on how far we’ve come, these beautiful boys and I. Forty-eight-and-a-half is quite a journey, in what was – to me – a momentous year.

Let’s start with the house elder: Moxie. As of last year, he surpassed me in age for the first time and became the man of the house. How so? Well, as you know, dogs age at a factor of 7 compared to humans so on his 7th birthday he became 49 at a time that I was still 47. Now he’s 56, relatively speaking, while I’m still back here at 48 (and a half!). It takes a lot of pressure off of me now that he’s in charge.

We brought Moxie home when he was about 7 weeks old. We drove out to Oak Run to see the breeder – a wonderful family on a snow-covered road with goldens running around of all ages and sizes. A veritable winter wonderland for those of us with a golden fetish. Heavenly, to say the least.

Moxie was my second choice in a litter of twelve, I’m ashamed to say. Suzie had already picked out Moxie (and his name!) from pictures before we had arrived. He was the darkest red in the bunch, an easy choice for her. There was a lighter, fatter golden in the bunch with the biggest paws I’d ever seen on a puppy and the face of bewildered wonder. He took a liking to me and sat in my lap. The dog that would soon be Moxie didn’t much appreciate that and he knocked that angel off my lap and claimed me for his own. The rest was fate. I used to threaten Moxie all the time that I would take him right back to the breeder and get “Big Paws” if he continued to act up. I think the last time I did that was November.

Moxie slept the whole way home, the only dog to do that so far. We took him into both our work places to meet our families, and he was so docile. Even the vet couldn’t wake him during his initial examination. We thought we had a defective dog. I’d give anything if Ludo were as defective as Moxie now.

But if Moxie had grown to be the official “best dog we’ve ever owned” then Ludo has proven it. I haven’t had a dog as anxious and disobedient as Ludo since our first dog, the long-remembered mutt named Mickey. Ludo talks back when scolded (literally!), pulls on the leash when excited, tears the covers off the couches when we leave the house, bullies Moxie incessantly, and never ever ever sits still between bed times. Ever. I love that needy little tyrant so much.

Yesterday I compared Ludo to Donald Trump in a conversation. Just like Ludo, Trump will come along and make his predecessor look like the best ever in comparison. It takes the bad ones to truly appreciate how good the good ones were. 😉

So I guess that leaves me. Moxie turned 8, Ludo 1 ½, and me 582 months old. I won’t take the time to recount the roughly seventeen-thousand four hundred and sixty days I’ve been alive but I will say this: in many ways I’ve just completed the best year of my life. I’ve got some complaints, certainly, but most of those are about things I cannot control. I’ve been taught by every guru that matters to only concern myself with the things I can control. Where it concerns my sphere of influence, my world is brighter than it has ever been.

The rest of the stuff, about me, you’ll read here every week. That’s what Tom being Tom is all about.

I hope your year has been as wonderful as mine. I hope it’s been even better. If it hasn’t I can only give you one bit of sage advice: change what you can, accept what you cannot, and live free as the person that you are. No matter how many days are behind you there are many days still ahead. Make each one matter in the ways that matter most to you.

And forgive your youngest son his daily sins.

I’ve had to learn to do that, too. 🙂

The True Meaning of Christmas

The winter season brings an interesting cultural paradox for me, one I’m always happy to explain. As a Christmas reveler who doesn’t believe in Christ, I am faced with the obligatory “reason for the season” everywhere I turn, even though Jesus Christ wasn’t born on Christmas day until he was several centuries old. The date of December 25th as the birth of Jesus Christ was adopted in the 4th century by Pope Julius I to take advantage of the celebrations already in place throughout Europe. During that time (and since long before) pagan and spiritual customs were observed that predated even the very thought of a New Testament son or Biblical god.

See, the solstice has always been sacred. As the days grow shorter and colder, life tends toward the bleak, particularly in the far north. It’s a terrible time of the year. But the solstice represents a critical turn. From roughly December 21st-on the days get longer and, symbolically at least, warmer. Every culture since the beginning of mankind has celebrated this time.

