Monday, January 29, 2018

Year of the Dog

Year of the Dog

 [Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He teaches survival and self-reliance at Pasadena City college and throughout the community. He can be reached at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

As we are about to begin the Chinese Year of the earth Dog on February 16, it is a good time to take note of all the good things about dogs. It seems that everyone has something to say about the character of dogs.  They exhibit unconditional love, they are loyal, and they really seem to want to be a part of your life, to the extent that they are able.

Dogs are deeply loyal to their families and friends. They are regarded as honest and straightforward, and they can be deeply responsible for the welfare of those around them (remember old episodes of Lassie saving someone?).

Many of our most profound observations about human nature come from our observation of dogs.  For example, Sigmund Freud noted that “dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.”

James Thurber observed, “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.” 

One of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone was “The Hunt,” where Hyder Simpson and his dog went for a hunt one day.  Hyder’s dog jumped into a pool, and didn’t come out and Hyder looked for him, eventually finding him.  They both had died, but Hyder didn’t know it, and he strolled down a road where a man informed him he’d died and that he was now at heaven.  Hyder was about to enter but the gatekeeper said dogs were not allowed. So Hyder just kept strolling, saying he’d not go anywhere if his dog couldn’t go.  He eventually came to another gate and the gatekeeper again invited him in.  “What about my dog?” asked Hyder hesitantly.  “Oh, he’s welcome” said the gatekeeper.  It turned out that this was the real heaven, where both Hyder and his dog were welcome.  The other gatekeeper was at the entrance to hell!   It’s an excellent episode and makes you think about what is important to you in life – and after life.

Ann Landers once wrote, “Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”  And I really like the bumper sticker I once saw that read, “I wish I was half the person that my dog believes I am.”   A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself, said Josh Billings.  And Andy Rooney noted that the average dog is a nicer person than the average person. How true that often seems!

We make fun of some habits of dogs, like going in circles many times before they will lie down, or sniffing everything, because perhaps we do not understand dogs.  Dave Barry once comically noted that “dogs need to sniff the ground; it's how they keep abreast of current events. The ground is a giant dog newspaper, containing all kinds of late-breaking dog news items, which, if they are especially urgent, are often continued in the next yard.”  Funny, but probably true. I remember walking my pit bull Cassius Clay in my Altadena neighborhood, and there were certain lines of bushes which he had to slowly sniff before we could move on. It took so long to get by that area that I would sometimes avoid it entirely or I would never get home.  What did Cassius smell? His brain was likely translating the different odors left by other dogs, just as Barry suggests, and those odors conveyed a complex picture of each dog that had passed by and probably a few things about its history.

As for the intelligence of dogs, I believe it is quite high. Much has been made of the supposed higher intelligence of pigs vs. dogs.  I don’t doubt that some scientist conducted some tests of brain activity and found that pigs were higher functioning in some areas.  Pigs certainly have incredible memories. When I had both a pig and a dog, I observed that my pig, Otis, had an incredible memory, but the memory was largely limited to food: where he once found it, whether he liked it, and whether he might find more there again.  Whereas the pig seemed to be less interested in humans and wanted to live for food and pleasure, the dog’s mentality was very much geared to the human “master,” and very much included the concepts that we humans call love and loyalty.

I have so many dog stories – stories that are uplifting, sad, hilarious,  stories of how our dog pal made our life more meaningful, and taught us to love even more. I realize that if you’re not a “dog person,” you’re not going to get this.  I remember once on the Dennis Prager radio show – not a “dog person”, by the way --  he talked about people who love dogs dearly.  In his attempt to figure this out, Prager concluded that people who love dogs more than people have some sort of deficiency, and they are trying to make up for it by loving dogs.  Respectfully, I think you got that one wrong Dennis.  Granted, no two people are alike, but I see that people who can love dogs too are people who are big lovers, not small lovers. They are people whose hearts are big, and they see the beautiful life force and vitalistic energy within these non-human beings. 

I have spent some time attempting to master human-to-dog communication.  It is definitely not about words.  Yes, dogs will remember certain sounds and what they are intended to convey, regardless what human language you are speaking.  But they primarily pick up on your tone and intent.  They know anger, fear, uncertainty, love, respect, and many more of the so-called human emotions.  I also believe that Beatrice Lydecker got it right in her book, “What the Animals Tell Me,” where she shared her “secrets” to animal communication.  Essentially, Lydecker explains that you need to think in pictures, and to then attempt to convey those pictures to the animal, mentally.  I experimented with the Lydecker approach many times with Cassius and found that, towards the end of his life, we had some very deep and profound exchanges of ideas.

