George: A Portrait of Kindness

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When I was seven years old, my house was gutted by fire.

I was next door, having lunch at my grandparents’ house. The anticipation of my first trip bowling with my dad was foremost in my mind. When we finished eating, we hurried home to get ready for an afternoon of fun. Smoke belched from the door when my dad opened it. He yelled for me to run back to my family and have them call the fire department.

I remember the pets we lost but not many of the things we couldn’t recover. The only one that sticks with me to this day was a stuffed rabbit by the name of Horatio Hare. I never went to bed without him. The space in bed next to me, settled into my grandparents’ home until ours could be rebuilt, was empty.

People in my neighborhood turned out in force to donate clothes and other necessities. This neighborly generosity is one of the best parts of small town living, in my opinion. In no time, I had stuff to wear and toys to fill hours of playtime. Perhaps the best gift I received was a second-hand teddy bear.

I dubbed him George, and he never bothered to correct me if I was wrong. He was floppy, with a big head I could easily grip in the crook of my arm as I slept. His fur was worn soft by years of love from his former owner, and his black fluff-ball nose seemed always in danger of falling off.

A few years later, I was too grown up to sleep with George anymore. He went to live on my parents’ bed. I suppose he easily could have been donated to another kid in need, but I’m selfishly glad my mom kept him. When my son was born, George came to live with me again. I was happy to sit him in my son’s room, on a child-sized chair my grandmother was given to commemorate her years of teaching. My son has since outgrown his stuffed animals, but George still occupies the same chair in his room.

I think I will always have George, even after my son refuses to share space with a teddy bear. To me, the little guy is a symbol of kindness and charity. When I see him, I can’t help but think of the best in people. I love having that tangible reminder of neighbors helping neighbors, of love that can be passed on again and again. Everybody needs a George, when we start to doubt that people care about us or each other. I’ve been lucky to have the same one for most of my life.

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Brine to Unwind

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A few items came to my mind that didn’t fit the length of a typical blog entry. Usually I’m reluctant to publish them, but I think I’ll include more of them in the future. Maybe I’ll call the recurring theme “Saturday Stream of Consciousness” until something better occurs to me.

I tried a float session and have mixed feelings. The term “sensory deprivation tank” sounds scary, I guess, but that’s what I was expecting. For marketing purposes, “float” sounds less torturous. When I read Dean Koontz’s The Door to December, I was fascinated by the concept and wondered what sensory deprivation might hold in store for me. I knew it wouldn’t be like what I read in the novel. That would have scarred me for life. I hoped that I might experience something enlightening, like a trance in which I could remember something long forgotten. Instead I just fell into a deep relaxation. I turned off all the lights and ambient music, surrendered to the womb-like warmth and quiet, floated in the salty water so much like the blood flowing through my body. I listened to my heartbeat and my breaths and eventually slumbered, until bubbling jets alerted me that my session had come to an end. It felt like something between a really calm night at the beach and waking from a dream because had to pee. I don’t know if I’ll try it again. My senses weren’t truly deprived, not like what I sincerely wanted. I might have had similar experiences with a hot bath, followed by a nap. If any of you have tried a float session, please leave me a comment. I’d love to read your experiences.

I’m excited to be attending a local writing conference next week. It was rescheduled after Hurricane Florence interfered with its fall date. (Wouldn’t it have been nice if that had been the only problem the hurricane created? Luckily for me, that was nearly the only inconvenience I suffered.) It’s only a one-day conference, but it’s my first. I hope to overcome my introversion and make some contacts among the attendees. So far, I haven’t had much luck finding a local writing group that meets when or where it’s realistic for me to attend. Maybe I can create one with some of the conference participants I meet. I’ve tried a couple of times to enroll in a local speculative fiction writing class, but it was cancelled due to low enrollment both times. While some of my experiences with online writing groups have been great, I feel like a smaller group of local writers would be better. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the distance inherent in an online group allows people to feel more confident in giving honest criticism of my work. I’d like to find out which method helps me write better.

Fool’s Spring is over. You may have seen a popular post in one or more of your favorite social media outlets about this. We had a few really nice days in a row, enough to get my heart singing with the birds for a lasting breath of warmth. I had to use the air conditioning, but now the heat is running again. The poor trees that already blossomed are hating the returning cold. The migrating geese are probably regretting their wasted trip north. At least I know better, after two decades in NC, than to have swapped out my cold weather clothes for my summer things. Of course, last year at this time I was mowing the lawn. You never can tell, and that’s the only consistency.

