This will all seem silly to non-dog people. Bear with me.
I’ll be honest: I pushed this, and maybe it was too soon. I’ll also say this: I’m glad I pushed this, and there wasn’t any way it would have been better in three months.
Birch, on day one, was exactly what I expected: a very timid dog who had had a crap life adjusting to new stimuli and a more sedate environment that didn’t have strange dogs bow bowing non stop in a harsh bright tiled room that smelled of fear. When we brought him him he found a corner away from us and had to be drawn out. When he went outside - the big, terrifying world of the backyard - the planes overhead frightened him, and he found a safe space and stayed there. But he wasn’t trembling, and he didn’t shy away from us.
After a few hours we showed him Upstairs, and he sat in Daughter’s room next to her while she read. Warmed my heart. My wife wanted to watch TV; he sat on the sofa with her. He wants to be with us, wants to be petted and close. It took a few hours but now it’s a given for him: He wants to be with us.
This makes him different than both Jasper and Scout. Neither were standoffish dogs; they were just their own selves. They would suffer hugs and strokes - okay, if you must, it’s okay, I love you too, are we done - but they weren’t needy. Birch doesn’t seem needy at all. He just wants to be nearby, and that’s a fantastic sign.
What I mean about pushing it: we felt the absence of A Dog keenly, and when I saw Birch on the Humane Society page - with the name Scout, okay, cosmos, GOT IT - I said I should go look, and everyone agreed. Puppies go fast. Otherwise we would wait, and dawdle; we’d get used to non-dog life and then have to amp it up when it’s winter. Or we wait because it’s winter, and then months pass, and we get a dog in spring, and then it’s summer and then Daughter is gone to college and everything was just one long sound of Velcro strips torn apart.
No, do it now. The dog is the bridge over this last year.
You know, the bridge over the Velcro.
Okay come on humor me. Although that does sound like a river in middle Europe. The mighty flowing Velcro wends its way through the mountain valleys of Syldavia.
But. The hours before Birch came home, each of us had an episode. Wife, Daughter, Me. Sudden, keen, detailed sorrow. The imminence of another dog made us think intensely about Scout, and each of us experienced his memory with more specificity than we had let ourselves feel. Daughter ran through pictures on her phone and wept. I had memories so intense it seemed impossible he was gone. Same with my Wife.
It was too soon. It had been six weeks, but four of those we thought he was still alive. We thought we had dealt with the finality of it, but we hadn’t.
It took Birch coming to the house to make that plain.
But. I think it would have been the same whenever we got another dog. With Scout, it was different; Jasper had been such a muted presence in his final years. Scout was so vital, so steady, so effortlessly integrated into our lives, and he came as a puppy, tiny and pliable. And he was so beautiful. And unique: the way he adored the roaming pug up the block, the way he stood up and waved his paws when he wanted something, his silent abashed apologies for eating something off the counter. We were so used to him we couldn’t imagine life without him, and when he fled away it turned out we didn’t. We just hit pause.
Bringing Birch home hit play.
But. We’re not here to have Birch heal us. We’re here to heal Birch. Right now he’s sleeping in the bed upstairs - probably the first time he’s ever bunked with a human. Shy and timid as he was when he came, he’s obviously an wonderfully sweet creature. It’s hard not to divine Providence in these things; as I’ve said before, the relationship between Man and Dog is the closest analogue we will know to the relationship between Man and God. Neither Man nor Dog knows what they cannot know, the extent of the intellect and compassion or foreknowledge they cannot apprehend. But we know enough to make it all right.
There will be a moment when Birch wants to play. He will bow and bark He will trot up to the back steps with his mouth open and tongue out, smiling in that fashion dogs have; we will make our own routines and rituals. The first night he kept his mouth closed. Taking it all in. I pet his head and he looks into my eyes, and I am grateful he is here. Too soon is hard, but it’s better than too late.
