Friday, October 18, 2013

Looking Now

A week ago, to the minute, I sit at this same keyboard and confess that the only really significant events in my life for the past seven days are seeing a movie and taking the dogs for vaccines. This week has been an improvement. I see yet another film and instead of waiting in line with the dogs for shots, we dress Taffy up in a hammerhead shark costume and take him to Corgi Day at the Huntington Beach dog park. Himself is not a beach person despite having discovered that 100 SPF sunblock is indeed effective, even after five hours in a kayak under fierce Hawaiian sun. His attendance at the corgi soiree is just to humor me and perhaps a trump card to reprieve him from some even more odious social event, one where people, not dogs, are the main focus. Since joining the corgi society I have learned that Taffy is not unique in his imperiousness. Corgis are dignified, serious little dogs and not particularly affectionate. A friend rode in a Sacramento elevator with Sutter Brown, California's first dog, and noted that despite his high public profile, Sutter is haughty. I only subject Taffy to the costume briefly and he is surrounded by paparazzi. Removed from his outfit, Taffy strolls, sniffs a few butts and pees on every picnic basket and beach chair he passes. A few corgis take to the water but the breed seems largely landlubber. Taffy growls at a wave that has the temerity to roll in and dampen his tidy white paws. Himself remains hunched in a big hat, struggling to keep his neck covered by his shirt.

Joe College returns home hungry and toting laundry. His girlfriend as of one month is in tow. I have weaned myself from doing the kids' laundry but I remove a load of my own from the dryer and load in the boy's freshly washed duds. There is a wee little bra. Fortunately, MTV has a marathon of “16 and Pregnant” which I have on for the duration of their visit. I take them to the romantic comedy Enough Said which is urbane and hilarious. One of the themes explored is the anticipation of kids leaving for college. The film is dead-on regarding the anticipation of the empty nest that at one point it's so raw that I consider walking out. The subplot of the main character bonding with her daughter's friend and all the awkwardness this foments is also resonant. My kids often resent relationships I form with their friends. I have a magnetic type of attraction to sweet kids who suffer with what I sense is sub-par parenting. Perhaps this because there were a number of righteous adults who surrogately parented me when my own family fell short.

Joe College and a small entourage return again this weekend to celebrate his 21st birthday. Himself is excited because now the boy will be able to purchase beer for him at a good brewery near the college. Remembering my own behavior at the same age and the things my parents never knew, I have other concerns which I try to keep to myself. My dad had no filter. I remember telling him a million times, “Just because a thought drifts into your head doesn't mean you have to say it out loud.” I am pretty good at knowing what not to say but when Joe College leaves I blurt out, “I'll see you next Sunday for your birthday. It's the only thing I have to look forward to.” When my own mother said things like this it felt guilt inducing which infuriated me. I wish the second the words leave my mouth that I could suck them back in. The boy looks stricken and begs, “Please don't say that.”

Spuds texts me that he has received his first college grade on a research paper, an A minus. I've attended a gathering of parents here in Los Angeles and I know that Spuds is the only kid from the East Side and one of very few who's attended public schools. I've scanned the freshman Facebook page and see there are kids from Oakwood, Choate and Miss Porters. Spuds is definitely one of the more urban kids at Bard. I text him back “Fuck those rich prep school assholes,” and his deadpan response is “Thank you for your support.”

Next week this time we will be at Bard, drinking in Spuds, after a nearly three month separation and what he says are spectacular fall colors. It is family weekend and wild horses couldn't keep me away. I struggle, like the heroine of Enough Said, to live meaningfully when the kids are gone. It is true that what I have to look forward to are Joe College's birthday celebration and Family Day at Bard. This sounds pathetic and I will not say that this isn't a challenging time but the things I look forward to are not my only conduit to pleasure. I like my new office and after the complications of selling the old building it is gratifying to work every day in a homey space. The neighborhood is new to me and I discover charming cottages and secret stairways when I walk Rover. I walk early in the morning too. Until the time changes in November I walk mostly in the dark and dawn breaks as I head toward home. This morning a huge yellow moon hangs low, silhouetting the foliage on the trail. Illegal roosters start in. The new sun illuminates a sprig of fescue. A dried out thorny weed twists up the hillside, delicate and intricate, tiny blossoms perfectly preserved. Humble things majestic in the break of dawn. I do so look forward to time with the kids but am as content looking now as I am looking forward.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dog Save Us

