Friday, April 25, 2014

Wherever We're There, it's our House

For the last year, there have been long kid-less stretches but summer is approaching. Our children are concerned that we may psychically unprepared for their homecoming. We have been provided with some guidelines to combat any lax practices that may have devolved.

Summer 2014
Code of Conduct

Refrain from saying:




rap (when referring to music and/or in conjunction with “bum”)





chill (as pertains to mood)

posse (except in western vigilante context)



Not even funny the first time:

When in a bar with son of legal drinking age, “Gosh, it seems like just yesterday that I was breast-feeding you.”

Greeting 3 p.m. risers with “Good morning,” or “Do you want breakfast or dinner?” or any other selections from repertoire of hackneyed remarks pertinent to indolence.

Referring to sons' basement quarters as “dungeon, den of iniquity, salon of squalor or bowels of hell.”

Wrapping a box of condoms with the tiny panties that somehow got into the laundry basket.

General :
It is unnecessary to mention that all of the liquor on the bar was replaced with water/tea. That was years ago. You've had lots of time to restock. What are you waiting for?

Prosthetic teeth are to be worn at all times.

Are you ever going to take that bathtub baby picture off of the refrigerator?

Do you yourself use Kirkland brand shampoo and conditioner? We think that you do not!

Do not post anything about us, including baby pictures, on Facebook. Do not friend request any of our friends or our friends' parents.

Do not mention repeatedly that the basement reeks. (Let she who is free of sin cast the first stone.)

Do not exchange that knowing glance when one of us suggests we plan rising early or applying for a job.

Our visitors from out of town, like us, have no interest in visiting the Arboretum or Huntington Library.

Do not feign temporary amnesia. You have somehow managed to operate the TV remotes and Roku box in our absence.

Your opinions about body piercing and tattoos have been made quite clear so there is no need to remind us.  You wouldn’t kick us out anyway.

No wide-legged jeans and/or pants with cuffs

Mother and father not to exchange clothing (bathrobes, sweatpants, etc.)

Mother must wear bra at all times

No t-shirts from colleges that children were not accepted to

No Crocs, clogs or plaid patterned footwear

Do not claim that there is “plenty of food in the house” when you mean fruits and vegetables.

No store brand ice cream. We know you eat Ciao Bella when we're at school.

Stop with “You'll like it the way I make it.” Chances are we've only had it the way that you make it and we do not like it.

We can tell the difference between whole wheat pasta and brown rice and the good stuff. Ditto, fat free half and half.

Father management:
Discourage baby-talking and particularly singing to pets

Encourage eye contact and multi-syllabic response when meeting guests.

Do not permit the gathering leftovers from guest's plates with hands, and subsequent ripping apart of food, for the dogs. Corollary: Dog bowls are not to be placed on the dining table.

No Gym Class Heroes, Ben Folds (with or without the Five), or Pre Fab Sprout

No Prairie Home Companion, Art Laboe, or Bookworm

No Judge Judy, Honey Boo Boo, Sixteen and Pregnant and/or Teen Mom, Dance Moms or Dancing with the Stars

Prison and Crime shows acceptable, if you must, except Locked Up Abroad or marathons

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pet Peeved

My mother’s dog was Sonny, a black toy poodle.  Before the divorce he was groomed and be-ribboned bi-weekly.  After Dad left, not so often.  Sonny was very protective of my mother but I think that it was probably due more to my torment of him, then a perceived threat to Mom, that led him to snap at me and bite my hand.  I must have been around four.  My finger bled.  Mom was very annoyed at me for making Sonny nervous.

I have never not had a pet.  I had a dog and around five cats when I met Himself.  One of my cocktail party standards is that he fell in love with me because I could identify most breeds of dog.  His is that he wonders how many cats I’d have by now if he hadn’t married me.  After twenty-five years we have amassed a number of other pithy expository statements with which we bore each other and ourselves.  For the same quarter century we have always had three canine companions.  The legal limit for dogs in Los Angeles is three.  Often I wish that it were fewer.

We have a dog system by which we take turns choosing and naming dog number three when there is a vacancy.  Himself read that in one’s lifetime you will have five good dogs. For once his nearly creepy photographic memory has let me down and he can’t remember where he read this and I am unable to locate the passage via Internet search.  But it makes sense, even if Himself just made it up himself.

