Sunday, November 10, 2019

40th High School Reunion

In kindergarten you don't know that your beloved teacher, who cast you as the ferocious lion in the class circus pageant specifically because you were so shy, will one day die of cancer. 

You don't know that the nap time you take for granted during class, where you pull out a beach towel and chill on the floor for 10 minutes, will sound pretty good to you again in your 50s when the afternoon rolls around. 

You don't know that while you spend that kindergarten year watching a bean plant grow in dirt in a clear plastic cup, watch the roots spread down and the sprouts shoot up, more than 3,000 American boys will die in Vietnam, boys who once spread beach towels too.

In kindergarten, where your two forehead cowlicks still defy gravity, giving you the appearance of a great horned owl, you can't know that 52 years later you will attend a 40th-year high school class reunion. Or that several friends from that same kindergarten will be there, armed with pictures of their kids and even grandkids of their own. Reunions are surreal events, like something out of Poe, where the past shimmers in the same physical space as the present. This is not a criticism.

There are people whose names you recognize on their name tags but not their current faces, and people whose faces have barely changed in 40 years but whose names you cannot possibly dredge up. There is that moment where you have to decide whether it's rude to check the name tag, as if somehow after 40 years, after 14,600 days, you should still be required to remember a name you last heard as you sat in your sweltering seat on that graduation lawn.

There by the bar is the one dude in the whole school who could run faster than I could in sixth grade. By the buffet, wait, is that the girl who was the first in our grade to develop breasts that same year? 

There is a guy I remember mostly from P.E. class, taller than I remember, who tells me he spent the last two years caring for his dad at the end of his life. "He was there for me when I needed him, and I promised him I'd be there for him."

I remember the first reunion, 10 years after graduation, having a vibe of "what have you made of yourself?" A kind of posturing. Some of us were still single, some had four kids, some were already divorced. I remember one guy made fun of me for not remembering his name even though we spent years on the same track team. He was a hurdler. Who remembers hurdlers?

At the 40th there is no such vibe. There is only warmth, a feeling like gratitude, of still being around when quite a few of our class are not. By the entrance is a poster board showing dozens of classmates we have lost, posed in their senior portraits, forever young. Now and then a group will cluster around it. "I didn't know that," one will say. "Oh my God, I just ran into him a couple of years ago."

I visit the buffet table and grab some hors d'oeuvres. I talk to my buddy I remember better from junior high, who just lost his wife a few months ago, the pain still clear in his voice. He played high school football and coaches it now, a mentor to boys just like he was, a halfback whisperer. 

California girls. They make you feel sad for all the other states. I'm sorry, but that song nailed it. Some of these ladies have still got it going on. Gone is the sense of vanity, though. They are comfortable in their skin. It's nice to see.

I chat with one old kindergarten friend, who has recently left his career and moved home to care for his elderly mom. The kindness in his eyes has never changed. It is amazing how we may develop crow's feet or lose our hair, but the eyes stay the same. I notice it again and again.

I spend a minute with a woman who was a ravishing girl in school. She is still lovely and now a successful writer-producer in Hollywood. I would never have said a word to her in high school, but now casually ask her, since mutual friends have posted updates about her career online, how the TV business is. She describes another epic series she is working on. Nice, I say, well good luck, and then it's my turn to order at the bar.

Reunions are full of these moments with people you didn't really know, but with whom you went through something together and feel comfortable. I expect Titanic survivor reunions were much the same. 

There is the guy who accepted my friend request on Facebook a few years ago, but I notice we are not currently friends there, and so I guess he was just being polite. There is the person I un-friended because they "liked" a friend's blatantly racist comment about "sending them all back to Africa." Online life makes real life weird, but often only once a decade. 

There's my fellow runner who, like me, became a librarian, still hilarious as ever. And my theater friend, who recounts getting kicked out of a show "for good cause," he admits, because the pain of his parents' divorce often caused him to "just check out." 

Perhaps the most valuable single thing about aging is the perspective you gain on your younger self, something our friends on the remembrance poster never got to do. 

