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Essentially Ashland: Barking words

Most days you will find me sitting on the porch absentmindedly or with great conviction, water boarding words. I intentionally agitate adjectives, agonize adverbs, question question marks, corral conjunctions and flat out invent collective nouns. It is great fun while it lasts, though, sooner or later I am jerked back to reality by sighting a dog walking its master along the sidewalk.

The passing of the pooches is remarkably predictable as pets and owners fall into routines, which are within a minute or two of the hands of a clock. A miniature collie cruises by at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Between Lab-thirty and quarter to Cocker Spaniel the two deer who reside in my side yard jump into my front yard to tease my dog, Spooky, then clear the picket fence and cross the street to enjoy some nuts. Cars stop and digital cameras zoom to capture the bucolic scene. Engines are turned off as dozens of people point and shoot.

While there is a paucity of poodles, I daily witness tiny bundles of fur nose about as these micro lap dogs strut with the demeanor of a lion. Spooky approaches the fence, vigorously wagging his tail as he wants to play. Some of these little snappers actually want to attack a dog 10 times their size. I have never figured this behavior out, though when I approach they stop pulling on their leashes and give into the taste of a small dog treat, with the permission of their masters.

Meanwhile, back at the laptop, a grammar program with an English teacher interface, nags and wags, as I make an abundance of typos and mix metaphors in a blender. I am usually ordered to do more homework, clean the erasers and empty the trash while parsing a sentence for possible use. Fortunately I know where to click and the teacher huffs off the screen to talk with the vice principal about my future, which always begins and ends with detention.

It was then that a friend walked by reading the classifieds, I walked out to greet her and we traded pleasantries. I sensed that something was wrong so I invited her to sit on the porch for a few minutes. What I heard is increasingly the case with many people in the service industry: A combination of events, including the economic downturn, layoffs, rising health care costs and the seemingly large percent of valley residents who have sworn off shopping and eating in Ashland all conspired to reduce visitors and compound the financial misery of a majority of town folk. My friend had been searching for work for six months without success. Everywhere she went, despite her successful work history, she was told that business was down, but the owners were very reluctant to make mention of it to the general public.

Determined to get at the heart of the matter I pulled up a Mail Tribune poll and read that 65.5 percent of the 3,129 participants were against renewing the tax on prepared food, which, in the state of Oregon, exists only in Ashland. My friend usually worked in high-end restaurants, but no one was hiring. Instead shifts were cut and the owners manned positions in an attempt to keep the businesses afloat. She soon had to leave with her bag of resumés to re-contact any and all business owners who had previously said no. We hugged and she was off for another afternoon of rejection while the bills piled up and her dog needed the attention of a veterinarian.

I sat back down to my work and wondered how all of this will work out. Then it came to me in a flash of muddled logic: Why not increase the meals tax to 10 percent and build affordable, green housing on top of the sewage treatment plant? The city could sell gas mask filters to those trying to barbeque on their 20-square-foot balconies while enveloped in a noxious cloud with a view of the dog park. This, of course, would be phased in after the new dog tax is imposed.

Lance@journalist.com was last seen interviewing merchants and restaurant owners in Jacksonville, where the elite of Medford now go to eat and shop. After all, they have a choice while in Ashland the only choice is to stay home, which exacerbates the downtown downturn.