Prolly a Sprollie

For the past sev­en years, I’ve had a black and white dog by my side. He is called Bud­dy, but I didn’t name him. My friend Julia had asked me to fos­ter him for a few weeks, and since I didn’t plan on keep­ing him, I didn’t both­er com­ing up with a bet­ter name than the one he came with. So he is Bud­dy.image

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He was two years old, and like most res­cued dogs, he must have suf­fered a host of indig­ni­ties and cru­elties, because every chance he got, he ran out the front door and as far as he could go before I caught up with him. He ate through the cage I left him in while at work and he chewed up the blinds and the french doors. He uri­nat­ed if I touched his col­lar. It was clear he didn’t want to be here, and 

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I looked for­ward to giv­ing him back to Julia.
Then one day I fig­ured I’d take him to work with me rather than leave him behind to tear up my loft. That made all the dif­fer­ence. He was still skit­tish, he still had a hard time know­ing where to pee, but he quick­ly became a good boy. And even­tu­al­ly, he became a great dog.

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When I say he has been by my side for sev­en years, I’m not exag­ger­at­ing. When I’m home, he’s nev­er out of my sight, or, more accu­rate­ly, I’m nev­er out of his. When I run up to my bed­room — two flights of stairs either to work or to grab some shoes or a sweater — he runs next to me, nev­er ahead of me, and when I run back down, he does the same. If I for­got my keys and have to run back up real quick, he’s right there. He goes down to the garage with me, out to the mail­box, over toward the kitchen, and if I’ve been ignor­ing him for awhile, he’ll sit behind me on the sofa so my hand has to rest on his ears and give him a rub. When I sleep he jumps on the bed and cud­dles, but soon he jumps off again and sleeps in the hall­way so he can keep an eye on me and on any­body else who might be in the loft too.

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Some­times I have to leave him home to run some errands, which is fine now. No more trau­ma or destruc­tion. But he does go ba-nay-nay nut­balls when I come home, jump­ing on me and run­ning through the house like I’ve been gone for days. Even if that’s hyper, it’s not a bad way to be wel­comed into your own home. I’ve had many good dogs who I love and miss, but Bud­dy is by the far the best dog I’ve ever had and real­ly the best dog I could ever ask for.

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But I have nev­er been able to fig­ure out what sort of dog Bud­dy is. He has the size and some of the col­or­ing of a bor­der col­lie, but he doesn’t have the more aggres­sive­ly shaped head, the crazy hyp­no-eyes, or the herd­ing instinct. My first dog was a Brit­tany Spaniel we called Coco, and I always felt Bud­dy had a lit­tle of that tem­pera­ment. Not because I know spaniels so well, but because Coco and Bud­dy have a lot in com­mon.

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So the oth­er night, when we were walk­ing down Abbot Kin­ney, a wom­an stopped me and asked me what kind of dog Bud­dy is. Before I could say any­thing she said he looks just like their dog, and that she just learned that her dog is a Spro­l­lie. We chat­ted a bit but I didn’t think much of it until I got home and looked up Spro­l­lies online.

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Spro­l­lie” is a term used for dogs that are mix­es of springer spaniels and either col­lies or bor­der col­lies. It’s not an offi­cial breed or any­thing, nor do I think peo­ple are try­ing to cre­ate one. I think it’s just a way of iden­ti­fy­ing their dog, and I have to admit, I’ve nev­er seen so many dogs that look like Bud­dy. This is a dog named Oscar (already con­fus­ing, since my youngest boy is Oskar) and he looks like a close cous­in. May­be even a half broth­er. image

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It’s odd­ly sat­is­fy­ing to know where my dog comes from. It makes me feel like I under­stand him a lit­tle more, it makes me appre­ci­ate his instincts and his lim­i­ta­tions, and it makes me for­get how much I hate words like labradoo­dle and spro­l­lie, so that’s some­thing.

(I) Mean (All) Girls

I heard Tina Fey on Fresh Air today. She was talk­ing about a scene where her char­ac­ter Liz tries to con­vince a new writer, Abby, that she doesn’t have to use a baby voice to get ahead. “You can drop the sexy baby act. And you can use your real voice.”

This is my real voice, and I this isn’t an act. I am sexy, baby. Get used to it.”

