Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Dead Dog Stories

Yesterday morning Roxy awoke earlier than her usual 6:00, meaning I did as well. I was too tired to wait for her ritual pre-voiding lollygag tour of backyard smells, so I left her in the fenced yard of the empty house next door and went back to bed. When I finally did wake up she was waiting, escaped, outside our kitchen door. From her panting I could tell that she'd gotten some ya-yas out in the neighborhood and from her dripping I could tell that her journey had included a stop in B--'s meticulously landscaped fish pond. It wasn't until she'd been back in the house for a few minutes that I noticed that she'd also been rolling around in shit, some of which still clung to the fur under her neck. I hadn't yet had enough coffee to afford an even-tempered response, so she got a cold garden hose shampoo that was about as comfortable as a boot camp physical and as gentle as a decontamination scene in Silkwood.

On my way to work that morning travelling south on 147 I spotted a DOT truck at the side of the road. There a man was shovelling, yes, literally, lifting with a giant implement that could only be described as a shovel, the body of a large setter. I took in no more than this impression in passing, so how ever in that second or two could I have perceived in his labors such a melancholy grace?

Later in the car on the way to dinner, K told me that when she arrived home, Roxy was lying motionless in her crate and showed no response until K said out loud: Roxy, are you dead? She said she now knew what it would feel like to come home to find the dog dead. She then asked me about a story I'd told her long before about burying the family dog, an episode I was now surprised to find hadn't wafted into my brain when I'd passed that setter being shoveled into the truck. Her question was somewhat odd: Did you leave the dog in the house while you dug the hole, or did you take her out right away?

My mother had phoned me and my brother from her office and gave us each the same message: Jet is dead. She's on the couch. You and your brother have to deal with her--I can't do it. I called Craig to decide what to do. He took a pragmatic view.

"Can't we just take her to the vet?"

"No fucking way. A guy I worked with who had worked in a vet's office told me that when you take your beloved Fluffy to be cremated, it's done in batches. The ashes they give you may or may not contain trace amounts of your pet. Absolutely not. We're burying her in the backyard."

"It's February. We live in Michigan."

Reluctantly, my brother agreed to go with me to the hardware store. I rented a pick-axe, bought some lime, wondered how much the cashier was wondering about the combination. When we arrived at our mother's house, our boyhood home, I began sobbing even before making it to the room where the body of our eighteen year-old dog lay on the ratty couch upon which she mostly spent her final years, curled up napping like a cat. Later, when I would recount this story--the surprising violence of my grief for a dog--to my shrink, she would tell me that it's because our feelings toward our pets are (unlike those about our families) totally unambiguous that their deaths may be particularly mournful. For several minutes I sat crying and stroking her lifeless head. I got up. We went outside. We selected a spot in the corner of the yard and marked out the grave in the snow.

"How deep, you think?"

"I don't think we'll need to go all six feet for a dog." A good thing, too, because our initial blows with the pick axe were for naught. Thirty minutes later we had barely scratched the frozen soil. I don't recall how we came up with the idea, but after a visit to a tool-savvy neighbor yielded a beat-up circular saw, we proceeded to cut a grid into the icy dirt so that the incisions allowed us to much more easily break the soil. And so we travailled: cut a grid, chop it out, cut another grid. After a couple of hours of trading the axe back and forth, we'd gotten maybe a foot into the ground. Stupefied by exhaustion, I suggested to my brother that maybe mass cremation wasn't so bad after all. And here comes the transcendent moment in this story: my brother, who'd indulged my insistence on burying the dog in the frozen yard with the grumbling acquiescence of a younger sibling, was now himself insisting that we finish the job. He took the axe out of my hand and returned to digging with an energy that was both disquieting and heroic. I tried to keep up with our alternating shifts, but when my turn came I could barely manage a couple of pathetic swings. Finally, when my brother as well was on the verge of collapse, the frozen ground gave way under the axe to reveal beautifully soft brown dirt. After the weight of the pickaxe, our shovels felt as light and wieldy as spatulas. We shovelled spongecake.

