Sunday, April 3, 2016

Daily Dose #71 The Owl And The Pussycat: "A Lake Boy Tale"

While cruising my facebook feed in utter boredom, I stumbled across this video posted by my childhood friend Meegan; (basically, the prototypical object of teen aged affection and totally untouchable girl-next-door; in actuality across the street and three doors down, if you want to get technical about it.)

I usually don’t bother with animal video posts; I made a personal oath that after the “Kitty at The Keyboard” viral phenomenon they as a general rule, were to be avoided. But my curiosity got the best of me. I bit the bait and clicked through.

Here’s the cliplette:

Now I don’t know if (at the time of this writing) that 622,000 views are an actual “Japanese Internet Sensation” or that according to the copy, “An unlikely friendship between a kitten and owl at a Japanese cafe takes the internet by storm”, but it’s a nice little visual metaphor that seemingly polar opposites can get along; as long as one of them has a shackle on its leg, anyway.

It reminded me of a poem of my early childhood read to me by my mother, Edward Lear’s “The Owl and The Pussy Cat”.

I responded to my friend’s post, thanking her for jogging a forgotten memory.

“Thank You for this. Linda (being that she was the girl-almost-next-door, my friend was familiar with my Mom’s first name)  used to read “The Owl and The Pussycat” to me as a child. I’m going to call my Mommy right now and tell her I love her”; which of course elicited a cursory “like” from Meegan.

Now in all honesty, being inspired to call my mother out of the blue to tell her I love her is a pretty rare occurrence. It isn’t that I don’t, but my relationship with The Lovely Linda has been anything but smooth for the past forty five years or so.

We always seem to be locked in mortal combat and find ourselves in a state of perpetual loggerheads. It has frustrated both of us for decades, and we never seem to come up with a solution to actually fix the problem; we just sort of go through cycles of “detente”, followed by slow but constant irritation with each other complete with barbed dialog that could have been penned by Edward Albee as “George and Martha” exchanges from “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”.

The cycle then finally gets punctuated with a major flaming blow up that resemble the human equivalent of thermonuclear war, scorched earth, and periods of radio silence until one of us blinks…. usually me.

I guess we just would never accept each other for various reasons. She constantly would be trying to change, control, or psychoanalyze me against my will for the sheer entertainment value. (She’s a licensed therapist, among other things). I was constantly seeking her approval but on my own terms.

And I think we both were a little co-dependent on keeping the war on going.

Although every family gathering was eventually identified as a toxic battlefield environment, it wasn’t without its benefits. You girded and armored yourself to wage war if called upon in preparation before walking through the door.

She always initiated the opening gambit and attack, so I had to be in a constant state of readiness; to match wits, intellectual acumen, oratorical skills, game theory, the ability to read red flags, to stay twenty moves ahead on the three dimensional chess board of argument, to summon all of your critical thinking and cognitive resources, and then finally realizing in a nano second “moment of truth”,  your own rat-brained ruthlessness.
The intellectual Achilles Heel and soft white belly of vulnerability of  argument would reveal itself. You would have to quickly calculate the moment of opportunity before it happens, and when it finally does? Pounce without hesitation as you drive your diamond tipped stake of logic through the heart of the most worthy mental adversary you have ever known. Matricide or Infanticide. There was no middle ground.

We kept each other pretty sharp through the years, though. Our twisted idea of “Family Fun”.

As I have aged, I can say that all of those skills became pretty finely honed. My “wins” became more frequent, but they came at a great cost. We just exhausted each other.

I finally realized that the only solution to ending the war was not to play in the first place. I know it seems rather simplistic, but after a particular egregious back stabbing betrayal delivered by “Dear Old Mom” (She had recently discovered she could play "off the board" and behind my back), I asked myself this question:

“What if I didn’t seek my Mother’s approval? What if I could truly and completely, not give a tumbling fuck about her validation? How would this change the situation and eventual outcome?”

