b Papa Dog's Blog: February 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Monday, February 28, 2005

Days of Being Busy

There are two kinds of people in the world. Well, no. I’m quite sure there are more than two kinds of people in the world. But for the sake of this particular facile bit of glibness, there are only two: those who thrive on being busy and normal people like you and me. I used to think I was like you and me, but recent history rather points in the other direction; so if you’re like you and me, I guess that means you’re on your own now. I haven’t yet turned into one of those people who suddenly decide to take up Slavic languages, jet skiing, and ornithology in their spare time – for one thing, I still don’t want to go outside – but I have for whatever reasons been setting myself up for a lot of plate-spinning this past month—and it was a short month, so there was even less time to cram it all in. I just picked up another freelance client the other night and now I think I’m officially at the point where I’m stretched as thin as I go.

When I first started thinking about it, there was a danger this post might devolve into me whining about how busy I am. Then I remembered a quotation that showed up recently in A Word a Day. It’s from somebody named H. Jackson Brown, Jr. Anybody know who that is? Well, whoever he is, he came up with the right quote for this post. It does a little something like this: “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” It put me in mind of the time I did the tour of Abraham Lincoln’s house in Springfield, IL . I noticed that his home was located just a couple of blocks from the old State Legislature, where he served before becoming the last good Republican President. “No wonder he got so much done,” I said to Ambrose as we walked the short distance between the two. “He had like a five minute commute.”

In other things… I know a lot of you were probably breathing a sigh of relief last week when I finally stopped talking about 69 Love Songs, but I’ve been continuing to listen to it kind of obsessively at work and have been gaining an ever greater appreciation for tracks I hadn’t particularly noticed before. I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t at some point take a moment to mention the sublime contradiction that is Papa Was a Rodeo. This track pretty much summarises what Stephin Merritt et al. achieved in this remarkable group of songs; they found a way to be simultaneously moving and ridiculous. The song is a loopy parody that also happens to be just plain beautiful. Take the chorus, for example: “Papa was a rodeo, Mama was a rock ‘n’ roll band/I could play guitar and rope a steer before I learned to stand/Home was anywhere with diesel gas, love was a trucker’s hand/Never stuck around long enough for a one night stand/Before you kiss me you should know/Papa was a rodeo.” Impossible to take seriously, right? But if you get the album or track down one of those newfangled mp3s and listen to the track, you’ll hear what I mean. They play it with such absolute conviction that the universality of the emotions expressed, the alienation and loneliness, makes it seem kind of incidental that it’s about a drifter spawned by a horse show and a rock band. Here’s a secret for you: to succeed, comedy and drama have to follow a lot of the same rules, paramount among them being that you have to approach the characters and the situations absolutely seriously. However silly the premise, you have to follow its implications logically. So your papa was a rodeo and your mother was a rock ‘n’ roll band? What kind of childhood does that suggest? What kind of fucked up adulthood is going to result? End result: a lovely, moving song that you just have to laugh at. Aw, man. Now I’m going to be humming it all night.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Watching the Oscars with the Baby

Well, that’s another night long in the planning stages done with. We just spent the night eating unwisely (big bowl of popcorn instead of a proper supper) and trying to keep Baby Dog pacified while we watched the Academic Awards, pool ballots clutched before us all the way. Mama Dog did really well at the start of the evening, going something like seven or eight in a row without getting one wrong. She started to run into trouble when the documentary shorts and such were announced, and wouldn’t you know it the same damn guy who won last year started to pull commandingly into the lead. I was very surprised to find myself overtaking Mama Dog in the late stages of the evening. I had entered two ballots, one assuming not a sweep but a preponderance for Million Dollar Baby, the other assuming not a sweep but a preponderance for The Aviator. Last year’s winner did indeed end up taking it again, with 18 out of 24 correct. My Million Dollar Baby ballot came in second, with 17 correct. And that guy who works for Microsoft came in third with 16 correct. Mama Dog also had 16 correct, but unfortunately the way the pool works, that only got her fourth place; ties are broken according to how high up on the ballot is the player’s first missed category. Mama Dog had her money on Annette Bening for Best Actress, whereas Microsoft guy put his down on Hillary Swank. At least my second-place spot means our household finishes in the money.

This is the first year since I started running the pool that we haven’t even invited anyone over to watch the show with us. That never used to work out anyway…we had a good crowd one year, and then every time after that we’d have a bunch say they were coming and then only have one or two show up. This year it was just us Dogs, and it was kind of nice. Baby Dog was a bit on the cranky side, but we jury-rigged solutions, like dragging the high chair into the living room and feeding her there with her back to the TV so we could still watch the show and she wouldn’t be distracted by it. Later, when she was going to bed and needed shushing, she picked the perfect time to do it – during the boring Jean Hersholt Award presentation, which was followed by the Montage for the Dead. I was able to shush her to sleep without missing any of the awards.

That Montage of the Dead thing is weird, isn’t it? How long have they been doing that now? It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, I think. It’s nice that they acknowledge the passing of important figures in cinema from the previous year, but it’s weird the way people clap for each dearly departed film clip. Is that appropriate? I know the intent is to show respect or affection or something, but it ends up looking like their applauding the fact that the person died. It’s like “Yay, Elmer Bernstein’s dead!” “Woo hoo, we’re finally rid of Fay Wray.

Well, believe it or not I still have some freelance work to do tonight, so this lame post is going to be it. See you tomorrow. And next year, you should all enter this thing.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

White Morning, Silver Bus

There’s an image that’s been locked in my head more than twenty years now, of a bus coming out of the fog on a very cold winter morning. This would have been somewhere in the winter of 1982-1983, the year I pretended to go to college. I was standing at a bus stop in Millwoods, which was the outermost burb of Edmonton. It’s the place the suburbs went to die and get frozen in amber.* I was waiting for the bus to take me to the early chem class I wasn’t attending, and I was eager to get to campus so I could have a little nap on one of the high-backed chairs in the library. The buses came infrequently to those outer reaches, and on a cold morning a late bus could be a matter of great concern. This was a very cold morning, the kind where it way past too cold to snow. If you hail from temperate southern climes such as Montana or Vermont, you probably don’t have much experience with such days, so take it from me, they’re cold.

I was standing there in my parka,** watching my breath, looking at the fog bank that was cutting off the street the bus would come up. I could see for two blocks with crisp, startling clarity, then nothing. The world disappeared into whiteness. I was the only person out at that hour, and the burbs were eerily quiet. Everything was white, or seemed like it.

The bus came out of that fog like it had been conjured. It glided towards me, silver on white. In my memory now it’s something like a fish in Arctic water, smooth, somehow silent, curving gracefully through the blue-white dawn. There’s something about very cold air that gives the objects with in it a hyper-real focus. The bus seemed otherworldly. I was, for a split second, frightened of it. Then it pulled up to my stop and I saw that like any other bus in Edmonton, it was driven by a lumpy old man dreaming of coffee and donuts at the Red Rooster, and I got in.

I’ve wanted ever since to write something about that bus. At first – because that’s the sort of thing I was into at the time and because of my strangely unsettled reaction to the sight, I assumed it had to be a horror story. Thank god I never wrote that. I’m still not sure why that image has lingered in my head for all these years. In Citizen Kane, Bernstein had his ferry girl. I have my ETS bus trailing barely visible exhaust in a strange little pocket of cold clarity. If I was going to invest the bus with more literary meaning than it merits and myself with more self-knowledge than I possessed, I’d say I took it as some sort of omen, some sort of spirit of Christmas yet to come offering up a silent rebuke of the pointlessness of my little scholastic charade. But no, it was just a bus, and I was just a kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life but didn’t know what he didn’t want to do with it either, and the rest of that pretend year went on by smoothly, like the empty bus I rode out of the suburbs.
*Ignore that if you’re a relative of mine who still lives there. I’m sure I was just a bitter young malcontent at the time and it’s very nice now.

**I had an argument once with a guy from San Diego who talked about the scooter mods there wearing their parkas. I pointed out to him that if anybody ever wore a parka in San Diego, it would kill them. It was a word-borrowing problem. “Parka” has a very specific definition, involving a fur-lined hood and enough insulating animal by-product to keep you alive while ice-fishing on Baffin Island. The garment that San Diego guy was talking about was something like this. That’s not a parka. That’s a jacket. That’s a windbreaker for posing and riding around on your little scooter. This is a parka.

Friday, February 25, 2005

People Wrangling, Then and Now

The Friday before the Oscars is always the busiest day of the year for me. Most of the ballots for my Oscar pool come in on Thursday and Friday, and I have to transcribe the selections and email them back out for the entrants to double-check. Unfortunately, most of the ballots don’t just “come in,” especially the ones from my biggest demographic group, office folk. I have to be a one-man hunting expedition, beating the underbrush, firing the shot, and bagging the prey all by myself. I start off slow, with a series of email reminders – one on the Monday saying “this is the last week,” one on the Thursday saying “only today and tomorrow” and then one on Friday saying “this is it!” Then on Friday afternoon I actually get up and move about the office – like, away from my desk. I go to parts of the floor whose existence remains for me largely mythical the rest of the year. I approximate an ingratiating smile. I talk to everyone. Newer hires look on with startlement, learning for the first time that I’m capable of speaking. This year required me to go to further extremities for lesser returns. I was talking today with another guy who also wrangles votes for an Oscar pool every year. “Have you noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm this year?” I asked. He had. We’ve both had to really work to get even regulars to enter. What’s the deal? Didn’t anybody go to the movies this year?

