b Papa Dog's Blog: December 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Saturday, December 31, 2005

7. Saturnalia

The Director was the first to rise, and when he stepped out into the living room, he was met with a trail of unmistakable evidence. The kitchen's sliding doors were shut, except for a crack just large enough for a body to pass through on the south door. The preparation island was cleared off, but the serving trays and supplies from the previous night were scattered willy-nilly on every other counter. Our phones were left by the bottles, and her shoes landed next to the freezer. He told me later that he looked at the shut guest room door and let out a canary eating grin. "Way to go!" he thought.

Deb and I were still awake, indulging in each other. The rain fell gently outside the window and I told her that if this place were mine, I'd lead her out into it as we were. My hands loved exploring her tiny body, loved the way we fit together. With her soft back pressed against me, I couldn't care about anything else. There are Christmas mornings, and there is this, a perfect gift from the world. We pulled the blanket over us, and drifted into innocent sleep.

When we rose much later it was dark outside. She looked for the time and found it was five. She thought it was morning, but that was impossible. Alas, she'd missed her appointment for tea, and I was selfishly glad. Neither of us wanted to get out of bed. I could have stayed for hours, letting her fingers run through my hair. We held each other for a long time, affectionate kisses punctuating the mood. The lights were on outside our door, and I said we probably ought to go face the kids. It was an effort that took most of our willpower.

I mentioned that we would look like we emerged from a bordello, both of us with that goofy grin of carnal satisfaction, amplified by a touch of infatuation. She shrugged it off and said we had to own it. To emerge triumphant and declare "Damn, that was the best sex I've had in years." I chuckled and countered, "Or, those Team America puppets have got nothing on us."

I was the first to stand on wobbly legs and pull on a pair of pants. I looked at her sitting up in bed and considered how lucky I was to bask in her beauty. When we finally emerged there was no one around. Ravenously, I stepped into the kitchen and tore into the leftover brie.

Haley came out a bit later, not looking much different than Deb or I. We were all blissful on that morning afternoon. The Director was out on a walk in the rain steeling himself for the unpleasant task of the Christmas calls to relatives. No matter how a man divorces himself from conventional bonds, there are still the days when duty must be performed. I left Haley and Deb to chat in the living room and excused myself to the office. There was a post-it on the computer, noting, "Charles -- look at this!" It was that wonderful Hitchens article. I roared with laughter at each perfectly placed word. What a way to start a Christmas.

Halfway through Hitch's indictment, I heard the gals burst into their own laughter as the elevator doors burst open. The Director looked drowned and cranky, but would have a hard time maintaining that mood with two graces meeting him at the door. He heard me laughing to the brink of tears at Hitchens and knew I'd found his note. How strange we all were, all foils to each other, two of Apollo, and two of Dionysus, two pairs of friends with parallel relationships to each other, intersecting uniquely in a drama none of us would be smart enough to plot if it didn't really happen.

The day moved on easy and lazy, all of us in a mood that was better than we deserved, considering the day. The Director's face was unabashedly happy, and I don't think I'd ever seen him look that way before. Even when he closed his door to speak to the clan, I thought it was amusing that they thought he was drowning in sorrow, when in fact, joy was in the other room.

Past nightfall we started on beer. Deb and I were in the kitchen. I washed the dishes while she prepared dinner -- chicken satay and pork tenderloin. I deeply enjoyed this domestic feeling. Being close to this gal and making this home comfortable for our friends. We moved around each other, each on our task. Occasionally one of us would stand behind the other and we'd share a sweet kiss. If you weren't there, I'm sure it all sounds pretty disgusting.

Deb and I sat in the living room waiting for the food to be finished and smoked a couple cigarettes. I noted that this was such a departure for both the Director and I. I could see that he was enjoying having people in his home. When before it took an act of Congress to bring a friend over for a nightcap, here he had these three close friends drunk on companionship. It used to be so dark in there, with windows shut and a shroud of tense silence hanging over everything. This week, for all its trauma, was filled with levity and light. Abruptly, as I noted all this, the Director swung open the doors of his bedroom. I was startled, because, you see, I thought they were decorative. I didn't know they opened. The entire place was now one large, continuous space, both open and bright. No longer a cave, it was now a place of happy congregation.

The food was done and we put it out for everyone to come and take as they pleased. She prepared a plate for the two in the back, and when she took it to them, I prepared our plates as well. "Not to be too Lady and the Tramp," I said when she returned, "but I made you a plate so you got some of everything." We sat in the kitchen and had our meal, while the kids in the back called after us to watch Bad Santa.

Deb and I cleaned up the kitchen and finally joined them in the bedroom. The Director and the two ladies sat on the bed, I on a chair beside Deb, my hand resting gently on her leg. The movie started and we fell into hysteria. I was convulsively laughing for the first five minutes, watching Billy Bob Thornton rape Christmas with his impeccable performance as a drunk, irredeemable Santa. We were each into the movie, into each other, into the companionship we'd created from whole cloth. We didn't need gifts, and we didn't need ornaments, and we didn't need obligations to experience overwhelming fellowship. What we needed was each other and the experiences we'd shared, both the trauma and the joy. Laughing with the movie was transcendent catharsis.

Afterwards, we wandered into the kitchen where Haley popped open a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. The ladies went back into the bedroom to put on another movie, and the Director and I stood at the counter, unmistakably happy. "God, look at us," the Director said, "happy like this on Christmas. How'd that happen?"

"Yeah, I know," I said, "it's certainly the best one I ever had." The ladies were laughing in the back, and calling us to join them. We smiled, and popped another couple of beers. Taking a pull, the Director said, "Shit, look at this. This isn't Christmas. This is Saturnalia. We drank, we ate, we smoked, we screwed. We've got these two great women in there. This is how it should be."

I raised my glass to toast the sentiment, and sarcastically said, "To Christmas."

The Director gave a crooked glance and said, "Only this once, and only with you, I'll toast that. Fucker. To Christmas."

Once more, the ladies called us in to join them, and we recognized that there were better things to do than stand in the kitchen watching each other drink.

Friday, December 30, 2005

6. Eve

"Dearly beloved we gather here to say our goodbyes/Here she lies/No one knew her worth/The late great daughter of mother earth/On this night when we celebrate the birth/In that little town of Bethlehem/We raise our glass- you bet your ass to-/La vie Boheme" -- Jonathan Larson, Rent

So this is Christmas. Haley nestled into an armchair, while the Director sat alongside her, their hands intertwined. Deb and I sitting beside each other, each of us holding our glasses and all of us laughing riotously at "Team America: World Police." Fuck, yeah!

Enjoying this day was certainly the last thing the Director and I ever expected. As little as a week ago we were dreading its arrival, fully expecting to drown ourselves in booze at whatever shit bar happened to be open. Instead it was Christmas Eve, and we found ourselves in the company of two beautiful women, nibbling on a lovingly crafted meal, and savoring fine whisky while watching one of the most offensive movies ever made. While children were struggling to conquer their excitement and get to sleep, so as to allow the fat man to break into their homes, we were howling with laughter watching an extended montage of puppet sex. How is it that the most ornery pair of scrooges New York has ever seen found themselves in a room devoid of Christmas trappings, but fully immersed in that spirit of fellowship that the holiday is supposed to engender? Up yours, Bill O'Reilly.

We were buzzing on the companionship: each of us getting up to refill each other's glasses, holding out our lighters to each other's cigarettes, cheering in unison when Michael Moore strapped a bomb to his girth and blew up Mount Rushmore. Who needs holly when one has such joy?

Who has need of mistletoe when the affection flows this freely? The Director and Haley's new love so overwheming that simple glances would send them off into their private world. Meanwhile, I would trail Deb into the kitchen, cleaning the dishes while she put the food away, happily engaging in domesticity for the first time on record. Refilling our drinks we heard the bedroom doors slam, then shared an approving giggle. I looked into Deb's gemstone eyes. "It's past midnight," I said, "which means it's Christmas. So kiss me."

She startled me with her passionate embrace. I was expecting some chaste peck on the lips, but instead she opened herself to me, and I, gladly, gave up witholding the affection I already felt towards her. There I was in my best friend's kitchen, holding the woman I'd been waiting to meet. There she was in my arms, like a Christmas gift from fate, a woman with whom I could pass an evening rapt in conversation. A woman who challenged my assumptions and brought out the best of my mind. Who'd seen the world and loved the news, who took no shit and suffered no fools. Here she was, her hands in my hair as I pulled her close to me and pretended not to let my defenses down.

We retired again to the living room, now eschewing any pretense of concealing our attraction. I held her hand and she played me her music, and, good lord, I must have been some sort of schoolboy smitten, because I actually appreciated the Earth, Wind, & Fire song playing on her computer. She introduced it as a window into her past: a woman in her early twenties living on the Lower East Side, working in news, bearing witness to history. Though I haven't as much experience, I know it's not an easy job. She was there before A.I.D.S. had a name, watching friends suffer and crusading to find out the truth. At great emotional cost, she watched the end of America's dream of space. More recently, when 3,000 of her neighbors were massacred, she immediately threw herself and all of her resources into the effort to heal her city. She told me I could never understand these things because I wasn't there, and that much is true. But I admired her courage, both for her deeds, and for unflinchingly sharing these painful, but indelible pieces of her experience. This woman is a wellspring of strength, Apollonian like me, and seemingly invulnerable to fear. Though my senses admire her beauty, my soul can't help but adore her mind.

