2

Grouchy Loner Enters 7th Decade, Woods; Vows to Avoid Doctors, Tacos

I turned sixty last week. It's not that bad. At least that's what the nursing staff tells me.

I haven't been to a doctor in a decade, and since I feel fine I don't want to schedule a visit because it would harsh my mellow. Doctors are paid to find bad things and prescribe expensive drugs with terrible side effects.

"Steve," he'd say, "I've got some bad news…"

"Then keep it to yourself, Doc. I've got trees to cut and dogs to feed."

Longevity is a problem for my family. My sisters didn't even make it to fifty. As for the seventh decade, Dad just barely survived it, and Mom never made it out.

I think I might just set a record. As long as I have a warm place to poop, I'll be fine.

Having a warm place to poop didn't happen the previous week, and I should have known better. After enjoying a spicy taco salad with lots of hot sauce, I immediately took the dogs for a hike. While out in the woods about a mile away from the house, I experienced a serous lower gastric emergency and, well, let's just say I made do with what was available.

Of course it's a truism that bears shit in the woods. It's also true that occasionally I am forced to do so as well.

Speaking of…

I do a low-down rotten thing to my friends on their birthdays, and it makes me giggle each time. I assemble a list of famous people that died at that particular age and, over the course of the day, one by one, every hour on the hour I text my birthday friend with the message "So and So. Dead at X".

It's my special way of showing I care. Sadly, none of my friends return the favor on my birthday. They either 1) don't have time, or 2) don't care or 3) don't like me.

I'm going with Door Number 3.

That's okay. I've always been a loner.

In any event, I don't need so-called "friends" to do this when I've got me and an internet connection. Here's a small list – incidentally, one of my victims, Dan, turns sixty in August. So, Dan, if you're reading, here's a preview of your text messages.

  • Theodore Roosevelt. Dead at 60.
  • Carrie Fisher. Dead at 60.
  • George Patton. Dead at 60.
  • Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. Dead at 60.
  • Calvin Coolidge. Dead at 60.
  • Gary Cooper. Dead at 60.
  • Benedict Arnold. Dead at 60 (Good Riddance!).
  • King Leonidas of Sparta. Dead at 60.
  • etc.

My so-called "friends" sometimes reply angrily when I send these text messages throughout the day. I don't know why.

Personally, I'd love it if they sent them to me because it's the thought that counts.

So, now I'm sixty. Not Old-Old, just Old. I feel like the lone passenger on a roller coaster who's just crested the highest peak on the track.

Which means it's all downhill from here.

Steve at 60

My birthday photo. Use this for the Silver Alert when I wander away.

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

4

My Transition: A Very Important Announcement

Transition feature image

For the longest time I've hid behind the pretense that I was a middle-aged bald male with yellow teeth, worn-out jeans and a strong belt to hold in my gut. Sadly, I cannot maintain this illusion, no matter how attractive, any longer.

This world has worn me down and I can no longer live the lie I have crafted for myself.

This post is my "coming out" notice. I am not, and probably never was the man described above, at least not on the inside.

My friends, I hope you'll be sensitive to my awkward situation and understand the confusion I feel and will support me in this delicate and difficult time.

And a difficult time it has been. Truly, my spirits were sagging, droopy, and in gravity's unrelenting grasp. Then I realized the lie I had been living, that my body was not as I saw myself from the inside. That realization alone was a breakthrough moment, like a bright, warm uplifting light from Heaven. And so, dear friends, I have earnestly begun my difficult transition…

…from a belt to suspenders (or braces, for any Brits out there).

The truth is, my ass has been disappearing for several years, and the belt simply didn't cut the mustard anymore. I haven't gained any weight, in fact I've lost about ten pounds in the last couple months through exercise and cutting out many starchy foods, like french fries, stray kittens, and neighborhood children.

Don't get me wrong, at a few days short of sixty, I'm still a pudgy, doughy, humongous monstrosity, just a pudgy, doughy, humongous monstrosity that's not any fatter than yesterday.

The benefit of such an appearance is that I'm essentially invisible. I'm the guy everyone ignores, like an ugly tree in the forest, a toilet paper roll with a crushed cardboard tube, or a discarded McDonalds wrapper blowing past the bum encampment in front of City Hall.

So, suspenders it is.

