Huckleberry is Home!

Last Saturday, while my wife and kids were at a baby shower, my friends Marcel and Mike came over to keep me company and watch a movie (High Rise, which, by the way, is amazing). I was depressed and needed to not be alone. At one point in the evening, I told them both, “It doesn’t really matter if Huck comes home. I mean, I want him to, more than anything, but I’ve got too many other good things happening in my life to be depressed. My youngest turns five in a week, my eldest will be seven a month later, and between the two I will have a newborn son. Bad things happen but I need to keep my chin up. I’ve got too much good in my life to stay this way – to stay so sad.”

Thankfully I had help: Huckleberry is home.

At this point, I assume most of you are familiar with my story. Huckleberry was gone and I asked for help finding him. If you don’t know that I’m talking about, and want to know more, you can read my other blogs where I describe how we lost Huckleberry after a woman driving on her cellphone almost ran us over while we were riding our bikes, and my plead to all to help by hanging our flyers all over the city.

Caught up? Carry on.

Around 2pm yesterday, a saint named Shawn found Huckleberry not a quarter-mile from our apartment in the parking lot of a massage parlor at Chapman and Flower — exactly where we last saw him. I have personally been to that exact parking lot three times since Huck’s disappearance with no luck, but yesterday at 2pm, that’s where he was.

Shawn picked Huckleberry up. Before taking him home, he decided to drive around a bit and see if anyone was missing a dog. Saint Shawn found one of our flyers (the ones with the chip company’s number) and called immediately. While the chip company processed the information and contacted us, Shawn went several steps further: he took Huckleberry home to his family, bathed him, bought him a collar and leash, and continued searching for Huck’s owners online. He found our Craigslist posts and contacted me directly via email.

This is not the first time we thought we had found Huckleberry. Joy was not our go-to emotion. The girls and I were at a birthday party waiting for Kyleen to get off work and pick us up so we could go to San Diego for the night. I spoke to Kyleen before she met with Shawn and she was a wreck, full of tears, scared this wasn’t going to be our boy again. I called Shawn and asked if he could send me a picture before meeting up with my wife and this was his response: “This is your dog. I promise. Don’t worry. I found him. I’m bringing Huckleberry home.”

I then tried to offer Shawn and his family a reward. Shawn wouldn’t have it. “My reward is reuniting this dog with his family.” And that’s what he did.

Shawn met with my wife and, lo and behold, it was Huck. Kyleen and Huckleberry reunited with Lady (our other dog) before the three of them came to get the girls and I. This picture was taken moments later:

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Reunited.

You’ve probably heard it said that dogs become part of the family they’re in. That’s true. You’ve also probably heard it said that dogs become as important as children to parents. In my experience as a father of humans and animals, that’s less true. The reality lies somewhere between those two statements.

Here’s another truth: people suck. Over the last two weeks I’ve received two types of email responses from my craigslist posts: (1) tips for finding my lost dog, and (2) trolling assholery. One of the latter told me that my dog would probably be gone forever because the homeless ate him. Another let me know that most animals that are lost end up chopped up by Satanists and dropped in dumpsters. Still another lovely individual promised me that if he or she saw Huckleberry they would be sure to hit him with their car.

To say that my faith in humanity has been tested over the last few weeks is an understatement. Saint Shawn, however, has made every ugly comment endured worth the pain a thousand times over. Shawn brought my boy home, treated him with undeserved kindness, and refused compensation. There are not enough Shawns in the world. I cannot express how grateful I am to this man and the love he shared with my dog and my family. He made us whole again. I am forever grateful.

So, how’s Huckleberry doing?

Well, it appears as though he spent two weeks on his own. He’s down about eight pounds. His bones — all of them — are very visible. His skin sort of hangs at this point. His poops are oddly cohesive (we expected worse). He’s going to the vet Monday morning for an evaluation, but Kyleen (a vet tech) seems to think he’ll be okay.

Huckleberry has certainly been through…something. He’s nervous and unsure. He plays and loves and licks, but there’s an understandable weariness to him. When he slept with me last night, he would jump awake, scared, and lick my face before going back to sleep. I felt him rise multiple times and every time he would inch closer and put his paw on me as though he was making sure I was really there and then let himself go back to sleep.

