Search Results for: "the pooch"

The Weight Deadens on Your Shoulders

Image: The Pooch, 12/26/2006-09/04/2017

[Image: The Pooch (12/26/2006-09/04/2017). Photo taken 8/21/2017. She was an unwilling photographic subject: if you held up a smartphone or camera in her direction — which you always wanted to do, you couldn’t help it — she’d turn her head aside, as here, while keeping a gimlet eye trained on you. She was a cute dog, often involved in cute activities, but the only way to document them was to shoot a bazillion shots and just pray that one would be suitable.]

No whiskey river Friday this week; I just cannot work up the enthusiasm.

The Pooch (that is to say, Sophie) died this past Monday morning, towards the tail end of a long weekend for all three of us. She was all right, and then she wasn’t.

Okay, true: she wasn’t “all right” healthwise — but then again, she never had been. Small dogs often have breathing problems of one sort or another. In The Pooch’s case, she had an issue called “collapsing trachea”: the windpipe over time slackens, just at a point where it bends. Eventually, it slackens enough to close up completely, with the expected results. One of the chief early symptoms of a collapsing trachea is occasional coughing, often in the form of so-called “reverse coughing”: it sounds sorta like a cough, sorta like a sneeze, and often has hints of a goose’s honk. So we knew, early on, that eventually the problem would take her.

(It’s not “treatable,” by the way. Oh, you can administer cover-ups like cough suppressants. Surgically, a couple of things can be done, to strengthen the trachea artificially. They all come with potential side-effects and, in some cases, the side-effects can be much, much worse than the condition itself. Even so, surgical options were out of the question for The Pooch: she was so small, and the risks bloomed proportionately.)

But knowing that something awful will happen seldom seems to fully prepare you for its, well, happening. The Missus and I have spent the week in a fog of crying jags triggered by nothing in particular except the weight of a new, awful, sudden vacancy. (I think today was the first time I’ve ever broken down while taking a shower, surrounded by nothing at all to remind me of her except, yes, that very vacancy.) We’ve lost other pets. And yes, we’ll come out of this grief eventually — but boy, this one has hit us hard.

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Paying Attention to the Story that Was

Space colony of O'Neill cylinders (NASA Ames Research Center, via Wikipedia)

[Image: a so-called “space colony” consisting of a pair of O’Neill cylinders, courtesy of the NASA Ames Research Center (via Wikipedia). This image has little to do with the story (or the spaceship(s)) discussed in the post, but it felt suitably “epic” (and at least vaguely relevant).]

For a good while now — maybe a year and a half — I’ve been working on a science-fiction novel (working title: 23kpc). The action takes place almost entirely aboard an interstellar space ship, the ISS Tascheter; the protagonists, Guy and Missy Landis, are something like a spacegoing Nick and Nora Charles (cf. Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man stories, especially the films — starring William Powell and Myrna Loy — made from them).

About six months before starting 23kpc, I’d actually written a short novella, or long short story, featuring Guy and Missy and the Tascheter. That story sprang from nowhere in particular; I just wanted to try my hand at SF (again), and was at the time too distracted — by real life and the marketing (still in progress) of Seems to Fit — to focus on anything major. In fact, when I began writing it, I didn’t even know it was SF: it took me several sentences to realize it.

In the course of writing “Open and Shut,” as the original story was called, I realized many other things. I realized how little consideration I’d ever given to the practicalities of space travel, particularly from one star system to another. What would the ship have to be like? If it weren’t capable of faster-than-light (FTL) speeds, how could individual humans ever hope to survive such a journey? (I sure as hell didn’t want Guy, Missy, et al. to die en route — requiring the invention of fresh characters over and over and over…) Perhaps humans were somehow different then — evolved with significantly longer lifespans. Or perhaps there were some ways of keeping them inert for long stretches of time, à la “suspended animation”… or… or… And what about where they were going — what could they even hope to know about their destination? Had at least one other generation of humans preceded them into space? How could a “crew” of, say, a few dozen individuals, even hundreds of them, possibly keep going during a trip which might take not just decades but centuries?

And so on.

Well, I took “Open and Shut” through to the story’s end. But all those practical concerns compelled me to tackle the general project correctly, in its own right. Hence, 23kpc. It no doubt comes with its own set of problems, as I’ll realize when I re-read the whole thing (when I’m done writing the whole thing). But it’s backed by much more (read: any) research, and I think I’ve gotten a lot more of it “right.”

