I’m taking this week off and so should you. See you next year, and be safe! TO THE EXTREME!
I’m taking this week off and so should you. See you next year, and be safe! TO THE EXTREME!
When my grandmother was a child in western Colorado during the 1910s, Christmas was a big deal, even though nobody had two farthings to rub together. Still, every year, my great grandma Pearl and her husband John Evans used to find a way to get an orange for each of their five kids.
An orange during the winter in Red Mesa, Colorado in 1914 was about as precious as, say, stock in Google right now. And so, they woke up on Christmas knowing it would always be there. My mom carried the tradition with us, without even sharing the story until someone had the balls to ask why we were always getting a frickin’ orange in our stocking every year.
Once I found out, it was clear. And now Lucy will always have the same.
hope everyone out there had a fabulous holiday
If you are reading this, it is because I am gone. To be frank, I haven’t been feeling well lately, and when my owners showed me the age chart on the wall – and pointed out that I was off the chart and two inches up on the stucco – I have been feeling as though it might have been time to allez-donc into the great warm lake in the sky.
I’m pleased to have a last word, as so many of us are hit by cars or felled by leukemia, and I am happy to have lived long enough to say a proper goodbye. If there were two rules I lived by, they were “assume nothing” and “make proper salutations.” Frequently the two mixed together.
I am almost sixteen as I lay down for my last, and have seen my fair share of the world. I was often mocked, however, for my single-mindedness, my mode dogmatique, if you pardon the woeful pun. I had but one love of my life, leading lesser-minded souls to whisper about my supposed sexual confusion, or even asexuality. I am a reserved dog by personality, but I am now free to say this: I loved only her, and my duty to her was greater than love. Why? Because I was chosen.
My mother lived on a farm in Brenham, Texas, where she killed everything in sight. We were not close. I don’t know that she even had the mothering instinct. She gave birth to many of us brothers and sisters by the side of the creek, knowing (I believe) full well that many of us would drown in the first rain. Indeed, three of my brothers did just that.
The four of us who survived did so by scavenging, until a kind little boy found us, and brought us up to the farmhouse. We were to be rescued by whomever would have us, but nobody came. Days went by, until a blonde person, about 21, came to look. My sisters and brothers, all white and playful, licked her and yapped about in their usual style. I didn’t even bother: I knew there was no chance she would take me. I sat in the corner and tried to think of other things. Perhaps I would be cast out into the farm again, and pass away amongst the thrushes.
And she chose me. I hadn’t said a word. Despite all my vivacious siblings, she chose me and I went away with her; she took me to many different parts of the country and never left me. She called me “Chopin” – pretty much the only word of English I know, along with “no,” “sit,” “heel,” and “get out of the kitchen” – and that was that.
What are the responsibilities of the chosen? We serve our chooser. Antoine de St. Exupery said “we are responsible for what we have tamed,” but I would add the inverse, namely, we are tamed by our responsibility.
It grows late, and I would like to say my goodbyes now. First, to all of my owner’s friends who played with me, took me for jaunts, and succored my idiosyncrasies; I nod to you. I would also like to say a little hello and goodbye to the baby they call “Lucy” – I hope she has an affinity for black dogs later in life, without knowing why. Small inklings are big victories.
To my adopted red-headed owner, who came to dominion over me later: we may have not always seen eye-to-eye, but the years have given me a grudging respect I know you share. By my calculation, we have driven almost forty-thousand miles together, across the country six times in as many years. I thank you for allowing me to relax a little, as being an “alpha male” was always more façade than reality. I will miss having my “tummy” scratched.
And lastly, to my owner: I am happy I was able to see you from college into your major life change at 24; I was honored to bear your ring at the wedding, and am relieved to see you through the birth of the young one. I am tired. I would have followed you to another mountaintop if only my flesh were willing.
One emotion is truly undying: my affection and loyalty, for I know full well you could have done anything else. You could have taken any of them home with you, and yet you chose me.
You could feel how far away the Earth is from the sun, how far we’ve tipped in one direction. The night came on so quickly, like the day hardly put in an effort. The wind up the Taconic Valley was so cold, so achingly shrill, that it made you contemplate the same things Robert Frost did when he wondered how lovely, dark and deep those woods really were.
These are the nights that took young settlers from their parents, took fathers while they were hunting. It’s no surprise they would move the birth of the Christ Child from April to this cruel week, just to let the story luminesce from within.
When the ancient pagans and druids celebrated the solstice, they were not celebrating the longest night of the year, they were thanking their gods for letting the days get longer. It is a holiday of “this cannot get worse,” which gives freezing comfort to those looking out over the endless hills of ice.
I always look to one of my favorite poems ever, “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens:
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Manhattan Bridge, 10:30pm last night
Those of you who don’t keep track of these things should know there’s a transit strike in Manhattan right now, which really has to be experienced to be believed. I guess the equivalent in the rest of America is to have all four tires slashed and nobody to fix them, and it’s up to you to get to work sixteen miles away in the dead of winter. Oh, and all of your friends’ tires are slashed too.