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Last night’s cuddles

This is all fine. We can get through this. He’s home. We’ll make him better. We’ll do whatever it takes. All of this is small in the face of the utter loss we were experiencing yesterday morning.

That joy is in no small part thanks to you. The outpouring of love and support we have received from friends and strangers alike over the last two weeks has overwhelmed my family and I. Some of you shared our social posts. Many of you reached out personally to offer condolences and any aid we may need. A large portion of you fine folks got in your cars, on your bikes, or in you walking shoes, and canvassed neighborhoods, hung signs, talked to locals, and called shelters/animals care facilities across all of Orange County. To all of you: I offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks…

Even that feels too small.

The support we’ve received has brought both Kyleen and I to tears more than once. “Thank you” doesn’t really cover it. Your graciousness has had a profound impact in my life. Whether or not we had found Huck, you have changed me for the better.

So, despite how small it feels, thank you. Thank you so very much.

We’ll never really know what happened to Huckleberry over the last two weeks. It doesn’t matter to me. All that matters now is getting him healthy again.

The next thing on my list of to-dos is fixing my bike. My back should be back to normal in a couple weeks. Now that Huck is home, we’ve got riding to do.

“Sweet!”

A video posted by James Ninness (@jamesninness) on

 

Hail Mary for Huckleberry (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Huckleberry is Home!

—–

This is probably the last thing I’ll be writing about my missing pal, Huckleberry.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to catch up by reading what I already wrote about losing my dog. Not a fan of words? The tl;dr version is: there was an incident with a lady on her cellphone driving a car, my daughter and I on our bikes, and our now-missing puppy, Huck.

My wife, a vet tech, and I have done everything we can think of. We’ve kept in touch with all the local animal shelters. Missing Dog flyers litter our neighborhood (as well as others). Vets, other animal care professionals, police, and the local homeless have all been spoken to. Services that get the word out through email blast, internet forums, social media, and mailers have been utilized.

We’ve done everything we can think to do, and yet: no Huckleberry.

Among the professionals we’ve spoken to, the consensus is this: Huckleberry is no longer lost. Somebody has him. Likely, according to those professionals, it is one of two groups: a family who believes they have found a new pet, or a member of the homeless population who believes they have found a new pet. Regardless of who has Huck, somebody thinks that they have a new pet.

They don’t. Huckleberry has a family. He has my wife, a mother who loves him, my daughters, his sisters who have raised him from eight weeks, my other dog, Lady, who has adopted him as her own son, and me. Huck is my pal. He and I have forged a bond unlike any I’ve had with a dog before. I love the punk. I miss him terribly.

How do we get him back? Awareness. Huckleberry is chipped, so if he shows up at a vet or shelter, and if they scan his chip, we will be notified. But if he does not find his way to one of those places, which is wholly plausible, we need someone to see him, call us, and get him back.

Awareness. We need people to know that our family member is missing ans we want him back. We need to get the word out.

My family needs your help.

I’ve asked for a lot from my friends over the past few weeks. I’ve been lying on back with three herniated discs since the woman-on-her-cellphone incident. My wife is very pregnant. Despite our efforts, we’ve relied heavily on our connections to do what’s been done thus far for Huck. I am going to ask for one more thing, and, I promise, I won’t ask for anything else.

This is a flyer I made:

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Click image to download flyer

If you live in or around Orange County, I’m asking pleading with you to download it, print it out, and post it in your neighborhood. Post it in the next neighborhood over. Post it everywhere you can. This is how we get the word out, but it only works if we have your help.

Don’t live in Orange County? You can still help us out by sharing this blog. You may have a network that includes people from Orange County (hell, your network may include the person who has my Huckleberry). If they see this, download, print, and post, it may bring Huck home.

Where should you post it? Everywhere. Busy street corners. Coffee shops. Homeless shelters. Veterinarian offices. Anywhere and everywhere.

I’m eternally grateful to everyone who has supported us thus far. We have felt very loved during this rough patch. Our lives are blessed.