Still, “Open and Shut” has its virtues, especially as a seat-of-the-pants exercise. It gave me Guy and Missy, and several of the other main characters who’d show up in the novel as well. It gave me the Tascheter — in vastly different form. It gave me some of the underlying themes I’d been thinking about (e.g., the evolution of culture and language). It’s told in the present tense, and the first person (from Guy’s point of view), which makes the action feel more “immediate” (to me, anyhow). Finally, it gave me a certain clipped, smart-alecky tone which seemed well-suited to the characters. And re-reading the first few pages reminded me of how much fun I’d had back then…

What follows: the first few hundred words of that story. Hope you enjoy it, too!

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It’s a Matter of Leaning the Right Way

No idea where this walking sculpture is, or who created it. Anyone know?

[I have no idea where this sculpture is located, or who created it. Anyone know???]

From whiskey river:


Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

(Mary Oliver [source])


On Living: I

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

(Nâzim Hikmet [source])

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Mung-Bodied: A Reverie

Schematic: a

[Image: schematic of a “Rube Goldberg” solution to the challenge of waking up a laptop, by a fifth-grade physical science project team. For details, see the note at the bottom of this post.]

When I was a kid, one of the things which could — without fail! — get all of us laughing was for somebody to go all suddenly and unintentionally tongue-tied. Mung-tongued, we called it. In a little one of his stand-up bits, Steve Martin asked the audience rhetorically something like this: Are you ever talking along and all of a sudden your tongue gets away from you and ywannguhmelizzorwhat? (I laughed at that, too.)

But you know what? The tongue finds lots of company among the other muscles.

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Sciuridaceous* Appreciations

Here in the US, January 21, 2013, presents a veritable bounty of reasons to celebrate. It’s the (celebrated) birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; it’s the (celebrated) quadrennial ceremony of the inauguration of the President; and, Wikipedia tells me, it is also National Hug Day — when we are supposed to hug everyone we feel like hugging (and, presumably, everyone else can just go to hell… especially, presumably, if they try to hug us).

And (apparently since 2001, per the efforts of a wildlife professional named Christy McKeown) January 21 is also Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Here in our little well-treed suburban corner of north Florida, we live in a neighborhood pretty much owned and operated by squirrels. The Missus and I have come to identify particular favorites. Most recently, we focused on a little guy who had some horrible wound in his side — a long, apparently poorly-healing gash which didn’t seem to diminish his enthusiasm for life. The Pooch and I, for a time, often encountered a half-tailed squirrel; in my mind’s eye, I imagined that he’d lost the uttermost portion to a run-in with an automobile tire. (The squirrels here are madly jealous of cars’ monopoly of the streets and cul-de-sacs, and challenge it at every opportunity.) And every now and then, a new one seems to discover the joys of frequenting a house with large, stucco-exterior walls. They can spend hours walking around with their heads pointed straight up, down, or sideways, defying gravity, all Spiderman-like.

We also have our share of squirrel tragedies, of course. Some weeks, we seem to see more two-dimensional than -three-dimensional squirrels on the asphalt. And sitting out on our screened back deck, over which soar many tree limbs, we’ve seen what happens when one daredevil or another ever-so-slightly miscalculates a change in wind direction, a stirring of a branch, at just the wrong moment before leaping aboard the inter-tree mid-air express.

(A one-pound or less rodent may be a small animal. But when it drops to a wooden deck from thirty or forty feet up, I’ll tell ya: Wham! doesn’t do the sound justice. It always surprises us when they immediately jump to their feet, sort of shake their heads with little whubba-whubba-whubba cartoon movements, and scamper away.)

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Midweek Music Break: Linda Ronstadt, “Old Paint”

Texas Longhorn Cattle Drive, by Nick Eggenhofer

[Image: Texas longhorn cattle drive, as depicted by Nick Eggenhofer.
The horse may or may not be old but it is not, alas, a

Let’s get the music going right at the outset, and save the background for a moment. Here’s Linda Ronstadt singing “Old Paint,” which closes her great 1977 album Simple Dreams:

Linda Ronstadt: 'Simple Dreams' (cover)


Pretty, no? Now, about that song:

On long trail drives, the old cowboys — so goes the legend — used to calm cattle’s nerves at night by riding around the herd’s perimeter, whistling or singing softly.* It’s a nice story, one I myself choose to accept (regardless of its truth) because it tells about good, kind, simple — and interesting — people and their relationship with animals.