We talked on for hours, and in speaking of our talents and ambitions, she revealed her one insecurity, which is, frankly, none of your business. I did, however, see right through it and told her as much. "Don't you go den mother on me," she said, "that's what I do." I told her she'd just have to deal with it, because she was far too smart and talented to sabotage herself. I knew, because she told me one of her stories, and it passed critical muster, but more importantly, she appreciated the fact that I was being critical.

Somehow night gave way to dawn and the conversation just kept going. At one point she remarked that I was an old soul, which I've heard before, but rarely from someone I regard as an equal in that sense. Though we are of different generations, our minds felt cut from the same cloth. At one point she softly said, "Don't make me fall in love with you." I told her it was a bad idea. Anyone who's ever dated me can attest that I'm a lousy boyfriend. We let the matter rest and walked into the kitchen for another drink. Standing at the counter where the bottles stood half-empty, our bodies were pulled towards each other. We wanted each other violently and gave into the magnetic pull. Though I did my best sell-job on why I'd be a shitty prospect for love, as I led her to the bedroom, I couldn't help but hear Tom Waits:

Well I hope that I don't fall in love with you
'Cause falling in love just makes me blue,
Well the music plays and you display your heart for me to see,
I had a beer and now I hear you calling out for me
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

Well the room is crowded, people everywhere
And I wonder, should I offer you a chair?
Well if you sit down with this old clown, take that frown and break it,
Before the evening's gone away, I think that we could make it,
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

Well the night does funny things inside a man
These old tom-cat feelings you don't understand,
Well I turn around to look at you, you light a cigarette,
I wish I had the guts to bum one, but we've never met,
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.

I can see that you are lonesome just like me, and it being late,
You'd like some some company,
Well I turn around to look at you, and you look back at me,
The guy you're with has up and split, the chair next to you's free,
And I hope that you don't fall in love with me.

Now it's closing time, the music's fading out
Last call for drinks, I'll have another stout.
Well I turn around to look at you, you're nowhere to be found,
I search the place for your lost face, guess I'll have another round
And I think that I just fell in love with you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

5. Fantastic Four

By Christmas Eve, things began to turn a corner. The transit strike was finally over. Toussaint and the union officials wisely decided that they didn't want to spend the holiday in jail, so they reopened talks with the MTA, on the condition of a media blackout. On the 23rd, New Yorkers were able to get to work on the subway, and we were glad to have it back. I was especially pleased to be able to finally go home and sleep in my own bed. On the morning of the 24th, it seemed like life was back to normal, so much so that I happily gathered the laundry I'd neglected in my absence and spent the afternoon getting it finished.

The roommates seemed to be gone, as did much of Brooklyn. The streets near my apartment were desolate, and it seemed like the world had hunkered in as each of us went to consolidate with our clans. Between washer loads I'd head back to my room and straighten things up. The previous night when I was finally able to go home with confidence that I'd get back to the city, the Director said it must be nice for me to get back home. That I must have missed it, and missed my stuff. Dusting off that stuff on that sunny afternoon it was strange how little affection I had for any of it. I live a transient life. I spent my twenties on the road, bopping across this country, staying on friend's couches and in interchangable hotel rooms with such regularity that a bed became no more than a place to sleep, and an apartment not much more than a storage locker for my books. I have an odd quirk that every time I come home from a long trip, I fully expect to arrive at my apartment to find the building gutted by fire. Maybe I'd miss a rare book, or a piece of art given affectionately, but it's just stuff. My life on the road has fashioned a world view which dictates that the only home that really matters is the bond between my friends and I. On one thing the Director and I are certain, it is that friends are family, and what the world regards as family is, more often than not, just a random amalgamation of souls who share little more than the same last name.

If the past days had done anything, they had cemented the chosen family bond between the Director and I. Before I left for Brooklyn, we made plans to mobilize for that family's Christmas. Deb and I had volunteered to manage sprucing up the place, or, as I called it, "Queer Eye the joint." There was much to be done. We weren't sure how many would be coming, or if it would only be the four of us, but in either case, we would need a fuckload of booze. Then there was the matter of the kitchen. When the Director's wife moved out, she took all the kitchenware with her, leaving him with a knife or two, a couple of mixing bowls, some plates, glasses, and a frying pan. Because Deb intended to cook, that simply would not do. So the team was assembled, each with their own task. Deb was on food detail, and would assemble the groceries we'd need to insure a proper anti-Christmas feast. Haley was to make the list of kitchen supplies we'd need. The Director and I were on booze detail, and were to physically gather the cooking supplies necessary to pull the whole thing off.

We started late in the day, but the previous week had so retarded our sense of time that this came as no surprise to anyone. Deb and I had made plans to arrive at the loft around 2:30, but I finally made it over around 5. The bohemian squalor of the week's trials was evident everywhere. Half drunk glasses of watered down scotch were littered randomly around the living room; a beer bottle, empty but for the backwash sat beside the toilet; take out boxes littered the kitchen counters with remnants of meals hardening within them. I couldn't blame anyone for it, we were all exhausted and somewhat traumatized by the trials made more severe by the season. Somehow constellations of fuckery tend to emerge in December. Ours was the big dipper.

Haley called me into the office to help her finish the list of kitchen things we'd need. We were working from the ground up: cookware sets, knives, utensils, colander, mixing bowls, tupperware, tumblers (this crowd can never have enough glasses), and, at my insistence, a coffeemaker and grinder. I vetoed the microwave and toaster oven over Haley's protest. We looked at the edited list and Haley suggested that we bring the Director's push-cart to haul the stuff back. The words passed through my mouth before they hit my brain: "Push cart? We're men, not bag ladies, we're taking a cab back not some god damn push cart!"

Deb called to tell Haley where to meet her for groceries and we set the plan in motion. She and Haley would meet up to grab the food while the Director and I picked up booze. We set out around 5:30 to get some cash and put Haley in a cab. It was an ugly spectacle out there when we turned onto Ninth Avenue. Six vatos were standing in front of a shuttered storefront drinking cans of Colt 45 and leering at passers-by. The Holland Bar, perhaps the most disgusting place in New York City, was filled with lonely degenerates swigging Bud beneath a TV advertising a rotisserie grill. We passed what was the Bellevue, now converted into a sterile beer joint devoid of the defiant rock n roll personality that once infused its diseased walls. The Director and Haley walked close behind me as we crossed 40th. Port Authority always attracts the ugliest bits of humanity, and here too were drunken vatos, sprawled out on the ground or cursing each other in Spanish. I walked a bit ahead of my friends and stopped, seeing an altercation brewing in the near distance. Two drunk Mexicans circled each other like fighting cocks, eyes locked and lips curled into gutteral sneers. When I saw that the three of us were close, the Director and I instinctively formed a wall around Haley. I walked on the left where the fighters were cursing and he took her arm and moved her to the right. As we passed, one of the men headbutted the other. We didn't hang around to see what progress the fight would make. At the bank he withdrew $500 and gave her $400 of it. She said she'd only need half that for the groceries, but we both knew better. I hailed a cab and the Director put her inside as she sped off to meet Deb.

The next stop was to double back down Ninth to pick up the booze. I insisted we'd need at least three bottles of scotch, a bottle of vodka, and as much beer as we could haul. Deb provided us with names of two of her favorite types of wine and asked us to pick up one of them for her, so of course we got both. The Director knew the gals had an affection for Veuve Cliquot, so we picked up two of those as well. As they rang out the purchase, I erred on the side of caution and bought a bottle of the Balvenie Doublewood 12 year, a fine scotch of mellow complexion that carries just a bit more bite than the old standby of the Macallan 12. I also heartily approved of the Director's decision to get a bottle of the Laphroig 15, a solid luxurious malt of deep complexity. I rounded out the haul with a bottle of Campari, which mixed with soda is my favorite morning drink when the drinking goes that late.

We got back to the loft and put the booze away then got down to the business of cleaning. I popped on the copy of Waylon Live I'd just given the Director, and it really got the blood flowing. Washing the dishes, the opening lines of "Me and Paul" were especially resonant: "Lord, it's been rough and rocky traveling but I'm finally standing upright on the ground. After taking several readings, I'm surprised to find my mind still fairly sound."

By the time the ladies returned, I'd just finished with the dishes. We went downstairs to haul up the bounty they'd assembled. We got it put away and then we had to race against the clock to beat the one night of the year that the city does not conform to our schedules. We were off to Kmart for the kitchen supplies, and it was sure to be wearying. The Director has achieved that station in life where visting a Kmart may as well be a visit to Cuba. I don't have any affection for the place either. Shopping is anathema to my nature, and when I do go, I try my best to block out my surroundings and lazer in on what I need so as to get out as quickly as possible. Put the two of us together to descend into that hell on Christmas Eve, for housewares of all things, and you have the picture of two men clearly out of their depth.

We walked briskly down Eighth, our steps filled with dread, but also infused with urgency to get this lousy task finished. Turning up 34th, there were children bouncing everywhere, excited that the fat man was coming to commit benevolent breaking and entry. The sight made me sick. As we aproached the store I turned to the Director and said, "Perhaps the one time I'd consider being a suicide bomber is if I were to take out a Kmart or a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. You want a war on Christmas, here it is." He snickered and motioned hoisting a bazooka on his shoulder and firing it as we crossed the threshold into shopping hell.