It's actually a good look for me. It makes me look like a lumberjack; an old, tired, over-the-hill lumberjack who's eaten all the younger lumberjacks and is bound up like Hunter Biden after a two-week meth bender. But still…

Wearing suspenders is a bit tricky at first. You have to find the right tension.

Too loose and the pants hang low and tend to billow in the wind, like Marilyn Monroe standing on a vent – if Marilyn Monroe was a man and the vent was the exhaust port of a Harrier executing a vertical takeoff. (NOTE: people come here for the rich content, and stay for the poor analogies).

Too tight and you feel like you've been pushed off a tall building with a Bungie-cord tied to your pants and you've gotten hooked on a flag pole so you're hanging there with your weight crushing your walnuts and because of that you're screaming for help but no one can hear you but dogs.

When adjusted just right, you feel a calming coziness, like you are a Christmas present wrapped in flannel and elastic, wearing a comfortable strait-jacket and waiting in the exam room for the nurse to come and change your colostomy bag. (NOTE: the best poor analogies are oddly specific and include a poop reference).

I don't ask that you accept my new Trans-Suspender lifestyle, I simply ask that you not judge me until you've walked a mile suspended in my pants…

Preferably when I'm not wearing them…

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

3

Harvey in snow

Harvey feature image

Harvey was a local commission as a birthday gift.

Painting snow is a fun challenge. I like to try to capture some of the brilliant blue that comes from the translucence of the snow when back lit. And it's also a trick to get the footprints and jumbled snow to look realistic. It's easy to get lost and try to be perfect with every stroke, but I've found that working quickly helps to keep the energy of the scene. In this case I decided to push the intensity of the blue around the head to draw more attention to the face.

It was a fun project, and I really love how Harvey's face came out. The bow-tie ( added at the client's suggestion) was a great addition.

Harvey dog portrait

Harvey (16x16 digital print on canvas)

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

3

A Christmas Miracle (but not the one you’re thinking of)

Christmas Miracle

This bright Christmas morning I took Hudson for a long walk in the snow-covered woods (it's our daily ritual). Today, Beorn chose to stay home. At nine years old, and currently beating the odds for the lifespan of most Bernese Mountain Dogs, he's earned the right to a day off.

Since it was just Hudson and I, and he being a still energetic 2+ year old mastiff pup, I decided we should hike up the big hill. That was where I witnessed my Christmas Miracle.

The neighbor dogs joined us, as they usually do. Shadow, a small (35-40 pound) German Shorthair that loves to run the trails all day, and Cairo, a 2-year old German Shepherd who likes to play-attack Shadow whenever she streaks by.

As we walked our usual trail, I quickly noticed several new tracks in the snow. The first one looked like moose, the second looked like elk.

As we turned to head up our intended hill, the snow was slowing me down a bit, so I stopped to catch my breath. Looking to the southeast, to my delight I saw between the trees on the neighboring hillside  a large bull elk!

Bull Elk

Note to self: iPhone's make crappy zoom camera's

He stood still as cold winter death, watching us. It is a rare treat to see an elk out here. They are abundant, but very cagey and shy, so catching sight of a bull is a special event.

But that's not the miracle I'm talking about.

We kept hiking up the hill. At the top Hudson and I were joined by Shadow. Cairo was off romping somewhere.

It was then I heard it.

Cairo. Barking at something. He likes to antagonize any animal he sees, and I figured he found one.

We began our trek down the hill, Hudson and I. Shadow took off on another lap around the trails. I kept my eyes peeled for critters.

Just as we neared the bottom of the hill. I turned to my right. That was when I had my big "Oh! Shit!" moment.

Running through the brush and snow, was an agitated moose cow. She was running directly at me.

My first thought was that she was angry at me for something, or defending her calf (which I couldn't see). But there wasn't much time for conjecture. I needed a place to hide.

I quickly scrambled behind the stump of a collapsed tree. The stump was about ten feet tall and thick enough to hide me. I knew it wasn't going to be much help if she was truly after me; and if she decided to chase me around the stump I didn't stand much of a chance.

I heard her stomping through the snow as she approached. Her snorts came in quick, angry bursts.

Then, at the last moment, she swerved around the tree and passed just a few feet from me. She continued on through the snowy brush. I was safe!

But that's not the miracle I'm talking about, either.

Hudson, standing almost directly in the moose's path, gave a challenging bark, and juked to one side as the moose swerved to pass him. By now it was clear to me the moose was simply trying to get away from Cairo and happened to run into us. She just wanted to escape.

