I got a note from an old friend that he had to put down his dog a week or so ago. That’s normal cause for sadness, but I felt it particularly because his dog, Smokey, was one of Maggie’s littermates. I’m about as jaded and cynical as they come, but if you think things didn’t get a little “watery” on the homestead for a little while, you’ve completely misread me.
I don’t think I’d seen Smokey in more than a decade. That was just a fact of space and time and not in any way relevant. Smokey was a good dog. They’re all good dogs.
Knowing that he’s gone is an unwelcome reminder of the all too brief time we have with these furry critters who share our homes… and that my sweet, unflappable Mags and I have run out a lot more of our time together than we have left to go.
Give your good doggo a scratch on the head for Smokey tonight. You’ll be glad you did.
1. My diminished abilities. When I was a kid, I can remember devouring whole plates of food at Sunday dinner. In high school we’d show up for lunch and demolish entire pizza buffets. Now, after a semi-full plate and a slice of pie, I feel like I’ve just tried to ingest the entire pantry. It turns out I’m not the glutton I once was. I just can’t eat like I use to… and lord, don’t even get me started on how my metabolism is determined not to even bother trying to burn off what I do eat. It’s a hell of a thing to contend with on the holiday celebrating mass consumption and gluttony.
2. Leftovers. The only real challenge of being the guest at Thanksgiving is that even when they send you home with leftovers, you don’t have an endless supply of turkey sandwiches or the makings of a solid turkey-broth based soup. Now, I’m not in any way saying I want to be in charge of Thanksgiving dinner next year… but there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be roasting a turkey breast this weekend for the express purpose of having sandwiches for days.
3. A million ways to die in America. One a single screen of The Washington Post, I can see three articles covering sensational ways that people died or been seriously injured over the last few days. You can take you pick… feral hog attack, tape worms laced hotpot, and bacteria laced dog licks. I’m sure if you’re the person lying in bed dying from any one of those things, it’s a very serious matter. With the sheer volume of people in the United States who don’t die of those things, though, I have to think that they’re pretty statistically aberrant ways to get killed. They’re interesting enough stories if you’re looking for filler, but mainline ink on the front page of a news site feels like something of a stretch.
1. Free gifts. As the amount of actual mail I need to send has plummeted, the number of organizations sending me “personalized address labels” as a “gift” has skyrocketed. It makes me wonder who’s running their marketing and fundraising department… and why they think this is a winning idea. I mean if you’re going to inundate me with junk mail, at least make it something that doesn’t stick to the blades of my shredder and give me an even worse impression of your organization.
2. Aggressive marketing of things I’ve already purchased. I bought a very nice marble urn for Winston. Since then I’ve been getting at least one email a week from the nice people at perfectmemorials.com offering me a wide range of other funerary items. This feels like another marketing fail to me. I mean urns aren’t exactly the kind of thing anyone need to purchase every week, right? I was very pleased with their service and the quality of the product I received and in time I would probably use them again as the need arose… but if they keep beating me about the head and neck with weekly messages in all likelihood I’ll go someone where else when the time comes.
3. Look at me-ism. There are few things I find more professionally unpleasant than people who demand attention for their ideas or presence in a room simply by virtue of position. Look, if I need a chief in the meeting, I’ll be the first one to invite them. More often, though, who I need is the person who actually does the work. If you need to be in a meeting just to feel important, maybe it’s time to check yourself.
1. Toothpaste residue. If you feel the compulsion to brush your teeth at the office in the middle of the afternoon, I’m sure you’re doing great things for your dental health… but for the love of all the gods can you please wash away or wipe the toothpaste residue out of the sink when you’re finished. It’s hard to feel like a trusted professional when it looks like you’re sharing a shitter with a bunch of 5 year olds.
2. Checking your work. I’m forced by the universe to accept that mistakes happen… but most often they seem to happen because people don’t check their work. If you know that you got a bad batch of widgets in and someone is making a special trip to your place of business to purchase one of these “might be bad” widgets, it stands to reason that you’d check before that person physically showed up in your shop, wasting time, and being inconvenienced. I can’t save the world from faulty material, but I can bloody well call out shit customer service when I experience it.
3. The dream of immortality. In a nation of almost 330,000,000 people living deep into the 21st century, on any given day about 7,708 Americans will die. Another 10,563 will be born. The rest will muddle through what, for them, is a more or less unremarkable day. For all the fuss we make about our big, developed brains, we have a bit of a strange relationship with death. It’s almost as if we try to pretend that if we just build a better seat belt, or cure cancer, or ban the right object or beverage, that all 330 million of us will go on living forever. It’s never worked that way. Sure, everything can be a little bit safer. You might even manage to cheat death for a while, but it’s most assuredly only a temporary reprieve.