You can’t drive into Manhattan without three other people in your car until 11am, and entire city avenues are closed to normal traffic. Out front of my apartment today, the normally-quiet side street was gridlocked with furious horn-honking. You’d think, in this era of nanotechnology and obsession with efficiency, that it would be hard to shut down one of the most important cities in the world, but MAN IS IT EASY!
Being a softie, a leftie, and a commie, my temptation is to side with the striking workers, but their demands seem (to this layman, anyway) to be a bit extreme, with ridiculous retirement ages, a payment structure that fucks new arrivals, and a median income that puts many of my friends to shame. That, and the head of the Transit Workers Union seems like an enormous boob, shouting into the cold wind demanding “respect.”
Then again, the MTA apparently pulled some last-second pension demand that would only save them $20 million, which is infintessimally small given the billions NYC is now losing every night with the strike.
Like I said, I’m sure there are things I don’t understand, but this time, both parties are leaving a funny taste in my mouth. It’s damn near impossible, with a city that has so many competing agendas and penis-measuring contests, built on sediment comprised of favors, payoffs, Mob contacts and lazy corruption – to find the truth. As I always tell Tessa, I’m amazed, in any given apartment in the East Village, that you turn on a faucet and actual water comes out.
In the meantime, it’s a few days before Christmas and the city has slowed to a glacial crawl. My entire family just got here from California and Iowa, and they’ll have to be creative to get into Midtown to buy underpriced musical electronics. As for us, we’re getting out of here, even if the first two hours of the trip take four hours. I have a pine sapling to cut down and adorn with bizarre pagan knick-knacks.
So it has come to this: Chopes has a tumor just about everywhere you can have a tumor, and his back legs are so weak that I have to push him up the stairs. He started peeing uncontrollably on all our carpets, and every once in a while takes a dump in the hallway. He wipes out every time he tries to make a right turn – and the night of the party, he ate a box of chocolate. He is about to be sixteen years old.
And yet, he still waggles his tail, prances around the entire place like a scrounge hound, barks at all the delivery guys, and once I get him going outside, he even runs alongside me. In short, if you weren’t cleaning up after him – and if you didn’t have an ultrasound providing a window to his insides – you’d swear he was about five.
Tessa and I are in agreement: you don’t kill a dog for your convenience. Even though he threatens to turn our apartment into a third-world jail latrine, he has given us so many years of loyal service that you just have to keep cleaning up. Put it this way: he was conceived in the 1980s. He howled outside Graham Hall when I was still a student at Carolina. The dog stays until he explodes.
Which does bring up an issue. There are no good dog diapers anywhere on the market. The disposable ones fall off when he starts to walk, and the permanent diapers with removable liners don’t cover his wiener. So I have to ask: there are a lot of frickin’ aging incontinent dogs in this world, and nobody has the cajones to step up to the plate for a real diaper?
Finally, I had to think outside the box. The last time I bought Depends™ diapers it was Halloween 1991 when I tested them myself, and I didn’t think I’d be doing that again until the year 2060. But there I was at the Key Foods on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn with a giant MonsterPak of Depends™ with every chick in line looking at me like I was about to pee on them. Man, it’s great to be married.
Anyway, I got them home, cut a tail hole and strapped ol’ Chopes in. And I have to say, so far, so good. If an adult diaper works on Señor Poopypants, then he can fade into the sunset for as long as he likes.
We had our little Holiday Soirée for the neighborhood last night, and I got as drunk as I’ve been in about two years – well, since this night at least. I’m here to report that the Chaser™ pills actually work quite well, because by all rights I should be dead right now, but I’m only dead tired. I don’t get how you functioning alcoholics do it, man. I’d be exhausted and have acid reflux every day if I tried it.
The best part was going through all the liquor we had in the house, thus my perfect 4-hour buzz was composed of Cuervo 1800 Anejo tequila shots, Stoli and cranberry, Jack and Coke, and 18-year-old Macallan. It was like being a kid and trying every flavor at the 7-11 because you have a $20 bill burning a hole in your pocket.
I found a picture we took three years ago last night, so I did a little before and after:
Today we jaunted over to the upper Upper West Side to St. John the Divine church to attend “A Choristers Christmas,” which was heartbreakingly fabulous. The arrangements and singing were delicious, and it was made even better by a surprise: the choir sang my mom’s arrangement of “The Sycamore Tree” without knowing that the woman herself was in the audience.
Lucy was cool for the first few readings and then decided to go “WAWAWAWAWA BOOP! Maamaamaaamaa BLURK!” during all the quiet parts, so Tessa put her in the sling and breastfed her in the wings until she fell asleep. The rest of the afternoon was imbued with the story of Kringle told as if it were a lost chapter of the His Dark Materials books, and it was quite magical.
