Lulu-Bell with the statue of St. Francis in the front yard of my Philadelphia house.
Standing in the lobby of the Club Med Port St. Lucie by the yellow lake that Lulu-Belle had undeniably produced with such insouciant aplomb brought a Rick Springfield song to mind: “It’s Always Something.” The title telegraphs the theme: the confounding frequency with which snafus puncture victories that had—only moments before—seemed like certainties. Not that Lulu-Belle and I had been in any proximity to victory. But now we were that much further from it thanks to her exquisitely timed elimination.
In the musical theater version of my life, this is where the dozens of Rick Springfield fans milling about the lobby ready for their getaway would start belting out the “It’s Always Something” chorus in four-part harmony:
It’s always something, you know it is, it’s always something,
It’s always something, everyday, it’s always something.
Rick Springfield taking a break from sound check to greet Lulu-Belle. This was photo was shot before I tried to check in.
Perhaps they’d launch into an accompanying choreographed dance number. They’d be pirouetting around me and the suddenly speechless, pet-unfriendly manager who not a moment before—ironically—was starting to remind me of a certain dog: the mythical Cerberus.
Just then two good friends unexpectedly came to my rescue: Susan and Patti, both from Seattle, both dog lovers, both amateur photographers extraordinaire. I’d gotten to know them when I was working on Rick’s memoir; they’d come through with fantastic shots of him for the photo insert. I hadn’t even realized that they were there. Susan and Patti whisked Lulu-Belle outside without my asking for help and before Lulu-Belle could add something more substantial to her urinary contribution, leaving me to continue my debate.
I didn’t have it in me. Somehow Lulu-Belle’s peeing had waved my inner white flag. I started thinking of alternate plans for the night. Maybe I could return to the St. James Royal Palm. I’d no longer qualify for the team discount and South Beach was a few hours’ drive but at least the Royal Palm was pet friendly. We wouldn’t have to sleep in my rental car. Better still: I could Google “pet-friendly Port St. Lucie.” Maybe I could find a place that offered a more practical commute.
But the manager had lost the fight in her, too. Her face—her entire posture—had softened. Maybe the sight of a tiny puppy peeing brings out the humanity in everyone. Such a basic need; such trusting vulnerability. But the manager still had a job to do. She skipped right over concession. “We’ll have to charge you an extra cleaning fee.”
I almost couldn’t believe my luck. “I’m happy to pay.”
The manager nodded. And with that she was gone, leaving me to lesser staff to complete my check-in.
I had been to this Club Med before. The rooms were beach-friendly practical: tile floors, no carpet. And I had come prepared: I had a crate for Lulu-Belle that I’d already used back in South Beach at the Royal Palm. She wouldn’t inflict much damage. At least that was my plan. As back up I’d purchased two roles of paper towels and a large spray bottle of Fantastik.
When my passion for something leads me to others who share it the resulting relationships often become more valuable to me than the passion itself. This has been my experience in running and in triathlon—and even in being a Rick Springfield fan. And so it has been with my passion for art jewelry.
With art jewelry, the value of an object is not tied to the value of the materials from which it is made. It arises from creative expression and artistic design, from ingenuity and innovation. The work is usually constituted of commonplace materials—not the flashy gold and precious gems of conventional fine jewelry. Art jewelry pieces are nearly always one of a kind and are fabricated by an individual artist with a vision. They are not mass-produced. Most art jewelry could best be described as charmingly nutty, rendered with a sly wink.
I look for art jewelry wherever I go. I have quite a habit. For a long time I thought of myself as a girl with a shopping problem until one of my friends, himself a jewelry artist, casually referred to me as a collector.
With that single word my passion for art jewelry was transformed from Guilty Pleasure to Cultural Responsibility, practically an Artistic Imperative; from Vice Requiring Intervention to something Noble and Important.
My hoarder-vast collection includes a chain-link necklace knit of garbage bags, a huge disc ring made of slices of colored pencils, a translucent necklace made of squares cut from plastic bottles, a ring featuring a small pail of plastic toy animal tails, a pair of felted earrings shaped to look like pieces of LEGO, a thick black and silver mantle of a neckpiece made entirely of zippers, and a big, bright, orange cuff bracelet made of nylon fabricated on a 3-D printer—I have no idea how. Part of the acquiring pleasure is that in almost every case I’ve met the iconoclast whose work I’ve collected. In most cases I’ve purchased the pieces directly from them.