Tina goes on to to say, “That, to me, was what the sto­ry was about, that it’s just such a tan­gled-up issue, the way wom­en present them­selves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cov­er of Max­im. And the way wom­en judge each oth­er back and forth for it. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue…”

She also men­tioned the dif­fi­cult reac­tion Olivia Munn had received for hav­ing sexy pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos tak­en for her work on The Dai­ly Show. “If she were kind of an aggres­sive, kind of heav­ier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mus­tache, pos­ing in her under­pants, peo­ple would be like : That’s amaz­ing, good for you. But because she is very beau­ti­ful, peo­ple are like : That’s — you’re using that. It’s just a mess. We can’t fig­ure it out.”

This isn’t new. I’ve heard wom­en com­plain for years about how their harsh­est crit­ics are oth­er wom­en. My most recent ex-wife is beau­ti­ful in a strik­ing way, and more than once I’ve over­heard her friends swear at her under their breath when she walks in the room before giv­ing her a warm wel­come.

Books have been writ­ten, stud­ies com­mis­sioned, class­es taught to explain this Janu­sian behav­ior in wom­en. From the idea that some wom­en have more testos­terone, which makes them more accept­ed by men and less tol­er­ant of a domes­tic life — and which makes them loathed by all the wom­en who have more estro­gen — to the notion that the fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion wasn’t pow­er­ful enough to remain vital among wom­en over time, which reminds me of col­lege lec­tures about how the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion petered out as it hit the jun­gles south of Oax­a­ca. What is in those jun­gles that makes it so hard for the ide­als of fem­i­nism to take hold ? Shoe trees ? Rivers full of skin­ny water ? I nev­er real­ly bought the­se expla­na­tions, but I didn’t have one of my own that was any bet­ter.

But then the oth­er day I was catch­ing up with a friend who is a ter­ri­fic writer and a new mom. She was telling me about a younger male cowork­er who hits on her and who she believes needs help for his sex­u­al “addic­tion”. “It’s revolt­ing. He always talks about ‘bang­ing’ chicks. I always feel so bad for the girl in that equa­tion.”

Absent­mind­ed­ly, I said some­thing like, “Unless she likes it, of course.”

Non­sense. Any wom­an who claims to enjoy sex with­out hav­ing the goal of falling love is delu­sion­al and I can guar­an­tee you she was molest­ed.”

I was pret­ty tak­en aback by that. There wasn’t much use in argu­ing the point since I’m not a wom­an and couldn’t prove to her sat­is­fac­tion that’s so wrong it’s com­i­cal. But lat­er that nigh it struck me how often my wom­en friends explain their feel­ings about a sub­ject by speak­ing for all wom­en.

Hey do you want to go with me to the gun range and shoot some rounds,” I asked one of my wom­en friends. She had nev­er done it before and had no inter­est, which was fine, but instead of say­ing no, she said, “I’m a girl. Girls don’t shoot guns for fun, David. That’s a part of the man-penis-indus­tri­al com­plex,” which I have to admit is a great line. 

Of course wom­en shoot. Even some of her friends shoot, but she doesn’t real­ly acknowl­edge that, or she’ll make a qual­i­fi­ca­tion like, “Of course Katri­na has a gun. She was car­jacked when she first moved to LA.” But that is an excep­tion that proves her rule. I could explain that the shoot­ing range is packed with wom­en on their lunch break who like to let off a lit­tle steam, that shoot­ing a pis­tol is actu­al­ly ther­a­peu­tic and relax­ing. But there is no use in say­ing any­thing like that because there is noth­ing a man can say to con­vince a wom­an she doesn’t speak for all wom­en.

When Oskar was a baby, I often took him with me on errands around town. I can’t remem­ber how many times I was stopped in the mar­ket or at the car wash by wom­en who were con­vinced I was hold­ing him wrong or had swad­dled him incor­rect­ly. “How do you know?” I learned to ask, after hear­ing some­thing like that more than a dozen times.

It’s a wom­an thing. We just know,” they’d say. Nev­er mind that I’ve been a father three times and have changed count­less dia­pers, can swad­dle in my sleep, and know how my sons like to be held so that they are calm and com­fort­able. Nev­er mind that I know many wom­en who would find hold­ing an infant to be nerve wrack­ing and unpleas­ant.

I think why “it’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue” for wom­en like Tina Fey is that wom­en tend to assume all wom­en are the same as they are.