Whether the story is factually true or not, there’s a whole genre of music, “cowboy songs” or “Western music,” characterized by stories of life moving cattle around on the Plains, sleeping under the stars, sharing everyday life with horses and longhorns, and dreaming about (sometimes) women — often, women the singers had voluntarily left behind. Wikipedia currently lists over sixty such songs, although this is far from complete; one collection devoted to the genre includes music and lyrics for two hundred of them. Lyrics aside, the songs are notable for their easy melodies and their rhythms, which seem geared to a capella renditions sung from the back of a horse. Indeed, Wikipedia notes:

Otto Gary, an early cowboy band leader, stated authentic Western music had only three rhythms, all coming from the gaits of the cowpony — walk, trot, and lope.

One of my favorite recent examples of the “lope” rhythm was Norah Jones’s take on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (written by Bob Dylan), featured here at RAMH in whiskey river Friday post a couple of years ago. The guitar comes in first, repeating a seven- or eight-beat rhythm over and over… My first-hand experience with horses — limited to fairground pony rides and such (and I’m not sure it ever included loping) — stopped sometime in the ’60s, but even to me that rhythm feels like the rippling roll of a saddled horse’s back beneath the rider.

As for the walk

No one knows when “(I Ride an) Old Paint” originated, or to whom it should be credited. It was collected for several studies of cowboy music around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries, so it goes back at least that far. Poet/Historian Carl Sandburg assembled an anthology of American folk tunes in 1927, called The American Songbag; in it, he wrote:

This arrangement is from a song made known by Margaret Larkin of Las Vegas, New Mexico, who intones her own poems or sings cowboy and Mexican songs to a skilled guitar strumming, and by Linn Riggs, poet and playwright, of Oklahoma in particular and the Southwest in general. The song came to them at Santa Fe from a buckaroo who was last heard of as heading for the Border with friends in both Tucson and El Paso.

(Margaret Larkin — per Wikipedia — was was by no means some mere local folkie wandering from saloon to auditorium, as this description makes her out to be, but a well-published author and activist. Likewise, “Linn” Riggs was actually one (Rollie) Lynn Riggs, whose play Green Grows the Lilacs provided the source material for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!)

As I think I’ve always heard it, the song consists of three verses, alternating with three choruses. Verse 1 briefly states the singer’s circumstances — roaming the plains on an old pony, heading to Montana for a roundup — and the final verse, borderline mawkish, asks that his lifeless body be saddled up one last time and released to roam the land. The second verse, though, is an oddball: not a general sentimental statement, but a story in lurid pulp miniature. That verse’s subject, one “old Bill Jones,” seems to have fathered a daughter and a son, and his wife “died in a poolroom fight.” (Oh, America: you sure do know what to sing about!) But that doesn’t stop old Bill, who still wanders the West, singing as he goes…

I really like the song’s language, especially in the first verse. It’s a saddlebag from beneath whose flaps protrude raggedy bits of trail jargon:

  • Now that's a paint (or pinto) -- old or notThe paint referred to here is a type of spotted pony, a pinto.
  • Old Dan: I’ve seen this described as a common name for a horse, but this seems like a stretch to me. (Why should the singer name the horse he’s leading around, but not the one he rides?) Again, I’m no expert but a more likely explanation is, I think, that the words actually are/were old dam — where dam simply refers to a mare. (In the lyrics page I linked to, I’ve used dam.)
  • Throw the hoolihan (variously spelled — Sandburg says it’s hoolian): in rodeo, apparently, bulldogging cowboys used to be allowed to jump on a steer’s horns in such a way that the steer’s legs buckled, flipping it rather er, ass-over-teakettle. (Yes: jump on its horns. Not that bulldogging in general strikes me as the most humane way to comport with an animal…) This move — since outlawed — was called the hoolihan. Possibly related to this in some way, cowboys also (reportedly) developed a way of tossing a lariat  over a horse or steer, a technique also called (and also variously spelled) a houlihan. As with “old Dan/old dam,” this lariat toss, rather than the wrestling move, seems the more likely meaning.
  • A coulee is a ditch or ravine cut into the landscape by running water; a draw, more or less the same thing — a gully or small canyon.
  • Dogies are calves.
  • The fiery and the snuffy: again like “old Dan,” some interpretations claim that “Fiery” and “Snuffy” are common names for horses. (Yeah, sure. Bend over backwards much?) When I hear or read this phrase, though, I think of two kinds of impatient cows (or maybe horses). The first is the hot-headed untamable type, chafing angrily and perhaps rearing and bucking at restraints actual or circumstantial; the second, a more fearful beast, snorting through its nostrils as it eyes the landscape nervously. (The Pooch does this sometimes on walks, although from her four-inches-high perspective the landscape extends mere yards in a given direction.)

