Friday, April 17, 2009

A Sly Dog Meets His Match

The first dog my husband and I bought was a beagle puppy. Our then-teenage son insisted on naming him, and so the puppy's name, properly registered with the Kennel Club, was Eddie Van Halen II.
Eddie's faults grew huge and fluorescent as he matured. He was sly, greedy and power-hungry almost beyond belief. He would watch us carefully until our attention was elsewhere, and then fight our toddler tooth and nail for her bottle, trying to be alpha baby. Eddie would then drag the bottle off by its nipple and we'd discover him later, reclining voluptuously behind the piano, ravening over the soy milk, eyes crossed in a swoon of ecstasy.
Eddie was incapable of seeing anything in the yard that was smelly or dead without doing a belly-buster in it. He was also a bully; our children would have to rush out and rescue kittens, or baby birds with bits of the shell clinging to them.
I compulsively watched Barbara Woodhouse's dog-training show on TV. She would stalk the turf of the training ring like a dominatrix, barking orders at the humble, cowering dog owners. In fact, she always treated humans like crap: a bunch of sniveling, chuckle-headed dead-asses and drooling screwups who were sure to muff her simplest commands.
However, she believed all dogs were sensational darlings. She wooed them with musical, brightly joyous and extravagantly approving praise and treats. I noticed that everybody, man or beast, obeyed Barbara instantly.
During one session she casually mentioned that she liked to arm herself with a stout cudgel when she walked her dog in case she ran into anything that needed bashing. This nugget of information made the humans noticeably pick up their heels as they galloped haplessly around the ring at her command.
I brooded over the fact that I lacked Barbara's natural authority. I was at my wits' end about Eddie, and that is why I took him to the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the town's Episcopal Church.
Devout farmers brought their livestock to be protected by angels from hoof rot, spontaneous abortion, death by lightning strike and the whole ocean of disaster toward which farm animals rush with gleeful neighs, quacks, gobbles and moos. I hoped that in the general swells and backwashes of grace, some of it might slop over onto one bad dog.
People beamed at the cute little beagle. They didn't know he was the notorious Nasty Eddie. He made an appealing picture as he stared with wonder at mighty draft horses, and trotted admiringly after a couple of goats, yellow-eyed reeking sons of diablo whose ferocious smell and horrible attitude problems impressed him greatly.
The rector was tall, dignified and nobly spiritual. In the golden light of a paradisal afternoon he made holy gestures over the animals and told them to be good horses, goats, cats, ducks and (graciously patting Eddie) beagles.
Eddie slobbered fawningly over the rector's boots and, with a smarmy look on his face, cuddled close to the lace hem of his robe. Eddie preened, smirking, as photo were taken. People talked about the peaceable kingdom.
It couldn't last. Fatally, refreshments were served. Eddie never met a deadly sin he didn't like, but gluttony was his favorite. Shedding his fresh blessings like lint, he frantically attacked a 90-year-old church organist for her handful of popcorn. He thought she would be easy pickings, but he was wrong. This ancient gentlewoman seized her walker and brandished it at him. Eddie bolted off as though shot from a cannon and could be heard baying with terror up and down faraway hills. And I remembered, as clearly as though it were written above me in the beautiful blue sky, his breeder's cheerful comment that beagles were very long-lived. With luck, We might enjoy Eddie's companionship for twenty years or more!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Like Reality

Speak the truth, but ride a fast horse.
Cowboy saying

The carriages of the past will take you nowhere.
Nikolai Gogol

He who limps is still walking.
Stanislas Lee

I like reality. It tastes of bread.
Jean Anouilh

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Samson and Delilah and Me

On a recent icy Sunday I could be found in my old Morris chair, snugly wrapped in a favorite red plaid afghan, watching Bible movies on TV. Close at hand was a big plate of buttery garlic bread, heavy on the garlic. On the screen over the course of the day were Moses, Samson and Ben-Hur. I first saw these movies in the great old Al Ringling theater in Baraboo, Wisconsin with a few hundred other innocent tots like myself. We may have been a little vague about political or religious conflicts in the movies, but we alertly followed orgies, dismemberment, mass execution, torture and assassination with fascinated attention.

