NOTE: I don't know what's going on with the comments. Bear with me. A SUPPORT TICKET has been launched.
Speaking of which . . . I can't thank you all enough. The responses, the emails, the tweets - it's been overwhelming, and so very heartening. Thank you for reading and for watching. If you came to the story late, well, here. Alas.
And now, something I wrote Saturday.
I don’t mean to deprive you of the fascinating up-to-the-moment account of every second of my fascinating existence; don’t want to pass off something I wrote Saturday as a Fresh Bolt of Tuesday Insight, but, well, here we are, doing just that. Have to unload a bit. Tidy up loose ends. Not to wallow; not to attenuate what is, in the scope of things, a jot of light lost on the same day so many others winked out. But just in case you’re curious.
Saturday I was the charter-member of the Farg-All Club. Eggs runny? Farg it. Target parking lot full? Who the Farg cares. Went through the day like a Golem with a hangover, but because this is a small town the errands of Saturday brought the same kind folk I meet every Saturday. As I have noted before it is a peculiar life, what with the newspaper column, and here and there where I go with regularity I am That Guy In the Paper. And so I would get “I loved Friday’s Column” and I would say with blank mien thanks, Sunday’s is a big load of ash, just so you know.
At one store: she lost a dog six months ago. She got it. At Target, the cheerful and magnificently sarcastic Lutheran Sample Pusher (I know this because we belong to the same church, and sat next to each other at one of the Fellowship Dinners where you watch a video about the innumerable good works the organization is doing, have meatballs, and up your contributions) was likewise kind, and when I said my dog was gone, one of the butchers I see every Saturday overheard and came over to say he was sorry. This is a store with a thousand cars in the parking lot at the butcher comes over to say he’s sorry.
People ask why I live here when it’s 20 below, and this is why.
When I got all the bags in the house I didn’t miss Jasper walking around to interrogate what was new, because it had been a while since he did that.
Sort! Arrange! Prepare! There’s a point on Saturday afternoon when everything is perfect. The shopping is done; the bags are put away, the bins in the cupboard from which daughter takes her lunch are provisioned. I’ve cleaned out the fridge, thrown away the dead leftovers, washed the containers, restocked the sodas, rotated the bags of coffee, and everything the week to come will need is right where it should be. SO NO ONE TAKE ANYTHING because that ruins it. Wash the counters and wipe the shiny surfaces and stop: everything is perfect. It’s 4:30 PM and now is the time on Sprockets when we nap.
I pass the dining room and he’s not there, of course. I pass quickly.
Later wife and daughter go out with friends and it’s just me in the house, listening to an exceptional audiobook of Mildred Pierce. Ran through 3 BBC James M. Cain novels this weekend. This one . . .
. . . was much more raw than the movie, which, like motel toilet seats, had been santized for your protection.
Fixed the bleat archives, which hadn’t been updated since 2008. Went downstairs to refresh libations. Past the dark doorway. Most of the time I checked the instinct. Sometimes I stopped to look at the room and gather up the absence. His collar is in a plastic bag along with the clay print of his paw in my closet in a box where the things that signify 2014 will go and I want to take it out and give it a sniff, but the clink of the tags -
No. So. Here’s the thing, as blunt as possible: i have to tell myself he’s been fed to the fire. I have to console myself with that thought. Not to pursue it beyond the plain statement; God no. The imagination steps over that line and steps back just as quickly. But I can’t bear to think he still exists in physical form, absent all that made him Jasper Dog. It is wretched to think that I could - if I broke through enough doors and wrenched open a drawer and ripped open a bag, - still run a finger along the top of his muzzle.
Before I went off on errands the doorbell rang: the adoption judge. They want to make sure your house is suitable. She went upstairs and downstairs and looked at the backyard and made a few notes, and I’m sure we passed.
So we’re approved. For the dog to come.
There’s no greater testament to the love you had for your dog than to welcome another into your heart.
There will be a day, I suppose, when we leave this house. I will supply a history of the place and append the name JASPERWOOD - and leave them a copy of the picture painted by the artist who lives across the street, One day she showed up with a painting of the house. In the corner:
People ask why I live here when it’s 20 below. Because it’s home. Because I remember pushing the stroller up the hill with Jasper on the leash to look at the house we bought and would be moving into soon. Because I couldn’t believe my fortune, how life had changed, how the broad green would soon be ours, how we would surely live a charmed live in this house on the hill.
And so we did. And so we will.
Consider this my resignation letter in the Farg-All Society. Full stop. Deep Breath. Okay.
And then -
THE NEXT DAY
That’s where I left in the night before; “And then -“ I don’t know if I was setting myself up for a challenge, or about to relate something wonderful that happened. Well, nothing wonderful happened, but nothing bad; I spent the day in the most calming, therapeutic fashion I know: archiving.
