Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Rock: Chapter 2 Final Installment

The term ‘Miracle’ can have many meanings especially when you’re talking about a puppy; the first pee on newspaper, the first poop outside or when it’s a Pyrenees, the first paw. 

But for me and Malcolm it meant blankets.

I’ve had chronic back pain most of my adult life due to an injury sustained on a job and then a subsequent car crash in Corpus Christi when, on my way to a deep sea fishing expedition,  a Dodge Ram driving 50 MPH slammed into my rear end rupturing a disc. 

For as long as I can recall, beds made it worse but couches made it tolerable. 

Back in Castroville, I slept on the living room sofa while Malcolm was asleep all Superman style on the cold corridor tile, and even though we were close in proximity we still seemed worlds apart. 


Then one morning, after what must've been a fitful night, I awoke and found Malcolm sleeping not in the tiled hallway but right next to my couch.  

“Why hasn’t he done that before”, I wondered?  And then I realized that at some point my blanket had partially slipped off me onto the floor upon which he lay.

I tested that hypothesis the very next night.  

After I retired to the couch, I deliberately took half my blanket and draped over me and the other onto the floor and closed my eyes pretend like. 

Moments later, sure enough, Malcolm plopped himself down onto the blankets and fell soundly asleep. 

It wasn’t my notion of ‘snuggling’ or even what I wanted or expected out of a puppy but that night I realized something I’d never ever thought possible from a dog.  He was trying to communicate with me. 

But about what?  Are cold tiles giving you piles?  Is Timmy stuck in the town well?  

Hell, I didn't know.  And at the time, he didn't even have a name.    


You’d think a creative type wordsmith like me would have no problem at all naming a dog but even after months together nothing came to mind.  And it wasn’t due to lack of diligence.  I researched mythologies from around the world and the only name I came close to was Loki, the Norse God or mischief, which seemed fitting.  . 

Still, I remained uncommitted until my brother, Mark, came into the living room one night and spoke the name ‘Malcolm’. 

“That’s it”, I said without any hesitation and up until now, I never understood why I pulled the trigger so hastily. 

To the extent of my recollection, I’ve never known anyone or anything named Malcolm and couldn’t find any personal, historical, emotional, or grand significance to it either. 

And maybe that’s the reason. 

I didn’t want this dog and maybe giving it a name that I had no attachment to meant I could get rid of it cleanly and easily.  

Or maybe even then I had absolutely no idea what I was up against and it was still so foreign to me.  


Over the coming months Malcolm would accrue many nick names.  

One of the rules I had set forth on our first day together was I absolutely refused to ‘cutesy-tootsy baby talk’ him like girls do.  Southern men just don’t do that   

But Malcolm had a way of breaking down my preconceptions and down and outright bigotry towards dogs. 

One morning in our first winter together, I was taking a long soak and he nosed the door open to the bathroom and I started singing the ‘Rubber Ducky’ song to him but instead substituted the name ‘Chubby Bubby’. 

Other names followed; Smiley Britches and then later on, Snow Monkey.   

And I loved singing to Malcolm as he listened to me with rapt attention, whether I sang Queensryche, Emmy Lou Harris, or Luciano Pavarotti. 

From nicknames to sing songs to finding any and every excuse to picking up a new chew toy on my way home from school, the little feller was growing on me. 

Malcolm rarely left my side and I his.  With one exception.  Church.


One Saturday morning I was headed out to worship at the Alsatian Golf Club, the only church I knew at the time.  As I suited up and strapped my bag on my shoulder, Malcolm got all excited as though he was coming with. 

“Oh, no”, I said patting his head.  “This is a man’s sport and no dog’s allowed.”

Unconvinced, he sidled up to me with a sweet expectant look.  Whether I was spent from the constant battle between us or resigned to the inevitability, I said to the little wedge shaped head dog, “Fine.  But I’m driving the cart.” 

“And don’t bark in my backswing.”

Malcolm didn’t.  He turned out to be an exceptional caddy, riding shotgun in the golf cart, spotting my errant balls, and chasing the geese and gophers from the fairways.  And although he couldn’t keep score so good, his card always erred on my side. 


I think then and there on the fairways of the old Alsatian course, I was entering into a new chapter of my life.  Malcolm had become my mate.  


But my naive misconception of the true nature of our relationship almost cost Malcolm his life several times over and I had a whole helluva lot to learn.  