Lessons from “The Gambler”

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locomotive
On a warm summer’s eve
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin’
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak

The first stanza sets the scene. The characters are succinctly described and their motivations identified. Much like the first chapter of a novel or first paragraph of a short story, the train (metaphor intended) chugs into motion as it stirs our curiosity about these characters and the potential interactions they might have. What will the gambler say? We know it will be something interesting. Here is a person who lives by his wits, fickle luck, and the foolishness of those less experienced. What adventures he must have had, and now we are raptly attentive.

He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
Stanza two answers some questions about the characters introduced in the previous stanza. Our gambler is older than the narrator, seasoned, grizzled perhaps, in his lifelong meanderings on chance’s highway. He is in a position to provide advice from his experiences, in exchange for a nip from the bottle. Are thees his only motivation, a taste of spirits and a bit of tongue-wagging to pass the evening? Our narrator is younger, fallen on hard times, bereft of money but not currency. Is the price of the advice fair? It is one more gamble the narrator will have to risk. The stanza compels us to continue, in hopes of learning what the gambler will disclose.
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his faced lost all expression
He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
Suspense is prolonged in stanza three. We learn the cost of the gambler’s advice. He ups the ante, demanding a cigarette in addition to his quoted price. It’s not just a sip, but the last sip, of the narrator’s whiskey. The value is increased by the laws of supply and demand. The stakes are higher now, and the narrator has already paid, already invested the precious commodities and received relatively little, except the promise of something greater, something to be revealed in the chorus, and perhaps some foreshadowing.
dealingcards
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Finally the much anticipated advice passes from the lips of the sagacious master to the ears of the anxious neophyte, and it is disappointing in its simplicity. What can it mean? There must be more, something deeper, something worth the price paid. “Tell me something I don’t know,” we imagine the narrator yelling. Secrets can’t be revealed too early. Sure there needs to be something dangled to satisfy curiosity, but one can’t reveal his cards until stakes have been raised to the maximum dared by the gambler’s instincts. Or until the very next stanza, to keep the song moving.
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep
Explanations and clarifications at last begin to satisfy our narrator’s yearning for understanding. Gambling is a skillful art, where success is determined by knowledge and understanding of the odds, the tells of one’s opponents, one’s own tendencies to be too bold or too cautious. There is only one certainty: death. It seems the gambler’s real lesson isn’t about gambling. Here his motivations change and he redefines himself in his cautionary tale. Our narrator is confronted with the realization that his life is in the balance of his decision to pursue Lady Luck’s favor or abandon her for a safer, more peaceful living.
And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
In the last chapter, er… stanza, our sage exits the stage. Having passed his learning to the narrator, he is freed of his burden. What knowledge he had accumulated during his life of uncertainty and danger has been conveyed to the best of his ability. It is up to the younger version of himself to learn from this wisdom or ignore it at his peril. The narrator realizes it for the treasure it is, but will he push his luck or fold into a life of stability? We are left to imagine the path he will take.
I believe there are writing lessons to be gleaned from Kenny Rogers’ famous song, especially for the type of adventurous genre fiction I like to write. There are nuggets to be mined pertaining to plotting and pacing. There is a reminder that secrets are best revealed slowly, letting anticipation grow. The lyrics also leave us with uncertainty, like some of the best endings in my most treasured books. Perhaps there are even lessons about writing itself, in its parallels to gambling. You’ve got to know which stories to shelve and which stories to submit. Never count your earnings, ’til you’ve reached the end of your royalty cycle. Well, not very lyrical, but the message it still there.
“The Gambler” is one of my favorite stories in song. I hope to find others to share as writing lessons, as my blog continues this year. Here’s hoping 2019 is the year of your greatest hand yet. Leave me a comment, and let me know about your winnings so far.
Lastly, of course, credit where credit is due for these meaningful lyrics:
Songwriters: Don Schlitz
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Puppy Time

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cloversploot

It’s probably not an original turn of phrase, Puppy Time. It likely prompts images of time spent in the company of our canine friends. For many of us, that’s literally our happy place. Dogs have a way of making us feel wanted, loved, needed. They’re so easy to please and ask so relatively little. Mine just wants to snuggle on the couch, worm around in a sunny patch of grass, and eat until she explodes. That last one isn’t allowed, but she’s content enough with the first two.