These pieces turn out better when I write about an experience rather than blather on pontificating and regurgitating the bleeding heart liberal party line. I am enjoying a couple of weeks at home before we take off on yet another trip, this time to visit Spuds and attend Family Day at Bard. I rationalize having a relatively uneventful week because I am not exactly aspiring to have writing worthy experiences. Like most ordinary weeks, I walk, work and watch an embarrassing amount of TV. This week I am disturbed by Right Wing Republicans, duped by big business into doing its evil bidding and making mischief, but Himself is so cynical there can be no dinner table discussion. The government shutdown being verboten chat fodder, the only two events outside the norm for me are seeing a movie that I probably wouldn't have agreed to see if I had remembered its provenance when I was invited and taking Taffy and Rover to the low-cost vaccine clinic at the Animal Shelter.

Wajda is the first film ever made by a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker. The movie receives tons of praise but I am suspicious it is being overly celebrated by critics striving for political correctness. I anticipate a couple hours of bombast and amateurish film-making. It is an understatement to admit the film defied my expectations big time. Wajda joins the pantheon of poignant bicycle themed films like De Sica's Bicycle Thief and Truffaut's Les Miston. A bicycle is so much more modest a vehicle than a car and the main character, Wajda's desire to own one provides a glimpse into Saudi Arabia that feels tender but very authentic. Wajda wears high-top sneakers and jeans under her hijab. She records mix cassettes of rock music but she is admonished for appearing in public without her face covered or for playing on the school playground in sight of some workmen on scaffolding. Wajda's mother is at the mercy of a irascible driver to provide transportation to and from her distant employer. Her father is largely absent and it is revealed that he is in the process of marrying a second wife to bear him a son because Wajda's mother's difficult pregnancy has made it impossible for to conceive again. The direction is understated and this light touch makes the glimpse into a land that is very modern in so many ways except that for women, it might as well still be the Middle Ages.

For the most part, American dogs garner more respect than Saudi women. Our Taffy in fact has a better social life than we do, being a member of a Corgi meet-up group. This weekend we will chauffeur him to a beach picnic in Orange County. There are fancy dog boutiques where a box of gluten free treats costs more than the weekly Food Stamp allotment for a family of four. Our dogs suffer through on store brand kibble but nevertheless we are hardcore dog people, I do see though why people hate dogs. Our three bark when another canine has the temerity to pass the house. My constant reminder that the street is a public area and not private property has no effect. Himself, despite his devotion to the practice of meditation which I think is, if not truly Buddhist, Buddhist-y, has a short fuse. Added to the dogs' incessant barking is Himself screaming at them to stop barking which of course only incites them to bark all the more.

My boy Rover (who farts loudly the moment I type his name) seems to have stabilized and while he remains a little creaky he is more animated than he was early in the summer. He is adjusting to the new office and is back on his must walk promptly at 10:30 schedule. His appetite is excellent and several times an hour he shatters my concentration and pats my thigh with his rough paw inveigling for a treat. His fuzz already wafts through the new office and he is banished from my new little Volvo Blueie. I keep my ancient wagon for the sole purpose of transporting him. My tolerate-the-dog-because-it-is-the-boss's otherwise dog-hating employees marvel that Rover has his own car.

I put off rabies vaccines when it looks like the oldest canine will no longer require a license. When Rover shows signs of a second wind I decide to spring for the shots. I guess if you aren't a dog person, this dilemma seems preposterous but the logistics of transporting both Taffy and Rover is complicated. Oprah and Taffy will not be separated. They have no problem when Rover leaves for work by himself every morning, as long as they get a treat. I can take Oprah and Taffy in the car together. Taffy likes riding in the car although he occasionally shifts gears or turns on the wipers. Oprah hates riding in the car so it is not practical to take her along for the shots merely as a field trip. I choose the vaccine clinic that is only five minutes from the house in order to minimize the duration of Oprah's howling when separated from Taffy.

I expect a quick trip but there are dogs (and a few cats that people haven't had brains enough to put into carriers and will therefore deserve the permanent scarring to face and neck areas) lined up around the block. I am tempted to bail and take ours to the private vet but I've already gone to the trouble of getting them in and out of the car. There are puppies and wobbly oldsters, pure-breds and mutts, dinky Chihuahuas and behemoth Rottweilers. There are also a number of Cholos with unneutered pit-bulls who get dirty looks from the crowd. The wait turns out to be over two hours. Finally, Taffy and Rover lie down on the floor, immobile, as people step gingerly over them. It certainly isn't worth this much of my time to save a few bucks on shots but there is something reassuring that after a long day's work, so many people will patiently wait so long to do the right thing by their pets.

