Monday, April 26, 2010

Ave Atque Vale, Houston

This blog has been a downer lately.

But I have good news.  We're moving.  No, no, not the blog.  The crew.  Yep, the Houston Curse has finally won, and won out big time.  We put Home Port 2.0 on the block and sold it for
the hood ornament from a 1963 Mercedes, two Slim Whitman eight-tracks, and a handful of magic beans.  Whatever.  To Suburban Middle Class Utopian Utopia we go, skipping, giggling and frolicking like the complete fools we are.

Anyway, we'll miss our mildewy little slice of steamy, near-inner city heaven.  Some of our finest memories/things/places/people:

1.  The baby.  No, not ours, this was another one.  We had just moved in and H.M. went for a walk.  She sees, to her surprise, an INFANT playing in the yard... alone.  No fence, no gates, nothing between the little tyke and the passing traffic.  Mom is nowhere to be found.  No answer from the house.  Nobody's around outside.  The child is just filthy, and crazy, crazy wet.  Like wet that screams "Dude, I haven't been changed in 16 hours, and I am SO pruney!"  Majesty hops on the cell to the polizei, and they'll be right there.  The World's Stupidest Mom walks out 45 minutes later, and leads with, "Oh, that's where you were."  The cops never show.

2.  Art Cars.  About 5 blocks down from our house sits a car that's been modified to look like a dog.  That's right, it looks like it's straight out of Dumb and Dumber.  In our sojourn in Houston we've seen the old Acura that's encrusted with mirrored glass (it's way cool).  We've witnessed the F-150 with Mexican dinner plates, plastic roosters and dinosaurs glued directly on the paint.  We lived down the street from the guy with the VW bus dubbed The AlamObile, painted with every conceivable event in Texas history.  The "O" is the VW emblem.  Yeah.

3.  El Tiempo's patio.  No, things aren't the same since they sprayed insulation (?!?!?!?!) under the thatched roof, but the grub is still fine.  You'll no doubt ponder, as I have, the operational efficiency of insulating a structure with no walls.  Reminds me of that Robert Earl Keen song where the guys have the window unit A/C running on a table in the back yard.  "It's a cultural thing," he explains.

4.  The guy and gal in our 'hood that ride little scooters in helmets that feature 8 inch mohawks.  I'll miss them.

5.  Angus and the 5.0.  I was driving in a baaaaaaaaaad neighborhood* one morning, trying to get around whatever 18-wheeler that had unsuccessfully pirouetted on I-45.  At a stoplight, I look over at the Church's Chicken parking lot.  I see 4 police cruisers, about 6 or 8 of Houston's Finest, a skinny guy and a BIG guy.  Pick whatever ethnicity that you need to make this story enjoyable.  (I'm going to go with Scots-Irish, but suit yourself.)

Skinny guy, looking as lit up as a Christmas tree, his hat cocked to no particular angle, is gesticulating madly at the heat/5.0/cops/fuzz.  We'll call him Angus.  Angus is pointing to what was once a HUGE picture window, and a flagpole of sorts on the ground in a pile of shattered glass.  There's a used car lot next door that seems to be missing a flagpole or two.  BIG guy, we'll call him Seamus, evidently a witness to the hilarity felony is pointing accusingly at Angus and then to the erstwhile window.  And then back to Angus.  Everyone at the stoplight is laughing just as hard as I am.

I would give 100 dollars to have video of the crime and the interviews following.  Really.

6.  I'll miss my neighbor that can barely keep their collection of empty diet coke cans, broken yard implements, socks (yes, socks), Sonic cups, fertilizer bags, and dozens of other items out of their own yard, much less mine.  The scene every afternoon of walking the 6 or so dogs of extremely questionable  parentage (and condition) is priceless.  I think what does it for me is the hand-drawn rickshaw (fashioned from an old bike trailer) taken along for the mongrels as they get tired.  While I'm at it, I'll miss all of our truly great neighbors.

7.  The middle school kid that got knocked dead cold unconscious on our driveway.  He got crosswise with some little slimeballs that infest the local Future Felons of America Chapter public middle school.  Majesty drove them away, and drove him home.  The rock through our window later on?  Not.  A.  Coincidence.