We fell in with the herd, who were slowly waddling through the hospital-like department store. The floors and walls were a dingy white and the lights were too bright. Overhead was the admonition to "let it snow," which had to be sung by someone who never had to shovel the stuff. Impatient, I shot out around the fat couple in front of us, leisurely taking in all of the crap that they could buy, and pushed onto the escalator. Second floor had housewares and I eyed for paths without people to get us there fast. Though I knew where the housewares department was, I hadn't the slightest clue where any of the stuff we needed would be. I took Haley's list from my pocket and the Director and I looked to get the things she specified like blind men leading each other through a construction site. We were lucky to find the cookware set relatively easily and then walked in a confused stupor up the aisles to figure out where the rest of the stuff would be. Realizing that it wasn't gonna help to have two perplexed oafs navigate this mess, I left the Director to stand guard on the growing pile of kitchen supplies, while I tracked everything down. When I found the coffeemaker I heard the ballad of the reindeer with the defective nose. This was followed by an unspeakably bad techno version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

I gathered up the last of it and came back to find the Director looking pretty arch. The sleeves of his blazer were rolled up, and his head was tilted down, his eyes glaring out, and a look of utter, pained disgust was all over his face. "Are we done here," he snapped. "Almost," I assured him, "I just need to grab a shopping cart. Stay right here." "I'm not going anywhere," he said. I took the stairs down to the lowest circle of this retail hell to pick up paper towels and a cart. I walked past the toy department, which was picked clean, and through electronics, where that last minute iPod was being deliberated by a confused older woman. "Silver Bells" brought home the soul-killing trauma of Christmas time in the city.

I got the cart up the rickety elevator and loaded in the supplies with the facility gained from a youth spent playing Tetris. If we forgot anything we said fuck it and took the elevator up to the line which was looked something like the end of World War 2. It had taken twenty minutes to get the things we needed, but the true torture was now upon us. At least tracking down items is activity, allowing one to tune out their surroundings. Standing in line, on the other hand, is an affront to the senses, particularly on a night like this. Looking around, it was certain that we were the only two buying household necessities. Every other cart was piled high with colorful sweaters, cheap gift boxes of candy, children's novelties, and sporting goods. Basically the kind of stuff the Director and I forgot existed because it is so alien to our worlds. We slowly marched our way towards the register and I got a case of the giggles. "What?" the Director asked. "When I met you ten years ago as a fan of your work doing an interview, the last thing I ever expected was to be standing in line in a Kmart with you on Christmas Eve. Life gets really fucking weird."

We drew into ourselves as we edged ever closer towards freedom. The Director's face grew increasingly grim, each chorus of "Jingle Bells" a knife in his brain. He surprised me when he changed his expression to pure sweetness to tell a woman that yes, she could go in front of him with her two items. He registered my expression and said, "I guess you didn't think I'd do that." "No," I said, "That's your nature, it was seeing the abrupt change from annoyance to kindness that caught me by surprise."

Finally we were at the front of the line where the lovely young cashier beamed a wonderful smile at us, which was astounding considering the hordes of anxious shoppers she had to deal with all day. She rang us out and we clunkily placed the bags on the cart and wheeled them towards the door. I asked to take the cart out to put the items on the curb and the surly security guard told me it's against store policy. "You're kidding me," I indignatly said. "Yes sir, unless you give me your ID." "Fine," I said, whipping out my ID and taking the stuff out for the Director and I to unload. I returned the cart and took out a cigarette. God it tasted good, that sweet smoke of freedom. I turned to the Director, "First we smoke, then we get a cab, and then we drink scotch." He lit up and laughed. Mohammed Islam brought his cab up to us and we loaded in for the ride back home.

When we got upstairs we were greeted like conquering heroes. The elevator doors opened to screams of feminine laughter and Haley's delighted exclaimation, "I can't believe you made it! You guys did it!" The Director scooped her into his arms and planted a long violent kiss. Such a greeting is tonic to a man.

Deb and I brought everything into the kitchen where she was making a new round of hors d'oeuvres. We unpacked everything and assigned proper places. Haley came in to fix the Director up with a scotch, and Deb urged me to follow his lead. I preferred to help put things away, and besides, I was drawn to her presence. It couldn't hold out for long -- I'm only human -- but scotch could wait for the time being.

In those brief moments of putting everything away, Deb had made the kitchen her own. Previously it behaved more like a mail room with a refrigerator, but in Deb's hands it became a living, thriving part of the household. The stove looked as if it had always had a variety of pristine cookingware on it, and the counters seemed to have had proper cutlery all along. The glasses drying on the racks above the sink sparkled, and the preparation island showed the progress of creating a bountiful feast. I could see all was in good hands, so I excused myself to have that scotch.

The living room had become a makeshift holiday table. Sitting in chairs beneath the Director's walls of books, we were gifted with a spread of fine cheeses and meats, olives and sundried tomatoes, pate and salmon, all arranged with care. Each platter was colorful, garnished with parsley and greens, toothpicks with bright clown heads decorating the food in the right places. That sort of thing bewilders me, and I suspect the Director as well, for we appreciate it, but would never think about the presentation of a meal. It reminds me of a remark a girl I loved once said when watching me make a sandwich, "Observe the batchelor as he cuts from the block of cheddar to finish off his sandwich. And now he puts the bread on top and selects a plate, but only because he is out of paper towels."

I sat before this simple, splendid meal and savored the Laphroig. Vocal jazz from the 40s was playing in the office, prompting Haley to intermittently sing along. The Director looked at her with smitten admiration, and from time to time they'd moon over each other like kids. Deb, meanwhile, was conducting alchemy in the kitchen. If Christmas felt like this all the time, I'd have no trouble with it at all.

After a certain amount of persuasion, we managed to coax Deb out of the kitchen to enjoy her handiwork. We had each done our jobs and the mission was accomplished. We took this sudden bachelor's realm and created a functional celebration home. "It's like we're the Fantastic Four or something," the Director later remarked, "which makes Haley the Human Torch, but Deb could never be the Invisible Woman." "No," I agreed, "not by a long shot."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

4. Recovery

I rose somewhere near dark. The last rays of sunlight bent around the building and into my eyes as I groggily sat up in bed in the abandoned room that was once the Director's wife's studio. The day's first gulps of air never agree with me, so I started coughing. As consciousness filtered in, the first sense to return was sight -- a blurry mess glad that the light was not so harsh as to upset the headache now in full bloom. The next was smell, the overwhelmingly pungent bouquet of decaying catshit from a litter box that seemed to have been neglected for some time. I rose tentatively, still in the clothes I put on the previous morning and the coughing started in earnest -- a pulminary Vesuvius that rattled my chest and sent hot chunks of phlegm flying from my throat. I put my hand to my head and stumbled out into the light where the Director stepped out to greet me.

"Fuck, you startled us," the Director said. "I didn't know you were still here."

"Yeah, sorry," I rasped. "When you disappeared I just found the nearest horizontal surface and passed out. There was no way I could face the world today."

"Haley said she heard someone coughing, but I thought you were gone, and there's no way someone could have gotten in here."

"Sorry," I said.

"Nah, shit, that's all right," he answered. "I forgot that bed was in there. I'm glad you found a better place to sleep."

I squinted, clearing the groggy hangover sleep out of my head. When I reopened my eyes the headache erupted in earnest. Haley came around, looking tired, but smiling, and gave me a big hug. The Director announced that he was heading out for cigarettes and I asked him to get me a cup of coffee, then asked Haley for some ibuprofen. I downed four of them with cranberry juice, then stepped into the bathroom to clean my teeth. Haley was waiting in the living room, curled into a chair. She was already looking better. Tired, but better. The tears were gone, and though she was still pale, the color was starting to come back just a bit. The Director returned and I grabbed the coffee, lit up a smoke, and let the day begin.


After an hour of conversation and coffee the headache settled down, but it was replaced by nausea. I wasn't ready for anything harder than more coffee and I knew a bit of food would set things right. I excused myself to the Irish Rogue, where the Director told me we'd meet up shortly. I feebly attempted to eat a Shepherd's Pie, but didn't get very far. I ordered food to take back with me, correctly assuming that neither the Director nor Haley had eaten properly all day. I painfully hobbled back to the loft, after drinking a few too many coffees. I got upstairs and complained that I wasn't feeling very steady. Haley ran out to thank me effusively for her bacon cheeseburger and offered me an ativan, which managed to finally set me right. I cleaned up the kitchen, threw out the beer bottles from earlier in the day, and started to feel human again.


Later in the night, I was back in the game, though still living on seltzer water. Haley, the Director, and I were sitting around discussing Christmas. It's a holiday the Director and I despise. Haley was uncertain whether she'd be going to visit family in New Hampshire or stay put, but given her obvious frailty, smart money was against her going anywhere. The Director proposed a proper orphans' Christmas. We'd round up whoever was left in Hell's Kitchen, bring them up to the loft, and have a right drunken blowout, without Christmas music, images of fat men with an unusual affection for children, or that damn infant.

Then the familiar, dreaded chirp of Haley's cel phone went off. The mood flattened as she opened up the box. She read the message. Though her expression changed from the easy weariness of recovery, it was no longer gripped with fear so much as aggravation. The Director got his protective back up. "What the fuck," she said. "He's saying I stole his check book and if I don't call him in five minutes he's gonna call the police." The Director started getting angry and I urged everyone to calm down.

"What should I do," Haley said. Her confidence was slipping, obviously intimidated by the threat.

"Well, the last thing he should do is call the cops," I said.

"The way he's been harassing you," the Director agreed, "all you need to do is show them those text messages and voice mails and he'd be slapped with a harassment charge." It seemed right, but it didn't calm Haley down any. I stood up and again repeated my urge for calm. I lit a cigarette and started pacing, letting the gears in my head come to life and worked towards a solution. Her phone started ringing again, then again, then again, every time the voicemail was reached. The Director told her to turn it off. I paced through the Director's office, regarding the medical cabinets stocked with props and toys, memorabilia from his years of creative endeavor. I stepped out, lighting another cigarette with the butt of my last and handed my phone to Haley. "Dial Deb's number for me," I said, "and let me talk to her." The phone rang through to voicemail and I asked her to call me back.

