Tag Archives: Time

ralph jumps

The Dog Is Dead.

We put Ralph to sleep yesterday. He was 13. I’d known he was near the end for a couple of weeks because he started letting me pet him. Ralph didn’t want to be touched the way other dogs do. I think it’s because he was thrown away when he was a puppy, like a piece of trash, in a dumpster behind his namesake supermarket in Palm Springs. Who knows what kind of mistreatment he endured before that. Ralph, like anyone who’s abused, had scars you couldn’t see. His manners were appalling. With a couple of exceptions — Phoebe, his lady friend, who has issues of her own, and Tober, who lived next door —  Ralph didn’t play well with others. His usual greeting at the park was a menacing crouch followed by growling and lunging. Fortunately we found a big-hearted groomer who was moved by the Ralph’s tale of woe and put up with his barking and nipping. He wasn’t one of those dogs that wagged his tail like crazy or showered his people with affection, nor did he expect or even tolerate much in the way of physical displays in return. If you started to stroke or pat him, if you showed him too much tenderness, the dog walked away.

And then he didn’t. A couple of weeks ago I smoothed the strands of fur back from his eyes. He gazed up at me. I rubbed his ears. He lowered his head, groaning with pleasure. I started to cry. It was so ridiculously poignant. The dog was letting me in at the end of his life. He was letting me in because it was the end of his life.

On Monday I called Jill, my dear friend and the one who heard Ralph whimpering in the Palm Springs dumpster on her morning run. We were all on vacation, and my family wound up taking the dog home. We called Jill Ralph’s birth mother. Jill was Ralph’s middle name. Jill was the dog’s favorite person, place, or thing. She drove from New York to Boston with Phoebe even before the vet phoned to tell me that Ralph’s lungs were filled with metastatic cancer nodules.

The nice thing about scheduling death is you can orchestrate the send-off. In the morning we lifted Ralph and put him in Jill’s van, where he used to beach himself on the back seat as she packed up to leave after a visit, hoping to be taken along. He took a nap on the floor with the door open and the sun pouring in.

We went to the field. His nose was in fine form and he smelled, and smelled, and smelled. Billy hugged him. Hannah hugged him. Satchel played guitar. Jill made videos with her iPad.

When we came home Jill and Phoebe left and Satch took the dog outside. He sat on the front stoop for a long time. He wasn’t looking for trouble like he used to but maybe he remembered the sensation of being King of the Block. Maybe he caught a whiff of squirrels and cats and recalled the thrill of the chase. I brought out a few bits of ham which is all he would eat during those last few days. He came back in the house and rested in the living room with Hannah.

We built a fire in the fireplace. We moved the coffee table and brought Ralph’s bed into the center of the room. The only thing missing was Eli, my oldest, who lives in Oregon. We surrounded the dog, stroking him and telling him what a fine fellow he was and waiting for our wonderful vet Holly to arrive at 5 for the kindest and most awful sort of house call.

Ralph slipped away quickly. He was ready to go. But I wasn’t. Who is ever ready to let anyone they love go? I’ve been crying for days. Literally. I burst a blood vessel under an eye. There are dry moments: I stopped crying to sleep for 12 straight hours after the vet drove away with the dog’s body in the back of her Rav 4. I stop crying to eat. But it starts up again if I think or talk about Ralph. I cancelled an interview today because I worried I wouldn’t be able to stop crying.

I know the tears aren’t just for the dog. They’re for my dad, who is in the twilight of his life. They’re for my kids, who grew up. They’re for time, which speeds up like a bad slapstick routine in direct proportion to my wish for it to slow down. They’re for the horrible part of love, which is losing the thing you love, which is going to happen every time. I can hardly fathom it.

Hannah read a Pablo Neruda poem, choking back sobs, just after Ralph’s heart stopped beating. It’s so sad and so beautiful. That’s all there is to it.

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.

I buried him in the garden

next to a rusted old machine.

 

Some day I’ll join him right there,

but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,

his bad manners and his cold nose,

and I, the materialist, who never believed

in any promised heaven in the sky

for any human being,

I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.

Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom

where my dog waits for my arrival

waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

 

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,

of having lost a companion

who was never servile.

His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine

withholding its authority,

was the friendship of a star, aloof,

with no more intimacy than was called for,

with no exaggerations:

he never climbed all over my clothes

filling me full of his hair or his mange,

he never rubbed up against my knee

like other dogs obsessed with sex.