What I’ve come to call Puppy Time is a state of mind akin to the joyful, zen feeling I experience when I sit with my dog. It’s so easy to get lost in the sound of her blissful snoring, the velvety texture of the hair on her ears, or the gentle rise and fall of her relaxed breaths. It’s like meditating, no, it’s better. So often when I attempt to meditate, other thoughts intrude. I’m not distracted when it’s Puppy Time. Time passes unnoticed. Only when she stirs or licks me am I brought back to future or past concerns.

I’ve started thinking of other moments of zen presence as Puppy Time, too. Increasingly writing is like this, at least the first draft. My computer’s clock will tell me it’s been an hour since I last noticed. I will marvel at a thousand new words on the pages in front of me. What magic prompted such focus and calm creativity? Puppy Time.

One might argue that I’m not “present” when that happens. My mind is racing to deliver words to typing fingers that struggle to keep up. My focus is in another place, a world I’ve created, with characters that aren’t literally speaking to each other. I’m not conscious of my breathing in the now or even the tingling in my wrists from the frantic typing. I’m more hypnotized than meditating. Call it what you want. I call it productive writing time, carefree of the world outside. I call it Puppy Time, even though my dog would rather I were sitting on the couch with her instead of at my desk.

I hope everybody has experienced Puppy Time at some point, and just as much I hope that they get to cherish it often. It’s precious, just like my dog. It’s a time to recharge batteries drained dry by the stresses and schedules of the world. Whichever way Puppy Time is enjoyed, I think we all need more of it. To drift out of Puppy Time is to feel rejuvenated. I think that’s when we’re at our best and most capable of positive interactions with others, our most patient and kind, our most daringly creative.

What’s your Puppy Time spent doing? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Writer’s Muscles

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I stared blankly at the screen from my comfortable chair. I couldn’t recall how long I had been staring, been sitting, been conscious. My protruding belly served as a coaster. Cheez-It crumbs decorated my shirt and stuck to the condensation on my glass. I strained to lift the weight of my arms, to brush away the crumbs. Eventually the dog would discover me, and the crumb situation would be handled. I could wait.

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That’s an analogy, by the way, but I can eat half a box of Cheez-Its in one sitting. The atrophy of my physical muscles from inactivity easily parallels those of my writing. Just like re-establishing a workout regimen, it can be an uphill battle to start creating again. It’s a painful process, working those author muscles that want me to ignore them. I hope some time off at Christmas will help me build some real momentum. Not like New Year’s resolution gym membership momentum, but something that will actually last.

There are plenty of things surrounding writing that aren’t really “writing”. Some time spent just sitting and thinking is valuable, but it’s easy to extend that time beyond what’s fruitful. I’ve been fighting through outlining my next novel with little regard for short fiction or blog entries, until one day I was compelled to write a story. It had to be written, before I talked myself out of it and spent the time on outlining or stuff I needed to do around the house. It was like going for a jog after months recovering from an injury. I think I pulled something. I was definitely exhausted after two thousand words or so. Just like after a good workout, I enjoyed the fruits of my efforts.

My new plan, keeping in mind that the outline still needs to get done, is to allow myself writing time every day. Even if I only get ten or 15 minutes, I can’t afford to lapse and atrophy again. I’ll write anything that comes to mind. I’ll start with the three or four other projects I’ve dreamed up. I haven’t given them time to gestate because they don’t seem as fleshed out or commercially viable as the novel I’m outlining, but it certainly won’t hurt to start writing them. I’ll see where my imagination takes them, just to keep limber and toned. I’ll explore short story and blog ideas when they come, and maybe some will take shape. If I don’t start writing them, I’ll never know.

I’ve toyed with the idea of contracting a highly recommended writing coach, someone to help me finish the outline more quickly and start writing the novel. After the years it took me to finish my first novel, I know there must be a better way, a more efficient way, to get my novels written. I’ve long been hesitant to do this, due to the cost and difficulty admitting I need help. Now I think it might be the long-term investment I need to make if I want to seriously pursue a career as a novelist.

Are you struggling to gain momentum with anything important to you? Leave me a comment, and we can help each other get past what’s slowing us down.

 

Chase It

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Fall has abruptly arrived in my part of North Carolina. From one year to the next, the weather can drastically differ at this time of year. My son has experienced Halloween at summer temperatures one year and in chilly rains the next. This year turned frosty earlier than I expected and hasn’t varied much since.