Oh, got out of the house for a while; daughter was going to see a movie with friends at the mall, two of them being the last youths in America not have seen “Frozen,” so I drove her there and watched her dance off to the theater, glad to see her happy.
If I recall the end of that movie, it wasn’t a happy-ever-after. It was a fine joyful conclusion with the suggestion that something even happier would happen down the road. The ellipses has replaced the period, and that’s fine with me. Especially after what I listened to this week while sitting slumped at my desk doing rote computer things: three James M. Cain novel audiobooks, one that had, get this, Theresa Russell as the femme fatale in “Double Indemnity.” Holy Jeezum Crow, if ever there was someone born to that role; Stanwyck be damned. I’d never read “Mildred Pierce,” which I always thought was a “women’s picture” from the era of the Crawford weepers, but now I have to see the movie to find out how they gave it a happy ending. I started watching the movie version of “Postman” but it was like a Romper Room version, compared to the book.
Then I listened to a rather extraordinary BBC radio drama sent by a reader long ago - an dramatization of Bix Beiderbeck’s time in a locked room with Louis Armstrong. Hard stuff. Bix drank himself to death before he was 30. That takes determination. That takes work.
And so the stories rolled over me. I didn’t watch anything because I didn’t want to see anything, or sit still and look at something. Worked like a robot. Made the monthly family movie, sorted all the photos, backed up everything three times, napped, had supper with the family (we had to stop when it came time to put away the scraps, still thinking of a few items dropped in the bowl for canine delectation) and spent the evening doing more of the same and listening to music I haven’t heard in years.
Including Bix. I have two CDs from the old Columbia Jazz archives collection, and I know them by heart. Even if I didn’t have them, I could have called up everything he did from the internet. And of course I think of the character in the Peter DeVries novel who called him “Big Spiderbeck,” which still makes me laugh. But few remember DeVries anymore, either.
I need to reread DeVries; he was one of my early heroes, along with S. J. Perelman. (Ran into a LIFE mag interview this weekend; Perelman said writing was hard, and he averaged about 2500 words a week.) Also Fran Lebowitz, for caustic epigrammatic lines were so good you actually believed they constituted an actual “essay.” Also Woody Allen, who was everything I wanted to be: someone who could puncture the pretensions of the Intellectuals while staking his own claim to membership, witty, self-deprecating, absurdly egotistical, able to direct a movie, write a movie, star in a movie, and dash off New Yorker casuals in between. Now he is dead to me. I know, I know, it’s a he-said / little-girl said situation, and it’s ridiculous to think that a guy who made a huge romantic movie about a 42-year-old man sleeping with a high-school student and expected everyone to go along because he was the lech, and hadn’t he been playing the amiable wonderful lech all his life, the one we indulged and excused? And we did.
I hated “Stardust Memories” and it was never the same afterwards, and when he made a movie I liked it felt like a great drunken lunch with a friend you’d had a falling-out with. Radio Days, Purple Rose. “Hannah” made you remember how good you felt about “Annie Hall,” I think, even though it had horrendous dialogue and another old-dude-sleeping-with-young-woman theme we accepted because, hey, New York. Also, artists.
I just remember the scandal that broke in ’92, and I was in Manhattan at the time. Which was nothing like the Manhattan of the movie, since it was in color and Gordon Willis and Gershwin weren’t pitching in. “The heart wants what it wants,” he said at that press conference, and he meant that as a justification, not a confession of fallibility. I’m not going to hold it against the guy because he leaves his sort-of-kinda-not wife, but most men who stray have the decency to hook up with someone who’s at least on a different floor of your lover’s apartment building, to say nothing of her actual residence.
Every interview I’ve ever read has him as a Serious Man - oh, no quips, no jokes, aside from a mordant observation that fits in with the conception of good ol’ funny ha-ha Woody throwing out some high-falutin’ existential japes about the meaningless of it all, but that is who he is. There’s the Art, and there’s the Heart, and that’s all the justification the Ego and Id require, right?
He was always the old sour pervert after that.
It hurt. I used to wait for his movies. Smile when the same old credits came up in the Windsor font. Settle in for a story from someone who thought you knew, who grasped the world with the same slippery mitts of love and amusement you liked to think you wore as well. In the end he will be remembered well.
Because it was Art. The great monosyllabic absolution!
Nah. 1976 interview:
He has little interest in family life: "It's no accomplishment to have or raise kids. Any fool can do it."
He goes on: "I'm open-minded about sex. I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him." Allen pauses. "Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone," he ventures helplessly. "I admit to it all."
And everyone laughed.
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