There are other conversations. There are also people I saw from a distance and recognized but didn't approach. Reunions are inherently weird, and maybe doubly so for us introverts. If you are reading this, and I never talked to you, rest assured I was glad to see you. Genuinely. It's not you, it's me.

Back in the '70's, every graduating class had a slogan based on its year of graduation. Ours was "'79 is fine." It had been preceded by "'78 is great," which is inarguably better, but you can't choose when you were born. I always felt sorry for the class of '80. They ended up, I think, with "8-0 is on the go," which is painfully vague, and should have been reason enough for abolishing the practice altogether.

Do they still do it? Is next year's class slogan "'20 is plenty"? Minty? Flinty? Linty?

I did a lot of plays in high school. In one, at age 16, I played an old man looking back on life. A few of his lines touched me, even then, and I have never forgotten them: "How many of us would settle, when we're young, for what we eventually get? All those plans we make. What happens to them? It's only a handful of the lucky ones who can look back and say that they even came close."

The event was held after dark in a local botanical garden, just across the street from our old high school. The party site was quite a ways from the parking lot, so at the end we were shuttled back to our cars in one of those electric golf carts. Those go pretty fast. Whizzing past the foliage in the dark, it felt like a scene from "Jurassic Park," as if a velociraptor might leap out at us at any moment. Or one of our old teachers, beard down to his knees, sprung from his grave by our merry-making, still waving a protractor in the air. 

For the record, I had only been drinking soda.

I drove away down the main street and a memory came to me of a spring night 40 years earlier, when the same street had been completely flooded, filled curb to curb from a rainstorm as I drove my date to a formal dance. Or my dad drove us. I don't remember which date or which dance. But I remember the water, and our car like a ship cutting through it. Apocalyptic. There was a drought then too. One's home town, I guess, is full of visions like that. 

We danced to this thing they had back then called rock music. It's not around any more. Kids at our old high school these days have heard of it, no doubt, but probably regard it the way we used to think of ragtime. Half a century from now, hip-hop will likely elicit an eye-roll from teenagers. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say. So it goes.

1979. Jimmy Carter was president. He's still around, you know. So are we. And the class of '79 is still fine.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hawks and omens

I started listening to an audiobook recently which came highly recommended. It was called "H is for Hawk," and I listened to it for a couple of days but decided to bail. It was just too dry for me, and I still have 255 other books on my "to read" list.

The next day, driving down the freeway, I saw a hawk circling above me and took it as a sign to give the book another try. I like bird omens. Even if they end up wrong, they're pretty. 

I still didn’t like the book, bailed again. This morning, a week later, I looked out my front door and, I kid you not, a HAWK was sitting in the center of my front lawn. Never happened before, in decades living here. It turned its head from side to side, then flew away after 20 seconds or so. I saw the distinctive tail feathers. It was a hawk. 

O.K., universe, I get it! It’s a great book! I’m not reading it. H is for "hard pass."

I am not a big believer in omens, but they certainly go way back. Humans have tried to make sense out of randomness forever. Eclipses were interpreted as a sign, abnormal births too. Even, according to one source I read, "the behavior of a sacrificial lamb on the way to the slaughter" was an omen.

Behavior. I'm guessing...oblivious or petrified? Which one was a bad omen for the slaughterer? Maybe if the lamb suddenly starts moonwalking, get out your locust nets? Maybe if, on the way to the slaughter, the lamb runs over and bites the lion in the butt, you know you'd better clean out your rain gutters for the coming frog-pocalypse. 

After the slaughter, things got even wiggier, apparently. They would call in the entrail expert to intuit the future via guts. If the guts looked weird, it was bad news for actors, at least in one culture. I read that if the experts thought signs pointed to the king being in danger, they would put a fake king on the throne until they thought the danger had passed.

Who do you get to play a fake king? An actor. Imagine the casting notice: "Wanted, for a one week to one year run, middle aged, beard preferred, must resemble the currently sitting monarch. There is a stipend, and we absolutely WON'T kill you once your part is no longer needed."

They'd totally kill him. And, to be honest, during the gig, the mead was only so-so. 

I do not think a pristine set of lamb entrails ever ensured a good harvest. It did mean a good dinner that night, at least, and a solid future for mint farmers. 