Christians barely did. The celebration of the resurrection – the Easter celebration – was a far more important holiday, but Pope Julius saw all the revelry occurring around the Saturnalia and wanted in on the action. It was a clever coup. Trying to sell December 25th as the birth of the savior was no easy win, since the Bible hinted toward a Spring birth for the child. At the time, as well, December 25th was already being celebrated in upper class Rome as the birth of the god Mithra. But it turned out to be another brilliant ploy by what would, in time, become the dominant religion of the western world. Over time, the winter celebration of a holy birth became easier and easier to accept because of the pagan rituals already in place. Adopting symbols like the ornamented tree, the mythical powers of the mistletoe, the Saturnalian custom of gift-giving, and the cult of old St. Nick helped propagate the idea even further.

An interesting aside about old St. Nick: The modern version of Santa Claus, a decidedly generous figure whose legend grew from myth and borrowed ritual much like Christ himself, owes much of his modern visage to the marketing genius of Coca-Cola. As the idea of Santa Claus grew from cartoon depictions and children’s stories from the 19th-century, Coke decided to feature the bearded fat man in “bright Coca-Cola red” as an ad symbol for Christmas. Much of his staying power in the modern era is owed to the commercial necessity to sale cold beverages during cold seasons.

If Christmas is anything today, it is commercial. The bright-red Santa, the flocking to malls, the decorations in retail stores – often displayed as early as September – and the constant pressure to buy, buy, buy! I don’t blame the Christians among us to “remember the reason for the season,” because the love of a divine saving grace is certainly a better thought than the love of rampant capitalistic materialism. Certainly.

But neither reason is the one that I love Christmas. To be perfectly honest, the ritual of renewal isn’t, either. I’m not that spiritual even in the pagan sense. I’m certainly not commercial, either, as the wife and I do very little buying this time of year, instead taking on “rain checks” to be used for a future purchase. It saves a lot of hassle.

So why does this atheist love Christmas?

I love Christmas for all the lights on my street. I love Christmas for the cheerful music and imagery, even if half of it is bent on getting me to buy. I love Christmas for the happy celebrations, whether they be pagan and debaucherous or holy and sublime. I love Christmas because it brings out the best in people despite the commercialism of the event. I love Christmas because I loved it as a child, and I am still a child deep inside.

If Christmas, to you, is the birth of Jesus Christ, I accept that. If Christmas, to you, is the night that St. Nick comes around, I accept that. If it is, to you, a holiday from work, a reason to give gifts, a winter renewal, a royal pain in the ass, or a time to indulge in a ritual of sensual delights, I accept that. Whatever the reason you have for Christmas, have it your way. I accept that.

For me, it is simply the most wonderful time of the year.

And that is the reason for the season, to me. 🙂

Journal Entry 12/15

The Santa Crawl was extraordinary, as always. I found myself in bed, after work on Monday, replaying those 36 hours in my head and I was amazed at how quick it all was. Life flies by in an instant; the good times come and go so quickly. I try to never miss a chance to add to my collection of amazing memories. They are the true capital of life, and the only currency I really care about. Spend your money on experiences, they say, not things. I couldn’t agree more.

In addition to spending my weekend with those dearest of friends – those craziest of compatriots – I was able to add to my stable of associates. I consider the people in my life to be invaluable treasures, and I would not be me without all of them. I’m the luckiest guy alive and I’ll challenge anybody for that title. Thank you all for joining me on another wild excursion, and thank you to those just joining the fun. Life begins every day, and we’re all just getting started.

As most of you know, I’m a dog lover. The wife and I have raised 5 amazing canines (DOGS to the layperson, as Harry Dunne would say) and we’ve had very different experiences with them all. Moxie – the middle golden – has been the most angelic of them all except for his food vice. He’ll eat anything left on the floor, including every other dog’s food. But he’s never seen the inside of a crate, nor ever had to. Ludo, the latest gem in our line of pups, is probably the most energetic we’ve ever had. He’s a bundle of anxiety and fun. The name “Ludo” comes from a character in the movie Labyrinth, one of my wife’s all-time favorites. The creature – a gigantic, gentle beast who plays with rocks and refers to himself in the third person – is named after a board game on the main character’s wall in the beginning of the movie. The game – which plays much like Parcheesi or Sorry – derives it’s name from the Latin word “ludo” which means, appropriately, “I play.”

Young Ludo was doomed from the start with the name “I play.” It is not his fault, but ours, that it is all he wants to do.

