In other news, this person is now halfway to thirty:
He arrived in our lives eight days late and he's kept a casual way about him ever since.
[One week ago]
"Do you want to go out for dinner for your birthday?"
"I don't know."
[Four days ago]
"Do you want a cake?"
[This morning -- I bring him a hard-boiled egg with googly eyes sticking out of it for breakfast in bed]
"Happy birthday, Beast."
[One eye opens]
"Love you, Mom."
[Falls back asleep. Eons go by. A comet destroys all humanity. Dinosaurs re-take the earth.]
[He sits up]
"Dad, I finally figured out what I wanted for lunch."
[His father gurgles from the grave]
"Seriously, Dad? I have to make my own hot dog?"
I keep putting off writing this post. It's a beautiful day, where I am, in a bright room with a breeze, and yet here I sit, sad for no reason. My normal coping method is to lean into it, to hunker down and find a way to enjoy the bluer moods. Don't feel like smiling? Then don't. The only problem is that I work in a public place and it's 50% of my job to be welcoming and helpful. If I were the boss of me, today I'd have sent me home.
Peewee died ten days ago, and I have to figure that's at least part of the sadness. I keep thinking I've cried all my tears when, whoops, here come some more.
He almost made it to nine years old, which is a good, long life for an English bulldog. I read an interesting article a few years ago that talked about how bad the breeding has gotten for many English bulldogs, and as an example they used Uga, the mascot for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. There have been a string of white, male bulldogs named Uga who trot out onto the field while people cheer, and then hop back into their crates and die. At young ages, like two and three. Yay for over-bred dogs. Peewee had congestive heart failure for the last two years of his life -- not a disease bulldogs are known for, surprisingly -- and I threw thousands of pills down his throat to keep him alive and snoring in Jackson's bed at night. (If you live north of L.A. and need a good veterinary cardiologist -- and I sincerely hope you never do -- I recommend Dr. Nick Russell without reservation). With Dr. Russell's guidance, my willingness to max out a credit card, and Peewee's kidneys of steel, we gave him two extra years of life. Our regular vet said she was amazed at how well we took care of him, when most other dogs would have been long dead by that point. Most people have a $500 limit for what they'll spend to save a pet's life, I'm told. I respect your $500 limit, but we exceeded that to a laughable degree. Did we love our dog more than you loved yours? I don't know. Ours was a pain in the ass. He barked at strangers, and at people he'd known for years. He produced impenetrable walls of gas from his butt. He also had the softest ears, and the biggest, brownest eyes, and when he liked you he'd sit on your feet. And he had just as much of a spark as you or me.
Remember Cookie? She's dead, too. I stopped writing about her a long time ago, though occasionally people would e-mail and ask what had happened to her.
They say there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, but you don't have to be abusive to be a bad owner, all you have to be is dumb. Cesar Milan would have wept to see how lost I was with Cookie. Me trying to tell her what to do was a joke. She'd listen to Jack all day long, but I was mildew to her; I was a mushroom.
And yet Cookie was a cuddler. She was the neediest, lap-sitting-est bulldog on earth, and everyone loved her. I took her to three different trainers, and they all said, What a wonderful dog! She's so sweet! She sits, she's gentle with children. Enjoy her! But she had no respect for me whatsoever. I did not deserve to control her leash, and she made sure I knew it. She was constantly nipping at my hands -- "correcting" me, I'm told -- leaving bruises but never drawing blood. I had no idea why until I read that you're never supposed to hold a puppy over your head, because they'll take that to mean they're superior to you. I don't know if it's true, but I know that I hoisted Cookie up into Jackson's bunk bed every night so she could sleep with him, and I can imagine, every night, Cookie looking down on me and thinking, Yup, I'm the Alpha Bitch. Sleep tight, Beta.
In the morning I'd take her down and then put on her leash so she could go out to pee and she'd nip and yank and drag me up the stairs and then I'd cry because I didn't know how to grow a spine and dominate her -- be the pack leader! -- like I guess I was supposed to. I called Marcel, the breeder we'd gotten her from, and asked him what he thought I should do. Like any good breeder, Marcel is involved in rescue work and he said he knew the perfect home for her, if I wanted to let her go. There was no judgment on his end, so I let her go. The people in her new home named her Roxy, and they had a little girl who loved her until Cookie/Roxy died of bone cancer two years later. So thanks, Universe, for sparing us that, at least. We'd already done the cancer thing with Katie anyway. Katie Potatie. I think I have a few tears left for her, too.