So it’s summertime here in the northern hemisphere. That means the temperatures regularly climb up past 90 degrees, the humidity soars, and the news covers a raft of stories about people who leave their pets or their kids locked inside their vehicle and only discover the error of their ways when they return to find Spot, Mittens, Bobby, or Suzy broiled much later in the day.
According to the inevitable articles on the topic, boohooing and pleading sympathy for the guilty, “Experts say” it can happen to anyone. I suppose it could, in theory. Monkeys could also fly out of everyone’s collective asses. Or we could all get hit in the face by simultaneous meteorites. Anything is possible.
Speaking as a guy who put an automatic starter on his truck because he wasn’t comfortable leaving his dogs in the vehicle long enough to get in and out of various gas station bathrooms along the 800 mile route between Maryland and west Tennessee, any kind of excuse about forgetting the living creature or creatures in your back seat rings just a little bit hollow.
Look, I know everyone is busy. Everyone is tired. Everyone can have a scattered moment, but for fuck’s sake, people, at least try to pull yourselves together. It’s a living thing you’ve at least theoretically decided to take responsibility for, not last night’s leftovers that you inadvertently left on the back seat when you got home from Olive Garden.
As always, I’m left wondering what the hell is wrong with people. Unfortunately I probably know the answer to that. It starts with an S and ends with “tupid.”
1. I left the house a little later than usual. Where the street I live on dumps out into the local county road parents and their SUVs were stacked up like cord wood. There they sat, engines running, more or less blocking the road, and making sure their little princelings had enough heat while they waited for the school bus. It was just below freezing, not exactly polar explorer weather. Basically a decent coat and a good pair of socks would have been enough to make it tolerable for a few minutes. I can’t help but remember my own childhood where if you didn’t walk to school you at least walked to the bus stop – and that’s back at a time and place where temperatures below freezing weren’t cause for any particular alarm, being part and parcel as they are of the winter weather season. These kids have never been allowed to run through the woods throwing rocks at each other and it shows.
2. ISIS brides. The last few weeks have been thick with reports of women and girls who ran off from western civilization for the fun and adventure of becoming ISIS brides. Now, with the dream of an Islamic caliphate collapsing around their ears, they come out of the woodwork claiming to have learned the error of their ways. Here they come crawling “home” after years of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I’m not a scholar of international law nor does my heart bleed for their reaping the results of traitorous decisions. They wanted the wonder of life in the belly of the beast, the best thing that we can do now is let them have it.
3. Fentanyl. I keep seeing news stories wherein a drug ring has been busted in possession of enough Fentanyl to kill 375,000,000 people. Look, I know we can’t really aerosolize the stuff and indiscriminately launch it from a mortar tube, but maybe we hold back on making these arrests for a hot second. I mean, look, people are basically awful so with enough of this floating around in the underground economy it seems to me the problem with those who habitually associate with a culture of heavy drug use could significantly reduce the demand side of the market by simply dropping dead. If a subset of the population is committed to continuing to inject a substance they know full well may kill them more or less instantly, I don’t feel any moral force compelling me to intervene between them and and their apparent desired end state. I’d rather spend a much reduced budget on saving the small minority whose exposure to fentanyl or other high powered narcotics is accidental or that happens in the line of duty. Don’t tell me I never see the bright side, damnit.
Under any normal circumstance, Thursdays are sacrosanct and reserved exclusively for What Annoys Jeff this Week. This week, of course, has been filled with what I can only charitably describe as abnormal circumstances that cast any of the usual annoyances far into the shadows.
Instead of phoning something in, I want to use this generally largest audience of the week to say thank you to everyone who has called, emailed, sent a text, a tweet, or Facebook message over the last few days. I know I haven’t gotten back to many of you personally – the truth is, I haven’t even read the bulk of the messages yet. The last couple of days all my mental energy has been flowing deep into the reptilian section of my brain and focused on self preservation and generating emotional scar tissue. I promise I’m going to read every one of them just as soon as they don’t threaten to send me off the rails into ugly crying territory.
Winston was one of the very few creatures on earth that I loved without reservation. Based on your responses, you noticed . Please know that I was and continue to be touched beyond words by your kindness. You all helped lighten the burden of an incredibly hard day and I’ll always be grateful for that.
