Hold Your Babies

sc009c7364As I lay in bed last night, waiting for the Ambien to kick in, ruminating about my poverty situation, I heard sirens. They sounded close so I looked outside. Something down the street. I went back to bed, more sirens, then also saw helicopter spotlights spilling into our bedroom. 

I looked out the living room window, with a view of the street we live on and suddenly there were over 10 fire trucks about a block from our apartment. Under the street lamps, I could see smoke vapors.  I put on my shoes and went to the fire escape, with a better view of our street. Sure enough, a building was on fire. Which one, I didn’t know. 

I asked Eric if he wanted to go check it out with me. He declined. I put on a t-shirt and grabbed my phone.  Neighbors were spilling out onto our street, it was like a carnival: flashing lights, flurry of activity, confusion.

Once on the street, I saw there were 20, maybe 25, fire trucks, dozens of firemen focused on one task or another.  Probably 100 residents gathered and walked the street, now completely closed off by policeman. I conversed with folks I knew. What happened? I don’t know. Which building is it? 

By the time I was on the street, all flames had been extinguished. There was still residual smoke. Also, it appeared that firemen were continuing to evacuate people from the 3 buildings in close proximity to each other.

The Gladys Kravitz in me was in heaven. So much drama. I took picture after picture. I took pictures of the fire trucks and the helicopter and the people watching.  I felt like Diane Arbus. I am documenting the SHIT out of this, I thought to myself.

The entrance of the building across the street had a high staircase so I climbed to the top to take more pictures. Better view. Two guys stood next to me talking. 

“It looks like the firemen are trying to give CPR to a dog over there,” one said to the other.

“Dog?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, it’s too small to be a person.”

Sure enough, I looked in the direction he pointed. 8 large firemen were huddled over something, what, I could not see, and they pumped away.

I moved to get closer, trying to get a clear view. I could see the men but I couldn’t see what they were working on.   If it is a dog, I probably know this dog, this is my neighborhood, I thought.

They worked for several minutes and finally another fireman brought a white sheet over and covered whatever it was. I was surprised and heartened by how vigilantly they tried to save this creature. 

The high that I experienced when I first stumbled onto the scene was gone. I know this probably is going to sound bad, but if you are a dog person, you might be forgiving: I wondered if I felt worse or better knowing it was a probably a dog instead of a person. (Can I blame this on the Ambien?)

I walked back to the house. Eric and the dogs were sitting on the couch, watching a Guthy-Renker infomercial. I relayed all that I’d witnessed. I hugged the dogs a little extra. 

“It was so sad,” I told Eric. He agreed. Eric went to bed, as did the dogs. For some reason, I felt compelled to Instagram a few pictures I’d taken. (More Diane Arbus illusions.). Eventually I made my way to bed, and finally, to sleep.

This morning my friend Glenny texted to see if the fire she heard about had been near us. She’d heard that a dog had died. I looked up the news and sure enough, it was the fire on my street. A woman was injured and her pet dog was not able to be saved.

I was glad that I knew what happened, how the story ended, but of course, I thought about the woman and her dog all day. Perhaps more details will be revealed, at this moment, I don’t know the name of the woman or her dog. I have concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that the woman was older and that she lived alone. A family of two.

Before Ricky and Millie, and of course, Eric came into my life, for a while anyway, I was a family of two. The first dog I got in my adulthood was a spaniel mix that looked like a caramel sundae. In fact, when I drank, I called her my little caramel sundae. Her name was Lucy. In the years before I adopted Mandy, all we had was each other. We walked to Larchmont Village together almost every morning. We took road trips, she loved visits to the beach. She was something special. I love all my dogs, my boyfriend too, but sometimes I think I might have loved Lucy most of all, because she was my first and the one I needed the most.

If you’re reading this, maybe you had a Lucy. Or a Mandy or a Millie or a Ricky, or even an Eric. (How lucky I am to share my life with a person who takes it as a compliment to be clumped in with a bunch of dogs.) Family is family, whether it’s big or small, human or otherwise. So tonight, I say a prayer for my neighbor, a woman I know little about but can’t help but feel a connection to. I am sorry about the passing of your dog, your Lucy. My prayer for you is peace and that the good memories will be a comfort in the days and weeks and years to come. God bless the beasts and the children and those of us who’ve loved them, too.

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The Morning After

1425719_10152094998587755_185085023_nI’m usually the first to hear it, especially if it happens in the middle of the night.  I am not necessarily a light sleeper, but in the years since Millie started having these episodes, these seizures, there is a part of me that, even when sleeping, is always listening for the tell tale signs.  Last night, around 1:00 a.m., I woke up. hearing the sounds, sensing the vibrations, of Millie stirring awkwardly in the bed.  I found her at the foot of the bed and sure enough, she had started having a seizure.  Eric woke up when I started talking to Millie, telling her she was going to be okay.  “She’s having one,” was all I needed to say and Eric was beside her too, also holding, also calming her.