This epiphany didn’t actualize without some real soul searching, focused navel gazing and heavy psychological lifting, but it was in effect eventually actualized. I just stopped caring, and in doing so, stopped playing the game and walked out through the metaphoric breezeway of Linda’s “Arena Of Pain” for good. Ultimately, it was as easy as flicking a light switch to the “off” position. Why hadn’t I thought of this mental perspective mind-shift move forty years ago?

I didn’t announce this. I just did it. She didn’t know what had just happened of course, and this drove her absolutely batshit nuts; frankly, an intended and foreseen side benefit. The constant and reliable sparring partner and her personally self trained warrior / gladiator “Prince” had turned into passive, pacifist  dud.

But I digress.

Upon considering the memory of my mother reading “The Owl And The Pussycat” as an itty bitty baby child to me, something strange and wonderful happened.

I started by just trying to remember. Every evening before bedtime she would read to me. She would sit in the green and gold flecked Paul McCobb lounge chair with the nubby fabric upholstery, and invite me with open arms as she asked, “What do you want to read”?

I would always consistently grab my big little book of Lear’s poem, as it was my favorite. She already had it at the ready of course, and would gently pick me up, and nestle me into her lap with my head resting against her breast.

We’d open the book, and she would hold my index finger as she recited; tracing the words from left to right on the printed page (Her hidden agenda of course was to get me reading by the age of two; an agenda point of many which was successfully achieved in her constant quest of engineering an “uber kid”).

She would always assume the characters in different voice; Tres Dramatique! And always considerately pausing after every second page so I could fully absorb the pictures of The Owl and beloved Pussycat as they ventured out to sea in their beautiful pea green boat.

When finished, there were always the obligatory “Again Mommy….Again!” repetitive encores, until I floated off on waves of sleep to the strains of an imaginary small guitar.

I hadn’t thought of these events for over fifty three years. A memory completely buried, and pretty much totally suppressed.

And then it happened.

The memory ceased to be a memory, and it became totally sensory.

Like a wall caving in, or a levee breach, those feelings that I felt as a child and those sensory memories suddenly became real. In the moment, those atrophied synaptic pathways to the actual experience as it happened in real time became suddenly supple and efficient.  They powerfully overtook my conscious state and completely washed over me like a tsunami. I ceased remembering being a child and for a brief moment, became that child in the here and now.

I could smell her skin, her perfume, and the acrid aroma of stale cigarette smoke. I could sense the dim light of the floor light next to the chair. I felt my soft fuzzy flannel little blue onesie with the pink bunnies on it against my skin. I could see my little index finger tracing the words, her beautiful hand guiding it as she recited the poem. I could see the pictures exactly as I saw them, but if as seeing them with rapt joy and delight for the first time. I turned the pages as her sweet voice paused. I could feel her heart beat next to my temple, the rhythm or her breath as her chest gently started to lull my head into slumberland. I could feel her pride, her approval, when she pointed at a word or phrase and I started mastering the art of reciting them back to her; I could hear her and my own little voice inside my head as we recited the poem together in unison;  knowing the words by heart, me always trying desperately to match her cadence, and she mine.

I felt the safety, and the absolute power of my Mother’s love.

I felt and sensed it all very suddenly. It took me by surprise, and it was… overwhelming. These weren’t memories, they were happening in that moment. I can’t say that I wept, but I certainly lost my bearings as it happened. I inadvertently astral projected into my two year old body in 1962 with a total loss of cognitive control.

I haven’t felt that safe and that unconditionally loved in a long time. As a matter of fact, probably never have I felt that way as I felt it right then, as a little boy in his mother’s lap.

My sensory flashback stripped me down to my very core with an absolute albeit brief, clarity. It was, for lack of a better term, a spiritual experience.

I immediately called my Mom, as I promised my former neighbor I would.

And just as I have recounted this tale to you, dear reader, I recounted it to her. The video, where it came from, how it inspired me to call her, and then this unexpected mental event that blew me away.