I was thinking tonight about why it is I make these extra chores for myself…organising Oscar pools and birthday surprises and blogging every damn day. There’s apparently something I like about organising a complicated event and making it run like clockwork. I was trying to think back to childhood, to remember when I first started people wrangling. I know when I was ten or so, I started something called “The Detective’s Club.” The concept was a little shaky, because it had nothing to do with detection. I suppose I called it that just because I liked to read detective stories. I don’t really remember. I don’t think we ever had a proper mission statement. So far as I can recall, the only requirement for membership was to give me a dollar to help me pay for photocopying the membership cards and the newsletter, which I did over at the library on scary thermal paper for a nickel a pop. I think all you got for your membership was a membership card and a subscription to the newsletter. I don’t remember what was in the newsletter. Profiles of the people who had membership cards, I think. "Here, give me a dollar and I’ll give you a newsletter that tells you a little bit about yourself." Come to think of it, that’s marketing genius – people love reading about themselves. It’s just kind of impractical for penetrating a market larger than five other sixth graders who also have limitations to their social horizons.

So now the entry fee has gone up tenfold and you don’t get a newsletter, but you get to place a wager on the outcome of a silly TV show, and if you click on the link in my email signature, you could maybe end up reading a little bit about yourself.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

We All Start Out As Grifters

I can tell you the exact moment when my sense of myself as a father changed from the abstract to the concrete. For a man, a birth in the offing is (to state the obvious) not the same experience it is for a woman. A woman has the better part of a year to grow accustomed to the life growing within her. Except in the odd case you read about in the seedy inner pages of a respectable newspaper or in banner headlines on a tabloid, where some (usually) obese and (often) not very bright and (always) young woman pops out a pup she didn’t know she was carrying, a woman can’t help but know in a definitive way about the incipient dependent in the womb. In contrast, it’s my observation that a lot of men who are otherwise very realistic and grounded and committed to an upcoming parenthood still manage on some level to view their partner’s pregnancy as the sort of thing that could possibly one day when they get around to it result in a baby that might require a bit of attention (but that’s a thought they can deal with later). It’s a weird bit of double-think; you know the baby’s coming, you’re looking forward to the baby coming, you’re making plans for when the baby’s coming – but somehow you’re not quite entirely convinced that there really is a baby coming. In this respect, I was not that much unlike the other guys.

I finally turned that corner – probably much like a lot of the other guys – while I was cooling my heels outside the OR, waiting for the surgical team to assemble. Mama Dog was inside being prepped, and I wasn’t allowed in yet. I had nothing to do but sit on a chair in a hallway and think about what was happening, and that’s when it struck me – “Oh! This is the baby arrival part of the pregnancy process!” I jumped to my feet and actually paced, like an expectant father in a 1940s screwball comedy.

When Baby Dog was born, the nurse called me over to the sink, where she was washing the blood and goo off our new little girl. I was left alone for a moment with the child while the nurse went to assist in stitching up the mother. I wasn’t sure what to do. This is so weird to imagine now, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to touch my daughter. She was crying, and I didn’t know what to do. I leaned down and said the words I’d been whispering to Mama Dog’s belly for months: “Hi, Baby Dog,* it’s Daddy.”

Later, in the recovery room, we introduced Gran to her new grandchild. I went into the hall to call various friends and relatives. I was halfway across the ward, partway through my third or fourth phone call, when I realised that the persistent, incredibly loud screaming I kept hearing was coming from my daughter. Alta Bates is a veritable baby factory – I don’t remember how many pop out of there per day, but it’s a bunch. Of all those screaming newborns, my little girl was the absolute loudest. She could be heard from one end of the hospital to the other. “Listen,” I said to whichever relative I was talking to, “that’s her. She’s got some lungs.”

I hurried back to the recovery room, feeling weird little jump cuts in my perception, kind of like I’d been on a bender rather than a birthin’. Somebody put Baby Dog in my arms. I’d been kind of nervous about this moment because it had been a good twenty years since I’d held a baby anywhere close to that small, but it turned out I remembered how to do it. Baby Dog screamed and screamed and screamed. I rocked her in my arms and made soothing noises at her. She screamed…and then she yawned and went to sleep. I looked up, wide-eyed and grinning like a volunteer from the audience surprised to find he’d performed a magic trick. That was the moment I knew for certain that I was a father.

There’s a certain type of pet enthusiast – maybe you know one or are one yourself – who will make the argument that dogs and cats are actually smarter than people because it’s the people who serve the animals. We feed them, we clean up after them, we take care of their medical needs, and in return we get to have our furniture scratched and covered with hair. Good deal! I don’t buy this argument because, frankly, no matter how much unpaid labour it may get from me I’m still smarter than anything that licks its own asshole. But still…a similar argument can be made for a newborn. Who’s working for whom in that arrangement?

There’s a wonderful bit in David Mamet’s House of Games where the character played by Joe Mantegna explains the significance of the term “con man.” That’s short for “confidence man.” That’s not because you put your confidence in them, Mantegna’s character says, it’s because they put their confidence in you. He illustrates with a quick con where he pretends to be in some sort of financial distress at Western Union. As part of the con, he gives what appears to be all his money to his mark; this act of faith, this placing of confidence, convinces the mark that Mantegna can be trusted, and at that point the mark might as well say goodbye to all of his own money. It's human nature. We'll do anything for somebody who puts their trust in us.

That first day of Baby Dog’s life, when she fell asleep in my arms, trusting me completely with her brand-new life and however unconsciously investing me with all the confidence it’s possible for one human being to have in another, my little girl conned me for life. Up until then, I’d been a theoretical father. She snoozed in certain safety and comfort, and forever after I would be a Daddy.
*Actually, I said her name, which we’d known for months.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Wee Unnecessary Clarification

For those who don’t dig into the comments, here’s what Charles said about my post from earlier today:

“Wait, wait, wait. Just this week you tried to reassure your readership that there's no reason to be paranoid about your obsessive tracking of hits and now you're attacking one of the readers hitting your site (albeit with the use of good deductive logic). Are you trying to win a job in the Homeland Security office?”

A good point, and one that requires clarification lest I once again cause everyone to flee in terror from my obsessive curiosity. I know that the people who read this stuff regularly are fine upstanding folk, and I wouldn’t dream of bugging their homes or helping myself to their credit reports, even if I knew how. People who come in through random weird search criteria, though – particularly the ones who come in from Yahoo! – are fair game for mockery. I’m frankly baffled when I see that somebody has searched Yahoo!* for “dog’s (sic) fucking my neighbor (sic) in the ass” and then clicked on what’s obviously a site written by a new father talking about how his daughter is the centre of the cosmos. Such a person deserves any and all reserves of sarcasm at my disposal, if for no other reason than their abuse of the noble apostrophe. As for those who come to evaluate my consumer opinions at the bidding of their corporate masters, they, like the contractors on the Death Star, knew the dangers when they signed up for the job.

My main point, though, bears repeating: THAT CASCADE PURE RINSE STUFF BLOWS!!!

(And of course I'd consider working for the Department of Fatherland Security, but it's as unlikely that any government job could meet my extravagent salary demands as it is that I could ever pass even the earliest stages of the screening process. In fact, I think I already blew my interview by calling it "Fatherland Security" here.)
*For some reason, it’s always Yahoo! – hence the name, I suppose.

P&G Cares What I Think. I Guess.

It’s pretty unlikely this will be as interesting to anyone else as it is to me, but a stranger came to the faversham early this morning via an unlikely Technorati search. The parameters were: “dishwasher cascade.” I had to follow the search results to remember how that related to me; about a month ago, I did a post where I mentioned how a Cascade product had messed up our silverware. Hard to believe, but that one little mention placed me at the top of Technorati’s relevance list for “dishwasher cascade.” Anyway, the thing that interested me was when I looked at the Hostname of the person who had run that search. It was someone at “pg1px.pg.com.” If that means nothing to you, don’t worry, it meant nothing to me either; but I was curious enough to take a peek at www.pg.com and found - as you did if you followed that link – that it’s Procter & Gamble, the makers of, among a zillion other things, that farshtinkener silver-ruining Pure Rinse Cascade - which I must remind you all again NOT TO BUY. Anyway, my guess – and correct me if I’m wrong – is that somebody at P&G is getting paid to look at blogs and see how the various products are being represented there. I hope it’s a customer service effort rather than a crypto-fascist gathering of data for the quashing of dissent, because, in case you missed it the first time: THAT PURE RINSE CASCADE STUFF IS SILVER-TARNISHING CRAP!!!

(P&G, by the way, was (when I lived there) the big industrial employer in my old not-quite-home town. Somebody else owns the mill now, I've heard.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Struggle to Speak Freely

Charles is visiting. Already a curmudgeonly old man at twenty when we first met him, he seems to have mellowed considerably at 26. This is his first time in town since Baby Dog was born, and he says our blogs have given him a new appreciation of children. For that alone I guess we’ve rendered some sort of public service.