A few of our four foots have been so deranged, that while we still loved them, they don't count towards my five “good” ones. Andrew, the Airedale ran away and bit men who wore heavy shoes. As a last ditch effort the rescue lady and I schemed to have Himself take the dog to an animal psychic. We told him it was a behavior specialist.  I don’t remember what Andrew communicated to her but we ended up having to put him down anyway.

My first “good” dog was Gladys, a toy poodle. I took her with me to my hippie college and we were sneered at because she wasn't a burly bandana-wearing mutt named Moonbeam or Shakti. I did let her go natural so her white Afro made it harder to pin her as a poodle.  During breaks however my mother spirited the matted mess off to the Poodle Parlour. It was embarrassing for both of us when Gladys returned to school with shaved snout and a pom pom tail.

After college Gladys bounced back between my mom and me.  I traveled and lived in pet verboten apartments.  When the little dog was diagnosed with incurable cancer, my mom and I both sort of fell apart. When the time came, my friend Richard volunteered to accompany us to the vet. Before we left he insisted that my mother smoke a joint. I presume that it was her first time but my dad was a musician so she may have been hep to reefer. She was coy when I inquired. In the waiting room, Richard addressed the ailing poodle. “Gladys, I've got some good news for you and some bad news for you. The good news is, you're going to Griffith Park. The bad news is, you're going as fertilizer.” We had a good long cry when we got home. Mom polished off a two pound box of See's Candy.

Bowser , good dog #2, was a pit bull mix adopted as a tiny pup from the local pound. She had such a high retrieve drive that we diagnosed her as fetch obsessive. Bowser chased tennis balls until she could barely stand up and pestered you relentlessly to throw the slobber soaked thing again and again If you bounced a ball she would spin insanely, a dervish on speed. I carried in ten bags of groceries and Bowser immediately identified which one contained the can of tennis balls. She much preferred new balls to used ones. I pulled the tab on the can slowly. She'd inhale the air that was released. I'm not sure if dogs actually have orgasms but this is what it would look like. A smart dog, Bowser subsidized her tennis ball addiction with genuine labor. At my office she was trained to carry an invoice (rolled up and slid under her collar) back to the shipping clerk to fulfill orders.

Bowser lived to age twelve, the normal life span for a dog her size. Ultimately it became difficult for her move around and she stopped eating. A vet who specializes in in-home euthanasia was called. A butterfly flew low overhead as the injection was administered. Himself and I, a deluge of snot running down our faces, sobbed. Perhaps our level of anguish was beyond the pale because the veterinarian, who offs dogs and deals with grieving owners several times each day, indicated that she was worried about us.

The next time it was my turn to choose a dog, much to my terrier loving husband's displeasure, I picked a poodle. Well, half a poodle. Someone slipped under the fence at the standard poodle breeder's and we were never quite sure what the other half was. Fido, I presumed would be my dog but from the moment she arrived she made clear her exclusive devotion to the previously poodle poo-pooing Himself.

My boy Rover is now fifteen, much to the vet’s astonishment, two years or so of borrowed time. He, like Bowser is a pit bull mix from a rescue organization. I selected him from their website because he looks like Our Gang's Petey, with a circle around his eye. Rover was sprung by the rescue folks from an East L.A. shelter. He came with a very long jagged scar on his hind leg so I knew that we were improving his circumstances.  He is very demonstrative in conveying his gratitude.

Rover immediately became my Secret Service man.  A dog on the trail had the temerity to bark at me and Rover defended me rather aggressively.  As further proof of my boy’s advanced age, he was sent for remediation to the Los Angeles Dog Psychology Center, which was operated by Cesar Millan long before his “Whisperer” fame.  Rover spent three weeks with Millan. Cesar promised to make a home visit to teach me how to walk Rover properly but he never returned my calls.  I just keep my boy away from other dogs. There was a cat episode but the evidence is 100% circumstantial and this is not something I discuss.