And to you, the person who took the time to read this: thanks. Whether or not Huckleberry is returned to us, we are so grateful for everyone’s assistance.

Chins up.

What Happened to Huckleberry? (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Huckleberry is Home!

—–

If you follow me on social media, you saw this yesterday:

Or maybe this:

Many people have reached out, wondering what happened. It’s a bit too much to explain on social media, so I figured I’d attempt to write a brief thing about it to answer those questions.

Every Sunday my oldest daughter, our dog, Huckleberry, and I go for a two-three mile bike ride. We’ve got this Walky Dog PLUS® Bike Leash that allows the three of us to enjoy our rides together with ease (if you’re a dog owner who enjoys riding your bike, I highly recommend getting one of those things). My oldest daughter (age: 6) looks forward to these Sunday morning adventures, as do I, as a highlight of our week.

Yesterday, while on our ride at around 8:15 am, a woman in a gray SUV came racing out of the Second Base restaurant parking lot on Chapman. She was on her phone and her music was blaring. She did not see my dog, my daughter, or me, and almost hit all three of us.

Let that sink in for a moment: All three of us were almost hit by a car because a woman was going too fast and looking down at her cellphone instead of the road ahead.

I may hate that woman for a very long time.

Thankfully, I was paying attention. What happened next happened in a matter of two or three seconds.

I slammed the brakes of my bike, allowing the back tire spin around to the front. My daughter tried to stop, but panicked. I reached out and grabbed her, lifting her and her bike into the air and away from the car. Huckleberry yelped, but I couldn’t see him. I caught a glance at the woman driving the car: she smiled, mouthed “sorry,” and drove away.

My daughter was in tears, terrified. Huckleberry was gone. He had spun himself out of his collar and, as terrified as the rest of us, begun running away. My daughter and I saw this at the same time. She called out his name– No. She screamed it, watching him run down the middle of the Chapman as cars veered to avoid him (don’t take his escape as a knock against the Walky Dog setup — Huckleberry is 50+ pounds and, in the chaos, any dog could have gotten out of their collar).

My adrenaline was going now. “Get on your bike and follow Daddy.”

We rode after Huck but he was far too fast. About a block down the rode I found a cop sitting in his car. I yelled at him to help and he did. He drove quickly down the road, chasing after our dog.

We lost sight of them both at Chapman and Flower.

I called my wife and told her to go outside, on the off chance that Huckleberry was running home. When my daughter and I got back to our apartment we found my wife, but no Huckleberry.

The girls went back inside and I waited for the cop to return. He did, took my statement, and promised to call me if he heard anything (which is more than he needed to do, so I am grateful for that officer).

After putting my bike away I got in my car and drove around for an hour and a half. No Huck. While I did that, my wife called shelters, vets, and his chip company; he wiggled free of his collar, which means he has no tags on him now, but he is chipped, so if he’s taken to an animal facility, he can be returned to us.

As I write this, sitting at my computer, my wife and daughters are putting up signs with Huckleberry’s picture all over our neighborhood, our bike route, and along poles in the direction he was running. They’re also talking to a few neighbors, and a large community of homeless who lives in the Santa Ana River Trail near our home.

I am not out with them because, as a result of the incident with the woman on her cellphone, the three herniated discs in my lower back have relapsed. I have a cane, and back-brace, and an ice-pack. I’m kind of useless.

Perhaps the worst part of this entire situation is what’s going on with my oldest daughter: she’s convinced this is her fault. Or at least, she was. I think she may understand that it isn’t now (her mother and I have said this to her many, many times), but she blames herself for almost getting hit by the woman on her phone. Yes, I know it’s absurd, but that’s how her brain works.

We need your help. Since it is a holiday weekend, none of the animal care facilities we depend on will be able to assist us until tomorrow. Until then, we need to get the word out and share with the Orange County community that Huckleberry is missing, he has a family that loves him dearly, and we want him back.

So please, share this post. Share the above Facebook and Twitter posts. Help us get the word out?

Thanks for reading this “quick” explanation.

Be well.

Notworking

It’s possible probable I’m an idiot.