We got talking a little bit about the development of consciousness and how having a baby is a wonderful opportunity to observe how the most basic kinds of learning take place. I remember last time Ambrose was down here saying something to him about Baby Dog having started out as a lump of meat that screamed. That’s putting it brutally of course, but not exactly inaccurately. I loved the little lump of meat with all the power at my disposal, but it was pretty inescapable that her level of awareness was pretty limited. She could cry and eat and sleep and poop, and that was pretty much the extent of it. Now we have a little girl who looks a new person in the eye with a penetrating gaze, undeniably connecting, in that way described by the robot guy in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control: “I know that you are. You know that I am.” In the last month she’s learned not just to eat solid foods but to feed them to herself. We’ve been able to watch her master, step by step, the act of getting a single Cheerio from her highchair tray into her mouth, all by herself. She quickly figured out how to pick them up, but ran into trouble when trying to get them from hand to mouth; she’d open her fist and gravity would take its course. She experimented. She identified the problem and adapted to achieve a solution. She still ends up sitting on more Cheerios than she eats, but more and more are making their way into her mouth, and she really seems all the more delighted to be eating having done it by herself. She has moved from a vocabulary made up entirely of cries to laughing and cooing and babbling and – okay, this is kind of strange, but panting. On what seems a daily basis she’s adding consonants to her repertoire, having debuted both dadadadada and mamamamama in the last week and a half. She’s forming complex strings of syllables, and though there’s no discernable meaning to most of what she says, its clear that such meaning isn’t long in the offing. I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of having conversations with her that don’t consist entirely of me describing what I’m doing or telling her what a pretty girl she is or how wet her diaper has become. Her skills at locomotion aren’t quite as far along as they might be – not unusual in a larger baby – but still, she’s come a long long way. She can sit up quite well, though she’ll pitch over to one side as soon as she spots something to reach for. She can roll over from front to back or back to front. She’s not ready to crawl yet, but it’s easy to see that’s coming. She does something that’s almost crawling on her Gymini. She’ll push herself along with her hands, trying to get something that’s out of reach, and end up rotating on her stomach like a minute hand. It’s just going to take one little intuitive leap for her to turn that into linear (not necessarily forward) motion.

How far we’ve come. And how far yet to go.

In other struggles: This is Free Mojtaba and Arash Day in the blogosphere. We have here potentially the most thoroughly democratizing forum for communication in the history of the human race, where we can all have our say about the sacred, the profane, the profound, and the mundane. Naturally, that’s a threat to ayatollahs, just as it’s a threat to commissars and corporate crooks and plutocrats and prigs. Its up to us to guard this weird sprawling mess of free expression before it’s quashed or banned or co-opted or neutered. Let’s see if, at least for today, we can all stick together on this.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Goodbye, Kentucky's Rose

Goodbye HST
Though I never knew you at all
You had the balls to tell the world
Of its own ugliness
The greedheads you knew back then
The ones who made you so insane
Looks like they never left us
Or even changed their names

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a blowtorch in a squall
Always singeing your own casing
When the wind turned back
And it would have scared me to have known you
But I’d have liked to just the same
Your fuel burnt out way too early
And that’s the fucking shame

Honesty is tough
But that’s the role you had to play
The one who always told the truth
But did it in a crazy way
And these kids today
So detached and undeclared
They get that you were angry
But not that you really cared

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a blowtorch in a squall
Always singeing your own casing
When the wind turned back
And it would have scared me to have known you
But I’d have liked to just the same
Your fuel burnt out way too early
And that’s the fucking shame
Goodbye HST
Though I never knew you at all
You had the balls to tell the world
Of its own ugliness

Goodbye HST
From a guy who read you as a kid in Canada
Who sees you as something more than gonzo
More than just our mad Raoul Duke

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a blowtorch in a squall
Always singeing your own casing
When the wind turned back
And it would have scared me to have known you
But I’d have liked to just the same
Your fuel burnt out way too early
And that’s the fucking shame

And it would have scared me to have known you
But I’d have liked to just the same
Your fuel burnt out way too early
And that’s the fucking shame

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Worst. Job. Ever.

Somebody else was blogging yesterday about crappiest jobs. I’ve had a few. Things I’ve done for a living, in what I’m pretty sure is chronological order (some concurrent with one another, and some rather stretching the definition of “making a living”): clerk/typist, bartender, groundskeeper, blackjack dealer, carpet cleaner, record store clerk, writer/editor/publisher of comic books, warehouseman, comic shop clerk, secretary, word processor, newspaper columnist, door-to-door salesman, temp, word processor again, secretary again, temp again, word processor again, temp again, secretary again, graveyard shift clerk at an hourly-rates motel (I have a few stories from that one), temp again, data entry clerk, accountant, word processor again, freelance word processor, word processor one more time, and freelance word processor on the side. I may be forgetting a few here, but clearly, I’ve mostly been processing words. You can generally tell how much I hated a job by the length of time I lasted before quitting. I was a blackjack dealer for two weeks. I was a groundskeeper for four days. I was a door-to-door salesman for three. That there would be the winner, and it’s not really much of a contest.

Those of you who know me are probably surprised I ever had such a job in the first place. It’s well known that I’m a) shy around strangers and b) of the belief that sales is the root of all evil. I’m not a natural candidate to go around convincing strangers that they should buy crap they don’t need. I had a couple of compelling reasons for taking the job. One was that I hadn’t worked in about six months and had exhausted my supply of last-minute miracles to get the rent paid. Another was that the ad in the paper said “No experience necessary,” which made it exactly the right ad for the level of confidence I was feeling at the time. Also – and this is one of the more counterintuitive things about me – although I’m generally as cautious and shy and tentative as I keep saying I am, every now and then I’ll try out something I’ve never done before just to see how it works for me. At this particular time, that was getting to be the rule more than the exception.

Anyway. That’s why I took the job. How did I get the job? I met their rigorous screening process: I showed up. It turns out they ran that ad continuously, hiring a new crop of salespeople every week. They’d take ten or twenty or thirty or however many new salespeople, pair them off with an experienced seller, and send them out on the streets. Since the salespeople worked strictly on commission, they weren’t out anything by taking them on. Those who could, sold. Those who couldn’t went home and looked at the classified a little more carefully. The head office was a warehouse crammed with crap bought in bulk lots from overseas. You never knew what you were going to be peddling. In my three days I did leather shoulder bags and flashlights (odd combination, but that’s what they had), fake alligator skin briefcases, and a few other things I can’t now remember.

The crop of salespeople they’d hire every week always skewed young, mostly people still in or freshly out of high school. This was 1991, when I lived in Vancouver. At 27, I was pretty much the old man in my bunch. One of their rules was that all men had to wear ties. If you didn’t have one, they’d supply one, just like at a country club. I was one of the few new people who showed up wearing a tie my first day there. I watched as the manager handed out tie after tie, showing several young men how to tie them. “This is a big part of my job,” he said, “teaching how to tie a tie.”

Needless to say, I sucked as a door-to-door salesman. Like the best, I lacked all conviction. I didn’t want to bother people in their homes or places of employment. I didn’t want to overcome resistance that was in place for good reason. I hardly sold a thing. The one day I did fairly well was because they sent me to work my own neighbourhood. I just went into all the places I usually frequented – the salon where I got my hair cut, the coffee shop where I spent my unemployed days, the stores and restaurants where my face was known. I went up to people I knew and said, “Hey, look, I finally got a job, and I’m selling useless crap! Do you want some?” To help me out, or because they thought it was funny, or because they really did like the leather bags, they bought. The other two days I hardly sold a thing.

For most of my three-day tenure, I was paired up with a kid who was 20 or 21 and was one of the company’s star hustlers. I can’t remember his name, so I’m just going to call him Slick, which I’m sure is how he liked to think of himself. He had moussed hair and a little wispy attempt at a moustache and knew how to tie his own tie. He clearly thought of himself as an operator and just as clearly didn’t see how seedy he already was at 21. I wanted to grab him by the throat and sit him down and make him watch Glengarry Glen Ross (I guess the movie version wasn’t out yet, but I could have showed him a stage production). He revelled in penny-ante rule breaking, anything to give him an advantage. We worked an office building together. At one door I pointed to a prominently placed sign reading “No solicitors.” “I can’t read,” he smirked, and went in. We were eventually escorted out by security. One time we took the LRT to our territory for the day, and he looked at me like I was the world’s biggest sucker when I reached for money to buy a ticket. We strolled on without paying and strolled off the same way. I guess he figured he was an outlaw or something.

One of the things that made the job unpleasant was this kid’s constant attempts to insinuate himself into my life outside the job. He contrived to assume a personal rapport that simply didn’t exist. This would have been bad anytime, but right then I was in the middle of breaking up with my girlfriend. Or rather, I was in the middle of putting it together that the reason my girlfriend wasn’t returning my calls was that she had dumped me. After I’d been particularly silent and withdrawn for a while, he started pestering me about what was wrong, so I told him I was having woman troubles. “Women,” he said sagely, “they can be such negative fucking bitches.” “Huh,” I thought, “that’s very helpful. Glad I opened up.” Out loud, I said, “Mm.” I checked my watch to see how many more minutes I had to spend in this chimp’s company.

I was taken aback when he called me at home in the evening, saying that some of the people from the company were getting together for drinks, and did I want to come along. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. “That sounds great,” I said, “but I’ve already got something going on. Maybe next time.” Then I hung up and went back to watching Bernardo not getting any drawing done.

It took me until partway through the second day to suss out how the whole thing worked. It was a pyramid scheme. Any earnings I made would kick up in part to this kid, and then up to whomever he had apprenticed to, and so on. He wanted to be my buddy to better inculcate some notion of being part of a team. The more people who stayed on and prospered, the more money for him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was backing the wrong horse.

The one thing, though, that made the job most unendurable was the extra layer of team-building bullshit that was built into the process. You couldn’t just go to the warehouse, pick up the crappy merchandise, and hit the streets. No, first you had to go through and hour or two of sales exercises in the morning. Basically, these are improvs. Salespeople pair up and try to sell each other. It’s self-evidently useless as a skill building tool, but I guess they figured it was a good warm-up to get the troops motivated. One day, I was paired with the only other guy in my crop of new salespeople who was older than me. He had evidently attended at some point in his life a seminar that emphasised the casual touch as a means to gain trust. In our little improv, he came up to me and went into the standard spiel, tapping me casually on the arm every now and then to emphasise a point. I was hung-over and heartsick and every little tap sounded like a gong in my head. I put up with it as long as I could, until finally I said, “Man, I know you’re just trying to put the sale across, but if you touch me one more time I’m gonna have to hit you.” I had never said anything like that to anybody before, and I’ve never done it since, but I see the appeal. It’s weirdly exhilarating. It also pretty much ended my participation in that morning’s improvs.