This is all by way of saying, I'm not going to read that book. 


Monday, September 2, 2019

Rick's van and the Eagles song which turns me 14 again


Just a note to say this week's column is exclusive for my Patreon supporters, who will be reading my riff on the topic of how music, specifically one song on this album, can transport me back in time to a particular moment at age 14. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A reminder to remember

There are two kinds of people in this world; the kind who check their children's pants pockets before doing laundry, and the kind who don't. (All right, there is a third kind, the kind who don't have children, but you are not reading this, because you are golfing.) 

List of people in the first category:

Gandhi
Mother Teresa
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (I'm guessing)

List of people in the second category:

Hitler
Pol Pot
Most of my friends (I'm guessing)

I have always wanted to coin a term for the kind of person I am, the kind who is simultaneously fastidious AND sloppy. Attentive AND oblivious. I am sure my more literate friends are right now screaming the term which already exists and which I can't think of, which is probably "Man! The word is 'man!'" 

I check pockets for important documents before doing laundry. I have never found a kid's mash note or an early draft of the Magna Carta, but I'd feel sick if I pulled one out after a load, the paper pulverized into a wet cylinder. I am fastidious. I am also sloppy. I am someone who has found a three year old "to do" list buried in a stack of my papers on a table, a list of things never accomplished but now rendered irrelevant by time, which is SWEET, let me tell you. 

I write myself notes throughout the day, reminders, things I know I will forget if not committed to paper. These notes pile up at home in several locations, and every couple of months I make a pile of them and transfer all the reminders to a yellow note pad, which I then place on the floor propped against the leg of a coffee table to age like whiskey. 

"Why don't you write notes in your phone instead?" my wife asked recently. This was a good idea, but quickly dismissed on spousal grounds. If you start implementing your spouse's advice, it's a slippery slope. Soon you are putting glasses in the dishwasher correctly, and it's all downhill from there. A husband needs to maintain an aura of bemused disinterest in the  household. I think Kant said that. Or Dave Barry. 

I made an end run around my wife's idea, and googled "best to-do-list apps." I downloaded one and transferred all the tasks from my scraps of paper and yellow pad, both. Now everything I need to remember to do is organized and not littering the house. When I finish a task, I click it and—poof—it disappears. Some of the items involve work that the homestead needs and some are more esoteric; admonitions to do more writing, exercise, taco truck field research. 

Having no excuse when you forget something is a daunting new reality for me. Now my reminders can't fall behind the sideboard or get kicked under a chair. We're in 21st Century George territory. I have resolved to check the app once a day to keep up with things. It's foolproof, too, because I've stuck a Post-It note on the fridge to remind me. 


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Would you Kondo your condo?

Whenever I hear the word "condo," I remember the best use of a condominium reference ever in a movie, in the original "Rocky." Rocky has had success, and a guy is advising him to invest his windfall. "Condominiums," he suggests. Rocky looks left and right, then leans in and, mistaking the word for "condoms," whispers "I never use 'em."

So in recent years when Kondo became a verb I had to smile. By now you have heard of Marie Kondo, home tidying specialist. Her book and TV show on Netflix have been read and watched by millions. To "Kondo" your house is to rid it of junk, and render it organized, user-friendly and joy-inducing. 

Hack! What is that? Oh, a hairball, sorry. 

There has been a predictable backlash by the lazy and the rule-averse, but the truth is, since Kondo-ing I have never had easier access to my underwear. It sits now in a tidy row of little ball shapes like dim sum, next to my little sock balls. These don't take up less room. That would require a shift in physics. But they are easily 80% cuter in there. 

My t-shirts also sit in neat rows on their sides, using the vertical space of the drawer so efficiently I can also fit pants in there now. My previous pants organizing system was to toss them in layers on top of the vinyl-to-digital transfer record player I never used. In the dark, I could find the pants I wanted just by feel. Life was sweet. 

Now my pants are in a drawer, folded tightly. Now I have to remember which drawer. Now I have to see that record transfer thing and feel guilty that it's been sitting unopened on my bedroom floor for five years, next to the unplayed guitar. Worst of all, they say vinyl is coming back, so now can I even get my money back by selling the transfer thing online, or did I miss my window?