The leaves have begun to drift into colorful piles in the storm drain grates, and the acorns are dropping in hazardous fusillades along the walking path in my local park. This delights the squirrels. They’ve patiently waited through summer’s muggy heat for these cooler days of harvesting and storage. The varmints race after each other with little regard for human life. But when my dog zeroes in on them, they quickly take notice.

Squirrel

Photo by Jill Rogan

With ear-splitting howls of squirrel-rage, she lunges after them. I’ve become pretty adept at spotting them in time to brace myself for her maniacal charges. I wrap the leash around my wrist and bend my knees to absorb the force. She’s not a big dog, or young, but she springs into the air and flops like a hooked fish. She tries her best to shake off her harness, no doubt savoring the thought of catching those acorn-laden rodents. I’ve learned to slacken the leash when she becomes airborne, so she’s less likely to take a tumble. As soon as her paws hit the dirt, she takes off like a rocket. I do my best to make sure innocent bystanders and joggers don’t get tripped or trampled in her mad dash.

At one time, her canine instincts were an annoyance, even an embarrassment. Now I see her obsession as a sign of good health, youthful vigor even. Many dogs her age couldn’t be bothered to do more than bark, and I know one day she’ll reach the point when she’s no longer capable. It will break my heart, so I started letting her chase them.

HappyDog

I don’t release my hold on her. I just give in a little bit, and we jog toward the trees when she sees them. I’m sure that’s not good enough for her, but it’s something. She can rest her front paws against a tree trunk and bark up at the branches. She can investigate squirrel scent, snuffing and wagging her tail. I’ve come to appreciate her lust for life and her goal during those moments.

Many of us have an unyielding leash that keeps us from pursuing our passions. We bark and strain in our own ways against the forces harnessing us. How many of us learn to be content with growling from the sidewalk and never bolt into the trees after what we want? We won’t catch our squirrels if we relent. We have to keep surging toward our creative aspirations, our curiosities, our lost loves. We have to doggedly chase our dreams every chance we get, until one day the leash snaps.

Sports Cinema

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I’m not a sports fan. I will occasionally attend a minor league baseball game or a football game at my son’s school. I enjoy playing tennis and softball with my son, and I’ve taken part in a pick-up games of softball or volleyball over the years. It’s extremely rare for me to watch sports on TV, aside from some Olympics coverage. I hardly ever know which teams will be competing in the Superbowl each year, even if I’m invited to a Superbowl party. I go for the food and the company. With this level of disinterest, is it surprising I like sports movies?

First, a small disclaimer. I’m sure I’ve left out some great sports movies in this list of my favorites. I encourage you to help me rectify this by naming yours in the comments at the end of this blog entry. These are by no means my favorite kinds of movies, but they are some I’ll watch over and over again when I discover them while channel surfing. For me, a great story is a great story, even if it’s interrupted by some sportsball here and there. In choosing a few to recommend, I’ve selected those I’ve seen multiple times or will often recollect with a smile. None of these is new or hard to find. If you have Comedy Central, you’ll find them by accident.

WaterboyThe Waterboy is probably my favorite of Adam Sandler’s sports-themed movies. It’s not a football preference that makes this my favorite so much as an excellent supporting cast. (Though I loved Carl Weathers in Happy Gilmore.) Kathy Bates is brilliant as Bobby’s overprotective mother. Henry Winkler’s character experiences a parallel underdog story that rivals Sandler’s Bobby. Even Fairuza Balk’s Vicky Vallencourt seemed inspired compared to other roles she’s played, though also derivative of them. Combined, the cast are a complimentary ensemble that work wonders to elevate the movie beyond Sandler’s overused “anger issues” character trope. That’s some high-quality sports-comedy movie making.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers was a movie I found on Netflix that may be the role SeanGoon William Scott was destined to play even more than American Pie’s Stiffler. It combines a comically naive protagonist, a genuinely funny, wise-cracking sidekick (Jay Baruchel, of How to Train Your Dragon fame), and all the feelz of a classic underdog story. Add the always excellent Liev Schreiber as the likable antagonist, and you have a hat-trick combination. The sequel wasn’t as amusing, but it still scored some goals with me for the excellent returning cast. It might also set some records for the most violent sports movie I’ve ever seen, and that includes Rollerball and The Blood of Heroes.

