Four True Life Stories and One Total Lie
So – read the following four anecdotes. Four of them are as close to the truth as memory and prejudice will allow. The fifth is just something I totally made up. Cast your vote for the one you think is bogus in the mini-poll at the left. Mama Dog’s not necessarily disqualified from entering, but since she’s heard all four of the genuine anecdotes before, she probably won’t have much trouble figuring it out.
1. I was very excited a few years back when I saw that Robert Altman’s version of The Long Goodbye was going to be playing at the Saint Babs Film Fest. I had failed to see it earlier that year when it played at the Roxie - I won’t point fingers or lay blame in any way other than to mention casually in passing that it was all that fucking Bernardo’s fault. Anyway, Mama Dog and I made a special out-of-season trip to SB for the film fest, specifically to see The Long Goodbye. We got a block of festival tickets and saw a couple of other things, but that one movie was our main reason for being there. Imagine our shock and surprise, then, when we arrived for the screening and learned that a) it was a special screening at which Elliott Gould would be in attendance; b) the tickets were something like $20 or $30 a pop, and our block of festival tickets weren’t worth crap; and c) even if we wanted to buy the expensive tickets we couldn’t because it was sold out. I argued with the volunteer who was denying us entry. The information on the web site had said nothing about a special screening or a different ticket price. We had traveled all the way from Oakland for this movie, and I felt we’d been lured under false pretences. It was all to no avail. We went home, steamed. When we returned to Oakland, I was still pissed. I fired off an email to the director of the SBIFF and cced the Santa Barbara News-Press. I told my story and used one phrase that still rings proudly in my memory: “This is the sort of bait-and-switch,” quoth I, “that usually results in class action suits when perpetrated by car salesmen.” I think it was the combination of the cc to the newspaper and the invocation of the magic phrase “class action” that did it. Within an hour, I received a drippingly apologetic reply from the festival director, saying that we were not the only people who had been misled by the faulty information in the web site. She said she had let other similarly misled people in, but that by the time she arrived we had already left. She sent me a full refund for the cost of the tickets we’d bought. I’ll never go to their stinking festival again, of course, but it’s nice to have a reminder every now and then of the value in being a squeaky wheel.
2. I stayed once or twice in younger years at the Jasper Park Lodge, which I’m now surprised to learn is owned, along with the Banff Springs Hotel, by the Fairmont chain. The Jasper Park Lodge is not a single building but a kind of compound. There’s a main lodge building and then a series of cabins scattered through the woods, connected by pathways. I don’t know if they still do it this way now, but back then room service used to be delivered by bellboys on bicycles. They’d ride through the paths steering with one hand and balancing the tray on another. It was quite a sight. The ground were traversed by all manner of wildlife, and it was not at all unusual to see a deer wander up to your cabin or to the lodge building itself. One afternoon I witnessed an altercation between one of the deer and one of the bicycle bellboys as the bellboy was dismounting by the kitchen entrance after bringing back some dirty dishes from a cabin. I have no idea what the deer had done to piss the bellboy off, but the bellboy yelled at the deer and threw a pat of butter at it. The deer took off into the woods. I’m sure this behaviour on the part of the bellboy was in contravention of several lodge rules, and I doubt he would have done it if he’d known a guest was watching – even a weird kid guest – but I was far enough up the path that he didn’t see me. I was walking around the perimeter of the lodge, and had done it a couple of times already. When I again passed by the kitchen entrance on my next orbit, neither bellboy nor deer was in evidence, but the bicycle was still parked there. I don’t draw any conclusions here. It may have been a complete coincidence. It may have been the work of different deer or maybe even a different mammal entirely. But there on the seat of the butter-flinging bellboy’s bicycle were a couple of nuggets of what I was pretty sure had to be deer shit.
