Old Dog Love

So the apartment—with three dogs, a loud cat, a few rickety houseplants, clothes drying on racks, and funk accumulating everywhere—is so filled with need, at the moment, that I felt my mind, last night, shrinking to the size of a pistashio nut. I would say I was entertaining murderous fantasies, but there was nothing entertaining about it: the balcony, the microwave, the garbage chute—everything was beginning to look like a murder weapon, and my victim? Scout.

Poor Scout. His circling has gotten incessant, and he’s so prone to pee and poop in the hallway or elevator that I have to carry him outside. He won’t eat unless I hold his bowl up to his face for him, and when we go for walks with the other dogs he slips his collar because they’re pulling so far ahead and he’s lagging so far behind. Then he runs in the opposite direction because he can’t see and he’s afraid he’s been left behind. Somehow, by last night, I had convinced myself that I could not go another day like this: without him, I would be free.

Needless to say, I needed some relief from all the feelings that Scout was bringing up. So I talked to myself. I said, “Deitch, they say that if you really want to be happy, help someone out. But, honestly, Deitch, that notion has always been a bit unappealing to me: I really would rather go down to Gitane and have a cafe creme.”

Luckily, I’m just beginning to grok, though, the starring role that selfishness plays in my life.

So I went over to Scout circling, circling, circling, now with his tail between his legs, and I got down on the floor with him and put my arms around him. He leaned in to me. Then he slid, down, down, down, and with each down he relaxed more and more, until he was a soft black puddle, half in my lap. He sighed.

I’ve known this. I know that, starting in the last few weeks, the minute I touch his head, he lays it in my hand and shuts his eyes. I’ve known this. And what’s more, I know that he sometimes forgets how to drink, and stands by the bowl looking at it, but damn if he knows what it’s for. So we made that trip to the kitchen together, and I put water on his lips, and finally, after a few more splashes, he drank.

I didn’t feel better last night. I still felt uptight, and also like a heel. But you know what? I woke up this morning with the honest wish to give Scout a good day: to put an egg in his kibble, and take him for his own damn walk. He has made me happy for thirteen years—has been the source of so much sweet and funny love—and now, simply, he needs me.

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Apology #2


Oh my God. I totally apologize for that last post. You wouldn’t believe it: I came up from the laundry room and I found Dolly standing by my desk, on top of Dave, who was standing on top of Scooby (I had to give Scooby a double dose of pain meds after that), and they were all laughing their asses off. Turns out I’d left my computer on, and they’d decided to write a post. Meat Puppeteer!? How do they even know that term? (I know how they know—hi, Jul; how’s India?) Anyway, Scout was on the daybed with my glasses on his poor cataract’d eyes, reading Vogue and crying (“Why,” he asked me, tears running down his snout, “do they have to use assistants to write their celebrity profiles?”).

Dolly, acting innocent
Anyway, this is what happens when they get stuck in a New York apartment for two days because it’s raining chats et chien. They go crazy.

This Is It

I went to the doctor today at the NYU Clinical Cancer Center. I don’t have cancer. But at one point a few years back I had a scare, and now I have to go in routinely to make sure that that thing I didn’t have hasn’t come back. Anyway, I was in there with the fancy surgeon who specializes in a particularly gnarly kind of cancer that doesn’t generally have a good outcome, as they say. He told me that I was fine.

So then I asked him how he was. He said, “I’m bored.” He was wearing a really nice suit. He’s one of those very well-groomed, handsome men in his forties with silver hair and bright blue eyes that looks like he spends his weekends with a blonde on a boat. I said, “Really? With what you do, you must see some pretty heavy things,” and he said, “Yeah, well, you know, it’s all the same after a while.” Then he backtracked a bit, like you would if you’d said that. A moment later he repeated his thought, “But I’m bored. I guess I’m having a midlife crisis.”

Bored. Some dharma cohorts and I were given the assignment recently of contemplating, a couple of hours a day, precious human birth (as they say in the business) and impermanence. So, like: How amazing is it that we’re, say, Starbucks-drinking, J. Crew-buying, three-D-glasses-sporting humans living under Barack Obama, rather than baby chickens being sent down a funnel and ground up alive? Think of the opportunities we have! Or, I took a crowded subway to 34th Street today, and wasn’t blown up by two suicide bombers—fucking thank God, no kidding—or hit, when I emerged from under ground, by a cabdriver drinking a Starbucks and checking his email on his iPhone. My daughter is alive and well. Someday, if she’s lucky, she’ll be an old woman. My dog, Scout, suffering from canine dementia, really, really enjoyed his morning cookies. Someday soon he won’t. And someday soon I won’t be around to give out cookies: I don’t have a lot of time left, that is, to do something really worthwhile.