8.  The number 23.  I drove to the grocery store about a year back, and no less than 23 police cars surrounded my bank.  I counted.  In the center of it all was an old van, some really salty looking characters including a few women of ah, considerable heft, let's say, and some bedraggled little scrawny dudes that looked like they had been in a fight with the entire 101st Airborne Division.  I asked one of the sheriff's deputies what had happened, and evidently an identity theft ring needed to stop at the ATM.  Naturally.  A fistfight erupts.  The cops are called.  The fistfight then engulfs the officers, who basically call in every lawman lawperson in a 650 mile radius.  The lesson from the (enormous) deputy was straightforward:  "Don't fight the po-po."

Those are words to live by, amigos.

*TREMENDOUS amount of sheep over there.  TREMENDOUS.

Picture Caption:  Jack shares his parents' love of quality Tex-Mex.  This is how he finished off a bean and cheese burrito yesterday.  The kid's not afraid.  At all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Epitaph to a People, Part II

That Lord Byron Guy Beat Me To This
A friend of mine told me one time that you have to give people a reason to care about what you write.  You have to show them why it matters.

Another less eminent philosopher simply asked, "Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?" The question is important. Why should you care about my dog?

I'll let Lord Byron answer, who wrote a beautiful but cynical (to Mankind, at least) epitaph to his late dog, Boatswain, some 200 years ago:
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
My Llewellin Setter was all that is good in the world. She had no sin, and no vices, as Byron would say. She loved us and we loved her. We are less without her. Less gentle, less thoughtful, less playful. There is less love in this house for want of her. I hurt because she's gone. Not just because I needed a crutch (I did) or needed a silent friend (I did). I hurt because my life was shared with a creature that didn't demand anything from us. She loved for absolutely nothing in return, and boys and girls, that's noble.

Uh, She's Not a Dog.  She's a People.
We used to joke that Belle wasn't a dog. She was a people. And that's the way it always was. She was never at home with her own kind, and only wanted to be with people. She was a people. Over the years, I would carelessly quip that I liked that dog more than most humans I met. I wasn't kidding in the least.

The dog was wrapped up in every moment of our lives. She (if only her tail) is in most pictures. Most videos. In most memories. Under the table, she would lie on my feet, keeping them warm all winter, as I studied for a big licensing exam. I vividly remember taking the red shirt I wore on the Sunday night that Jack came to us and introducing his smell. She was playful with it, almost silly.  She seemed as glad as we were at his coming.

One of my most treasured birthday presents is this gorgeous oil painting of Belle done by my Aunt Dana. We spent untold thousands on the dog, buying everything from food to sheep dip to paying for the two (that's TWO) surgeries to remove our life's savings lingerie (!) from her gut (funny stories, remind me to tell y'all those one day). Her coarse white hair is in every crevice of our house and on every article of clothing. I saw a single stray hair upstairs today.

Belle would stand in the back of my little car, head on my right shoulder as I drove. She would lick the sweat off of my ear after every miserable Houston death march run or when I would attempt suicide by heatstroke box above our garage. She would end up pulling out some of my hair in her licky enthusiasm. She would sit obediently, and look a bit abashed as she tooted. Twice. She would rub her face on our good rug after a particularly greasy meal. I would rub her belly and scratch her until she made noises like a tauntaun from The Empire Strikes Back. It made me chuckle and I'd look over just in time to see Majesty roll her eyes as she was reading in bed.  The dog did everything at warp speed, and more than once skidded across our frozen deck and crashed ignominiously into the limestone wall of our house in Dallas.

I've got a thousand of these.
I Can Hear You Thinking
A righteous man knows the soul of his animal. -Proverbs 12:10
Look, I know some of you aren't dog people. I know some of you are (in your own way), but will still shake your head when you read this, saying, "That guy's insane. It's just a dog. Get over it."

I fully realize that in the theological sense, any animal is in many ways less than one of us. (No animal needed or needs redemption from sin, for example.)* You yourselves have lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, and the LORD help us all and forbid, children. I'm not pretending to understand the gravity and magnitude of that kind of loss. I wouldn't even dare to compare the two things.

But I know this: That animal had something. An immortal soul on par with ours? Most likely not. I read somewhere that theologians are generally willing to say that animals have the breath of life in them, and nothing more. As if that's something unimportant, that makes once inanimate objects wobble around and hum with a hollow life, like so many windup toys, doomed to one day wind down.

