The Worly Building
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I grew up in an old farmhouse. My mother’s family owned it. The original farm had been parceled and lots were sold. Consequently, the house next door had at one time been the farm’s barn and there was still a small garage and chicken coup alongside it. On the other side was a small, but modern ranch house with a working greenhouse behind. The neighbors grew flowers for florists. Our loveable dump sat on five acres. It was a good place to be as a kid, lots of space, an orchard with a tree house, a baseball field … plenty of room to roam. So we had pets … mostly dogs that spent most of their time trying to escape the fenced in backyard.
My parents supposedly were buying the place from Grandma. I say “supposedly” because I have no idea exactly how much they paid, when or if they paid. But I lived there for the first 18 years of my life and my family eventually inherited the homestead.
When I was in high school and getting ready to leave home for college, we had two dogs. One was my brother Jim’s pedigree Beagle named Penny. She should have been named Pain in the Fucking Ass … because that fit her better. Conversely there was Cindy … mostly my mom’s pooch but shared by the entire family. Cindy was a sweet, affectionate, mostly Beagle mutt who was a pleasure to be around. She did suffer from wanderlust and one time ran into the street and got clipped by a pickup truck. She went blind in one eye from the shock. I could relate to Cindy even more after she joined the ranks of the “one eyed”. Cindy was one of the best dogs I have ever known … and I’ve known plenty.
My Grandmother … the only grandparent still alive by the time I was 2 … was a live-in housekeeper for an elderly, well heeled woman living in what passed as a mansion in those days. It was on West Boulevard in Cleveland … and it was big enough to have a grand piano under a crystal chandelier in the living room. Mrs. Lang … or Aunt Emma as my siblings and I called her … owned a chain of funeral homes. My brothers, sister and I loved Aunt Emma … Grandma not so much. Aunt Emma would play games like “keep the balloon from touching the floor” with us until Grandma would come in and yell at us. She would show us the “good pieces” of candy in the Whitman’s Sampler on the coffee table. And she would show us where her son was skiing in the painting above the couch. And which mountain he had just disappeared behind. I suppose looking back she may have had dementia or something similar. As a young boy I knew of no such thing … any such word even. Aunt Emma was just old … and fun.
On the other hand Grandma was also old … but cranky, grouchy, and no fun whatsoever. Over the years I have learned of her hardships in life. And while I understand the context now, she certainly was never much fun to be around … especially when I was a boy.
When I was about 11 years old Mrs. Lang died. For one reason or another my Grandmother was permitted to live in her house for a number of years … sometimes taking in boarders. Maybe the estate was being contested … or Grandma was simply being rewarded for her years of loyalty and service … or both. My family would still visit or go for family reunions. But without Aunt Emma, there was little joy in the vast palatial house. Grandma must have felt the void as well because she got herself a dog … a relatively big collie mutt dog she named Cindy.
My Aunt Rose and Uncle Gene took in Cindy’s brother. They named him Butchie. My favorite aunt and uncle in many respects … had no children … until now. The addition of Butchie made for an interesting family … more whacky than dysfunctional … a story for another day … perhaps a book for another day.
Shortly after I left for college the Lang family finally sold Aunt Emma’s house. And since the old farmhouse I was raised in was technically still hers, Grandma moved in with my family. This was not a good transition. My father never liked his mother-in-law … and that’s putting it kindly. He and my mother eloped after all … and to hear him tell it … because of Grandma. My mother wasn’t terribly cozy with Grandma either. My siblings were nonplussed. Too much family in too little space will create stress and conflict for the most Norman Rockwellian of tribes.
And the festering metaphor for all this was … now there were TWO CINDYS! So the pooch I spent my adolescence with was now called Little Cindy. And Grandma’s dog dubbed Big Cindy … for obvious reasons.
The cold hard reality of “you can never go home” hit me pretty hard, whenever I came home from school. Things were pretty claustrophobic. I had nowhere to sleep except the living room couch. This might not have been a big deal if Grandma and Big Cindy were both not just opposite a thin wall in between the davenport and me. I could hear Grandma late at night talking with her dog … saying things like “Cindy … are they FEEDING YOU?” A few years later my new wife Yvonne (Who initially didn’t believe Grandma could be so bad.) and I were visiting … sleeping in our pup tent in the back yard. One afternoon while she and Grandma were the only ones in the house she overheard the Bat Lady (as my father called her) say, “Are they starving YOU TOO Cindy?”
And soon enough my dad (affectionately known as Snook) began getting sick and tired of Grandma’s carping and Big Cindy’s presence. He once complained to me … in all seriousness … that when Grandma came into a room and the 2 Cindys were both there, she would say hello to BIG CINDY. “But does she say anything to LITTLE CINDY? Nooooooooooooo! SHE IGNORES LITTLE CINDY!! How do you think that makes LITTLE CINDY FEEL? HUH? It’s like LITTLE CINDY doesn’t even EXIST!!”
Pretty soon Dad came up with this outrageous mocking of Big Cindy behind Grandma’s back. Once Grandma was in bed … if both Big and Little Cindy were in the living room … Snook would get a jar of peanut butter and some saltine crackers. And when he wasn’t snacking he would put a big glop of peanut butter on a cracker. Then he would give it to Big Cindy! And while the dog was trying to wrap her tongue around the gooey peanut butter and dry, salty cracker, he would pretend he was a ventriloquist speaking through Big Cindy!