MajorLeagueMy favorite of those mentioned here is the easily undisputed champion, Major League. I watch at least half of it every time I find it playing on TV. The cast is outstanding, the characters unforgettable, and the comic writing a home run. Tom Berenger is a charming leading man in the role of Jake Taylor. The supporting cast is just as memorable: Charlie Sheen before he had tiger blood, Wesley Snipes before he had vampire blood and tax problems, and Dennis Haysbert before he became President Palmer and the Allstate insurance spokesman. As someone who can’t stay awake through most baseball games, I cannot say enough good things about the humor and heart of this baseball movie.

Maybe the reasons I like sports movies better than sports are because I know which team to support, and they usually win inside of three hours. I love the larger-than-life characters that I would probably find ridiculous in real life. (I certainly feel that way about the real lives of some of the actors I’ve mentioned from these movies.) Unlike real sports, I can confidently have a conversation with someone about these movies without fear of an uncomfortable lull or coming off like a complete idiot. Also a plus.

I guess instead of a Superbowl party, I should attend a sports-comedy movie party.  We won’t have to worry about a disappointing half time show or a repeat of Deflategate. We can all root for the same team because we know who will win, so there won’t be any gloating or hard feelings afterward. The real enemy won’t be our team’s rivals. It will be our bathroom scales after we eat our weights in chicken wings and seven-layer dip. Who’s with me?

 

Moon-Eyed

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MoonGlowEarth’s moon has always held a special place in my imagination. The full moon especially entrances me and brings to my mind all manner of romanticized and scientifically ludicrous imagery. But I’ve never been one to let science impede my heart’s yearnings or mind’s fantastical frolicking.

I know Earth’s satellite is virtually without an atmosphere, at least compared to Earth. The surface is utterly at the mercy of the sun’s rays on one side and unfathomably cold on the other. There are mountains, but no snow capping them. There are seas, actually plains of dark rock, mistakenly named by early astronomers. There is no cheese. Not a bit. Facts have their place, but my mind rejects what my brain knows.

As I close my eyes in the light of the full moon, I see vast white deserts dotted by lush oases. Pale stone spires reach heavenward, while robed men and women fly graceful ray-like creatures, their winged shadows chased by laughing children. Springs feed clear pools and trickling streams that quench the the sun-kissed vineyards and gardens. One might travel there at the speed of thought to marvel at their beauty, to lounge in a tree’s shade or share a meal with the denizens of the idyllic environs.oasis

My brain remembers trivia about Earth’s tides and the monumental efforts undertaken to leave flags and footprints on the moon’s surface. It appreciates the dangers astronauts faced. Yet my heart declares the celestial body nothing short of magical, seeking to ride a moon beam to the oasis my imagination asserts is real. My face drinks in its reflected light as though thirsting for those springs. Its gravity pulls at my soul as surely as it draws upon our oceans.

Perhaps the moon triggers some ancient instinct within me, some primal or genetic memory, and exerts the same force that inspired legends of lycanthropy. Though on the hirsute side, I’ve yet to transform when the moon waxes full. I have dreamed of it and awakened somewhat disappointed. If I can’t travel to that oasis of my dreams, could I not at least grow some fangs and pursue deer through moonlit corn fields?

I’ll have to be content with writing tales of magic, of psychics who commune with the moon’s people across the gulf of space. I’ll spin yarns of moonbeam riders and heroes whose powers wax and wane with the monthly cycle. I’ll bask in the light, maybe occasionally howl, and sojourn through fictional deserts in my dreams, waking in my bed with an unquenchable thirst.

Memories of the Gong Show

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Watching the Gong Show with my dad was one of the silliest things we shared when I was young. It wasn’t something we did often, since it aired during the day when he had to work. This was back before VCR’s let us watch programs whenever it was convenient for us, something we take for granted these days. Sorry, I fell into “lecturing old man” mode for a second there.

I spent a treasured bit of childhood in the care of two priceless individuals, Francis and Arvilla. They started as childcare providers to me while my parents both worked, but the relationship grew past my need for babysitters. Francis and Lala were family to me, an extra set of doting and beloved grandparents. Occasionally my dad would drop by to eat during his lunch break. What better way to have some lunchtime laughs than with the Gongunknowncomic Show?

