Angela had the salad with avocado and fennel at Gitane. I had the arugala, which was good, but hers looked better. That was Thursday.
It’s Monday now, and Scout has been spinning all day long, madly, with one short break for an hourlong nap. When I took him with me in the car to buy the fish this evening, he shat in his crate in the backseat.
OK, so it wasn’t fennel. My mind hasn’t been right lately, and I gave the name of something I know nothing about, to something I have a lot of experience with, and love. Still, when I was driving out to the North Fork on Friday morning, I was determined to make that avocado and fennel salad.
Somewhere along the line, a vet (not mine) told me that brain tumors in dogs aren’t painful. She said at least I didn’t have to worry about that. At the time, I believed her. More and more I grok that we see what we want to see, and we pretend we don’t see the rest, to the point that we actually don’t. Scout, as I wrote that last sentence, tripped over his own feet, and fell so hard that the floor shook. He has a scab on the inside of his back leg the size of a whole fennel, from rubbing his legs together while he spins.

Scout about to clonk his head on the wall while he spins

Fennel sure does look weird. I googled it, and the google police reminded me that anise comes from fennel. What was I thinking? Avocado and licorice salad? I don’t think so. Once again, my mind climbed the hill of reality like an Indian truck, puffing and honking, shit flying out the windows. I can not see reality clearly. I googled Gitane: it wasn’t avocado and fennel—it was avocado and endive. Not only that, but the thing I’d bought at the farmstand wasn’t even fennel: it was kohlrabi. Kohlrabi?
Two nights ago, I locked Scout in the bathroom so that I could get some sleep, laying down a comforter, his funky old beddie, and this designer bed I bought him in toille that he has about as much interest in as he does in kohrabi. I turned on a nightlight. I waited until he was spinning in his own world, and I shut the door.
*** Continue reading “Spinning”


Sunset on Long Island

When Scout was a little pot-bellied pig puppy, I’d try to walk him from our apartment on San Vicente near the steps in Santa Monica, to the Starbucks on the corner of Montana and Third. We wouldn’t get far before he’d sit down with his little legs sticking out in front of him (sort of), and look at me. He was hot. He was tired. He was three-months old, with puppy breath and sharp baby teeth the size of a speck. He was wild, and for a while I worried that he was crazy, because he’d bare his teeth when he thought something was funny. Turns out, he was smiling.

Maud was just a little girl then, with long blond hair that would swing like a metronome when she skipped out in front of me. The three of us and Bodhi, just a year old when we found Scout sitting on the lap of a rescue kid out on Montana, made up our family.

It’s so strange to think that that’s over, the time of the little girl and the two baby animals and no money. The time of all that deep, deep love. I have to work to think that something else as wonderful will take its place. I don’t know if I actually believe it.

I bring this up because tonight I was out walking with Scout by the ocean in East Marion. He’s been spinning in circles all night long for the past two days, and the vet, who has seen me through this over the last couple of years—or before that, when Bodhi was sick—says that there’s no medication left for him, and that the tumor in his brain must be giving him headaches all day long, and the spinning is nauseating. She would like me to put him out of his misery.

I wrote a poem, when he was little, that described his leaping through the grass, which was only tall to him. His joy was so intense it could be infuriating. (I remember a story about a mother who, when they asked her why she killed her little girl, said it was because she was doing cartwheels in the house.) Unfortunately, my hard disk failed, and I lost the poem. Today, I carried him up the higher steps leading from the beach to the road, and let him struggle with the tiny ones.

We saw: A deer in a field as the light dimmed
We saw: tiny birds, hopping happily in the grass because no one was around.
We saw: a little boy chasing his tiny white dog around a car parked in his driveway; the dog was fast, and laughing as he looked behind him.

We’ve seen some things and need to be glad, even if we’re unbearably sad.

Hello Out There

I get all excited about blogging, and then I get distracted. Mostly I get distracted by work. Sigh. And, you know, since I just moved into a new place, I’ve got a to-do list a foot long, and the little piles of things with no places keep catching my eye. Here’s an example. (That black thing in the distance is Scout.)

Anyway, as you probably know, Buddhism has this Sanskrit word, samsara, which is the endless cycle of suffering that we’re trapped in, not realizing that we can end it like that. [She snaps.] It’s a point-of-view thing.

