The stoplight at Hyperion and Rowena is out. Traffic is backed up all the way to Atwater. A strand of palm trees is framed by the arch of the bridge, so symmetrical that for a second I think it's a mural. A flock of birds, too small to be pigeons but too big to be sparrows, flutter in a diamond formation. They land one by one on a power wire. The mystery avians extend from one side of the wide street to the other, a uniform distance between each bird. Minutes later they take off again, one by one, a flittering rhombus. With my own supposedly superior intelligence I am just waiting in traffic to get to Trader Joe's.
My routine seldom varies. I walk every morning. Then I do a crossword puzzle and read a magazine while eating breakfast. Judge Judy and popcorn weekdays at four. Friday I buy a challah at Trader Joe's and we light Shabbat candles, give the dogs the leftover challah from the previous week and there is dessert after dinner. Sunday is Weight Watchers, breakfast with the girls and laundry. Except maybe for the laundry part I enjoy these rituals and take comfort in having become so routinized. Sometimes I worry that my indolence is a sign of depression but I kind of enjoy doing nothing much at all so it might just mean that I'm getting old.
This week brings some variety to the routine. We return from Santa Cruz and notice that corgi Taffy is coughing quite a bit and even more alarming, the most food aggressive dog on the planet is suddenly not eating. Taffy suffers already from hip dysplesia and one of this hind legs can't bear any weight and the other is wobbly with strain. He takes four different medications a day. I take him to the vet who thinks it might be bronchitis but an x-ray reveals that his lungs are filled with tumors, likely malignant. I feel bad, after years, that Himself had to take his beloved Fido on her last ride without me so I tell him not to meet me at the vet. They have a designated room with a cushy dog bed and soft lights. It goes faster than it did with Rover.
One of the finest things I've ever read is an essay by 92 year old Roger Angell. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/17/old-man-3 He lists a small portion of the friends and acquaintances that he's outlived. Angell's daughter commits suicide. Two months later Harry, his Jack Russell Terrier falls to his death. It is when Harry dies that Angell and his wife totally break down. Perhaps the death of a pet is our license to cry for every fucking thing. I keep mum about Taffy, having shot my wad sympathy wise, upon losing Rover less than two months previously. It is harder on the kids. They've had the dog for more than half their lives and have experienced many fewer pet deaths than we have. Spuds, who was gone when Rover went to doggy heaven too, sighs sadly, “I hate being gone when these things happen.”
I realize that more and more the kids will be gone when big (or little) things happen. I remember when my mom made changes to my childhood home, even thirty years after I moved out, that it was jarring. Now, still in my minds eye, the house it as it was in my earliest consciousness. The home that we've made I guess is just as important a character in the kids' lives as my childhood domain remains in my own. Now the kids will come home to two aging parents who share a sandwich and dote mawkishly on a single dog and a single cat.
Another event that makes this not a normal week is jury duty. After spending a day in the juror pool my advice to you is not to get arrested. One of my fellow prospective panelists spends the whole day right outside the jury room door screaming into his phone. He is mad at his wife, furious at a contractor (who he will indeed be suing) and on the verge of firing an employee (if he doesn't shape up). One of my other peers has arrived in short short cut-offs. And there are a surprising number of people who have brought absolutely nothing to occupy themselves and either stare into space, read magazines from the aughts or nod off. Most everyone else plays with a phone. There are only a couple of folks reading books. I overhear that a number of people are present because, after ignoring notices repeatedly, they are commanded to appear and threatened with a $1500 fine. Even the more law abiding are full of rancor, sighing and bitching and wailing, “I hope I never have to do this again.” I wonder what they have to do that is so preferable to having to do nothing. I actually would like to be on a case but am not called. I have a book and my laptop to keep track of the office.
While bemoaning my peers' lack of civic-mindedness I watch an Asian man interact with the staff. He is sweet but I detect that he is intellectually limited. On a shelf filled with ancient games he finds a jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh self portrait. It is one with the bandaged ear which seems a strange choice for a puzzle. He plops down in the middle of the floor and starts sifting through for the edge pieces. A man in business attire joins him and begins scouting out all the blue pieces. Then a woman with the guileless expression of either a missionary or a cultist joins the men on the floor. She is wears a dowdy beige skirt, mary janes with short socks and her legs are unshaven. Maybe she is just a hippie and is high and wearing the thrift store garb she uses to clean up. She begins to shape the red portion. An impeccably coiffed black woman sits daintily on a canvas bag and looks for Van Gogh's whiskers and beard. I love puzzles and am tempted to join in but I am so captivated by the silence and purposefulness that I just watch the portrait take shape.
We are sprung early and I even make it home for Judy. I am usually puttering around so commercials are often not muted. There is one for Beano that drives me insane. A couple is celebrating all of the things they are able to eat without inducing farting, thanks to the product. The woman says “veggie pizza” and the man adds “with extra cheese.” There is something weird and computer generated about their voices. I can't figure out exactly why they sound so off and it bugs the hell out of me. Plus, I detest the word “veggie.”
Another commercial, in the daily rotation is for the Auto Club. A woman claims that when she got the bid it was so low that “I literally fell off my chair.” I am furious when I learn that the new OED provides an alternative definition of “literally” as “figuratively.” I also bristle at the ubiquitous use of “healthy” instead of the correct “healthful.” I guess this is just old coot. Why should I have a hegemony over language? It is a fluid and changing thing. How has English evolved since Shakespeare's time? How did Old English (which Himself will chastise me for not mentioning was actually more a hybrid of German and Icelandic than any sort of English language) become Middle English become Modern English? How far ahead would I have to set the time machine to arrive at a time when my own English is unintelligible?
In just a little over a year, Spuds starts college leaving the house childless. Three venerable and beloved Volvos are junked. Mary, our sweet kitty is certainly in a different heaven than her nemeses Rover and Taffy. I miss so very much having an office dog and go as far as to look a bit on Petfinder. As Ohpea and Taffy are inseparable, Taffy's handicap makes it unfeasible to take both to work. Now that Taffy is eating challah in heaven, Ohpea is the new office dog. She is happy to get in the car in the morning and is a quick study as to the drawer the treats are in. In his final days Rover only came to the office once or twice a week. It was hard for him to get in and out of the car. He still insisted on a walk at 10:30 but could only manage half a block. Ohpea, on the other hand, keeps a very brisk pace and I am dragged a couple miles before the young strong thing is ready to return to the office.
A traffic jam is palm trees and magical birds. Juror prison is quiet collaboration on a jigsaw puzzle. Saying goodbye to the irascible corgi is having a happy sweet energetic companion at the office. I guess I can accept literally figuratively. If I could just get it together to mute those damn commercials.