Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Noise or not?

Working in an industry where there are people in your face all the time, when you must deal with people on their terms, when the daily chatter of hotel life is non-stop, it makes you crave quiet. When you come home after an eight hour shift there is nothing you want except silence. No music, no talk, nothing. Just quiet. That was me, for years.  I would play music on my days off, sometimes not even then. With the loud, constant ringing I have in my ears most of the time, quiet was fine.

At some point you realize that noise is different for each of us.  Depending on where you work, you might be surrounded by noise all the time but it might not be intrusive. Or you might be the person who doesn't mind the background confetti of sounds, always ongoing. Maybe that background chatter doesn't feel personal so it is easy to ignore it, like constant white noise.  

The other evening, I sat at a nice bar in a nice restaurant having a glass of wine while waiting for some take-out food. The place was noisy, as restaurants usually are, but surprisingly I found that the noise was mildly entertaining.  Noise was coming from the patrons at the tables, noise was in back of me from the hostess stand, chatter from other people sitting at the bar, clattering from the open kitchen, a slight murmur from the bartenders as they worked. Many layers of noise but none of it disturbing or annoying. (Of course the glass of wine and the promise of good food probably were factors in the lack of annoyance.) And I realized that it wasn't sounds that bugged me. It was when the noise intruded on my personal space: people chatting at me when I didn't want to chat, the telephone ringing when I didn't want to answer it. That kind of noise over an eight hour shift made me crave the silence.

Since my life doesn't have eight hour shifts much anymore, I am going to start paying attention more to sounds that I like and that I enjoy.  Except for the cawing of crows, I really like the sounds birds make and I live in a bird-rich area, so I'll start with appreciating that. I might have to sit at restaurant bars more often and bask in the happy noises emanating from that venue. Maybe I will even begin to listen to music when I am alone and enjoy the companionship of that kind of "noise." Maybe my solitary world will become less silent and maybe even more joyful. 

Who knows? Change is good. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Parents - Siblings - Self

Talking to my older brother Steve the other day, we remarked on how detached we sometimes felt from our other siblings, other people, the world. Not in a bad way, but just slightly removed and thus slightly unemotional.  Maybe it's a generational thing; so many of us baby boomer kids were raised by parents who really had no idea what they were doing and thus were not the most forthcoming with affections, connections, communications.

Or maybe it was just our parents. They didn't have many friends other than in-laws, there were never dinner parties at our house where adults mingled and they never discussed relationships outside of aunts, uncles and cousins.  Our parents really had very little outside life. And it was clear that they didn't really know how to be concerned parents. Perhaps they didn't even like being parents, who knows? But there was never any dialogue about how they felt about us kids, never any positive affirmation about our joys or any support about our sorrows.  That's a huge generalization, of course, because I do remember them being very excited when one of my younger brothers won some science fair award and went on to the state contest. But other than bland comments about grades on report cards or a mediocre, short-lived response about a hand-made Mothers or Fathers Day card, there wasn't a lot of personal interaction.

Now, I could be wrong. I could have entirely forgot that my Mom read to us every night or encouraged us to tell her about our day at school or guided us through making cookies for the first time. That might have happened. But I don't remember it.

The relationship with my siblings is fine. We are all very different people but we all get along. (Mostly.) I know people who haven't spoken to their siblings in years and have no interest in doing so. At least the six of us talk on the phone now and then and we hold no rancor against each other. But I wouldn't say that we are all really connected. Some of us are in touch frequently but some of us, not so much. Do we love each other? Not for me to say. Do I love my siblings?  Yes. And that's a stronger "yes" for some than others.  I like them all as well, some of them more than others but that's probably just because some are more familiar than others, I see them and interact with them more frequently.  And because we are all very different, it's easy to like each one as a separate entity, not just as a sibling.  Would I answer a call from any of them in the middle of the night and drive to their house if they asked?  100% yes.

But there is a coolness in our relationships. A slight distance that one doesn't usually find with really good friends. Maybe it's difficult to be friends with your siblings, maybe there's too much shared genetic language, too much knowledge of our past that precludes close friendship.  I don't know.  

Anyway, just mulling over the past.  And the present. 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Talking to my dead dog

 It's true. I talk to my dead dog. Watching TV. Cooking dinner. Driving in the car, walking through the park, sitting on the deck under my umbrella while having a cocktail.  I talk to Cooper.

