There’s a bully stick in my house. I’m not sure where it is, but I know it’s in the house. It’s somewhere.

Based on the name, one could be excused for thinking bully sticks are used for disciplinary purposes. But they’re not.

Until a couple of months ago, I’d never heard of a bully stick. If you’re ignorant like I was, a bully stick is a dog treat. But not just any dog treat. A bully stick is a dried cylindrical object made from a bull’s penis.

A bull’s penis is also referred to as a pizzle.

Turns out, you can buy bags of bull penises. They’ve been hanging from racks in my local supermarkets all along and I’ve never noticed their presence in the pet food aisle. How can that be? But now that I know what bully sticks are, I see these chew treats in every grocery store I visit. Like my eyes Tractor Beam to the packages now. They practically jump out at me.

A co-worker, who is also a dog lover, turned me on to pizzles. “My dogs love them! Much better than rawhide!” she gushed. The rawhide talking point didn’t hold any weight with me – we never give our little dog Sally rawhide chews anyway. I demurred with a “no way” look manifested on my face and then one morning, my co-worker took the initiative and brought one in for our dog. I was told it would take Baby Sally days, perhaps weeks, to finish off the complimentary pizzle. She added, “When the stick gets down small enough, I take it away so my dogs don’t choke on them.”

That seemed like sage advice. One would never want to experience an emergency vet visit and have to explain why your small dog is choking to death on a bull’s penis. The optics just aren’t good in that particular scenario.

Yeah, according to my co-worker, bully sticks are like the old E-tickets at Disney theme parks. For those of you who don’t/can’t remember, up until the early 1980s, parks like Disneyland made you pay for individual ride tickets. Now you pay a flat fee at the admission gate and you can ride at will. But there was a time when you purchased individual “lettered” coupons ranked A to E. A tickets, the cheapest ones, were for very small simple rides. Tickets B through D incremented the level of rides you got access to. E tickets were reserved for the biggest and the best. If you wanted to see the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted House, that required an E.

So, yeah, if I was a dog, I wouldn’t want the Milkbone or the Pupperoni, or even the much-loved refrigerated DogJoy treats. I’d want the E-ticket. I’d want the bully stick.

I took the pizzle home. I prepped the couch where Sally often takes things to chew – placed an old dog blanket over the cushions in case the bully stick got wet and stained.

I bent down and handed Sally the roughly 8-inch long pizzle. Physically the treat reminds me of a large cinnamon stick – dark brown and hard as a rock. Sally took the stick from me with trepidation and centered it in her petite mouth, with 3-4 inches sticking out of each side. She struggled to balance and maneuver with a payload that seemed way too big for her. She walked her prize underneath our dining room table and dropped it on the floor unceremoniously. Then walked away.

I returned to that area of the house several times during the evening and the bully stick was right where Sally had left it. Towards the end of the night, I decided I’d take the stick back and reintroduce it to Sally at a later time. Except when I returned to retrieve the object, it was gone.

Hmm. I didn’t give it too much thought. Then. But a couple of days later, I started thinking to myself – where did that stick go? What’d Sally do with it? I walked through the house, looking casually in little hideaway spots where we’ve found an abducted sock or an unfinished Milkbone. Nothing. Could she have already eaten it? That was doubtful. No, it was somewhere in the house. I would find it.

Over the last couple of years, my chiropractor has noted she thought I have arthritis in my right hip. Beginning in July, I was really feeling it. I was limping which referred to my knee randomly pinching depending on how I swiveled.

My chiropractor told me she thought I should go see an orthopedist.

I got in with someone she recommended.

They took x-rays of both my hips and knees and then the doctor swept into the room. “Your left side is fine. Your right knee doesn’t feel fine right now, but structurally, it’s sound. No arthritis there. But your right hip? Severe arthritis.”

“So what do you recommend?”

“What are you doing right now?”

I rolled through my litany. “Tylenol. Excedrin. Cold and hot. Epsom salt baths.”

“I would keep doing what you’re doing. As people age, they just manage the discomfort like you’re doing. I’m not recommending surgery at this time unless you get really incapacitated. Now…there are shots we can give you if you want to try that.”


“Cortisone. You can get up to 4 a year, straight into the inflicted area.”

When he made the shot suggestion, the doctor looked at me like “If it was me, I wouldn’t.”

I signed up anyway. I was willing to try one round and see how it went.

At home in front of Judy, I wondered out loud if I was making the right call. I know people who have gotten excruciating injections, but they got the shots directly into their spines. Maybe a hip wouldn’t be as bad.

I wondered out loud enough that Judy told me she didn’t care if I got the shot or not – my decision – “But it might be interesting to see how you act with at least some temporary relief.”

When I called to make the appointment, I asked the receptionist what pain level I might expect. “Most people get through it just fine.”

