Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Boy and his Dog.

I remember, like yesterday, when the phone rang and my four-year old son babbled excitedly that mommy had just gotten a dog.

I was happy for him because he was going to be exposed to what every male needs to have when growing up. 

A boy and his dog. 

I asked Alex what kind of dog they got.  He said they went to the Cleveland APL and found a Shepard mix.  Laurel had gone to the pound a few times to scope this dog out.  He had been given a reprieve.  It was a "Kill-Shelter," so if the animals weren't adopted by a certain time they would be euthanized to make room for new, incoming waifs.

Apparently, this dog was special.  The workers loved this stray so they kept pushing his date back further and further in the hope that someone would come in and give him a last-minute stay of execution.

Alex and Laurel walked in, granted him that pardon, and made their way back to the 'burbs with their newest family member.

His name?  Rex. 

Or, more aptly, Wrecks.

A few days after Rex set up shop under Laurel's bed, Alex called me once again and emphatically explained to me, in the logical way that only four-year olds can, that mommy calls him Rex because "every time we leave the house he wrecks everything."

He became Alex's guardian and buddy.  Like Rin-Tin-Tin, he was lightning-fast and stood erect like a warrior-dog, ready to protect my son and his mother at a moment's notice.

I grew to love that dog.  His eyes were soulful.  Brown and full of life.  On the occasions that Alex's mom and I weren't getting along too well and I had to go to her house for some reason, Rex always would saunter over to me and lower his head so I could scratch behind his ears.  He'd wag his tail and plant himself at my feet. 

He wasn't my dog, but it still felt as if he knew my kinship with the people in this house.

He chased rabbits, knocked over Alex a few times in an overzealous play, and guarded his territory as if it were under the threat of constant attack by an army, foreign, domestic, or rodent.

His squirrel-killing feats were legendary; he could outrun even the most wily of squirrels, and would bring treats home to his masters on a regular basis.

In the Winter, he'd take up residence on Laurel's leather couch.  Once again, his brown eyes would study you, and although he was considered a deadly canine, they radiated warmth and understanding.

Rex has gotten older.  As Alex has grown up, 6'2" and climbing, Rex has gotten greyer.  His muzzle sports a grey beard, and his beautiful brown eyes show their age.

He's twelve now.  Laurel took him to the vet yesterday and came home with news that all pet owners fear.

Rex has Lymphoma.  He could leave us next week or next month.

I stopped by today and picked up Alex.  There Rex sat in the hallway, peacefully sleeping by the door.  He awoke, looked up and wagged his tail.

He's about fifteen pounds lighter, and noticeably weaker.  The spring in his step is gone.  When he walks he bounces back and forth as if his hips can't take their weight.

His erect posture is gone.

He's old.

Yet, no matter when he leaves us I'll always remember the gallant canine, protecting his backyard.

His strong bark.

His ears, erect and alert, twitching back and forth.

And, mostly, his soulful eyes.

And my son will now fully know what it's like to be a pet owner.

The love, the pain, and the memories of those animals we take into our homes.

And our hearts.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hollywoodland

I was out a few nights ago and ran into a buddy of mine.  Somehow he thinks we're intellectual soulmates; we're connected by a thin strand of celluloid because we used to talk movies twenty years ago.

He's a nice enough guy and I enjoy talking about "Film" with him as an art form or expressive medium, but after about ten minutes I wanted to poke his fuckin' eyes out.

Or maybe even mine just to have a reason to leave his presence. 

I got my bachelor's degree in communications, but really it was a study of Film as Art.  I took about twenty film classes:  Theory, Aesthetic, Philosphy, Production and Criticism.

Boy, was I serious.  I wanted to be the next Spielberg.  Or Hawkes.  Or Truffaut.

I actually had a fetish for Soviet silent sci-fi films that were Marxist propoganda pieces. 

Weird.

Today, I don't think I could stomach a 1920s communist sci-fi film with musical accompaniment from a Wurlitzer organ.

I wrote for our college newspaper, The BG News, for four years as the resident film critic.

I lived it.  Breathed it.  Reveled in it.  I couldn't see enough movies.  I wanted to find greater meaning in life through a common experience. 

And I was a pompous ass.  I thought that film had to somehow elevate our species...give me a window into the human soul or some other esoteric bullshit like that.

Since college I've grown.

I think.

I hope.

I got a job.  Grew up.  Put "Film" where it belongs.  I now worry about the bills, my son and the economy.  Not so much whether the subtext in "Sophie's Choice" was textual or sexual.  Or if John Wayne's character in "The Searchers" was a virulent racist or a sympathetic loner.

It's all academic.