Fall was the time when the networks trotted out all the new shows, hoping for hits. Most failed. We remember the ones that ran for three or four seasons, but it's the also-rans and the barely-weres that fascinate. Like Stagecoach West:
Stagecoach West was produced by Dick Powell's Four Star Television. It is believed that the series was cancelled despite the high quality of its production because of the glut of westerns on television at the time that it aired.
Yes indeed. Oaters aplenty. You've no idea. This was another 1960 entry - no opening credits, but I've seen them elsewhere - generic and upbeat. The show was considerably darker, as the first few minutes will show you.
Producer and director: fellow named Peckinah.
October means spooky movies. This one's damned odd.
I watched this months ago, and seem to have lost what I wrote at the time. So I'll have to reconstruct what I thought from the framegrabs. Why this?
Because it seems a rather elaborate set for a movie that doesn't feel as if it has a big budget?
It's because the staircase is from another movie. This one.
Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter), a young woman at Highcliffe Academy, a Catholic boarding school, learns that her older sister and only relative, Jacqueline Gibson (Jean Brooks), has gone missing and has not paid Mary's tuition in months. The school officials tell Mary she can remain enrolled only if she works for the school. Mary decides to leave school to find her sister, who owns La Sagesse, a cosmetics company in New York City.
She discovers that her sister sold the company to a brusque lady who doesn't say much, which of course is the best way to ensure the sister who's come around asking questions doesn't think anything's wrong. Mary finds out that her sister had been seen in a restaurant a week ago, so of course that's where she goes.
Why did I snap this?
Because I recognized the background. It's backwards.
She learns her sister rented a room upstairs - and here's where the movie shows you that it's up to something rather disturbing.
Now it gets really odd:
Mary's investigation leads her to Jacqueline's secret husband, Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont); a failed poet, Jason Hoag (Erford Gage); and a mysterious psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway). Jacqueline had been Judd's patient, seeking treatment for depression stemming from her membership in a Satanic cult called the Palladists.
There's not a lot of Satanic cultism in movies prior to the "Seventh Victim." The Palladists come from late 19th century occultism, a period I've read a bit about. I think they were all credulous nuts, led by charlatans, but that's not exactly unique to human history. You'll always find a time when people are searching for something "spiritual" and different, and they fall under the spell of dollar-store Svengalis. Like Leo Taxil, who helped popularize the Palladist menace.
Anyway: let's check out the places where sis might be. First stop: Slabtown.
Don't know if that's what anyone really wanted to see over the morgue door. Hey could you maybe forget my name for a while? K thanks
Missing sister isn't there, but our heroine runs into her Secret Husband, Secret Husband. They have coffee at the Rear Projection Diner:
Those menus. If you're a certain age you can feel their heft, and the thick band around the edges.
Okay, then stuff happens. A private eye sent to find the sister is murdered. A doctor who's from the movie "Cat People" (same director, same creepy uneasy atmosphere) appears. Here's where it steps apart from the rest of the movies of its day:
Jacqueline is later kidnapped by the cult members and condemned to death for revealing the cult. She would be the seventh person so condemned since the founding of the cult (hence the film's title).
We meet Jacqueline in the Satanists' clubhouse, where they're trying to get her to drink poison.
She doesn't want to. The cult members don't want to kill her; somehow they're not on board with violence. The good guys enter, and it's time for some Philosophy:
Take that, ya miserable bastards. You can tell it's the grandfather of Rosemary's Baby - normal-looking people who are Satanists in their spare time, and get together for rites 'n' fun.
Well, miserable Jacqueline leaves without drinking the poison. She goes home, and talks briefly with her next door neighbor. We'd met her before. She's deathly ill.
She wants to go out on the town one last time before she dies. After this chat is over, Jacqueline goes back to her room - the one we saw before, with the chair and the noose. As the sick woman goes out for her last fling, we get the bleakest ending in any studio picture ever made up to that day:
If you didn't hear it, play it again. That's one damned dark finale.