Since I’m ever on the hunt it’s not unusual that upon arrival back in 2010 for my first South Beach Triathlon I Googled “art jewelry South Beach”—and came upon the Art Connection, a purveyor of art jewelry (and more traditional work as well) that was a convenient stone’s throw from my team’s hotel. This is how I came upon Luis and Gabriela, the married couple that owns the shop. A timely boon: in addition to having a sharp eye for bold jewelry they’re two of the biggest dog lovers I’ve ever met.
Luis is from Nicaragua; Gabriela is from Switzerland. On any given day, five languages are spoken at the Art Connection: English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. Every year since my first in South Beach Luis and Gabriela have treated me to dinner after my race. And every time they’ve taken me to a local restaurant with outdoor seating so that their dog Tiffany could join us. Although she can be a little standoffish with customers, Tiffany is a fixture at the Art Connection. Her comfy dog bed is permanently ensconced just behind the counter.
In 2014 I brought my Frenchie Hazel with me when I cam down for the tri. She was only four months old; I couldn’t bear to leave her back in New York and I wanted to spare my ex (who was not yet my ex) any extra work involving her.
Gabriela and Luis had insisted that she come with us to dinner. They wouldn’t hear of leaving her back in my hotel. Gabriela presented her with a fancy doggie coat on our way to the restaurant: black with a faux leopard trim that felt very Ava Gardner or Gina Lollobrigida. It had a fifties-opulent vibe perfectly suited to the location.
So in 2015 when I brought Lulu-Belle, it wasn’t surprising that Gabriela and Luis insisted that she join us for dinner just as Hazel had. It didn’t trouble them in the least that she looked like Pariah Dog.
But they’d already been good to Lulu-Belle—and to me—well before dinner. Gabriela and Luis had surprised me with a St. Francis of Assisi medal about a month before my triathlon; St. Francis is the patron saint of animals. They’d hesitated to send me anything religious, not knowing if it would be welcome. Only after I’d posted a photo of Lulu-Belle sitting beside the small statue of St. Francis that stands in the front yard of my Philly house did they mail the medal to me.
Gabriela and Luis couldn’t have known, but their gift was comfortingly reminiscent of the St. Bernadette medal that I wore pinned to my uniform while attending Our Lady of Lourdes parochial school—kindergarten through third grade—in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia.
Through some combination of gratitude, superstition, nostalgia, and faith I’ve seldom taken that St. Francis medal off since Gabriela and Luis gave it to me.
So when I realized that I needed a dog crate for the Florida trip I immediately got in touch with them. I purchased a crate online and, with their permission, shipped it to the Art Connection.
The very first thing I did after landing in Miami was to head there to pick it up.
Lulu-Belle and I were assigned the very best and very worst room at the Club Med Port St. Lucie that we possibly could have gotten.
It was the best because it was the room directly above Rick’s.
It was the worst because it was the room directly above Rick’s.
Lulu-Belle’s puppy energy extended to barking. Because he is such a dog lover and because he is my friend, Rick would never
Lulu-Belle on the balcony of the room we were so lucky to have at Club Med Port St. Lucie.
complain. But his fan getaway was a getaway for everyone but him. He had twice-daily concerts, meet-and-greets, fan photo ops, Q&A’s. He barely had time to eat. He was whisked from one obligation to the next by a guy who seemed part Secret Service, part club bouncer. The last thing he needed was a barking puppy overhead depriving him of his few hours of sleep.
I began to wonder if there was a puppy version of Ambien. And if there was, was it compatible with all the other meds Lulu-Belle was already on?
On the penultimate night of the getaway, after a cozy, informal “piano bar” concert where Rick played fan requests from about 10:00 until well past midnight, a bunch of us gathered to relax and party in his fit-for-a-king bedroom. There was Barbie, his incredibly warm wife of thirty-plus years who takes a genuine interest in just about everyone she meets; Doug Davidson, Rick’s best friend of nearly forty years, an Emmy-winning actor who’d been on “The Young and the Restless” nearly forever; Doug’s brilliant wife Cindy; Mark Goodman, one of the first MTV VJ’s, now a DJ for Sirius, and his acidly funny fiancée Jill, an animal rescue activist; Tim, Rick’s new keyboard player and occasional guitarist and his wife Melissa.
It turned out that I had edited Melissa’s dad. One of the books we’d worked on together had become a major motion picture: “The Devil’s Advocate” starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. Her father was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with.
I couldn’t wait to hang out with this gang. Like Rick, Doug and Mark were part of the getaway’s celebrity offerings; they were busy from the moment they got up until the moment they went to bed. This would be my one chance to catch up with them.