Men don’t do that. A man will crit­i­cize oth­er men, but not because they aren’t like him. Instead, he’ll do it because he has an idea how all men should behave, includ­ing him­self ; more often than not, he’s hid­ing the fact that he isn’t liv­ing up that that ide­al. We aren’t sur­prised that the secret­ly gay Repub­li­can Con­gress­man is a man or that the abu­sive meth addict Priest is a man, because men are Janu­sian in a whole dif­fer­ent way.

What’s wrong with men is prob­a­bly far more tox­ic and dan­ger­ous than what’s wrong with wom­en, but the fix is the same. Stop think­ing we know any­thing about any­body else oth­er than our own self. And even then don’t be too sure.

Don’t Do Me Like That

While Oskar was zoom­ing down the slopes this week­end, I spent a lot of time in the lodge. I am still wait­ing for a skin graft on the back of my left calf to heal, and until then, I can’t wear boots. So instead, I watched Oskar board, and when it got too cold I went into the lodge, and in the lodge I real­ized some things.imageThe first thing is that ski­ing and snow­board­ing are a young man’s game. In three days I met a lot of peo­ple and the only per­son near my age was the 71 year old wom­an who worked in the Guest Rela­tions kiosk. Even the old­er non-ski­ing par­ents were younger than me by a decade. I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s an exer­tion to get up into the moun­tains, espe­cial­ly when you have to put chains on your car in 8° weath­er while your ten year old sits in the car and shiv­ers. Yes, it costs more mon­ey than you think. But there are may­be two or three times dur­ing a typ­i­cal day when the beau­ty and the qui­et of the world sneaks up on you. And that’s more than usu­al­ly hap­pens in a week back home. I can’t wait until next sea­son when I can be up there with my son and enjoy that frosty bliss.

The sec­ond thing is that noth­ing like that hap­pens in the lodge. Ever. Espe­cial­ly when there is a playlist of late 70s rock pumped every­where, indoors and out. I not­ed the fol­low­ing list of songs that played in one twen­ty min­ute stretch : ACDC’s Back in Black, Athena by the Who, Heart­less by Heart, Freewill by Rush, and Stroke Me by Bil­ly Squier. Which is real­ly some­thing if you con­sid­er my first real­iza­tion above. None of the thou­sands of peo­ple on the moun­tain that day were around when that music was new or rel­e­vant. Why has that par­tic­u­lar era of sta­di­um rock ossi­fied into the sound­track of most ice sports ? But the lodge is a great place to drink bad cof­fee, to eat weird­ly deli­cious omelets, to lis­ten to pods of teenagers share sto­ries of sick rails and fucked up falls, and to read.

The last thing I real­ized is that I am sick of being lied to. What I read was Ben­jam­in Schwarz’s “The Real Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis” in The Atlantic Month­ly. I had heard some things over the years about how the truth wasn’t quite what we thought it is, but I nev­er thought it was seri­ous enough to war­rant a seri­ous look. I was wrong.

Schwarz’ arti­cle is a review of Shel­don Stern’s “The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in Amer­i­can Mem­o­ry.” Stern has lis­tened to and stud­ied the Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee tapes record­ed dur­ing the Cri­sis and he reveals that the cri­sis was as much a polit­i­cal cre­ation of the Kennedy broth­ers as it was a gen­uine threat from Khrushchev and the Sovi­ets. Khrushchev didn’t decide to put ICBMs in Cuba out of the blue. The US had deployed Jupiter MRBMs in Turkey in 1961 aimed direct­ly at Moscow. We already had nuclear Thor mis­siles in Britain that could attack the Sovi­et Union. And in 1961, Kennedy launched the failed attempt to oust Cas­tro from Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs. The place­ment of the mis­siles in Cuba were a respon­se to Kennedy’s aggres­sive pos­tures toward the Sovi­et Union and to our nuclear mis­siles in Turkey.

And while Kennedy’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee under­stood this, we were made to see it much dif­fer­ent­ly. The Amer­i­can peo­ple were led to believe that Khrushchev act­ed spon­ta­neous­ly and uni­lat­er­al­ly in a way that threat­ened our coun­try and our exis­tence. While the mis­siles in Cuba looked bad, they were actu­al­ly less of a threat than the many SLBMs that the Sovi­ets had a hun­dred miles off our shores. And we had even more on our subs parked in the Atlantic and the Mediter­ranean. The mis­siles in Cuba would take hours to pre­pare to launch, while the sub-based mis­siles could be in the air and on their way to an Amer­i­can city before NORAD could respond.