"Okay," I said, drawing deeply on my cigarette, "we need someone that you both know to call this guy and tell him to knock it off. He needs to be told to quit with the harassing messages, and he needs to be told that calling the police is the last thing he wants to do, based on his own behavior." I took another drag and a delicious thought popped into mind. "Besides," I said, "what the fuck does he think the police are gonna do? Can you imagine being the beat cop answering the phone at the precinct? 'My girlfriend stole my checkbook,'" I whined. "He'd hold the phone out a mile! 'You what? Buddy, we got a fucking transit strike on and you're worried about your checkbook?' Please."

That livened the mood and defused what, really, was tension over a very stupid threat. Blood ran back into Haley's face as the Director picked up the joke and took it home. "Hey, guys, listen to this! Lemme put it on speaker. This guy's girlfriend took his checkbook! Let's get our guys off that homicide, here's a case that really matters!"

I asked Haley to think about who she could call that could mediate the situation and to let me talk to them. After some consideration she arrived at her friend Dylan, whom I'd never met, but who, apparently, was a friend to both of them. I laid out the situation: I didn't know this fellow, but I did know that he's been leaving a steady stream of increasingly threatening messages. It got so bad that we needed to go into the apartment and grab her stuff, because his behavior was such that she was afraid for her safety if she'd have to face him alone. Now, clearly they were both upset, and yes, they needed to talk, but it wasn't going to happen for as long as he kept up this barrage of threatening text messages and harassing phone calls. That behavior wasn't constructive, and wouldn't get either of them closer to resolving what had to be dealt with. Dylan impressed me with his reasonable, logical response, and agreed with my line of thought. He'd call the guy and tell him to lay off. What was good about drafting Dylan for the job is that he seemed far enough removed from the situation that he was able to consider both of their stories, and while Haley didn't get into the really ugly bits, that made him better able to approach it with a mediator's neutrality.

The phone was hung up and we waited. By now I was ready for a scotch, and so was everyone else.


Things weren't looking very good for the transit union. At the end of the second day of the strike, the public patience had run out, and the political heat was picking up. Mayor Bloomberg characterized the strikers as thugs; Governor Pataki condemned their illegal action, citing a law that prohibits transit employees from striking. Fines were piling up: a million dollars a day for the union, two days pay for every day off the job for the individual strikers. To keep the pressure high, a judge summonned Roger Toussaint, the union's president, and other key union leaders to court, hinting that he would find them in contempt of the law and throw them into jail if the union didn't get back to work. While the union had carried out its threat, it was clearly running out of gas. Nobody wanted the headline, "New Yorkers Can't Visit Families At Christmas Because Trains Are Shut Down." Furthermore, no one wanted to suffer the economic fallout of a week before Christmas where no one can spend the money that businesses need. It was clear that something had to break the impasse.


Dylan rang back after most of an hour to report his conversation with the ex. Unfortunately, my phone's a piece of shit, which means that to hear what the other person is saying, it needs to be on speakerphone. So I listened to Dylan's report. He said that he persuaded the ex to knock off the messages, but that in return Haley needed to get in touch with him and explain what was going on. Whether it was a phone call or even an email, it was something she needed to do sooner than later. He insinuated that the messages were being sent to get her attention, to get her to call him, that he felt in the dark. I watched the Director's face go red when this was said. He stormed off into his office and I heard him kick something.

If I was ignorant to the full details of the situation, then Dylan was even moreso. That said, I did not share his sympathy for the ex. He didn't witness the shaking panic of a woman who truly believed she was in serious danger. He didn't see the blood drain from her face every time she saw his name on the caller ID. However, I couldn't hold any of that against him. The Director teases me that I think I'm Mr. Spock with my constant pursuit of calm and logic, but in this moment, listening carefully to the call, I found it hard to disagree with where Dylan was coming from. I would probably have said the same things, if I had known both parties and been only armed with the knowledge he had of the circumstances. What was made clear, above all, was that Haley had to write him, and soon.

Before hanging up, they wished each other well. Dylan offered to be an ear to her as she went forward, but said he would not be the intermediary between them. She had to communicate with him herself. She thanked him profusely for doing what he did and assured him that she wouldn't dream of making him the go-between. She hung up the phone and handed it back to me. I asked if she was okay and she nodded, a hint of tears within her eyes. She closed them, folded her legs beneath her and took a long belt on her scotch. After a deep breath she walked over to the computer to do what had to be done.


The hours crept towards midnight as our sense of time grew more and more tenuous. One of Haley's friends popped by for moral support and was talking to the Director in the living room. I walked past the office and Haley motioned me in. She was distraught, tired, angry, but I couldn't tell whether or not she'd been crying. I sat down beside her at the computer.

"Look at this," she said, motioning towards the screen. "Look at his response to me."

It's not my place to divulge the details of what he said, but I can say that it was petty, venal, and narcissicistic. I understand the mechanics of a breakup, and that one of the first tools to leave the garage is empathy for the former partner. But this thing seemed beyond the pale. I clicked open her original message. It was calm and generous, though stated in no uncertain terms that they were through, and they were through because of what she had to endure in those last weeks with him. She did dance too far around her relationship with the Director, but I wasn't going to tell her so at that moment.

She lit a cigarette and looked at me imploringly. "Why does it have to always be like this," she said. "How come life is always kicking me in the ribs?"

I took her hand and looked her in the eye. "Because that's how life works," I offered, which isn't a very sympathetic thing to say, but is the honest truth. "Because that's the order of things. But you've been through the worst of it. You've been so unbelievably strong this week, Haley, and I can see that you're coming out of it well. You just need to hold onto that strength, and I know you can do it. And you know you've got everyone in this place pulling for you."

"I know," she said. "It's just, I mean, you read what I wrote. Did it deserve that reply?"

"No," I answered. "But he's hurt and he wants to hurt you. The thing is -- and I'm going to say something very cold, and very blunt, but I know you can handle it -- when I read that email, I saw that he didn't care about you, so much as he cared about the idea he had of you. You're not the kind of woman that's gonna whelp puppies and move to the burbs, and that's what he seems to want. You're putting it behind you now, and you just need to stay strong until it's done. I know you can do it."

She closed her eyes and her face darkened with sadness.

"Listen," I said, "forget about this shit. It's all you can think about at this moment, but, Haley, you've got your life in front of you. You're in a place where you're gonna rebuild everything from the ground up. You're gonna live on your terms. Who do you want to be?"

"Who do I want to be," she said. "I want to be under lights. I want to stand up on that stage and make something that matters. I want," she said, her expression brightening, "to be surrounded by creative people doing great things. I want to be a part of the process, see how it all works, contribute something. I want to make great theater. I want to be behind the scenes, figure out how it all ticks, and put the clock in motion. I want to be a voice."

"Okay," I said, "Now tell me, specifically, as specifically as you can, what you want the next year of your life to be. How are you gonna get under those lights? You're gonna move here to Hell's Kitchen, get your own place, then what?"

"I'll get my own place. I'm gonna work with him, and I'm gonna learn everything I can. I'm gonna meet new people, I'm gonna be where I always wanted to be. I'm gonna be behind the scenes. Not some stupid TV studio doing stuff that doesn't matter, but really a part of it. I'm gonna do what I always wanted to do." She paused, then said, "I'm gonna be under those lights."

"All right," I said, "now I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to remember, specifically, everything you just told me." I paused as she put her head down and clamped her eyes shut. "Remember everything you just told me and hold it. Hold it like a medallion. And I want you to hold that medallion close to you, and everytime the shit comes down, whether its a message from your ex, or a bill collector you can't pay, or an asshole at the bar, I want you to pull out that medallion and recognize that they don't matter, because you have this goal, this picture of your life. And on the other side, when you're standing on that soundstage watching how things happen, I want you to pull it out and recognize that you've done it, that you've gotten where you wanted to be and you did it deliberately, through the force of your own will."

Her face was transformed, swelling now with joy as her huge smile burst across her face. She looked at me happily and gave me a strong, lingering hug.


Later that night, before I turned in, the Director and I were standing in the kitchen. He asked about the conversation in his office.

"I gave her a weapon tonight," I said. "But she made it for herself. However it went, I think she's gonna be fine."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

3. Catharsis

The transit strike kicked New York in the shins. As the Director and I were pulling on our beers and winding down from the day's arduous mission, the subway workers were getting the last passengers to their stops and driving the trains back to their final stations. Turnstyles were chained up, computers shut down, and gates locked as the venerable system went into hibernation. When morning broke tens of thousands would begin their arduous commute from points all over the five boroughs. Nature was not unkind: the weather was in the reasonable thirties, but the circumstance that many faced of walking long miles over bridges and up the city's long streets is not a task one wants to perform in the middle of December.

I was fortunate that the Director permitted me to camp out in his loft. I live in Brooklyn where a walking commute would mean a three hour trek each way. The contingency plan of letting cabs take multiple fares and putting passenger vans on the street didn't work from where I live. And besides, it didn't take long for the price gouging to arrive. For commuters accustomed to paying two dollars each way, dropping $20 to $40 a trip to get to work is untenable.

The timing for businesses couldn't have been worse. Days of weaker business in any circumstance is detrimental to any operation, but the revenue generated in the week before Christmas can represent a significant percentage of a company's annual earnings. When day broke, angry words were exchanged between the Mayor, Governor, MTA, and the Union. But the words didn't bring the trains back that day.