This morning, Scout was doing his usual circling—tight and fast, like he was chasing his tail, but he wasn’t—it was more like he’s trying to listen to the sea in his butt. Anyway, he circled his way over to the doorway of my bedroom and only stopped when he clunked his head on the doorjamb.

After that, one thought led to another, and I started thinking about some of my friends in unenviable relationships. I was thinking about how those relationships are not unlike Scout’s circling. You try to hear the sound of the sea in your own butt, and then, one day, you hit your head on a doorjamb, and you remember: Wait, hello!—why am I living my life in little circles with my nose up my ass? There’s more to life than this. (You could be, for instance, sitting in your shack in East Marion, thinking about the melon in your fridge and blogging about your dog.) And suddenly you want to break up.

It’s all samsara—the dog, the relationships, the thinking about the relationships, the writing about thinking about relationships. This blog is samsara. You reading it is samsara. Then, you get off the computer, and what you read here leads you to do something, or say something, and that’s samsara. And karma.

Anyway, we can get depressed about it, or we can realize that this is fantastic. We’re alive and it’s amazing. Yay! (I think.)

Dolly: An Introduction

Dolly and Julia
Julia and I met, and within the week, she was driving with me from New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I lived with Maud, who was sixteen at the time. Toby had just sold me his 1987 VW van with a mattress in the back, and that’s what we were driving. But this story is not about Julia and me and our wild ride. This story is about Dolly.

Dolly is a tiny shih tzu, not one of those big guys with an underbite who move like caterpillers. She weighs less than ten pounds, she has button eyes, and, if you were going to categorize her as either a movie dog or a stuffed animal (one of Maud’s childhood filing systems), she’d be a stuffed animal. She was two or three when I met her.

Dolly and Maud, asleep
Dolly traveled with us to Nova Scotia, and didn’t complain at all: not when we stopped in the parking lot of an old white library somewhere in Massachusetts, and slept under a blaring street lamp. Not when we took a food break somewhere up there, at the sort of place that has menus the size of surf boards, all laminated, and food that they bring out in buckets. I remember looking back at the van in the vast and empty parking lot as we trekked toward the place, and seeing Dolly looking out from the back window at us, disappearing into the night, O.K. to be a tiny shih tzu all alone in the world.

Very soon after we arrived in Halifax, a hurricane hit the city so hard that part of the roof was torn off the building where I worked at the Shambhala Sun. The two fantastic parks in the city were basically destroyed, people were killed, and we didn’t have gas or electricity for several days. The Big Slice lost its “S,” and remained, for a while, The Big Lice. Julia and I found the only coffee in town.

We brought a bunch back for the neighbors, who had set up barbecues outside of their houses, and cooked, every day, the stuff that would other be rotting in people’s refrigerators. This is Canada, and it was truly lovely. Anyway, on this particular day, we were standing outside the house where Maud and I lived on the second floor, chatting, and I was holding a tray with four lattes.

All of sudden, the universe ended. That is, the sky fell. That is something flew from above me, landed on my head, hard, hit the lattes, and fell to the ground with the tray. It was Dolly. She’d jumped off of our second-story porch, onto my head. She was OK, and I was OK. It was…a strange thing for her to do. (Maybe Bodhi and Scout, both well at the time, were inside torturing her—I wouldn’t put it past them.)

Anyway. I haven’t talked much about Dolly, except at the beginning of this blog. Since her first trip to Halifax, I’ve become her other mommy, though I doubt that Julia would agree with that, being so completely possessive of that particular being. Still, I’ve taken her to the vet when she had a terrible ear infection (or other kinds of unmentionable infections), and she was too brave for a tiny shih tzu. I’ve shooed away Fat Dave when he’s made her cry. I’ve fallen asleep, many, many times, with her in the crook of my legs, and sometimes even, when it’s thundering, with her shaking and panting on top of my head.

Now I’m warning you. Dolly is unexpectedly very sick. And that’s one reason why I haven’t written. I haven’t known what to say. Like Kevin, she is someone else’s bestfriend. Like Kevin, she is a tiny hero.

The Precious Dog, the Precious Minister

Rinpoche with Pema in 2004
We were meeting up with Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche for lunch. I’m not boasting, just trying to give you some context for how it was the Scout met his guru. Scout wasn’t looking his best—I’d cut off all his hair with dull kitchen scissor a couple of days before during the heat wave, and he looked like he’d been attacked by moths. I like the way he looks, don’t get me wrong—especially the bald spots.