The Rock Installment Postponed Til Saturday Night

Apologies.  I was hit with a massive migraine yesterday afternoon that I just couldn't shake.  I have a few more hours of editing of the final installment of Chapter 2 that I'll post later this evening.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Schrodinger's Cat

I never like to take shocking, TMZ type current events and twist them into writing points for the blog but this Mindy McCready tragedy has weighed heavily upon me.  And the reason I'm writing about it now is that, as I am about to publish Chapter 3 and then 4 of 'The Rock' over the coming weeks, it hits a little too close to home.  

Schrodinger's Cat is a paradox in quantum mechanics proposed in the 1930's by people way smarter than me but it somehow seems oddly and unshakably applicable to my thinking tonight.  

The crux of the theorem, at least from a philosophical/non-mathematic perspective is that if you put a cat in a sealed box, it exists in a state of neither being alive or dead until you open the box.  

What I've taken it to mean in my own life is this.  All of us have good and evil within us; creativity and destruction; the sacred and profane; beauty and sorrow; hope and heroism but desperation and despair as well.  And I'm not sure that we really get to choose which state we'll be in when the box is opened.  

But what I do know is if we're in the later state not the former, what we don't get to do is take anyone down with us.  

The tipping point for me was reading an article about how, when Ms. McCready murdered her dog before she took her own life, it was not an act of malice.  And though I'm sure it's just a sad attempt of spin control from the PR machine, do they really think we're that daft and easily persuaded?       

Did you know that human beings are the only species on the planet that can choose not to live?  We're the only ones who can willfully and deliberately kill ourselves, the lemming myth and others aside.  

But we're also the only species that, when death is certain and the box is totally open, possess the desire to damn others to our fate.  And therein lies the real tragedy. 

Don't believe me?  Mortally injure a member of a pride, a flock, a rafter, a lodge, a gaggle, or a herd and see if, in their dying breath, they try to take others down with them.  

I'm no philosopher, no mathematician, sociologist or historian and I don't know when in our evolutionary arc we lost our sense of community but lookit, if you're going down, goddamnit, don't take your dog... or your cat... with you.



Friday, February 15, 2013

The Rock: Chapter 2 Continued

Arriving in Castroville for the first time, full of fear and fully unaware of what was in store for me and Malcolm, I had no idea where to begin.  After I let him romp and stomp around our acre of fenced in backyard, I took him into our solarium, and there we sat nose to snout regarding each other, both of us unsure what came next. 

Talking to the little tyke seemed like as good as any place to start so I began. 

 “These are the rules of my house and if you respect them, I’ll respect you.”

And then I enumerated them for him. (1) No chewing on anything that isn’t previously designated as ‘chewable’, (2) No interrupting me when I am working, (3) You’ll only speak when spoken to… and the list went on and on. 

With his big brown eyes open wide and a sweet smile, Malcolm appeared to listen attentively and agreeably, which I assumed we had reached a meeting of the minds.

I nodded my head, got up and patted his.  “Good talk”.  Whew, that part was over and our ‘contract’ was signed, sealed, and delivered.  “You see”, I thought to myself, “It ain’t that tough”. 

The ink wasn’t even dry before Malcolm ate the contract and pooped it out into my Cole Haan loafers.  And over the coming weeks he set about, like the Tasmanian Devil, to destroy everything I held sacred.  He peed on an antique edition of Grey’s Anatomy passed on to me from my father. 

And after I had passed out from a long day, my clothes draped over the nearest chair on the way down, I awoke to the horror to find my Hermes tie, a gift from my girlfriend, severed and all slobbery in the little rat bastard’s mouth. 

And he was shitty about it, too, and he knew it!. He was like, “Thanks.  I needed a new chew toy”.  And every time he pissed in the house and by this time, no square foot had been spared, he looked up at me all innocent like, “Oh, I’m sorry.  Did I do something wrong?  Was that something you treasured?”  And then he cranked up the nozzle a few notches. 

I mean, come on, do dogs have four bladders like cows have stomachs? 

But it wasn’t Malcolm’s fault.  The truth is he was untrained.  And so was I.  You see, I had a preconceived notion based on my upbringing of how to raise a dog but it wasn’t long before I had to accept the reality that I was way in over my head.  I purchased a few books on Pyrenees and the experts described the breed as ‘independent’ but I became to understand that as a Texas euphemism for ‘stubborn sumbitches’. 

But I was too.  