Instead of nego­ti­at­ing a mis­sile trade (which Khrushchev him­self had sug­gest­ed, because he nev­er real­ly believed that his actions were any­thing more than a tit for tat move toward equi­lib­ri­um), Kennedy pre­sent­ed the Sovi­ets with an ulti­ma­tum that promised anni­hi­la­tion if the Cuban mis­siles were not removed.

I was born a few months before this all went down. I was a tiny Amer­i­can, voice­less and unaware that the world’s fate hung in the bal­ance. And I wasn’t the only one. Mil­lions of babies, chil­dren, and peo­ple all around the world were pawns in the hands of a hand­some mega­lo­ma­ni­ac and his less hand­some coun­ter­part. Great Britain, France, and oth­er coun­tries were dis­mayed that a nuclear show­down had occurred when it could have eas­i­ly been nego­ti­at­ed and resolved through nor­mal diplo­mat­ic chan­nels.

Stern recounts how Kennedy even­tu­al­ly accept­ed the nego­ti­at­ed mis­sile trade, but he insist­ed it nev­er become pub­lic knowl­edge. His broth­er returned or destroyed all cor­re­spon­dence on the mat­ter in case it ever came back to bite him lat­er in his polit­i­cal career. Kennedy even kept it a secret from most of his cab­i­net and his Vice Pres­i­dent. He unnec­es­sar­i­ly drove us to the brink of nuclear war and then he cov­ered up his acqui­es­cence in order to appear like a bad ass — forc­ing the Sovi­ets to pull out or face destruc­tion.

This is all bad enough, but Schwarz points out that this kind of blus­tery pos­tur­ing became the tem­plate for most of our impor­tant for­eign pol­i­cy over the next 50 years. Rea­gan and Bush espe­cial­ly are famous for their tough talk and unwill­ing­ness to nego­ti­ate for peace. It’s become axiomat­ic that in order for Amer­i­ca to be strong we have to be will­ing to go to the brink and nev­er back down. And that’s utter bull­shit. Kennedy didn’t do that, but he nev­er allowed the truth to be revealed, and now his lies have put count­less more Amer­i­can lives either in dan­ger or in ear­ly graves.

When I was ten years old, the same age my son is now, I remem­ber my moth­er cry­ing as she watched Richard Nixon resign the Pres­i­den­cy in dis­grace. She was dis­traught because it was incon­ceiv­able to her that the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States could be a liar. Let that sink in for a sec­ond. Thir­ty-eight years ago, peo­ple wept because they real­ized that the Pres­i­dent lied to them. That seems laugh­ably naïve now. But clear­ly I must have had a resid­u­al flake of par­ti­san naiveté left some­where inside, because while I didn’t cry, I def­i­nite­ly want­ed to yell and scream when I learned that our gold­en boy Pres­i­dent was just as impeach­able, if not more, than Tricky Dick Nixon.

I prob­a­bly should have yelled, because nobody would have heard me over the Tom Pet­ty song in the lodge.

It Might Be Gaining On You

I saw “Don’t Look Back” for the first time when I was going to school at Berke­ley. It was play­ing at the great old UC The­ater (the same place where Wern­er Her­zog ate his shoe) as a mid­night movie. I was liv­ing kind of far away from cam­pus (which can be said for every school I ever attend­ed) so I drove my car. I remem­ber leav­ing the the­ater with my nerves jan­gling and ideas fly­ing out of my eyes. I had seen ver­ité doc­u­men­taries before but noth­ing hit me like this one. And I loved the title, may­be even more than I loved the movie. Nico­las Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” had a title that car­ried a dread­ful promise that the movie deliv­ered exquis­ite­ly. But “Don’t Look Back” was clean. Stop liv­ing in the past. There are no answers behind you. Just live. I couldn’t get those words out of my head. But why do I remem­ber this 25 years lat­er ?

Well, because while dri­ving home after 2 in the morn­ing, I ran a red light and got a tick­et. This led to traf­fic school a mon­th lat­er at the Sheriff’s sta­tion around the cor­ner from the the­ater on MLK Dri­ve. And I remem­ber that par­tic­u­lar monot­o­ny for two rea­sons.