I never like answers like that.

I heard a few horror stories from people at work about cortisone shots. Super-painful. Cure might be worse than the disease. But like I said, they were all spinal patients. I read online about the procedure and they said discomfort varies. When I asked a nurse in Ortho what the discomfort level was, she said, “Most people get through it just fine.”

When I was on the table with a sheet spread over me, I asked the doctor about the discomfort level. His answer: “Most people don’t flinch.”

I must admit I was glass half-empty on the deal when they asked me to pull down my duds below the sheet.

Similar to my last root canal, it was the administering of the anesthetic that turned out to be the tricky part. Little tiny needle. I was bordering a vocal “ouch” and then the doctor backed off. Time to inject the cortisone. I felt pressure, but not pain.

“Okay, we’re done,” the doc announced. Really? That was it? The entire procedure including numbing me up and waiting a couple of minutes was 3 – 4 minutes.

I was feeling results within 90 minutes. The doctor cautioned me not to get too enthusiastic – the desired end results take 3 – 7 days to manifest. “Keep your activity limited for the first few days. You’re going to feel like Superman, but don’t act on it.”

By the next morning, I was walking normally and neither my hip or my knee was growling. I was sore at the injection site, but other than that, the improvement was most welcome. I hadn’t walked normally or felt good on that side for months.

In my experience, 90% of everything I spent time in my life worrying about never came to pass. This procedure was one of them. When will I learn not to fret? Ever?

Being hobbled since July mainly just pissed me off. Mid-summer, I decided to return to lawn mowing. I wasn’t about to give up. I did it in sections. It took me 4 days. It was a valiant, yet stupid effort. I was hurting, kids.

I was living the American dream. I have a lawn, I just couldn’t mow it. So in August, for the first time ever, I paid someone to do it. Not complaining. They did a good job for a very reasonable price. I should be thankful. I got a case of the smarts and contracted the rest of the summer out so I wouldn’t risk further injury to my compromised body parts.

The day I watched the young kid I contracted zooming around on his standing mower, doing the work in a fraction of the time it takes me, I felt my pizzleness. So when I could finally walk normal again, I felt like I was gliding on air.

We were walking the dog Sunday afternoon and Judy turned to me. “Look at you. You’re actually giddy.” She was right. I was.

Giddy. I can’t think of a better word to describe the freedom coursing through my veins right now.

Officially elderly, I find giddy an interesting place to be. As I observe daily jettisons of the way I grew up understanding things, I have thoughts about being left behind, both by society and technology. But I gotta say, overall, a big part of me is totally cool with that.

Not too long ago, I saw an extensive interview with Elon Musk and one of the topics revolved around his desire to implant chips in all of our heads. He told the interviewer his dream was to take the phone out of your hand and put it in your head, attached to your brain somehow.

The interviewer’s jaw dropped. “When do you see this happening? 20 years down the road?”

No. Mr. Musk sees this happening in the next several years. His argument is: Who wouldn’t want the power of a phone and a computer with hands-free access? Who wouldn’t want to be able to Google stuff in your head just by thinking search parameters? Who wouldn’t want instant access to all their accounts and passwords and data without having to operate through an external device?

When I was growing up, there was more than one Christian sounding the alarm about the mark of the beast and how it would come about by everyone going cash-less and being forced to use embedded chips for EVERYTHING.

When Musk was asked how he would make people get the chip, he said they’d market it so you’d be a fool not to participate. People will line up to be more tuned in than the next person.

I’m sure there are software downloads they’d have to transmit to your head on a fairly regular basis. Not to mention a monthly maintenance fee. Will there be regular chips and premium chips where if you pay more, your chip processes faster? What happens when your chip hoses? What’s involved in fixing that? Or what if your computer chip gets hacked?

In my younger days, I might’ve considered a piratical move like chipping myself. Sure. But now I’m reduced to a pizzle. An obsolete E-Ticket. Not interested in getting the chip.

There’s a lot of shit I just don’t get anymore. And I’m not sure I’m supposed to.

I was filling out a questionnaire for my company and one of the declarative boxes wanted to know if I wished to register as a Two-Spirit.

Okay, I’m old. Ignorant about much. Admittedly pronoun-challenged at the moment. What is a Two-Spirit? I had no idea.

Without getting into details, I’m not one. I ended up registering as cisgenger AKA cis. I didn’t know what that was either, but it turns out I am one.

It’s only this year I discovered Americans are investigating human composting. There are a handful of states where your body can be sent, and for as little as $3500, they will put you in a container with natural elements, spin you around for a month, and then out comes Doug as compost that can be used anywhere you’d use “normal” compost. You can even have gift packs put together for friends and relatives to use in their own gardens.

Okay, maybe too soon for this Christmas, but perhaps next year.