Indeed Malcolm and me became a perfect study in what happens when an immovable object meets and unstoppable force. 

But the old model on which I was raised of ‘establish dominance and punish unruly behavior’ just wasn’t working.  It was will against will and that just made it worse.

It would have been somewhat tolerable I suppose if he showed the slightest shred of gratitude.  He had a good life at our humble little abode in our small Alsatian community and he wanted for nothing. 

I’ve never needed much by way of affection in life but there’s nothing like a good snuggle every now and then but Malcolm wanted no part of it.  I’d have to wrestle him up on the couch for it and, at times, he’d relent for five minutes, tolerate me, then jump right down and be on his way with a “KThnxbye”.  And that damn near drove me daffy. 

Nope, Malcolm was too cool for that.

Thinking about him now, he was a man’s dog.  Hell, he slept like Superman and pissed like Steve McQueen. 

There was a tiled corridor from the den to the solarium where he slept most nights and he would face the wall with his right paw extended, almost touching it and his left tucked in.  Malcolm’s legs would be stretched far, far out which made him look like The Man of Steel flying, only in the old, old movies when the first word of the term 'special effects' was more exact and telling than the second.  

He slept differently and he peed differently, too.  Or unlike any of the male dogs I grew up around.  He didn’t hike it but he didn’t squat like a girl either.  Rather, Malcolm planted all fours squarely on the ground and arched his legs like mounting a motorcycle with a certain machismo that would’ve made the King of Cool smile.

It was fascinating, albeit foreign to someone like me, to behold Malcolm. 

But still we struggled.  I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and everything I tried seemed to end in utter failure.  There was a chasm between us that I ultimately deemed unbridgeable.  Despondent and downright convinced I was utterly incapable of caring for Malcolm, I called Lindsey and tried to give him back.  True to her nature, she said, “No”, and then promptly hung up the phone.


And then a miracle happened. 


Author's Note: 

(1) As Ed calls them, I'm writing vignettes.  When I first heard the term, I thought that's what you put on salads.  I hope I'm giving you more than leafy greens.

(2) Last week, I was up in the White Mountains when I published the first part of Chapter 2, The Gospel According to Malcolm and, as he will always be known to me, the original Snow Monkey, it was fitting that New Hampshire was hit by a blizzard.  

And then tonight, in posting the second installment in Newport Rhode Island, my writing was interrupted by fireworks as part of the 25th celebration of their Winter Festival.  How's that for trail magic, baby?  

Friday, February 8, 2013

THE ROCK: Chapter 2


“Look to the rock from which you were cut and the quarry from which you were hewn.”

 Isaiah 51:1


Malcolm was all of a few months old when I met him for the first time back in 1997 and he didn’t seem like much of a rock to me.  More like a powdered cream pastry or a lump of Crabapple blossoms freshly blown from a tree. Or the thing that sat atop Albert Einstein’s head well after he was a genius.  I didn’t know what to think of him.

Malcolm, though nameless to me then, had kind, curious and unexpected eyes that drew me in.   But what I couldn’t see at the time was a stoic and ancient story behind those eyes and that the white and innocent fluffiness of the Great Pyrenees belies an intense and fierce nature.

While their exact origins are uncertain, it’s widely believed that Pyrenees date back to 1,000 BCE and is one of the oldest pure breeds still extant.  They hail from the mountain range that bears their name and were born and bred by Basque farmers to protect their livestock from wolves, a job they performed then and now expertly.  

I didn’t know any of this when I stared at him in the back of my Nissan Pathfinder, still ambivalent and wondering what in the hell I had gotten myself into.  Picturing it now, the contrast was stark; his small, wobbly body all alone in the rear of my empty and capacious SUV.  I wonder if he was as unsure as I was about the arrangement but what I did know, I had to eat and since I was in Austin that morning that meant Ruta Maya.

As I was ordering a cafĂ© au lait and one of their righteous blueberry muffins I stopped mid-request and said, “No, make that two.”  After all, the lil’ feller had to eat and who wouldn’t love a muffin in the morning?  Feeling pretty damn pleased with myself and already owning up to my new role, I fed Malcolm his half and he graciously ate every last buttery, sugary crumb.

Yep, things we going just swell on my drive back to Castroville when I heard a gurgling, churning sound like something being dredged up from the bowels of hell.  And then that cute little Crabapple spewed the Ruta Maya muffin all over my SUV.  Oh, but he wasn’t done yet.