Rover accompanies me to work daily.  Although he has a very short coat, Rover is a heavy shedder.  Our weekend cleaning lady stops by the office. “That’s the dog?  That? I can’t believe it Mrs. Layne. I was expecting a really hairy dog.” So abundant is the fur fall that Rover had a designated vehicle, an ancient Volvo wagon.  Even the headliner was thick with white fluff.  To my amazement, Rover outlasted his car.  After the donation of the wagon to KCRW I commandeered Himself’s car for Rover purposes, exchanging with him my cute little sports car.  If I weren’t lacking the manual dexterity, I could knit a blanket with what’s accumulated in the back seat.  It’s a mystery that the dog isn’t bald.
It grows more difficult for Rover to get up into the car.  Sometimes I have to hoist his hind quarters which humiliates him terribly.  While he still manages quite well at home and office, often he gets confused and poops in the car.  I conceal this (until he reads it here after which I’ll have to lay low for a couple of hours) from Himself. I do however demand that Rover be fed only dry food and no table snacks.  I keep the backseat covered with towels, carry plastic bags, stain remover, rags and hand sanitizer.  I no longer take the freeway when he’s in the car.  I know the location of every trashcan between office and home.
When it’s time to go to work Rover gets so excited he approximates a prance and nearly topples over.  He has a bed in the office. These days he logs more time sacked out than patrolling. If he is hungry he sits next to me and pats my leg persistantly with his rough paw until I issue a dog treat.  At 10:30 every morning it is time for his walk.  It takes him about a week to adjust when the clocks change twice a year.  He sits by the door impatiently until I grab his leash.  We used to walk a couple of miles but now it is a painfully slow trip around the block.
 His gait grows more and more unsteady and his eyes are rheumy. He still follows me through the house and grunts with irritation if I close the bathroom door.  I wake up several times each night to make sure he’s still breathing.  When the kids come home they kiss him goodbye, always expecting it to be the last time.  And I know that soon it will be.
Rover’s decrepitude is partially responsible for our current plagued by pets predicament. The half breed poodle Fido was stricken with leukemia and her replacement is yet another pit bull mix, the uber alpha, Opie. So the current line-up is the two pittys and Taffy, a little barrel of a corgi.  Dogs are triggered by body language and also have the natural instinct to thin the herd.  Opie, a number of times, misinterprets Rover’s wobbliness as aggression or maybe she senses that it is his time and she attacks him.  The only muzzle the smart girl can’t slip out of looks like something out of a B&D catalog and causes visitors to raise an eyebrow.
Taffy develops a limp and is diagnosed with hip dysplasia. The fat thing is also food aggressive and often sits next to his bowl, growling at nothing.  I’m not sure what precipitates it but somehow there is food involved and all three dogs start to scuffle. Opie chomps clean through Taffy’s ear. We deport her to Redlands where a friend of Joe College is happy to take her in until the misinterpretation of Rover’s signals is no longer an issue. Absent Opie, Taffy is bereft and now, even after a month, still sits by the window waiting for her to return. 
While the number of dogs is quite static, the cat population has been more fluid.  For over a decade though we’ve had littermates, Mary and Gary.  Brother Larry was alluded to earlier but again, there is no direct evidence and I don’t want to talk about it.  Nevertheless, felines and canines are separated.  Himself refers to the upstairs as “Catland…the land of cats.” Mary grows thin and weak.  The vet discovers a huge growth in her abdomen and brother Gary is now an only cat.  I know I am guilty of ascribing human characteristics to cats, but truly, Gary seems lonely.  The gimpy little corgi continues his vigil, waiting for Opie to return. As a kitten. Gary had nursed on Fido so he has experience with dogs, the separation policy is only in effect since Rover’s arrival.  I think the lonely pair might enjoy each other’s company. This is not the case.  Taffy has no interest in Gary when placed on the bed next to him.  It is only when Gary determines to retreat that Taffy perks up and gives chase.  It is amazing how fast the little fellow can run on three legs.  Gary takes exception to my intimation that a fat crippled dog might prove an apt substitute for his sister.  He demonstrates his disdain by spraying on our bed.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident.  Gary is now locked outside unless he is supervised.  We have purchased all manner of stain removers, air fresheners and pheromones, which are said to help cats relax.  I’ve done as much laundry as the washerwoman at a busy high-end whorehouse.  Scouring Google for “spraying male cat,” I hit upon a site called Canna-Pet, that sells a THC product, which according to testimonials, has had good results.  I wait for the delivery.  In the meantime, I conduct some off-market clinical trials of my own and am happy to report that apparently the effect of second hand smoke is that I haven’t had to strip the bed for four days.

