Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Keys

Key West. Sloppy Joe's. Hemingway. Vacations have a surreal intensity that burn the skin and create searing memories of vivid first-time experiences. The children splashing and laughing in the pool are no longer my own. My twenty-somethings hurried down before Mom and Dad, and now sit across the way, seeing and being seen.

Family meals have always been times of sharing. Important, but less frequent as the nest empties and adulthood takes hold. Seven days of meals interrupt our individuating routines and offer us time to regroup, catch up, laugh, love and eventually begin to get on each others' nerves.

Pictures are taken, mental postcards collected and sent for future reference. Remember when?

This time is short and long-awaited. Precious in its high demand and low supply. Will we travel together again?

On her way back to our room, my wife walks away, growing smaller in stature and further in time from the lounging she enjoyed at my side. She crosses the pool deck, climbs stairs and disappears into the hotel lobby. It is a short and silent sequence, moments in time that will never be repeated. An urgent, helpless scene from a favorite film in which our fleeting youth is documented and forever put away. It will play in the theater of my mind long after my tan has faded.

Sad news arrives. A friend back home has died of skin cancer. We reach for the sunscreen, jump into the cool blue water and breathe deep the living Florida air.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Black Dogs

A lifelong study leads me to conclude that black dogs are the best.

In 1958 my great uncle Otto recommended Rusty, a brown cocker spaniel that spent his formative years chained to a tree in some distant front yard. I was about four years old, but I can remember Rusty being tied to a pole in our basement, where he affirmed my parents belief that he got his name by leaving rust-colored stains on the tile floor, the living room carpet, or anywhere else he had a chance to pee. He did not understand, “Stay!” and ran away every chance he got. My dad was not an athletic man, and the fastest I ever saw him move was chasing Rusty up the driveway, pivoting south at full throttle into our neighbor’s backyard graduation party one early June afternoon. He muttered a number of things when he brought Rusty back to our house, literally at the end of his rope. We had Rusty less than two weeks.

Rebel was a toy poodle who looked his best just before his periodic topiary haircut turned him into a living French evergreen. He was neurotic but loving, a total lap dog we bought as a puppy. A visitor once commented, “What’s wrong with his little pink tongue?” when Reb sat throwing her kisses from across the room, licking her face from afar. He turned gray and died at the age of ten, just as I turned twenty. He was my first dog-bro.

Yankee (do you see the creative pattern here?) was acquired at no charge from a farmer whose black Lab and collie got together and had love puppies. He was a hairy ball of dust that chased tolerant but annoyed horses around their pen and was thrilled to come home and be my friend for four short years. He slept outside the door of my room, ate furniture, metallic fence strips and giant rawhide bones. My frightened grandmother held him at bay with her cane until the day I suggested she cautiously hand him a Milkbone. That was the beginning of his weight-gaining period. She had the same effect on me. It was her way of showing love.

Yankee was a runner and not much of a bodyguard. He learned to swim by being thown into my swimming pool and guided to the edge as punishment for peeing on the pool’s plastic solar cover or for chewing on its edges. He respectfully declined to chew or swim after a few lessons. Sadly, he took a tumble down a flight of outside wooden stairs and injured his spine. After a month of medication to rest his paralyzed back legs, I had to make one of the hardest trips of my life—wearing very dark sunglasses.

Jett was black too. Jet black. A sad-eyed orphan found on the streets of Waukegan, he was a complete but extremely well-behaved mess who cleaned up into a handsome young man-dog. He spent eleven years with us, filling every moment of our family life with a presence that lives on in sad reminders that leave us wishing for another friend this good. He took his last breaths while I laid beside him on the floor and comforted him. He seemingly waited for everyone else to go to bed, as if it was time to go. I carried him to the vet the next day, carefully wrapped in a little brown blanket. Another of the most painful memories of my life.

Jett has a “cousin” named Mo. He’s a large black Lab who continues to visit us with his “Mom” and donuts on weekends. You feel safe when he’s around because he looks like a panther, but he would submit to lesser dogs, and is no protection at all. He’s a good boy.

On a lighter note…

I have finally found a dog I do not love. He lives next door and is a true sociopath. While his adorable, tan, fuzzy nextdoor neighbor looks skyward and happily chases planes, Buster chases ducks, kills raccoons and drags dead baby skunks into his house. He eats my pond fish and stares crazily at us through our living room window. He is insane.
He is not a black dog.

A new development...
My son bought a little dachshund in Guatemala. His name is Griffey, and we have only met him via Skype. He cost 1000 quetzals, which sounds like a lot, and probably is in Guatemala where it doesn't sound like dogs get much respect. He looks like a burrito when my son holds him up for viewing and is completely cute. He speaks Spanish and is brown.
He might change my mind.