Somehow, blueberries triggered a chain reaction that went from his fore to his aft and he squirted poop like a Jackson Pollock painting.  Only the canvas was the cloth interior of my Pathfinder.  

I once read an article about senses having memory.  How long after you hear a song can you recall the singer and album?  When do you forget the name of the person you just met?  What scientists found is smell has the longest and most eternal of memories.

Case in point.  You’ll never forget the acrid, eye watering, migraine inducing smell of a skunk after your first introduction.  And til the day I die, I’ll never lose the memory of what happens when you combine blueberries and feces.  All I could think about while I was still trying not to swerve off of I-35 was the scene from Stephen King’s movie Stand By Me about blueberry pies and the state fair.

I pulled off the interstate at the nearest rest stop and, after cranking out every single paper towel from the dented, rusty, dispenser, cleaned up the mess Malcolm had made.  Surprisingly, given my upbringing, I wasn’t mad or mean to him.  I just went about it, cleaning the truck as best I could.  But I couldn’t help wondering if I made the wrong choice not only for me but for Malcolm, too.  After all, I had just fed him something that clearly was disagreeable to his digestive system and it had become apparent I had no idea what I was doing.   

We were somewhere around New Braunfels and the Canyon Lake exit, about the halfway point to Castroville, and I was wrestling with myself.  I should just take him back.

But I didn't.  I slid into the driver's seat, put the gear into drive and headed down south on the freeway.  All I could think was, “This is going to be a long trip home.”

Some fifteen years later, and we're still so far away.  


Next week, Chapter 2 continues

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Puppy Bowl IX

Damn I bet and lost a fin on Juniper, the Great Pyrenees, to make a touchdown by half time. I've always wondered why I got stuck with this breed and, as a bull headed man, believe it's because I deserve them.  

Everyone says Pyrs are "independent" but I've come to understand that's a euphemism.  They don't listen and they don't mind.  Still, I'd bet on em everytime.  

And true to their nature, she was a beauty, full of playful joy and, what I think I love about Pyrenees the most, puckish impudence.  I'll just add the $5 to the heaping mound of money I've spent on them in my lifetime but be grateful I'm still far, far on the plus side.  Damnit.  Next year, I hope they have a Dachshund.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Rock

Apologies I kinda thought it was clear that this blog isn't limited to just the book but if that's what you're here for, you'll know the posts cause they always begin with two words:  The Rock


I've been so inner focused on how to tell the Summer of Murphy documentary and shots still not shot, ideas not fully fleshed out, that I kinda lost sight of thanking everyone who has been a big big part of it, even though it seems that's the way it should be.  I mean gratitude, honor, glory, sacrifice, love, beauty, grace - these words mean nothing if they're not consistently applied in one's everyday life but if you're not careful the can consume every aspect of you.  

And that's what I struggle with.  How to tell this, our story.  I used to think that my enemy was the word 'canine cancer' because it automatically presupposed a difference to human cancer even though science has disproven that notion.

On the Tour and in every interview I did, when asked what message I wanted to deliver, it was just that.  Cancer is cancer and it's killing all of us, sparing no species, and that journalists would be remiss if they propagated that misconception.  

But, oh, they did.  Every single article, interview, and TV spot on the Tour was framed out as a story about canine cancer despite my insistence.  Did you know it's an industry standard that newspapers write at the 7th grade level?  We are children to them and that's how they speak to us.  

I've changed a lot this past year and have begun to accept that as a spokesman for a cause, fighting against the greatest pandemic ever, I must necessarily be a social critic and I'm starting to step up to that responsibility. 

It's a role I didn't want, still don't, and sickens me at times.  Trust me, my few trusted advisers see the brunt of it and it ain't a beauty.  And upon occasion, you witness it here and previously on my now deactivated Facebook account.  I'll get to that later.  

You know, I grew up in a very erudite household with a high expectation of education.  I read a lot and learned a lot but there was always someone I invariably met who thought I was arrogant because I used 'big' words.  They never got to know me well enough to know that ego had nothing to do with it.  I love the English language, its origins and history.  Hell, I love words in any language.  To think that someone came up with a word like 'excoriate' fascinates me.  De Profundis - what a powerful phrase.  

Ed and I were talking the other day about one of my favorite authors, Samuel Clemens.  He's better known to most of you by a different name and that got me thinking.  Why did he change his name and why did he choose that nom de plume?  