Maybe I don’t get how things work or perhaps I’m being naïve about the reality of writing professionally.

Several weeks ago a friend of mine (let’s call him Frankfurter for no particular reason) held a script reading for a project he’s working on. Twenty or so fellow writers, producers, actors, and other would-be narrative professionals were invited to participate as audience for the reading with a feedback session to follow. A dozen actors were also invited to perform the piece while Frankfurter stood in the corner, nervous about his work on the proverbial chopping block.

What he did takes a set of brass balls. Frankfurter put himself out there for criticism, something not everyone appreciates, but my man is committed.

In the course of the evening two short episodes of his project were read, dissected, and discussed by the group. Thankfully, Frankfurter is worth his weight in gold, so, for the most part, it went well (there were a few of the typical “If you want to make it in Hollywood…” comments that typically come from people who think they’re more important than they really are, but generally speaking, the feedback seemed useful).

When it was over, Frankfurter, his girlfriend, one of the actors, and two other writers, and I went out for a cup of coffee. After a solid round of well-deserved congratulations, I asked what I thought was the obvious question, “So what’s next?”

Like many of the writers I know, Frankfurter produces more than he gets produced. Which is to say that if he were to die today, he’d leave his next of kin a wealth of wonderful scripts that nobody ever saw, read, produced, or attempted to develop.

The answer to my question boiled down to “get meetings.” Frankfurter’s plan was to take his work and attempt to sit down with producers, agents, and/or those connected with producers and agents, in an attempt to build a bit of momentum on this project.

Wonderful.

Then one of the other writers standing there (let’s call him Example X), someone I had not met before that night, apparently uncomfortable with the amount of attention my pal was getting, blurted out that he has representation.

“Oh, really?” I replied. “What type of stuff do you write?”

As many struggling writers do, Example X was not hesitant in the least to talk about himself. “Mostly science fiction.”

“What a coincidence,” I led him on. “[Frankfurter]’s work is also science fiction. Can you get him a meeting with your representation? Perhaps they’d be interested?”

At this, Example X balked. He smiled at me with all of the condescension, like I was an adorable child. “What? No. That’s not how it works–“

“Why not? He needs representation for his science fiction piece. You have representation interested in science fiction. Seems like an introduction is exactly how this should work.”

At this point Example X got pretty quiet. Frankfurter tried to change the subject. The other people in our group started smirking. I decided not to let it go.

“Hold on. Help me out. I’m genuinely curious. Why doesn’t it work this way? You two are friends, right?”

“Of course. We live in the same apartment complex,” said Example X, qualifying his relationship with Frankfurter as quickly as possible.

“Is your relationship with your representation tenuous? Might they find your suggestion to talk to [my friend] inappropriate?”

I’m not normally one to hound people like this, but we were getting coffee together under the pretense that we were friends. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) a certain level of candor amongst friends.

“No, it’s not that…”

Then Frankfurter looked at me in a way that suggested I let it go. So I did. Eventually, Example X went home and I brought it back up with the remainder of the group. The general consensus was that the reason Example X had not been eager to introduce Frankfurter to his representation was because it might jeopardize his own ability to get something produced.

While driving from Los Angeles to my home in Orange County, I couldn’t shake my frustration. Example X held an opportunity — nothing certain, mind you, but a chance — for Frankfurter, his friend, but refused to help for fear of ruining his own chances.

Time passed.

A few nights ago I told this story to another pal (let’s call him Jack Burton because Jack Burton is an awesome character and if you disagree you’re wrong and probably pretty stupid but that’s okay just keep reading). Jack Burton has directed several independent motion pictures for a couple studios — real movies, with budgets and actors who have millions of Instagram followers and all that other stuff. When I finished telling him what had happened, he laughed at me.

“That’s how things work, man,” he enlightened me. “Everyone is trying to get their stuff made. Nobody is trying to get your stuff made. It’s cutthroat.”

I tried to counter this with what I thought was a bit of reason, flawed as it may have been. If Example X had introduced Frankfurter to his representation and, in the best-case scenario, Frankfurter’s project had gotten produced, wouldn’t that work well for everyone? Frankfurter gets to make his project, Example X builds a bit of cred with his representation for helping them find a solid project, and Frankfurter would then owe a solid to Example X.