I didn’t even mind that my ass fell asleep on those chairs; it really put us in a mystical holiday mood, my rants on a Plastic Noise Christmas© notwithstanding. Like I said, there should always be something quite scary and subversive about Christmas to go along with the treacle, a sense of awe that comes with good theater.
One Christmas when I was eight and gathered with my 40 cousins, someone shook sleigh bells outside our window at 4am, and the fear and excitedness that raced through our veins still feels palpable. I can’t wait for the Lucy tot to start getting aglow for the holidays, although sometimes it seems she already has.
I know when we have a big deadline I don’t write anything meaningful and instead post pictures of my li’l punkinboots, but tonight I couldn’t resist.
with babysitter Brenda at lunchtime
Every year, the same damn article gets written about Christmas: some whiny wet blanket starts kvetching about how they’ve “stopped the insanity” in their household and now they don’t buy each other anything, and it’s a quiet time of reflection and homemade crafts and all that crap. This year, Newsweek has a doozy, but it could be the same article any year for the past two decades, so I’d just like to say ENOUGH ALREADY.
I’m sorry to break it to you Luddites-come-lately, but the crass commercialism of Christmas is what makes it so great. The anticipation, the trembling hands, the excited giggles of kids tiptoeing down the stairs on Christmas morning at 5:45am is not for the Christ Child, nor is it so that parents can unfurl their woodcarvings: it is for PLASTIC STUFF, and THINGS WITH BATTERIES, and ELECTRONIC GADGETS and CRAP THAT MAKES NOISE.
listing all the shit I want, 1969
Boy, you anti-Xmas people with your whimpering about the traffic and going on for hours about how crowded the malls are, you should be penalized for cliché. Christmas is Christmas because anything worth doing is occasionally difficult. Now with the internet delivering anything you want to your doorstep, you have nothing to complain about anyway.
When I was a kid, I got lots of presents – we all did – whether it was a flush year for Dad or not. When I was broke during the crazy ’90s, I still got people insane gifts. Now that I have two dimes to rub together, I not only host Christmas, but I’ll even shave the Christmas goose with a Mach 3 if I have to. While the rest of the hoity-toity world tut-tuts when their neighbors put up plastic reindeer and 7-foot-tall candy canes, I think “well at least someone’s TRYING!”
I’ve got news for you, O Blog Readers, we came of age in the Christmases of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s – and that means those football games that vibrate, Cabbage Patch doll mania, Green Machines, and my orange Huffy 10-speed with pistol-grip handlebars. The only “memories of Christmas past” come from various lyrics of the Chestnuts Roasting song and “Sleigh Ride” (which wasn’t supposed to have lyrics anyway). All this pining for some lost meaningful Christmas is a bunch of crap.
Do you know where meaning is? It’s in STUFF. As in getting it, and receiving it. So go ahead and break out the aerosol cans of window frost, and the multicolored lights that blink to music. Get a real tree and wear gloves if you’re scared of sap. Spike your eggnog, get dressed up, and indulge in material things. We live in a society so bereft of ritual that we should be happy to have a day when anything can be bought, including love.
There’s 12 people coming to my house for Christmas, and they all got each other something. That’s 144 presents! Or something like that, I failed calculus. Either way, I get to see a lot of people opening up a lot of crap, and that’s all the spiritual warmth I need.
Editors note: the author’s wife does not agree with this blog entry
I’ve always been a sucker for old photographs and re-creations of photos within my own life – I don’t know where this comes from, as nobody in my family does anything like this for a living, but it’s made me an archivist. I can see myself enjoying ancient JPEGs in the year 2063.
A friend forwarded me the Bound for Glory online exhibit at the Library of Congress, and it is pretty amazing: color photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration from 1939-1942. See what I mean:
I love this Arthur Rothstein pic from 1942 because the girl at left is exactly the same age as my mom (turned 74 yesterday!) and yet no color pictures exist of my mom until well into her late twenties. There is a sunset of vision that usually occurs when we delve past 1955 or so: everything is black and white, and thus hard to relate to our own lives. But look at this picture from 1939:
The negative has gone a little red, but that’s people dancing, with their actual face color, and sweat, and you’re there. As for bigger canvases, I like the thunderstorm in this one…
…because in other B&W pics, it would look like a menacing metaphor for the American Dream gone sour, but here it is obviously that slick hot moment before a downpour. Of course, this everyday downpour happened in 1940, sixty-five years ago.
Images of the Great Depression are always in gray, but here’s a school recital in 1940, where if you look closely, half the kids don’t have shoes:
And this one, where the girl on the left looks like she’s dressed for a musical set in 1939, but no, she’s actually in 1939:
Finally, here’s a storefront by John Vachon taken in 1942. Every single product for sale can be bought in 2005. Corporations are evil, sure, but they do give us a nice pervading feeling of Omnitopia that stretches back to the casual glances of our grandfathers.