It was easy to tell who was good and who was bad. The good were raggedy, but virtuous. They wore burlap bags and worked to exhaustion on the pharaoh's hellish construction sites. Bad people wore glamorous, shiny fabrics and were studded with gems as big as duck eggs. They showed their moral corruption by lying sideways while eating, lounging on marble daises. In The Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner has Psycho Pharaoh written all over him. His oiled chest is garnished with weaponry and fabulous jewels. He glares at his slaves with brutal command, and eyes his fiancee (Anne Baxter) with a carnal leer. He also thinks he is divine--a delusion guaranteed to set off the hair-trigger temper of Cecil B. DeMille's God.
No wonder Moses and his followers flee hotfoot into the desert to get away from him. However, they aren't home free yet. The moment Moses goes up into the mountain to get God's word, the freaky-deaky element among his followers take over. They're fermenting manna, gilding a heifer, exchanging somber robes for rhinestone bustiers and chiffon dancing pants. Where did these clothes come from? These people are in the middle of a desert. They must have packed them earlier in case they felt inclined to bust out later.

At the Al Ringling, we kids knew that wherever you had dancing girls doing high kicks in shiny fabrics, God's wrath was not far behind. It looked like Southern California. We all waited with real anxiety for Moses to come back down. When he did, he was as disgusted as we were and nipped the frenzy in the bud.

These epics specialized in brutal truths. In "Samson and Delilah," one minute Samson is riding high, sweltering in the embraces of the darkly adorable Delilah/Hedy Lamarr. But when he lets her hack his hair off, he's blinded by his enemies in an instant. He finds himself in a show ring being tortured by dwarfs. You may recognize several ex-Munchkins among them. Ten years before this movie was produced, these little people were dancing in tiny lederhosen and singing to Dorothy, "We represent the lollypop guild, lollypop guild, lollypop guild..." but now here they are, tormenting Samson with whip and spur. In the climactic scene, there are dancing girls, graven images, a 4-story pagan god with a nasty sneer on his face and flames coming out of his mouth, the whole can of worms. And a huge mass of evil people are conveniently gathered together, being mean to Samson. For some reason none of them have noticed that Samson's hair has been growing out and his Old Testament 'Fro is quite huge and fluffy again. However, we kids had noticed. And we weren't really surprised at what happened next.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Feast With Friends, In Honeycomb Walls

Years ago, there was a certain day when I traveled by bus, for ten hours, through a dark gray, sleeting, hopeless winter landscape, over roads that varied between frozen mud and black ice. I had a lot of time to brood over unhappy recent events.

It was a long trip. However, the kind hands of my friends Nancy and Al were there to help as I climbed stiffly off the bus. Minutes later, I was sitting in their kitchen. Nancy is an artist. Two of the walls were parakeet yellow, and in fact exuberant wings were drawn flying to the ceiling. The other walls were painted a warm apricot, with cross-hatching in dark gold to represent a honeycomb's cells.

They had cooked all day. Correctly gauging my mental state--"Your blood sugar must be in your boots," she said--we started with dessert. This was my favorite: French vanilla ice cream with eggy golden pound cake. You tear off chunks of the cake and use them to scoop up smooth, soft, vanilla-fragrant gobs of the ice cream. Eat them together.

A crisply browned pork loin followed, with rich gravy. Let's admit it: succulent grease is good for what ails you. It gilds and heals the nerve endings. There was Seven Jewel Rice, there were brandied peaches in a blue canning jar. There was comforting Grandma food in the form of creamed corn in a blue willow dish, with poached eggs on top and three tiny circles of spice--cumin, pepper and paprika--on each egg. They had done all this for me.

Hunger is said to be the best sauce. I think that a better one is when you realize that affectionate eyes have studied your tastes, quietly and without fanfare, and acted on them. There are people on earth who think you should have what you like. And within their walls of apricot, honey and sun, the most stubborn ice crystals can thaw.