I am out of the closet about the amount of TV I watch and despite being an ardent pacifist, a lot of the shows I watch are Grand Guignol violent. I have no trouble when a character on one of my programs holds a revolver to an infant's temple but I bury my head when a gunman, who typically wastes half a dozen people per episode of Boardwalk Empire, is unable to end his dying dog's misery and put him down. I will add that while it is repulsively slothful, I enjoy stretching out on the couch and watching a show at the end of the day. When Oprah entered the house for the first time at age eight weeks she jumped immediately up on the sofa and has rarely surrendered it since. So, when I am stretched out usually there is a seventy pound dead weight pinning me down and numbing my limbs. Opie didn't like the dying dog scene either.

My misanthrope husband will happily discuss ideas but is largely apathetic about politics and particularly indifferent with regard to people. This challenges me to lay off the TV a bit but given my mental sluggishness I am able only rarely to provide him with a modest amount of satisfying discourse. He condescends to watch a couple of shows with me. We've been doing this give and take thing for over twenty-five years now. For over twenty of these years the kids have been a constant distraction but also kept us grounded in our commonality. The boys are both gone now and the intersecting slice on our Venn Diagram is a bit thinner. I read so I can make conversation with him and he watches TV to keep me company. We accept that now that just the dogs, and not the kids, are the reason that we can't have anything nice. Barking wakes us in the middle of the night. I always have to share the couch. I drive a thick with dog hair, un-air-conditioned, door-handle-broken jalopy to work every day. Yet, we both sneak the dogs special treats and talk baby talk to them. The love of dogs was one of the first things we loved about each other way back when. Now that there are no kids to distract us, despite the downside, it is nice after all these years that we still love dogs together.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Supposedly Fun Thing That I Will Probably Do Again

There are more than a few rolled eyes when I announce that Joe College and I are headed off to Denver for a reunion performance of The Replacements. I am sheepish about my passion for the band until I see the documentary “Color Me Impressed,” the title borrowed from a Replacements song. When I hear about the film in pre-production, I cringe to learn it isn't really about the band, but instead a portrait of die hard fans of The Mats. I avoid it when it's released, fearing that all the dorks, losers and geeks spouting minutiae about the band would embarrass me. One night however, perusing the overpriced wasteland that is Amazon on-demand I come across the documentary. I am left buoyant, as articulate and learned folks put into perfect words everything I love about the band. Even without having been vindicated by the film, I would travel to just about anywhere on the planet for a reunion of the band that hasn't played together for twenty three years.

The venue is May Farm, about an hour outside of Denver. I call the day before to ask how much mud remains from the flood and the lady informs me, making it obvious that she's already informed scads of others, that there is no mud. Not only is the May Farm mud free, it is hot and dusty. Extremely so. There a three stages and the day begins with a lot of bands we've never heard of and one we boycott because the lead singer was mean to Spuds. Joe College is more familiar with a lot of the groups than I am. When he counsels me not to bother I walk around and people watch. Colorado is reportedly the thinnest state in the union but all of the food available is greasy and many of the customers in line are light years from buff. It is also remarkable that with weather in the mid 90s, many concert goers don jackboots and leather jackets.

I am disappointed by the performance of Guided By Voices but enjoy Super Chunk and am particularly blown away by L.A. locals Airborne Toxic Event who demonstrate great verve and athleticism. Other than that, I do quite a bit of walking. There is a VIP area which has several benches, the only seating available in the huge venue. Joe College and I nab a seat. A guy about my age sits down next to me. We fist bump when he announces he's come from Ohio and I report that I've traveled from L.A. to see The Mats. I believe this is my first fist bump. As Himself predicted there are far more 50 something men than women there to pay homage. My phone alarm pings every day at noon to remind me to swallow a fist full of iron supplements and probiotics, sort of the baby-boomer equivalent of Geritol. I pull out my little Ziploc bag of pills and Mr. Ohio starts to salivate. He asks if I have anything to trade. “Dude, these are friggin vitamins and my kid is sitting right next to me.” He is so embarrassed he gives up his prized seat and trods off into the dust. The penultimate act is Iggy and the Stooges. I skip this in order to stake out a position close to the Replacement's stage but I can barely decipher anemic versions of Stooges classics. I am not surprised when Joe College reports that while Iggy displays remarkable energy, the Stooges are many miles over the hill.