Millie’s seizures, which started in February 2011, are unique, just like she is unique.  She does not lose consciousness, her eyes do not roll back, she does not foam at the mouth, but merely salivates more than usual.  She shakes, her paws clench.  If we were to put her on the ground, she would try to walk, but stumble about.  These seizures have happened enough that we know what to do, or at least we think we do.  We hold her and tell her that we love her until the episode passes.  Usually, it lasts about 10 minutes, and once she’s out of it, she’s still not 100% Millie for awhile.  Even this morning, the morning after, she’s quieter than usual, more reclusive.  When I walked her and her brother Ricky a few minutes ago, she did feel impassioned enough to bark at another dog on the sidewalk which, under normal circumstances is annoying and embarrassing, but today was a relief of sorts, an indication that she’s getting back to normal.  

Eric does better when she is having her seizures than I do.  In fact, the way he is in those moments, is probably Eric at his very best.  He becomes the chief Millie holder, the coddler.  I have to run into the closet to grab a towel in case she wets herself, I have to run into the kitchen to take a Xanax, but the whole time, Eric lays there on the bed and holds her, kisses her, tells her that we love her and need her.  As my mind runs away with the worries, he is calm and present for her.   When she appeared to come out of the seizure last night, I ran back to the kitchen to get her a little treat, to see if she would eat it.  She nibbled on it gingerly while Ricky hopped and moaned and pounced.  He has some compassion for his sister, but when treats appear, he becomes quite single focused.

After the treats and the hugs and the “you’re a good girl”‘s, we settle back into bed, Millie at the foot, in the same place where she was when it started and ended.  Ricky lays on his pillow in the middle of the bed and Eric, on one side, me on the other.  Eric’s joke is that the two of us are always sleeping on a celery stick because of these two.  They are our little bed hogs and we love them.  As I lay there worrying about Millie and how we need to go to the neurologist and how the seizures have picked up frequency in the last few months and how are we going to pay for an extra vet bill, extra medicine and on and on and on, I hear Ricky and Eric snoring.  Millie looks at me and I look at her.  What is she saying to me? I don’t know.

And this is the morning after.  There is a glow that comes from surviving a crisis.  Eric is at work, but told me to keep him posted.  Ricky is sleeping on the couch.  Millie is napping under the bed, also known as, her hotel suite.  And here I sit, typing away, trying to make sense, trying to ease my pain.  We survived another storm, weary and shaken, but happy to see the sunshine of a brand new day.

A Boy and His Dog

20130818-140207.jpgWhen I was ten years old, something happened on a family trip that changed the course of my entire life. Are you hooked yet? My uncle’s dog had recently given birth to puppies a few weeks before our visit and when we visited my uncle’s family, I got to play with the puppies. Of course, I begged my parents to keep one of them. Of course, they demurred initially and no surprise here, eventually they relented. While there are people who would say I always got my way when I was little, the truth is both my parents were as charmed by one of the pups as I was. When we left Colorado a few days later, we had an extra companion, the puppy who would come to be known as Buford Jake, B.J. for short. It’s a familiar story and a happy story. Buford Jake became this boy’s best friend.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine posted a picture of himself in his teens with what I assume was his childhood dog. It hit me, there’s just something special about a picture of a boy and his dog, so I composed an album. Some pics are of people I know, some are famous paintings or photographs, there’s even a little beefcake. My favorite, though, is the one of Eric and Millie that I took not long after we started dating. From the minute Millie met Eric, the dog who is not easily won over was easily won over. And now, with Ricky, we are four, two boys, two dogs: a family.

Tonka

ImageLast night, I was coming home from a show. I parked my car, hurrying by the neighborhood cat, Tonka. Tonka belongs to a family and they feed him, but he is the unofficial mascot of the street on which he lives. This picture does not do him justice, but he’s a lean, handsome fella. Anyway, as I was rushing to get home, I passed by him and I said, “Hi Tonka.” Usually, if I’m not walking the dogs when I see Tonka, I’ll bend down and pet him for a few minutes. He’s an accomplished nuzzler, even though he lives according to the call of the wild. As I passed him on the sidewalk, I looked back to see him following me. And then I turned around and went back to give a little love and receive a little love from him. We had a nice few moments, me talking, him purring. When I walked away again, I thought to myself, why didn’t I just stop to pet him in the first place? I thought I was in a hurry, I thought I didn’t want to have to wash my hands when I got inside my apartment. I nearly robbed myself of a nice treat.

So today’s lesson for me, and for you, if you so desire, is take time to give a little love to the Tonka’s in our lives. It’s worth the time.

Lucy

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A couple days ago, we recognized the four year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.  Whenever I think about MJ’s passing, I think about my dog Lucy who passed away a couple days after Michael.  This video I’ve posted was filmed two weeks after Lucy’s passing.  I remember talking to my friend Traci, the show’s producer, that morning, saying I didn’t know if I had it in me to go on stage and be funny. But sometimes grief can lend itself to comedy and the laughs get us through the sadness. Doing this piece helped me heal and move forward.    