Kondo's philosophy is to remove from your dwelling anything which does not "bring you joy." This is a tall order, especially since none of my clothes brought me joy even as I tore the tags off them. I am hoping joy has a slightly different definition in Japanese. Like maybe "the satisfaction which comes from not leaving the house naked." 

I have not gone full Kondo. I have a plastic tub of clothes in the garage, winter clothes at the moment, which in November will be swapped with my Hawaiian shirts and shorts. I am sure I could release some of what's in there to the larger thrift store-frequenting public, but that requires the will to make decisions (see above—lazy and rule-averse.)

Plastic tub manufacturers are enablers, you know that?

The garage itself screams out for Kondo-ing. I expect that small emergency tsunami rafts could be built from all the VHS tapes and forgotten Happy Meal toys alone. As someone who has grown up in a consumer society in the great consumer age, I feel simultaneously the guilt and the paralysis which comes from too much stuff to deal with. I think there should be an app to find other people to come to your garage and brutally, indifferently do what needs doing. And you could go do their garage.

Human nature, of course, suggests that a lot of "Ooh, that's cool, I'm taking that home" would go on, so basically your garage would stay just as full, just with other people's stuff. 

Marie comes off sweetly on TV, and I am sure she means well. I just hope she's not as perfect as she seems. I hope there is one drawer in her house where earth worms could thrive. She has children. I hope every drawer handle in every room is sticky. 

That would bring me joy. 


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Patreon week: Movie titles a-tweaked

What do "Night of the Loving Dead," "Sinnin' In The Rain" and "Schindler's Lisp" all have in common? They are a few of the many movies I describe in this week's Patreon-supporters-only column feed, movies whose meaning changes entirely if you change just one letter in the title... 😄

https://www.patreon.com/George_Waters

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When a chair is a purse

Over the years in a relationship, you form a shorthand, like since shopping for the perfect purse is arduous and time-consuming, anything else that is also those two things my wife and I now refer to as a purse. We went shopping for a a new arm chair Sunday. An arm chair is a purse. 

A chair is a chair, you say. How hard can it be? Well, let me tell you—some swivel. You are either into that or not. In the furniture store it looks like a normal arm chair. You sit down to test it, and you are now facing a different wall. Into it? No. I like a chair that narrows my options, not one that expands them.

We have an old chair whose upholstery is worn out and shredded by a cat we haven't had for a dozen years. It's nice and wide. "Butt and dog wide," as I say, with room for Skipper and me both to rest. But it looks horrendous. 

We went to IKEA, and their stuff is certainly affordable, but they should really stick to things people have to assemble. IKEA selling things which are ready to use as soon as you get them home is an overstep, on a par with that new Orange-Vanilla Coke. 

My wife suggested we go to the expensive furniture store in our town, and I said the chairs over there are $1000, which is a lot, and she said "Not if you prorate it over the life of your butt."

That quote works on so many levels. 

So we went to the nice furniture store, where we had gotten a large Craftsman style entertainment unit 20 years ago. (I like to keep a store guessing about my loyalty.)

They had gorgeous Stickley chairs, leather, the kind with broad wooden arm rests; arms rests which if sold by themselves would cost more than your best suit. If I had a man cave, and a spare $5000, I could see myself in a chair like that. That's real craftsmanship, the kind you don't see any more because you don't make enough.

We were looking for a plush chair with rounded arms. English arms, they are apparently called, and we found a nice one upstairs in the fancy store. The fabric was a dark boring solid, but they had 15 feet of wall space with long hanging fabric samples, which resembled a massive closet for a guy who only ever wears one pant leg. 

The fabric the floor model had was very soft, and we just could not find a different fabric we liked and thought would work with our wine-colored couch. We asked the saleswoman if we could buy the floor model, which had been marked down because its fabric was discontinued, probably because it was dark and boring. She said sure. 