Worse than the morning’s playhouse was the evening’s pep rally. Before we could collect our cuts of our sales and go home, we had to gather in a room and talk about how we did and go through a bunch of rah rah bullshit for the team. One day I asked the manager – the tie-tying guy – if I couldn’t just collect my money and go home, because I was really beat. “I get the feeling,” he said, “that you don’t quite buy the usefulness of all our management tools.” Perceptive guy, I have to give him that. I hardly thought he’d noticed my existence, but I guess I kind of stood out in that crowd. “I’m just really tired and not feeling that well,” I told him. He gave me my money, and I went home and didn’t come back. Come to think of it, that was the night Slick called me at home to invite me out for drinks. I guess he’d figured I was about to jump off the hook and he was giving it one last try to reel me in. He should’ve saved his breath. I had satisfied myself by then that I had no inner Willy Loman. I was ready to sign up at Kelly Services and go back to the devil I knew. And that was my three days as a door-to-door salesman.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Un Peu of Unfocused Codswallop from a Man Up Past His Bedtime

Great. Now Mama Dog has me paranoid that I’ve made everybody else paranoid by talking about my information gathering habits vis-à-vis the hit tracker. Don’t worry. I won’t stalk you. I just like to be able to go, “Hey Lisa’s reading. She must have finally gotten the Lego out of the CD drive.” Or, “Oh, Ambrose is looking in at work. Guess he hasn’t been fired yet.” And so forth.

My chore scorecard for the weekend so far: Sprang into action after breakfast. Got the swing disassembled – Baby Dog outgrew it a while back, and it’s already a bit too infantile for her – and hauled down to the basement. Lowered the mattress on the crib – again, because she’s gotten bigger and is starting to develop greater mobility. It’s not like she’s ready to try climbing out yet, but there’s no telling how soon that will come. Looked in the basement in the logical pile of papers for ol’ paul S’ $10 from last year, and didn’t find it. I have to conclude that I never stashed it away, so I’ll just be making it up out of pocket. Got my freelance work done. Finally read that article in The Believer that I linked to in the last post (although I read it offline in the actual magazine).

Mama Dog took Baby over to the Pirates’ house for the afternoon so that I could get some writing done. Instead I got the dishes put away and updated by freelance invoice. Transcribed a couple of paragraphs I jotted down on BART a couple weeks back, but couldn’t’ make myself focus. Finally, I took the dog out for a walk and that did the trick. I don’t know what it is about walking the dog, but it make something in my brain click into place to allow creative thought. By the time I got home I had the structure of the story worked out pretty fully, if not the actual plot. All I’m trying to get done this weekend is an outline, so it’s really a better start than it sounds.

I think, believe it or not, that I might be getting sick again. I never get sick twice in a row. I’ve been feeling dizzy today, my throat’s sore, my head hurts, and I’m tired as hail. I should have posted earlier when I was more up to snuff, but I didn’t, so here you go. Time for me to go rest my brain. Good night.

Friday, February 18, 2005

An Unseemly Menudo of Post-Scripts, Addenda, and Crap About the Hit Tracker that Mama Dog Will Find Boring

Every now and then I get the faversham caught in these little loops where I just can’t seem to get the loose ends tied up from three posts back. That’s where we are right now. I know nobody else cares, but I’m just not going to be able to move on with my life until I get a few things finished. So:

I took two whacks at discussing The Magnetic Fields’69 Love Songs, and both times I forgot to mention the article in The Believer where Rick Moody picks out what he considers the 31 most essential of the 69 songs. I never did read that article fully because I didn’t know Vols. 2 and 3 enough. Having listened to all three of them pretty much continuously at work the last couple of days (with just a little time out today for something utterly different), I finally feel qualified. So that’s on my to-do list for the weekend, along with disassembling the baby swing, lowering the crib, putting up the safety gate, outlining a short story, doing some freelance work, Hotel Rwanda, administering some tough love to our inept handyman’s company, getting our tax forms together, doing the laundry, and figuring out where I put the $10 that ol’ paul S gave me for the Oscar pool last year.

This I can’t believe. I actually left out – more like forgot – the ending of my mug story. When I sent that email out to the office, people were stopping me in the hallway for weeks afterwards, asking if I’d found my mug. One day I noticed another mug in the break room that somebody had apparently mislaid some days or weeks earlier. It was about a quarter-filled with coffee, and the creamer in it had turned. Violently. There was something green and scummy floating on the top. I turned away in disgust and hoped that nobody would think it was mine. I mean, I was maybe overstating things a bit in my description of my mug’s filthiness. Sure, it was filthy. But there was nothing green floating in it.

Later that day, somebody thoughtfully set the mug with the green floater on my desk. Thanks awfully. Shortly after that, Dan the Chemist walked by and exclaimed, “Oh, you found my mug! Where was it?”*

Weight update: down another half pound, to 195.5. That’s 5 pounds off since the new year, if you’re counting. This weekend, I will have ice cream.

And lastly…it’s well established, I think, that I spend too much time poring over data from my hit tracker. I’ve long since realised that I’ll never be able to keep track of all the IP addresses of regular visitors – particularly since so many computers reset the address upon startup – but I try. There are a bunch of you whose numbers I recognise, and others whose numbers change but stay in generally the same neighbourhood, so I can tell who it is. One thing I’ve enjoyed is finding recurrent visits from unfamiliar people in exotic locales. About a week ago, somebody in Egypt made a bunch of visits, apparently going methodically through the archives from the beginning. I was kind of flattered and mystified, but was bummed when they stopped in November of 2004. It made me wonder if that’s when I started getting really boring. Did I start talking about the hit tracker then? Maybe I should check. Anyway, whoever the mystery person in Egypt might be, they started up again today and made it through January of 2005. I hope you come back and catch up again, mystery person in Egypt, so that you can see me saying hi to you. Hi! Then there’s someone at Microsoft who’s been looking in kind of regularly. I think I know who that is – probably the one person I know who works for Microsoft – so I won’t out him unduly. Back a few months ago, I had a regular reader who was a stranger to me, but whose name and work phone number I was able to discover through the hit tracker. Creepy, huh? She worked at some educational institution of other, and I’ve noticed that a lot of schools seem to have the employees’ names built into their Host Names – like asmith-xx.usc.edu. The person in question had a more distinctive name than “A. Smith,” and a quick look at the school’s web site filled in not only her first name but her direct line. I thought it would be funny to call her sometime when I saw she was looking at the faversham and say, in my best Voice of Authority, “This is Papa Dog. Get back to work.” I don’t think I would have really done that – like I say, I creep myself out enough just having snooped as much as I did – but she dropped out of sight before I got around to it, so the point be moot.

Okay, I’m bloviating about IP addresses. That definitely means it’s time to call it a night. And I’ll see you all tomorrow.
*The two of you who know Dan probably laughed there. For the rest of you, explaining the lovable disorder that is Dan would take a whole other post.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Recycled Story of My Filthy Work Mug (Plus Errata and Addenda from Yesterday)

There was a line at the coffee machine (that’s the hot water machine where I’m concerned), so I took advantage of the lull to perform that semi-annual ritual, “The Cleaning of the Mug.” Every six months whether it needs it or not. This may well be the first time in Baby Dog’s life that my work mug has seen the soapy side of a sponge. Maybe not, but probably.

Anyway, it put me in mind of the time four years back when my mug was stolen from my desk during an office move. I sent out an email to the office pleading for its return. People still talk about that email to this day, which tells you how dull most of the office-wide emails tend to be around these parts. When I got back to my desk, I took a look, and sure enough, I still had the thing in my “sent mail” folder, which is cleaned out even less frequently than the mug. For your amusement, I reproduce it herein:

To: San Francisco - Main Street Office
From: Papa Dog Duvalier
Subject: Warning-Mug at Large

Hello all.

Sometime during the weekend’s move, my coffee mug disappeared from my work station. I view this as some sort of regrettable accident or misunderstanding and suspect nobody here of deliberate theft because, well, the thing was filthy. I don’t mean just a little dirty, either – I can’t remember the last time I washed it. The interior is coated with generations of encrusted remnants of tea breaks gone by. Tea, because although it is a coffee mug, I don’t actually drink coffee and have used it exclusively for the consumption of tea, and not that herbal stuff either, but usually the really grotty Lipton’s generic black tea.

But I digress.

The cup has enormous sentimental value for me, being a reminder of a particularly happy workplace where I, unlike the person who surely walked off with it by accident this weekend, stole it. Mind you, I wasn’t stealing it from a fellow employee. More accurately, I would say I claimed it from the clutches of a large drug company – it was a hospital where I was working – that was trying to unduly influence doctors in their prescriptive decisions by leaving behind knickknacks bearing the corporate brand. Really, I was doing a public service by removing the cup from the hospital, because who knows what poor judgement the doctors might have fallen prey to under the osmotic influence of that drug company logo.

But I digress again.