The Forgiveness Machine

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The artist Karen Green has written a book called Bough Down about her grief over losing her husband, writer David Foster Wallace. In a review of the book I recently read, there was talk of an art piece that she built and exhibited in 2009 called The Forgiveness Machine, which is pictured here. Basically you write down something you want to forgive or something you want to be forgiven of and you place it at one end and a vacuum sucks it into the machine and it comes out shredded at the other end. What I read piqued my interest so I googled “Forgiveness Machine” and found a few interviews with Green where she talked about how she came to build the piece and the response people had to it. Of course, the first thing I thought was what would I write on that piece of paper. What would I want to forgive? What would I want to be forgiven of?

In November 2010, I was on Maui with my friends Michael and Kim, on my last night on the island, we treated ourselves to a luau at one of the fancier resorts. Now there are two things you should know about me:
1. I love a Mai-tai and 2. I love an open bar. We had a glorious evening under the stars, watching the show, eating poi and pulled pork, and drinking free Mai-tai’s. I had a few, more than a few. I don’t remember all the details, but at the end of the night, as we were walking to our car through the hotel lobby, I said, “This hotel is so pretty, let’s sit here and talk about what a beautiful night it’s been.” 30 seconds later, I was weeping convulsively. Kind of like an Oprah’s ugly cry, but darker. Uglier.

A few days earlier, hours after landing in Maui, my neighbor who had offered to care for my dogs called to tell me one of them, Mandy was not well and did I want them to euthanize her while I was gone. Mandy had been suffering from cancer, a fatal tumor in her sinuses and I knew her time was coming to an end. I had vacillated between going on the trip and canceling. My neighbor knew Mandy was sick and because she’d had her own elderly and frail dogs through the years, I knew she’d keep a watchful eye on her. I was not prepared for her phone call and I did not know what to do. I thought about coming home immediately. She ended up taking Mandy to her vet, he said that the end was near, but he gave her fluids (she’d become dehydrated) and a cortisone shot, which perked her up a little. Even though I had taken Mandy to my vet just a couple weeks before and she’d assured me that Mandy was in pain, but not so much pain that it was time to put her down. I still felt like I let her down, in fact, just reading these words, I still feel like I let her down.

All of these emotions flooded my rum-soaked heart that night when we were sitting on that couch in the hotel lobby. I started crying and I could not stop for 20 minutes. I was sad that Mandy was dying and sadder because I had failed her as her caretaker, as her father. Michael, who does not drink and Kim, who’d drank less than me, both offered support and hugs. If they were embarrassed by my display of emotion they gave no indication. I’m sure it’s not the first time someone’s cried their eyes out at the Kaanapali Beach Hyatt Regency. Eventually, the three of us pulled me together and we headed to our condo, stopping at another ABC store to pick up chocolate covered macadamia nuts for my plane ride home the next day. A couple days later, after spending about 48 hours with Mandy, I did decide to put her to sleep. It was a sad day, to say the least.

If I could go back in time and do things differently, I would. But I can’t go back. Something people told me during this period is that we make the best decisions we can at the time and just hope for the best. I understand why The Forgiveness Machine resonated with so many people. With it’s bright colored gizmos it presents forgiveness as something convivial and instantaneous. It’s neither, but we wish it was. Forgiveness is not a machine, but rather a process.

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Best in Show

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A few years ago, I acquired a book called Best in Show, The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today.  As an art lover and a dog lover, it kind of feels like someone compiled the book just for me. I inherited the book from my friends’ neighbor who passed away, in fact, she’d killed herself. I met the woman only once. My friends had a party and they had invited their neighbor, I’ll call her Cathy. Cathy and I talked and I told her I was a dog lover. She asked if I wanted to meet her five dogs. Yes, please! So we went across the hall to her one bedroom apartment that had magazines and books piled everywhere and five happy, energetic dogs greeted me. A couple were on the older side. There was much licking and tail wagging, from the dogs, too. We sat in her living room and talked about our dogs and what a joy they were. Then we went back to the party. A couple years later, my friends told me that Cathy had died, she’d committed suicide. And later, when they were helping Cathy’s best friend go through Cathy’s things, they found this book and wondered if I’d like to have it. Of course, I said yes.

And now, whenever I look at this book it means something to me on a few levels. I love art books. And I love looking at pictures of dogs. Dogs have always figured prominently in my life, from my first dog, Pee Wee through Buford Jake and then Lucy and Mandy and then Millie and Ricky. They have brought me so much joy. And I’ve always been a person who leans toward depression. More so when I was younger, but even now, there are days or nights when I take to my bed and crawl into a ball and I love when my pets burrow beside me, offering their comfort. So I look at this book sometimes and think about Cathy and even though I know she ultimately decided to end her life, I’m sure those five dogs were a necessity. They probably kept her tethered to this world longer than if she had not had them. I also often find myself thinking about legacies. If your children are human, you hope that once you are gone, your children and grandchildren will say that you lived, that you mattered, that you illuminated. When your children have four legs, they can be many things, but they can’t be your advocate after you’ve gone. So, that’s why I’m writing this. About this book and about art and about dogs, but also about Cathy. She lived, she mattered and she illuminated. And I hope someday, someone might say the same thing about me, too.