The routine went something like this. Picture Big Cindy, huge pink tongue slurping around her seemingly unmanageable sticky, crumbly treat. And Snook would purse his lips pretending not to move them at all and say:
“HI! My name is Big Cindy! I am grandma’s dog! I might be a good Big Cindy but grandma is a bad influence!!”
Of course my father was a TERRIBLE ventriloquist. So throwing his voice into Big Cindy’s urgently lapping mouth sounded more like this:
“I! I-YEE AME is IG INNY! I ah AH AH ssss OG! I ITE EE a OOD INDY ut AH AH sssss UH AD IH OO AAAHSS!!!”
Sure … it was mean. But it was … and still IS … FUNNY!!
I’m not sure how long Grandma lived with my family. I would guess a few years. But she sooner or later packed up and moved to Chicago to live with Aunt Rose and Uncle Gene … and of course … BUTCHIE. (This may have helped save my parent’s marriage.) So Big Cindy stayed with Little Cindy and my family. And She definitely mellowed out some … especially compared to Penny … the Beagle from Hell. Actually Big Cindy relaxed so much she became a member of the family … sort of. One afternoon my teen-age sister Kathy went into what used to be Grandma’s bedroom. There on the bed was a motionless Big Cindy. At first Kathy thought the pooch might be sound asleep. But she soon began thinking otherwise. And just as Snook was no ventriloquist, Kathy was no veterinarian. So she carefully eased her way onto the bed … stood up … then gingerly stepped on Big Cindy’s tail. You know … to make sure she was in doggie heaven.
And Big Cindy was.
After that … hard as everyone tried … Little Cindy never was just plain “Cindy” again. Little Cindy lived out her one eyed dog days as the “only” Cindy.
I’m sure that was just fine with her.
Burlesque: Behind the Curtain
The Worly Building
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Watching You Drown
It wasn’t easy, you know,
watching you drown
seeing you sink out of sight
I came running
hoping to urge you back
from the slippery rocks.
And when I shouted,
“Watch out! You don’t realize how dangerous it is
where you are standing!”
and you shot back that scornful look
as if I were the problem,
I still hoped to grab your hand
Oh, I know the surf was deafening
and its pull stronger than mine
because at the same moment you vanished
all hope slammed into those rocks
with the very same wave
staring in utter disbelief
as that last image of your face
descended into the darkness.
Old … Yet Amazing … Henri
We got him as a pup. A bigger than average Bichon Frise called Bruno. We immediately renamed him Henri Richard. You know … to class him up a bit. And as soon as I set him down in the backyard he knew it was his domain and his domain only. So did the two of us.
That was long ago and now Henri is old. Not that I’m not. But he’s passed me in doggie years. Early this year he was diagnosed with diabetes. Henri has been such a good friend and companion that when our vet asked us tentatively if we were willing to give him insulin shots twice a day … we were mildly offended. Since then Henri has learned to wait patiently while my wife Yvonne (his “mom”), lovingly gives him his injection.
It took a while to get his dosage adjusted. We weren’t sure how much longer Henri would be with us to be honest. He already was mostly deaf. He soon developed cataracts. His back legs are somewhat arthritic. It takes Henri a long time to wake up from what is always a deep sleep these days. He knows his house and yard but still occasionally bumps into things. We carry him up and down the stairs … always. We use a kiddie gate when we’re gone to keep him from falling and hurting himself.
And if you think he is sad … or pathetic … think again. When I return home I see him lying on the floor with his snout nestled inside my house shoes. Soon he “senses” my presence. I then sit on the floor and we roughhouse. He kisses my nose. He eats cookies … wanders the yard with surprising ease … chews on rawhides. Henri is happy … old … and happy.
Henri is also 15 years old now as of July 8th. I wasn’t sure he’d make it. He proved me wrong … both of us … most of us. Our veterinarian has taken to calling him “The Little Trooper”.
I won’t romanticize and say he’s not fading. He is. We both are really … at our species-specific rate of aging. Walks now days can best be described as “sniff, sniff, pee, and pee, okay that’s enough”. But when I take him for a ride in the convertible he sniffs the air and lifts his head in pleasure. And my heart soars.
As I said earlier, Henri has not gone up and down steps for at least 4 or 5 months now. He can’t see or hear very much. He has us trained very well. I spend a lot of time with the French Boy and my newest workout is lugging a 18-pound hound up and down the stairs, out to the car, wherever he needs to go. I don’t mind. Neither does Yvonne. We owe it to him.
The past couple days have been rainy and gray and gloomy. I’m describing both the weather and my feelings. My melancholy … for reasons I will not go into here … has dominated my demeanor of late. I’m certain a funk is evident in our house … Henri’s house. And I’m sure this has not escaped the sensitivities of my furry little friend. He hangs close … mostly lying at my feet.
After lunch today I went to the upstairs bathroom to brush my teeth. I thought I heard a slow “clomping” on the stairs but soon dismissed it. My hearing isn’t what it used to be either. And as I reached to put my toothbrush away, I saw Henri poke his head in the door … gaze at me through cloudy cataract eyes … then turn and lay looking down the staircase.
My protector. My companion. My amazing old friend … Henri.
Took Henri for a drive in the Miata this afternoon ... with the top down. He never once complained his "fur was getting unruly" … or told me how to drive … or said I was going too fast … or griped because we were going in circles or whined, "Are we THERE yet?"
He simply gave me a doggie smile that said,
"Tramps like US! Baby we were born to RUN!"
Man's best friend indeed.