Like most of the coffee mugs around the office, this one is dark blue. Unlike most of the coffee mugs around the office, this bears a logo reading not “Acme Dirt Consultants” but “Caremark.” If you have somehow ended up with this cup, DO NOT DRINK FROM IT! You are in imminent danger! It has long since been colonized by multiple thriving bacteria communities! I’ve built up a hardy resistance over the years myself, but anybody else would risk peritonitis or worse, and I guarantee that no Caremark products would hold a cure because entirely new forms of bacterial life have evolved in this cup in the time it’s been in my custody.

Please, for your own safety, return the cup to my work station. No questions will be asked.


* * *

I confess I changed a couple of things here. My name, obviously, and the name of my company; but also in the original email I typed “peristalsis” where I meant “peritonitis.” Only one engineer in the entire office was medically hep enough to ask my why I was warning people that they were in danger of swallowing. It’s maybe funnier with the wrong word there, but I decided to preserve my originally intended meaning for posterity. As for that medically hep engineer, I have his chair now, which I take to be some sort of evidence for the theory that what goes around comes around. Or is it what comes around goes around? Well, there’s been a lot of coming and going since then.

* * *

In addenda and errata – Charles made me realise I’d left a mistaken impression in yesterday’s post regarding The Magnetic Fields, namely that I’d only discovered them (him?) this week or something. I did come across them late, but not quite this late. Of all things, it was The Shield that turned me onto The Magnetic Fields. In a first-season episode (2002?), “All My Little Words” played over a montage or something. I liked it immediately – I remember being struck by the quirky use of banjo – but was really sold when I caught the word “unboyfriendable.” I had to know more about a songwriter who could invent such a perfectly necessary word, so I Googled “unboyfriendable” and tracked down the album the song was on. For those unfamiliar with it, that album is 69 Love Songs, which is exactly what it says it is. Sort of. The 69 songs are divided into three discs of 23 apiece. I didn’t realise that when I went looking for it at Amoeba, and naturally I bought the wrong two volumes first before finding the one with “All My Little Words” on it.

When I finally got to listen to it in full, I knew I’d found something I’d really like. Stephen Merritt’s wordplay is outrageous and irresistible. For instance – also from “All My Little Words” – “Not for all the tea in China/Not if I could sing just like a bird/Not for all North Carolina/Not for all my little words.” I love that. He sets you up with the banality of “tea in China” and “sing like a bird,” then pulls a whimsical, unexpected, and utterly perfect rhyme (China/North Carolina) out of nowhere. Or all the great little turns of phrase in “Reno Dakota”: “Reno Dakota, I’m no Nino Rota/I don’t know the score,” “It’s making me blue/Pantone 292.” A thing that fascinated me about the album was a sense of timelessness that comes from the tension between the classical throwback pop constructions of the songs and their of-the-moment (ca. 1999) production and execution. Like, “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” (“‘Cause I’ve got wheels/And you wanna go for a ride”) seems like something that could have been recorded by a doo-wop band in the early 60s except for the fact that it’s on an album filled with sounds made by machines that hadn’t been invented then. Similarly, “Promises of Eternity” on Vol. 2 sounds like a lost Neil Diamond song, right down to the use of bells. Throughout, a remarkably fine line is trod between earnest and cynical expressions of love and lust. “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” is followed by “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be.” There’s the communication-challenged guy in “I Think I Need a New Heart”: “I always say I love you/When I mean turn out the light/And I say let’s run away/When I just mean stay the night.” This fine line is probably illustrated best in “The Book of Love,” which opens: “The book of love is long and boring/No one can lift the damn thing/It’s full of charts and facts and figures/And instructions for dancing.”

Anyway, what I meant to communicate in my post yesterday is that while I’ve had the album for a while, I hadn’t really made a proper study of it yet, the above paragraph notwithstanding. Mama Dog and I had a conversation a while back about how we used to do the same thing with a new record when we were youngsters. We’d put it on the turntable then sit down with the jacket and the innersleeve, follow along with the lyrics, figure out which band member’s face went with which name in the credits, see who played what instrument on what track, and so on. We’d study it. Unsurprisingly, I don’t really do that anymore and haven’t in ages, and consequently I don’t ever feel like I know a new album in the way I used to.

Furthermore – as will be evident to anybody familiar with 69 Love Songs – I’ve listened mostly to Vol. 1, and am largely unfamiliar with Vols. 2 and 3. I have them along with me at work today, though, and am getting to know them.

Lastly: In case anybody thought I was just making excuses yesterday for why I was late to work—it made the papers! Turns out it didn’t even have anything to do with the wet weather, either.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Slow Motion Day

I was tardy leaving the house today and just got tardier as I went along. I had decided to take a CD along with me to work now that I’m able to make use of such things. I grabbed one off the stereo, an album I like but feel like I haven’t fully saturated myself with yet, and was briefly puzzled to find the case empty. I made myself late right then, standing by the door and pondering the mystery. Finally, I realised that I had put the disc in the car stereo when we went down to Saint Babs for Ho Ho, and apparently it had been there ever since. I made myself a little later fumbling around in the trunk of the car for the CD thing, transferring it to the jewel box, and getting the box into my case. So I was late. At least I’d have something to use to drown out the voice of anybody at work who wanted to redundantly point that out to me.

The wet weather had left the BART system running behind, too. The San Francisco train arrived at Rockridge five minutes behind schedule, with no hope of making up lost time. Trains were stacked ahead all the way to the Bay and across, and the farther we went the longer it seemed to take. The train operator kept apologising over the intercom, which I suppose might have been a solace to some commuters, but it was just an annoyance to me. Every time he came on to say he was sorry for the delay and to thank me for my patience, I’d lose my place in my book and have to start all over again.

(A digression while we wait for the train to move along: I’m simultaneously enjoying and being annoyed by the book, because while the subject matter and the era depicted are of great interest to me, the author employs a narrative device that never fails to disappoint. Supposedly, the story is being spoken into a Dictaphone by Roscoe Arbuckle in the last days of his life. I always think that if you’re going to write a novel that is supposedly a transcription of a spoken record, you should try to make it sound at least a little bit like something somebody might say out loud. Instead we have sentences like this: “The swarthy character poured more whiskey and grunted,” or one beginning, “On this scalding April day...” Nothing particularly wrong with either of those in and of themselves, but who would ever say them out loud? Certainly not a drug-addled old vaudevillian.)

At least the book passed the time, and at least the train wasn’t too crowded. When it’s packed and the train’s moving that slowly, it becomes intensely claustrophobic before long. As it was, I even got to sit down after 12th Street, and closed my eyes for a little waking snooze after I’d finished a chapter. After a long passage of little stop-and-go lurches, five minutes late at Rockridge turned into 25 minutes late at Embarcadero. I’d spent more than 45 minutes making a journey that normally takes 20.

When I got to work my in-basket was empty and presumably nobody had noticed I wasn’t there. Woo hoo.

I’ve been wearing my cowboy boots since the rain, to save wear and tear on the Eccos. They’re not the cushiest footwear in the world, and by the time I got to the office my dogs were already barking. “Hell with it,” I thought, and kicked them off, luxuriating in my sock feet at the desk. Mama Dog called just then, and I told her I had freed my feet. “I should get some slippers for the office,” I said, not entirely joking. “Go to work, kick of my shoes, and pad around the office in slippers all day.” I imagined myself going down to the store on the ground floor in my slippers. It had a certain appeal. One time I went slipper-clad to Safeway with Ambrose. Had to show him that there is in fact such a thing as non-non-dairy whipping cream and that it is in fact stocked liberally in major grocery stores before Mama Dog homicided him. Long story. And yes, that was another digression.

In the afternoon, slow motion caught up with me again. Network access became unreliable. It slowed down my work, but worse, it slowed down my goofing off on the Internet. I was buying Baby Dog a couple of new cloth books to go with Velutinous Apian and Compatriots. I had to reload the page about six times. I wouldn’t be surprised if dozens of the things show up in the mail over the coming weeks.

Once I left, at least my return home was speedy and dry. Unfortunately, little girl was already asleep by the time I got home. I was looking particularly forward to seeing her tonight – I mean, even more so than usual – because she’s added a new bit to her repertoire. She’s started saying “dadadadada.” Not meaning me specifically, but it’s very novel to hear the new combinations of consonants she’s able to make. It’s like she’s had a little verbal breakthrough the last day or two.

Mama Dog made lemongrass chicken for supper. She made the same dish the other night when the Pirates were over, only back then it was called lemongrass tofu. At the time, I pointed at the recipe hung on the fridge and said, “They spelled ‘chicken’ wrong.” I was only kidding, but she took me up on it.

After supper and dog feeding and dish cleaning and suchlike, we got about half of Maria Full of Grace watched before I decided we’d better pause so I could get this and some freelance work done. No sooner had we risen from the couch than Baby Dog started to cry, so I got to see her a little bit tonight after all, although not in any humour to say “dadadadada.” Still, when I picked her up and whispered in her ear, “I bet you didn’t even know that Daddy was home, did you?” she stopped fussing and smiled. Mama Dog gave her a little snack, and after I shushed her not quite to sleep but at least to calm. I think in the time it’s taken me to finish these last few paragraphs, she may have fallen back to sleep.

Now it’s time to post, then do the freelance cal, then go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take Vol. 2.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Faluting Highly with Fuzzy Bee (and Compatriots)

One thing that happens when you have a small child is you get the opportunity to memorise a lot of simple verse. Baby Dog’s favourite book these days is something called Fuzzy Bee and Friends. She’s not taken so much with the story, which admittedly is somewhat thin; each page contains a simple drawing of a little critter, most of them insects, with a rhyming couplet describing that critter’s nature. Nor is she drawn particularly by the funny drawings and bright colours. Mostly, she’s attracted by the fact that she’s allowed to thrash the book around and stuff it in her mouth to her heart’s delight. It’s a cloth book made expressly for that purpose. Most other books we read to her carefully beyond little arms’ length, partly so we can preserve them until she’s old enough to understand the words, but mostly because we’re The Man and we have rules to keep the people down. This book she can chew on.