Jack Burton looked at me like I was adorable idiot (which, again, I may be), not unlike Example X had the night this started. “It’s a competition. Every time I try to write at a coffee shop in LA the same thing happens: Somebody sees me writing a script and tries to start a conversation, and the conversations always go the same way. They feign interest to get me engaged and then begin listing off all of the things they’ve done and/or are doing. Why do they do this? Leverage. If they can convince me they’re valuable then I can introduce them to my contacts and they can move up the ladder. It’s all a part of the game.”

The game? Fuck that.

I get networking. I understand the value of meeting new people and trying to extend one’s social circles. Opportunities come as one branches out. My entire professional life has been a series of bumping into people, allowing me to move from job to job and project to project. I get it, I really do.

In my experience friendships last longer than professional acquaintances. I try not to meet people based on where they can take me; but where we both are at that moment: together. If I enjoy the time we spend with one another, I try to get more of it. Sometimes these relationships lead to business opportunities. Sometimes they don’t, but that’s okay because we’re friends and I don’t need them to turn into anything more than they are.

I do not play the game well because it is a stupid game.

If you’re goal in meeting people is to use them to advance your career, they’re going to figure you out. You will likely be branded as someone unworthy of effort and, I’d wager, fewer and fewer people are going to want to work with you.

Do I ask my more successful friends for help and advice? Of course. I don’t know everything and can benefit from the wisdom of others.

Do I help all of my friends when they ask? I try. It’s not about tit for tat; it’s about a friend needing help and me being able to assist them.

That is networking as I’ve experienced it. Those two ideas swirled together: (1) benefiting from the wisdom of those ahead of you and (2) being there for those who need you.

One more story before I stop ranting like an idiot.

There was this writer I knew in college (he shall be known henceforth as That Fucking Guy, or TFG for short) and the dude has chops. The problem is, he seems to have shoved his head up his own ass.

We lost contact for a while and then I bumped into him at a party. He was arriving as I was leaving (because I’m old and go to bed early). As we passed one another in the hallway our conversation went like this:

“Hey, [TFG].”
“Hey, James.”
“How you been?”
“Good. Did you buy my new book?”
“Uh, no. New book?”

He then blurted out the title of his new book and where I could buy it before promptly turning back around and heading into the party. That was it. That was our entire interaction after years of not seeing one another.

I would love to love TFG’s book, but more importantly, I would love to love TFG. I think he’s a skilled writer and I genuinely enjoyed most of the conversations we had with one another in college. Problem is that these days, most of his conversations are about him, what he’s doing, who he’s doing it with (namedropping), and how I can support him.

I’m not his friend anymore; I’m a potential customer, which is a damn shame.

Writers, we are not in competition with one another. I want to read your book/comic. I want to see your show/movie/play. The game has us convinced that there is only so much limelight to go around, but that’s bullshit. We don’t have to fight one another for our moment in the spotlight. Instead, let’s each take turns holding that light for one another.

I’m not suggesting we unionize or anything, but try lifting one another up. Share your friends’ projects. Make introductions. Help each other out.

Or don’t. Be an asshole. See how far that takes your career and relationships — one of them (if not both) will suffer. I promise.

Here are the points I was trying to make before this blog turned into a bloated mess:

  1. Network for relationships, not opportunities.
  2. Help your friends out when you can.
  3. I’m naïve and should just shut up.

Please elaborate on #3 in the comments below.

Not a Number

This blog is not about suicide statistics.

I won’t talk about how suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, or how somebody kills themselves once every 12.3 minutes. Let’s forget the fact that women in America attempt suicide three times more than males, while males are four times more likely to actually commit suicide.

This is not a post about gun control.

I’m not going to spend the next few minutes writing about how guns are the most lethal of all methods of suicide attempts or how people who kill themselves with guns more often than not decide to end their lives mere moments before. We won’t unpack how 32,288 people died from gunshot wounds in 2012 and how 64% of them were accounted as suicides.