I like to watch movies now to escape.  To be removed from the snowy wasteland that is Northeast Ohio in the winter.  Or blazingly humid in July.

Take me to a galaxy far, far away or to a resort town being pestered by a giant shark, but for God's sake, don't preach to me.

I've seen it all.  Yep.  Not an understatement.  I love Kurosawa.  Fellini not so much.  Bergman's okay, but I've outgrown that bleak Scandinavian outlook that was so fashionable in the 1950s and '60s but is kind of passe now.

Max Von Sydow playing chess with Death was a pretty heavy-handed and blunt metaphor, don't you think?

Give me Tarantino or Roland Emmerich any day.  Blow some shit up, show me some boobies and give it to me in 7.1 digital surround.  Then I'm good to go.

I love to piss my neighbors off with my sub cranking in the man cave.  I can put out 110dB at about .006% linear distortion.  I had to go to the dentist recently to get some fillings fixed because that damn woofer rattled them out of my head...

Anyway, this buddy of mine rails on and on about how American film is dead, soulless, and for complete nincumpoops that are uncultured.

I listened to him droll on for ten minutes before I really thought I'd like to tie him up and make him lay next to the subwoofer in the cave.  I'd crank up "Gladiator" in blu-ray and watch his head explode as Maximus unleashes hell on the Visigoths.

His rantings really made me look in the mirror.

Jesus, was I that bad when I was in college?

I felt like I shoulda shut him down.  Give him a cinematic bitch-slap and kinda put him in his infantile place.

Yeah, I could of...

I almost started to go off about Gregg Toland, deep-focus photography, and his contribution to John Ford, Orson Welles, and Walt Disney's successes.

D.W. Griffith and "Birth of a Nation."

Hitchcock's minor masterpieces rather than the big three or four that every film class is forced to watch. 

But I didn't.  I felt sorry for him.

I realized that's all he's got.  Ya know, his cultural superiority to the rest of us grunts. Those of us that can watch "American Pie" and walk away with a chuckle may be domestic goons, but at least we can see something for what it is. 

And, of course, what it's not.

Just to make him feel better I told him I was going to see "The Wolfman" and "Valentine's Day" this weekend. 

He rolled his eyes and laughed at me.  How plebian I was, he said.

But he doesn't get it.  It's not the movie that's important.

It's the experience.  The popcorn.  The overpriced soda.

And the people that you go see it with.

Thank God, I realized that a long time ago.

In a galaxy not so far away.





*

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grace.

I was at a local ice rink a few days ago and, as I opened the doors and made my way to the business office, I heard some Tchaikovsky being boomed over some really overwrought loudspeakers.  It was his "Romeo and Juliet" so I thought there must be some kind of figure skating going on.

I know, using "Romeo and Juliet" for pairs skating is kind of cliched.  It's been done a million times and I don't know how folks can compete using such a generic tune.

I expected to see a bunch of little kids doing their first skating, falling on their asses while their rapt parents doted on their every little move.

Instead I saw something completely different.  There were a few couples, mid-thirties, dancing and gliding on the ice. 

The first couple blew me away.  They were dancing, in sync, through the entire routine.  As they moved they reminded me of a flock of pigeons.  You ever see a whole flock move?  They seem to know where to go without being told.  The entire four or five hundred bird flock moves as one. 

Not one of them will fly into another or make the avian dance look bad because they zigged when they should have zagged.

Same with this couple.  They effortlessly floated across the ice; their syncopation was perfect.

I sat for six or eight minutes watching them skate and was pretty awestuck by such a performance.  After they were done they approached where I was standing.  I couldn't help but ask who they were.

You were amazing, I said.  Do you compete? 

She smiled and said that they were competitive when they were young but now do it just to stay in shape. 

How long have you been doing this, I asked.

Twenty years, she said back to me with a smile.  With each other.

They then walked past me and said their goodbyes.

I smiled and prepared to go the the office when I heard R&J amp up over the ancient speakers.

As I looked up a second couple made it to the ice.  They were about the same age but from the start you could tell that there was something different about them.

Their rhythm was off.  They didn't seem to have any syncopation with each other. 

He zigged.

She zagged.

Towards the end of the number he went to pick her up. 

I imagine he was going to try and swing her or hoist her over his head.  She wanted nothing to do with that and she pivoted away.

Boom, right on her ass.

It was plain to me that they were just getting started.

Tchaikovsky, mercifully, came to an end. They exited the ice near me.  I smiled as they sauntered on by.

She smiled back but, frustrated, just kept walking.

Then I made my way to the office.

I was there for business so I introduced myself to the business manager.  We talked for a few minutes, got my reason for being there out of the way, and then discussed the figure skaters.