 

No, my dog used to gaze at me,

paying me the attention I need,

the attention required

to make a vain person like me understand

that, being a dog, he was wasting time,

but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,

he’d keep on gazing at me

with a look that reserved for me alone

all his sweet and shaggy life,

always near me, never troubling me,

and asking nothing.

 

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail

as we walked together on the shores of the sea

in the lonely winter of Isla Negra

where the wintering birds filled the sky

and my hairy dog was jumping about

full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:

my wandering dog, sniffing away

with his golden tail held high,

face to face with the ocean’s spray.

 

Joyful, joyful, joyful,

as only dogs know how to be happy

with only the autonomy

of their shameless spirit.

 

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,

and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

 

So now he’s gone and I buried him,

and that’s all there is to it.

 

 

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clock

Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.

“The Clock” is an art installation that tells the time, literally. It’s a 24-hour montage of film and television fragments, thousands of them, that all feature timepieces. Time is told on wrists and radios, towers and dashboards, in shop windows and spaceships, in shouts and murmurs. Behold the cuckoo and the bomb, bearing the same message. The day-long video loop is synchronized to whichever time zone it’s being shown in; the film progresses in real time. During the flashback scene from “Casablanca” where Rick and Sam wait in the rain for Ilsa to show up so they can flee the Nazi occupation of Paris, there is a shot of a clock that reads 4:56. The audience sits on a sofa in a dark room watching that scene at exactly 4:56. You will not be late for your next appointment.

Christian Marclay, the work’s creator, is also a composer, pioneering turntablist, and sound collagist, which makes all kinds of sense. “The Clock” is a killer mixtape. It’s a feat of splicing-and-dicing derring-do. And it works on so many levels, from fizzy movie-trivia game to powerful reminder that time is the universal burden. It may be the one true universal. Whatever class, century, country, culture, or movie you happen to land in, time will find you and whip your ass. We fight it and we fail. Time is a magician; it slows to a crawl and it flies by in a blur, which is of course impossible because time is constant, but there it is. Time twists and contorts in mysterious step with our shifting states of perception, and nobody is immune. It’s sort of sickening but sort of comforting, too.

I spent an hour-and-a-half watching “The Clock” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The first five minutes seemed to last forever. I was aware of the seconds ticking by. Then I became caught up in the miniature dramas unfolding onscreen as they do offscreen, on top of one another, a procession of bedtimes and train departures and rendezvous and waiting games. I lost track of time, even as it was marching by, in plain sight, right in front of me. Then it was time to go.

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Your Day, If You Were A Woman With A Sick Kid, An Old Dog, A Squirrel Problem, An Empty Refrigerator, And A Song To Finish.

Morning is a hopeful time. The day stretches ahead of you waiting to be filled with good ideas and hard work. Everything seems possible, even though you have a massive to-do list. Your to-do list is actually a to-do pile. This is revealing and disturbing if you think about it so you don’t.

You fix a bowl of cereal and notice that an animal has gotten into the garbage and your driveway is now the canvas for a sickly collage of coffee grounds, fish wrappers, onion skins, a sponge, a broken light bulb, leftover salad, bits of styrofoam and clawed-at bags of dog shit. You curse the squirrels and the City of Newton for their garbage cans that don’t lock.  You clean it up, breathing through your mouth, then scrub your hands and head upstairs to work. In a few minutes the dog pushes the door open, lays down, and starts rubbing his chin furiously on the rug and moaning. This has been going on for a few days and you finally call the vet to make an appointment. You feel bad about waiting for so long and decide to walk the dog because he’s old and decrepit and the only thing that brings him pleasure is smelling things. When you get back you poke your head into the den to say hello to Satchel and he tells you that he feels sick. You are a pretty good mother so you ask if there is anything you can do for him. He says “soup.” There is no way you are making soup so you drive to Barry’s and buy some.

Now it’s lunchtime. There’s nothing good to eat in the refrigerator and the soup is spoken for so you microwave an Amy’s frozen lasagna, which is always weirdly satisfying, and go back upstairs. You’ve made a deal with yourself that you will work on music after you get two hours of admininistrative stuff done. You send interview requests to Henry Rollins’ publicist (he’s passing, which is bogus, he should totally talk to you) and T Bone Burnett’s manager (no word yet). You finish editing your Frank Black interview, scour the web for early Pixies footage, and email links to Aimee Mann’s and Chuck D’s handlers and to Mary Gauthier with notes encouraging them to repost the links. You can’t believe you haven’t been doing this all along but self-promotion doesn’t come naturally and that’s a huge problem. You wonder for the hundredth time how to rank friends, followers, and likes in the popularity contest that your life’s work has become, and what you would do with the information even if you had it.

