Somehow the very idea of work get the stink eye –– golly, we wouldn't even wish it on our animal friends. The same animal buddies whose stalwart character and skills we've selected for across hundreds of generations.
But did any of us evolve all these years find our joy while melting into the upholstery? Add a bag of chips and a winning Lotto ticket, et voilá! The American Dream nirvana!
I don't mean to rant. Or actually I do. I just don't want to glaze anyone's eyes for them. Save the anesthetized stare for the third season of whatever's streaming today. Grrr.
What kind of malarkey are we putting on toast?
I'm not above it, truly. Work can suck.
Carriage horses sometimes die of heat exhaustion. Racehorses twist an elegant ankle and are seen no more on green pastures.
But can a person deny a horse the joy of running? The snarfling satisfaction of a well-fetched stick? The sweaty pleasure of that last log split and stacked?
She herself had a pair of huskies, an old pick-up truck, and a cat she'd moved, if I remember correctly, all the way from Northern New York.
Her next-door neighbor had a handful of Great Danes, huge spooky creatures that stood at the common fence and barked like earthquakes whenever anything moved in C's yard.
I visited shortly after the horrible day when C's cat, neatly running along the top of the fence, slipped and fell and was eaten alive by the Great Danes right in front of C's eyes.
The neighbor said things were not good.
"What's up?" C inquired, I imagine not particularly interested.
"It's the damn dogs. They won't go outside and they started crapping in the house."
His neighbor has two enormous hairy dogs that go nuts whenever someone ventures into Big A's back yard.
I told him the story about C and the Great Danes, and we laughed, but Big A is a man of action. He got himself an ultrasonic dog-training whistle.
The first time he used it, tuning it according to the directions, the dogs barked, tilted their heads sideways, and then stopped barking. The second time, they took a look at him and then hauled ass to the other side of their house.
A few days later, Big A ran into the neighbor. He likes the neighbor, despite her unneighborly dogs. She looked tired.
He asked how she was, and she said she was worried. Her dogs had been up all night, crapping in the house.
I like a good mystery. An overactive imagination is kind of my stock in trade. People-watching is an exercise in making up fictional histories for strangers.
This sign, however, stymies my every fictional effort.
I find nothing to add to this text to make a more vivid, surprising, or funny bit of narrative. It's already there: the stereotype and the inverted stereotype, the frustration and the showmanship, the transgression and the possibility of forgiveness.
I mean, dam, it's a zen koan of a story. Plus two mungrel dogs.
In the words of Natalie Goldberg, "It is odd that we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice."
She goes on, in Writing Down the Bones, to explain that it's not important what a writer writes but that she does.
In this spirit of writing about any old thing –– here's today's writing prompt.
Story 1: Contra dance
She suspected that he might be a rather closer relation than she would hope. Her parents' generation being all free love and hey-diddle-diddle. How squalid it seemed to her. And these country dances, honestly ––! The sawing fiddle music with the caller sending dancers hopping and whirling before they'd even had the chance to make their introductions.
Oh well, she thought, you had to join in or risk offending. When in Rome and all that.
Story 2: Private Investigator
Indoor dog out for a rare jaunt on the town. Street-smart but not out looking for trouble. Unexpected hint of asparagus. Flea powder not a week gone by. Lives with a cat (short-haired) and at least one child under 5. Castrated, poor bastard.
Story 3: Seeing Eye
Miguel could see only a little any more, cataracts shading every beam of light. Even in the piazza in the blazing sun, objects in shade were indistinguishable from the shade itself. Everything in the sunshine a blur in the sea of blurred light. Now more than ever, his was a black-and-white world.
He had been making his way to Bertillo's kitchen door, the scent of sausage cooking reeling him across the sidewalks, when his path was blocked. It was one of the rambunctious youngsters who roamed the town, yapping at trucks and pissing on everything. Miguel couldn't remember the name, but thought it was one of his sister's grand-kids. A bunch of them wandered this part of town, tough and springy and full of bark, but raised right. They knew to respect their elders. It was a comfort to Miguel to know that when he was a young punk, he'd never shown a tooth to the old aunties and uncles sunning their old bones on these same pavement stones. Full circle, that's what it was.
Now, that sausage...
I got out of the habit when I left farming country –– though it's a virtuous and pleasant tradition to spend part of this first summer weekend cleaning gravestones and trimming overgrown grass on an antique stranger's plot.
Still, over the course of this year's Memorial Day weekend, I'll take a moment or two to contemplate and be grateful for the service of those who have gone ahead.
2. Pie. When nobody else was willing to step into those big Betty-Jo Crocker shoes, I became the pie maker of the family (less adorable than Ned the Pie Maker, not so romantic as Jenna the Pie Maker* but versatile).
*Oh squee! Bonus: a Broadway version of the show with music by Sara Bareilles. Sara Bareilles! Interview here.
It's proven to be an oddly empowering body of knowledge –– not only do I make a steep pecan pie and an indulgent chocolate cream pie, et cetera, et cetera –– but it feels like some kind of ninja move to boss this pre-feminist womanly skill-set. Owning it. In an apron.
3. Junebug, the dog who ate most of a bucket of used turkey-frying oil, stoically yarked it up, and then cheerfully recycl––oh, you get the picture. She taught me a lesson or two about gluttony and optimism. In the interest of truth, I admit it: others remember the incident differently. It might have been pork fat. It might have been another holiday. I like my story better.
4. Activities that OSHA does not approve. We used to schlep our feast to a park to avoid the whole televised sport issue. There were rattlesnakes, squirrels, gators, big spiders, canoeing, and a solid –– but unrealized –– risk of food poisoning.