My memories are a little fuzzy, as I have to reach back to the 1970’s, back before remote controls eliminated the last bit of exercise a lot of us regularly undertook. I didn’t know the panel of guest judges, but the bell-bottoms, sideburns, and wide collars have stuck in my memory. Most of the acts are a blur. I remember the Unknown Comic. I recall the manic energy of the host, Chuck Barris. Most vividly, I recollect the music and unflappable resolve of one frequent performer, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

Maybe it wasn’t the show’s sketchy acts and hilarity that earned it a permanent place in my aging memory. Instead I think sharing unbridled silliness with my dad at that age acted like glue to hold it there when other memories fade and depart.

barrishatChuck Barris would attempt to appear relaxed, low-key, even bored in his introduction. His ceaseless fidgeting gave him away, and some outlandish hat made it impossible to take him seriously. Slowly his speech accelerated until the telling music began, and he screamed his welcome to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

By this time, my dad had eaten his last crumbs and eased his TV tray to the side of his chair. We would share a look that said: “Tighten the laces on your dancing shoes.” Then we were on our feet. Chuck Barris pumped his fists, the hat abandoned, his eyes squeezed shut in the throes of a fit of funk. Gene shuffled, chugged, and dodged props thrown at him from offstage. I gyrated and stomped, while Dad strolled and twisted. His smile shone to match mine. His tie flapped like a sheet in a gale. The guest judges wrestled to control the mallet for the gong. We laughed until the show ended and let us catch our breaths.barris-gene-gene-the-dancing-machine

I tried watching the re-made Gong Show with my son. Maybe he’s too much older than I was back then. Maybe the show’s format isn’t as amusing to a kid used to constant stimulation from his modern entertainment. The magic wasn’t there, though I caught him smiling from time to time at the absurd musicians, nervous ventriloquist, and variety of variety acts.

I’ll always have those memories, and my appreciation for silliness, in its many forms, remains. Thanks, Chuck and Gene. Thanks, Dad.

Mourning Tank

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Tank

On Christmas day, we drove our swiftly deteriorating cat, Tank, to the emergency veterinary clinic. We knew it would be our last hour with him. Our son said his tearful goodbye and stayed behind at home, and I was grateful that he did. Though Tank’s declining health had made our farewell a gradual process, it was no less agonizing to hold him in my arms and watch life slip away from him. The kindness of euthanasia  was our Christmas gift to him, an end to his suffering.

Roughly 11 years ago, we learned Tank was available for adoption from a rescue group.  As we drove to meet him, we discussed his description on the website and figured surely there was a typo. As he was revealed to us, he clearly weighed 20 solid pounds. His initial discomfort, his foster mom explained, was due to getting car sick on the way. His fur was still damp from a hasty cleaning. As mellow as he seemed, he had quickly put the experience behind him. When he warmed to us and we could pet him, we knew he belonged with us. His heart and personality were just as big as his tuxedo-marked coat, and his purr resonated from a chest that reminded me more of a bulldog’s than a tomcat’s.

In all the best ways, Tank resembled a dog. He loved to be around us and would find us when we called him. When he launched himself onto the couch to find a lap, we quickly grabbed the TV remote. He held a fondness for smothering it with his bulk, and moving him required a Herculean effort. Once he made up his mind to plop down, he didn’t much consider the comfort of others, as though everyone loved to cuddle as much as he did. We enjoyed it enough to let our feet fall asleep when he rested on our laps.

TankSnuggling

With time, he only gained weight because he would steal dog food out of the bowls while our dogs ate. His zen-like demeanor never encumbered him with fear, though we began to suspect he was just dumb, like a dopey and lovable Labrador retriever. More than once he wandered the house with a shopping bag’s handle looped around his neck, as though it were nothing more than a fashion accessory. The fans we deployed in the summer often trimmed his whiskers and eyebrows because he loved the breeze so much. He would calmly take possession of our dogs’ chew toys. Each time, the dogs were stunned by his boldness and just let him have what he wanted, though he was never aggressive. I think the angriest I ever saw him was during the brief period we dressed him as a bumblebee for Halloween (actually our smaller dog’s costume). I see bumblebees completely differently now and wish I could hug them.

TankandtheBone

Time will leave us with just the memories of Tank’s dopey, loving personality. Why his previous family chose to abandon him at the vet’s office, after having all his claws removed, will remain a mystery. He was their loss and our gain, his faults even now fading in my memory, three weeks after his death.

Goodbye, Tank, for now. Please join the others that have passed and meet me at the Rainbow Bridge one day. I’ll try to remember to lift you with bent legs and a straight back. We love you, and our lives are brighter for having shared our home with you.