I watched as the moose continued down the hill, and Hudson turned to give chase.

It was then I loudly commanded, "HUDSON! COME!"

To my surprise, Hudson stopped his chase and turning, trotted back to me.

I stood there in shock. After all, this was Hudson, who can't stop himself from biting porcupines again and again; who will run a mile over rolling wheat fields in pursuit of a solitary deer; who will ignore all my commands to return if he hears a chipmunk in the bushes.

This is the Hudson that came back at my command.

And THAT is my Christmas Miracle.

moose and Hudson

Hudson is back on the "Nice" list

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

2

2021 Christmas Greetings

Christmas card feature image

Every year at this time, I send out our very own Merryman Christmas Cards to all friends and family on our list. It's a tradition that goes back thirteen or fourteen years, I can't remember. Nobody is counting anyway.

Each year is a bit of a challenge. Some are more challenging than others. For instance, last year's card was brutal and dark, much like the way I felt about 2020.

This year's card is bit more happy and festive, though with my uniquely bent perspective.

Here is this year's Merryman Christmas Card:

Christmas card 2021 cover

Cover

Christmas Card 2021 inside

Inside (these cards are big, they fold out to 6" x 17.5")

If you would like to add your name to my list for future Christmas cards, use my contact form to send me your mailing address.

NOTE: You can view six of my previous dog-centric Christmas cards in my online shop. YES! I have an online shop! Didn't know that, did you? That's because I just created it a few days ago. Right now it only features my Xmas cards and true to my impeccable sense of timing, I posted them too late for this year. I will be adding items as they are created. I eventually hope to have a mix of original art and prints for sale, as well as links to my work with third-party Print-On-Demand suppliers.

But enough shop-talk!

Here's wishing a Merry Christmas to you and yours, and health and happiness in 2022.

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

4

All The Tactical Dogs Have One

tactical Hudson

When we go out in public, Hudson wears a harness. It's a tan nylon number with hook and loop Molle straps for attaching accessories, along with an elastic string for strapping down whatever he might be carrying.

But those features aren't the main reason I bought it. It also has, on the back just behind his neck, a secure metal plate with a hole for attaching a leash.

To me attaching a leash in that spot is far preferable to snapping it on his collar. Hudson's a puller, and I don't want to get in a tug-of-war with him when he's wearing his leash hooked to a collar. Doing so would cause him to choke and could seriously injure him.

With his leash attached to the harness, he can still pull, but when I pull back it doesn't hurt or choke him.

I had an interesting conversation with a guy in a parking lot about Hudson's harness.

We were at a fast food joint, The Missus was inside getting our order and I was at the back of the car. It's a compact SUV with a big back door that opens vertically, so I was there keeping the dogs company and giving them some fresh air.

Guy walks up. He's a big guy, a bit overweight with a lot of tattoos.

He liked Beorn, of course. Bernese Mountain Dogs are always showstoppers, and Beorn knows and expects it.

We were talking about breeds for a couple minutes when Hudson came to the back of the car.

The guy saw Hudson's harness.

"Wow! That's a nice harness! Is it tactical?"

I didn't know how to respond. Tactical? What's that?

Ignoring my silence, he continued, "So, do you keep extra mags on it?"

Mentally catching up, I said "Only if I want to die."

"What?"

"If I kept all my extra ammo on this dog, if I was unlucky enough to find myself in a gun fight, at the first shot he'd sprint for safety as fast as possible, taking all my ammo with him. So, yeah, it's tactical if my tactic is dying."

He chuckled at that. The guy was nice enough, and we talked a bit further about Special Operations dogs and how they are trained to jump out of helicopters and whatnot. The guy was really into it.

Honestly, it's a cool subject and I enjoyed talking about what I had seen and read about. But I wasn't able to offer any special insights. I'm a fat-assed civilian, so what the hell do I know?

Eventually his wife came out, he thanked me for my time and they left.

It was a weird conversation. Tactical? Yes, I could strap all my protection on Hudson and hope he sticks with me when things go bad. Like I said, dying is also a tactic, though not exactly plan A.

I know my dog, and what his limits are. At just two years old, he's not going to stick around and Alamo it with his Daddy. He's gonna scamper outta there and hope to find a new, more peace-loving Daddy.

That's his tactic, and I can't argue against it.

In truth, if such a situation were to arise I'd probably outrun him.

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.