3. One night, back when Bernardo and I shared a sublet on Parker Street in Berkeley , I was coming home from work and noticed an unusually high degree of police activity in the vicinity. There was a cruiser parked by the 7-Eleven and two more on the north side of Parker. Several uniformed policemen were milling about the corner. Our apartment was on the north side of the street, but I figured it was best to avoid getting in the way, so I walked up the south side of the street. As I went, I noticed that a policeman was keeping pace with me on the other side of the street. It was about a block and a half to our building, and I kept thinking he’d stop or go back or something, but he seemed almost to be tracking me. Finally, I was across the street from my building and had no choice but to cross. Out of the corner of his mouth and without turning to look at me, the cop said, “You want to cross back to the other side, sir? It’s for your own safety.” Bumfuzzled, I pointed at my building. “I live here,” I said. “I’m just going home.” “Okay,” said the cop. “Go quickly to your apartment and stay inside.” “Uh…” though I, but I went, and quickly. As I did, I heard the cop say into his walkie-talkie, “There’s a resident coming up the side steps.” My apartment was on the third floor, and I had to go up an outdoor stairwell to get there. As I rounded the first corner of the stairwell, I suddenly found myself looking at the barrel of a shotgun. Behind it was a policewoman and behind her were a few more cops, all decked out SWAT-like. “Uh…” I said, “just going home here.” The policewoman said something into her shoulder mike, apparently confirming my bona fides, and lowered the shotgun. Then she said the words I have pondered forever after: “Hey, did you happen to see a bunch of guys with guns like us who weren’t cops?”
4. When I lived in New Orleans, my attitude toward insect life became, I confess, somewhat laissez-faire. My thinking was that since they were invariably already in residence at any place I moved into, it was I who was intruding on them, not the other way around. I found myself able to withstand a level of peaceful coexistence with insect life that would have been unthinkable to me only a short time before. For a while I had a house uptown mostly to myself. It was cleaner than most of the apartments I’d been living in, but one must face the fact that New Orleans is built on a swamp. The best hotel in town has roaches. That’s just the way it goes. Now, if you’ve never encountered a Palmetto bug before, you’ve missed a rare treat. They’re cockroaches, see – only they can fly! What fun! One day on returning home I found that a Palmetto bug had expired on the front steps. I was busy or had my hands full or something, so I didn’t clean it up right away and forgot about it. The next morning when I went out, the roach corpse was still there, only now there was an ant trail leading up to it, and a lot of the parts had already been stripped. If I had seen a sight like that in Oakland, I would have done something to clean it up, something maybe involving a whole lot of insecticide or at least a well-aimed garden hose. I was at peace with the kingdom of Insecta. I decided it might be interesting just to observe nature taking its course. For the rest of the day, every time I came to the door I would check in on the progress of the indefatigable ant column. Like a time-lapse photography film I saw the Palmetto bug’s remains disappear bit by bit. By nightfall all that was left was a bit of the hard shell. It was a profound reminder of the impermanence of all things. People think of those roaches as unkillable. The next morning, even the hard shell was gone.
5. One night in late ’04, we were dining with the Pirates at Cha’am, and they told us they had some news. They hesitated for a second, but then let spill that they had a baby on the way. They’d been a bit nervous about telling us because they’re sensitive folk and they knew we’d been trying for a long time. They were right to be nervous; by that point, Mama Dog didn’t tend to have warm and fuzzy feelings about other people’s procreative triumphs. Hearing it from the Pirates, though was different. They’re among our nearest and dearest, and Mama Dog could not help but be sincerely happy for them. On the way home, we talked about what good news it was and how the Pirates would be cool parents. Here’s the thing: Mama Dog has known Papa Pirate since high school. I’ve known the Pirates since 1987, when I worked at a store co-owned by Papa Pirate and a globular would-be know-it-all whose name escapes me for the moment (and any other moments that may arise in the future). Between us, we have forty-some years of combined Pirate acquaintance. In all that time, up until last year, never a threat of parenthood arose for Dog or Pirate. How outside the range of likelihood is it, then, that the very next morning after we learned that Baby Pirate was in the offing, we got the phone call that told us Baby Dog too was on the way?