Forget about how suicide is the second leading cause of death in California for ages 24-35. I’m not going to spend any more time on that or the rest of this:

California-State-Facts
(Credit: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/about-suicide/state-fact-sheets/#California)

I won’t write a whole bunch on depression or drug use.

This blog isn’t about Dr. Thomas Joiner’s theory of suicide and the terrifying place where “I am alone,” “I am a burden,” and “I am not afraid to die” intersect with one another. The idea that drug abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide will not be discussed here.

I could write about that stuff. It’s possible. I have the energy. I’m motivated. I want to, but I won’t.

On Thursday, February 18, 2016, at around 8pm, my brother-in-law Greg Marsh killed himself.

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Greg and my oldest daughter, his niece.

Greg Marsh was a space-enthusiast. When he bought his new telescope a couple of years ago the two of us spent hours in his parents’ backyard talking about the possibilities of alien life, government conspiracy theories, and how exciting it is that, someday, a human baby will likely be born on Mars.

Greg Marsh was an animal lover, like his sister. The two of them had bearded dragons. For a long while, when my wife and I were bouncing between homes, Greg kept our bearded dragon, Fredo, at his place. He never seemed to mind. He didn’t ask for anything in return. Fredo never had it better. Greg made sure both bearded dragons got plenty of food, sunshine, and playtime. He was much more attentive to their needs than I am.

Greg Marsh was an uncle. My daughters have lots of uncles. Ours is a busy household with folks constantly coming and going. Most of the people are very kind, some less so. I get it. Not everyone is a “kid person.” Greg, however, did something I always found remarkable: he made them feel important. He did not talk to them for my wife and I to overhear, as so many grown-ups often do, saying things that are obviously over the children’s heads but entertaining for the adults. Greg spoke to his nieces. He was genuine with them. When the three of them interacted he was theirs, completely.

Greg Marsh was a son and brother. He had a mom, a dad, an older brother, and a younger sister. From my (admittedly somewhat limited) perspective, his relationships with each of them were distinct. Greg respected the hell out of his brother. He enjoyed watching Wally start a family and felt included in that growth as brother and uncle. We spoke of this more than once. Greg was protective of his sister, a sentiment I can understand. He wanted only the best for her and it took me a few years to prove that I might – might – be worthy. With his father Greg shared political and religious beliefs, some of which I also share, others less so. I have found myself debating something with one only to end up debating both on more than one occasion. Held above all of these was the dynamic between Greg and his mother, his eternal champion. Mothers and sons have a special bond, but never have I seen something like what they had. Greg’s mother loved him with unending grace and support. Greg returned that affection in kind. If my daughters and I share a fraction of what they had, it’ll still be more than most.

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Greg and my youngest daughter, his niece.

Greg Marsh was human. He made mistakes, as do we all. Like myself and many others, Greg had a history with drugs. Greg also loved to laugh. It was a dry laugh that sounded as though it came from the place squarely between his gut and chest. As is the case with millions of people the world over, Greg suffered from wavering bouts of depression. He worked jobs. He traveled. He read. He cried. He loved. He lived.

Greg Marsh was not a number. He was not another death every 12.3 minutes. He was not like 1 of 20,664.32 people killed by guns in 2012. He was not another point in the center of Dr. Thomas Joiner’s Venn diagram.

Greg Marsh was a man who was loved, and is missed, by many.

This blog is not a memorial. If you knew Greg than you probably already know everything I’ve written (and more). If you did not know Greg, you likely don’t care about all of this the same way those who did know him do.

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Greg, his nephew, and his nieces.

But I bet you do know someone like him.

I wager you have a friend who loves to laugh. Chances are that you know someone battling depression. The odds are pretty strong that you know a gun owner. You know a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, a mother, or a father. You know a space-enthusiast animal-lover who could use a shoulder.

And, like Greg, they aren’t a number.

Pick up the phone. Give them a call. I wish I had.

This blog is a suggestion: tell someone they are loved.

And if you’re on the other end and need to hear it, reach out. Here are a couple places to start.

 

(This blog was written with the permission of Greg’s family.)