Nowadays, we rendezvous at Jeff's brother's place. There have been horses (and some tumbles, but I bounced. booyah!), dogs, power tools, bocce tournaments, and vats of boiling oil bubbling over an open flame. No maimings, disfigurations, or mass trips to the ER yet. Knock wood!
5. The frozen half-gallon of Burrville Cider that I say I'll bring to the Thanksgiving feast, but will actually forget at home. Junebug's example notwithstanding, I'll end up polishing it off myself, thankful and replete.
The small dog came to us before we expected to be ready for a pet who required attention. We travel too much, aren't home often enough, didn't want to take on the responsibility. But she was a Dog of Destiny, such as cannot be denied or turned away.
Lilly started slowing down at Christmas. Or anyway, it started to show more when compared with Christmases past: She didn’t jump into the chair with me, she didn’t offer to steal the cat’s or the other dogs’ food. She couldn’t make it all the way around the pond on the after-feast walk. She failed to resist being picked up when I hoisted her the rest of the way back to the house.
There were more bad days, when her arthritis kicked it up a notch, when she slept until noon and woke up only at my insistence that she get outside. She stopped trying to boss the world around, didn’t offer to bark when the doorbell rang. Her toys went unsavaged. She woke me three and four times a night to go outside --- at the same time that her reliable continence grew, um, unreliable. Her appetite faltered, she grew finicky.
Everyone knows how a dog story ends.
To me, Lilly was the best dog in the history of pets. She snored louder than any full-grown man and was so ugly that it was adorable. Full of character and optimism, she was both endlessly forgiving and breathtakingly flatulent. She was an ambassador of small dogdom even in the strange vet’s office as they administered the sedative and then the overdose of anesthetic.
We buried her between two apple trees on the Would-Be farm, on what we’ll call Small Dog Hill. When the double rainbow appeared right afterward, I felt less surprised to see it than simply grateful.
A rainbow. Of course. Easy saccharine sentiment, yes, and lazy theology most likely, but a comfort –– just like Lilly herself.
She's no Cujo: she's smaller than a breadbox and she frequently slides off-task, distracted by a swarm of something only she can see. We think it's floaters, because she gulps at them and then gazes loopily into the middle distance the same way she used to do when hunting lizards. Something else she doesn't do any more.
To be fair, the panting works for her: Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! is like water torture to me, drip drip dripping on my ears. Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! gets a biscuit, a walkie, fresh water in the dish.
She still has a kick-ass sarcastic blink, however. I don't understand how she does it, but in addition to the normal blinking done by any buggy-eyed dog, she has a special blink, heavy with irritation and impatience, that says, "By all means, take your sweet mother-f*^ing time." Especially when I have neglected to biscuit her promptly.
I've tried to video the blink, but of course she refuses to perform for the camera. Come to think of it, the camera tends to make her stop panting, too.
Just as –– back in the day –– she would wake up and assume a less ridiculous sleeping pose, or shake off the cute crown of flowers, or jump down from her weird perch just as soon as I got the camera ready.
That hasn't changed.
I should be able to add value to this gif from Giphy.com by saying something cogent or pungent or tangential.
But honestly, picture > words.
I don't think I can make this funnier or more mesmerizing.
Lilly has been 13 years old for some time now. As with many ladies of a certain age, it seems indelicate, not to say unkind, to keep a strict accounting of her years. The small dog is clearly an elder: her little face is white and she moves stiffly most mornings (and afternoons). The exact number of her winters is not important.
It's not infinite, that number. Of course it's not. I imagine it's part of why dogs crack our hearts wide open: a lucky caretaker will know her dog from goofy puppyhood until it grows old and dies. Luckier yet knows more than one dog... because all that slobber and wagging and joyful frolicking does end. A reminder of how it goes for every one of us...if only we could forget about the mortgages and religious differences and dignity and what-not for a little while.
I've been anticipating the demise of my inherited small dog Lilly nearly since she first came to stay. In my defense, she was old when my mother rescued her and the vet -- who, ironically, has since retired -- did pronounce her to be "on borrowed time" because of her various ailments. Not just the ruptured disks in her back, but a pronounced heart murmur from a leaky heart valve.
So when, after ratcheting her way up the stairs like a slightly under-wound mechanical toy, she stopped in the hallway outside our bedroom, coughed twice and then fell limply to her side, I was pretty sure her timecard had been punched.
"At least it was quick," I thought. "Poor little thing. No emergency room, and she wasn't scared, and that's something."
But her little sides were still moving. I sat and listened to her heart flitter-thumping along. She didn't wiggle under my hand. Her eyes were closed. She didn't seem to be in pain. I sat with her and stroked her bony head and told her that she had been a good dog. As one does.
Over the course of the night, she didn't move, but she kept breathing. I think my responsibility to this old is to make sure she doesn't suffer. She seemed -- to be fair -- as if she was just sound flat asleep.
When I got up in the morning and peeped around the corner, she was giving me the especially impatient look she reserves for mealtimes. Her ears pricked and her feet beating a little skittering tattoo. Then she was trotting ahead of me, trying to lure me toward her bowl, as if I might have something better to do than prepare her delicious breakfast. Right this minute!
"Looks like she cheated Death last night," Jeff said, behind me. "Maybe she zigged when the Angel of Death swooped."
So whether the small dog was sleeping or dodging the inevitable, who can say? All I know is that she stands by my feet just now, grunting vaguely about a snack or about going outside. It's obvious that life is fleeting and astonishing, and that the end comes before we are ready -- but not this day.
*That reference not from the Gospel of John, but T.S. Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.
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