I might as well come clean about Peanut, while we're at it! Remember our tortoise? We had some good times.
Peanut was entertaining as hell but she must have hated us because as soon as we moved to a new house in March of 2012, she R-U-N-N O-F-T. It was, again, my fault. I took her outside to our new brick patio and said, Look at all this space you have now, Peanut! Thinking our fence was tight and secure; thinking, She can't move that fast and I'll only be gone a minute. I went inside to get her some lettuce, and when I came back she had vanished. I was frantic. I hoped she might be hiding under a hedge or something -- I thought she'd be back when she got hungry enough, but now it's been four years so maybe she's not hungry anymore.
BEFORE YOU WRITE THAT ANGRY E-MAIL: about a year after she'd disappeared I saw a post on a neighborhood message board asking if anyone had lost a tortoise. I immediately e-mailed and said, Yes! I have lost a tortoise! and asked them to send me a photo of the tortoise they'd found, and I will bet you my last bottle of Wolfgang Puck Caesar Dressing that it was Peanut. Her shell looked a little dry, but she had all the same markings, I couldn't believe it. Somehow she'd made it out of our neighborhood and ACROSS A BUSY STREET and into a new yard. But someone else had already claimed her! The lady who posted the "lost tortoise" announcement apologized to me, but I guess the other people said Peanut was theirs so she let them have her. I forget what they called her, something fancy. Maybe she has a little velvet bed now, and her own princess phone. I almost mounted a protest to get her back, but I let Peanut go, not wanting to break someone else's heart.
So now we have this little bit.
Jackson named her Cassidy, but we call her Cassie. She's teeny and she sleeps with him every night.
She's indoor-only -- I will not have her carried off by coyotes, thank you very much -- and she likes everybody.
I think we really lucked out this time. I mean, she's going to live forever, right?
Last night I was reading the book I'm reading about Zen Buddhism and I came across something that I had to read three or four times until it all really sunk in:
The first thing great human beings need, according to Dogen, is "small desire."
Dogen quoted Buddha, who said, "People of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. They are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things, they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction."
Notice that we're talking about small desire here and not some imaginary state of desirelessness. We can never be completely free from desire, anyhow. But the less desire you have, the less of a pain in the ass your life will be. It's only when you desire things that you can't be yourself, and that you end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
I feel like the last sentence is grammatically a little weird, which is part of the reason I had to read it over a few times, but I'll go ahead and assume it was the author's clever way of making sure the reader stops and puzzles the concept through. You can't be yourself when you desire things, and when you desire things you also end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.
Desire things like what? I mean, I desire a job so I can help pay the rent, I don't think that's too much to ask. But it's the unbalanced desires that make you miserable. Sex comes to mind (as it does occasionally, despite my advanced age). I was always the girl who got totally tongue-tied and shy around boys I really, really liked because what did I want? I wanted them to like me back so much that out love would consume our very souls and melt us into some sort of pillar of eternal, mystical oneness, but I was too embarrassed to say all of that so I just acted quiet and creepy and, gee, I wonder why they'd never pick up when I called?
But more than that this quote makes me happy because it directly addresses the main fear that blocks people from their own creative expression, whether in writing or with music or, I don't know, wearing homemade hats to church. Because when you desire approval/success/fame, it's harder to just let loose and see what happens when you express yourself and then shape it into something unique that makes you glad.
We now turn to this Shouts and Murmurs piece from a few years back that I photocopied and stuck to the staff bulletin board at the library because I loved it so much. No one ever commented on it so I can only assume that all my coworkers were too ashamed to admit that they were illiterate. If you haven't clicked the link and read it yet, which I'm sure you'll do in just a minute, it's entitled, "Book-club Guide to a Remaindered Book," By Rebecca Mead and George Prochnik, and it's a wonderful list of discussion questions for an unsuccessful book of fiction. The Venn diagram of Buddha and the New Yorker overlaps in the very first paragraph:
1. When the author’s agent initially asked the author who he thought the readers of his proposed book would be and he defensively replied, “Everyone,” do you think the author should have immediately realized that there is a thin line between everyone and no one?
