Saturday, July 27, 2013

Best Buds

Sorry about the focus, but I wanted to share this, anyway.

Stopped by the Altadena summer concert tonight, and sat on the stairs next to this couple. Albert took an immediate liking to the handsome gentleman on our left -- actually, it was more like instant hero-worship, an absolute adoration. Rare for Albert, who is not necessarily a people-persondog. Turns out, this gentleman's lab ("I can't believe it, looks just like him!") of 15 years died last week.

Albert pretended to be an orphan and up for adoption, but I had to eventually disabuse him of that possibility.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

George? No, really, George?

No Prince Albert there, so no Prince Albert here. I'm not going to whine about it, because that's life, right? But for one brief shining moment, I dreamed,

I dreamed that Boz and Willow and Scout and Abby and Louise would see me for who I truly am -- a prince, a sleek black panther, a magical being, a member of the royal family.

It was a lovely dream, and the sky rained Snausages. I don't know if I can convey the beauty of the vision -- green fields filled with tennis balls and turkey carcasses, cat shit, apple cores, buried bones, oh, and lots and lots of pee and all the time in the world to sniff it, and the moon was a giant red Frisbee ...

Then, as TS Eliot said, "Human voices wake us --"

Karin told me they named the prince, George. She petted me on the head and gave me my dish of Science Diet Chow, Designed To Meet All The Nutritional Needs Of Your Chubby Dog.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What's in a name? Respect!

I don't need to tell you there's one excited pup around the old homestead today. I told him not to get his hopes up -- the short odds are on James. Nevertheless, he called his bookie and laid a month's worth of kibble on the line.

I also told him to clean his whyte board, but there's just no curbing his enthusiasm.

If we do have a Prince Albert, what worries me is that people will think I named my dog after the future King of England, when in truth, it was the other way around.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Altadena Neighbor Lori MacDonald (Update: Cats Adopted!)

(For those who have asked for a status on Lori MacDonald's cats, neighbor Ridge gave us some great news today, Sunday, 7/28: Both kitties have a new home -- better still, they will be together -- best of all, somewhere in the neighborhood. A happy ending -- how lovely is that?)

I didn't want or plan to make July the month my blog revolves around either cats or death, as I'm not a strict fan of either. But sometimes we can't control these things. My neighbor, Lori MacDonald, died recently, and yes, as luck would have it, she owned two cats.

Here's one:

Lori lived on my street, Athens, but across the main drag. We hit it off right away, ten years ago, because she adored my boxer, Phoebe. The feeling was mutual. They'd greet each other, continental style (you know the drill) -- kiss on the left side of the face, on the right, on the left again.

Lori was a retired English teacher and gym instructor at either a local junior college or high school. So we had plenty to talk about -- Shakespeare, Dickens, Bryson, long distance running, Federer, Nadal.

And roses. Lori could often be found in her front garden, tending her roses. Probably the most beautiful roses in all Altadena, and that's saying something.

"Do you have bouquets in every room?" I asked. And no, she didn't. She said her cats were allergic to the scent; I actually think she was. Turns out she grew and tended these hybrid teas for our pleasure -- we, her neighbors and the casual passers-by. She was like that, you know. A true neighbor. If someone was sick or had a problem, she'd bring them flowers, walk their dogs, watch their house, or take care of their kid.

A couple of years ago, I passed by her house, dogless, and Lori asked after Phoebe. And then, as was my habit for several months with friends, I ended up a soppy, soggy mess on her shoulder, telling her that Phoebe had died. What can I say; we all don't rise to every occasion with equal degrees of success.

What I didn't know through all the years of our friendship, is that Lori had been battling cancer. One of those insidious cancers that requires invasive surgeries on a fairly regular basis. She'd be gone for a week or more, and I'd notice, and ask for particulars when I found her outside, pruning. "I've been at a college reunion," she'd say, time and time again. And I'd think, gosh, that college is downright fanatic about how it constantly reunites.

Whenever she went to these college reunions, she'd tell me and all the neighbors, "I'll be gone for awhile, so please, take as many roses as you want. Feel free."

About a week before she died, her roses looked dry and sad, and weeds were growing between Mr. Lincoln and Double Delight. That's when I got worried. Her close neighbors, neighbors who looked after her as she had looked after them, filled me in. The last time I saw Lori, she wasn't with her roses, but on her porch, in a bathrobe, and barely able to make it to the front door.

I couldn't say, "Lori, I'm so sorry, and I will miss you, dearly." Instead I said, "Lori, I'll bring you soup! Please tell me what kind of soup you'd like!"

And she said, drawing herself up tall, and waving, "That sounds wonderful. Not today, but come back next week and we'll visit."

We never got that visit. So I visit her cat. She had two, both rescues. I don't know the black one, but the orange tiger-stripe sits by the front window, waiting. Sometimes I sit on the front porch and we chat.

Lori's cats need homes. So I'm putting this out here, in lieu of the soup I never made, and the words I never said.

The cats are young, but not too young, well behaved, ever so pretty, and from a very loving home. I wish for them a happy ending; Lori would have liked that.

Here I go, unrising to yet another occasion. I forgot to post the phone numbers. If you have room for one or both of these orphans -- and of course they're fixed, all-shots, healthy, litter-trained, and ready to sit by your computer as you read and write -- please call Family contact: Chris Cole (nephew) (949) 632-9479; or Estate contact: Barbara Kirk (estate trustee) (909) 238-6609.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lost in translation

There was an article in the news today, where this guy woke up with amnesia and could speak nothing but Swedish. Not that he was Swedish or had ever been to Sweden.