The Replacements are as legendary for their brilliance as for their capacity to be the biggest fuck ups in the history of the planet. They appear on stage in Western shirts, huge cowboy hats and long pink skirts. From the first note until it becomes clear there will be no second encore I am spellbound. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson are the two original band members. One original member died and his replacement is recovering from a stroke. The original drummer has ardently disassociated himself from the band for years. Now it's just Paul and Tommy backed up by Josh Freese on drums and David Minehan on guitar. They play almost all of my favorite songs and a few that I've never liked. Songs aren't completely reworked nor are they note-for-note replications of the originals. The thread that runs through the whole show is that Paul and Tommy and the rest of the band love the songs they're playing. They have fun and it is abundantly clear that, after an acrimonious split, Paul and Tommy are happy to be on stage together again after over two decades. They mix up a bit of the introduction to “Alex Chilton,” my favorite song of all songs, a song about loving music. When I identify what's being played there is a physical rush that's hard to describe. Joe College pats me and his look says he is pleased to see his mom just about as blissed out as I'll ever be.

I feel that after listening day in and out to Himself's litany of complaints about his employer that I am entitled to freeload once or twice a year when they spring for him to attend a conference. This year we land in San Francisco's Union Square. I am bored by San Francisco, having visited so many times. I never get the big deal about the Ferry Building. None of the museums have exhibits that interest me. I've seen the permanent collections many times. I schedule one lunch with a colleague and otherwise am left to my own devices. After having had a wonderful experience with a walking tour in London I poke around on-line and discover that there are a number of free walks lead under the aegis of the Public Library. It takes me nearly an hour to walk from Union Square to Coit Tower, perhaps one of the steepest ascents I've ever attempted. The guide is magnificently knowledgeable about the Coit's WPA murals. As participants in the tour, we are permitted, in groups of six, to visit the second floor, which is generally closed to the public because the stairway is so narrow. This room too is filled with gorgeous murals which beautifully illustrate San Francisco life in the 1930s.

I take the Filbert Steps down to the Embarcadero. There are dozens of small cottages, former homes of Irish longshoremen accessible only by creaky wooden stairs. The guide informs us that the average sale price for homes in the area is three million dollars so I guess owners can afford to hire someone to schlep groceries for them. I join another tour that meets in front of the, still unremarkable to me, Ferry Building. This tour covers the history of the sea trade and the Barbary Coast. We are shown the site of the boarding house from which the term “Shanghaied” originated. I return to my hotel and check my pedometer. I've clocked over ten miles, most of it uphill but don't feel particularly achy or weary.

My walking pal Dianna says that I'm an athlete. This is specious but I do find myself looking forward to actually walking rather than looking forward to being done with walking. On the strength of my good experiences with tours in London and San Francisco, I sign up for a Sierra Club walk, exploring the stairways of Eagle Rock. I can't sucker anyone into going with me but I decide to go for it. About thirty people have assembled. We have to sign in and provide the license plate numbers of our car and emergency contact information. The leader refers to the event as a “hike.” We are read a list of rules and regulations. I fear I am in way over my head. The walk commences and I chat with some of the participants. Apparently, stair-walking is a thriving cottage industry. We are introduced by our leader to two luminaries, one man who has written two books about LA's hidden stairways and another who leads a weekly stair-walk through Silver Lake. We are instructed not to pass the leader nor straggle behind the co-leader who wrangles the end of the line. There are frequent calls of “car front!” or “car back” and we all have to squeeze unto the sidewalk. I am asked for my credentials. I report having walked up and down staircases in Mount Washington and Silver Lake but I reveal myself to be a total greenhorn when I am unable to name their specific locations. It is astonishing how many folks are so seemingly single minded and fanatical about stairs. Nevertheless, I see parts of Eagle Rock, which despite years in the vicinity, I never knew existed. There are charming little cottages and spectacular views. The others are serious and scrupulous about making sure we achieved the 328 steps we are promised. The zealousness borders on creepy. Even though it's been billed as a hike, I don't break a sweat. There are walks scheduled at stairways throughout the city that I would never discover on my own. I suspect there are more stair walks in my future but my inner geek will always belong to The Replacements.