And then I said: “Mom… I know that things have always been rough between us, and I know I don’t say this to you as often as I should or could have…. but I truly love you. I hope you know that”.

That point had to meet its target, surgically aimed and delivered with confident, yet powerfully loving force. We aren’t getting any younger. She’s no spring chicken, and I’m long in the tooth. The time to deliver the message without equivocation or failure, was now.

There was a dead silence, and a pregnant pause way past its due date on the end of the line.

And then… she recited “The Owl and The Pussycat” over the phone, word for word and chapter and verse, just as she had done over fifty three years ago, without missing a beat .

I joined in halfway through the first stanza, because I knew those words by heart. So did she, and those words connected our hearts together, and they miraculously (and unknowingly until now) still do.


The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
 In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
 Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
 And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
       You are,
       You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
 How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
 But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
 To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
 With a ring at the end of his nose,
           His nose,
           His nose,
 With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
 Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
 By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
 Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
 They danced by the light of the moon,
           The moon,
           The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

As we recited the poem together, my defenses compromised and my shields crushed, real tears silently streamed down my face in the light of the moon.
After this beautiful moment with my mother,  she then paused and said, “Well...that was lovely, but tell me; What are you going to do with the rest of your friggin’ life with what little is left of it?”

If we had been in the same room, and she had a runcible spoon handy, she probably would have gouged my eyes out with it just to make her Oedipal point.

C’est La Vie, C’est La Guerre. I love you, Mommy.


"You may shoot for the stars and end up beaten and bloodied in a back alley behind Pluto, but at least I dare to dream; that’s better than being Earthbound mired in the muck of mediocrity".

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.



Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Dose #73 Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Huckleberry checking out the new kitchen floor at "The Sedge Wedge"

Last November, after a year of tumult where at one point I was living in spartan hotel room with three dogs in the Adirondacks, we finally settled into our new home in Syracuse.

Traveling, and being responsible for a menagerie of two aging Shih Tzus, a young 80 lb rescue retriever with a boundless source of dog energy, and a cat that sometimes resembles a criminal mastermind capable of great evil mischief, is not without its challenges.

So all of us here at the Sedge Wedge were pretty relieved to finally take possession of our new domicile and finally start our lives, all together. No more hotels, no more disruption. We may have been surrounded by a pile of boxes, but contained within were the familiar smells of our old home, and our old routines.

Huck and Doo dig Elvis
We barely made it all together across the finish line. Doodle (Huckleberry’s litter mate and little sister) took ill over the spring and summer. Being the runt of the litter and kind of snatched from the jaws of eminent death as a little tiny puppy, she had a few genetic / physical defects; primarily a little hole in her heart that got progressively larger through thirteen human years. Her heart sounds like a out of balance Maytag washing machine in the throes of an agitation cycle from hell. Her little ticker has a tendency to slosh fluid into her lungs, causing all sorts of problems, including passing out from oxygen deprivation.

So this became part of life last year. Emergency Vet visits, and a pretty complex daily chemical cocktail to keep her alive, pain free, and relatively healthy and happy. The pill pocket people (and the dog pharmaceutical distributor) love me, and probably have a portrait of Doodle hanging in the vestibule of their front offices, an engraved brass tag attached reading “Our Benefactor”.

We did in fact, finally turn the key, and the corner; or so we thought anyway.

But we didn’t. Huckleberry suddenly came up lame in his right front leg. This wasn’t exactly abnormal, as Shih Tzus are notoriously jenky in the joints, and there have been many dislocations of shoulders and legs; particularly when Huckie decides he’s super dog and calculates he can negotiate soft landings after launching himself off the bed and becoming airborne as he attempts to save the free world from...the epitome of all that is unholy, the cat!

After shopping for a new vet, transferring paperwork, and going through several visitations and second opinions, I got the bad news. This was no jenky joint. Basically he was suffering from degenerative bone disease, and was slowly becoming paralyzed, from front to back on his right side, and eventually, in total.

So the new house became a hospice care center, as I tried to allow him to squeeze as much life out of this world as he could, relatively comfortable and pain free.