I asked her if there was a discount since it was a floor model. She actually freaking laughed out loud. I thought since a floor model undergoes the wear and tear of multiple butts, that was worth a break on the price. Years ago I bought a patio table/chair combo floor model at OSH, and the manager agreed to knock 10% off, and I was glad I had the audacity to ask. 

The nice furniture store, in business now for more than 80 years, is not OSH. 

We arranged to have the floor model delivered in a week or so. It will fit me and the dog, and is the last arm chair I ever expect to buy in this lifetime. Let the prorating begin. 


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Two life lessons at 14

Parents have a way of teaching you life lessons you don't realize you learned until decades later. My dad taught me two in the same year; the year I turned 14. 

In eighth grade, I was in love with this beautiful tall blonde, Julie. She was 5'11" in eighth grade. I was maybe 5'6". But I found out, amazingly, she was also into me too, not by talking to her; I was way too shy for that. Her best friend told me. Perhaps out of frustration that I wouldn't say anything to her at school, Julie began coming to my church, maybe to give me another shot at sparking something, I don't know. It didn't work. 

One day after youth group, Julie and a couple of my guy friends and I were standing around chatting. Well, they were chatting; I was listening. It's what I did. My dad walked up to take me home. He stood with us for a couple of minutes, then he and I headed out. 

Walking down the sidewalk, he said to me out of the blue, "So...is that your girlfriend?"

My head almost exploded.

I thought for a feverish second that my dad could read minds. I was well into adolescence. I had things in my mind which definitely did not need reading! But I calmed myself. I figured there had to be another explanation. I was noncommittal. I answered as casually as I could, "Why do you ask, Dad?"

He said something I have never forgotten. He said, "The way she was looking at you."

The way she was looking at me?! I was into her and I hadn't noticed she was looking at me in any particular way. Mind blown, because my dad, in my brief 14 years, had never given me any indication, at any point, that he was, in any way, perceptive.

Life lesson number one: 

Dads know.

Later that year, still 14, I started high school. I joined the cross-country team. My dad left work early, a rare treat, to come see me run. Afterwards he was driving me home in his station wagon, my 10-speed thrown in the back. We were coming up on a restaurant we used to go to a lot when I was younger. Betsy Ross. The theme was colonial kitsch, everything red, white and blue. 

Dad asked, "So, do you think you've earned a milk shake? Do you want to stop for a shake?"

I know now, as a father myself, that all he wanted was a little father-son alone time, something which had become very rare. But that never occurred to me at the time. I was a little embarrassed. I was wearing my running uniform, burgundy tank top and burgundy short-shorts. (It was the 1970s.) 

Mentally, I flashed forward to us in the restaurant, sitting at the counter together. I imagined a couple of old ladies at a table watching us, one saying to the other, "Oh look, a father and son out for a milk shake after a sporting event. How adorable."

The last thing I wanted to be at 14 was ADORABLE. I was cool.

So I said something along the lines of "Oh, no, no thanks, Dad, I'm good."

He gave me such a look of incredulity. I had just run two miles! He knew I loved ice cream.  At least I have always hoped it was a look of incredulity, and not one of realization—that I just did not want to be seen with him. 

They say love is the strongest thing a person can feel, but I'll tell you, shame is right up there. After 40+ years, it can still bring tears to my eyes. 

My dad lived to a ripe old age. He lived to 92. But he's been gone for more than a dozen years now. Do you have any idea what I would give to have one more milk shake with that man?

Life lesson number two:

Dads go.

Some of you reading this still have your dad. Call him now. Tell him you want to take him out for a milk shake. Or, if you're lactose intolerant, O.K., a vegan raspberry smoothie. And when he asks "What the hell?" (and he will), just say "George insists."





Sunday, June 9, 2019

Fuhgeddaboutit

I've been binge-watching "The Sopranos," which has resulted in the subliminal effect that whenever someone says something I disagree with now, my mind whispers "Fuhgeddaboutit." 

At the risk of eliciting the kind of gapes one gets when confessing they have never seen "Harry Potter," I had never watched "The Sopranos." Didn't have cable. Heard great things. Never caught up with it until streaming, and the HBO Now app. 