When the hole was finished, we paused to stare into the ground that would receive our dog. We went inside the house. Too tired and purposeful to cry any more, we lifted her body onto a sheet and carried it to the grave. We lowered her down and paused again. Had either of us believed in God this moment would have been a prayer. Instead it was a silent benediction to the order of things.

From inside the house Craig had gathered an orphaned bag of Jet's food along with what might have been considered her affects--some toys, a couple of beef bones, a leash--which we placed alongside her in the grave . It was only when I began to dust her corpse with the lime, the white powder falling on her still and perfectly contrasting black coat, that I fully apprehended her death. My sobbing, renewed by the task of turning the dirt back into the grave, ceased only when her body was fully obscured.

We continued in silence to fill the hole. We returned our borrowed tools. We went home.

Monday, June 07, 2004

"Let A Thousand Hagiographies Bloom...."

Reagan is dead. Many others will flog this horse better than I, so I will only say that I won't be able to go near a radio or television set for at least two weeks.

Wait, let me also say this: If Bush II is significant for being our first "MBA President", it is often undersung that Reagan was our first (well, by trade, anyway) corporate shill president:

GE positioned Reagan as a respected TV spokesperson and corporate ambassador--casting him in the role that would take him all the way to the White House. During the series' eight-year run, Reagan made hundreds of personal appearances around the country on GE's behalf. There was even an LP for sale in record stores around the USA, Themes from the GE Theater, with a smiling Ronald Reagan on the cover.

Reagan was "the Great Communicator" not because his regressive vision naturally resonated with the average American, but precisely the other way around: as a trained pitchman, he was skilled in conveying a sincerity that was purely professional and therefore convincing almost by definition. "Morning In America" was about as genuine a political philosophy as "We Bring Good Things To Life".

Beyond tax-cut-and-spend-Republicanism or the emancipation of the insanely rich from the bonds of noblesse oblige, Reagan's true legacy is first and foremost the end game of the Spectacle: celebrity as not merely prima facie qualification for high office, but as a manifestation of the divine.

Anyone want to stick their neck out for comparison's sake?

I can't take credit for the title, but unfortunately, neither can I give it

Friday, June 04, 2004

Conventional Wisdom

This is a bigger and better version of a comment I originally posted on Plastic.

Even though I know that such things are planned way in advance, the sites chosen for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this year produce some purely baroque cosmic poetry. Consider:

Boston: A city with a populist revolutionary past, yet synonymous with sclerotic blue blood. Known for its primary export of effete smartypants. The city of choice for the latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, elitist East Coast liberal caricatures that the GOP has so successfully invented in order to demonize. For chrissakes, even Jerry Bruckheimer would pick anyplace but Boston for the scene in which the war hero scion Democratic senator from Massachusetts with the initials 'JFK' culminates his come-from-behind story. Which makes it the perfect place for the can't-win Democrats to confirm their stereotype in the minds of those all-important red state fair weather voters. In other words, a predictably bad move.

New York: a city of tough talk and impetuous braggarts. A city which, like its imminent GOP guests, has had some success in masking its sordid and violent aspects. Yet beyond the exterior bravado that wows the rubes, New York is most importantly Corporate HQ. DC may be the nation's capitol, but the Big Apple is the nation's Capital. What better backdrop for the CEO President and the party that, before wanting to drown it in a bathtub, wanted to run government like a business? There's a reason that those "freedom-haters" bypassed the Statue of Liberty in favor of the World Trade Center: they knew as well as John Dewey that "government is the shadow cast by business over society". How fitting, then, is ground zero for the mis-en-scene in which Bush steps out from two colossal shadows to polish his crown in the footlights of his masters?

But in an age in which political analysis sounds like the halftime report and political debate is reduced to rabid partisan screaming, the most salient comparison is, of course, to the most heated rivalry in sports. Will the lovable but hapless Democrats/Red Sox finally take one away from the imperial and spectacularly bankrolled Republicans/Yankees? As Babe Ruth or Jim Jeffords might tell you, it could just come down to a key trade.