MY DOG LIVES ON. ROSA, REST IN PEACE.

My beloved Rosa had to be put down early this morning and my wife and I are still in grief. No more feeling her warmth as she stretches and groans on the waking couch of a dawn. No more athletic hikes up Granite Mountain, down and up Smith Ravine, up the big White Spar trail that after the rock clamber levels off on a deer-grazing plain. No more cavorting with my hiking pal. I got up this morning and missed having to worry about gates and her running into a room she’s not supposed to be in. I will miss her so much. She provided companionship and love to me and Barb for a little more than six years. She had stomach and intestinal problems to the point where another surgery would have promised questionable benefit. We cried over her as the vet put her down, telling her how much we love her, letting her get out of her agony and go to her heaven surrounded by a rope toy and even a piece of liver Barb brought for her final sniff, one of the things she loved.

She had gone outside after messing the house and garage, wouldn’t move, we could have left her there next to my SUV on the cold concrete all night, I didn’t know we had a choice, went to bed, but Barb said at 10 p.m., already shaking with tears, we had to get her inert form off the concrete and into my car and to the emergency vet clinic in Prescott Valley. I managed. Better she died at the hospital surrounded by love than alone — as the vet said she would have — to be found cold upon my waking to go to work. We gave her final love on the floor of the hospital, even as she leaked the putrescence that had alerted everyone to the direness of the situation.

I’ve heard it said that dogs have a soul and I believe it, because hers is with me, and with Barb, now and forever. We love you, girl. You’re running after rabbits and eating bacon and kibble in paradise.

Facebook friends, wish me luck getting over this. Never did a man love a dog more than I loved this willful Airedale.

Rocker muses over sentimental transports

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t decide if I’m hard or soft. I guess both.

I spent the late morning and early afternoon unloading a truck at Walmart with heavy metal blasting.

And liked it.

I’m CAP 1 stocking crew. CAP 2 usually unload trucks when they start at two, but things are in disarray at my store what with absenteeism related to Covid 19 and everybody’s nerves frayed, so last two days the age-diverse CAP 1 crew — a mix of old guys like me and some young people thrown in — had to do it.  The hard gargle of metal vocal and that battle-axe guitar attack usually leave me cold. But today some of it came through as precisely what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be about. Maybe it was Metallica I was listening to; them I always liked. Or maybe Slayer. Who knows?

 

Slayer, a well-known metal band

 

All I know is I worked well with this raucous stuff blasting. Some things, you can’t have “nice” music as a soundtrack to.

 

Like when I was in the gym trying to bench two hundred three times and “My Sweet Lord” came on the Classic Rewind they pipe in there. I had to ignore the song to get mad enough to attack the bar. Now I love that song! George Harrison is in heaven, I wear him in my heart. But it wasn’t working for me to lift weights. (I like to think George would understand.) “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf or “Hang Fire” by the Stones might have worked better. There’s a time and a place for the hard and raucous.

But my musical tastes have drifted of late into the lyrical and innocent, and into years past, into realms one might call those of the doddering old sentimentalist.

Recently I had this unopposable yen to use my Spotify app to find songs nobody but me is looking for. I sat in my office and bathed myself in decidedly unhippyish half-century-old pop hits on my Bose desktop speakers, turned up pretty loud. I didn’t care that Barb across the house might wonder what I was up to. She leaves me to my musings and soul adventures when I’m in my sanctum.

 

First, I found the YouTube video for “I’ll Never Find Another You” by the Seekers, a folk-influenced Australian pop quartet who were big in my younger days. The song could be a statement of friendship, a testimony of what a fine and memorable friend someone was. But it might be about romantic love.

There is always someone
For each of us, they say
And you’ll be my someone
Forever and a day.
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through
But I know I’ll never find another you.

The Seekers may look square, but ‘Another You’ still hits me where I live.

So much drifts by, flotsam. What – or who – rises above the ruckus and letdown of life to provide a sustaining voice, a calming hand, a wise counsel? Female voices that are pure – another is Welsh singer Mary Hopkin in “Those Were the Days,” a McCartney composition – elevate the spirit. Maybe I love the woman who sings lead for the Seekers. Judith Durham made this a 1967 hit. I think maybe the song stuck with me because that was a golden time in my life.

The next song I had to hear on YouTube was even more explicitly romantic, “Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo and April Stevens. When their collaboration came out, in 1963, I took no notice. I heard it over the years as an oldie and might have liked it all right. Then it began to captivate me when I heard it again in yet later years. It stuck in my heart, a musical amulet, a pure and very lush celebration of amour, shamelessly immediate, even embarrassing, but real.

“In the mist of a memory / You wander all back to me / Breathing my name with a sigh.”

And later:

“And as long as my heart will beat / Sweet lover, we’ll always meet / Here in my deep purple dreams.”

This could be called pap. Schmaltz. Guilty as charged.

But it’s sung with such passion it becomes … true. Not what you sing, but how you sing it.