No, he does not respond. I have not gone that far off the rails. Yet. 

This past week I watched Hannah, Gabe and Annie's dog, and several times I called Hannah "Cooper" as in "wasn't that a great sunset, Cooper" while Hannah looked at me askance. 

I realize that having Cooper die after living with me for 15 years means a little cognitive dissonance is appropriate on my part.  I get that. It's not that I am delusional about his death. It's simply that I lived with that dog for a long time and now that he's gone, he's still my trusty Pony-Pal-Pokey. (If you don't get that reference, well, too bad.) So I still talk out loud to him, I address comments to him and in some odd way, it is comforting.

When creatures you love die, whether they are human or animal, there seems to be a resistance to letting them go. Not so much for old parents, but for peers who die too young or really good friends who die and of course, for pets. We know our old parents need to die, so we welcome (in a way) their demise.  But friends and pets, not so much. How surprising is it then, once they are gone, that we continue to converse with them? Not surprising at all, at least to me.  

With my pets, I simply talk to them, make comments that they would understand and, in the end, I simply wish they were still in the room with me. How cool would it be if my great dog Webber, the large, goofy Golden Retriever, had been friends with the small, stellar dog Cooper?  What fun they would have had.

I will continue to talk to my dead dog Cooper and my previously dead dog Webber and all the dead people I loved and have known.  If they listen, great. If not, also great. In the end, it's all good. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Missing Cooper

 It has been one month since I had to let Cooper go. The first couple of days were odd, not as sad as I would have anticipated, just rather flat. Then I had Hannah, Gabe and Annie's dog, for ten days and that kept me occupied.  But eventually Hannah left and I was then ambushed by the reality of Cooper's absence.

Cooper was not a rambunctious dog; he was a stately breed of canine. Not too noisy, not too barky, not too friendly. Definitely not a Golden Retriever type of dog. But Cooper had some very rigid habits and those habits became mine as well because, well, we lived together for many years and thus shared space and time.  For example, every day at 4:00 p.m. (in the cottage where I currently live) we would walk down the path to the large swimming pool and we would walk around the pool twice. Cooper would then bound up the stairs like he was a puppy, back up the path and wait by the cottage door because 4:00 was when Cooper got his Greenie. No exceptions. Cooper could be sound asleep at 3:59 but at 4:00 he was wide awake, waiting by the door.

Same thing with dinner.  He liked his meal served at precisely 5:00 p.m.  At that hour Cooper would stare at me unflinchingly until I got up, got his bowl and gave him dinner.  Didn't matter if we were at home, at a friend's house, in a different time zone. He knew when 5:00 came and he wanted his dinner right then. No exceptions.

When I made toast for myself, Cooper always got a bite.  I would always cut a small corner off of the toast and when I was done eating he would get his bite. Several times after he was gone I was still reaching for a knife to cut that little corner off for him. 

Cooper was a quiet dog but he made a lot of noise when he slept. Not just snoring (although he was good at that) but little snorting noises, long musical sighs, tiny barks as he dreamt.  Nighttime is so quiet without those little dog noises. I miss that.

So many other with a creature for more than 15 years means you are connected in more ways than I can describe. He knew when it was cocktail hour,  he knew when to trick me into going outside so he could get a cookie, he knew how to look so pitiful that a second cookie was inevitable. He knew which of my friends was a softie for dogs and which didn't really care about dogs, and he respected both of those opinions. Cooper loved parties because there was always a chance of sneaking a bite from some sympathetic dog lover.

I do miss his jaunty walk and his disdain for cats, his eagerness to chase a squirrel and his disregard for birds. Undoubtedly I will be missing him for quite some time. His absence is keenly felt.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Obituary: Cooper (2006-2022)

The details of Cooper's early years are a mystery. It is possible that his life began in the Central Valley, where over breeding and inbreeding are rampant.  Cooper was lucky to be rescued from an over-crowded shelter and brought to the SPCA in Marin county. No one really knew how old he was but looking at his teeth they thought about 14 months. Cooper (he didn't have that name then, of course) was neutered and washed and fed. And he waited.

Fifteen years ago, on a random Monday, two people set out to find a dog. Those two people stopped at the SPCA in the morning, found nothing that moved them, and thus moved on.  They visited a couple of shelters in SF. None of the dogs spoke to them. They had lunch and drove back north, a bit disappointed they didn't find a dog that day but they knew there were other days and dogs ahead. It was close to closing time but they decided to stop at the Marin county SPCA, just in case a new dog had appeared.