I come from a time when a toilet was not allowed to be seen on primetime TV shows. During All in the Family‘s run in the 1970s, they routinely incorporated the sound of a toilet flushing off-screen as a way of middle-fingering the network censors. Flash forward a half-century and all of a sudden, I have a woman in a commercial actually taking a dump on a toilet, looking directly into the camera, declaring “You poop, girl!”

Crazy times. But all around me are respites from the turmoil.

Our 6-year-old granddaughter recently spent a weekend with us. She is an absolute delight and we recognize all this time as fleeting. Because of her, I did some things I hadn’t planned on.

We watched Shrek.

And we watched Prep and Landing.

And she read to me. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. This classic children’s book has resided in our varied households since the 2 kids from my first marriage were toddlers. That book was read to them, by me and by my recently passed friend Ben Matlock, back when both of us were younger men. That book was read to our son Ivan when he was young. Ivan read it to his daughter. And now Ivan’s daughter is reading it to me. You wanna talk about life arcs? Man, I’m living them right before my own eyes.

I read over her shoulder. She was really reading, not faking it. When she got to the word “climb,” she hesitated. I whispered the word.

She looked at me thoughtfully. “Oh, the B is silent.”

That slayed me.

All of these small random moments amount to great things.

So maybe I should have expected a sea change.

A seismic shift is rocking through me as I type.

The process began hatching when I visited with my dear friend Ben in hospice back in early July. He’s now passed and I speak with his husband Ted on the phone from time to time. I find those conversations illuminating. If you want an intimate education about losing the best friend you ever had, talk to someone who’s going through it. And it’s not all sad. We spoke yesterday and he had me laughing hysterically.

When I returned from seeing Ben, I started looking at my best friend with even more appreciation. Judy has been the other half of me since 1980. I am really lucky to have her in my life and I thank the stars a thousand times a day.

Last Friday, an emergency meeting was called at my work for a group of people on a specific contract. The VP of our company traveled to personally deliver the bad news that next year’s option year had not been picked up by the government. We are all out of a job on December 16th. Merry Christmas. As Mick the VP reeled off the standard boilerplate encouragement VPs are required to do, he made sure to include “Don’t look at this as a bad thing. Look at it as a door opening to opportunity.”

Faces around me were glum. I maintained by resting poker face, but I was far from glum.

We were told not to freak out over the weekend. Would they try to get us other jobs in the company? Yes, they’d already thought of that, except all the requisitions required relocation. There was a remote possibility I could get picked up by a new company that would probably adjust my salary downward.

I walked back to my desk in a haze of sorts. But not a confused haze. More like an ethereal one. Like I was physically feeling my soul lifting up inside of me and it was a surprise to a person who hasn’t felt that way in a long time.

On the drive home, I’d already committed. I sat down with Judy and gave her the news. We thought in calm silence for a few minutes and then she said, “Well, can we swing it?”

We were counting on that last option year to pay off a couple of things so we’d be relatively debt-free when we kicked off retirement. I crunched numbers. We would have to move a couple of funds sooner than later, but we could survive.

Time to pull the trigger.

I have been elated ever since I stepped through that door Mick held open for me. Each morning since, I’ve woken up wondering if I have doubts. No. In spades. No.

All of this comes in the midst of a perfect storm.

After coming back from seeing Ben in July, I decided to ditch alcohol, more for my health than anything else. I don’t plan to be a monk about it, but for the last several months, it’s been easy to pull off because I’ve enjoyed the physical effects that have made themselves known.

Normalized blood pressure.

Deeper and longer sleep.

Weight loss.

Significant weight loss. Went from an authentic pot belly to a mere belly and even that’s disappearing after finally being able to exercise again courtesy of a cortisone shot.

I am a renowned candyholic on occasion. I’ve always liked my fun-sizes. My pattern tends to be cycles of shying away for brief periods before unexpectedly exploding into binges. So I gave that up, too. Like with alcohol, I’m not going to swear off candy altogether, but for now, more sugar gone out of my diet. My belly says thanks for that exclusion as well.

During this period of change, I lit a fire under my Santa bio and the progress has been nothing short of exhilarating to me as a writer. Over the last couple of months, I’ve spent many wee hours typing away before heading off to work. I can’t wait to share the story and see what you think. Frankly, I’ve been working on it so long, I can’t wait to see how it turns out myself.

On my drive home from upstate New York last July, I scanned stations on the radio and listened exclusively to Country. I’ve always liked Country, but admittedly it’s usually not my first choice. But there I was. Honky-tonkin.

After that drive, I started listening to new music. Can’t remember the last time I wasn’t in a musical rut. This part of the process has been particularly fun. With YouTube, I can find thousands of killer artists who will never see the light of day. I don’t have to buy their records, although they would appreciate that, I’m sure. No. I just have to enjoy things in the moment. As I happen upon them. Take time to stop and smell those roses, Doug.