Our days were spent with him by my side in the man cave, him listening to me practice the piano. Something that we used to do quite a bit in New Orleans, but not so much during my time up in CNY. He likes Beethoven Piano Sonatas, tolerates my butcher job of Chopin, and prefers the dirty boogie woogie. His tail wags telegraphed the tale of the scale. 

Huckie truly loved munching on his "snowbies" (His cue word for snow)
 My nights were spent ferrying him cradled in my arms, taking him outside every hour on the hour. He didn’t necessarily have to do his business (Although that did become problematic over time; How are you supposed to pee when you can’t lift your leg without falling over? This became a source of painful confuzzlement). Basically, he just wanted to eat as much snow as he possibly could, and I was happy to oblige. It kept me from having to subcutaneously hydrate him with an I.V drip bag and a needle; a task neither of us looked forward to.

So basically, I’ve been a 24 hour on call nurse, and haven’t had a night’s sleep in two months. My sleep deprivation is so severe that I’m in a constant hallucinatory state. Forgive me if this blog doesn’t contain my usual verbose flourishes.

I didn’t want to flick the switch on Huck out of personal convenience. I ushered him into this world, and he trusted me to take him out on his terms, not mine.

He fought right to the end. His spirit? Indomitable. Inspirational, really. Of all the gifts he gave me over thirteen years of love and loyalty, this last lesson he taught me may be the most valuable.

We had a pleasant last day. The weather broke, so he could smell the onset of Spring and the aroma of the dirt wafting up from it’s Winter slumber one last time. He got to sit in the sun some.

Huckie's Last Supper
He laid next to me all day, licking the thin veneer of shaving gel off my face and neck (Edge shaving gel: Puppy Crack). Sloppy work but what the hell. Doodle and Gingy joined us for a last supper of freshly cooked bacon, his favorite treat.

And as the hours ticked down my anxiety ratcheted up. As the knot in my stomach commensurately rose into my throat as we got closer to having to leave for the vet, it was all I could do from totally losing my shit. Driving while crying isn’t exactly a good idea. Huck always knew when I was in trouble and turmoil. I tried to shield him from the disturbance in my heart and mind the best I could for his last day in the material world.

I can rationalize to infinitude concerning my ultimate decision: ("He's in a better place", "You did the humane thing", "He'll be there on the other side waiting for you"....). All of those rationalizations ring hollow today.

He was my constant; my little rock that amazingly kept me tethered to the earth's surface for 13 years and three months, preventing me from floating off into the ether. All the shit that life throws at you (and life is capable of heaving enormous piles of shit), little Huckleberry was right next to me on the front line, a loyal soldier taking fire. He never wavered. He was my raison d’etre, because he was my responsibility, above anything else. He loved me without question and I him.

Swaddled in his favorite fuzzy green blanket, nestled comfortably in my arms, he didn’t know what hit him. He was gone five seconds after the shot was administered.

A big chunk of me left with him today. Life without my running partner of thirteen years is a great unknown. It’s too soon to make a total emotional damage assessment, but I’m afraid it’s going to be more critical than I could ever have originally projected. Time will tell.

I’m extremely grateful to be surrounded by the love of my remaining furry children, my family, and my partner Michele. They surround me and prop me up when I'm about to dive bomb into the abyss.

We never got to have that wing ding in Hawaii (More on that later; stay tuned kids). My hope is that he is surrounded by Hula girls, munching on spit roasted swine, with the strains of slack key guitars and ukuleles softly lilting through the gentle ocean breeze. 

Goodnight, Sweet Prince.

Huck and Doo at a Lua at the imaginary "Million Dollar Bash" in Hawaii 

My best friend, ever. Huckleberry Rossi (12/10/02-03/08/16)

"You may shoot for the stars and end up beaten and bloodied in a back alley behind Pluto, but at least I dare to dream; that’s better than being Earthbound mired in the muck of mediocrity".

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.