Thursday, June 28, 2018

Pet Loss Lessons - Or Memento Mori

This is day one after the death of my dog, Maisy.

I took her to the vet yesterday after work and they gave her two shots and she died in about two minutes.  This came after four months of decline - so she died slowly, then all at once.  During those four months she had a fever that never quit.  She hardly ate. She stopped begging with those bright eyes. She stopped barking at the birds outside.

We tried antibiotics and when those failed I told the vet not to pursue more elaborate diagnostics. If it was cancer (and the vet who gave those shots said last night she thought it was) we weren't prepared for cancer treatments. Partly - mostly - this was a financial decision, but there was also the question of stressing my dog with a lot of scary procedures that might have done nothing more than stress her out.  I'm not sure we did the right thing there. If we were rich, I would have chased a cure. As it was, we took her home after those antibiotics and hoped for a turn around that didn't come.  By the time we got to yesterday Maisy couldn't get down the stairs or walk beyond our driveway. Her eyes had sunken in their sockets and were rimmed with a black crust. She was bones, half the weight last night that she had been when we first suspected something was wrong back in March.  She went peacefully last night, thank God. I watched her go. That was a first for me. I've never stood by and watched anything or anyone die. The way we live now and all. 

We did the right thing there, I feel sure. 

But I am bereft. And it all has me thinking.

I'm embarrassed to say it - but losing Maisy is worse for me than the deaths of the few relatives who have thus far departed.  The grandparents were expected to go, of course. They were all over 80 and so it wasn't a terrible shock when they died. The two aunts, they went too soon and I cried for them. The cold fact, however, is that they were distant and Maisy was near, She was near to me almost as the vein in my neck.  She was a presence in my every move in the house for the last 10 years.  She slept in my room every night. She was for me like the daemon of Philip Pullman's Golden Compass - the animal embodiment of a human spirit, separate but not separable from the human being.

I would have scoffed once upon a time at extravagant outpourings of grief for a pet. Even now I'm not sure they're appropriate but I understand the depth of the feeling, the sense of loss.

 Maisy's death comes as two other relatives are fighting for their lives in the hospital. I'm at that middle age, where you start to know dead people and dying people. It's a scales-falling-from-the-eyes kind of experience. If I'm embarrassed that I'm mourning my dog than the people I've lost (and I am) I'm more embarrassed about the general foolishness with which I have approached life to date. My fundamental misapprehensions of how things actually are here on planet earth for mortal beings has been becoming clearer to me these last few years. The reality of our situation has been brought into focus by this fresh, unvarnished encounter with death. Not just Maisy's - I was at a memorial service for my Aunt Maryanne two weeks ago. I stood by her cremains in the cemetery and made a little choking speech before she was lowered into the grave next to her parents. Another first for me.

 And so here, perhaps, is the beginning of wisdom.   How shall we spend our  short time here in Creation?  I've had it all wrong for so much of the time.  I still have a long way to go, I know - I'm hardly Erasmus. But I understand or at least have a feeling for that old truth, that in the midst of life, we are in death and we really shouldn't forget that for a moment.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Today I Was Bitten on the Ass by a Dog

Do not be deceived...
I'm ok!  Don't panic. The damage seems to be just a few little vampire-style tooth marks on my right butt cheek.  The event was so startling, however, and it has never happened to me before, so I thought I should write about it.

Here's what happened.

At lunchtime today I walked out from the Magesterium, where I work for the government. It was a hot day and breezy. I had forgotten my phone so I wasn't listening to music as I would normally do. I was enjoying the birds and glad for the wind which cut the heat a little.

There's a walking trail that passes behind the Magesterium. My fellow workers and members of the public are free to walk along this trail. It follows a river and through a corn field - actually a field of dirt just at the moment.  The path terminates in the cemetery of the white clapboard church on Main Street.

The cemetery is old and pretty.  It has tall trees and paved paths. It bristles with weathered obelisks. It has a tombstone that says "Lease" in big letters (q.v.).  There's someone named "Almond Hills" buried with  his head pointing at the Magesterium. There are many Moodys.  There is one Holy Mary at the far edge, a wandering Catholic apparently.  All food for thought and reflection.
Here's one tombstone that caught my eye on a day when I wasn't bitten by a dog.
No dogs are allowed in the cemetery, as is appropriate.


As I left the corn field today and walked into the cemetery I saw two older gentleman getting water from a hose. The hose seems to be related to a community garden which occupies a small field at the nether end of the cemetery. (Not sure how I would feel about eating those vegetables).
Not quite yet, thanks

One of these was wearing a ball cap and shorts and was attentive to something in his hands, a phone I think. He looked like someone who'd lost his way from the betting window at a harness track.

The other was getting water from the hose or trying to. The water-getter looked like Dumbledore after a few rough years and a defrocking. He had a nice-looking dog on a rope leash.  (The rope should have been a clue to me but I missed it on my first approach).