We were just kicking back and settling into conversations when Rick asked me to get Lulu-Belle. I was reluctant. Her face was an open wound. But I could tell that he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer and even given the condition she was in I confess that what I felt for her came close to maternal pride.
I admired her can-do spirit, her utter lack of poor-me. I marveled at the way she frolicked, either ignoring or oblivious to whatever pain she might be in. I was proud of the way she trotted around so happily, tail wagging, seemingly grateful for everything she encountered, making do with what little vision she’d been granted in this life. A part of me wanted to show her off, let others witness her great spirit. So I told Rick that I would get bring her down but that she could stay only for ten minutes. Then I was taking her back to my room.
Of course she was an instant hit. Most of those assembled hadn’t seen her at all and if they had it had been from afar. I was grateful to that Club Med manager for letting her in; I wasn’t about to push my luck by parading Lulu-Belle all over the campus. When I took her for walks I kept her far from the populated attractions and got her back to our room with as little fuss as I could. No wonder no one but Rick had seen her.
I set her on the floor and let her make her rounds. She was a social creature, happy to meet everyone. And everyone was clearly happy to meet her. But within minutes I could tell that she was getting too excited. Her friskiness could lead to nipping. This festive, slightly boozy reception was getting her too worked up. I didn’t want a repeat of that elevator scene. (See “Serenity” post, September 7, 2015.)
“Lulu-Belle!” I shouted, a little more loudly than I’d meant. I was sitting on a bench at the end of Rick’s bed; she was across the room. Blind or not, she made a beeline straight for me.
“Wow. Straight to momma,” said Doug. He laughed. “Until I saw that I’d been thinking the ‘E’ word.”
The E word, the E word. I tried to think what he could mean. Then it hit me. I forgot to breathe. Euthanasia! Doug thought that I should have Lulu-Belle put down.
Is that what people were thinking, that it was time to euthanize my puppy? How did they view me? As pathetically, dementedly hopeful, taking a clearly terminal dog from specialist to specialist—all of whom told me her chances were slim? The only one who shared my optimism was Jon and he’d never examined Lulu-Belle. He’d seen her only in passing when he’d come to pick me up for dinner the night of my triathlon. Where I saw signs of promise—Lulu-Belle’s perky demeanor, her strong appetite—did others see Dead Dog Walking? Where did optimism end and delusion begin? Was I capable of discerning? I realized that I was in too deep. I had no perspective. I’d be the last to say.
Maybe it was the same with my ex. I was looking for a pulse in our relationship—signs of hope, signs of life—when it was dead dead dead.
My twelve-year-old son was a one-man Greek chorus: “Mommy, get over it. He’s not coming back.” He was the only one to be so blisteringly negative. I’d been chalking it up to his desire for certainty. But maybe he was right.
When I told friends that my ex and I might be getting back together I realized in retrospect that they usually remained silent. Were they inwardly shaking their heads? Sure you might get back together, Sweetheart. Sure you might. Right after Lulu-Belle makes a full recovery.
I felt slightly sick. I forced myself to go on autopilot. It was time to take Lulu-Belle back to my room. She was already in my lap. I hugged her tight and stood up. When I did I noticed that her face had changed. Her lesions were all slick, as if coated in Vaseline. That exposed skin looked so raw, and there was so much of it. She looked so susceptible—as if the gentlest breeze could carry enough germs to kill her. If there was a twenty-four-hour veterinary clinic in the area I resolved to take her there immediately.
It turned out there was one: the Veterinary Medical Center of Port St. Lucie County was open 24/7. And it was only a few miles away.
I told Rick what I was doing. He wanted to go with me; it was so late—past 1:00 am; he didn’t think it was safe for me to venture out alone at this hour. It was sweet of him but I told him no. I’d be fine—I was a New Yorker, I reminded him; I could handle the wee hours of Port St. Lucie—and he needed this break. He pushed his case but I pushed back. He finally relented, but made me promise to text him as soon as I returned. I said that I would.
I went straight to my car and put Lulu-Belle on my lap. I didn’t bother with her crate.
It was so humid, so hot—much more oppressive than I’d remembered. The contrast between the outside temperature and Rick’s air-conditioned room was great. Outside it felt like a hot house; inside my rental car was like a sauna.
For some reason as I drove past the security booth at the Club Med gate and onto the dark road ahead I found myself wondering how fast the body of a little dead dog would decompose in this heat.