True wisdom is everywhere.
After abruptly finding I have no health insurance last night and putting a peasant curse on seven past and future generations of Blue Shield claims supervisors, in the morning I got a nice call from a lady in the county health office in Santa Maria who looked at all my files online and said, What the hell? I'm going to see if I can fix this.
I just discovered that I have no healthcare coverage, and that I have been completely vulnerable re: healthcare coverage since May 1 thanks to Covered California. They're a badly programmed automated nightmare, if you haven't heard, which may be worse than a bureaucratic wasp's nest of red tape because a badly programmed automated nightmare is just a runaway train of indifference, whereas a bureaucratic wasp's nest of red tape can at least be argued with. But you can't even get an automated nightmare on the phone. Covered California makes me grateful for the wonderful people of the Internal Revenue Service. Think about that for a minute
My husband is covered, thank God, and I think my son is, too, I won't know until I make some phone calls in the morning, fully expecting never to get a human being on the other end of the line. I am honestly too upset to write right now, but I've promised myself I'd do this no matter how I felt, so here we are. Not very satisfying for you to read, I know. If I were to draw a cartoon of myself right at this moment it would be of a woman jabbing herself in the forehead with a fork.
Here's a photo I took on a walk through Ellwood a few weeks back. That bird doesn't have any health insurance, either. Take your vitamins, bird! Stay hydrated!
Well, guess what? After five months of office cake, sitting in a comfy desk chair, and not being on my feet and hefting large bags of books up and down the library stairs all day, by January I was up about fifteen/twenty pounds. Which, frankly, wasn't a big deal, body-image wise, which surprised me. I was totally fine with the chub. What I wasn't totally fine with was that my clothes didn't fit anymore. I liked my clothes, and I wanted to avoid the ferocious waste of time and money it would take to replace my entire wardrobe. Also, my blood pressure had ticked up so much I could hear my own pulse.
Then I squeezed a sensible thought out of my frosting-filled brain: maybe I should stop eating the free cake. I thought walking to work might help, too. My friend Pam chipped in and helped me buy a Fitbit for my birthday. Then I put on my hikey shoes, strapped on a backpack that carried a healthy lunch, and off I went.
Would you like to see what I found as I traveled the sidewalks of my town?
There are decades of important sentiments like this preserved in the cement of Santa Barbara, California.
We've got all summer, right?
God help me, it's summer and I've vowed to post something every day for the whole season. I do not invite you to do this with me because it's a terrible plan. It's just that I thought it would be fun to use my web site again, that's all.
Plus, I like the name NaBloSuMo: it makes it sound like you have to fight your way through it.
It's hot as hell today (get ready for ninety-two days of weather reports, possibly) but I walked to and from work anyway, two miles each way, wearing an office-ready twenty-year-old Gap black linen skirt and a this-year-old Uniqlo white linen shirt. Nice in the morning, sticky on the way back home, and slow. I didn't wear sunscreen, just Merrell hiking shoes and a determined expression.
Here's a link to something someone asked me to write about reading Infinite Jest like we all did a few summers back. If you missed it and you need a book to read with a bunch of people starting today, you're in luck!
Me, I'm not reading fiction right now, I just can't, not while I'm writing it (still--this book is taking forever). But nonfiction is perfect and I've been reading some wonderful books about Zen (currently this one).
I have more to tell you but I only just decided to do this so I need to roll things out a little slowly. Tomorrow I'll tell you more.
I started this year with one less tooth in my head. I'm sure I've talked here before about my candy-filled childhood and the fact that every tooth I own has been a victim of sometimes multiple cavities. I feel like my childhood wasn't really that feral, but I got away with all kinds of unhygienic behavior. I sucked the first two fingers on my left hand until I was eleven.
But I was the third child and it was the 1970s.
Anyway, my back right molar had borne the brunt of more dental work than any tooth has a right to. Because of my slack oral hygiene, by the time I was Jackson's age this molar was more filling than tooth -- a giant silver-mercury filling that probably took ten points off my IQ as soon as Dr. Diefendorf packed it in. Dr. Diefendorf looked like Darren, the husband in Bewitched, and his first name -- Warren -- was only one letter off. I got to know Warren pretty well, him and all the Highlights magazines in his waiting room. He used to give me a lollipop after he'd cleaned my teeth.
