Death and Rebirth | Gimme Schalter Vol. 2, №1

Decaffinated Rainbows (“Decaf”) Schalter was a terrible dog, but a wonderful person.

She was a year or two old when we adopted her; they told us she was so scarred by neglect that she would never play like a regular dog, never act like dogs should act. We realized on the way home from the Adopt-a-thon that her chill vibe was in fact terrified catatonia.

She learned to run and bark and wag and play, but she never got very good at acting like a dog should act.

Collage courtesy of Kelly Schalter — @MamaYuv on Instagram

She was a basket case, collapsing into a pile of quivering anxiety if anything was wrong — like whenever she forgot the difference between “sit” and “down” again, and didn’t know what to do to make us happy. Or she heard thunder. Or she suspected we might be about to make her get in the car, which she hated. She’d turn into Apology Jell-O if she ever barked or snapped at any of us.

At first, she didn’t understand the idea of “treats”; wouldn’t eat any non-kibble food. But once she realized anything that smelled good might taste good, she counter-surfed like Stephanie Gilmore. Once she knocked an entire large pizza off the counter and devoured it all; I got to the kitchen just in time to see her toss the last slice up in the air with her teeth, open wide, and snorgle it down her gullet like a T-Rex eating a goat. She’d take a Nutri-Grain bar, a used Ziploc bag from the trash, or even a mouthful of kibble into our room and then guard it like a dragon atop its hoard.

She guarded the house like a dragon, too, barking her head off any time anyone was at the door. Or she heard anything that even sounded like door-knocking. Or our neighbors pulled up to their own doors, or any vehicle drove around our circle. Nothing was more important to her than her people.

My wife Kelly and I came to realize she was always 20 percent happy for each of the five of us that were at home. If one of us were out running an errand, Decaf was only 80 percent happy. Two kids at school, one adult at work? 40 percent happy. And whenever all of us got in the car to go somewhere, she’d be an abject wreck. In the early years, one of us would often run back into the house to grab a forgotten thing only to see Decaf had already taken a protest dump.

So we took her on every vacation we could, camping all over the state. She loved the woods, and the beach, and the campfire, and tent and camper snuggles. Wherever she went, she drew compliments: Though black dogs have historically been oversurrendered and underadopted, people often said “what a fine-looking dog” she was. And she was!

Always refined and elegant, except when ever doing anything

She loved kids; she treated our own as if they were her puppies. She loved cats, and would always play with them even if they thought she was going to eat them. She loved our tortoise, and found him just as fascinating as all people do.

Most of all, Decaf loved going on walks; when my wife and both took her out she’d be irrepressibly giddy. “Both Walks,” as we called them, always meant miles of pulling and twirling and jumping and wagging.

As she aged toward 11-or-12ish, her anxieties turned into neuroses. Instead of frantically hiding under a kid’s bed at the sound of thunder, she’d resignedly hide under a kid’s bed.

“Welp,” she seemed to think, “I guess I gotta go obey my compulsions.”

Two of her cat siblings, Spotty (RIP) and Waffles.

On walks, instead of bolting every direction she wanted to go, she started refusing to go any way but the right one: balking, shrugging out of her collar, or standing still in the middle of the intersection. Then that became part of the routine — so she wouldn’t walk through the intersection without me first going the wrong way, then stopping when she stopped, and then continuing in the direction we were going to begin with.

Over the last year, as it became clear something wasn’t quite right with her, we made it a point to go on a nice, long Both Walk every weekend. Our vet at Waverly Animal Hospital was incredibly kind and helpful, guiding us through diagnosis and management. Even after the large splenic tumor began to impact Decaf’s comfort and digestion, she still pulled and wagged and grinned and twirled every Saturday, for as long as she could manage. It was okay if she had to take a few breaks, or go a little shorter. We knew we’d never know which Both Walk would be the last.

And we didn’t. When it suddenly became clear her time had come, we thankfully were all at home to be there with her. I picked her up to carry her out for the last car ride she’d ever have to endure, and she wagged her tail.

She was 100 percent happy.

Did I mention she loved belly rubs in the sun? She loved belly rubs in the sun.