There was one new dog that wasn't there when they stopped by earlier. He was small. He had tall ears. You could see those ears peeking up from the gate of his 10 foot run. The two people wanted to see him closer, so the SPCA attendant went into the run and she had a difficult time picking up the little guy and an even more difficult time putting a leash around his neck. But finally we were able to take this dog into the "visiting area."  He did not want to visit. He wanted nothing from us. He didn't want to walk on the leash, play with a ball, look at us.

One of us wanted him, even though he was the opposite of what we were looking for.  He was small, he wasn't social, he wasn't friendly.  But he needed us and I needed him. We took him home, realizing, on that car ride, that he was terrified of everything: cars, noise, overpasses (he would duck) and possibly air.

The first night was OK. I let him sleep on my tall bed and he slept well. The second night I put him on the floor and it was a battle for about 15 minutes: he was small but he could jump the four feet onto the bed. I put him back on the floor. He jumped up. Back on the floor, jumped up, back on the floor.  Finally I acquiesced. He could sleep on the bed. That was that.

His name from the SPCA was "google."  I changed it (very quickly) to Cooper.  Cooper slowly learned to trust a few people but in the beginning I had to leash him to a table leg to keep him from running away. My daughter tells about the time when she first met him: he was cowering under a chair. Knowing that her words would not work, Jenn sat on the floor next to the chair for an hour or so, just putting her hand near him, chatting to the rest of us in the room. Eventually, he came out and let her pet him for a few seconds before retreating back to the chair. 

Cooper, after about 8 months, was less terrified of the world. He never warmed up to kids (I am sure he experienced kids being mean to him) and he had a true sense of distain for most other dogs until he got to know them well. In our family, he met Hannah when she was about 6 months old (and he was about 20 months old) and they became fast friends. Cooper met Bebe in Texas and gradually accepted her, especially since she outweighed Cooper by about 60 pounds. (He knew when to pick his battles.)

We often called him the "gay professor" because he had that demeanor.  Cooper looked proper, especially when he wore his bowtie, and he looked wise. But he also looked a tiny bit gay. He wasn't, at least as far as we knew, but seriously, who knows? And maybe right now he is at Big Gay Al's Animal Sanctuary.  That would make us all happy.

Cooper hated car rides but he and I drove from SF to Texas many times. Cooper would put up with the drive because his reward was staying in a hotel. He loved hotels. He loved that they were not the car, that he could sleep on the bed and listen to TV while I went out to find dinner.  Cooper loved running down hotel corridors, chasing a toy, getting exercise.

Cooper had small legs, a long body and very tall ears. He had a jaunty walk and his confident manner made people smile out loud. "What kind of dog is that?" people would ask as we walked by.  "The good kind" was my answer. 

Cooper had no college degree, had no resume, didn't have a bank account, but he leaves behind a world of love and good energy. Cooper made me laugh every day and looked at me as more than his food provider. (Hmm, well, who knows about that!) I think Cooper was a discerning spirit, but for those to whom he opened his heart, the payback was huge. If you loved him, he loved you. Forever.

I loved him and will, forever.

Cooper leaves behind his owner, his aunties Jenn, Dar, Annie, Sue, his uncles Gabe, Steve, Tom and Mike and many others.  He will also be missed by many friends. The list is huge.

There will be a small burial service in a few weeks.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Looking at the night sky for ... meteors?

There was a sort of meteor shower that was maybe suppose to happen tonight. Or not. Even the scientists said "could be great or could be nothing." But since it wasn't in the middle of the night, like most meteor showers, it seemed easy enough to go outside to check it out. However, the perils that exist in the dark, outside, for a north-of-middle-age person are huge! 

First, of course, is the darkness. To see stuff in the sky it must be dark so all outside lights are off, except for one's flashlight. OK, that's all good. The flashlight will illuminate the path to the patio and the patio chairs. Cool. Find those, sit down. Then get back up and move the chair to see the best open area of the sky. Then move the chair a little more to escape the ambient light from the landlord's house. All good.  I sit there in shorts and a t-shirt for ten minutes and realize two things: 1) I have no idea if the meteors are in the north, south, east, west and 2) I am chilly.  Flashlight back on, back inside. Sweatshirt on, pajama bottoms on and since I am outside, in the elements, I get an ounce of cognac to fortify me against those elements. 