Welcome the Year of the Dog!  What an auspicious year. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Argument for Frugality

[Nyerges is the author of various books such as “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Squatter in Los Angeles,” and other books. He has led outdoor field trips since 1974. His schedule is available at or at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I don’t like seeing people waste money, their own or other people’s.  For most of us, money represents the transfer of our work into a tangible abstract which we use to get the things and services we need in life. Money equals our time, our work, our life. If you think that I am placing too much value on money it’s undoubtedly because I place money right up there with oxygen as something that is essential. (yes, stolen quote)

I am not optimistic about the state of our economic health, with the government doing what no one of us can do – survive decade after decade with “deficit spending,” which means money we don’t have, which means, literally, bankruptcy!

The individual should do everything possible to live within their economic means both as a lifestyle, a mentality, and as a way to avoid personal disaster. 

Though this is part of a much longer series about personal economics, let’s start with credit cards. 

The convenience of a credit card is obvious.  I can go to Trader Joes and not have to worry about carrying sufficient cash, and I can buy what I need, slide my card, and go home with groceries.  The problem with this is that too many users – especially in the beginning – get addicted to the card in the same way that one gets addicted to heroin.  It is so easy, and it feels so good, but it is not free.

Let me begin with my conclusion, something that too many have learned too late. If  you cannot pay off your credit card at the end of each month, you cannot afford what you have purchased, and you should not buy whatever it is you think you need or want. There are a few exceptions, however, as my friend Robert Blair always told me: A house, obviously.  An education, because the education presumably will enable you, long-term, to earn much more than you would have earned without it. And, unfortunately, a vehicle. More on these three later.

Remember, if you cannot pay off the balance of your card every month, you cannot afford the items in question, and should not buy them in the first place.

But everyone forgets that last sentence, at one time or another, to their peril.

The balance – and interest – build.  You learn to pay the minimum required by the credit card company, as the principle gets bigger.  Eventually, you learn to juggle your credit card debt from card to card to try and find the lowest interest rate to handle your balance.

Eventually, all your money goes to paying off the minimum amount due, and it seems that you will never get out of debt.  Was it worth it?  You’re now a slave of the banks. 

I once overhead a conversation where the individual was describing how much money they had left. “What does that mean?” I inquired.  They were describing how much more credit they had left on their credit card, as if that was their own money in a wallet somewhere. In fact, the person had NO money “left”—the amount being discussed was simply the amount of more money that the credit card company would allow the person to go even deeper into debt without worrying too much. 

Though lots of people use credit cards without any serious problems, for many others, the use of easy credit is part of the fast road to financial failure.   If you’re one of those people, one of your best courses of action is to first take a complete assessment of all your actual needs.  Stop buying anything you absolutely cannot live without. In fact, if you are having difficulty paying off your credit cards each month, you might be well advised to cut up those cards and operate on a cash basis until you know you are back on solid footing. 

There are also legitimate agencies that help you manage your debt so you can get out of debt. This means the agency will re-negotiate your debt so that you can pay one fee each month, often at a lower interest rate.  Obviously, however, you must change your behavior or you will never get out of debt, and you will be “poor” forever.

When I read statistics about how up to 90% of the American public are dissatisfied and unfulfilled in their life, I have to look at the possible reasons. One of the biggest reasons is a dissatisfaction with one’s chosen employment, because – let’s face it – everyone needs an income and sometimes we take whatever we can get.  If we do not continually seek employment that is more personally fulfilling, we begin to wonder what our life is all about. I have seen it all too often.  Then, too many of us try to find fulfillment or happiness with the junk that we buy, and then we lose ourselves into our technological world of emails and smart phones and facebook and twitters and television.  And that choice to seek meaning with more stuff, and more technology, proves to be a futile path, where we don’t find happiness and we get even poorer.

Yes, I know this is just the tip of an iceberg.  In summary, you really must work hard to stay out of debt by always delineating need from want.  If your life doesn’t depend on it, don’t buy it. And your fulfillment in life will come from your face-to-face interactions and workings with other people.  Go on a diet from your technological toys for a while. You might find a new life that was there all along, and you might find that your wallet is a bit healthier too.