College admissions counselors say that the worst possible topic for an essay is the loss of a pet.  I presume this is because it makes the perspective student appear trivial and insubstantial.  I guess that has merit but even if this weren’t the case it would also be unbearably sad.  I would rather read a kid’s essay about the loss of a parent than the loss of a pet. Ditto, I can watch pretty intense violence in films but cover my eyes if a dog is shown walking on the sidewalk and there are engine noises.  Whenever I see an old movie with a dog or a cat in it, I get sad that the animal is inevitably dead although it doesn’t bother me a bit that the actors are too.  Gertrude Stein was also a poodle lover.  She had a white standard named Basket.  When the dog grew long of tooth, Stein’s staff would discreetly replace Basket with a younger model.  Alas, I have no staff and it would be hard to find a dog that could be passed off as Rover.  No, I would not give up the time I’ve had with him in order to avoid the inevitability of his death.  At least I get to continue my pharmacological research on the cat.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Passover All Over

My friend, who is in my opinion spread too thin to consider entertaining, announces that she is hosting a Seder. Her daughter’s pal is so distressed by the violence of the tale that he has written his own Haggadah.  The boy has a single mom and so my tender hearted friend volunteers. My response, to the hostess’s surprise, is that the barbarism that we are guilted into remembering bothers me too. When we get around to the plagues I distract myself by remembering the sweet Seders when the kids were little, with charades, coloring books and grape juice boxes.  We’d just brush off the first born son thing altogether.  Now the kids  have started college and are too old for us to keep it from. We admit that freeing the Jews from slavery is by dint of the murder of children.  Two nights we say it.  Even the mildest Jews--who do one day when the conservative (and above) would do two days--do two days for Passover. Pesach is a very persistent holiday.

We attend a reading and discussion with writer Walter Kirn about his latest non-fiction work Blood Will Out. It has always fascinated me that crime writer Janet Rule had a long personal relationship with Ted Bundy; Kirn’s story of his friendship with “Clark Rockefeller” is just as extraordinary.  “Rockefeller” is actually  Christian Gerhartsreiter a native of Bavaria who made his way to the U.S. when he was seventeen.  His impression of the American upper-crust was formed by watching Thurston J. Howell III on Gilligan’s Island.  Gerhartsreiter donned a number of posh personas and while he was presenting himself as a baronet, he committed a murder (probably a double one but only one corpse was discovered) in San Marino.  The body was hacked into three parts and then Gerhartsreiter engaged in a game of Trivial Pursuit near the backyard burial site. The freshly dug earth was explained to be the result “plumbing work”.

The book, is, in part, an atonement for Kirn’s social ambition.  Kirn confesses that when he learns of the imposter’s arrest he hears the ca-ching sound.  Conversely, he says he’s ashamed to have put himself and his family so at risk.    There is a hardness about Kirn which he himself attributes to the phony Rockefeller experience. “You too,,” he guarantees us all, “will cross paths with a conman who can see straight into your soul!”,  I don’t necessarily ascribe to this.  Dad succumbed to proffered friendship and ended up with phony watches and a vacant lot on other side of the road from the Salton Sea.  Perhaps this has sharpened my radar, for except the Lububvitchers and the Volvo—which I was eventually able to register--I have not been taken in.  My daily dose of Judge’s Judy and now again Milian insures that chances are I won’t be.

A member of the audience ask about Gerhartsreiter’s  pathology which raises Kirn’s hackles.  “Don’t make excuses for a murder.”  Nothing mitigates the choice to do evil. This inspires another one of those Pollyanna vs. the Irish Catholic conversations on the way home. This romantic banter is interrupted with a few moments of black hatred-- Jam up on the 110, probable Dodgers. Oh for one of those houses on Househunters International  where we can chew around, without traffic, the nature of evil.