Anyway, I noticed about a month back that without realising it I had memorised the words to this fluffy volume. I would entertain Mama Dog by reciting it at dinner or in the car or while taking a family stroll. Each It goes like this:

Fuzzy Bee and Friends (by Roger Priddy, ©2003, St. Martin’s Press)

It’s not an ant, a snail, or slug./It’s spotty, dotty ladybug!
It’s such a hot and sunny day/that baby worm just wants to play.
The beetle bug is rather shy./He likes to watch the world go by.
“Oh me, oh my! I wonder why/I’m such a splendid butterfly!”
Sally spider is so busy./All her spinning makes her dizzy.
Don’t be fooled by a scary name./This dragonfly is really tame.
Keep moving snail, you’re really slow./You’ve got a long, long way to go.
“I’m coming in! Watch out!” says fly,/as he appears from way up high.

It’s simple stuff, but strangely irresistible once you start saying it out loud. One day Doggy Dog stopped dead in front of me – something he is wont to do, as noted previously – and I made Mama Dog cackle aloud by saying to him, deadpan, “Keep moving, dog, you’re really slow. You’ve got a long, long way to go.”

A thing we do sometimes to amuse ourselves is what we call faluting. Specifically, faluting highly. We’ll take a simple phrase and try to think of the most complicated and verbose way to say it. A favourite tactic is to eschew acronyms – like, saying “Los Angeles Law” or “New York Police Department Blue” – but often we just use pointlessly big words, like “I shall endeavour to do so,” instead of “okay.” Mama Dog suggested recently that it would be a laugh if I were to translate Fuzzy Bee and Friends into High Falutery. Anything to please my darling wife, particularly after last night’s crappy Valentine’s showing. So here, with apologies to Roger Priddy, St. Martin’s Press, and all the ships at sea, is:

Velutinous Apian and Compatriots

It is neither a formicid, a gastropod, nor a mollusc. Rather, it is a variegated and vacuous beetle of the family Coccinellidae!
The diurnal hours are so repellently calescent and fulgent that the nematode larva wishes only to gambol.
The Coleoptera is somewhat diffident. He derives delectation from observing the planet’s rotation.
“Goodness gracious, golly gee! I can only speculate on the cause of my evident status as a superlative Lepidoptera!”
Sarah the arachnid is occupied to an overwhelming degree. She suffers vertigo as a consequence of her filament production.
Do not be misled by a bloodcurdling appellation. The Anax junius is in truth quite docile.
Persevere in locomotion, gastropod, you are absolutely dilatory in your movement. A noteworthy distance remains before you.
“Observe carefully! I am entering!” Thus speaks Diptera, as he materializes from the stratosphere.

Monday, February 14, 2005

I Am a Miserable Valentine’s Failure

I used to be pretty good at Valentine’s Day. I remember one year in the old apartment I bought Mama Dog a box of Godiva chocolates and hid each separately wrapped confection in a different spot around the premises. I made a treasure hunt of it. When she came home I gave her a note containing a clue to the location of the first chocolate. The first chocolate was wrapped in paper giving a clue to the location of the second, und so weiter. It took her a couple of hours to find them all (some of the clues were kind of abstruse. Recondite, even. It was fun. We were frolicsome and young(er).

Since then...well, V-day just seems more and more to fall in the midst of a crowded season. Mama Dog’s birthday’s in September, then our anniversary is in November, then there’s Christmas and New Year’s, and then Valentine’s is sandwiched betwixt my two big extracurricular projects; the annual Bernardo conspiracy in late January and the Oscar pool in late February. With only so many brain cells to go around, V-day has become a poor stepchild in a large family.

Mama Dog did the smart thing and ordered early. She got me a lovely box of cookies from Harry and David.* They arrived about a week ago, which seemed awfully early, but I rationed them and I’m going to eat the last one tonight. I should have done something like that. One of my old standby tactics has been to place reminders of special events a week or a month early in my desk calendar at work. Last Monday, I had a note on my calendar that said: “Valentine’s Day next Monday.” Somehow, that doesn’t seem to work anymore, and hasn’t for a couple of years. If I don’t take action that very day, general busy-ness ensues and it doesn’t get done.

So it happened that I found myself exiting the BART station this evening, stepping out into the dark of night and wet of light rain, with no better plan in mind than stopping off at Bloomies and getting a bouquet of something or other. This is how bad it was: I wasn’t even sure what flowers would be the right ones to get. Mama Dog changes her favourite colour and her favourite flower with some regularity, rotating them so they won’t get stale. Sage green was her favourite colour. Lavender was her favourite flower. In 1999. How about now? Uh... Well, the digital camera she bought a while back just had to be blue, but I’m not sure how sure a sign that is. She favours Fisher Price for baby furniture, I know that. She likes generic Kirkland in bulk for baby wipes. Is it possible our priorities have shifted slightly from romance?

Anyway, Bloomies was impossible. There was a little throng of other pathetic last-minute swains and maidens packed under the awning. I shifted from foot to foot, trying to get close enough to read the names of the flowers in case anything sounded familiar. I kept getting bumped back out into the rain. Everything was picked over and what was left looked wilted and dismal. I liked the idea of heather, but the remainders were scraggly. The lilies probably looked good that morning but were by now past their prime. Everyone was picking their own flowers, because the help was busy at the cash register. There was a line about twelve deep. Hopeless. A bearded man was hoarding the orange roses. A cleavage-y blonde was narrating her selections to her fellow, who flowered by the wall. Was she letting him know what she was getting him or letting him know what he was getting her? I had no chance. I walked down the street to Market Hall in search of inspiration.

I had a vague thought of chocolate, but that made no sense. We’re both dieting. Mama Dog’s trying to lower her cholesterol. I should try to kill her for Valentine’s Day? Well, maybe something sweet but with fewer servings than a box of chocolates. Ice cream? The selection was thin. My eye was caught by the Godiva chocolate with chocolate hearts. The hearts are occasion-appropriate, but that’s the ice cream I always eat. She’d probably think I was buying dessert for myself and pretending it was a gift for her. Then I spotted the lemon sorbet. That seemed the best compromise. She loves lemon desserts, and it is, as the packaging trumpet, “Naturally fat free!” I bought a pint and headed home.

I got about two blocks away when the thought hit me: “What the fuck am I doing bringing home a fat free dessert on Valentine’s day?” I stopped at Wally’s World Market and got a Klondike Giant Ice Cream Sandwich. At least I’d offer a little touch of decadence. At least I wouldn’t come home empty-handed.

When I got home, I immediately confessed my wretchedness, which is often the best strategy. I told Mama Dog about Bloomies and about my little selection of next-best things. She made a face at the sorbet, but still pronounced the thought sweet.

“Oh well,” I said. “At least I can still coast on the anniversary present.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “you can.” A lucky guy am I.
*The cookies in the link aren’t the same ones, which are heart-shaped for Valentine’s and seem to have been taken off the site as of tonight; but they’re similar.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Bernardo's Seventh Annual Poker Birthday Surprise

We’ve been throwing a surprise party at the poker game for Bernardo’s birthday every year for the past seven. You’d think after seven years it would become a little less of a surprise, and it’s true there’s no surprise that we throw the party; the surprise comes in how we throw the party. As you’ll see, it started out fairly simply, but with each passing year it’s been necessary to make it more elaborate and complicated to effect a surprise. A brief history:

1999: The first one actually had nothing to do with the poker game except for the fact that all the participants were in the poker group. Mama Dog and I told Bernardo that Kenilu had invited us all over to his place for supper. It was no secret then and it’s no secret now that Bernardo and Kenilu didn’t go along, so while Bernardo was a little mystified why Kenilu would be extending the olive branch of a dinner invitation, it never occurred to him that it had anything to do with his birthday until we brought out the cake.

2000: The year the surprise became officially attached to the poker game. We had started occasionally having a Big Stakes night – a $100 buy-in rather than the usual $20 buy. We scheduled a Big Stakes night to coincide with Bernardo’s birthday. Everybody chipped in and we bought him a set of clay chips. We arranged for El Dingo to keep him distracted in the living room around the start of game time so that his back would be turned when Mama Dog and I walked in with a cake. Surprise.

2001: Another year, another Big Stakes night, another set of clay chips, another cake. Yes, it was a bit of a repeat. The only thing we changed was to have the surprise come late in the evening rather than at the start. His birthday this year was midway between two scheduled games, so I figured that if we didn’t have the surprise at the start, he’d think it wasn’t coming until the following game.

2002: After the previous year’s admittedly lacklustre performance, Bernardo made the strategic error of bragging that he hadn’t really been surprised, but had just gone along with it in a spirit of cooperation. This is what’s known as throwing down the gauntlet, and it resulted in the first really complicated birthday surprise. I decided to set Bernardo up with a gaffed deck. Several gaffed decks, actually, because I couldn’t be certain how many people would actually show up for the game. I stacked decks for tables with five, six, and seven players. Since I also couldn’t be sure whether it would be a red deck or a blue deck in play at that time, I had to gaffe a total of six decks.

This may all be gobbledygook for people who don’t play poker, but I decided to set Bernardo up with a stone-cold high-low hand in a game he wouldn’t think could be rigged. I chose the game of Anaconda. There are many variant versions and rules to Anaconda, but the way we generally play it, everybody is dealt a seven card hand, and then passes two cards to the player to their left and one to the player to their right. Everybody then has seven cards (the four they held and the three that were passed to them), from which they form their best five-card hand. With cards coming from so many different sources, Bernardo was unlikely to think he could be dealt a bogus hand. In truth, it’s very easy to do as long as everybody else at the table is in on it.