There's a lot of sadness, despair, and disappointment I deal with on a daily basis but we don't get to pick and choose what we like about our life mission and what we don't.  It's a package deal.  

I'm grateful for each and every one of you.  Please don't ever confuse the one for the other.  But I'll never talk to you like 7th graders here and just to spare you the suspense, there are lots of tough conversations to come.  

But I'll try to do a better, more consistent job of sharing the great beauties of the world as I bear witness to them.  Today, it's Bach's Prelude in G   

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Rock: Chapter 1 Continued

“There is no greater glory than a good piece of wood in hand, the path underfoot, your dogs at your side and the call of the wild leading you on.”

How many years it took to earn the right to write those words...

There are many reasons I could offer up as to 'Why' I initially didn't want Malcolm in my life like I had no compelling need or even the slightest desire to have a dog.  Or I was busy in business school and my upbringing just didn't lend itself to a loving nature towards companion animals.  

But this isn't a fluff piece.  I am writing this with the purist of intentions like scientists trying to understand something unquantifiable and seemingly, eternally elusive.  The thing that keeps them up late at night in the lab, calibrating, testing, and toiling then recalibrating, retesting, and toiling is the same thing that keeps me up late at night.   

Only we use different instruments.  This book is my microscope, the focal point of which is aimed squarely into the depths of my soul and the lens I chose for it, the lens I use isn't either refracting or reflecting, it's a piercing one.  


Inglorious (sic) Basterd

The truth is I've always been a self centered, singularly absorbed, solipsistic sumbitch hyper focused on myself, something that's taken me a long time to understand and accept. 

Hell, I was having fun in my twenties and I had no interest in being encumbered.  I was exceedingly well educated, rakishly handsome, dapperly dressed, dating models, and in an upward spiral to what I thought was my destiny.   Hey, there you are, you smart looking devil.

And then everything changed.  Not immediately.  Nothing ever does.  


But even after I had Malcolm for a couple of years I still wasn’t what you would consider a dog lover.  I didn’t go to parks to meet other dog people and whenever we were out for a stroll and happened upon one of them I hurried by. 

They creeped me out kinda like the cheerleader and beauty pageant moms of the south who live fanatically and vicariously through their kids. Think Toddlers and Tiaras.  I won't even mention the other one.  

I felt uncomfortable being around dog people, you know the ones who talk all about the color, consistency and regularity of poop like a carat rating then hit you up with play dates?  I had absolutely no interest in discussing Malcolm’s bowel movements with complete strangers or hearing how special their little snowflake was.  It’s like they lived in this one-dimensional universe and I was a stranger in their strange land.

A girlfriend once goaded me into going to some sort of dog event up in the hill country and it didn’t do anything for me.  I wasn’t interested in talking to anyone there so I found a secluded patch of flat grass far away from the others and just hung out with Malcolm.     

I didn't know if I was protecting myself from them or protecting him.    

Whatever, I wanted no part of it, which, in the grand scheme of things is a cosmic irony why I was picked for this mission.  


Of Metaphysics and Men

Noone likes being under the scope but it's a responsibility some must bear.  John Donne famously wrote, "No man is an island in of himself".  It's a quote that's almost always abused and misused.  

He should've written instead, "We are all rocks part of a great mountain.  Some of us choose to be pebbles, some cobblestones, and others gigantic boulders.  But we are all, each and everyone of us, part of it."  

Though I studied Donne and Johnson and all the rest in a 17th century literature class in college, I had no idea what any of that meant at the time and even if I did, I could have never predicted nor been prepared for that one day back in 1997 in Castroville, Texas when I got the call from Lindsey.  


Unexpectedly, unwillingly, and definitely undeservedly, I became part of something bigger than me back then.   

Malcolm became the rock that I broke myself against.  


Author's Note:  Publishing this book in blog form wasn't my intention and I keep making mistakes.  Not in the MLA English writing sense, screw THOSE assholes who constrain writing, but the notes, thoughts, ideas, drafts, revisions, edits, and midnight musings have been written in more states than the union has, and on scratch paper, cocktail napkins, several moleskins, and multiple computers that have gone kaput on me.  Piecing them together has really become the story.  

In the preface to an anthology of poems by Dylan Thomas he wrote, "These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of Dog, and I'd be a damn' fool if they weren't."  

I'll try to do a better job of it but if I don't, I'll either curse you for it or condemn myself.