And it made me think of a blogger who has been writing, in intimate detail, about her pending divorce. Which reminded me of certain, personal, hard breaks of my own. Maybe some people see a relationship escape their grasp, day by month by year. That's never been the case with me. Instead, it's like waking up one morning and finding I only speak Swedish and he only speaks Swedish and neither of us understand Swedish at all.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Settling in

i do like my new house, don't get me wrong.

i like my wall,

i like my garden,

and no complaints about my sky.

but nothing's perfect. this place has pests. i handled the mice, heh-heh-heh. but as for the giant, not so easy. IT shows up whenever my food bowl is about to magically fill itself. same thing with my water bowl. i hiss, and IT retreats, but that happens twice a day, every day. IT seems incapable of putting two and two together.

i understand that training is a process, but IT is stupid and slow and now working on my left nerve.

my friend snowball down the street says i should either move or call the county. But i've grown awfully attached to my magical food bowl, so for now we'll take a wait-and-see approach.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Last Respects

My dad paid for his own funeral, upfront, probably years in advance of the actual event. And he chose the budget plan. A thrifty man, he elected to zing his way into eternity, tourist class. Box and burn.

Which made his kids an easy mark for the funeral director.

“Your father made no provisions for a pillow, so his head will, ahem, rest on a hard surface, until, ahem, the cremation, unless you instruct us otherwise.”

Oh for god's sake, we said, give the man a pillow. And silk sheets? Oh yes, give him some sheets. And yes, yes, we said, a blanket, an armrest, a bookcase, and whatever else this vampira threw our way. For all I know, we ok’d a TV, walnut writing desk, swimming pool, and recessed lighting.

The pillow alone was like $100, and it strikes me now we could have just brought a pillow from home. Although I’m sure there would have been a surcharge for using our own pillow, something akin to a corkage fee.

Dad: 0; Kids: 1

Dad had also apparently scored a good deal for a slot in the Mausoleum next to my mom, who had died years earlier. This appalled my sister, who instead insisted we buy two gravesites on her San Juan Island, in a spot overlooking the ocean, and order two tombstones to be carved out of red granite imported from Norway.

Dad: 0; Kids: 2

But Dad left no instructions as to funeral music, nothing for us to override. Music had played a limited role in his life – I don’t recall he listened to anything other than the occasional Grieg, marching band, or, for some unfathomable reason, the soundtrack to Evita. So we, his children, had to kick around various possibilities, dismissing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, because we had every faith Argentina wasn't, and had no intention of doing so. So that left us with either Peer Gynt or a marching band. We settled on Sousa. Brass band, woodwinds, drums, cymbals, the works.

And it was the best decision we ever made.

When it comes to funerals, and if you’re in charge of arrangements, be very careful about the music you choose. Because once played at the funeral, you’re effectively removing that piece from your life forever.

But a Sousa march? Remove it, the sooner the better. A Sousa march would never sabotage any of us when we’d least expect it – say, at a restaurant, or in the car, on the radio, when driving home from Santa Barbara late at night. In fact, the only person in our whole lives who had ever played a Sousa march was, yes, our father.

Though the sniffling funeral crowd looked startled, even shocked, leaving the church to the beat of Dum-dum-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da-da-da!, we felt we’d done the right thing.

We owed it to Dad, what with the pillow and all.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The kindness of strangers

I didn't ask, but she chased all the mice and possums from my house. Something I've never been able to do by myself.

And yet, she won't let me thank her. Oh, she'll take a dish of milk and a bowl of kibble in return.

When she grooms, it's always on the alert. And I tell her, "It's ok, I won't let anything hurt you." Well, maybe, she says,

but keep your distance.

There are teeth-marks on her head, from some battle or other. And I'd like to take her to the vet. But she has made it very clear, that though we may have a relationship of a sort

and a certain reciprocity can be expected

we are not friends. Yet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Young Men and Fire

If you live in the West, the difference between a forest fire and any other battle that man may wage, is that with fire, we, all of us, have a common enemy, and the same heroes.

In 1974, when author Norman Maclean started his book about the Mann Gulch fire, where 13 young men -- Smokejumpers who parachuted from the sky -- perished,  he, like the century, was in his 70's, and didn't realize it would consume the last decade of his life. Though that fact wouldn't have surprised him. The book is about mortality; an old man writing about what it feels like to die young.

And he started the book because,

"The problem of self-identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does, that will tell you that you are dead." NM

But facing fire is a young man's game. Because you can't be brave or courageous, you have to be fearless. You have to believe, as we all did at 19 or 22, that you are greater than any obstacle. And in this you'll be either right, or wrong.

"In 1949, the Smokejumpers were still so young that they referred affectionately to all fires they jumped on as "ten o'clock fires," as they already had them under control before they jumped. They were still so young they hadn't learned to count the odds and to sense they might owe the universe a tragedy." NM

Maclean himself fought Montana forest fires while in his teens, and one time was trapped between a fire ahead and a fire below.

 "As a fire up a hillside closes in, everything -- fear, thirst, terror, a twitch in the flesh that still has a preference to live -- all becomes simply exhaustion. Burning to death on a mountainside is dying at least three times -- first, considerably ahead of the fire, you reach the verge of death in your boots and your legs; next, as you fail, you sink back in the region of strange gases and red and blue darts where there is no oxygen and here you die in your lungs; then you sink in prayer into the main fire that consumes, and if you are a Catholic about all that remains of you is your cross." NM

On a personal note, I'm sorry that I didn't use my fearless years for any better purpose than to please myself. Fearless firefighters saved us here, in 2009, when our hills were blazing. I walked around at night, and saw the older ones carrying supplies, and the young ones in exhausted heaps, lying by the side of the road, down from the thick of it, faces black with smoke.

While not religious, I'll say a prayer tonight to something -- the stars or the moon -- for the 19 who died battling Yarnell Hill.