This week, the playful one took his teeth and talons to the couch and love seat. The damage was minimal but enough to convince us that he is not quite ready for complete freedom when we are away, and has thus been returned to his kennel during work hours. The campaign to “Free Ludo” on Facebook, by my artistic and brilliant compadres, has been hilarious.

Alas, it is all in vain. The only thing that will free Ludo at this point is maturity, and maturity takes time. Rest assured, my evenings are spent couch-bound with he-who-plays nestled in my lap. At 65 pounds, it is a prodigious sacrifice I make, but one I make with love. Ludo loves.

After a tame beginning, Donald Trump has returned to form in the post-election era. His insane tweets, self-promotion, and thin-skinned backlashes are akin to the campaigner and, alas, show us all that there is no difference between the two. He will be the worst president we have ever seen, and survival will be the key. It is best on Monday that the electors strike faithlessly in unison, even if it leaves us with a less-than-desired second option in Hillary Clinton. His apologists will not like this take but, no, I won’t be “giving him a chance.” Chances have to be earned and, thus far, he is exactly what I predicted he would be: breathlessly ignorant of facts, woefully unprepared, dangerously narcissistic, and beholden to the special interests of the financial elite. In short, Donald Trump is who Donald Trump has always been and the office of the president will not change him. We have a horror show ahead of us of historic proportion. I will be placing my faith in the Republicans in power not-named-Donald-Trump to rein him in. Don’t let me down, House and Senate, you are our only hope now.

Thanks for checking out this contemplative entry. Only 16 days of 2016 left, and it has been a year of wonder. Let’s finish it the way we lived it, collecting memories to last a lifetime. Happy Holidays, all. 🙂

The Santa Crawl

Once or twice a year, three if the wind catches me right, I spend one wild night in Reno at a themed pub crawl. They are a blast. Three or four thousand people from around the country generally attend, and the themes involved are anywhere from superhero costumes to zombie makeup to vampire motif to leprechaun gear. The most wild one of all, however, is the Santa Crawl. The Santa Crawl draws 15,000 merrymaking souls, about five times as many as any other crawl. The streets are lined with Kringles and elves, reindeer and snowmen, and revelers of all ages.

This weekend will be my second annual excursion over the hill and through the snow to this particular crawl. A quick look at Facebook tells me 24 of my friends are definitely going, 10 are saying maybe, and at least a handful more haven’t responded though I know they’ll be there. We could have a record turnout. If you’re reading this, and you didn’t know about it – or are on the fence – there’s still time. Join the party.

Last year’s Santa Crawl was sheer mayhem. The good kind. I was “Super Santa,” complete with muscles and a little black mask. In my group we had (among many others!) a walking Christmas tree, one cool ZZ Claus, a stunning reindeer or two, a bevy of beautiful elves, and a guy from Vegas in nutters who joined us to be a part of the fun. My best buddy and I brought a surprise for everyone when we snuck him into the party after it appeared, for the longest time, that he wouldn’t be able to go. When Santa buys your table a round of shots, you take ‘em. When he removed the beard it was epic. Brilliantly done, Ry.

The missus and I finished the night with a sobering walk at 3-something in the morning, in awe of the sheer numbers of festive revelers still making the night their own. I have never seen so many damn santas in my life. The experience was unforgettable.

On the way home we hit white-out conditions and our three-and-a-half hour drive from Reno to Redding took about 7 hours. Chains were required but one good friend had the wrong chains. We boxed him in between three 4-wheel drive vehicles, slowed to a crawl (no pun intended), and made sure his minivan and passengers made it home safe. Cory, bring the right chains this year. 😉

About ¾ of the way home, our fearless leader stopped in the middle of the highway. Just stopped. Our concerned caravan halted in line behind him. His beautiful companion ran back to each of us, in the slippery snow, to tell us that the windshield wipers simply weren’t doing the job. He had to manually clear his view. In the mountains, in the woods, in white-out conditions, you simply cannot pull to the side of the road; you don’t know what is out there. We wiped our windshields and proceeded, no harm done. Troy led us home, all of us safe. That drive is just another memory in a weekend of memories we will share forever.

This is my 7th or 8th overall Crawl, I don’t remember exactly. I’ve never been disappointed by a one. If you like a party, you’ll like these events. If you like events like these, you’ll love the Santa Crawl. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

I mean that.