Why would such songs demand to be heard on this particular day of my life, at this particular juncture of my battle to find meaning in this existence, when the existential fact is that there is none?

It’s a blind need that brooks no reasons. I needed those songs. I needed them because … well because I can’t make it on reality alone.

Nobody can.

We who dream of love, or who remember it, have to do the work of making the world go round.

‘People are like onions. They grow in layers.’

We never lose our ability to dream. Life’s grind is always counterbalanced by life’s fairyland. (Photo blithely appropriated from the World Wide Web.)

 

How old will I get? Hard to say.

Just a little old? Methuselah old?

I hope it doesn’t morph too far beyond the current state of disintegration. Half-moon bags under my eyes. Male-pattern baldness. Hemorrhoid that comes and goes. Sciatica which requires me to lean on a door jamb while putting on my underpants. Swollen prostate making my urinations longer.

Yet I am vigorous for a man on the brink of sixty-seven. I lift weights three times a week, hike my dog mucho miles.

I have been thinking about age and how I regarded old people when I was young.

I may have been arrogant, looked down on them. My sister said I once cruelly mocked palsied Uncle Joe. I feel bad about that. I had no right.

A guy in the Walmart break room, back in spring, groused to me about this pandemic “bullshit,” how it just meant a bunch of old people would die, and who cared?

“It’s like … Darwinian. The population has to thin, always has. But they’re making a big deal out of it.”

I grunted noncommittally, trying to make my own my sense of the newly announced “menace.”

Back when I taught high school English, I discerned a sneering, dismissive attitude toward the aged.

As my career progressed, the kids in my classrooms trended more and more toward delinquency and the impossibility of graduation. They sat there illiterate and intransigent, and they hated you. They hated you because they hated all the other male authority figures in their lives.

You read about countries like Japan where the aged are revered. Or Native American cultures, sachems holding forth around the fire, fonts of ancient lore and enduring wisdom, interpreters of dreams. That is not America, certainly not our reality now. We’re all hung up on the respective ages of two old farts battling it out for the presidency.

When I’d started at the county-run “accommodation” school program, it was fun. The kids were naughty but curious. It was a little one-room schoolhouse, a catch basin for kids who’d otherwise slip down the drain. Yavapai County High School admitted wayward teens who just didn’t work out in big regular public schools, usually for absenteeism. We were their last chance.

I could get them to read. I used books and traditional writing assignments.

My cabinet of books became moot as, over the years, more chilling criminal elements, particularly of one outlying high-desert town, began (for district money reasons) to be admitted into our schools.

Yes, schools. Now there were two of them.

Aspire, the new high school built by the Yavapai Accommodation School District, was a miniature “real” high school, hallway spurring out to discrete subject-area classrooms, which became competing entertainment venues, each teacher vying for popularity with his own special audiovisual system.

As hardened fuckups became our clientele, everything went to the computer. We “taught” the unteachable. They would not read or learn; they bided their time, sitting there because probation officers had prodded them in.

But even back when I could get kids to read, I’d found a certain antipathy to written content that was about old people.

Case in point: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” about a meek, hen-pecked man who finds refuge in a fantasy world where he is a hero, saving the day as surgeon, fighter pilot, courtroom lawyer.

Every kid who wrote a reaction said the same thing. “There’s this old dude and he’s losing it. It’s sad.” They saw a depressing tale about clinical delusion. There was nothing funny about it.

Once – only once – did I see a young person crack up at this classic tale.

Tyler was a lanky youth longing for the military. He took a deep breath and committed himself to “triple,” meaning go to morning, afternoon, and evening shifts to cram in as many credits per unit time as humanly possible. Thirteen hours among kids arrayed around desktop PCs and perimeter carrels, teachers scheduled like nurses. You could be on from seven a.m. to two p.m., or three to ten.

A kid might “double,” stretching himself across two of the three shifts. But Tyler, bent on the Navy, had a deadline in mind by which to be accepted. Ready to dive-bomb off the board, he held his nose and plunged in for an improbably extended daily immersion in remedial education.

One task was to plow through American Short Stories for my junior English course.

I was on one afternoon when suddenly he erupted in loud crazy uncontrollable laughter in his chair around a table.

He was reading “Walter Mitty,” I heard him explain to the students around him, who wondered whether Tyler was hysterical from overwork.

I ambled by to chat with him and thrilled to realize that this story – which I’d been thinking of dropping from the course – had got over on someone. He identified with Walter Mitty.

There’s no greater pleasure in reading than to have such moments; or, in teaching, to see them take place.

I don’t know whether he went on to serve in the military, but I do know he exercised his humanity on that long late afternoon, when mordant James Thurber spoke to him about the compensatory mechanism of the human mind.

We’re all – if we’re lucky – going to get old someday.

My dad used to say, “People are like onions. They grow in layers.”

The imaginative faculty of the child never disappears.

To live is to dream. We can weather any prosaic chore, endure the whole slog of our grumpy round, if we never lose that child inside, who is always open to the adventure.

Because sometimes it’s the adventure within that sustains us.