First, I remem­ber the Sher­iff want­ed to kill time by ask­ing each of us what we did wrong to end up in traf­fic school and how each of the thir­ty or so peo­ple in the room made sure to explain that although they were cit­ed for this or that infrac­tion, they actu­al­ly didn’t do it ; the Sher­iff didn’t seem to find this hilar­i­ous, and when it was my turn, and I said “I ran a red light,” he asked me, “And.…?”

That’s all. I did it.”

He rolled is eyes and said, “No shit.” I had thought he’d be impressed with my will­ing­ness to admit my guilt, but he clear­ly thought I was a dick for not play­ing the game. I didn’t under­stand this at all then, but I can see his point now. After all my answer only burned 30 sec­onds of the 8 hour class. If I had lied and protest­ed my inno­cence it could have tak­en a full 3 min­utes — may­be more if some of my class­mates pre­tend­ed to not to under­stand my sto­ry and asked ques­tions.

Sec­ond, a wom­an sit­ting next to me hand­ed me some home made brown­ies after the halfway break. Berke­ley. Brown­ies. You get it. I didn’t, though, and by the end of the fifth hour, I was trip­ping balls. I kept try­ing to get her atten­tion to ask her what the hell ? But she had decid­ed to spend her wan­ing hours of san­i­ty doo­dling on the back of her hand. At that point I had nev­er tried any drug, and I’d been drunk exact­ly once. Now I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing in the Sheriff’s Depart­ment. Plus I had to dri­ve home.…

I under­stand the con­tra­dic­tion here. I just wrote that I adopt­ed the phrase “Don’t look back” as a per­son­al cre­do, and here I am turned all the way around. But the truth is, I didn’t real­ly adopt that idea so much as I real­ized I could use it to explain my already selec­tive mem­o­ry.

I can remem­ber that film — Dylan putting up with and shut­ting down reporters, Dono­van, Baez, and syco­phants, Dylan tear­ing a hole through the silence at Roy­al Albert Hall — and I can remem­ber that late night tick­et and all that traf­fic school jazz. But I can­not remem­ber the names of any of the friends I made there, or the name of the kind and sad wid­ow who rent­ed a room to me. I can remem­ber spilling a buck­et of paint on her floor while prim­ing the trim. I can remem­ber watch­ing Miami Vice with her one night when she was cry­ing, and I can remem­ber rid­ing in her Porsche as she raced through Oak­land where her hus­band used to work, but I can’t recall her name. I remem­ber my par­ents divorced that year, but I can’t remem­ber my reac­tion to the news. I remem­ber being crazy about a girl who didn’t want to be with me any­more, but I can’t remem­ber why. And if I were to ask my fam­i­ly or friends (if I could recall their names) about that year, I’m sure they would have sto­ries of things I did or said that I will be news to me.

So it has always been easy to turn this strange mal­a­dy on its ear : “The past is done. The future is lat­er. What mat­ters is now.” Mem­o­ries are for chumps. Inter­nal­ize and get on with it. That kind of brag­gado­cio coa­lesced nice­ly with anoth­er cre­do I had grown fond of : bold­ness and igno­rance. You can slide through life pret­ty nice­ly like that for a few years, but soon­er or lat­er you will run up again­st some­thing clas­sic (betray­al, dis­ap­point­ment, fail­ure, loss, death, and so on )and just implode.

The thing is, Dylan nev­er said “Don’t look back,” in the film, nor did he ever, as far as I know, espouse liv­ing a life with­out ref­er­ence, all now and no then. In fact, I learned much lat­er that D.A. Pen­nebak­er took the title from base­ball leg­end Satchel Paige’s six­th rule for stay­ing young : “Don’t look back, because some­thing might be gain­ing on you.” The depen­dent clause will bite you in the ass every time.

And if you think about it, it’s bad advice. A very smart guy I know used to say that “it’s not enough to plan where you want to go. Check your mir­rors, because what you fear the most might not be ahead of you — it might be com­ing up from behind.”

That’s some­thing I’ve learned slow­ly, lat­er than I should have, but ear­ly enough to still do some good. Look back, I’d say, because some­thing is always gain­ing on you. At least that way, you stand a fight­ing chance of get­ting out of the way.