So, It’s Been A While

Several of you have reached out to make sure that either you weren’t missing a couple months’ worth of Gimmes Schalter, or I wasn’t struggling in some way. Thanks to all of you who did; as unfinished drafts piled up I grew worried nobody would miss this if I never sent another one.

I’d taken a couple weeks off to focus on summer housework — and then our school district started two weeks early, which meant activities started two weeks before that, and then there were our scheduled vacations and suddenly House Project Summer was already Full-Time Kid Activities Fall and, I, just.

Anyway, here’s the housekeeping rundown:

  • Gimme Schalter is still a thing, and you’ll still get weeklyish (45–50 issues per year) from here forward.
  • Clubb is not still a thing. Thanks to those who signed up for premium content (“Gimme Moar Schalter”), but Clubb kind of fizzled out right after launch. I’ll re-evaluate premium offerings soon.
  • Gimme Schalter is a year old! I didn’t even realize that the last issue, №44, went out one year and one day after Issue №1. Dang.
  • I’m still making #content. I’m on my sixth year of writing at FiveThirtyEight, contributing regular features and to their weekly NFL chat. I’m also still talking at the Three & Out Podcast, recently interviewing everyone from ESPN’s Mina Kimes to Waypoint’s Patrick Klepek. I have plans for TikTok and Twitch…later.
  • I got a tattoo. It’s a symbol of death and rebirth and I got it to represent my year of transformation since ADHD diagnosis and treatment, and it also is the name of my adult rec soccer team. I will show you all, and write about it, next week.

Everything Awesome

I’ve dropped my friend Aidan’s book on here several times already, but this will be the last Gimme Schalter that goes out before its October 4th release date — and Aidan has done a bunch of really cool preorder-hype-building Twitter games and challenges over the last couple of weeks.

I think my favorite was, “name a retro JRPG and if Aidan has it, he’ll snap a pic of his author copy next to the game.” His collection’s comprehensive enough that he was really hard to stump!

A few days ago, my wife showed me this Tweet by Jamie Loftus and (correctly) declared her the funniest person on the Internet. We started talking about Loftus’s work, and both went “I meant to listen to that one ‘Cathy’ podcast,” and so we then both did.

I read the Detroit Free Press every night from like age four until college, and while “Cathy” was explicitly not for a little boy, it was explicitly for my single, Baby Boomer mom. I saw a lot of what my mom was going through at the time reflected in that strip, and I always thought Gen-X/Xennial/Millenial criticism of “Cathy” was trite and off-base.

Loftus’s perspective as a contemporary Millenial woman provided a triangulation point between my hazy memories of jokes I wasn’t always old enough to get, the original intended audience. Loftus’s careful archive trawl, exhaustive research of contemporary accounts, thorough interviews of many women and cartoonists — together with fully casted table reads of comic strips (!) — makes for a compelling, insightful, nuanced, critical, celebratory reassessment of both the pioneering work itself and its creator, Cathy Guisewite.

Mega Man 2 was the first video game I bought with my own money — an eye-watering $100.08 of it, in today’s dollars — and I can’t begin to describe to you how gratifying it was to see some of the early speedrunners “discover” and use some of the exact same moves my elementary school friends and I helped each other beat this game with back in the day:

I think I’ve linked one of Summoning Salt’s history-of-speedruns before; his format and style are consistent enough that he’s now aping it on ad reads. But this one was just too dramatic, with too many twists and turns, and centered around a game too close to my heart not to shout out again.

Many analysts, including myself, have written about the NFL coaching pipeline — and how its lack of racial diversity at the highest levels is a result of fundamental problems with how coaches are scouted, hired, and promoted from the grass roots up.

USA TODAY Sports has launched this ongoing, multi-format project explaining how we got here, what the state of things really are at every level, and what’s needed to make the people rewarded with money and prestige to run the game be more representative of the people who sacrifice their bodies play the game.

#TyNoWriPro

I have not made almost any progress on CODEX 17 or A&A since the last issue, for the same reasons it’s been so long since the last issue. But with soccer and marching band ending soon, I think my novel-writing time is about to free back up.

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Ty Schalter

Professional writer & talker (@FiveThirtyEight, etc.). Sports things & nerd stuff. Rather cleverer than most men; mistakes correspondingly huger. He/him.