Anyway, I said, “Wow, there are a lot of great things to do out there instead of being bored.” And he said, “Like what?” What could I say. I’d sound like a religious fanatic. You can’t just say to someone: Look up at the sky. Feel the rain on your face. Take the subway home. Tell your wife and kids that you love them. You can’t just say, This is it. You won the lottery: It is your lucky day.

Julia’s Anies: An Introduction

Dave

Oh, Dave, terrible old obese cat, not at all the light of my life, definitely not the fire of my loins, not my sin, not my soul: How do I keep from murdering you in the middle of the night when you scream like a mechanized baby stolen away by hyenas in the jungle? You are in a warm apartment on Central Park West: Shut the fuck up and go to sleep.

From left to right: Julia, Dolly, and Scout

Dear Dolly—I know you don’t like that giant sheepskin coat you inherited from that dead poodle you used to bump into occasionally in the park. But let me put it on you, please, while your mother is in India. Otherwise you’ll just have to shit in the house like that decrepit guy Scout.

Scooby

Scooby, what can I say? I hated you when you scared Bodhi so badly that she jumped out the window. But I can almost forgive you for that (though not myself), considering how patient you’re being with Scout. I’m sorry he’s trying to kill you; maybe the Prozac will work.


Nice jeans, Jul.

Julia Away

Julia flew away to India this evening. I had no idea that I felt protective of her until I was waiting for her at a hydrant on Sixth Avenue and Bleecker while she went into the CVS to buy razors and garbage bags for friends living in the north, in Himachal Pradesh, where, unless you have a sharp rock and a hungry goat, you’re shit out of luck on having smooth legs and place to put your trash. (She was going to add the razors and garbage bags to her already hefty collection of gifts: furniture polish, a pumice stone, underwear from the Gap, cheap slippers, a pair of giant men’s boots topped with fur, vitamins, a power cord for a French nun, six wine glasses. and a duffel full of other things I can’t mention or she’ll get mad). Anyway, the thought of her flying across the ocean and landing in Delhi alone suddenly made me nervous and sad—I can’t even go into it. Suffice it to say that the last time Julia flew into Delhi, she ended up calling me from a cardboard box* in the middle of the night, in her sleeping bag, crying, saying something about a lost taxi driver and pigs or cows in the middle of the road, and not being able to get through. Monkeys scare her. And men think she’s hot. (Already a drunk guy tried to pick her up at in the airport in Newark, twice.)

Julia in Bodhgaya, 2009
Sigh. She’s on an adventure. She will break free of many of her habits and dance in that space, while the monks chant and the little dogs are eaten by maggots. India! Julia in India! The truth is, she is never happier. She will give her gifts away. She will drink buckets of chai with the Buddha. She will make more, even though it’s someone else’s job. She will pass around the protein bars. She will get insecure. She will laugh and cry and it won’t make a bit of difference which one it is because it’s all, every bit of it, the same: this fleeting, holy dream.

*This is one of those lies I told you about.

(bottom image by Michael Velasco)

Memoir: Sword

Speaking of self-involvement, I remembered this thing when I was in the shower this morning: how I discovered writing.

My father had died, like I said, when I was ten, and we moved into Manhattan from Long Island a year later, so that my mother, I think, could date more easily (no judgment—it was 1967, she was 38, had three young kids, no money, and needed a plan). She enrolled me at P.S. 6, on the Upper East Side, and somehow finagled it so that I was put into the sixth-grade I.G. class—the class for so-called intellectually gifted kids. <a href="I told you already that I was a wreck, so this development was a stroke of karmic genius: If torture by humiliation at eleven doesn’t kill you, it leads you to ask a lot of important questions later on.

So it was clear that the teacher, Miss Baron, who sported a loose orange beehive and always wore red lipstick, didn’t like me. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough, or well-enough educated, or too sad and angry—I suspect it was all three. At one point, anyway, she told my mother she was going to transfer me out of the class, and my mother managed to stop her. So I’m not making it up; she didn’t want me around. Needless to say, I spent many evenings crying over the fact that my homework was actually too hard for me to do.

Somewhere in the middle of the school year, though, Miss Baron told us to write two poems, and bring them in the next day. I’d never written a poem before, but when I sat down to dutifully do it, I discovered this amazing thing: writing it down to figure it out. I had a lot to say, it turns out, but not the sort of stuff you talk about. (If you know what I mean.) I wrote one poem called “Who Am I?,” and another one about time. I didn’t consider whether or not they were good—of course, they wouldn’t be—but they just fell out, and that was a bright experience in a dark time.