I rose a bit before ten and logged into the news which showed rivers of people trudging over the Brooklyn Bridge. Certain streets, including Madison, where I work, were closed to non-essential vehicle traffic during peak commuter times. Cars carrying fewer than four passengers were not allowed to enter the bulk of Manhattan for the first part of the day. The normally crowded sidewalks of New York were overloaded as the winter bundled masses walked briskly to their jobs. After removing evidence of the previous night's drinking, I set out to join the hordes.

Indeed, the streets were teeming with people, and every car that moved past was filled with passengers. New Yorkers have a reputation as a fast moving lot, and at this capacity, one was liable to be trampled if he did not keep up with the crowd. I did, and arrived at work where my brain was a bit soft all day. When I got done with what had to be completed, I set out onto the street, which was an eerie spectacle. At six in the evening, Madison Avenue is usually overwhelmed with vehicle traffic. Busses driving rapidly on the edge of the curb, so as to intimidate overconfident pedestrians; cabs filled with passengers, or off-duty signs lit up to annoy the fares flagging for attention; cranky motorists playing chicken with jaywalkers who know the law is on their side, although physics is not.

Before heading back to the loft, I ducked into Park Avenue Liquors to pick up a bottle of Connemara, the world's finest Irish Whisky. I knew it would be appreciated back at the space. I popped the whisky in my bag and set out for Hell's Kitchen. The streets were more crowded than they were in the morning, and commuters were more visibly annoyed now that nightfall had dropped the temperature about ten degrees. Cabs were hard to come by, and expensive. Bicycle taxis were enjoying a renaissance in business, and the drivers were festively garbed. At the corner of Madison and 43rd, I saw Spider-Man driving a bike cab across the busy street. At 6th and 45th, it was a viking.

Before heading over to the loft, I stopped in at Deacon Broadies, my regular watering hole, where the four customers at the bar were bitterly cursing the transit union. The parent union had condemned the strike, and court action was to come in the morning. "Noobody wants this fokkin' strike," Andy, the barkeep, muttered. "The drayvers're all losin' three days pay every day it's oan, everybody's got a beg pain in the ass tae get ta work. Oi thought besiness would be terrible. At least oi've got some coostomers." We all shared our thoughts on the affair, which we were all being put out by. Admittedly, I was luckier than most.

The Director walked into the bar after an hour and sat down on the stool beside me. I inquired as to Haley. It was bad enough what she had to go through the day before, but to add injury to that insult, she had to have outpatient surgery earlier in the day. He told me that she was asleep a lot, but doing well. "Good," I said. "She's got a rough couple of days ahead still, and she's gonna need all the rest she can get." We knocked back a beer a piece, and then walked over to the loft.

The elevator doors opened onto a party already in progress. Haley was sitting on a chair wrapped in a parka and smoking a joint while her friends Jared, a handsome theater type in a pea coat, and Deb, a fetching New York dame were cradling their respective drinks. The Director and I grabbed more chairs and I retired to the kitchen to prepare the whisky. I brought out the glasses for booze and waters back, and a small bowl of ice.

With a rare feeling of theater, I introduced the whisky, a subject in which I take great pride. "What I'm serving you," I said, "is Connemara, which is easily the finest Irish whisky I've ever had. It's a peated single malt Irish, which is unusual. I've brought ice, but you won't need it, because this is an unusually mellow, but full flavored malt. I think you'll all approve." I poured the round and we toasted Haley in her recovery, and most importantly, her emancipation. "To removing cysts!" the Director bellowed.

It was an odd mix of emotions in the room, between Haley's ordeals, the Director's affection for his gal and anger for her antagonist, and poor Jared's shock at losing his mentor to a sudden heart attack. But there was a feeling of compassion and community in the room that livened things considerably. The conversation moved all over the place, and the room felt like a classic salon. Consider the mix: the Director, an accomplished author and creator of successful movies; Haley, a television worker with a passion for theater and an obsession with progressive content; Jared, accomplished behind the scenes in the acting world; myself, head of a First Amendment group for the comics field; and delightful Deborah, who grew up with an architect of television for her father and spent much of her own life building her own considerable path in that same business. The Director's house had rarely seen so many people in it during the years when he shared it with his wife. I've always known him as a supremely social creature, but it was not something he could easily indulge in the past. Sitting in that room, sipping my delightful whisky, I could see that when the moments of concern for Haley abated I'd catch him glancing at the scene assembled with a flush of happiness alight in his eyes. It was unsaid, but I knew that look, and it was him, speaking with his delighted little boy voice, exclaiming, "How cool is this!"

After a few glasses of booze, Jared excused himself in that self-conscious way people have when they've imbibed a bit much and they are policing themselves, afraid they've somehow been obnoxious. Haley tired, and the Director took her to bed, leaving me sitting across from Deb. I noticed upon walking in that she is a very handsome woman. Small of build with eyes set like subtle jewels, and a delightful smile. A bit over a decade my senior, she wore her experience well. There was no bitterness in that face, but instead a seriousness and a vast capacity for joy. We started talking perhaps around midnight, and it didn't stop until morning.

I adore conversation, intelligent conversation with deep thinkers. I'm not modest about my intelligence, but I try not to be vain either. That said, my immodesty demands company that is quick of wit, filled with informed opinions, and the ability to argue them. Deb matched me one for one on each of those counts. Of course we talked about the situation between Haley and the Director, each of us protective in our own ways. Deb was something of a den mother for Haley and placed her well-being as a very high priority. I have the same relationship with the Director, and from those two perspectives, we agreed that what was happening between them seemed very good for them both.

The real joy in the conversation was when we discussed the world. I am obsessed with the notion of responsible self-government, in civics, in journalism and the proper reporting of the news, and, of course, of the political direction of the world. I was delighted to find Deb filled with insights and opinions on those matters as well. Who knew how many hours were passing as we talked. Time was marked by cigarettes and glasses of whisky. Somewhere around five in the morning we ran out of both, and we tried to figure out how the Director's elevator security system worked. We failed, and I told Deb she'd have to go on a mission into his room and retrieve some keys from his pants. She took off her shoes to do so, when I considered that perhaps he had keys in his jacket. Instead I found a couple of packs of Marlboro Lights. We laughed like children at our foolish plan and then stole one of the packs.

I felt very comfortable with her, and with each of us warmed by the caress of the whisky, began to allow that to turn into the seedling of affection. Her eyes were delightful to stare into, and she returned the gaze with easy confidence. When we spoke it didn't seem that there was any world beyond our two chairs, moving increasingly close to each other. Or rather, I kept moving my chair just a bit closer to hers. She complimented me on my gentlemanly behavior towards Haley, which reminded me of a moment earlier in the evening when, sitting between the Director and I, she exclaimed, "My god, I'm sitting between two gentlemen." Her definition of such a man was priceless: "A gentleman isn't someone who opens a door for a woman or holds her coat because he's looking to impress her. It's a man who has that so ingrained into how he behaves that he doesn't even realize he's doing it." At one point in our conversation it felt like there was as short a mental distance between us as there was a physical one, which is to say none at all. I told her I wanted to kiss her, but that I wouldn't because it would be ungentlemanly. Then I picked up the overflowing ashtray to discard the butts and as I walked away stroked her lovely hair and tugged gently. "I like that," she said.

The night sky turned to dawn and we were nearing the last of the beers we drank in the Connemara's stead. We were discussing Peter Greenaway's movies, particularly "The Pillow Book," and I made a comment about the movie being filled with beautiful bodies. She told me if I wanted to see beautiful bodies I should instead look at a movie called "Dangerous Beauty," which she happened to have on her. We went into the Director's office and popped it on his computer. The film opened on a library and introduced us to a stunning blonde. Deb mentioned that it was impossible to go wrong with a film filled with sex and books. At that point I'd already started holding her hand, resting my head on her shoulders, angling, quite frankly, for nothing more than the opportunity to lie down with her on the bed in the back room, and simply hold her as we slept. Then the Director woke up and looked in on us. I tried to persuade him to go back to bed, but he didn't take the hint.

Gradually conversation overtook the film and we simply shut it off. The sun was up now and we were on the last of our beer. The Director disappeared to look in on Haley, and Deb and I retired to the living room. She scrunched into in her chair and let out a cat-like yawn. I told her we should retire to the back room and curl up to sleep. I stood, took her hand, and asked her to follow me. She sat in place, telling me that she would love to, but that if she lay down in bed, she wouldn't properly wake for what she had to do during the day. I didn't like it, but I didn't push the matter either, deciding to sit with her and talk, watching as she dozed off. I wrapped her in a blanket and joined the Director in his office. We stepped out for more cigarettes and, because it was after 8, beer. On the way back, I alluded to my developing interest in her. "Well, yeah," he said sarcastically, "you had your hands all over her. I teased her about that when you were out of the room and she said, 'That's just gentlemanly affection.'" I was glad of the information.

The sun fully out, the sidewalks again overflowing with commuters annoyed by the strike, the Director and I fought our way back to his place. We stepped off the elevator where Deb was still sleeping and settled into his office. "I'm not going to work today," I said. "Fuck it," he said, "This is just the thing we need to blow out the tension." I agreed and then erupted into laughter. "What?" he asked. "Can you imagine if your assistant came in this morning. Here we are sitting at your desk at nine in the morning, knocking back beers, smoking, a woman passed out in the front room..." We both started laughing.

"Ah, fuck it," he said, "It's Christmas."

I raised my beer to a toast. "Fuck Christmas," I said.

Bottles clinked above the morning delivery trucks. "Fuck Christmas."