Friends and neighbors, I'm here to tell you there was something in that dog, behind those big brown iridescent eyes that was almost... human. I can't explain it, and don't really care to try. But if almighty GOD gave that animal the breath of life, then what life that was in her was from Him. And her spirit was so very, very good. It bettered us. It was a blessing to my family that I'm ever grateful for.

If you still think I'm nuts, fine.  No real surprise, there.  But I'd wager you never met my Llewellin.

I hope Jack will remember her. Majesty assures me that she remembers a favorite dog of hers when she was even younger than The Captain. I hope he does.  Yet I'm so thankful that he's young enough not to understand death.  And that I did not have to explain.

I'd like to think, as I told Belle in so many words, that what is GOD's will return to Him, even if it's only His breath.  At least that seems logical to me.  I think that in some sense, she did indeed run in ethereal meadows that night. But tonight, here in this house, it's far too quiet.

There's no other way to quite say it, the world is a little less... speckled.

*Now that I think about it, some of the late First Mate's hi jinks seem pretty darn near close to sins...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Epitaph to a People, Part I

Brother, I Don't Cry, I Weep
I have never seen so much blood. The smell of it was everywhere. That clean, sharp, metallic smell. It was on the road. It was in the back of the Tahoe. Belle was unmoving, but breathing raggedly. She didn't whimper. I floored the V8 towards the 24 hour Vet Hospital. I ruthlessly cut two people off. Majesty gave me directions as I drove. I made her repeat them probably five times. I thought I lost FMB at a stoplight when I couldn't hear her breath.

Some incredibly kind folks got on the intercom and asked for a gurney to be brought. They were dog people, you could tell. A rickety old bed was wheeled up and we put her on it, her muzzle crammed against one of the aluminum side bars. Her eyes were glazed. I saw a dad quickly cover his daughter's eyes as we passed by. The look on his face was indescribable.

The sweet little lady at the counter set out some paperwork, and asked me if I'd like to clean up first, nodding to my hands. To my surprise, I looked down and saw them, brownish black and sticky. I started to say, "Yes" but only a croak escaped. She produced a box of Kleenex and told me where the Gents' was. I was embarrassed. I'm a (mostly) grown man. I numbly got myself in there and wept. No crying for me, ladies and gentlemen -- I don't cry. But I wept. I clutched my heart with my right hand and wept like my soul was falling out. I wept doubled over till the tears and spit pooled on the gray tile floor beneath me. I wept bitterly for the first time in my entire life. I had not understood the phrase until then. I wept till I was exhausted in my body and in my mind, choking on my own sorrow.

Of course, I never expected that not a half hour after I tossed Belle outside to potty that I'd be sitting under the unnaturally fluorescent lights of an emergency vet clinic, praying to GOD that my beloved dog would not die; would not suffer. I stared blankly at the blood on my goofy camo shorts. Felt the dog collar in my pocket. I considered myself lucky that I had grabbed my Red Sox cap before I left, so I could pull it down over my bloodshot, nuclear eyes. I looked completely mental.

I put Belle out the front door, as I usually do, by hoisting her by her recalcitrant tailfeathers and expelling her. She was expectantly stalking some imaginary cat or other. I think I muttered something like "Knucklehead" and rolled my eyes.

I was getting panicky as I called and whistled for her not 5 minutes later. She had evidently found a real cat and chased it a full two blocks south, and met her end in a speeding car by a big warehouse. They didn't bother to stop. Another man, bless his soul, stood with his wife in the road and waved cars around her until I could get there. He helped me lift her into the truck. Gave me directions to the pet hospital. Wished me well. Gave me her collar and tags with my phone number on them.

The wait in the dim little room was interminable. Every quarter hour or so, I couldn't take it any more and would return to the W.C. There was a large bench against the wall, awash in short animal fur. I thought of a plaintive line from Tolkien, "I wish none of this had happened." I wished that over and over again. The receptionist made me take a few orange Tootsie Pops. They helped.