The dog barked as I came up out of the cornfield. Dumbledore was struggling with the leash and the hose. I was interested in the dog because it looked like a fox hound and I'm curious about those. It barked more so I stopped walking and waited for it to settle down.  It stood and stared and barked.

I like dogs and until today I thought they all pretty much liked me.  I gave dog and man a minute to compose themselves and then stepped forward, prepared to ask if the dog was a fox terrier as I passed. I didn't get to ask. The dog barked some more  pulled away from Dumbledore and with one simple twisting maneuver was off the rope.  I could see that it was going to slip out of its red collar and said, "He's getting out of his collar..." and in the next moment the dog had leapt up behind me and bit me on the ass.

Dumbledore managed to grab him straightaway.

"Did he bite you?!" he asked.

"Yes." I said.  I couldn't quite believe it.

"I've only had him two days," Dumbledore said. "He loves people when he gets to know them. He's a rescue dog. Blah Blah."

It's surprisingly awkward to be bitten by a dog while the owner is watching. I ventured one discreet pass of my hand over my bum. The dog hadn't gotten through the fabric of my stretchy pants. Had he drawn blood?I wasn't about to do a lot of probing - any probing at all in fact. My ass hurt. It hurts now as I sit here in my surplus office chair at home telling you about this. I had the presence of mind to ask if the dog had its shots.  Race track bettor looked up and said "yes."

I kept walking. I think Dumbledore was still talking but I just walked.

I'm a lawyer and I've worked with law enforcement for years. I decided about 10 seconds after the bite that I wasn't going to make a thing about it - except maybe as a story for my coworkers and you all. It was too minor. Anyway, I had no way to make such a report without another half hour of walking by which time the three culprits would have vanished. I also knew exactly what would happen if I did. The cops would want to see my injury...

I was thinking how every dog gets one free bite as I walked past Almond Hills and all those Moodys.  This means, of course, that until a dog bites someone the owner doesn't know if it might be dangerous. After that first bite, though...  It's a handy, weary metaphor for lots of shabby human behavior. I suspect from the way Dumbledore was struggling with that leash that the fox hound was a known trouble maker. Of course it wasn't the dog's fault he'd been brought on a rope to a graveyard where he had no business being.  If Dumbledore wasn't on notice before,  he is now.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Last Saturday Night at the Bull and Bear

She lives!

And by "she," I mean me.  Dear old blog, still waiting here for me to show up and care for it.  Sorry for the neglect. I have no excuse.

I was driven back because it occurred to me the other day that I might just have been a witness to history recently and I should probably write that down. Somewhere. Like here. So, here goes.

For the last four years, my daughter and I have traveled down to NYC for one weekend in February with another mother-daughter pair. We have been doing this just long enough for a few traditions to have developed.  The main one is that we have stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria.

You may have taken note of the news that the Waldorf has closed for three years for renovations. Most of the enormous building (it was the biggest hotel in the world when it opened in 1931) will be made over into condos by its owner, a Chinese insurance company.  The outside of the building has landmark status and can't be monkeyed with.  The inside - at least some of the public spaces - are (as I understand things) a topic of discussion. The last guests checked out on Wednesday, Wednesday March 1. 2017.   We checked out on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Which mean, of course, we were guests at the Waldorf Astoria for the last Saturday night of its operation.

We had made our reservations months before which was a good thing because the impending closure filled the place. It was mobbed the whole weekend. Lots of people seemed to be taking guided tours of the public spaces. The wait at check-in was painful.  The crowd (and in this I include myself) was not glamorous.  I saw one guest checking in wearing a faded sweat shirt that said "Rebels 85" on it).

The big money hotel consumers and celebrities are at  newer, sleeker places - hence the renovation. The Waldorf was owned by Hilton before the Chinese bought it and, being a Hilton, it was affordable for us. The place had been panned by more than one Trip Advisor review for being past its prime and shop worn, but I didn't mind that the chair cushions in the room were a little spavined and the base boards scuffed. I still loved it - built like a fortress enormous rooms, by NYC standards.  We have rented three rooms that connected and had a kind of mini palace.  It has atmosphere that can only come with having been around as a Park Avenue landmark since before World War II.  It is the product of imagination and of people who were doing their best to make something extraordinary.

Just off the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria before the doors slammed shut - something kind of "The Shining" about this. Blame the photographer.

On that last Saturday night, my friend and I went for a cocktail at the storied Bull and Bear Restaurant. We had been cadging cocktail certificates all weekend. The Front Desk was looking after us...

The Bull and Bear was crowded and a little chaotic. We managed to find a table and order something. First drink requests were not available. The bar was using up its stocks.  We had our drinks and took in the atmosphere - the fabulous square bar with a sculpture in its center, the milling crowd. It was dark and you could practically feel the old money that was being chased out by the new.  When we were done we went back to our big rooms for the last night in the Waldorf.

This year we went back and stayed at a perfectly serviceable Omni in midtown. It was fine. It was even nice - but it was just a hotel.