She said the first pair had been practicing for years.  They knew each other's movements inside out and were able to guess their partner's rhythms. 

Just like a flock of birds, I thought. 

Instinct.

The second couple had just started recently she said, and were trying feats that they couldn't possibly do.  She wished them luck, but gave them about six months as skating partners because they were just in too much of a hurry to get things right.

Hmmm.  What a shame I thought as I walked toward the parking lot.  That second pair had some raw talent.  And some desire to be good at what they were doing.

You could see it in their eyes.

But they didn't want to learn to crawl before they could walk. Or fall on their asses before doing an axel, or whatever they call it.

Can you imagine if they were pigeons?





*

Monday, February 1, 2010

Social Osmosis and Greater Expectations.

I guess I've got one of those personalities that's always searching for something.

I strive for greater understanding of the world around me.  I look for meaning. 

Everywhere.

Honestly, it's a freakin' curse.

I wish I could be complacent with my lot in life; be happy with what I have.

I know I've had a good life.  I'd never want to walk a mile in some of my friends' shoes.

However...

I know what I like.  I earn it.  I work hard, like most of us.

Africa.  I will see it before I die.  The whole continent.  Even if I have to swim there I'll see the Great Rift Valley and the Great Migration.

The Great Wall of China at dawn.  Damn it, I want to walk it; feel the ancient stones under my feet.  At dawn.  With a rolling mist in the background.  And my camera at the ready...

Notice how many of my desires have the word "Great" in their names?

I don't want to settle for something less than ideal for me.

Unfortunately, I don't have any idea what that "ideal" truly is. 

Or should be.

For example, I've never been married.

I've taken a lot of crap from friends over the years.  My best friend wrote in my high school senior yearbook, his parting words of wisdom, that I'd never get married because I'm too damn picky.  Quote, end quote.

His words.  He came home a few weeks ago and found my dusty old yearbook.  I had forgotten that he wrote that, but being the best friend that he is, made sure that he pointed it out to me.

And accompanied it with a hearty laugh and an in-my-face "I told you so all those years ago."

Thanks Jeff, love ya too.

He and a handful of others are telling me that I need to settle down and just pick somebody.

Like getting a goldfish at the pet store.  Find one that has some color, doesn't look too sick, and won't give the other fish any diseases.  As simple as that.

It doesn't work that way, unfortunately.

Not for me at least.

And I find it kind of ironic that my friends, four of them, giving me advice about how to pick 'em are all divorced.

So I throw that back in their faces.

Maybe, I tell them, if they had been a little more picky they wouldn't be divorced right now, suffering through their various miseries.

But I've discovered one thing through this whole process of growing up and getting older.

It's all squarely about expectations.

And shortcuts.

I like shortcuts.  Why expend the extra energy if it's not necessary? 

Using a wheelbarrow to haul rocks is better than carrying them one by one, right?  Taking a few back roads to shave twenty miles off your driving time is a shortcut as well, hmmm?

But I've learned the hard way there are no ways to cut corners with people.  Ya gotta do your homework.

Nothing given is earned. 

And relationships take a lot of work.

It takes months of getting to know each other before you can really say that you know them.

Let alone start picking out throw pillows and matching bathrobes.

And that's just not a romantic endeavor, but a good friendship as well.

I've got friends that go back to my youth...some of these bonds are thirty-five years old; more than twice as old as my son.   There's a history there that spans a litany of emotions, trials, and forgotten memories that bind us together.  Jeff and I didn't become best friends over night; we earned it through the passing of time.

We all have that invisible bubble that envelops us.  About three feet around, it protects us against a potential friend or mate.

If you apply too much force or pressure too early, it's gonna pop.  You gotta bring that person close to you slowly and let them permeate that bubble, kind of like a "social osmosis."

Otherwise it won't work.

Let me tell you a secret:  Short cuts don't work.

Ever.

Even if you meet someone, get involved with them and look at happily-ever-after staring you in the maw, it will eventually catch up with you.  A year, five years, or ten years.

Because you didn't earn it.

And you'll pay for it, one way or another.

Sometimes, in our quest for that ideal, we shortchange the process.  We take shortcuts and up end something that may have been great.

By making it something that it isn't.

Oh, in time it could be perfect. 

If you want a well-done steak would you take it off the grill when it's still bloody?  Flash-burned?  Cooked on the outside but still red and cold on the inside?

Of course not.

I guess the steak analogy is a good one. 

A low fire, the right amount of seasoning, and slow-cooking.

The right ingredients for a perfect dinner.

Well, except for the poor cow.






*