I am probably 20 years late to a lot of things. If we went down that list, you would most likely un-friend me just on general pop-cultural grounds. 

Side note: "Un-friend" is the best compound word since Shakespeare's "Un-sex." 

"The Sopranos" is actually very Shakespearean. You have the flawed hero and his lieutenants, his hangers-on, and the women they keep inventing new ways to disappoint. It's like Greek tragedy, even. The hero is pre-destined to destroy himself and all he holds dear. Humans have always loved watching some other schmuck do this. It makes us feel better about ourselves. 

Side-note: If you never saw it, and you didn't, go find, at a library or on streaming, the James Gandolfini/Julia Louis-Dreyfus movie "Enough Said." It's that rare thing, an adult comedy for and about middle-aged adults, warts and all. It will make you want to go put flowers on Gandolfini's grave.

The World Trade Center's twin towers appear in "The Sopranos" opening credits. Bill Clinton was president. There are references to the Lewinski scandal. Computers in the show are the size of dorm refrigerators. You have to pull up the antenna on your cell phone to take a call. 

Corrupt and violent as they are, the mobsters, raised in the Catholic church, live by very defined rules. In one episode they even take a jab against "moral relativism," against the idea that good and bad can be more than just black and white. Mobsters don't like shades of grey. Audiences love them. Ask Aristophanes. Dig him up. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

I love the mob lexicon. You can ice a guy, or burn him, or even clip him, and he's still just as dead. 

Butt-legging is bootlegging untaxed cigarettes. 

To "come heavy" is to pack heat. 

I had long heard of being "on the lam," but I never knew it was a verb, that you could "lam it," most typically to Boca Raton. 

"Spring cleaning" means getting rid of evidence.

A jamook is a loser, an idiot, who may even be

Oobatz: crazy.

I am only one season in, and of course I know about the iconic final moment of the series, since that was so widely discussed at the time it even reached a non-viewer like me. Knowing I have 60 more hours to watch, many weeks or months, is daunting. How many bees will have been killed by pesticides in that time? How many glaciers melted? Couldn't I spend that time more productively for the world? 

Maybe one season is enough. I got the flavor of the thing. Sixty hours is probably oobatz. Besides, it's summertime, and I never did get around to "Outlander." 


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Wa Pic - Nothingness


"Try our new Flavorless Menu!"

Sunday, May 26, 2019

To George (verb)

We got new name tags at work recently, and my job title was gone. My last tag said "George Librarian," which allowed my library customers to joke that with a last name like that, what other job could I have possibly ended up in? 

Now, due to the ever-unexplained vagaries of city government, it simply says "George." Now I could be anything. Now I could be in Public Works. Code enforcement. Planning. In a way, it is freeing. 

Maybe I should consider "George" my job title now. My new job description? To George. So I have resolved that I will George the crap out of any task given to me. Georging will be the new goal from here on out.

"What are you doing?" a coworker will ask as I settle new DVDs into the New DVDs rack.

"Georging the crap out of these DVDs," I will say. "What are you doing?"

And because she also went from a titled name tag to a name-only one, she will say something along the lines of "I'm about to Jackie the hell out of these periodicals." 

George meant farmer in the old days, but now it can mean anything! Georging has got to be easier than Bobbing, don't you think? That's got to be tough on the neck. Easier than Kenning too. To Ken you have to know stuff. Georging is easier than Billing for sure. And Georging has to seriously beat the heck out of Harrying. I do not think it is even possible to break a sweat Georging. I'll get back to you.

Imagine if Shakespeare had gone a different way:

"To George or not to George. That...well...that is just puffery. When in doubt, by all means George!"

If George as a name goes in the direction I think it soon will, years from now when they ask schoolboys what they want to be when they grow up, instead of cop or fireman or TV talking-head, they will say "George." And the person asking the question will smile, knowing that all things are possible, and surely a kid should aim high. "Good answer," they will say. "Stay in school."

I have had name tag jobs before, and they never had my job title on them. It was always obvious what my job was because of what I was doing. I was delivering plates of food. I was serving up boxes of popcorn and sodas. 

