Thursday, February 19, 2015

Henry 1997-2015

Today was the last day we’ll pet Henry.  He died peacefully, in his own bed, under sedation, with bacon on his breath and our hands in his fur.  It was all we could think to give him and the very least he deserved.

Henry was a very good boy.

The truth is I didn’t choose Henry, I received a call from the floor of the Houston shelter telling me he had to be chosen.  There had been eye contact, and that was it.  Annoyed, I mumbled something like “If you love him, I’ll love him” and went back to work.  I arrived home to a puddle of vomit full of worms and a dog so dirty it looked as if it had been dipped in wax.  There was a small “woof” from this instant watchdog, so I bent down on one knee and stuck out my hand. There was eye contact, and that was it.

A long medical road later he was a prince of the unofficial Houston bayou dog area off Montrose. He loved to chase a ball, stop where it landed and wait for me to come over and throw it again.  He loved being chased in those days.  He could not be caught.  Not by Greyhounds, not by Whippets, not by Rat Terriers.  He had enough speed to outrun the quick dogs and enough quickness to evade the fast dogs.  He’d run three miles, five, fast as you’d care to run it.  

He never learned tricks. Tricks were beneath him.  Instead he learned-or perhaps revealed at his own pace-how to be a fairly well behaved human person, a standard to which he usually held himself and always expected to be treated.  He was the perfect watchdog; a single bark from somewhere in the apartment when a stranger passed the door.  He learned to stay away from people who were eating and taught me I had a certain way of taking the last bite of my dinner and placing my fork down, marking the end of dinner and the beginning of his rights to the leftovers.  

That was something I didn’t know about myself, and of course it was one of a thousand things he taught me about myself, and life, and animals, and other people. If I end up being anything like a decent father it will be due in large part to lessons Henry taught me.  Lessons about patience and perspective and the shame of losing your temper with the powerless.  And forgiveness, just the endless forgiveness.  And how sometimes helping a loved one means things are going to get really, really gross but in the end it doesn't kill you and anyway that’s what soap and laundry and the garbage are for.  

He kept me from the bottom of so many holes and out of at least half the trouble I would have otherwise got into.  He woo-woo-woo’d encouragement at the most jubilant points in my life, not caring what the occasion was, just that he was fully participating in the celebration.  

He was Mutt Healthy once he cleared what he had picked up in the streets and the shelter.  As a younger dog, he once figured out a way to get a five pound box of fudge off a fireplace mantle while everyone was out.  We returned to an eight foot by ten foot room with a newly brown floor, wall-to-wall, but a sleeping, not comatose dog who was ready for action the next morning. He loved to lay out on snow drifts. He hated rain.  Hated, hated rain. Eventually, an X-ray for a dental exam revealed a grapefruit sized tumor on his spleen.  Surgery to remove it revealed other, smaller tumors.  After that, we knew our time with Henry was borrowed and we just had to enjoy it as long as it lasted.  That was five years ago. Cancer took a leg.  Age took the vision in one eye. Recently, most of the rest of his vision and hearing left.  He was a tough cookie these last few months but it’s been a while since he’s been able to do any of the things he enjoyed.  He never complained.  

Today the house call vet asked if I wanted to spend more time with his body once we wrapped it in his warm green blanket and tucked it in a Henry-sized wicker basket with handles. I told her I didn’t, it wasn’t him.  Henry was not the crazy scruff and the eyebrows,  the mohawk and the beard and the prance-prance-prance.  Henry was *Henry*, the personality. He was the dog people crossed the street to meet.  Clipped to a parking meter or tree, there was no trip into a store so short he wouldn’t have someone scratching his ears upon your return.  At stoplights windows would lower so people could yell their recognition of the fact he was clearly not restricted to the back seat, just being chauffeured.  He loved a bar that opened onto the sidewalk where he could lay on the warm concrete, spoiled by a parade of bar patrons out font for a smoke.
That quality is one of the reasons I am writing this-that, and not knowing what the hell else to do with myself for the rest of an afternoon like this, that included this. About the third or fourth time you hear “It’s Henry! Hi, Henry!” yelled from a passing car or across a busy street by people you have never met, you realize you are not in a traditional Dog/Owner relationship.  Because of Henry’s personality and people’s reaction to him, I don’t feel I was Henry’s owner so much as the guy lucky enough to be chosen as caretaker of a knee-high, national cultural treasure.  So many people loved him. He brought a lot of smiles into the world and made literally thousands and thousands of people happy for a few seconds here, a few seconds there as they passed him on the street. All that happiness, added up?  It is a stunning achievement for any lifetime.  

I was so, so lucky to know him. So, so lucky to be the guy who got to be his best friend for all these years.  
We all lost a good one, the best one, today.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Talking about Talking to the Babies of the Poor.

This Article 

...sent me off on a Facebook post that grew long and rambling enough it took refuge over here on this old warhorse of a blog.

About 50 different fascinating/frustrating conversation starting points in this article.   I was interested to see them address one interesting wrinkle I wondered about, having spent a lot of time working on the Upper East Side: rich babies with Nepalese nannies (it's a thing) who have little English.
More seriously, it amazes me we'd rather pay to put an extra cop and a gun and a radio and a squad car in a neighborhood than a nurse with a clipboard and some brochures, given how much long term difference each one can make.

I've seen a lot of coverage on the school closings issue here in Chicago.  The city had a bunch of meetings where parents could speak to the Superintendent, the Police Chief and other city functionaries.  The amount and variety of the questions and demands that went to the Police Chief confused me, until I realized that to people in these neighborhoods, the police are the only-yet a constant-point of interaction with the government.  How can this be a workable solution, on any level? It is expensive to flood a neighborhood with extra cops, socially as well as financially, and is of questionable long term effectiveness.  The big strides in New York city safety were not only the result of more police but of smarter police strategy, a unique population density situation and perhaps a low number of gang members, which is something people are trying to figure out).

I have a liberal bias and believe in government as an expression our collective will as a citizenry. If that will would have us change the situation of places like Chicago's South Side, for moral or straight up financial reasons, don't we owe it to ourselves to do it in a way that makes sense from the perspective of social science? The benefits of programs for the children of poverty are well documented, yet watching the news nearly every night, I see many standing at podiums and on siren lit street corners demanding more cops and nobody pounding their fist saying we need to double or triple the amount of social service workers on those same streets. Why do we not have social service patrol cars, (yellow-and-whites?), rolling around town with a nurse and a social service worker in each one, making connections with people and looking for places where the government can intervene in a positive way.  We force default this job to police officers once things have gone too far,and it shouldn't be their job.

 It amazes me how often I realize I am making a terrible parenting mistake, and I am literate, have access to the internet 24/7, wise and supportive friends and family, a few baby care classes under my belt, an adult life's worth of life experience and a stack of child-rearing books in our home. Tons of kids are growing up in homes where their parent or parents have none of that help when making their parenting decisions, and that is going to hurt those kids. Period.  Now a parent myself, it is clear to me parenting worthy of the name is not the sort of magic, instinctual force of wonder a lot of our popular culture makes it out to be.  When Leona was born, The Parenting did not arrive like this:

Rather, it seems to be a series of decisions and actions which will lead to either better or worse outcomes. With a base of knowledge and experience, one can improve the quality of those decisions and actions and therefore, the outcomes. A pretty good definition of a skill, or perhaps a trade, in either case something that can be improved with coaching and practice no matter what your level of underlying talent. We have devised a system in this country to provide training to every person who drives a car, whether that comes from a class or a more experienced driver. We do this because we have to share the road with these drivers. I'm not sure a good portion of the country sees themselves as having to live with these children.

Yet these children are our big chance. Again, I'm a believer in using government to change things, but I'm not sure I've ever read anything that convinces me the government has come up with any measurably positive way to get adults in poverty out of poverty. I can't honestly say that I believe the majority of people over 30 on government assistance right now will ever be fully self sustaining. There are a lot of reasons for that, a big one being so much of the money that used to circulate among the middle and lower classes has been sucked out of that part of society and locked up in the very top tier where it sits, doing nothing. Still, the fact remains, we can probably do only so much for older generations. Maybe even those in school already.

However, all the signs point to the premise that we can do a whole hell of a lot for those kids 3 and under. And next year there will be more, and we can help them too, and 15, 18 years from now the science says we should be able to expect much higher grades, much lower drop out rates, much lower arrest rates, much lower teen pregnancy rates and much better parenting by those teens who do get pregnant.
All of which saves us money, improves entire lives and perhaps helps to throw some hiccups into the cycle of poverty.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

BREAKING: Movie Stars are Good Looking

I've noticed that a good portion of the traffic to the website of my business comes through this page, so it seems only mannerly to have something recent and not-too-think-piece-y on it.  Here' goes:

In the gym today they were playing The Empire Strikes Back on one of the TV's and I looked up to realize with surprise Carrie Fisher was incredibly attractive in that movie.  Of course she was, she was the (sort of) ingenue, but I was surprised by this fact, having been just young enough when the first movie hit the theaters that Han and Leia were not actually people of an understandable age to me. I knew girls my age, and which ones were cute, I knew adults and which teachers were pretty, but these people in their twenties confused my ten-year-old self and by the time Empire came out and I could appreciate and fear girls who were nearly twenty Han and Leia were my family, basically, and off the Hot or Not track for good.

I had the same experience a few months ago when I went to see a newly remastered print of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  (totally holds up, by the way...) As the opening sequence closeups in the cave's treasure room rolled by, I turned to my wife and whispered "Jesus Christ he's good looking."  I was stunned, just as I was today at the gym, as everyone is when going through old boxes of family photos and stumbling on a picture that looks like a promo still for a silent film starlet.  That's great aunt Esther?!