I’ll report from the road. Follow us online if you can’t make it out.

We’ll be the folks in red and green having all the fun. 🙂

Happy Holidays, my friends. I hope you have an unforgettable finish to 2016, no matter how you find your bliss.


In purely mathematical terms, the year is 92% over. Eleven of the twelve months are behind us. They are memories. The fourteenth Dalai Lama once said that yesterday and tomorrow are the only days of the year in which nothing can be done. That means that nothing can be done with the 92% of 2016 that is behind us. It also means, of course, that there isn’t really anything we can do about the nearly 8% of the year still ahead of us. The Dalai Lama thing actually knocked me off course a bit there. My point was supposed to be this: it’s a good time of the year to reflect.

Quoting Tibetan monks in your opening paragraph can be tricky. Let’s get back on track.

I’ve had a busy year. Off the top of my head I started a blog, went to Leprechaun Crawl and got my first food poisoning, had an amazing friend throw a surprise party for my wife on his birthday, spent an entire week at a family reunion, attended two incredible weddings, gave a best man speech, left a house behind, moved everything I own nearly a mile, spent a lot of Sunday mornings with great people, missed the Halloween party, and watched the most incorrigible human being on the planet become president of the United States.

That’s a pretty offbeat year, with some pretty remarkable memories. I’m sure if I took a moment I could think of more. I’m not mad about it at all.

But yesterday is gone.

December is my time to reflect. I started my blog last year in December, really. The first post came in February, but the seeds of the thing started in early winter when I made myself a promise to write. I did. I’ve written nearly 50 of these entries now and some have been well-received and some have not; some have been well-written and some have not. I’ve learned a lot about writing and a lot about me in the process. Nothing in life is so fun as discovery. If you’ll pardon the poetry, I’ve discovered pockets of my own soul this year I scarcely knew existed. I can’t wait to explore them further.

In the year to come – 2017 if you can believe that – I’d like to explore more depths of my own emotion and expand my writing beyond my own blogosphere. A personal blog is about as fun as it gets but it only gets me about as far as fun. There are more important things to write about than me. I know, that line surprised me as much as it did you. But it’s true.

Writing scathing political editorials would be fun for the next couple of years, but I can’t see it mattering one way or another beyond that. Writing fiction would be a dream come true, but fiction fails me at the end of these fingers too much. It’s something I’ll work on, but I have no great hope of success in that realm. Writing about appliances is almost a certainty if we ever get the website up and going. Writing about appliances sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Beyond writing, there are other aspirations for the new year. There is the matter of health, for one. I’ve gotten back to weight for the first time in a long time in 2016, and I’ve balanced intake better. But there is more to do. My health will be a subject of improvement in 2017. I’ll turn 49, for chrissakes.

The wife and I want to renew our vows next summer, on our 20-year mark. We intend to return to Vegas for that, where it all began. There is so much to do before then.

I want to replace the Durango in 2017. I should have done it already, but I always chicken out. It’s been with me so long it’s a part of me now. A part of me that breaks too much. I need to say goodbye.

That seems to be all I’ve got for now. December is a long month and I’ll reflect throughout it about the future, while I live in the now. But for now my resolutions seem to consist of: write more broadly, get more healthy, renew my vows, and buy a car. I guess I’m a simple man, after all.

Throw in the usual mix of raucous laughter with great folks, an intense desire to always be a better me, and a passionate daily love for Mrs C, and I can’t think of a better formula for 2017 than that. At least not yet. There are 31 more days to come up with stuff, and then 365 days of today to make the most of.

I intend to follow the best year ever with the best year ever. I intend to do that until I die.

See, I believe that in order to carry a positive action we must develop a positive vision. I believe the purpose of our lives is to be happy. I believe that happiness is not something that is ready made, but something that comes from our own actions. I find hope in the darkest of days and focus in the brightest. I think that with the realization of one’s potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world. My religion is kindness.

And if any of that looked familiar, the fourteenth Dalai Lama said all of that, too.

Looks like quoting Tibetan monks in your closing paragraph is just fine.

Enjoy the remainder of 2016, my friends, and have the greatest 2017 of your lives. I can’t wait to get started today.