The Dude Cometh
After a few hours, the vet came solemnly into the room, and I knew all that I needed to know. He was a portly version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He was frank but kind: She was alive, but her back was broken; two vertebrae were crushed. All that I feared from over 7 years of knowing her came upon me in that moment. The necessary was left unsaid. He would clean her up a bit and I could come back and visit.  I phoned Melanie.

I drew a big breath and walked back with The Dude. She lay on a metal grate, wet and still covered with blood, snout in an oxygen cup. She was mostly draped with a blackish gray fleece blanket. I held her head in my hands, and she tried weakly to get up. Her tongue was unnaturally protruding from her mouth and through my left middle and third fingers. But she was still in there. I saw her there. I talked to her. I wept over her. I kissed her and told her it would be okay, that she would run in GOD's meadow tonight. I nodded my head and The Dude took my friend. I thanked him for all he had done. He was sorry I lost my pet in such a horrible accident. "Pet" didn't seem enough.  The word didn't describe the relationship.

To Mark a Friend’s Remains These Stones Arise
I asked if it were possible to take her body with me that night. It was. I lifted the too-heavy box into the truck and drove her home. She lay next to her crate that night.

I drove with Majesty and Jack up to my parents' house the next day. They were gracious enough to let me bury her there. There was only one place for her.

Sweet man that he is, my dad helped me dig, he with a sharpshooter and then a post hole digger, I with a long-handled red shovel. It was a pristine day, and a little warm.  We lowered her down with a length of rope and he asked me if I wanted to put in the first shovelful. I sprinkled a handful over her.

She rests under a little bur oak in a patch of tall red clover. It's a place any dog would love to lie in, soaking up the sun. And it's a fitting place for Tallulah Belle. Requiescat in pace, my old puppy dog.

To be concluded.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Jack and Jack's Cousin Jack

I don't want to write about this week. It's too jumbled up in my head right now. All in good time.

I'll tell you a story, instead.

I think I'm determined to write down all these family stories that are heard in various forms over Thanksgiving turkey and summer barbecued ribs.  You know, the ones that are retold over and over again, and then, incredibly, are forgotten.  The details are lost on the 12 year olds that hear them.  I've got hundreds of these and you probably do, too.

And telling iffy stories on one's family is pretty uncouth, so I likely shouldn't repeat this at all.  Here's to hoping most of my family isn't hip to the Daddy Blogosphere.

I was sitting on the stairs in 2008 when Majesty suggested the name "Morgan Jack." We both panned. And then one or the other of us blurted out, "Jack Morgan!" and it was decided.

I phoned my mom sometime afterward and told her about the name.  She told dad.

The next time we talked, she told me my dad's reaction:  "They can't name that child that!"  He said that he had this older cousin named Jack, and he was a rascal.  Then came one of my favorite quotes of all time, "He wasn't the black sheep, but he was real dark gray."

Cousin Jack was an alcoholic and a womanizer.  But he evidently was also pretty charismatic, because people just loved him when he wasn't drunk.  He was once arrested while driving a riding lawnmower (sloshed, of course) through Grand Saline, Texas.  He was somehow related to our late beloved neighbor, Marguerite, who kept a new pair of blue jeans and a white button down shirt for Jack to be buried in.

That time came, as it always does, and his two brothers had him buried in Corinth Creagleville Cemetery "in a sheet."  Now, I'm not exactly sure it was a sheet, really.  I was told whatever they did, it was legal, but let's just say that old Jack got the bare minimum for a sendoff.  And it may have involved a cotton bedsheet.

The jeans and white shirt in Marguerite's closet went unused.

I got dad's final pronouncement directly:  "Naming him Jack is great, because we've had a bad one, and now maybe we can have a good one."  I had the same thought.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Crouching Baby, Hidden Bichon Frise

"God pours life into death and death into life without a drop being spilled."  -Unknown

I'm in an odd mood this morning, and don't know where to go with it.  I'll say that I am utterly humbled by life's ornate beauty, by its intricacy, and its brevity.  The hard and fast things we count on each day to be there, immovable, are all just so much melting ice.  My thoughts and my prayers are with those that have both gained and lost family this weekend.

So I can probably lighten the pall around here with two stories from the week.  Now let me just say, I've had to skip MANY blog-worthy topics lately for the sake of time, and will yet again skip my take on revisiting that most preposterously pretentious fascinating of cities, DallasFreakingTexas.  That's probably a good thing, since I'll avoid making millions of people (probably including you) angry with me.