Himself says I think too Jewish.  “You want to send everyone to therapy.” I just can’t stomach my evil purely unadulterated.  With violent individuals, you may have to go back a couple generations but there must be physiological, psychological or sociological markers.  Or can there really be “none of the above?” Does an individual who is sound mentally and physically, who’s not been a victim of affluenza or other societal ills, look at the angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other just say, “What the hell?”  
Does society totally get off the hook? Is evil the result of damage or like God or love, an integral piece in the landscape of ineffable? Is it true, like Walter Kirn predicts that it is impossible to exist without encountering evil? Perhaps scientists will unravel the mysteries of malevolence.  Maybe evil will be curable, like TB or polio, Until then there’s that boy who rewrote the  Haggadah.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Consciously Coupled

We are not divorcing. Or separating. Or even particularly fighting more than we usually do. I make an April Fool's Day post on Facebook about Himself's and my decision to “consciously uncouple.” The reaction is surprising. A few people don't get the joke at all and send condolences and platitudes. The first few sentences are plausible so I understand that most people have to read a bit and remember the date before catching on. What is remarkable is that most people find it completely conceivable that I would actually announce this via Facebook. The medium has only existed for ten years but now it's the world's water cooler. I have 270 Facebook friends. Minus the zero you'd probably get close to the number of people who I actually socialize with. Divide that 27 by nine to get the number of friends to whom I would make an official announcement of a pending separation. But, for many, social media is a sea change and suddenly it is natural to share even the most intimate of intimacies.

I enjoy Facebook although sometimes it feels like a chore to log on a couple times a day and scroll through the newsfeed to where I left off before. Facebook has indeed reconnected me with some people who'd fallen by the wayside and has led to some really nice in-person reunions. I have also been able to connect with people who have in-common weird interests and this too has led to some very satisfactory human contact. There are a number of friend requests I have accepted for the sake of politeness only. A few of my obligatory friends are over-posters. Some post inanities. I have blocked a handful of people who over-post inanely. Mostly though I feel an obligation to at least glance at whatever the 270 folks, who either I have chosen or who have chosen me, have to say.

There are people who use Facebook exclusively for self promotion. They post frequently about their accomplishments and their childrens' accomplishments but never take the time to notice anything anyone else posts. I make friend requests to writers and musicians that I admire. A number of these artists are really generous and I get a lot of good reading and music tips. Almost without exception, the artists whose work most blows me away are the most are gracious and modest in the Facebook universe. Once in a while someone I know only because I like their work responds to one of my posts and I get jazzed.

I am conflicted, due to the proliferation of dirty laundry and idiots, but I think Facebook is a blessing for the socially awkward. It is almost always easier for me to engage on Facebook than at a cocktail party. Himself, the introvert (he will post below a link to the article that avers that this is a bona fide condition and not just an excuse for bad attitude) gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to exchange ideas without the ordeal of genuine human interaction. For me, a number of people show their true selves better on Facebook than in the flesh. There are posts that are smart and provocative and beautiful pictures. Facebook, at best, is a wonderful form of self expression, diminished only by the selves that, in my opinion, shouldn't be expressed.

Social media is indeed a new frontier and a lot of people still don't get it. Or maybe it's me. I “friend” a well known writer, not because I am a fan of her work (I haven't read it) but because she graduated from the same college as I did. She has nearly 4000 Facebook friends. The girl posts things that astonish me. On Valentine's Day there is a picture of her with her husband and I paraphrase the caption, “This is a great guy even though we were broken up for a while.” Lately, she has surgery and apparently a lot of time on her hands pre and post op. Why in the world would a person think that 4000 people are interested in scads of hospital pictures and detailed descriptions of procedures and outcomes? The writer notes in a post that her physician has advised her that she is too stoic and he encourages her to complain more. Apparently he is not among her 4000. Facebook, for all its value, is one of the greatest enablers of narcissism in the history of mankind.

I guess having a popular Facebook post was my only accomplishment this week. I hope it's not needy or narcissistic to expose this here towards the end. An accretion of minor disappointments has had me in low spirits. I mention this not for attention or comfort but to make a point. Himself's Irish Catholic disposition renders him completely ineffectual at any sort of optimism. Usually I counter this to near Pollyanna proportions but once in a while it's difficult to shake my own sureness that the glass is half empty. The night before he returns to New York I watch TV in bed while Spuds cuts his dad's hair. Task complete, Spuds plops on the bed next to me, dirty shoes and all. I have some prison show on. I have no memory of what we talk about as we loll there. This stays with me though. I am able to tap the physical sensation of intense rightness and it gets me through the week. I end my writing, as I usually do, feeling better than I did when I started in. I never know when, or why, I'll have one of the happiest moments of my life.