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Curtis Sees Dead People

Saturday, October 3, 2020

I strive, and have striven, to keep this blog running since 2005, and, in a twin effort, to keep it from becoming All About the Dog. Having weathered a near total takeover of content by one Napoleonic little Boston terrier, I struggle not to let Curtis barge in the same door. I'm fighting not him, but myself; my belief that he is the Most Special Dog Ever. I fight my own besotment.  Well, who could not be taken over by a dog so smart, so sweet, so alive, so tiger-striped?
Plus, get this. He loves to be hugged. Presses in for more. Most dogs don't like it; Curtis craves it. In addition, he smells like fallen sycamore leaves, not a hint of ook. The perfect companion for a lonely anthropoid craving ventral-ventral contact in a pandemic, saith the Science Chimp. 

So I figure it's time for an All Curtis photo post. 

On a recent Thursday, we saddled up for a ride to the sweet little town of Nelsonville, Ohio. Our destination? Stuart's Opera House, its crown jewel. I had to do a tech run-through of my first virtual presentation of Saving Jemima, the book talk that COVID-19 canceled. (Yes! you can watch it! And yes! details below!)

I figured the 2 PM run-through would take about a half-hour, and we'd be on our way, maybe hiking one of the state parks along the Appalachian highway for the afternoon. Well, things didn't quite work out that way.

Curtis always starts our car rides in the front seat, looking forward, as if he's got co-pilot status and has to make sure I pull all the right levers. Traffic stops get boring, though. 

I have anticipated this, so I've brought a pillow for this cur who needs a pillow, at all times. 

Still, it's not very comfortable. 

He could go to the back seat, but that would mean giving up co-pilot status. 

So he opts for the tired airplane passenger sleeping sitting up move. I particularly love his badonkadonk in this shot. Chet had a badinkadink. This dog has baDONK.

Eventually we got to the Opera House, and it became clear that I was in the hands of artists, who are intent on making a show of this event, which is not only my first streamed lecture, but Stuart's Opera House's first streamed event! It will be available on Zoom, but it won't be a simple screen share--you'll be able to see an inset of me speaking, as well as a wide shot of the stage. It will feel a lot more like attending a live lecture. I am excited about this--it counteracts the dreary thought I had of having to give a slide lecture from my studio, all by myself. 

But back to Curtis. He entered the Opera House with pricked ears and waving tail, surging ahead to investigate each room we entered. We had no sooner got on stage and I had taken my place, though, when Curtis began to agitate. He was off his lead with people to kibbitz with, so it wasn't that he was bored at being confined. 

No, he was Zombie Whining me. A Zombie Whine is a very high-pitched screech that starts with a long, soundless exhalation and ends with a sound like a car pulling away on a wet street. He gives it when he very much wants me to be doing Something Other than What I am Doing. 

He kept gazing off into the darkened theater, ears pricked, wagging his tail, then turning back to me. 
"Honestly," I said to my hosts, "it's like he's seeing a ghost, and he wants me out of here, pronto!" This statement unleashed a highly enjoyable barrage of ghost stories from my hosts,  Stuart's Opera House's Executive Director, Melissa Wales, and T-Bone, the house sound artist who is coordinating the show.

It seems there are two ghosts, seen by multiple people, who haunt the Opera House. One is George, thought to be the builder of the place. He walks up and down the empty halls, whistling. Whistling. Melissa has heard him--and she'll know that the door she just heard open is locked up tight, and the lights are off, and there cannot be anyone there, but...footsteps and whistling. Yeeeesh!

Also present and much more mischievious is a ghost the living denizens of Stuart's call Victoria. She's seen more often than George, who is usually heard. She messes with electricity. T-Bone told of one night when, in the  middle of a performance, the house lights started rapidly strobing. Everyone looked at one another, asking what could be going on. T-Bone rushed to cut power to the house lights, flipped the breaker...and the lights stayed lit. Dimly, but they stayed lit. Ohhh-kay. 

At this point I was getting chills, my mouth hanging open. And then they told me about the child visitor who kept asking about "the lady in the balcony."
Victoria is usually spotted in the balcony.

I seen her. I seen Victoria out there.

You can't see her, but I can. Dogs can. Well, I can. We need to go.

We need to get out of here, Mama (blep) I'm begging you.

Sadly, Curtis did not get his urgent wish. In the end, I was there for more than two hours, working out all the kinks and folds of streaming a live lecture to an unseen audience. I enjoyed every minute, even if Curtis didn't. I'm so excited about this! It's happening Thursday, October 8, at 7 pm.

Here's the event on Stuart's Opera House's website:

If you've always wanted to attend a Zickefoose talk, but haven't had a chance, well, here you go. Much as I miss touring, I'm truly excited about the chance to open this out to a wider and more far-flung audience, and to give people a chance to hear the Saving Jemima book talk, no matter where they might reside.

Are you done yet? I'm keeping an eye on you. See that hole in the wall behind me? Ghosts come through that. 

Come ON Mama let's GO! I have to get you out of here!

All right, Mr. Supernatural, we can go home now. 

See you Thursday October 8 at 7 pm! And since you're gonna ask, Curtis done blown his chance to be there. I'll have enough to do without placating an antsy beggartick cur-dog who has to report loudly on what he's seeing up in the balcony. I'll just have to take my chances with George and Victoria sans bodyguard. 

Thanks to Stuart's Opera House, Athens Area Birders, Scioto Valley Bird and Nature Club, my favorite ever general store White's Mill, the Ohio Ornithological Society, and Bob Scott Placier for sponsoring my appearance. I don't know who's sponsoring George and Victoria's appearances. 



We were in Nelsonville last week on our jaunt thru SE Ohio. Missed seeing the Opera House. Hope I can figure out how to view the talk!

Curtis eagerly followed me up to the balcony when I made a trip to the booth. I thought he was bored and wanted to explore. But he was there only a moment, I turned around to see where he was but he had fled back downstairs quickly. Had he seen Victoria?!

It's a sign of the times that I must now decide between 2 "virtual" programs taking place at the same time (your talk is one of them). Darn!

Love your description of the Zombie Whine. My dog does something very similar when she gets frustrated, usually because she wants to do something she shouldn't.

I just finished watching your lecture/talk and am SO thrilled to have seen it! Couldn't get in at first (in spite of my reservation) but after contacting Stuart Opera House they gave me the YouTube link to tune in. So glad that they were able to skirt the problems with the Zoom. I have been following your blog since almost its inception so I feel like you're part of my family. Getting to see all the details of raising Jemima was more than special. And I learned a lot about Jays from it that I hadn't known before.

Thanks for bringing a dose of inspiration and wonder into these tumultuous times. It was exactly what I needed. And I loved the song at the end. Beautiful.


I loved your presentation last night at the Stuart Opera House. We live in an inner-ring Columbus suburb and yesterday saw blue jays drive off a Cooper's Hawk. He was eyeing the birds at our feeders. I don't begrudge him a meal but wish he would choose another place to dine. We appreciated the jays not making him welcome. ��

It was so nice to see the historic theater being used, too!

Really enjoyed your New York Times article on Bird Feeders.....thanks for your enthusiasm! I live in coastal NC, yesterday I got to help save a pelican and a royal tern that were tangled in fishing line. Love bird watching and feeding :0) Happy Fall.

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