Back outside in aforementioned chair. Sip cognac, don't really care about the direction of the meteors because there is just one area of sky that is dark and clear. I wait. I see a shooting star! Is it the start of a meteor shower?  Hmm.... if so, it's a very low flow of a shower. Five minutes go by and I see another shooting star. My neck hurts from looking up but it is so lovely outside that I don't mind. It's quiet and not cold and medium dark and crickets are chirping away. Wait! Another shooting star!  It's not a meteor shower but three stars in 15 minutes is okay.

Now my neck is getting crinky. I lower my head and just roll my eyes up, like the saints on those holy cards we got as kids. St. Catherine or St. Ashley or St. Bonnie.... they all had little scarves draped around their heads and their eyes were rolling up, looking for.... meteors?  Jesus?  Spiders? One can't really know. But my eyes did that roll thing for a few minutes until I realized that this meteor shower, for this night, was not happening.

But it was fine. I saw three shooting stars and was happy to be outside for a bit in the dark. Of course, when I came back inside I couldn't find my phone or my glasses. Because they were outside in the dark!  HA! Took my flashlight and me a while to figure that out but all's well that ends well.

There's another chance to see stars falling (aka meteors) in August. Hopefully they will not be falling in the wee hours of the morning and will do their dance before midnight. We'll see. In the meantime, I suggest that on a nice evening, when the temps are mild and the skies clear, take a flashlight and find a chair, take a little libation, sit outside in the dark and look at the sky. Enjoy being outside safely and without any real purpose. Ponder the universe. Remark on the clarity of the stars and the planets and watch and wonder: what's going on out there?

Friday, April 29, 2022

Validation of Boomer Parents Parenting Techniques

Not that we need validation, especially when one considers that us Boomer parents are now in our 70's (more or less) and our kids are in their 40's (more or less) and thus are no longer children but full-fledged adults (more or less.) But an article in the NYT about some of the differences between how we raised our kids vs how parents today (the Gen X group) are raising theirs made me feel like we did all right.

Forty-some years ago, we were not helicopter parents.  We didn't have time for that. Most of us were working, mothers and fathers, and we left our kids to their own devices quite often. We taught them how to do their own laundry when they were in grade school, rudimentary kitchen skills so they could contribute to dinner prep, where the extra key was hidden in case they lost theirs.  Many of the Gen X kids (our kids) came home alone from school, got a snack, did homework, watched bad TV and perhaps indulged in nefarious behavior, all before the parental figures got home from work.  We had a necessary trust in our kids, trust that they would take care of themselves and each other and not break too many rules.

For the most part, that philosophy worked pretty well.  Of course, rules were broken now and then, kids got grounded and that trust had to be reestablished.  But giving them room to get grounded, to break the rules and pay the price, also gave them a measure of self-reliance and taught them that actions have consequences.  Their parents couldn't (and wouldn't) cull out all the scary stuff and pave the path with shiny yellow bricks as they skipped along to a perfect childhood.  

The NYT article (link at the bottom) asks this:

Do you offer your kids broad exposure to the world, in all its beauty and foulness, and hope they make good decisions? Or do you try to protect them from ideas and activities that you see as dangerous or immoral — and also hope they make good decisions?  

Two different parenting styles, of course, and I am so happy John and I, probably more or less unconsciously, chose the first option.  Our kids saw both beauty and ugliness, meanness and kindness,  safety and insecurity.  They accepted life as it came (although not without arguing quite often) and the lack of helicoptering, the lack of shielding them from danger and proverbial doom did not harm them. In fact, I argue that it made them strong and perceptive and bold.

This leads me to wonder what our parents were thinking when they raised all of us Boomer kids. Did they have a conscious idea about parenting, did they read the Dr. Spock book, was it all by the seat of their pants? As a victim  child of that era, I can say with conviction that there was little or no parenting "style" in my household. Too many kids, too little money: that was the relevant fact of my life as a kid, and probably the guiding force of my parents' attitudes as well.  There was certainly nothing like a helicopter parent, no one watched over us at all. There was guilt and shame, maybe those two forces were the guiding principles in parenting after the war.  But we survived.

As I said in the beginning, us Boomer parents really don't need validation of our parenting skills, it's too late for that anyway.  But it's nice to read an articulation of something we did because we knew no other way. Thank goodness it worked out!