Friday, March 24, 2006

Update on Kenyon; Operation Seagull and the National Debt

Yesterday we went to Van Damme State Park beach to exercise Kenyon. He continues to limp on his left forelimb, which the vet diagnosed as osteoarthritis—no need even for X-Rays. Yet it still grieves us to watch him lope unevenly rather than run outright.

At the beach we tossed a chartreuse tennis ball into the Little River and watched him swim and fetch, gradually working up to the ocean, where he braved bigger and bigger waves to fetch his ball. Because he has one cataract his vision is not as keen as formerly, so we also use a green 7-Up bottle half filled with water for fetching.

Kathleen and I also engaged in a little batting practice with a piece of driftwood and Kenyon’s soggy tennis ball. She hit it hard twice but more often whiffed, for which I blame my pitching. Kenyon meanwhile played catcher and chased down every missed ball before grudgingly, and with much encouragement, returning it to the pitcher.

The good news is that Kenyon’s personality has made quite a comeback, overcoming his canine PTSD in increments. He will now wander out back of our motel without accompaniment, though most of the time he still stays very close to Kathleen. When we come home he now greets us with as many items as he can stuff in his mouth, including his favorite sock and rawhide bone. (Sometimes he gets two socks in his mouth but it’s hard to add the tennis ball.) He’s been up in our bed to be doted upon but has trouble climbing up without help. It’s always the left front leg that gives him trouble. I suggested a neoprene sleeve support to the vet, but she’d never heard of such a thing, so I think I may go to the local dive shop and have them make one.

As we were preparing to leave the beach yesterday, Kenyon happily tired out from his swim and fetch session, we noticed a mottled brown seagull flopping around in the parking lot. From a distance it appeared to have a broken right leg. On closer inspection I noted that it had been hamstrung by a long leader used for salmon trolling (which I believe is out of season and illegal now), including a hook through his right flipper and one deep in his gullet. I threw a towel over the bird and lifted it carefully into a box in the back of our beat-up van. As we drove back to Fort Bragg he escaped from his box and began fluttering amidst the luggage in the back (which made me feel like Tippie Hedren in a phone booth). Kathleen steadied Kenyon but he wasn’t terribly interested, once again confident that he is the center of the universe.

Returning to the motel, I called a number of state agencies for wildlife rehabilitation, only to receive the final recommendation that I should call a local vet. Your government at work. “Save the teacher’s union, not the seagulls.” As all the vets’ offices had closed, and being a qualified physician and surgeon myself, I thought it would be easier if I did the job. With the help of Suzanne, our motel manager, and Kathleen, I was able to remove both hooks and untangle the leaders and snap-swivels from the bird’s right wing.

Its tongue had been partially severed in the middle by the fishing line. The hooks were large and of stainless steel, so wire cutters were of no use; I had to crimp the barbs and back the hooks out, which worked, although “Benny” (I named him afterwards but his pronoun will now change from “it” to “he,” though I have no idea how to determine the sex of a seagull) was obviously in pain during the operation on his gullet. I did learn that the pressure of a seagull’s bite is not powerful enough to seriously injure a human finger, although it can be impressive to the uninitiated. I wore gloves in any case. Afterwards Kathleen soaked the gloves in detergent.

Only then did I realize that “Benny” might have given us the bird flu! Oh well. I wouldn’t have done anything different if he were the first North American case except to wear a mask and quarantine him. I don’t recall any cases in seagulls or vultures anyway, as their scavenging ways require a very aggressive immune system.

I let Benny down in the storeroom after the operation and he could walk normally again, but I wasn’t sure he could fly. Suzanne suggested we keep him in a box overnight to rest. This morning I released him and he seemed dazed; I gave him some bread and sardines and he ate them, though his aim in locating the morsels seemed a little unsure. Concerned that he couldn’t fly, I gave chase to him on foot, feeling like Rocky Balboa, only to see him take off from the parking lot, whirl around the trees at low altitude, and then land in the middle of Highway 1. What a bird brain is Benny! Kathleen and I raced to the median and held up cars in order to shoo him off the road. In the gas station across the street I couldn’t capture him with a towel, but he finally took off and flew back across the road. There he located a pool of fresh water flowing by the curb and drank his fill. I watched him a little longer before leaving him to his own wiles and the elements.


Yesterday we learned that we’d been declined as tenants for a second hoped-for rental, and we know it’s our credit scores doing the damage. As mad poets, Kathleen and I are occasionally seized by guilt at our joint unreliability when confronting the mechanics of modern reality. We’ve owned three houses between us and have nothing to show for it. We’ve both been through bankruptcies. In Mexico we spent way too much money, including the little amount of equity (by today’s housing market standards) we managed to recover when we sold our re-financed condo.

Sitting on the bed together, admitting our lifetime lack of interest in things material as well as our failure to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s of modern living (we have no health and I have no life insurance, though we do have car insurance), Kathleen remarked, “It’s not so bad, Craig. That’s just who we are. We saved a seagull in distress that other people at the State Park ignored. We helped bring back Kenyon’s health. We had a good day.”

And you know, she’s right. We are truly God’s children, and though that’s no excuse for not doing better in the real, material world, we’re just the kind of people who more easily give away a dollar than pinch a penny. We do, however, believe in karma, that the good we’ve done in our lives (though it will not insulate us against suffering as this blog has pointedly illustrated) will ultimately rebound to us in times of need—and it has. “Cast your bread upon the waters.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” “Behold the lilies of the field.” And so on. For us this is not an excuse but a matter of faith. We are not in denial about not building bigger barns. We’re just not very good at it, but God is faithful even to the foolish.

Now I did pay all our bills yesterday, including half of the money my sister loaned me short-term when Child Support Services left us penniless again two weeks ago, and I am current with the car payment, the motel bill, the storage payment, and child support, so it’s not as if we’re totally irresponsible. What truly galls me is that three years ago, when we sold the condo, I was entirely debt free. But when I went to purchase a car, I couldn’t get a decent loan because, God, of all things, I had “no credit.” No payment records. A debtless soul. Thereby I learned again the logic of American consumerism: if you can’t be trusted to keep on borrowing, we can’t trust you to keep on lending.

So a word to the wise: do not become debt-free. Pay your credit card bills on time; in fact, it’s best to run up large bills and make large payments for at least six months to improve your credit. But never, never get entirely out of debt or the system will punish you for your frugality.

And remember our great example: a government of the consumer, by the consumer, and for the consumer, shall not perish from the earth, as Congress has just raised the national debt ceiling to nine trillion dollars—$9,000,000,000,000—more eggs than a million seagulls could lay in a lifetime. Still the thinking goes that compared to our yearly GNP it’s not that bad. Besides, if American credit goes down the drain, the global economy will tank as well, because those who have invested in our debt, like China and Japan, would be shaken to the core. Thus they would do anything to prop up the credit of the U.S., as we are all so economically intertwined—like mating snakes.

The moral of my story? A penny borrowed is two pennies earned.

And don’t waste your life on wounded seagulls unless you’re willing to pay the price.

Thine as ever,

C. E. Chaffin


  1. Anonymous5:36 PM PST

    By my adopted standart that writing should be the axe to cut the ice in my soul your expressions of beauty succeed more than you can know. With what you have between you and Kathleen and Kenyo, there is no need to worry much. Look for marigold and tomatoe seeds in the mail soon.

  2. I am happy to hear that Kenyon is doing better. Every dog needs a good life. :-)

  3. CE

    Hi. I've been trying to get in touch with you about something but I'm not sure if my mail is getting though.

    Can you write me at Thanks.



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