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Walking Brooklyn: A Caretaker’s Notebook

26 Feb



Full disclosure: The title is a ruse. One does not walk Brooklyn; one accompanies Brooklyn outside while he smells things and pees. For about five minutes that is, ten at the most. Then — after five minutes, ten at the most — Brooklyn still does not walk, but Brooklyn does then run, or gallop really: a big, white German Shepherd and your almost-arthritic knees crack-crack-cracking along after him as the snow-colored beast darts back to his den. Brooklyn’s den is actually a lovely house in the lovely city of Pasadena — a house that I have been caretaker of for a week because its normal occupants were called away on a secret government mission (or to a family reunion in Florida, whichever you prefer).

Biophilia — let’s start there — Edmund O. Wilson’s term for the “distinctive bond between humans and other living systems,” (to quote Prof. WikiPedia). In other words, the living are drawn to the living. Wilson studied, most famously, ants. (Scientists who study ants are sometimes called ant-thropologists.) I remember a Nova episode that detailed Wilson’s career. The most memorable bit for me was when the great man bent down to scoop up a handful of dirt and then proceeded to explain how a staggering abundance of life could be found in this seemingly lifeless palmful of soil. Moving, isn’t it? Well, I thought it was. I still do.

There’s a kind of flip side to biophilia though. It’s the biophilia of the city-dweller. We know nature’s out there. We’ve seen pictures after all. Some of us have even experienced, once or twice (or was it only a dream?), the utopia of a concrete-free expansion of earth. These experiences and pictures take root in our bio souls and, as we drive to work and microwave our dinners and reshingle our leaky roofs, a yearning builds up inside of us. In desperation, we go online and visit the REI store and make a vague plan to go camping in the summer. We must go camping! We must climb a mountain! Maybe we’ll go with our partner, our children, but maybe we’ll just go it alone — just our one unique bio soul, solitaire-style, in the big, unknown bio wilderness.

And if you’re allergic to most animals — as I am (only the kinds with fur though! reptiles are fine!) — then there is an added layer of unfulfilled biophilia. Those fortunate people who have the ability to care for fur-covered creatures: what lucky sons-of-bitches. I hate them and their puppy dogs and their kittens and their Nigerian dwarf goats. I hate them all, every last one of them, those lucky SOBs. For what did I have as a pet when I was a child, dear reader? Yes, that’s right: if you guessed Olaf, the red newt, then you, madame, have won a completely unresponsive and marginally-brained prize. (Which is not to say that Olaf was not mourned to an embarrassing extent when he died after five years of life in his smelly, semiaquatic glass prison.)

At any rate: Brooklyn. He’s sleeping behind me at this very moment, all four limbs stretched out to the side, his right front paw pushing slightly against the small rise that separates dining area from children’s play room.

When Brooklyn is sleeping, or almost sleeping, or when you rub both his ears in a very particular way, he makes an incredibly comforting low, growling sound. I wish I could make such a sound to signify a similarly deep feeling of peace or relaxation. We humans go on and on about language, our unique one-up on the animal kingdom, and yet even a short visit with a tiny fraction of all-creatures-great-and-small reveals sounds that no human can satisfyingly mimic.

Next up: the corkscrew. Brooklyn suffers from a relatively common inbred Shepherd malady: hip dysplasia. He can get around just fine, but the malformation (ugly word — sorry, Brook, you malformed loveable monster!) asserts itself when Brooklyn wants to lie down. Thus will commence the corkscrew maneuver (patent pending). The pain is coming; Brooklyn knows it. But sleep and rest can also not be denied. Brooklyn finds a suitable place — preferably on carpet or grass — and he turns completely around two or three times. The movement is slow and careful. I’ve never actually measured the circumferences, but the first twist seems minutely wider than the second, the second slightly larger than the third. Imagine a tapered wine opener with only a trio of revolutions and you will have described the corkscrew of Brooklyn’s nap preparations. And thus he layeth himself down, spinning slowly into the earth from whence he came, from whence he shall return.

Finally, for now at least: The Way of The Eating, according to Brooklyn, the Shepherd dog.

Step 1: Lie on your belly, your front paws around your dish.

Step 2: Do nothing, just sit there and perhaps think about the immense and particular quandaries inherent in dogginess.

Step 3: More nothing, more thinking. If a human is looking at you, look back at him or her, your eyes expressing an acute and mysterious sense of anxiety.

Why does God allow suffering?

