Its quite remarkable, the scene outside Gnats summer school; the throngs of kids, the happy teen teachers, the endless train of SUVs moving through the clotted streets to pick up kids, the flow of moms in and moms out. You never see a crying kid; everyones in a merry mood, hot and beat but happy to see Mom. (Or the rare Dad.) It was overwhelming the first time I went; now I show up early to get a good parking space, have a small cigar and listen to the radio. And today, out of nowhere, I thought: Beslan.
It was a quote from a grieving mother that stayed with me: We never knew how happy we really were. You get caught up in the logistics and time tables got to get her home by noon so she can have lunch (the sandwich, apple slices, gummi vitamin, milk please, finish your milk, why is this so hard) and get off to the next class, and it just FIGURES that its not long enough to get your oil changed, it just FIGURES.
You can live in that fugue state of annoyance and obligation, or you can relax and enjoy. (And be late for the rest of the day.) I am relaxing and enjoying; I am making this summer last as long as I can, because its the last of its kind. Some year there will be a summer where shes big and busy and the dog is gone and some unforeseen sadness will drape over the month like a wet tarp, and the utter ordinariness of these days will seem like some lost perfect paradise. Not that I expect Jasper to leave us anytime soon; hes ten years old, but still connected. Right now hes sprawled in the hallway, staring into living room, but if I snap my fingers his head shoots up: yes? Is something about to happen? No? Whatever. Return to default.
Unless youre single or childless, you dont give a lot of time to thinking about how youll miss your dog. I would guess there are millions of American men like me got the dog before the kid, treated him as an ersatz offspring until the real thing came along and made you feel foolish for dressing him up in a bomber jacket for Halloween. You get busy with your child, and the dog recedes, gets old, becomes ambulatory furniture with weird warts hanging off his snout, that tired annoyed expression and a hitch in the step when he tries to get up the bed. Hes the only family member whose end you will arrange on purpose. Youll make the call. Youll take him to the same place you took him every year to get his shots. Two go in, one comes out. But you dont think about that; why should you?
Especially because Jasper is amazingly energetic. He can still knock the pizza delivery man over or would, if he hadnt come to expect that the pizza guy will give him a treat; now he sits at attention, quivering, waiting. (A few weeks ago I ordered from a different place, just for variety; Jasper could not BELIEVE that the deliveryman didnt give him a treat; he followed him halfway down the steps, stopped, and barked once: same to you, pal.) When anyone comes home from work or school he spools up and goes on a long loud dog-rant, half joy and half anger: where were you? What was the idea? At night our walk is still an exploration, not a joyless rote retread of all the piss-points. He trots, ears up, tail straight, alert and alive. When we get home he wants to bound up the stairs six at a time, even though I always have to stop to put the bag o offal in the trash; he runs to the door and barks to demand his Frosty Paws, impatient and annoyed, even though for six years we have made a direct line to the fridge to give him his treat. Some dogs become rugs; some dogs become indistinguishable from the sofa pillows on which they sit. Thats not Jasper. How he talks! The range of his vocalizations are so wide and varied you wish you could give him the Gift of Consonants and hear what he really has to say.
But I know: MORE PIZZA THROW THE HEDGEHOG NOW THROW IT AGAIN.
Do people who have cats ever put their faces in the creatures just to smell them? Smell that good cat smell? Is there such a thing?
Gnat will remember him, I think. But there is something poignant about the sight of a four-year old kid hugging a ten-year old dog a moment that meant everything to everyone, and will be remembered by neither in the end. But if the end is what counts above all, why bother with anything. What counts, of course, is the simple present youre granted anew as the day rolls on, the moment when you see the dog on the floor staring up at the crumbs from her Pop Tart, knowing he cannot eat them because I am watching. I can leave the room, and he wont eat them. He awaits permission. As noted on this page long ago, the relationship between man and dog is a dim reflection of the relationship between man and God, inasmuch as we dont know what we dont know, but intuit there is a Rule, an Order that hovers above us. The difference is that God never leans over from the kitchen table and grants permission to eat the Pop-Tart. In so many words, anyway.
Well, obviously I did nothing today and have nothing to say. All I did was file columns and drive her around. Too many classes, no time for the pool. Finished the NYC portion of the v. 10 website, and let me tell you: no small feat. Its about 200 pages. Did half a Diner while Wife and Gnat were at the pool. Now its the usual end of the day, with a ration of TV and ice cream ahead. Tomorrow the Hellfire Club is coming over to Jasperwood thats the pretentious name for three of us who meet monthly to have lunch; myself, of course, Dave Metheny, former Strib illustrator non pariel, and that guy who used to be on Mystery Science Theater. Mike something. I have to supply sandwiches, and that means hitting the grocery store before I pick Gnat up in the morning. NO TIME TO GET MY OIL CHANGED. FIGURES.