My latest crush is Morgan James. Specifically, her soulful cover of the song Maps. Make sure it’s the version of her in a living room backed by the Post Modern Jukebox band. She’s got opera and Broadway chops, so some of her songs come off vocally shrill to me, but on Maps, this woman takes the bull by the horns and the bull doesn’t win.

There comes a moment midway through the song where she goes for a high note that you think no one could reach. And she does it. And she sustains it longer than you would think humanly possible. Each time I watch the Maps video, it’s like seeing it for the first time. I move to the edge of my seat when it’s time for that highlight, thinking There’s no way she’s going to hit that note again! and when she does, my mind adds a thumbs up Damn, girl!

I was primed to be pointed in the right direction.

A couple of days ago, I gave my co-workers the news. They talk about retirement all the time and are miserable waiting for their separation dates and each of them has years to go. I am the oldest member of the team. They were genuinely happy with my decision and wished me well. I can also say that when I told them I was leaving, they were crestfallen. And I don’t think that’s too strong a word.

“We’re really going to miss you. We’ve loved having you here.”

I was touched but I’m good with movin’ on. Since making the decision to take the six-gun out of the holster, my mind has been elevated to a different place.

What had I been waiting for?

No more of the bullshit part that comes with a job like mine. Judy looked at me the other night and said, “You’ve been doing what you do for 49 years. Seem like enough?”

Yeah. It does.

I want to spend the rest of my life hanging out with my best friend. We have looked over at each other many times and said, “We’re really lucky. A lot of our friends and relatives are gone now. But we’re still together and we have our health.”

When we were young, we often talked about ending up as an old couple in our rocking chairs on the porch. Hey, we’re almost there. Except we don’t sit in rockers and we don’t sit out on the porch much. But we’re there in spirit. And I can’t think of a better place to end up.

We spend our days quietly enjoying each other’s company and mutually fawning over the third member of our love triangle, Baby Sally.

Our crazy Chihuahua mix celebrated her one-year anniversary in our home on October 22nd. She still goes batshit at the random parked car on her daily walks, so you can imagine her excitement level when trick-or-treaters came to the door last night.

Actually, I was surprised, too. We are somewhat rural and we haven’t had a trick-or-treater in years. But I always keep a cookie jar full of candy around, so I was prepared.

Judy was gone overnight in Richmond with her girlfriend Lou at a dance show. So I was home alone in the middle of the Spanish version of 1931’s Dracula which was filmed simultaneously at night on the same sets as the English version starring Bela Lugosi. I don’t speak Spanish, but I watched without subtitles to see if I could figure out what they were saying. And, hey. I was actually understanding bits here and there. Well, you know, in my mind anyway.

The Renfield character in the Spanish version is even crazier than Dwight Frye. I was getting into it and then came the knock at the door. Sally went batshit.

And like I hinted, she went double-batshit when it turned out to be five people in costumes. The dog turned the volume up to eleven. I held Sally in one arm while safely dangling out the cookie jar in my other.

The kids were a mix of two pre-teens, two little boys, and one little girl. They each got three pieces so they were openly thankful. As they thanked me one last time and turned to go, the little girl looked innocently up at Sally barking ferociously, baring her tiny teeth, and in this little waif voice said, “I think your dog is pretty.”

That made me laugh out loud.

See. You can’t put a price on beautiful chaos like that, can you?

After waving the kids away and closing the door, I reveled in the warmth of the moment on auto-pilot, downing 3 fun-sized treats from the cookie jar before realizing what I was doing. A Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A Baby Ruth. An Almond Joy. It was unbelievably easy to slip. Almost like taking another breath.

I told you I wasn’t going to be a monk about it.

I’m trying to embrace being obsolete, so cut me some slack. I’m having to embrace being content as a human bully stick versus being an E-ticket.

Weeks after the bully stick went missing, I was walking through the front part of the house and I heard focused dedicated crunching. What the hell. I discovered Sally on the couch, clutching her largely unmolested bully stick, gnawing intently on one end. Good. At least I knew where the stick was. I made a mental note to return at the end of the evening and kidnap the stick. Only when I came back, the E-ticket had once again vanished. It’s been over a month and I still haven’t found it.

I am still on my kick of avoiding most news, at least for right now. Especially stuff that makes me ill.

Nevertheless, the other day I happened upon an article talking about an Elon-financed lab currently experimenting with monkeys who have had FDA-approved chips implanted in their craniums.

Reportedly, the chips are causing brain ruptures in a high percentage of the monkeys.


Elon’s response?

“Everything’s fine.”

He’s looking for human volunteers beginning next year.

The giddy man wants you to go first.

I dare you to pull the trigger.