Step 4: Begin licking. Always lick your dry dog food first. Always. Did I mention you should always lick your dry dog food before eating it? Well, you should. Don’t be an idiot, lick your dog food before you eat it. Sure, some of the nuggets will spill on the surrounding carpet, but that’s to be expected. They will eventually be placed, magically, back in your dish anyways so why not lick to your heart’s content? To eat without licking is to experience joy without wagging one’s tail. Which is to say that the pleasures of life must be appreciated and anticipation (often finding a corporeal form in “the lick”) is a form of appreciation.

Step 5: Eat. Food goes into mouth. Mouth is raised. Chewing commences. Repeat. Variations are allowed. Sometimes chew while jaw remains lowered, several inches over food; sometimes turn head and chew.

The Eating

Step 6: There is no step 6. The first rule of the eating is to eat. (Though only after the licking.) When you have finished the eating (after the licking), then the eating is finished. When you have finished the writing about the eating, then the writing is finished.


Three-City Walk: Photographic Evidence Only, Please

21 Feb

One of WiP’s standard walks takes us through three cities: Pasadena, San Marino, and South Pasadena. Here are the photographic relics of a recent three-city ramble.

Sometimes a boy just needs to scrawl his heart's true feelings for all the world to see.

Free opinions and junk: sound familiar, blogosphere?

Open Trench Warfare.

Quotes from Lennon and Camus used to sell Valentine's Day crap. Well done, America. Well done.

"I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway . . . seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 3

Something tells me that little Meggie was destined from birth for some kind of brokerage career.

All fruit, no tree.

And we end where we we started: at my humble abode. Please note: neither humble, nor my abode.

  • Ramble date: Saturday, February 19th, 2011
  • Number of miles rambled: 6
  • Places visited during ramble: Heirloom Cafe (South Pasadena); The Battery Books & Music (South Pasadena; highly recommended, small but meticulously selected stock of used books at reasonable prices)

Pasadena: City of Roses, Rain, Rapture

19 Feb

When you live in Pasadena, a mere cumulus can seem filled with theological import: All praise to the fluffy white vapor forms, to the infinite blessings of a blue-sky eternity mercifully broken. And rain of course can never be merely rain. Rain — that throwaway word that Easterners and Seattle coffeeniks and Kansan storm-yawners understand as one of the most basic components of everyday existence — rain, in this sense, does not exist for Southern Californians. We here in the City of Roses next to the City of Angels understand that rain — even one drop of the precious material, even the mere cloudy hint of it — must always be greeted as an event, as the lead story on the news, as perhaps even — no, as certainly even — the first wet proofs of a coming rapture. Yes, it’s true, we go about our lives, on the surface at least — we take our children to school; we shop; we fornicate — but it is raining. That knowledge lies deep within us at every moment. We are existing in a time of rain. The day of the rain is upon us.

Part of this feeling, of course, springs (pours! bursts forth!) from our area’s objectively biblical events. Our wildfires (not just forest fires for us, thank you very much) have now become an almost annual event. Our mudslides follow in the Springly wake of the fires. And not one seismologist we ever let blab to us via television or newspaper or blogsite has ever been able to resist the one warning that unites every Southern Californian, regardless of chosen faith or ethnicity or station in life: the “big one,” they tell us, is coming. These math-juiced prophets cry out to us from their number-crunched wilderness: we have built it — our houses on hillsides, our cities of poverty and movie stars, our megalopolis of freeways —we have built it all and it, they assure us, is surely coming for us. The Big One shall not be denied.

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I would sometimes take a kitchen chair out to the front porch to watch a summer thunderstorm. The way the rain sheeted over the black pavement of our neighborhood road; the rips of lightening through the sky; the way we children were taught to count between the lightning and the subsequent thunderclap — the less time between sight and sound, the closer the storm; the glass of lemonade or mug of hot chocolate in my hand as the storm wind blew against my scrawny body. What a pleasure to witness such violence in such a safe space. What a sense of coziness that dichotomy worked to create.

And then inside the house, on several particular days, though I haven’t a clue exactly which ones anymore, I watched Bogart movies and perhaps even Chinatown, and Los Angeles solidified itself in my mind as a city of rain and gloom. Romantic rain and gloom, of course. Did the city seem romantically gloomy because it was raining, or was the rain simply an expression of the city’s beautifully poisoned soul? Whatever the answer, what a shock it was to me when I arrived in the City of Angels with my cardboard suitcase full of dreams and my just-so fedora and my spit-shined wingtips only to discover that, in reality, it never fucking rains here. Which is equally untrue of course, but that’s the living feeling of the area, and it’s the main reason we Pasadenians greet every spit of precipitation as something of a major event. (In celebration of these rain-events, we particularly like to drive erratically in the hopes that our local freeways can be lathered into an ultimate celebratory frenzy of rubbernecking and rage.)

I chose a rather more modest and less aggravating celebration this evening: a simple walk in the rain. I put on my warm but light Patagonia jacket and I grabbed my umbrella, the smallish one that was bought for me last month at the Santa Ana zoo. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a child’s umbrella, though I also wouldn’t make many extravagant claims for its status as an adult’s umbrella. When extended, a colorful array of small animals protected at least the greater parts of my person from the evening’s rain event. As I walked, I thought of myself as the boy sitting on that kitchen chair on that front porch in western Pennsylvania. What a long time ago, it seemed, and what a joy too — to be out in the rain in my rainless city, in my weatherless world.

  • Ramble date: February 18th, 2011
  • Number of miles rambled: about 4.5
  • Places visited during ramble: Norton Simon museum; the Heffernan–Longennecker compound

Schwartzman’s Simulacrum

6 Feb

Schwartzman/On Evil/Bubbleness

At Intelligentsia, the DJ looks like a shaggy version of Jason Schwartzman — who, come to think of it, is a fairly shaggy human creature himself. I order a red ale. Nine dollars. It’s good though, so why complain. I read. Terry Eagleton’s On Evil. I’m in love with this book. It fills my brain with ideas. The marginalia multiplies.

Then beside me the bubbleness. A young guy on his iPhone, texting. He works there, apparently, though maybe it’s his day off. It seems like his day off. He goes behind the bar to order himself a meal from the touchscreen ordering machine or whatever you call it that the bartenders and baristas use. It’s the only time he looks up from his iPhone and then it’s merely to shift to a bigger touchscreen. Then he talks to the bartender and they’re friends and I like them both because they’re comfortable in their own skins and because there’s that aura of things are definitely/probably/ maybe happening for them.

“We have a show in Palm Springs,” the bartender says and somehow just from the tone I know that he’s not talking about a band, as one might expect. More like some kind of film event. Or maybe I haven’t gleaned this insight just from his tone. Maybe my ears heard something but it didn’t register in my conscious mind. But it feels like I’ve picked up this fact just from the tone — and this, in turn, makes me feel minutely proud of my ability to decode social clues. But maybe it actually means the opposite: that we’re all sponges and everything washes through us but precious little is processed with any meaning.

Anyways, bubbleness. A friend recently bought a car that enables him to sync up his iPhone in a way that the car’s stereo will continue playing whatever song he was just listening to on his mobile device. All he has to do is plug in and turn on the car. Bubble house, bubble car, effortless transfer. No chaos or germs.

There’s an inverse proportion between this kind of thing and the romance we attach to, say, ham radio operators. Aren’t ham radio operators now the exclusive domain of movies in which they pick up the sounds of ghosts or past lives or alien lifeforms? That’s not a well-crafted thought but I’m convinced there’s a profound connection in there somewhere. The old technologies: once we have no use for them in the real world they tend to live on in our popular culture as clunky links to ephemeral, supernatural worlds. Although I guess at an opposite end, we see the same thing: techno-anxiety monsters its share of monsters too. The TV in Poltergeist, etc., etc.

These gentlemen can put you in touch with alien lifeforms. Extra charges apply.


Later, I try to get my favorite lamb roast wrap at Pita Pita but it’s closed and so I end up at Rubio’s, ordering a chicken quesadilla. This is the serendipity part. “I Shot the Sheriff” is playing in the restaurant and an actual sheriff is waiting for his burrito. I see his actual badge. I mean this guy is truly a sheriff and Bob Marley is truly singing his song of violence and freedom. I want to ask him if he hates the song, but of course I don’t. Instead I read a few more On Evil paragraphs.

And then — and really, it happens in the moment when I think: “I should write about this” — because that thought makes me check again, look closer and of course he’s not a sheriff at all. CHP instead. Which I take to mean that serendipities, examined, usually turn out to be works of the imagination — a thought that seems both depressing and comforting. Serendipity as a simulacrum of God? Well, that’s a pretty phrase. Wonder if it has any sense to it.

Better to stick to my wheelhouse and end with this: I think there’s a comfort in knowing that our minds construct such connections as serendipity. The busy narrative-machines of our brains (another kind of old technology in its way, often romanticized). You could say that my story of the doubled sheriff was a kind of company or companionship that I constructed for myself using my imagination. As too, I guess, this little written rambling here.

Ramble date: Friday, February 4th, 2011

Number of miles rambled: 4

Places visited during ramble: Intelligentsia, Vroman’s, Rubio’s