My favorite twist in the lyrics, though, comes in that odd second verse: one went to Denver, the other went wrong. This stands as an actually pretty good example of a figure of speech called a zeugma: a series of terms, the last one of which ostensibly follows but actually breaks the syntactic/grammatical pattern established earlier. (The example I’ve most often seen goes like this: He took his hat, his coat, and his leave.)

And, well, whaddaya know: Carl Sandburg himself recorded some of the songs in that “songbag,” including this week’s selection:

(If you followed the link to Sandburg’s Songbag book, a few paragraphs back, you may have noticed his claim that the lyrics say old Bill Jones had two daughters and a song.  I’m sure this made sense in a poetry-technical sense, as a more exact rhyme for “…and the other went wrong.” But it doesn’t make a lot of sense on other grounds!)


* The steers probably didn’t get the same consideration once they’d arrived at the stockyard.


Midweek (Childhood) Music Break: Various Artists, “Sho-Jo-Ji”

Stylized tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) as a kumadori mask design

[Image: stylized tanuki, a/k/a Japanese raccoon dog, in the form of a kumadori mask
for use in
kabuki performance. (Thus: a kabuki tanuki.) I found it here, among a collection of other kumadori.]

Probably item #1 among my nascent collection of Maxims for Nostalgists would go something like this:

Not everybody shares your memories — in fact, few people do. But don’t write off your memories as lively (or misshapen) childhood inventions, either. The Internet tells us so.

Like many stories, the story behind today’s post is longer than the simple facts (or mere common sense) might indicate. I recently received a comment on one of my old (mostly two-part) What’s in a Song posts, the one about “Cry Me a River” (Part 1 of which was here). In the course of replying to the comment, I got involved in re-reading what I’d already posted, checking the links and so on. Naturally, some of these — especially YouTube videos — had broken in the last three years, so I looked around for more current links to the same (or similar) content.

Which got me looking back at the Julie London version of the Mickey Mouse Club‘s sign-off song (“M-i-c, k-e-y…”). Suddenly, unbidden, a mini-avalanche of memories tumbled out of my subconscious, into the full light of awareness — all related to the songs on an old phonograph album, of music featured on the original TV series.

One of the songs on this album was an odd little number partially in some Oriental language — Chinese, I thought, or maybe Korean. It was a song about (according to the English verses) a raccoon, a raccoon who was always hungry. And because he was always hungry he sang — in particular, he sang something which sounded like koink-koink-koink! But that couldn’t be right, could it?

A quick Google search led me straight to this post by someone identified as Mama Lisa — and her many commenters. A gold mine of reassurance!

Turns out that “Sho-Jo-Ji” wasn’t written for the Mickey Mouse Club (as I’d assumed). It’s actually a fairly old Japanese children’s song, about a creature called a Japanese raccoon dog — or tanuki. The song made its appearance during the first season of the Mickey Mouse Club, in November, 1955 (too early for even me to have seen and remembered it from that source). This version doesn’t seem to be available in any commercial form (MP3, iTunes…), but I have found what is darned close to the version I remember (if not the actual thing). The specific signature touch I recall: the prolonged trilling/warbling/musical-free-association between verses.

The uploader tags this with the year 1957 but I assume that’s the date of the album. (I got the November 1955 date from this page, which seems pretty confident about it.)

As I said, the song has a history. Here’s a vintage (apparently real vintage) Japanese black-and-white cartoon featuring dancing raccoon dogs:

But the oddest little tidbit I found while looking into this was the discovery of a recording by Eartha Kitt, from just about the same time that the song appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club:

By the way, if you’ve got children of your own who are capable of Internet research, you might want to guide their search on this topic. The tanuki stories of Japan, in general form, seem vaguely reminiscent of Native American stories of the entity called Coyote. (You can find a few of them in translated form here.) Tanuki, personified, is a mischievous trickster capable of changing shape at will, often for no particular reason than that he enjoys it. Wikipedia:

Compared with kitsune (foxes), which are the epitome of shape-changing animals, there is the saying that “the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight”… The tanuki is thus superior to the fox in its disguises, but unlike the fox, which changes its form for the sake of tempting people, tanuki do so to fool people and make them seem stupid. There is also the theory that they simply like to change their form.

Cute, eh? But what exactly is he hiding?So far so good. Still cute, right? (I mean, just look at the photo over there on the right. Raccoons themselves cute as a button, of course — but add The Pooch Factor and it can just about make a small-dog lover swoon.)

But the tanuki tales have a somewhat kinkier side, too (kinkier to American readers, anyhow): male tanuki are supposedly blessed with enlarged testicles, which (so goes the legend) bring financial good luck. Some of the artwork playing up this angle carries the hope for good luck to an extreme; the creature itself may occupy a little tiny corner of a two-page spread, say, while the testicles fill the entire remainder. I know I’m revealing a Philistine nature here, but, well… it can be a little, um, ick.


