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.

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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!

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.