Monday, December 26, 2005

2. The Mission

For my circle of friends and acquaintences, the coming of the holiday season tends to increase the velocity of the shit flying towards the fan. I won't bore you with the personal crisis that has been consuming much of my energy since Thanksgiving. I'll simply note that I'm not immune, in fact, most people I know have been living in some degree of personal hell while the canned music in each and every store is instructing us to have a "holly, jolly" time.

There was neither holly nor joy at the bar on the Sunday before Christmas when I sat with the Director and his new girlfriend Haley. We were sipping scotch and gulping beer, commiserating on a recent trip the two took to the set of his most recent movie. They were jubilant with the memory of the trip and with the overwhelming reality of their new infatuation, but the elephant in the room was just a ferry ride away, on the shore of New Jersey. He announced his presence with the chirping of her cel phone. She regarded the box with dread, her demeanor changing from the young woman with the shining eyes and a smile large as the morning sun, to a frightened young wraith, suddenly overcome by existential nausea. The Director's demeanor also changed in an eyeblink, from happy suitor to fierce protector. Haley fliped the phone open and clicked a button to read the text message. "Fuuuck," she said. She showed the message first to the Director and then to me. "I fucking hate u," it read.

Haley is just one of the many people in my circle of friends who is undergoing a profound life change right now. I've met her only recently, the result of the Director's profound change -- his emancipation from a destructive marriage. I've known the man for a decade now, and in that time he's become a brother. We've shared many days and many more nights in a conversation that has yet to abate. In the months since the marriage dissolved, I've watched him shed ten years, witnessed a gleam come into his eyes that was only present in the bursts of creative euphoria. To witness a friend come back to life -- to shed the gray, ashen sorrow worn in beaten down circumstances, to become a vital, virile, happy force -- this is one of the great pleasures a human can have. Within a few months of his new bachelorhood, he met Haley, an enchanting woman two decades his junior, who possesses a ferocious intelligence, enormous charm, and joy of living that serves him very well.

But nothing's easy. When he met Haley she was living in a dying relationship in an apartment overlooking Manhattan from the edge of New Jersey. This girl, she is no suburban creature, and she is most at home in the heart of the city, surrounded by capable people achieving great things in fields of creative endeavor. It was inevitable that she'd hit it off with the Director, but more importantly, it was inevitable that she would not last in a relationship with a partner whose ambition was to settle down, hatch children, and find a sterile house somewhere in the burbs where there would be barbecues and celebratory dinners at the Outback Steakhouse. He took poorly to the change in their status, and instead of allowing a painful, but gentlemanly break-up, he behaved as an unmanly worm. The details don't matter, and they're not mine to share anyway, but I can tell you that when I watched the blood drain from her face, when I heard the fear in her voice, when I heard the phone chirp incessantly with a new angry message every few minutes, I too became her protector.

For days we had all been urging her to make the break final. To retrieve her things, to free herself. But fear is an irrational force, it will turn the poised to helpless children. She could not go alone, but she feared for the safety of those who went with her. With text messages saying, "Some1 is going 2 get hurt and it's NOT going 2 B me," it's hard to blame her. Fear, however, is a loser's game. That night, when the Director joined a friend for a cigarette, I turned to her and spoke clearly, but directly, that she had to get out, she had to do it immediately, and she had me to help her. It was a conversation we'd had before, but something in the tenor of events must have persuaded her that I was right, because with a pained, but confident nod, she agreed. We settled it. The next day she, her other friend at the bar, and I would meet at the Director's apartment. We'd meet at 2:00 and head over to retrieve her things at three. I excused myself from the bar and took a cab home, knowing I'd need to be rested to meet whatever challenges lay ahead.

It was the right thing to do. I didn't know this person, this non-man who threatens women. I didn't know all the details, but I could see that she was in trouble. And if there was to be a confrontation, it was not right to let her see it alone. My brother's girlfriend was in trouble, and I know, deep down, that if friendship means a thing, it is that one must stand up when the chips are down. It's not machismo, it's the right thing to do.

The following day I showed up sharp on time, putting in an early day at the office so I could be out of there with enough time to do the work that had to be done. She was a mess when I got off the elevator and stepped into the Director's pad. Pale, red eyes raw from crying, hands shaking beneath a sweater and a jacket, clutching cigarette after cigarette. There were prop guns splayed out all over the living room, evidence of a late drinking night that apparently ended with the other man in the mission, her friend from the bar, passed out at 4 AM with an uzi replica resting in his lap. She and the Director updated me on the situation since the past night. The text messages continued, there were constant angry voicemails. She had to turn off her phone because at one point her ex would start another call as soon as her voice mail picked up. His tone had gotten more violent and threatening and Haley was worried for our safety if he should be at the apartment. After this update, the Director said, "Charles," paused, "I think I already know the answer to this, but if you don't want to go through with this, you can back out now." I shot him a dismissive glare. "Feh," I said. "I knew you would say that," he said, "But I had to put the qualifier in so you wouldn't deck me." We shared a laugh and lit a round of smokes and waited for the next man in the mission.

An hour ticked by slowly, and the third man, who mere hours ago was passed out on the chair I now sat on, was derelict. We brainstormed, looking for another party. There was no way the Director could go, because he is the rival and would escalate the situation with his very presence. I am a very calm, analytical man, and was right for the mission because I am possessed with the ability to defuse conflict rationally. Failing that, I'm large, and have had to take some punches in my time. We needed a number two, someone to keep the situation properly numbered to mitigate the potential of physical conflict. Haley called all of her friends and the Director some of his. While Haley spoke to many people, all were otherwise engaged, and probably not persuaded by her sell job that she was in "minor crisis mode." The Director, meanwhile, reached his editor, a man possessed with the manner of Dionysus, but who has also managed a lot of ugliness in his life. The editor, Dionysus, was in immediately. It was, again, the code of brotherhood, the call of friendship. When a friend asks for help, you make yourself available.

Dionysus pulled up after work, a large, bearded man with bum hips, but a solidity in his features and disposition. He drove us through the tunnel and into New Jersey, listening to her detail the situation. Dionysus, as you would expect, has seen a lot of life, and offered a very kind, but rational ear. Rolling out of traffic, she asked us, should she call him, see if he's at the apartment. She feared that he would immediately react violently. Start destroying her things, or else prepare for a fight. Sage Dionysus said she had to call him, but when we were about ten minutes away. "This is very hard for both of you, and you need to acknowledge that," he instructed. "Tell him that you're coming over to pick up some things and that you know that you both need to talk, but now is not the time, because your passions are both so strong. Ask him to take a walk, and promise him that you'll call him soon to talk this over, when both heads are cooler." We drove on in silence, until I heard a deep breath from her seat behind me and heard her on the phone. I could tell that she was breaking up inside, but she spoke with professional calm, even as I heard him screaming into the phone from the front seat. He was on his way home from Pennsylvania, and he'd be there in an hour. "Don't fucking go in there," he warned. "You're gonna sit there, and you're gonna fucking wait for me and we're gonna have this out." She said she wouldn't do that, promised to call him later, but said that this is what she had to do now. Angrier words were spoken through the telephone and he abruptly hung up. She did not answer when he began calling her back. I told her to turn off the phone as we approached the apartment building.

It was one of those many storied monstrosities with a doorman. Dionysus waited in the car while Haley and I commandeered a luggage cart from the lobby and took the elevator to the apartment. She opened the door and I put the cart inside. "Okay," I said, "You're going to tell me what to pack, and I'll get it done. But I need you to show me what to take." We worked fast and efficiently, unloading drawers of papers, stuffing boxes with journals kept for so long that they are evidence of her intellectual development, taking books from shelves, and clothes from hangers and rapidly getting them inside. She became frazzled, as anyone would when their threatening ex is driving closer and they're packing as much of their life as they can haul on a cart in thirty minutes. She started to hyperventilate, tear up, shake. I instructed her to take three deep breaths, which she did, and then told her I needed to know what was to be packed next. With military efficiency we were out of there in a half hour, leaving everything on the curb outside Dionysus' car. I had her wait inside the running car, while I stood at her door, smoked a cigarette and waited for the car service, which, of course, was running late.

Standing there in the chill New Jersey air, I regarded her life packed up at my feet. Books and sweaters, papers and a framed poster from a Broadway production signed by cast and crew. Obviously hers was a cerebral life, a life of words and art and performance. The suburbs were not her destiny, this much was clear. I leaned against her door, keeping watch for the minivan that would take us back to Manhattan, and also for a car carrying a frantic, fast-driving man. I steeled myself for whatever the situation would be. Naturally reason would be the first approach. I would represent myself as an attorney specializing in domestic violence situations and who befriended Haley. I would advise him that a violent move would not be wise, and then would attempt to talk him down. Should that not work, I knew that Dionysus would stand up from the driver's seat, draw himself to his full 6'1", gripping the cane at his side and glaring with solid eyes. He would deliver the goods from his wealth of emotional wisdom. I am a rational intelligence, and Dionysus emotionally intelligent, and between us I was confident that conflict could be averted without Haley ever stepping out of the car.

Inside the car, I could see her brave face. She moved so efficiently in the apartment, took direction well, knew that calm and rapid effort was the path to freedom. But I could also see her shaking hands, her frightened eyes behind her courageous mask. The minutes crawled by and I rang the Director, telling him to get the car service on the line, get them here, tell them they were running late and we needed them stat. He did so. And by 7:15, the time when the ex claimed he'd be there, the minivan pulled up and Dionysus drove away. Haley got into the front seat while the driver and I quickly loaded her life into the cargo area. When we finished, I jumped in the back seat and we pulled away. I rang the Director. "Mission accomplished," I said.