Scout in better days
Anyway, Scout dodders sideways now, his head tilted to the right and down, like he’s ashamed of himself. He walks so slow, and with such mincey little steps, that it looks like he’s walking in place on tip-toe. A UPS guy in Greenport was so nonplussed (whatever that means) by it the other day, that he pulled over to the curb while Scout and I were out for a stroll, just to tell me that he hoped I was heading home with my dog—he said he thought my dog looked like he’d been in the heat too long. But he hadn’t: that’s what he looks like.

In any case, Rinpoche, who was sitting in a rocker low to the ground, gestured for Scout to come over, and Scout doddered a couple of hesitant, wary, and sideways steps in Rinpoche’s direction. Rinpoche reached out to him and lifted his moth-eaten, curly ear, and started whispering stuff in Tibetan or Sanskrit—I couldn’t hear what. Scout came closer.

I turned away, but the next thing I knew Scout was sitting on Rinpoche’s lap, looking at me like, “WTF.” He had the same look on his face that he used to get when I made him swim—like he still loved me, even though I was trying to drown him.

Rinpoche’s not like a lot of the guys you meet in New York City; he’s super chilled out and warm, and seems really happy, and he makes you feel known. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to cross him. Yesterday, after Scout’s meeting with him, I had a stomachache like no other. Julia reminded me that this is what happens after I see Rinpoche: I call it my “hairball.” I feel like I’m going to puke, but what ends up coming up are several lifetimes worth of sorrow. It’s the strangest thing.

Before the hairball, though, Rinpoche coaxed Scout into another room, and I heard lots of chanting and cracking and banging,* and a few minutes later Rinpoche emerged from the room alone, and said that Scout had circumambulated a Guru Rinpoche rupa (that’s one of those small statues that you put on your shrine), and a Buddha, three times.

Brilliant! You see, Scout can’t stop spinning, and Rinpoche just used that symptom of Scout’s ill-health towards his enlightenment. I’m sure there were blessings, too, when Scout went over to a tiny bowl of nuts and dried fruit that Rinpoche was noshing from, and delicately (as is his want) licked the figs. Maybe that’s like in Tibet, when people throw stones at the lamas to insure a connection with them in future lives. Maybe Scout will get to be a real boy someday, after all.

*Not really!

Listening to Dog Life

Scoutie fell asleep between my legs on the bed in L.B.’s guestroom while I was practicing, and his breathing was so ragged and shallow that I woke him up and carried him downstairs and brought him into the backyard for air. He was O.K.—he did his new thing of staggering, zombified, around the periphery at a clip, and then screeching to a halt to take a rickety shit which nearly knocks him over. He is, I’ve known from the beginning, a noisy, grunty breather, so I shouldn’t be surprised that that quality will come out more, now that he’s sick.

The day we took him from the lap of that teenager outside Wild Oats when he was three months old, we brought him home and then suddenly I had to go: I got called to interview Kate Winslet on the set of the “Titanic” outside Tiajuana, and I drove down there from L.A., for some reason, rather than flying. I was going to sleep in a nasty motel nearby, after the interview, and then drive home in the morning, but the thought of that pup, and my own little girl, pulled me back that same night. I do that sometimes, drive when I’m too tired to drive.

I got home and he was in the kitchen where we’d made him a nest before I’d left, and he wasn’t happy, being made to sleep alone. So I put a blanket on the floor and lay down beside him, and pulled him in. That’s when I heard his noisy breathing for the first time, all catches and sighs and bubbles and squeaks and clicks and groans. How do we endure the never-again?

You know some things about me now, if you’ve read through this blog. But you don’t know that for most of my life I woke up in the middle of the night very afraid. Until recently, I wouldn’t have been able to be in this house alone, except if Scout was there, when Scout was still a dog who might deter a monster. These days, though, I find that I am the one whose job it is to comfort the fearful, and deter the monsters.

There is so much about getting older that no one ever talks about. There’s losing your eyesight and losing your memory and losing your friends and not being able to eat pretty much anything without gaining weight, yeah, but there’s also how you get good at some things, in a weirdly deep way, just by virtue of having done them for so long. And you find bravery, not in your muscles and your manhood, but in your heart, which only lives exclusively in your chest when you’re young. When you start getting old, your heart runs away from you, because, whether you like it or not, it wants to love the world.