Now it’s late afternoon. Dinner, which was supposed to be a joy instead of a burden after you left your job, looms like a shadow. You wonder about the marinating meats and simmering pots that were going to perfume the afternoons.  You close the computer, set the phone to silent, and open your notebook to the “Middle-Aged Rock Band” lyrics. You’ve been wanting to finish this song for weeks. You love the first verse and the chorus. You like the second verse even though it’s not as pithy as the first. You pick up the guitar. And then, nothing. No words. No direction. No patience. You start to play a different song because it feels better than staring into space. This is your new pattern, a horrifying pattern of giving up. You remind yourself that practicing guitar is important, too. But you know it’s not as important as developing good songwriting habits. Maybe you should step away from the troublesome unfinished song and start a new song. Is that lame or sensible? You have no idea. It doesn’t matter because look who’s back.

Now it’s dinnertime. No, it’s past dinnertime. You feed the dog and jump in the car and drive to Whole Foods, as you do every day, trying to think of the fastest, easiest possible thing you can cook. Whatever you make, no one complains. Everyone understands. They’re all rooting for you and that makes you want to cry. After dinner you pour a giant glass of wine and climb the stairs back up to the attic. You know you can do this. Even though the day was a wash. Even though everything is confusing. Even though you’re disappointed in yourself.  Open up the notebook.

 

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Listening Lab: Fountains of Wayne

Power pop is my own personal classic rock. The good stuff is evergreen and in heavy rotation around here. Fountains of Wayne are masters of the form. Smart. Winsome. Punchy. Witty. Their songs make me so happy. They also make me sort of sad. I can’t really explain how this works but I think the combo is the secret ingredient. Sky Full of Holes is Fountains of Wayne’s new album and “The Summer Place” is a Cheeveresque snapshot that opens with this line: “She’s been afraid of the Cuisinart since 1977.” Actually, so have I. Here’s to warped time and concentric states of mind and the impossible fact that everything and nothing changes.

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lines-and-curves

There’s No Such Thing As A Straight Line.

Here in midlife, inspirational slogans are as cheap as the Trader Joe’s wine we’ve been drinking. You’re as young as you feel. Dance like nobody’s looking. The one about wearing purple. My favorite is from a film director (I can’t remember which one but he’s probably European) who said that it’s not a woman’s body but her body of work that he finds sexy.

Slogans are cheap. That’s not to say they’re not meaningful, but they’re also pat and mood-dependent and damn aspirational. I’ll dance like nobody’s looking, except when I feel ugly or exhausted or insecure. Slogans are about the life we’d like to lead. Epiphanies are something else entirely. Epiphanies are about the life we’re already living. They explode like little bombs in your head — sudden insights into the real meaning or the essential nature of something. I had one recently. For a long time I believed that as my children grew older they would need me less. It makes a certain sense. Babies are helpless and totally dependent. Toddlers can amuse themselves, maybe for ten minutes at a time, but still. Kids go out to play and help themselves to snacks and don’t require lullabies to fall asleep. Teenagers are gone. And then they move out. Real gone.

Except that’s not how it works. My children are 18, 20, and 23, and they’re all in limbo. I suppose transition is the diplomatic term. Satchel is taking a year off, apparently to perfect his omelettes, before starting college. Hannah has been on a break from Barnard for nearly a year and is mulling a move overseas. Eli just relocated to Portland, Oregon, and is looking for a job and a house. And they need me. For nuts-and-bolts guidance. For free-form support. For humor when prospects are humorless and gravity when they can’t find the center. For a sense of place when they are everyplace and no place. It’s a different kind of need, not as quantifiable as it used to be. Nobody’s life will be in danger if I don’t hold a hand and nobody is going hungry if I don’t buy groceries. But the emotional stakes feel higher.

Here’s the thing: life isn’t linear. We don’t move in one direction from dependence to independence, from needy to capable, from youthful to mature. It’s a mixed-up trajectory. Sometimes those kids are sages on the mountaintop. Sometimes I’m a babe in the woods. What a surprise.

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