ANYWAY, by the time I reached my thirties some of those giant old fillings were starting to fail, and Dr. Cooper was more than happy to drill them out one by one. There was a messy period around age 35 where he did three teeth in one go (upper left) and the amount of mercury he released with his drill put me in bed for two days*. I don't even remember how many root canals he had to do to restore some semblance of health to my mouth, but he likes to joke that not only did I put his son through college but that UCLA named a building for me**.
So this poor molar, after being filled and refilled and root canal-ed and capped with gold, got an under-the-gumline crack in it (despite the fact that I wear a $400 custom night guard to keep me from grinding my teeth down to nubs while I sleep) and started eating away at the bone in my jaw. I didn't feel a thing, but a savvy dental hygienist (the one who possibly accused me of having an eating disorder***)(we got past it) noticed a shadow on my X-ray. Talk began of extracting the tooth and replacing it with an implant, and then UCLA was notified and began drawing up plans for an alabaster zeppelin port.
*Or it may have been a cold.
**I hope it was a swimming pool in the shape of a spit sink!
***Which I did, as a teen, but why in hell would I want to talk to her about it?
During my consultation with Dr. Cooper's partner, Dr. Shapiro, my eyes must have lit up with dorky joy when he told me that the hole where my tooth had been was going to be filled with cadaver material, because his face reflected my excitement with a nerdery all of its own. Between him and Peewee's veterinary cardiologist, Dr. Russell (whom I also highly recommend), and Dr. Goldenberg who fixed Peewee's corneal ulcer last month, I am a medical obsessive's dream audience. Tell me more fascinating minutia about bone grafts/kidney failure/retinal blood flow, I took the whole day off just to do this.
Long story slightly shorter, Dr. Shapiro put one foot on my neck and pulled ("You may hear an unpleasant cracking sound") and my rotten old tooth slid out in one piece. He gave me the tooth in a sandwich bag but I'm still a little peeved with myself for not asking for the gold crown back, too. I guess they'll melt it down and save somebody else's tooth with it, which for me at this point in my life is a lot easier than donating my body to science so that my bones can be ground up and turned into a healing paste.
My hair was looking a little shaggy so Jack suggested I use his clippers to even up the back. As a tool-using humanoid, I thought this made a lot of sense, and then I promptly buzzed a bald spot onto my scalp. You see where it went from there.
Initial reactions from the public:
- "That is every woman's dream."
- "You can pull it off. You have a good head shape."
- "Yeah, a lot of girls in the ashram would do that when they were looking for a fresh start."
- A shocked expression that evolved into a sort of scolding twinkle that said to me, "I hope you learned your lesson; let's never speak of it."
- Mirthful silence
And then the weather turned chilly!
I love fall just as it's beginning, when it's cool in the shade but still warm in the sun. But I keep forgetting about being nearly bald and I walk out into the world wearing a nice, warm coat and very little hair. Every time I hit shade my scalp wrinkles up in shock, but when I walk back into the sun there is bliss. Bliss.
There's also the beauty of a hot shower raining directly upon skin that's never felt that sensation unmediated by hair. Washing my scalp with a bar of soap and then rubbing warm sesame oil all over my head. Sigh.
Makeup and earrings are no longer optional, however, and I seem to overdress for the plainest of errands. There's a part of me that's sure I'm going to get called a rude name by some yahoo. Every time I think I might be too old to be policed for the way I look, a dude decides to take time out of his busy day to tell me I make him want to barf. It's happened recently enough to remind me that as a middle-aged woman I'm still not invisible, despite the claims and hopes of popular culture.
There are hats, but fuck hats. Why should I hide the most Buddhist of haircuts? Plenty of Black ladies walk around with hair this short and they look amazing, I rationalize to myself.
I don't know if I'm going to keep it. My husband loves it, though. This was his plan all along!
Me: "I am so tired of looking this way. Maybe I should try to grow my hair again."
Jackson: "Your hair looks good short."
Me: "Really? Thank you."
I bend down to kiss him goodnight; he bites my cheek and won't let go.
Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson, if you draw blood I will kill you."
He begins sucking on my cheek like a moray eel.
Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson! I cannot go to work tomorrow with a hickey on my face!"
He bites harder, then lets go and looks at me.
Jackson: "Oh my God, there's a crease!"
Me: "Yeah, I'm old, my skin doesn't just bounce back to its normal shape if you do shit like that."
Me: "WHO'S THE MONSTER NOW?"
Arms in a Sleeveless Shirt
Jackson: "Stick out your arms."
I stick out my arms.
Jackson: "Now wiggle them."
Dies laughing at the way my upper arms jiggle.
Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson."
Jackson: "Mom, come into my room, I need to show you something."
Watches me climb awkwardly out of bed in a nightdress, gives my ass a horrified look.
Me: "I saw that look."
Jackson: "What?! I didn't say anything!"
"Your knees look like butts."
Looks at me wearing yoga shorts.
Jackson: "Your legs look . . ."
Me: "It's called cellulite and it's totally normal."
Me: "Trust me, I will never leave this house wearing yoga shorts."
Jackson: (politely) "I like your long yoga shorts* better."
*I'm pretty sure "long yoga shorts" are actually yoga pants
Me (walking into his room): "Jackson, I need you to take out the --"
Jackson (yells at my house slippers): "WHAT ARE THOSE?"
After seeing the Bill Cunningham documentary and being sort of jealous that he wore the same blue jacket every day, and then reading that article by the fashion editor who bought five of the same blouse and slacks for work, I've been wondering if somewhere in the world there waited for me an outfit I could commit to five-to-seven days a week. AND THEN IT HAPPENED. Last month I was cruising the J. Jill sale rack and out leapt at me a dress that, in person and on my person, is the perfect, roomy, pocketed dress equivalent of the Cunningham blue jacket. I seriously considered going to the website and buying four more of them but in the end settled on just buying one more because the fabric is too heavy for summer in an office in an old building without air conditioning. And because I am not Chairman "Let's All Wear The Same Jacket Forever" Mao, there will no doubt come a day when I am so sick of those dresses that I will want to douse them all in gasoline and burn them on the barbecue.
So then I continued on to eBay and bought all the black cotton dresses.
Technically, the one on the far right is wool, and I'm here to tell you that the best time to be the only person to put a lowball bid on a wool dress is in the middle of summer. They are, from left to right, Eileen Fisher, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Hanna Andersson, and another J. Crew and three of them have pockets and they all fit because the sellers posted the measurements, thank you, sellers. I have been curious about Hanna Andersson forever because the catalogs are like a children's fantasy of adorable clothes that you'd wear to a gingerbread party in the parlor of the nicest grandma who loves you more than anyone who ever wore sparkly clogs, and she gave you those clogs even though your mom said they were too expensive. So it was nice to find a H. Andersson dress at cut-rate eBay prices and discover that the quality's really good and who gives a shit if you're wearing a cosy, shapeless black sack? It's a shapeless black sack with pockets.
So that's what I've been up to, gearing up to do a full Georgia O'Keeffe (she's another one, everything in black or white, lots of shapeless smocks, oh my god, SMOCKS) while the ghost of my mother looks back at me from the mirror and says, "But don't you want to wear a little color with that?"
NEW NICKNAME FOR PEEWEE, SUMMER 2015 EDITION
Mr. Wazz-ma-tazz (after he peed on the rug) (he was ashamed, but I blame the increased dosage of diuretics)
I AM CONVERSANT IN WEE
I, as a completely sane pet owner, both sing and talk to my dog pretty much constantly, because obviously he understands me in ways other cannot. I often find myself standing in the kitchen rinsing the dishes before they go into the dishwasher with Peewee sitting nearby, gazing at my ankles while wondering why I throw out so much food that could be going quite comfortably into his mouth.
"You're allergic to chicken, Peewee, so stop sending me your mind thoughts!" I'll say.
Peewee will perk up his ears. He heard his name.
"I know you love chicken, Peewee, but it gives you itchy scabs," I'll say. "Itchy scabs are the worst. Right, Peewee?"
And then from the living room Jack will say, "Right, mom, you're the best."
I'm starting to think that someday Jack will understand me as well as Peewee does.