Friday, October 22, 2010

Meeting Katz ... and dog! (Sort of ...)

I really hate missed opportunities, especially when they're out of your control. And no matter the measures you take to try to make something happen, and the signs you read that make you believe you can make it happen, the odds are so stacked against you that you still fall frustratingly short.

An incident such as this occurred a few days ago, and it's been nagging at me, so rather than stew about it, maybe I'll do a write-up on it and see if that proves to be more beneficial.

Our tale begins in October 2008, when I was still living in Chicago. Mom gave me a heads up about a book she was reading along with the author's blog that she was very inspired by. The book was "Dog Days," the author was Jon Katz and the blog was

Now, I have to say I was going through a rough patch at the time. I was massively in debt and unhappy with the way nine glorious years in that city somehow dwindled to a sense of aimlessness and monotony. A lot of factors were at play there, really, but I was basically in a miserable rut.

So when I took a look at, I immediately connected with it. This was the first group of entries I read --

I've always been a dog person, so when I saw these photos of the border collies (Izzy and Rose) and the young black lab (Lenore) lounging in the fields of upstate New York, there was an undeniable sense of peace that emanated from these pages. Combined with some of the words and a very appropriate poem for my mindset at the time, I became intrigued about the blog and Mr. Katz in general.

I went back to the very first entry and, over time, began to read each one, and it started to feel like a good novel as you learn how he ended up on the farm and the adventures that preceded and followed that decision. What particularly hooked me are the entries that document the hospice work Katz was involved in, because they are some of the most profound and contemplative pieces you'll ever read.

It is here that I developed an affection for the charming and mysterious Izzy, who accompanied Katz on these hospice visits. Katz, who along with writing memoirs has delved into the nature of dogs to write some introspective books, has many times referred to dogs as being our sentinels or helpers, introducing us to people we may never have met otherwise, leading us through doors we may have never walked through.

And Izzy certainly backs this sentiment up, serving as nothing less than an angel for these people who are living their final moments on earth. The combination of Izzy's interaction with them and the amount of joy he brings, the relationships Katz forms and his thoughts on the subject of dying and dying with dignity is truly powerful stuff.

At its most basic level, this blog communicates that everyone faces indecision or pain or unfulfillment but it's how we respond that gives us life. I respect Katz's honest writing, his courage to write it, and his unwavering search for fulfillment in a world that at times seems to do everything it can to keep this unattainable. I don't really want to say the blog is a challenge, but maybe it's an example, to go out and claim the life you want and are entitled to amid all the nonsense.

A couple of months later, I moved back to Ohio to take care of the student-loan issues, reconnect with family and kind of reboot in a sense, and two years later I'm still happy with the decision, as hard as it was to leave Chicago.


So when Mom and I heard that Katz was promoting his new book, "Rose in a Storm," on a tour that wound through Ohio and that he was bringing Izzy, of course we had to go. But as it drew closer, the realities of life interfered, rendering Mom too sick to travel, and my excuse, naturally, was a work schedule that conflicted with literally every stop he was going to make.

Oh well, we thought ... maybe next time. But like I said, I really hate missed opportunities.

Katz, his wife, Maria, and Izzy were scheduled to be at the Books & Co. at The Greene in Dayton at 7 p.m. on Monday for a reading, a discussion and a book signing. But I had to work at 7. Working in the baseball field (no pun intended), it's not an option to call off when the League Championship Series are being played! However, after we gave it up for Monday, my shift happened to be changed to 8 p.m.

Yes, I took that as a sign.

Living about 45 minutes away, I thought, I won't be able to stay for the discussion or the book signing afterward, but maybe they'll show up early and we can get a chat going, can hang with Izzy, maybe surprise Mom with a signed book, etc ... So, despite the 8 p.m. work shift, I jumped in the car around 5:30 and drove out there.

Unfortunately, the rigors of the book tour did not allow for an early arrival. They arrived precisely at 7, along with an autumn cold front that turned the sky a deep gray and brought with it an appropriately brisk and blustery wind.

I noticed Izzy first on the street below as they walked in from the parking lot, his bright white and shimmering black coat standing out against the rainy grayness outside, and as they came in downstairs, Izzy was immediately greeted by surprised customers. He truly is treated like a rock star, as Katz says on his blog, and people are really funny when they see him ... gushing and cooing and smiling as they try to pet him. And he accommodates them all.

As they made their way upstairs, I did at least have the chance to exchange pleasantries with Katz, who said he was happy to be here and genuinely looked it. He was energized, eager to chat and ready to roll, which immediately killed me because I knew it was going to be a great discussion to be a part of, and here I had to leave in 10 minutes to get back for work! Ugh ...

But Izzy then brushed past me, affording me the chance to kneel down and give him the ol' head pat/ear scratch combo, while Katz referred to him as "Mr. Popular." Izzy really is a special kind of animal, he looks you and everyone he meets right in the eye, despite appearing to be travel-weary -- it's kind of chilling in a way when you think of where he's been and the work he's done and the lives he's affected. There really is something mystical about him.

But sadly, the interaction ended there as the crew was whisked away into the back office to prepare. I lingered as long as possible, chatting with some nice people but already running the risk of being dreadfully late, and as they re-emerged and Katz and Izzy made their way to the podium and their fans, seated and happily waiting, I simultaneously had to back away and make my way down the stairs.

And as I proceeded to dejectedly walk toward the exits, I hear above me: "Well, we'd like to thank you for coming out on what's turned out to be a rather cold and rainy night ... but we have a very special guest tonight, actually two special guests! I think you all know who this guy is ..."

The sounds of delight from upstairs as Izzy was introduced were callously cut off as the door shut behind me ... and I made my way to my car in the cold and the dark.


For a couple days after that, I was mildly annoyed about the whole thing. I also lamented the fact that I didn't think to take proper photos, although I always feel like I'm invading someone's privacy when I do, but I really was bummed I missed out on what was apparently a lively and entertaining discussion. I wanted to talk about Katz's hospice work, I wanted to know how Warren is, I wanted to discuss the tour, the photography bug he's picked up and his writing processes ... I wanted to cap the night with drinks at The Pub.

And I started asking myself if I would have been better off if I hadn't made the effort at all, since the whole thing felt so unfulfilling as I drove home. But as the days go by, knowing that I at least created the opportunity to come away with a cool experience makes it feel worthwhile to an extent.

I really get frustrated when work interferes with life -- happens way too much -- or when things don't work out the way I want them to. But as is conveyed so often up there at Bedlam Farm, it really is up to us to be happy -- and if things don't exactly work out, then perhaps our joie de vivre can also reside in the noble efforts we make to obtain it.

-- Written at the Underdog Cafe in Yellow Springs, OH


A.M.Smith said...

Well done, man. I appreciate your perspective and your writing.

Monica E. Smith said...

a well written account. and i'm so jealous. i'm still stewing about not being able to go. and, like you, I rehash and feel frustrated when things like this don't work out. I probably could have gone, but the way I was feeling I didn't want to make the drive by myself. anyway, it was something I wanted to share with you. i'm glad you at least got to meet Katz and schweet Izzy. awesome. wish you could have been able to talk with him more; but, maybe it was enough. your writing is better than ever; I felt the rainy cold wind, heard the door close as you left, felt dejected with you the night had not been longer, almost felt Izzy sniffing at you, seeing his ears go back as you gave him the 'ol head pat/ear scratch. all in all i would say, not a bad evening...