All grownups in the 1960s
The next day Miss Baron called us up to her desk, one by one, which was something I dreaded and loved. It was hard to have a conversation with an adult back in those days who wasn’t drunk and/or high,* so these chats at school, though intimidating, were an opportunity to have some sane face time with someone other than my poodle, Zsaz (who was a really good listener). Miss Baron, on this day, snatched my first poem from my hand (or so it seemed to me) and started reading, clearly expecting the usual annoying stupidity. I believed I was a fuck up, so I sat there waiting to be put down and sent off by Miss Baron with a impatient little shake of her head and a roll of her eyes.

But something else happened. I watched her reading the poem with her furrowed brow and her pursed lips, filled, like tiny rivers, with red goop, and suddenly her face changed. The lines disappeared from her forehead. Then she looked at me over the paper. It was not a happy look, or a look of relief: it was a blank look. But behind the blank I could see what she was hiding: surprise. Total surprise.

That’s how I became a writer: I wanted to see that look again. Thank you, Miss Baron, wherever you are, for giving me that. Thank you for making me a writer, however vengeful, and for kicking my ass.

*See John Updike’s amazing story on the subject, “The Lovely Troubled Daughters of Our Old Crowd.”

Apology


I’d like to apologize for this blog—all the blahblahblahing, all the self-involvement, all the making nothing of nothing and asking you to read it, most of the time without any really good pictures even (like maybe this one, from this morning’s Times, of artwork by Eva Hesse, who died, by the way, in her thirties of brain cancer). It’s just that I got fired and found myself with nothing to do and this itch to write again. So that’s why. I don’t think I have anything to say about much, but I thought I might try to capture a little bit of fragility here and there: remind myself of my lost heart, maybe. Write it down to figure it out. I thought maybe you might want to join me. That’s all.

Ten-Second Rant: Putting the Con in Con Edison


Does this happen to you?

I moved into this particularly tiny studio apartment in January, and got an electric bill a month later for $90 (for that kind of money, don’t you think?, I should be flying to the moon and back on my desk lamp). The next month, the bill was for $185. I called Con Ed when I had a free moment (i.e. three weeks later), and the Indian woman on the other end (whose lights were probably flickering in her Delhi office while the garbage was smoldering outside) told me to go read my meter.

So I did—I went down to this hidden room in the basement full of dials and water bugs on glue boards and discovered that, according to the meter, the number of kilowatts used, as of that day, was hundreds of kilowatts lower than the number Con Ed claimed had been on the meter before I’d even moved in (emphasis mine). The guy on the other end of the line at Con Ed laughed when I told him this. He said, “We’ll send you a new bill in the morning.” That new bill, for two months, was for $62.

The same thing happened with my cable bill—there was a mysterious $100 added to it that I politely asked them to remove. (“Oh, shit,” the cable woman from Brooklyn said, “this is all screwed up.” “Uh-huh,” I said, “right?”)

Not to get too conspiracy theory-ish about it, but are these errors intentional? Are the utility companies overcharging people, figuring that some will notice and some won’t? Isn’t that illegal? Think of how many people don’t look at their bills, and just throw their dough at Dr. Warner and Mr. Con.

(Excuse me while I go to the corner of my tiny apartment where I keep my tiny shrine and do my healing mantra by battery-powered flashlight: yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can.)

Memoir: The First Breakdown (Con't)

So at least in the old days, you couldn’t just take a person who’d never been a resident in a psyche ward to the hospital and drop him off. Not that that’s what I wanted to do with Ian: What I wanted to do was have someone evaluate him, and tell me what to do next. Back in those days, though, if someone needed this kind of overnight psyche consultation, you had to have the cops bring him in. Even now, just thinking about these events takes my breath away.

After I got the requisite letters of recommendation (so to speak) from two psychotherapists Ian had known, and a letter from our mother (don’t ask), I went to the local police precinct to have a chat with the cops. I looked, physically, how you might imagine a wild teenage girl would in 1974 (long crazy hair, jeans, boots, tee-shirt): I looked, that is, like the enemy. Needless to say, they were not happy to see me.

What I remember most about the conversation between me and the Jerk In Blue at the desk was that he kept calling my brother “a mental”:

“What’s wrong with your brother?”

“He’s having some trouble, and I need a doctor at the hospital to check him out.”

“We don’t chauffeur people to their doctor’s appointments.”

“No, I know, but he’s sick—he’s having psychological problems.”

“Oh! Well! If he’s a mental then that’s another story.”

“He’s not ‘a mental.'”

“Well, then we can’t pick him up.” Continue reading