Tchaikovsky String Quartet Op. 11 - II. Andante cantabile (Kontras Quartet)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mom's Vulgar Little Sandwich

I just came home after a morning out at church and the annual meeting at church.  I had planned to go from there to the Old Last House, which is about an hour to the north, but these last three days of wild weather (snow, thaw + melt, followed by subzero temperatures) had left many treacherous stretches on Vt Route 100.

I got as far as the Morrisville Price Chopper and decided to retreat back home after provisioning a bit.

There's nothing more pure as a Vermont experience than the Morrisville Price Chopper at noon on a freezing, bright sunny Sunday in January.  We, the rubber-booted, ball-capped, fat coated (or no coated) shoppers of northern Lamoille County were a Vermont reality that doesn't get into the brochures. It was all bad hair, cheap clothes, dry skin, all highlighted by the supermarket lighting. No.  We were not Vermont life material - maybe not even open casket material - but we are the reality. A bit of a sad one.

My daughter, who turns twenty years old today and who now lives in Montreal, has a complicated relationship with Morrisville.  She grew up in the vicinity and she likes the Chinese buffet and the McDonalds (blessedly, for her purposes, there's a drive-thru).

I bought things that were on sale and drove home carefully. The sun was doing its thing for route 100, but icy stretches will need  I came in and made a vulgar little sandwich.

I had this particular sandwich in mind as I passed up the McDonald's in Morrisville.

I had bought the "Buffalo chicken breast" deli meat that my son likes in preparation for the storm (at the Shaws in Waterbury - happier place to shop). In the Price Chopper I added some American cheese, though at least this was made in Vermont. I skipped the 99 cent version of near-American cheese food slices, so I guess it could have been worse.  I had a loaf of "hearty white" waiting on the counter - another concession to my son. I'm not sure what made it "hearty."  It looked like the white bread of my childhood.  Not an artisanal molecule - except maybe the Polish mustard by husband brought from Montreal.

I will use the Uber Eats app on my phone shortly to send my daughter something from a middle eastern restaurant in her neighborhood for her birthday.  I'm sorry not to be seeing her today but I'm glad she's up there.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble (A Play, A Menu, And a Top Tip).

Everybody Sing!


Hello there! Sorry I've been away - mostly sorry for myself.   I'm not sure how much this writing drought of mine has mattered to other people.  I have missed it, however.

So, what's the problem, you ask? Last year I had to give up half-time work for full-time work.  (Read, "kid going to college").  Like the song says, you gotta serve somebody, and for money.

If I were sturdier and not so lazy I wouldn't be making excuses of this sort, but you can't get words from a turnip. My brain is crowded with work stuff.  Also, we bought a couch that reclines and I have a Roku.

The Play

But enough about me. Except for about that Play.  That is also about me. I wrote one! A radio play, for a contest, that I was intending to win. But I did not win, place, or show.

This was the last project I could really dig into in my part time idyll.  BBC didn't like the play, apparently, but I kind of did and I really enjoyed writing it.  So I have put it up on Figment , which is a website  for high school girls with Aspirations,  but also Margaret Atwood.  I posted the first two scenes tonight but the rest will appear within the week.  It's called "Daughter of a Brave Country" if that link doesn't you have to go hunting for it.  (I'm really sorry if that happens.  I'm honored by your willingness to click.  If the play is performed in even one head I'll be happy).

In one or two of my brighter moments lately I have had thoughts for new stories etc.  These moments are fugitive, however, (see supra note, "work-crowded brain").  All I have for you tonight that is really new is the Halloween Meal Menu I've been mentally concocting this week.

The Menu

The main dish will be "Slathery Jack."  I'm not exactly sure what this is but it's horrible.  It was served to a writer I admire during a sea voyage because the Captain had sold the actually edible provisions.

So we'll have that, along with apple solids, pumpkin spears, and German lashings for dessert!  The mulled zinc will also be flowing.   Halloween party at my house!

The Top Tip

Speaking of writers I admire, I have been thinking lately about how simple it is for really wonderful work to be invisible.  If you click the link to my Amazon review of the Slathery-Jack-eater's book, you'll get a sense of what I mean.  (Katherine Everett is her name and she was an amazing person and a really good writer).  This is not a back door way of promoting my obscure self.  I've accepted obscurity.  But I routinely run into things that I think are wonderful that no one seems to know about.

Granted what follows is a pretty crap example of this because in England the song I'm about to recommend and the band responsible for it are HUGE stars.  The band is Elbow (awful name, I agree) and the song is "One Day Like This."

Michael Caine introduced this song to me in his Desert Island Discs interview, (DID was an earlier top tip here, as you'll know if you're an old friend).   I had never heard of the band or this song before stumbling into Caine's interview.  There must be an issue with US distribution for Elbow or some other stupid reason why it took Michael Caine to play this for me instead of my local radio station.  So here's the song.  FYI, I bought the record and I play this song on Fridays, on my way home from work.

Thanks for stopping in and for reading to the end.