When we got back to the loft, Haley got out of the car and crumpled into the Director's arms. We got her things upstairs and she fell into a chair, then dissolved into wailing tears. I excused myself from the room, knowing that a person in pain does not need an additional spectator. I disappeared into the Director's office and consulted the internet. The transit strike was on, and it turned out that my afternoon mission was to become an extended stay in the loft. I left to buy some clothes to wait out the strike. When I returned, Haley had pulled herself together. We walked a block to an Italian restaurant. She was numb and I was tired and the three of us sat drinking scotch. The Director wore a grin. She was free.

Later that night, after Haley was put to bed, the Director and I sat up drinking beer. The exhaustion had set in for both of us, and now we were letting the alcohol wash over our weary nerves. "She'll tell you this herself, but she said you were really great tonight," he told me.

"So was she," I said. "She was the one who was taking the real damage, and she was so unbelievably strong. She impressed me very much. I was just doing what I thought was right, but she was the one with the real courage."

"Yeah, but you didn't know what you were walking into. The guy's a maniac, he's always threatening her. For all you knew you'd be walking into an apartment where some guy with a knife or worse was waiting." There was a beat as the Director took a pull from his beer then said, "I can't thank you enough for this, man. This really meant a lot to me and I'll never forget it."

"Don't worry about it," I said. "Look, you're my brother. That's just what we do."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

1. Bohemian Interlude

"And so," John Lennon remarked, "this is Christmas." That phrase, that song's chorus, has led to its appropriation by the ho-ho mobs who insist upon visiting each of us, every year, with a month long orgy of forced good will, compulsory spending, and the constant ludovico technique presence of wreaths, good natured fat men, and that horrible background patter of syrupy music about snow and gifts and some damn infant who visited 2,000 years of fuckery upon the world. The appropriation of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" misses the point of the song, which is a fantastic anti-war anthem, and has instead reduced it to yet another in the onslaught of jingles meant to sound the bells of universal joy. I wonder if Lennon, dead now for almost as long as I've been alive, would be annoyed by this fact, or wryly grin at how subversive its presence is. I hope for the latter.

For if that was Lennon's intention, then it is very subversive, and very well placed in this year of misguided culture warfare from the Christian right. To me it seems that the discussion of a "War On Christmas" is in fact its epitath. This holiday supposedly about good will, supposedly about charity towards the human condition, has now been been vulgarized in the most horrific and final way. Bad enough is the spending pressure. Bad enough is the music. Bad enough is the chauvenistic intrusion of a religion upon American life, but now the poor winner Christian right is using it as a tool to rub in the notion that this is a Christian country whose brand of Christianity permits other faiths, but only as second-class citizens. Diversity, tolerance, and kindness have finally left the building.

Thank god, so to speak, for Christopher Hitchens. In a stupendous article on Slate, he has thrown down the gauntlet against this vile institution with what is the finest piece of writing I've ever encountered. Look at it. Agree with Hitchens or not, his point should be carefully considered. He notes, "The Fox News campaign against Wal-Mart and other outlets—whose observance of the official feast-day is otherwise fanatical and punctilious to a degree, but a degree that falls short of unswerving orthodoxy—is one of the most sinister as well as one of the most laughable campaigns on record. If these dolts knew anything about the real Protestant tradition, they would know that it was exactly this paganism and corruption that led Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist—to ban the celebration of Christmas altogether."

Philosophically I'm for that. It's too easy to allow this month of consumption masked as good will to take the place of actual good will. On the microcosmic level, good will and affection towards friends and family should be done on a regular basis, and the seasonal requirement of showing such cheapens those bonds. On the macrocosmic level, the month of charity in word, but not necessarily in deed anaesthetizes our sense of civic responsibility towards our neighbor with the feel good spirit of the season.

So I, of course, have opted out. Nothing against you if you celebrate it. This is a free country. But I would like to demonstrate another path. The path I follow, and the viewpoint from which the next days of posts in this blog will be informed. The free-thinking, secular path, to be sure, but more specifically the Bohemian path. Dr. Duvalier, the author of this fine blog, who is permitting me to stain it with my feeble ejaculations over the coming days, is no stranger to this life. Though settled, the Doctor and his fine bride have shared with me several of their childless nights in pursuit of friendship without dogma. Theirs is a relationship that prides reason over sentiment, and though they are very sentimental towards their infant in their respective writings, there is no doubt in my mind that they will raise another citizen free from the shackles of pre-packaged, easily digested thoughts and emotions. Certainly their child will enjoy this month in the future as much as her peers will, but I trust she will grow to understand that the window-dressing is just that. If only the rest of our country were as wise as these two new parents.

Today I am writing without the trappings of Christmas anywhere near me. In a New York loft with the Director and his girlfriend, and a new friend for whom I have developed a strong affection. It's been a rocky road getting here, and it is a road I shall illustrate for you in the days to come. Anyone seeking endearing anecdotes about how cute baby poop is should probably steer clear of this blog for the next few days. For the rest of you, I beg your indulgence as I begin an extended meditation on what, for me, is the true meaning of fellowship.

The Edmontonian Compromise

There’s been some debate this past week about whether or not I’d continue posting through our Ho Ho travels. Would I do four lame two-sentence posts in a row? Would I break the streak? I really didn’t know. It was Charles, of all people, who found the Buddha’s third way for me. To ensure the unbroken continuity of the faversham’s daily posts while taking an actual vacation, I’ve accepted his kind offer to stand in for me the next four days. While I frolic and gambol in the greatest cultural nexus north of Red Deer, he will post as the official Correspondent for Yuletide Venom. So take it away, Chuck.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

This Year's Christmas Movie (More or Less)

As well you may know, it’s been my tradition for many years to see a newly-opened movie on Christmas morning. This year it became perhaps not impossible but logistically unlikely to keep up the tradition, on account of we’re traveling on Christmas Day. Chances are I could have found a matinee to fall in the appropriate time frame, but that’s not taking into account packing, last-minute erranding, and keeping the wife’s stress level down. I think I’ve documented pretty thoroughly in this faversham my mania for observing traditions once I’ve established them, but, as Billy Bragg put it, we must all bend a little if we are not to break. I agreed that for once I could see the movie on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, and since it could not therefore be something opening on Christmas Day, the field became wider. What we ended up seeing was Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic. This doesn’t really meet my usual criteria for a Christmas movie; it isn’t an epic and it’s only 72 minutes long. But hey, it has Jesus in the title and what could be Christmassier than that?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Oh Yeah, the Baffin Boots

So, because Mama Dog is from the United States, only one of which (Alaska) ever experiences a serious winter, she’s been very concerned to ensure that we all have warm clothing to wear when we’re in Edmonton. Because I’m Canadian, I’ve just been saying, “Nah, I don’t need gloves, that’s what pockets are for.” That’s purely reflexive, of course. My first year in California ruined me for winter for all time, and I know it. So, as the date of travel approaches, I’ve become incrementally more receptive to the idea of dressing sensibly. I decided I should maybe figure out where that scarf I used to have might be, since my big coat doesn’t really cover my neck. I figured I should probably wear something under my jeans if I go out at night. I broke down and agreed to cover my head. And I caved pretty easily on the glove issue. I kind of like wearing gloves, actually. It’s mittens I hate.

One of the first steps in this process was when Mama Dog went online and discovered Baffin Boots. She commended this link to my attention and was surprised when I was immediately sold, eagerly agreeing to buy that very boot with no further investigation. Of course, there was a reason for this that had nothing to do with the quality of the footwear (of which I could not possibly be more ignorant). Words being everything to me, it had to do with the name. Mama Dog had no way of knowing this, but when I was in grade three (or was it four?), I wrote a report on Baffin Island, which is the largest of Canada’s arctic islands, and the biggest thing up there short of Greenland. Though I don’t remember a word of that report today, I’ve had an unspoken affinity for Baffin Island ever since. For similar reasons, I remain to this day very keen on Rotterdam* and the majestic Purple Martin. They just don’t come up in conversation that often.

Anyway, the Baffin Boot was footwear made in Canada, designed for use in Canada, and named after one of the coldest places in Canada. Sign me the hell up. I was ready to buy the things online until Mama Dog suggested that probably isn’t the best way to shop for footwear. Girls. They want you to “go to the store” and “try things on.” “Okay,” I said, “but I want these ones.” We went to REI and I submitted to the formality of trying on another item (Made in China! Feh!), but stuck resolutely to my guns. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think I’ll get the Baffin Boots.” Mama Dog asked the salesperson how wearable the boots would be down here. Like, maybe they’d be good for walking in the rain. The salesperson testified to their waterproofedness, but reiterated that they’re made for really cold weather. “Yeah, I know,” I said, “I’ll only really use them this once, but they’re named after Baffin fuckin’ Island.”

As it happened, a rainy period started that day, so in the evening I tried out the Baffin Boot while I walked the dog in the rain. My feet remained dry and toasty warm. I had to step high because they’ve got hella heel, and they’re still so stiff that they force me to keep my legs weirdly straight as I walk, but they’ll break in. If I wear them more than once or twice. The important thing is, they’re named after an island that’s cropped up in my imagination every five or ten years since I was a little kid. Oh, and they’ll keep my feet warm for when I walk in snow for the first time in six or seven years.
*Made a map of the Netherlands out of play-dough.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Another One Like This

I have a feeling this is the week I’ll finally miss a day and not even do a stupid little streak saver post like this. If I’m having this much trouble posting while at home, trying to do it while traveling is sure to push me over the edge. The suspense isn’t killing me, but it’s at least mildly noticeable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Question Weighing on My Mind as the Holiday Season Looms

Assuming I’m able to go to a movie tomorrow or Saturday, should it be King Kong or Syriana?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

English As She Is Spoke

Today’s A Word a Day contained this snippet:

“If you have Sprachgefuhl, you have an ear for idiomatically appropriate language. The best illustration of Sprachgefuhl, or the lack of it, was an 1855 Portuguese-English phrase book intended to help Portuguese speakers master the English language.