Yesterday was darkness, overcast and dreary. Then, as if the universe has some semblance of a sense of humor, just as dusk was coming on, it snowed for a while. Winston hated the snow. Given the arthritis and metric ton of metal in his leg, a natural aversion to the cold isn’t exactly shocking.
This morning, on the day after, was as bright and sunny a winter morning as you could hope to see. I won’t pretend that everything is ok or that I’ve even started adjusting to the new reality. There are still moments when loss is a deep, yawning chasm. Even with the rest of us in it, the house feels unnaturally empty for his absence. In the sunshine today, though, there were also moments of glimpsing what’s beyond all that. At least the big, manly, ugly cry sobbing has given way to a more manageable leaking about the eyes.
There’s not one second of the day I haven’t missed Winston’s slobbering, or the ponderous thump of his steps coming down the hall. Hell, I even started making breakfast for him today before catching myself and very nearly coming unglued.
Today I am immensely thankful for the long Anglo-Saxon tradition of quashing all the bad feelings and getting on with it – stiff upper lip and all that. The rest of my now diminished pack needs the best of me and the gods know that just now I need them more than ever.
One day a living, breathing bundle of floof comes into your life, helpless, with his puppy breath and needle teeth and need to pee every 37 seconds. If you’re doing it right, you end up hopelessly enmeshed in each other’s lives – which seems patently unfair given that you know going in to it that theirs is likely to be so much shorter than yours. Still, if you’re very lucky you get to have a decade’s worth of good years – of way more good days than bad ones.
The good ones are the days you mostly remember. That’s the way it should be. The bad days, though, those can be brutal even if they are less individually memorable. They’re filled with self doubt and unanswerable questions about what a dog thinks or feels or needs you to do that they can’t do for themselves. The worst are the moments when you’re tempted to heroic measures – the phrase people like to use to justify prolonging a pet’s pain to spare their own. God knows I was tempted and tempted badly to buy another few weeks, but not with full knowledge of the price that he’d pay for my momentary cowardice.
The last few weeks have been a lot of raw skin, itching, limping, falling, yelps, and crying as he couldn’t command his body to move as it should have – as he knew it was supposed to. Even at the end, his eyes lit up just from my laying there with him on the vet’s floor, rubbing that spot just between his ears that always got the best reaction. I got one last lick on the back of the hand and I got to bury my face nose to nose with him and remind him one more time that he was the very best good boy. I was lucky to have been able to share a part of my life with such a dog. My last living memory of him will be of soft snoring and a few last sonorous bulldog snorts before his mighty heart finally went quiet.
If it were an option I’d have gladly slashed years off my own life to have one more good day with Winston. The best I can manage just know is acknowledging the mercy that he’s no longer in pain and struggling with every step just to please me. The truth is, all he ever had to do to make me happy was be there when I got home.
Today wasn’t one of the good days, but it was the price paid for so many that were.
There’s nothing like the sobering presence of death to help bring your day into focus. That great equalizer of men and kings comes to us all in time. It’s one of the very few common truths that we all share between us – the grand irony of that being that it’s one of the few things we as a culture don’t talk about in anything more than a whisper.
Despite the outward appearance of building briefings and fidgeting with memos all day, what I’ve really been doing is processing; adding new facts to what I think I know about the world and the people in it. What I really came up with is that on balance I’ve been a bad friend to so many who have deserved better.
We grew up together or grew into adults in one another’s company. We met for a time and parted company. We shared secrets deep or dark. We laughed, cried, then laughed again. We took long draughts from the tap in crowded rooms or passed hours in companionable silence.
Life happened. We moved on or moved apart. We had kids or didn’t. Our careers took us around the world or brought us back home to the mountains. We had different politics and wildly diverging interests.
Even though Facebook helped, we did a shit job of keeping in touch and staying engaged. That’s the part that hurts – the ease with which we could have picked up the phone or sent an email, but didn’t because there would be time for that tomorrow or the day after. Maybe we’re all wild eyed optimists believing against all outward evidence that there will always be a tomorrow.
I’m a bad friend. I freely admit it. I’m the first to want to race home from wherever I am and whomever I’m with and slam the garage door shut. I should have done more to keep the lines of communication open and didn’t.
Know this, though, if you were my friend, you are my friend still. Despite years or circumstances I think of you often – and mostly smile or chuckle at the thought. I may occasionally roll my eyes. In my mind we’re all still at some vague age between 17 and 23 and have only been parted for a moment no matter how the years have intervened.
I carry you with me always. In the moment that doesn’t feel like much, but it’s something and occasionally something has to be enough.