Saturday, March 17, 2007

Busy Day

This morning began with glass class -- I arrived to discover that nobody else had showed up. Fred was unhappy -- more, I think, that nobody had called than from the lack of attendance. His feelings were hurt. His wife, Joyce, was there - I always like it when she's around. She's really cool, and it's refreshing to watch her and Fred, as they truly are friends. They are in their mid-50s, and married when Fred was 18.

Fred is a prolific artisan, and each week he's made something: a lamp, a hanging. He loves to point these things out and hear our response, which invariably is positive. He's good. This week it was glass front to a cabinet, inside which was a model ship he was working on.

I wanted some coffee so I walked to the nearby diner, which is just a counter and a grill -- I love this place. Tattooed old men, young Hispanic families, the place is a slice of Chicago life, sitting together eating comfort food. It may sound corny, but the place feels so very American.

I returned with my coffee and began cutting the little pieces of glass that make up the petals of my flower. Fred and I chatted about this and that, and compared our respective tendencies for repression.

"I'm an internalizer," he said.

"Yeah; I've got the night guard," I replied.

I managed to make decent headway; the glass I was using was very "hard" -- some glass feels more difficult and brittle to cut; it fights you. I had to redo only a few pieces, and I was pleased.

I raced home, put my stuff away, listened to a voicemail left by Sven (him singing, his boyfriend, Andrew gamely doo-wopping in the background), and headed to the PAWS clinic on 26th St. for my outreach training. The clinic is on the Southside, in part of the city known as Little Village. It was my first time there, and I was fascinated. Loads of little mom-and-pop stores: taquerias, communion dresses, piƱatas and party favors. Pushcarts selling tamales and chicharrones stood on almost every corner, the vendors hunched in hooded sweatshirts against the cold.

I counted about three signs in English, and was pleased that my six years of public-school Spanish plus one college semester allowed me to understand practically everything I saw. Yes, I am fluent in shopping-district Spanish.

The shelter and spay/neuter clinic was impressive. The public-outreach coordinator is a fantastic woman with a background in theater and education, so the materials were polished and presented well. There were four of us, including M--, a young man from Mexico who's volunteered there for awhile and has given presentations. His ability to give presentations to spanish-speaking audiences is highly valuable. We introduced ourselves and gave our backgrounds; he explained that he was involved because "I just love animals. I love them." It's really touching to see a man be so open about his affection for animals. It's rare to see. I think I fell a little in love with him.

We ended up being there from 2-6. At first we saw materials and presentations, including a presentation on dog fighting whose target audience was kids.

To explain: Most of the pet overpopulation problem springs from low-income neighborhoods; 80% of pet overpopulation comes from 3% of the population. The problem is mostly a combination of economics and education. PAWS outreach targets specific Southside ZIP codes, as does its spay/neuter program. The four points that they always address (emphasis based on age of the audience): Spay/neuter, bites, proper animal care and kindness, dog fighting.

Dog fighting is a huge problem in Chicago. In fact, the HSUS is trying out a model dog-fighting program here. Susan, the outreach trainer, told how whenever she goes to schools and asks about dog fighting, about 80% of the children (CHILDREN) know about dog fighting, and many have seen a dogfight. In fact, they are finding that children as young as 8 are being taught how to train a dog to fight.

The presentation she had put together was for kids who had seen dogfights. It was very moving, and contained understandably troubling pictures. Not one of us was dry-eyed by the end. M--- next to me kept moaning softly as each photo was showed. I could tell it was killing him.

"I just want to hurt someone," he said sheepishly when it was done.

We all have our videos and presentations to review and practice, and will return to practice in front of others. We will also shadow some presentations to see how they are done.

After the training we got a tour of the shelter and clinic, which is very large (a larger new facility is scheduled to open in Lincoln Park in the fall). The place is amazing, especially the clinic. It was closed by the time we took our tour, but you could see how well it was provisioned. We were told that a couple of weeks ago the vet performed 180 sterilizations in one day.

The dogs are kept in a kennel in extra-large runs, and most seemed happy and well adjusted. We met a lot of really cool dogs of all shapes and sizes, and also some cats, then it was time to go. I'd like to return to Little Village to just check it out, walk around. The brick houses bear the ornate finials reflecting the style of the original Bohemian population. The area reminds me of the Latino section of Center Street in Jamaica Plain. I know there is a fair amount of crime, but I am drawn to the real feeling of a community there. Or maybe I'm just fooled by how completely foreign it feels.

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