Whoa: the shuffle just kicked up a tune from one of my favorite albums, Cal by Mark Knopfler. I bought this one when I was living at 718 4th street, just down from the Birchwoods. Thats the apartment building I mentioned yesterday. I lived in the Birchwoods for half a year with a peculiar roommate who was one of the most impenetrably stoned people Ive ever known; thick glasses and inert personality. Worked as a parking lot attendant. He had the big bedroom, I had the small closet off the kitchen; Id never lived in an old apartment before, so the first night the pipes started clanking it FREAKED ME OUT, MAN, like there were mean trolls in the basement. But I had a new girlfriend and a new job and there was a new Elvis Costello record out and it was summer, hot and eternal, and the first few months were perfect in the way such things can only be perfect when youre 20. Five years later I moved to 718 up the street, next door to the Giant Swede. (The unit had been formerly occupied by the girlfriend of the Crazy Uke. And yes, Wes the Director lived there as well, later.) When I moved in I was a college columnist with a smokin new girlfriend; halfway through my tenure I was a convenience store clerk with neither column nor girlfriend. Then I wrote a piece about my convenience store clerk job for City Pages, and that was the way out. Theres a direct line from that commission to where I am today. Literally: when I dropped off Gnat at a class I picked up a copy of the community newspaper started by the editor who asked me to write about my clerkship 20 years ago.
(Just checked their site: they link to the Bleat. <blush>)
Its a small world after all, etc. Did I mention that Gnat left her swimsuit in the Fargo Holiday Inn? She did. My wife called to see if it had been turned in, and the desk clerk said shed have to call during business hours to ask housekeeping, but incidentally, we loved your article on us.
Wha? said my wife. How
The article in the Star Tribune about staying in the Holiday Inn? We all loved it.
Caller ID, we figured. But that says something: the clerk saw the name and made the connection right away, which tickles me up and down the block. Fargo is my home, after all. While Gnat and Wife were in the pool Id gone out to the lawn to finish my drink and have a cigar; Id raised the glass to West Acres, to the frontage road, to the Pizza Hut down the street where I got my start in the waitering trade, and rolled my eyes over my impatient self so eager to flee this jerqwater burg and move into the broken heap of bricks called the Birchwood. So eager to leave I couldnt spend the entire summer of my sophomore year with my folks. It had been the same the summer of my freshman year; I decided to stay and attend summer school, mostly because I couldnt bear to leave the excitement of the big city. (I ended up alone in a roach-plagued apartment with a mite-stuffed Murphy bed.) My mother was distraught, and Ill never forget her tearful question: why cant you come home? Why cant you stay a while?
Because Im young and stupid and the wrong things matter?
Not today. Today my daughter ran to me with open arms when I picked her up from school, and my dog barked when we both came home. Today was an ordinary day in the middle of an ordinary summer, and I have every reason to expect tomorrow will be the same. You dont think thats what happiness will be - you imagine the awards banquent, the press notices, the flattering faces in a Manhattan claque - but thats the shape it takes. You can even chose an ordinary noisy moment child leaping through the sprinkler while you stand over the grill making burgers, listening to some stranger on the radio name you the 10th best guest on the Hewitt show (tied with JPod!) and shouting SHUSH as Jasper runs for the gate because hes heard your wifes car pull up. Thats as good as it gets. You didnt know how happy you were? Maybe you werent paying attention. So pay it.
Note: While I wrote the last few lines Jasper wandered over, clicked a paw on the door; I let him out. The iPod shuffle kicked up the second movement of Mahlers 2nd, and I went outside to listen and finish the cigar. Its warm out; eighty-two at midnight. My kind of world.
Jasper laid a log on the lawn and trotted back to the door. He gave me that look: and now?
More of the same, pup. If were lucky. But you never know. When Bruno Walter led the orchestra to perform this piece half a century ago he did not expect someone in the middle of America would be listening to it on a tiny device while his dog excreted a cylinder of corn meal and hog throats. You never know.
And now, having immersed myself in a soppy mood of nostalgia and gratitude, I will upload this page and watch some TV, which will probably end when I fast forward through Cops because Ive seen that one. And then to bed. Am I done here? I am.
Perm link: here.