We generally play Anaconda high-low, meaning that the pot will be split by the person with the highest hand and the person with the lowest hand. Since we play California lowball - meaning that straights and flushes are disregarded in forming the low hand. This allows for what’s known as the “pig” hand – the hand that can win both low and high. The best possible pig hand is a low straight flush. Ace through five – a five high – can’t be beaten for the low hand. If the cards are of the same suit, that’s also a five-high straight flush, which can only be beaten by a higher (and just as unlikely) straight flush for the high. This would be Bernardo’s dream hand in Anaconda, and I decided to see to it that he got one.

There were only a few variables to control. One was to make sure that Bernardo held the cards I wanted him to hold when it came time to pass. This was fairly simple. I knew that he likes going for the low hand in Anaconda, so I stacked the deck(s) to deal him four low cards – I think it was ace, two, three, five – and three random higher cards, something like eight, ten, king. The only reasonable move would be to hold the four low cards and pass the three high ones. Another thing that had to be ensured was that Bernardo be seated to my right, since all the decks were stacked for his hand to be received by the played in that position. This was seen to by making sure that everybody else arrived earlier than he did, and that the open chair was held to my right. The game was in the kitchen, and the open chair at the table had its back to the stove.

The other thing to be circumnavigated was the formalised ritual of our play. In any given hand, one person shuffles the deck from the last game, another cuts the deck to be played, and a third deals. This called for a little assistance from my confederates around the table. At a prearranged signal – just before it was my turn to deal – we halted the game for a ten minute bathroom/drink break. While people were milling about, I took Raisin Rob – seated across the table from me, and having shuffled the deck from the previous game – and surreptitiously handed him the deck of the right colour gaffed for the right number of players. He went back to his seat and when he was sure Bernardo wasn’t looking, he pocketed the deck he’d shuffled and put the gaffed one in its place. When everybody was back in place, Raisin Rob slid the deck across the table to Bernardo. This was the neatest trick of all – Bernardo himself cut the deck to me. All the more reason he should feel secure that the hand was legit. It wasn’t. As soon as Bernardo had cut, the Kitty, seated to Bernardo’s right, asked him a question. Bernardo turned to answer him, and the second he looked away, I undid the cut, placing the top half back onto the bottom one. Then I dealt out the fake hand of Anaconda.

As expected, Bernardo held his four low card, which were of mixed suits. Conveniently, the Kitty passed him two low cards, both spades. I also passed him a low spade. Two of the four low cards he held were spades; the three spades he received from us and the two he had held were the ace through five. He had the low straight flush. He looked up and said, “Think I need a drink.” Papa Pirate laughs about this still; we know Bernardo’s tell. If he looks at his cards and says he needs a drink, it’s probably time to fold.

The next step in Anaconda is for everybody to form up their five card hand, then set it face down, ready to be rolled up one card at a time. Everyone rolled their cards. As expected, Bernardo rolled the two of spades. Everybody else rolled a card – one they’d been issued before the game even started and covertly slipped into their hands – with a word scrawled across it in thick black marker ink. Reading clockwise starting from me, the cards read “Bernardo, your presents are in the oven.” Stunned, Bernardo turned around and opened the oven door. The presents were indeed inside the oven, but in front of it was a piece of paper bearing the legend “Just “pretending” to be fooled, my ass! Happy birthday!”

Oh – we showed him our hands. We all had straight flushes too, higher than his. He had to admit he’d been thoroughly bamboozled.

2003: The best surprise that never happened. The Kitty and I cooked up a doozy. Bernardo’s greatest animation hero is Hayao Miyazaki. With the Oscars coming up, we decided to invent an Academy screening of Spirited Away. The Kitty mentioned it months in advance, planting the seed. He told Bernardo he thought he could score tickets. The plan was for the Kitty to take Bernardo to the screening, stopping in Richmond to pick up a fictitious friend. The house they stopped at would actually be the Mircat’s house – to which Bernardo at that point had never been – and we would all be waiting there to tell “Surprise!” We went to great lengths with this. The Kitty printed up fake free passes with appropriate movie and studio logos and phoney copy written by me. There was some talk of doing a fake web site for the screening, but it never came to that. In the end it’s just as well we didn’t go to the extra effort. Bernardo’s annual winter pestilence got in the way. On the night of the “screening” he was flu-ridden and unable to go, thoroughly bummed that he was going to miss his chance to see his hero Miyazaki. Oh well.

We ended up having a surprise in July, six months after his birthday. Pretty surprising I suppose, but it was a lame substitute for a great but thwarted plan.

2004: Back in stride. Bernardo and the Kitty both work at a movie theatre. The Kitty is the maintenance man and has his own little domain behind the main screen. The building was originally a vaudeville house, and the backstage area is extensive. We set up a poker table in there. The Kitty was giving Bernardo a ride to the game and said he had to stop in the theatre to get something. He alerted us by cell as they pulled up, and we turned out the lights. When Bernardo walked in, the lights came on and we yelled “Surprise!” loudly, but completely inaudibly in the theatre over the rumbling soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

All went swimmingly until the manager showed up and kicked us all out. We’re still not entirely clear on what happened, but the Kitty said he’d gotten the manager’s okay to do this, while the manager insisted he’d had no idea what we’d been planning. Myself, I’d been incredulous that he’d okayed the thing, so I didn’t argue when I found out otherwise. I mean, we were gambling and drinking in the back room of a business establishment (and had a couple of minor children with us too), so he was on pretty firm ground for kicking us out. We relocated to the Pirates’ house and the night rolled merrily along.

This year (last night): Last night we had our most involved surprise yet. We again had the game out at the Mircat’s house in Richmond, where pedestrian Bernardo is not easily able to roam. Ordinarily he’d catch a ride from either El Dingo or the Kitty, but I had both of them claim they wouldn’t be attending. “I’ll tell you what,” I told Bernardo, “we’re going to be out there early. Why don’t you just take BART to El Cerrito, then call us at the Mircat’s and we’ll come pick you up.” I even helpfully supplied him with the BART schedule, telling him what time he should catch the train to be there on time.

An hour before Bernardo’s scheduled arrival, I met the Pirates at the BART station. As I’ve probably mentioned, Papa Pirate works for BART, and so does his friend R-Word, who met us there. I’d never met R-word before, but more important, neither had Bernardo. R-Word used to be one of the BART parking ticket dudes – he still had his uniform, which looks convincingly like a BART cop’s. He even came wearing a flak jacket. After clearing things with the station agent and the BART cops patrolling the area – we didn’t want any repeats of the previous year’s error, especially since the guys who might shut us down would be carrying guns – R-Word stationed himself outside the station entrance and the rest of us stationed ourselves in the second floor of the parking garage across the street. From there, we had a commanding view of the station plaza. As Bernardo’s train arrived, I had a set of binoculars trained on the escalator and El Dingo had a set trained on the stairs. Bernardo came down the escalator, so I spotted him first, and called out a description of his clothes – “Black jacket, white pants, carrying an orange bag!” Papa Pirate jotted these details down on a steno pad.

Obligingly, Bernardo went to the payphone and called the Mircat to let him know he’d arrived. The number I’d given him was actually the Mircat’s cell, not her home number; she was stationed in her car so that Bernardo wouldn’t hear the parking garage noise. She told him that Mama Dog and I would be there to pick him up shortly then she rushed out to join us.

Bernardo exited the station and went to wait for us near the parking lot. At this point, R-Word, looking for all the world like a BART cop, walked up and asked to see his BART ticket. Puzzled, Bernardo showed it to him. “Did you just get off that train, sir?” R-Word asked. He began peppering him, Jack Webb style, with pointless but insinuating questions. Then he radioed to “dispatch” for a “readback on the description of the suspect.” Papa Pirate, up in the parking garage with his radio, played the dispatcher. He read back of Bernardo’s ethnicity, age, height, and the colours of the clothes he was wearing and the bag he was carrying. Bernardo blanched, despite his certainty of his own innocence. R-Word told “dispatch” that he’d be bringing the “suspect” back to the “office” and asked Bernardo politely but firmly to come with him. In the first “this is all just a big mistake” phase of a Kafka scenario, Bernardo did as he was told and came away quietly. R-Word led him across the street to the parking garage elevator. Bernardo was naturally wondering why he was being taken to a parking garage when he was supposed to be going to a police station, but he was so off balance he couldn’t put it together. In the elevator, R-Word turned to Bernardo and said, “Sir, the first question I have for you is—” and, timing it to coincide with the opening of the door at the second floor, he pulled Bernardo’s beloved drinking mug, which is stored at my house and brought along to every game, “—is this yours?” Then the elevator doors opened and there we all were, yelling “Surprise!”

Bernardo almost collapsed laughing. He had to admit we’d gotten him good this time.

I have to say here – I’m the first to admit that there’s an element of cruelty to any surprise party, and what we’ve been doing to Bernardo for seven years definitely falls into the category of what Penn and Teller called Cruel Tricks for Dear friends. The annual surprise wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun – and wouldn’t be the much-anticipated event it’s become for our poker group – if Bernardo weren’t so thoroughly good-natured about it. So happy birthday, buddy, and be warned that I’m starting to think about next year.