What customer, upon approaching me and my previous name tag and reading my job title, would smack his forehead and say "Wait, seriously? You're behind a desk on the main floor of a library but you are a LIBRARIAN? I thought maybe you were in custodial. Mind BLOWN."

So titles on name tags are mostly a perk, a bit of an ego thing, like the chevrons on a sergeant's sleeve. Ideally, we shed ego as we age, so this name tag revision is a good reminder. Accepting change is hard, but I tell you this—I am going to George the living daylights out of it. 


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Charles is dead. Long live the deer-dog.



Years ago I went to a writers conference at which the humor columnist for USA Today, Craig Wilson, spoke. Craig said that he got the most reader mail, by far, after he wrote about his beloved dog dying. Knowing we would all love a ton of reader mail ourselves, he said something I have never forgotten: 

"A dead dog is GOLD." 

It was dark, so dark, and so self-aware, and we all laughed and felt guilty, and then laughed some more. It was a moment of unselfconscious truth-telling. Yes, our laughter said, bring on that sweet, sweet reader deluge, whatever the cost.

Three months later our family got a dog. 

Our daughter had been begging us for a dog for a long time, but we made her wait until she was 10 years old. Ten, we apparently thought, was the age at which a child is responsible enough to properly watch her parents do all the work a dog requires. 

Skipper was a delight from the start, a rat terrier, white with big brown spots and a loving personality. Is a delight. Skipper is fine. He's, like, 14 years old. It's Charles the Chihuahua who took the H train to Poochville this week. 

Charles we only had a year. We inherited him last summer when my wife's Aunt Sue passed away; our adoption a final weight off her mind. I've written about him here before, he of the single canine tooth and the wheezing/hairball-hacking cough. He of the fainting spells right in the street or right off the side of the couch. He was probably 16, with a heart which thought pumping was only a part-time job. Many's the day in the last year that my wife went off to work expecting to find him expired on her return. 

But there he would be, yipping excitedly, then keeling over on the carpet because lying still on the couch for hours before a sudden, full-mom-welcoming-happy-dance was not a good call at his age. He would lie on his side on the carpet for about a minute, equalizing his blood pressure, before getting up again. He keeled like that about once a month. Every time we thought he was dead. 

Faker. 

Sunday, though, I was grocery shopping and my wife was out at an art exhibit, when I got a text from my son. He tried to put it gently. "I'm pretty sure Charles might be dead." 

The use of "pretty sure" nicely softening the blow, leaving open at least a chance, and the "might" also keeping possibilities in play. My son should work for the government. 

I called him from the produce aisle. "Try pinching him," I said. "He'll respond if he's still alive." 

"O.K.," he said, and I could tell that the last thing he wanted to do was pinch a dead dog. I still don't know if he pinched him or not. He reported with fair certainty that Charles was not getting back up this time.

I got home 15 minutes later and picked up Charles first thing. He always freaked at being picked up, went completely rigid, as if he was sure I was about to juggle him. This time, limp as a noodle. I shook him, because that has worked for my wife's cousin's dog, has brought him magically back to life several times. 

Nothing. I checked his neck for a pulse. I guess that's where you check. Nothing.

His tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth, no teeth to keep it in. I fitted it back inside; it was one of those weird unconscious impulses, like Jackie crawling onto the back of the limo for that piece of JFK's head. I wanted the little velvety-furred, deerlike pup to have his dignity. 

I put him in his doggie bed, the one he rarely tolerated. Waited for my wife, his "Mom," to get home. She was his queen, pawing at her hand whenever her petting paused. Growling if Skipper even considered jumping in her lap when Charles already was. 

Knowing an ancient pet will die soon does not make it any easier, especially if that pet was a fellow witness to your aunt's and mother's deaths in the last year, a little bony, seven-pound fellow traveler. He was a link to them both, and for my wife, letting him go is hard. 

Charles's ashes will mingle with Aunt Sue's soon. Perhaps in Valhalla she is already feeding him bananas, his favorite. 

Sorry, Craig. A dead dog is not gold. But our memories of him will be, as soon as enough time has passed that we forget how he peed on every possible surface within reach. 

. . .

My three previous columns about the dear little deer dog are here: