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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Zoe and George

We noticed, first, that our new neighbor had a parrot. The parrot’s cage is next to the front window, so when the shades are up, the parrot is on full view, and looking out into the backyard full of potential birdy friends. The parrot’s name is Isabel, and she has an anxiety disorder that makes her pluck out her own feathers, so she’s a little scruffy.

Isabel behind bars.

Isabel behind bars.

Isabel.

Isabel is giving me the beak.

The first bark could have even been mistaken for a parrot squawk, but not the six barks after that. There were dogs in that there apartment. Two dogs.

It was at least a month before I met them in person. George and Zoe are a little bit bigger than Cricket and Butterfly, but not by much. George is a white Havanese with a very outgoing personality. He likes to wave his front paws in the air to ask for attention. He’s very curious and keeps trying to go up the stairs to a stranger’s apartment to say hello. His older sister, Zoe, is a black and white Poodle mix, with an almost Dachshund length back that seems to have extra hinges in it. She is more demure than her brother, a bit more reserved and circumspect, but she will climb over him to get her share of scratchies.

That's George!

That’s George!

Zoe needs more light, but George is a glutton!

Zoe needs more light, but George is a glutton!

George and Zoe are both in middle age, or late middle age, like Cricket and Butterfly, and have their share of complaints: a hip here, a back muscle there; but they are still full of beans.

Whenever we walk past their building, my girls start sniffing feverishly. Butterfly seems to think that she must go inside, but she’s pretty shy when the real life dogs are around. Zoe and George had a little trouble with Cricket at first, because they’re all alphas and none was willing to cede power. Butterfly just stood by looking innocent and uninterested and let everyone sniff her butt.

Puppies? Where?!

“Puppies? Where?!”

I was able to take George and Zoe for a walk and it was pure joy for all of us. They are much better behaved that Cricket and Butterfly and appreciate any and all attention. Zoe has ballerina-like turn out in all four feet and almost gallops. George keeps his feet facing forward and sniffs everything and pees on everything he sniffs, and then he smiles like it’s the best day of his life.

“More walkies? We’re ready!”

There should be a puppy place in the backyard where all of the dogs who live here can hang out, so that I’ll never run out of my doggy vitamins. If I could just sit on the lawn and play with puppies for a few hours a day, I’d never have to take anti-depressants again!

Zoe finally gets her moment in the spotlight!

Zoe finally gets her moment in the spotlight!

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Family Photo Albums

Earlier this summer, when one of my cousins came to visit from Paris, it occurred to me that she might like to look at the two or three family photo albums we have at our house that I’d been organizing and reorganizing obsessively. Both my French and American cousins spent hours poring over the pictures, and requesting copies, and Mom spent the next few days at the library scanning the pictures and downloading them to drop box, for everyone in the family to share.

My grandmother was the keeper of the family photo albums, and showed them to us as the only form of entertainment she could offer when we visited her. I loved the black and white pictures of serious people and children in sailor suits. I loved knowing that I was connected to this ongoing story and I wasn’t just a solitary blip in time.

I don’t know what it means that my grandmother created and kept the photo albums. She wasn’t a storyteller, she was a collector: colored glass, interesting people, recipes, and photo albums full of disconnected moments in time. When we looked through the photo albums at her house, she stood at a distance, and when we asked questions, she answered in one or two words, or not at all. She could only offer us the pictures, not the lives behind them.

After her death, my aunts divided up the photo albums and furniture and books. I don’t know if they looked through the boxes and made conscious decisions, or if they just put things where there seemed to be room. My French aunt took the blue and white sofas and put them in her country house, I have the old rocking chair with red cushions and a few photo albums, and the largest box of family photo albums was in my other aunt’s attic in Queens. Untouched. And after my cousin’s visit, I had to go get that box. I spread the photo albums out on the floor of the living room: a lot of them were falling apart at the binding, or had lost their stickum, and pictures were falling out the sides.

It was exciting to finally see so many pictures of my cousins as children, because they were all together each summer at my grandparents’ house in Lake Placid, even my brother was there one summer as a baby, but the house was sold the summer before I was born. We were rarely anywhere at the same time after that. One set of cousins or the other would visit, or my brother and I would visit our grandparents, but there were no big family gatherings again like those summers in Lake Placid.

But the great discovery was the dogs! All of these dogs I’d heard about over the years were finally visible. We are a dog family, no matter what else we are. My Grandmother, severe and moody, loved Rufus. My mom, skinny and lonely, had Minky by her side. Even the housekeeper, dour and apart, had Chihuahuas – given to her by my grandfather, for company – dogs that really did make her a part of the family. Dogs have magical powers to soften the harsh edges of life, and people. There was Lady, and Minky, and Rufus, and Hercules, and Bijou, and Sarika. The dogs were much easier to love than the people, but all of the people loved the dogs.

That's my aunt, mind-melding with a family dog.

That’s my aunt, mind-melding with a family dog.

Annie, the housekeeper, with Herculina.

Annie, the housekeeper, with Herculina.

Grandma with a puppy.

Grandma with a Momma and her puppy.

Mommy and Minky.

Mommy and Minky.

Rufus, guarding the house.

Rufus, guarding the house.

Through all of this, Cricket and Butterfly wandered around and sniffed. I don’t think they could identify which particular pictures were of their doggy relatives, but there were interesting smells everywhere nonetheless.

After-sniffing exhaustion.

After-sniffing exhaustion.

It’s going to take a while to scan all of these pictures, but it will be worth it, to keep the family narrative intact so that we all know where we came from and that we are different strands of the same complicated family story.

Shiny Poop

 

Recently, Mom has had a lot to deal with. Her sister hasn’t been well, and there’s been a lot of doubt and worry and conflict and hospital visits and family discussions, which means we have needed to resort to the heavy weaponry of comfort: chicken wings.

For some reason, chicken wings are my mother’s perfect comfort food. I’m not talking about fried chicken, or, God forbid, Buffalo chicken wings. These are tossed with some salt and pepper and chili powder and baked in the oven. It’s a plan ahead meal, because the wings need to be defrosted, and then baked for more than an hour, and then cooled so they won’t burn off your fingers. But it’s also a family meal, because the dogs think I’ve made it just for them.

I’ll make a salad or something to go with it, but that’s really beside the point.

As an antidepressant, nothing beats chicken wings and watching the dogs hop up and down, and salivate, and smile, and run in circles waiting for their share. While the chicken wings are cooking in the oven, the dogs gradually become twitchier and glassy eyed, until they are drawn to the stove like magnets, staring at it from the kitchen doorway. I tend to share a lot of my chicken, because I don’t like the skin, and they love it. But when the chicken is all gone, they don’t really believe it. They will dig into the corners of every room looking for left overs, and then get angry and start barking in disbelief. Butterfly, especially, looks high, and crazed, after she’s eaten her chicken. She’s jonesing for more, and out of her mind. I don’t understand why I’ve never seen a warning sticker on a package of chicken wings – “Danger, Addictive Substance, Keep away from young children and dogs!”

“I need chicken!”

“Chicken?!”

I myself do not have that reaction to chicken. In fact, lately, I’ve started to wonder if I’m allergic to the stuff. I’ve noticed feeling nauseous a few times and not being able to finish eating, both with chicken and with eggs. Chicken is supposed to be the universal meat – the one that everything else tastes like (squirrel, frog, whatever else people are trying to get you to eat), but it’s not really my thing.

The problem with baking the chicken wings is the mess they make. I go to a lot of trouble to cover the whole baking pan with aluminum foil, and cover the aluminum foil with parchment paper. The idea is to wait until the pan cools and then fold the aluminum foil up and put the whole mess into the garbage can so we only need to rinse the baking pan for its trouble. But no. Mom does not believe in this. She believes that the dogs should have the benefit of every drop of fat that drips onto the pan, and insists on putting the pan, paper and foil and all, onto the floor for their delectation.

One Friday night, I made emergency chicken wings before Friday night services and didn’t have time to organize the clean up before we left. Without my knowledge, Mom had put the pan on the floor and left it with the dogs while we were out, for two hours. By the time we got home, the kitchen was a storm of tiny bits of aluminum foil and large swathes of parchment paper, and Butterfly’s face was dark with oil. Cricket was standing far away from it all, to make it clear that this was not her fault. I should have taken a picture, but at the time I was too shocked, and too busy corralling the dogs outside, and telling Mom that she would be the one to clean it all up.

Bath time after chicken.

Bath time after chicken.

“But I wanted to smell like chicken forever, Mommy.”

I worried, for days, that there would be shiny poop, and when there wasn’t, I started to worry that Butterfly’s internal organs were filled with aluminum foil decorations. A few weeks have passed now though, and Butterfly is still running and hopping and pooping as usual, so, fingers crossed, there’s no shiny poop waiting around in there.

“I could eat some more chicken.”

Unrequited Love

I hate the word unrequited, because we assume it to mean that there is only one person in love, and the other person is indifferent or even ignorant of that love. We use the term to cover almost any relationship that does not come to fruition: from stalker-like crushes on celebrities, to unequal love affairs, to love that is not actively returned but is still felt on both sides.

“Where are you?”

Cricket has had a few unrequited loves in her life. Usually with cats. Cats are not sure about Cricket, with her fast moving feet and her high pitched bark, but that doesn’t mean that the cats were never interested in her; they preferred to lurk and watch her from a distance.

Cricket and the cat

Cricket and the cat

Butterfly is less intimidating, and more approachable, but as yet she has not shown any persistent interest in any particular dog, or animal, other than her sister. Cricket only pretends indifference to Butterfly. At the very least, she loves having access to a Scent-O-Pee dispenser at all hours of the day and night.

Self explanatory.

Self explanatory.

I used to watch Hugh Grant movies, and a friend told me, you know, life is not really like a romantic comedy. And I said, of course I know that – but maybe I didn’t. I knew that Hugh Grant was not like the characters he played, but I figured someone must be, for the script to be written in the first place. I may have too much faith in my fellow writers.

I’ve had my share of crushes on TV characters, but most of my unrequited loves have been more complicated in one way or another, and yet still, finally, unrealized. I often feel like I’m pressing my nose up against the glass at a department store window, to stare at all of the things I can’t have.

IMG_1829            The dogs are my experiment in love requited, because they really do love me as much as I love them (even if they can be moody and need their own space sometimes). They are my lesson in the routines of love: the gifts given whether you’re in the mood or not, tasks accomplished and needs met even if I feel resentful about it. And I’ve found that I’m pretty good with all of this, and I miss them when they’re at the groomer for a few hours, and I’m happy to see their smiling faces each time I come home. I learned a lot about the dailiness of love from Mom: that love is action as well as feeling, and if you love someone, you take care of them, even if they are annoying you at this moment (I can be very annoying).

"I love you anyway, Mommy."

“I love you anyway, Mommy.”

I’ve learned about how to invest in love from writing, because I invest in it every day, even when weeks go by without inspiration, or years without external signs of success. I feel the security of making that daily investment. But romantic love – I don’t know how to build that or even to seek it out in a productive way. My parents’ marriage was scary, and maybe that’s what I expect romantic love to turn into, no matter how it begins.

I’m tired of seeing everything I do as pathological, even when it is, actually, pathological. The thing about unrequited love, is that there is an endless sense of possibility. Something exciting is always around the corner, even if it never actually arrives.

“What’s next?”

Mourner’s Kaddish

I have felt, for a long time now, that I have mourning to do, without the rituals with which to do it. My grandfather died when I was eight years old and I was not required, or even allowed, to say the Mourner’s Kaddish for him. I have lost dogs, but there is no ritual of Jewish mourning for a dog. There is also no mourning ritual after a betrayal or divorce. There are rituals for birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, but there are more events in life than that.

Delilah at the beach.

Delilah at the beach.

IMG_0547

Dina loved peanut butter.

The Mourners Kaddish is not actually about death, it is about reiterating faith in God. The prayer is mostly in Aramaic, rather than Hebrew. I never studied ancient Aramaic, so I only really understand this prayer because of the English translation. But the sound of the words, sung or spoken, has power, maybe because it sounds different from the largely Hebrew prayers in the rest of the service. It’s almost like the words have magic because of their otherness, as if secrets are hidden within them.

My favorite line of the prayer is a long list of the types of praise we offer. From the Artscroll Siddur: “Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world.”

It sounds better in the Aramaic, but it’s this long list of the ways we express love. And yes, we say them about God, but I think of them as being about us, about each other. These are all of the ways we experience and express our love for each other – with glory or comfort, with praise or song, and yet we can never capture all of that love in words because it is beyond the words we have available to describe it. So, yes, we are being reminded to have faith in God at our lowest moment, when we might feel as if God has forsaken us, but for me, it is a moment to acknowledge the love we still feel for the person we have lost, and for the people we still have.

Cricket, giving thanks for a leaf.

Cricket, giving thanks for a leaf.

Butterfly, in silent prayer, for chicken.

Butterfly, in silent prayer, for chicken.

The Mourner’s Kaddish can only be said with a quorum (ten Jews, some congregations still count only men) as part of the service. People who would otherwise say a hasty version of their morning prayers at home before work, will, for the year of mourning, make a point of finding an early service at their own or another synagogue, and hope that at least ten people will show up in time.

The Mourner’s Kaddish is said at the end of the service, not at the beginning, and I can think of a couple of reasons for this: one, so that the mourners will stay for the whole service in order to maintain the quorum and allow for all of the communal prayers to be said; and two, because there is healing energy in being there for the regular daily prayers, with your community, and in deep mourning you may not be able to believe that and choose it for yourself if it were not required.

At my current congregation the custom is, basically, for mourners to stand and the rest of us to sit, for the Mourner’s Kaddish. But over the years the instructions have become more convoluted and the rabbi has had to come up with a paragraph-long list of instructions: if you are in a period of mourning, or have a yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death of a loved one), or are supporting a friend who is in mourning, or think this is a good time to stand and remember…

Earlier in the service, a shortened version of the same prayer is sung, rather than spoken (as it is for the Mourner’s Kaddish) and the feeling is more joyful and light, with the same exact words. It seems to me that using the same prayer for both purposes is a way to gently remind mourners that they used to sing this song, and some day they will again. Until then, they will speak the words with the community, be part of and apart from them, and know that they are seen and that they are not alone.

Most of Jewish ritual is meant to be practical. When it’s not practical, it is either out of date for its original purpose, or the practical purpose is a little more hidden and requires some time and repetition to discover. So I wonder what the ancient rabbis meant by leaving other losses unritualized and unmourned. Maybe some of the prayers just didn’t make it into the canon, or were lost along the way. Maybe one day there will be an excavation of a little town outside of Jerusalem, and inside of an ancient stone dog house they will find the lost book of prayers for how to mourn a beloved dog. I think a lot of people would appreciate that.

I found this stone dog house online. I especially like the potted plant in the window.

I found this stone dog house online. I especially like the potted plant in the window.