“Titled ‘English As She Is Spoke,’ it was authored by one Pedro Carolino. The only problem was that Pedro didn't know any English. On the plus side, he did have a Portuguese-French phrase book. Pedro simply picked up a French-English dictionary and tried the circuitous route: Portuguese to French to English. The result was such gems as:

“Names for body parts: ‘Of the Man: The inferior lip; The superior lip; The fat of the leg.’
“Food: ‘Eatings: Some black pudding; A little mine; Hog fat; Some wigs; Vegetables boiled to a pap.’
“Swimming instructions: ‘For to swim: I row upon the belly on the back and between two waters.’
“Idioms: ‘Idiotism: Cat scalded fear the cold water.’

“This book was even used as a textbook in the Portuguese colony of Macao. I regret to say they eventually stopped using it. Imagine, in just a few years, we could have witnessed a lovely new strain of the English language take root.”

Later today I happened to be looking at the McSweeney’s site, and guess what I came across? I think perhaps the Internet gods are telling me to buy this.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What Time Is It?

One of the things that fascinates Baby Dog about Halmonie is her watch. Perhaps it’s a factor of novelty; I never wear a wristwatch and Mama Dog only does sometimes. Whatever the reason, when Baby Dog pages through our book of photographs and finds a picture of Halmonie, she inevitably points at the wristwatch and says “Hami watch.”

Baby Dog has become even more interested in the watch. Sometime this weekend, she latched on to the phrase “What time is it?” and was repeating it over and over. “What time is it?” “It’s 11:08.” “What time is it?” “It’s still 11:08.” “What time is it? “11:08, still.” “What time is it?” “Okay, now it’s 11:09.” “What time is it?” Later, she latched on to one particular answer she had received: “7:30.” “What time is it?” we would ask her. “Seven-thirty,” she would reply. Twice a day she was correct.

Today when I got home from work I found that Baby Dog was wearing Halmonie’s wristwatch. “What time is it?” we asked her. She glanced at the watch, frowning, as she’d seen Halmonie do, then looked up. “Seven-thirty,” she replied.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Midmorning Thunder

It rained like a sumbitch today, which is what passes for winter in California. Mama Dog was out walking Doggy Dog when the rain suddenly intensified. Halmonie and Baby Dog were in the living room and I was putting away dishes in the kitchen when we heard a low slow rumble of thunder. Mama Dog and I had talked not long ago about how Baby Dog had not yet heard thunder in real life, just the approximation contained in Mr. Brown. I hastened to the other room to point it out to Baby Dog who had scarcely noticed, being absorbed in some book or other. “Listen!” I said, “Boom! Boom! Boom! Mr. Brown makes thunder!” Of course, there was no thunder going on by then, and she looked at me like I was tetched. But eventually more came, and she grew interested. Halmonie put her up on the coffee table so she could look out the window at the rain pinging off the garage roof next door and maybe catch a glimpse of the next flash of lightning. The lightning was all done by then, but when Mama Dog and Doggy Dog returned, bedraggled and dripping, Baby Dog was glued to the window, calling out “Dibble dibble dibble dopp!”* and waiting for another boom to come.
*The sound of rain in Mr. Brown-ese.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Poker Tonight

Busy weekend, stuff to do before poker, no time to blog. At least I got to sleep in this morning for the first time in several weeks, because Halmonie's here. That was a plus, because Baby Dog had a bad dream at three in the morning and required a good deal of settling time. I got eight hours, but it wasn't all in a row. I'll try to be marginally less lame tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Our Work Parties

Wednesday night was Mama Dog’s office Ho Ho Holiday party and last night was mine. We figured Mama Dog’s would be the easiest of the two, because Wednesday’s my day off and the party was in Berkeley at a restaurant. We thought it would be fun to show Baby Dog off to Mama Dog’s cow-orkers who have only seen her in desktop photos. The thing turned into a bit of an ordeal, though, because we failed to negotiate in advance one crucial piece of equipment: a high chair. When we showed up, the organiser assured us that a chair would be right over. We mingled and waited. I hauled Baby Dog around because the space was not only not baby-friendly, it was kind of baby-hazardous. The room was too narrow and crowded with too many people and too many chairs. A free range baby would be in constant danger of trampling. We let her walk around a bit in the more open-air courtyard area in the back, but it really was open-air, and a bit too chilly for her to be frolicking on the flagstones. The organiser kept checking back and saying the highchair would be there any minute, any minute. I showed Baby Dog the piñatas that decorated the ceiling, and that kept her occupied for a minute or two. We read Mr. Brown Can Moo a few times. Mama Dog introduced us to many of her co-workers, but the ambient noise was deafening and I couldn’t understand a word being said to me. I nodded and smiled a lot. Finally, the organiser showed up with…a booster seat. With no straps. To set on a wobbly chair. Yes, right, that’s going to work. Admitting defeat, Baby Dog and I went home, but Mama Dog went back to the party for a while by herself.

By contrast, we’d long since written off as impossible any appearance by Baby Dog at my office party. It was held at the St. Francis, historic not only for being the site of the scandal that ended the career of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and the place Enrico Caruso went to after the ’06 earthquake, but also for its place in our own personal history. Mama Dog and I stayed at the St. Francis on our wedding night, in a lovely suite overlooking Union Square. We stayed in the exact same suite on our first wedding anniversary, and were well on our way to a lifelong annual tradition when we got a dog and never did it again. Thus crumbleth the cookie. Anyway, since the party was in San Francisco, we reckoned it would be infeasible to bring Baby Dog with us. We arranged for a babysitter, but she wouldn’t be able to arrive at our house until 7, which is when dinner was to be served at the party. I checked and made sure it would be possible to have Mama Dog’s food held until she arrived. We figured she could probably make it by eight.

As it turned out, we could have brought Baby Dog to the St. Francis with much less difficulty than we’d met at the restaurant in Berkeley. The party was in a large ballroom with plenty of space for a baby to roam safely. Also, a highchair would probably not be difficult to find in a Westin. In fact, there was a ten-month-old baby there shortly after I arrived, the son of S McK. Goes to show something or other. Well, Mama Dog pointed out that the whole event would have kept Baby Dog up long past her bedtime, which is true. We were able to stay out and carouse like childless people. Well, childless people who are old, tired, and responsible. But we stayed until ten and I had just enough liquor to get slightly drunk without being hungover in the morning. Born to be wild.

One other bonus: after going to these things for about eight years now, I finally won something in the door prizes. $100 gift certificate for something called giftcertificates.com. Free crap! Finally!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ho Ho Cheer

Just back from the office Ho Ho party. Kind of soused. I'll try to write during the day tomorrow. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dog Tired

An excess of freelance work tonight has left me brain fried and more than ready for bed. So I’ll catch up with you later. I really should tell about the Baffin boots sometime.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Who Do You Have to Blow to Get a Good Night’s Sleep Around Here?

I’ll stipulate that many people surely had a tougher night than I did last night. Tookie, for one. But by my retiring, middle-class, new-parent standards, last night was a pretty rough one. This and that kept me up until midnight. At one a.m., Baby Dog decided it was time for a screaming fit. Mama Dog was the first responder. She changed the diaper, made an offer of water, tried singing and rocking, and nothing worked. I took over and after about four false starts spread over forty minutes, finally got the girl settled down quietly in the crib, though not asleep. I went back to bed, lying awake until the chattering had stopped for a while. Then, just as I was drifting off, I jolted awake to the sound Baby Dog in the other room, saying “Rainbow?” This is her was of requesting that somebody turn on Napster and play “Over the Rainbow.” When there was no response, she followed up with “Nobody?” That means either “Nobody Does it Better” or “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” depending. Then she started rattling off other non-song-related nouns and eventually fell silent again. I started to drift again, only to be startled awake by “Ladybug?” That’s usually a request to have either Ten Little Ladybugs or Little Ladybug read. Or it could be a request to play with her ladybug pyjamas, sitting on top of the dresser. Again, hard to know. The cycle repeated over and over. She’d chatter, fall silent, I’d drift off, and then just as I was about to fall asleep, she’d speak up. I don’t know if she was sleeping between bouts of loquacity, or if perhaps she was talking in her sleep, but the upshot was I didn’t fall asleep properly until close to three.

At six a.m. the alarm rang, and I swatted it off. “I need more sleep,” I told Mama Dog, and reset the alarm for seven. The way I saw it, I didn’t have much choice but to be late for work. I wasn’t going to be fit to function if I didn’t get another bit of sleep. Miraculously, Mama Dog had managed to fall asleep while I was putting Baby Dog to bed, and had stayed asleep through most of the chatter/quiet/chatter cycle. She was well rested enough to get up around six-thirty and walk the dog. I dozed through until seven, and Baby Dog beat us all, sleeping in until almost seven-thirty.

As I was getting my tea, Mama Dog said to me, “Did you notice there was no honking this morning?” It was so. Either the honker didn’t come today or we were both so dead tired that the honking finally failed to wake us. “Maybe somebody killed him,” I said cheerily. Then I thought a second more. “Hey – maybe he was Tookie.”