Also: This party was sort of a combination birthday/bachelor party, since Bernardo’s getting married in a couple of weeks. I asked him recently if he was feeling nervous and he replied, in that way of his, “I feel like Slim Pickens riding the bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove.” With that in mind, here’s a picture of the cake we presented to him when we finally made it to the Mircat’s place last night.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Exceedingly Lengthy Tale of Thomas the Homeless Guy, Part II (of II)

(My mistake – I thought I had something else I was going to post today, but it’s not going to be until tomorrow. So let’s continue with the Tale of Thomas.)

Scott was sort of right – after that, there was no getting rid of Thomas, but there hadn’t been any getting rid of him before either. I was genuinely broke, so I didn’t give him any more money – at least nothing more than a dollar here or there – but I was always happy to share my food with him when he stopped by. I should hasten to add that Thomas, like many professional panhandlers, was really an entertaining guy. He was friendly and entertaining, with lots of colourful stories and a good line of patter. In a sense, he sang for his supper. I never resented sharing my food for him, and while his sense of timing was, to quote Alexander Woollcott quite thoroughly out of context, “what is usually and mercifully described as inadequate,” I honestly never felt imposed on. He was an interesting person and I was glad to know him.

I think Thomas was glad when Scott and I moved in to Tom’s place. Tom’s diet was a bit more New Age than Thomas would prefer. Let’s put it this way – he had a cat named Shakti. With our arrival, the house soon became filled with more traditional bachelor chow. We had spaghetti and mac and cheese and potato chips and cereal and hot dogs. Thomas knew that if he showed up at mealtime there’d be something he recognised cooking. The most exotic food I ever offered him was a ginger snap. He made a face “What’s a ginger snap?” “A cookie,” I told him. He took it, sniffed it, made a face again, but ate it. The only thing he ever turned down was peanut butter. “That stops me up,” he said in the cheerful spirit of glasnost.

I didn’t really grasp the big downside to welcoming Thomas into our home until one night when he showed up while I had guests over. Really, if you go over to somebody’s apartment for drinks, you should be able to count on not being panhandled while you’re there; out on the sidewalk around the corner, sure, but not in the apartment itself. Thomas had never familiarised himself with that particular etiquette rule, but I can’t really blame him; I’d never thought of it myself until that night. I tried an ineffectual little, “Uh…Thomas, this isn’t really a good time, I have company over,” little song and dance, but of course it would take stronger stuff than that to disengage him, and he quite rightly considered it established that he was welcome in the house. The most mortifying part was when Thomas approached my friend Lycurgus and took him aside for a private chat about the economy. Lycurgus, like Thomas, was an African-American, and I suppose that made Thomas feel he could be particularly frank about his needs and his point of view. They went out on the balcony and chatted, Thomas murmuring confidentially in Lycurgus’ ear. I looked apologetically at Sylvie. She smiled placidly. Nobody else seemed to feel quite as awkwardly about it as I did. When I had finally managed to eject Thomas, I apologised profusely, but they all told me not to worry about it. I did.

Thomas was not entirely predatory, though. He really did try to show his gratitude to me. He would rummage through garbage and stuff on the street and when he came up with little prizes, he’d always try to pass a share on to me. I still have a Looney Tunes drinking glass he brought by one day, something he found who knows where. The glass survived Mama Dog’s recent purging of our cupboard because she knew it had a sentimental attachment for me, but really I only took it because he wanted so badly to give me something back.

Another way he tried to repay me was by hooking me up with a woman. Unfortunately, the kind of woman Thomas had the most expertise at hooking a guy up with was the kind that was, well, hooking. And not high end hooking, either. His big selling point was “She’ll suck your dick for ten dollars.” He tried other tacks, too. He seemed to know a lot of young women in the neighbourhood. I guess he made it a point to cultivate such acquaintances. One morning I ran into him outside my building on the way to work or to look for work or to go drink or something. I had just had a shower and my hair was slick, but I’d towel dried and just let it sit where it lay. Thomas tsked and said, “That’s no way to look for the ladies.” He fixed my coat collar where it was twisted and then, in a gesture that was unwelcome, obtrusive, kind of creepy, and yet still somehow touching, he reached over and smoothed down my cowlick. Then he beckoned an attractive young woman across the street, calling her by name. He pointed at me. “This’s my white friend, Papa Dog!”** I shrugged and waved and wondered how many different ways he was going to come up with to embarrass me without making me tell him to piss off forever.

The most irate I got with Thomas in that period was the night before Scott and I were going to move out of Tom’s place to a new apartment of our own. My friend Robert from Austria was going to help us move our stuff in his car, but had to do it early. I wanted to get plenty of sleep, so of course Thomas came by twenty minutes after I’d gone to bed. Strangely, he wasn’t coming to hit me up for money. Quite the opposite. He had a military pension, and disability, and probably could have gotten by on that money if he had a different sort of lifestyle. He had just cashed one cheque or another, or maybe both, and he knew that if he had the cash on his person it would be gone by daylight. He wanted me to hold it for him. I was kind of honoured, in a weird way, that he should hold me in such esteem to trust me with his cash. He said, “Just hang on to it. Don’t give it back to me, I gotta make it last.” I said okay and went to sleep.

An hour later, he was back, asking for just twenty dollars of it. I was trying to sleep. I was irritated. I said, “I thought you didn’t want me to give it back to you.” “Just twenty dollars,” he pleaded. “Okay, fine,” I grumbled, “but let me get some sleep.” A half hour later he was back again.

This recurred several times through the night until finally, at wits end, I crumpled the bills and through them down a stairwell at him, yelling, “Take the money back! Just let me get some fucking sleep!”

Tom and I wondered about that night later. We were both now fairly sure that Thomas didn’t drink or use drugs, and the only explanation we could come up with was that he was splurging on the $10 blowjobs. We tried to figure out how many he must have had to go through his entire pension cheque, but I’d lost track of the dollar amount during the night. A lot, we figured. A lot of blowjobs. Maybe some worth more than $10.

It wasn’t always such a drag with Thomas, but somehow blowjobs were a recurrent theme. One night I was walking home from Igor’s when I ran into Thomas on St. Charles Avenue. He walked with me and didn’t ask me for money. We just shot the shit. Every time we passed someone, though, he’d stop to panhandle them, then catch up with me. He spotted a guy sitting in a parked car and went over to ask him for money. He caught up with me, laughing, looking as embarrassed as I’d ever seen him. He pointed a thumb back at the parked car. “Gettin’ his dick sucked,” he laughed. Even Thomas new that under those circumstances, etiquette required curtailing of the panhandling activities.

That winter I was by myself in a new apartment in the same neighbourhood. Thomas found me pretty quickly, but at least he couldn’t let himself into the building. One particularly chilly night he came by and asked if he could sleep on my couch. It was too cold out to leave him to the elements, so I said sure. The only thing was, I told him, I wanted to leave the heat off. I had plenty of blankets for both of us, but I didn’t like the idea of having a gas heater on all night long. I didn’t think it was safe. Thomas said “Yeah, sure,” and we both crashed for the night. Within twenty minutes, naturally, he had turned the heater on. I’d scarcely had time to focus on that worry when a new one materialised. Thomas had fallen asleep and was starting to mutter to himself. It suddenly hit me that he was a somewhat addled Vietnam vet, and all the attendant stereotypes occurred to me at once. Who knew what kind of Agent Orange flashback he was having? What if he got up in the middle of the night and thought he was crawling around that hooch back in the DMZ looking for the Charlie beehive? Thomas muttered and rustled around on the couch. I didn’t sleep well that night. I was never tempted to grant him another sleepover.

Things came to an end with Thomas sadly but not really unexpectedly. As you might guess from the stories I remember most vividly that I’d been trying for some time to figure out a way to cut him loose for once and all. He gave me the way himself. My friend Charmingly, back in the Bay Area, had sent me $10 for something or other. I forget for what. To buy her a book? Maybe to get some beignet mix. Doesn’t matter. The relevant point is that the ten dollar bill was sitting on my bureau waiting to be spent one morning when Thomas showed up at my door. I was getting ready for work and didn’t have time to talk, so I was kind of brusque with him. He was looking for money and I told him, honestly, that I didn’t have any to spare. He asked again and I said no again. I was grabbing my lunch from the fridge when he abruptly said, “Okay, ‘bye!” and hustled himself out the door. I looked up. That was odd. I started to the door to look after him and then it hit me. I looked at the bureau, and sure enough the ten dollar bill was gone.

The next time I saw Thomas I was finally able to be cold to him. He acted hurt and puzzled. “Why you bein’ like that, Papa Dog?” he asked. “Because you stole ten dollars from me,” I said. “What ten dollars?” he asked, persisting in his forced innocence. “The ten dollars that was on my bureau before you showed up this morning and was gone after you left,” I said. We went back and forth on this a few times, Thomas protesting his innocence against all reason. I told him that he could keep the ten dollars, that I’d get paid eventually and could replace it myself; but that as far as I was concerned he’d betrayed my trust unforgivably and I didn’t want anything more to do with him. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Papa Dog,” were the last words he said to me, and he really did sound genuinely hurt. It was way past the stage where that would make any difference, but even then he was managing to summon pathos.

Where is Thomas now, I wonder? He was probably in his late 40s then, ten years ago, and life expectancy on the street doesn’t extend much beyond that. It’s too bad the way things worked out. Too bad he couldn’t restrain himself in the face of that one little temptation. Too bad it didn’t occur to me to stow the cash away somewhere when he showed up at my door. Too bad we only met in the first place because the path he took in life left him knocking on strangers’ doors to make his way.
*Pan of early Bogart stage performance, 1922.

**Of course, he didn’t say “Papa Dog.” I wasn’t “Papa Dog” then. He said my real name.