That's a 10 Minute Game Misconduct, Mister
The first story comes secondhand from my true love, Her Majesty:

Jack pretty much stays infected with some ague or noxious vapour or other.  (Come to think of it, he puts off quite a few noxious vapours all by himself.)  Anyway, HM takes him to our pediatrician last week, the wonderful yet fearsome Tigress.  The Tigress needs to clean out the sawdust, feathers, marbles, paperclips, pencils and beeswax from his ears.  No sweat, right?  Well, I'm told everything went from Serene Meadow to Nuclear Holocaust within about 3 seconds of digging.  The doc, the nurse, and HM all were lying on him to restrain the little booger, who was maaaaaaad about some strange lady excavating his ears with a Makita 18V cordless with a 1/2 inch spade bit.

Somehow, Mr. NastyPants gets a hand free from his oppressors, and sticks a thumb about 2 miles into Majesty's nose, holding her like a smallmouth bass with it and his forefinger.  About this time, HM figures out that something's going horribly wrong (Tigress is still enthusiastically digging away).  She notices a trace of red on Jack's arm.  Mr. I Fight Dirty's fingernail must have sliced her carotid artery or something, because she's now GUSHING BLOOD at an alarming rate.  For future reference, your copay does cover extreme trauma suffered while inside a doctor's office.

They finally exit the office, Jack 100% shocking pink with wrath, and Majesty sporting a custom made Kleenex snot rocket worthy of an NHL bench trainer.  I'm entering this kid in UFC the minute he hits the age limit.

I Left My Tranq Gun In My Other Pants
Next, it just wouldn't be right to deprive you of yet another dog story, if you missed the last one:

We dragged the dodgy-smelling and neurotic FMB along with us to Port of Mobile for Easter this weekend.  She's a house dog, but over there we stick her in the pool enclosure or the laundry room, which she despises.  She also has a bad habit of playing Houdini and running all around the neighborhood like she's high on crack when we're an hour away and completely helpless to shave her bald and auction her off for nothing rescue her.  The weather's not too warm, so I stick her in the garage on Friday night and head off to bed.

At precisely 2:01 am, I hear barking.  Crazy barking.  I think to myself, before falling back to sleep, "That better not be that idgit Belle."  Immediately, Majesty is telling me that sounds exactly like Belle, that it has to be Belle out there.  Awesome.

I pull on an inside-out tee shirt and stroll out to the garage in my boxers.  FMB looks at me meekly (from her proper place) as if to say, "Totally not me, dad!"  Now this has got me to thinking.  Exactly what is going on out there, busting up my sleep?

I amble out front towards the fracas and see a few dogs that sound like they're fighting.  I yell, "HEY!  WHAT'S GOING ON OVER THERE?!"  You know, like they're teenagers.  The dogs, two of them, stop and turn towards me.  There's a big black one and a little white French looking thing.  And they rush me.  I focus on Big Black wondering how I'm going to kill this dog with my bare hands.  I stand with my right fist cocked.  When they're both almost to me, Big Black eases up and wags his tail.  He wants to be friends.  Great.

Frenchy keeps coming, and wants a piece of me.  I can't believe it.  Once standing, I'm now bent over frontwards, ready to give Frenchy the Hammer of Justice from point blank range.  The dog looks mad (in the hydrophobic sense), and the little thing's snapping teeth look like a pack of churning razor blades, set on my destruction.

Nope, not going to put my hand in there.  It's 4th down; I'm going to punt.  I soccer kick as hard as I can with my bare foot, trying to sail Pierre into December 2015 - and he ducks it!  We take runs at each other for the next minute or two, each missing, each growling (really), as I back him up the street away from my Dad-in-law's house, and he finally relents and takes off with Big Black.

The first thought that hits me when I get back into the house is, "No little white dog gets away with that!" and I start looking for the baseball bats the grandparents gave everyone three years back.  And then reason kicks in and I head back to bed.

Be careful out there, y'all.  If you're in Mobile and see a little French dog, he means business.  You run.  Just run.

Photo Caption:  What happens when you combine lots of water, a shortage of clothes, and a sudden pee attack during a diaper change pit stop?  Baby rides redneck.