Edit to add: The English-language versions above both feature — if I’m not mistaken — the rhyme:

Macaroons and macaroni
Jelly beans and beef baloney

Which, if I haven’t misheard the lyrics, probably signals a non-literal translation. (It also sort of drags my head in another direction — towards the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni theme song — but please, don’t let me get started on the subject of commercial jingles from the ’50s and ’60s!)

Further edit to add (2017-07-13): a new comment, from someone going by the handle “Gnemec,” challenged my always-iffy hearing of the “jelly beans and beef baloney” lyrics. As it happens, though both Gnemec’s and my own versions are probably wrong. You can see Gmec’s comment and my reply (which I think led me to the correct version) below.


Alternative Seeings

[Image: Rembrandt, Portrait of Jan Six (etching, 1647). You can trace this etching’s progress through
several other versions — six, actually — using a little slideshow at the site of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.]

From whiskey river:


Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,
Out of the room that lets you feel secure.
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.
With eyes that have forgotten how to see
From viewing things already too well-known,
Lift up into the dark a huge, black tree
And put it in the heavens: tall, alone.
And you have made the world and all you see.
It ripens like the words still in your mouth.
And when at last you comprehend its truth,
Then close your eyes and gently set it free.

(Dana Gioia (after Rilke), from Interrogations at Noon)


We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.

(Elie Wiesel [source])

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Real-Life Dialogue: Vita Brevis Edition

[The scene: North Florida, USA, the interior of a car — not their own — currently occupied by a human couple and a micro-canine. It is around 6:00 pm: He and She, with The Pooch, are on their way home from work. They left work early today in order to rent a car (this one) so that they could leave their own car at their mechanic’s for its periodic maintenance the next day: they needed to get to both the car-rental agency and the garage before either place closed at 6. The evening before, they left work early in order to meet with their handyman to discuss the next round of “projects.” This came on the heels of the second weekend in a row on which they had overnight guests, on the weekdays between which they had various medical and other appointments, following weeks of, well, more or less the same. And it came before a day on which two medical appointments were scheduled, as well as the need — of course — to return the rental car and pick up the owned one before either place closed at 6.]

He: Did you read my Facebook status update today?

She: You posted something on Facebook? But no. I almost never look at Facebook during the day.

He: Oh.

She: Well, what did it say?

He: I forget the exact wording. It was long, I remember. Something like “I’d really like to have a single week, just a straight seven days, when nobody in the household has any doctor or vet appointments, handyman or other home-improvement projects, holidays, overnight guests, car repairs, laundry to do, overslept alarm clocks, power or Internet outages, computer problems…”

She: So what you’re saying is, you don’t want life.

He: Huh?

She: Life. All of that is just life. You don’t want any of it.

He: No. I’m not saying I don’t want any of it for good — forever. I just want a single, simple week of—

She: And why do you care if I’ve got a doctor’s appointment, or if The Pooch has to go to the vet or the groomer?

He: What do you mean, why do I care? Of course I care if you’ve got to see a doctor or if she—

She: It doesn’t affect you.

He: Of course it does. We’ve only got one car. We do this thing several times a week where we have to meet up during the day just to hand the car off, or one of us has to stay home to meet with a service person, or we’ve both gotta leave work early or get to work late because—

She: It’s life. Those things happen.

[Time passes. They get home, watch a little TV, read the mail, rough-house with The Pooch, fix dinner. As they’re preparing their separate dinner plates at the kitchen counter, She suddenly speaks, from behind Him.]

She: Damn it.

He: What?

[He turns to see what the problem is. She is trying to tug a napkin from the holder — just one napkin. She does not succeed. A dozen napkins come with the napkin She’s tugging on, and apparently leap from the napkin holder to drift, like unseasonable maple leaves, to the floor.]

He: A little, mmm… problem? [He bends to pick up the napkins from the floor.]

She: I was trying to take a single napkin. And then this—

He: Y’know, that’s life. Things happen.

She: [Pause for dramatic effect, and to see if He will look at Her; He will not. However, His shoulders are shaking and snorts issue from beneath his mustache.] You know, if you were a little closer I’d slap you.



How to Keep Your Pooch Happy

Answer: roll the car window down sometimes.

(We do have a little nervousness about doing this, with reason; The Pooch gets so excited that she seems to lose her basic sense of or concern about where she is in 3D space. Which isn’t a prescription for keeping the windows rolled up — it’s a prescription for keeping hold of her collar. :))