One Less Set of Footsteps

Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes

So Calvin just asked to go outside to pee on the tires and sit in the doghouse like he always does about this time, but today Hobby will not be going with him.

Or tomorrow either.

It was always a losing fight, old cat, aging kidneys, but he fought hard. For four months, he kept battling back from the dips and crashes that come with a body losing the fight against itself. Some days he was his old self, wanting to be held, sunning himself on the back step. Other days he looked like he wouldn’t make it through the night. But he did. Over and over.

But this week, he seemed a little more tired, a little less better when he got his fluids and his heart pills and his supplements. And his brother Calvin was a little more attentive, sitting shoulder to shoulder with him, washing his head.

Wednesday morning when I woke up, I couldn’t find him. Anywhere. He wasn’t under the bed, he wasn’t sitting on the bathroom rug, he wasn’t in the sandbox, he wasn’t in the kitchen. Calvin and I looked everywhere. Finally, I called him, although he hasn’t come when he was called for a long long time. And a dark little nose poked out of the kitty cave at the bottom of the cat tree.

In all these long four months, he’s never hidden, never gone off by himself at all. Mostly the opposite, not wanting to be alone. But today he wanted to be alone.

And that’s what cats do when they’re ready to die.

I rubbed his head, told him I loved him and walked back to my room, trying to decide what to do. Should I drag him out and give him his morning round of pills and potions or should I let this decision be his?

There’s not a handbook on when to let someone go. Oh, sure, there are graphs and charts and quality of life indicators, but that’s all external. That’s the way a machine thinks. The equation between people and pets is a lot more complicated.

I was on the phone with Brian, hoping he had the answer, medicate, don’t medicate, call the vet, let him be, when I saw Hobby staggering down the hall to the bedroom, his legs going all directions like a marionette with broken strings, but he was determined to make it down the hall, moving forward even as he veered to the side. I hung up the phone and ran to lift him onto the bed. His body stiffened and went limp and it was over, just that fast.

So today, for the first time in four months, there are no IVs to give, no potassium supplements to squirt into mouths, no pills to take, no accidents to clean. Calvin stretches out on the towel they used to share, staring down the hall at nothing, waiting for a brother who isn’t going to come.

And so we grieve in our own way. Calvin spent an hour with Hobby’s body, one leg draped across him, pressed as close as he could get. I write a blog post trying to justify not dragging him out and giving him his meds, even though they would not have had enough time to work.

But maybe it was better the way it was. I gave him permission to go, he gave me a chance to say goodbye.

And maybe there’s no more to love than that.

 

 

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Walking Through WeHo

1350bldg

So back in the day, my friends and I were all about going to Hollywood. It was kind of a wonderland to us, a little rundown, but fascinating and full of history. There were theaters that looked like Chinese palaces and Egyptian temples, there was a hot dog stand shaped like a hot dog, there was Famous Amos Cookies in its little A frame cabin with the giant airbrushed cookie on the front. Of course, there was Carney’s, a real train on a real track, and a restaurant that looked like a Russian cathedral.

And there was Tower Records, not shaped like anything really except a large rectangular box with a big lip hanging down from the eaves, literally shoved into the hillside. The Hollywood Hills rose right behind the dumpsters in the parking lot. The building itself was red and the large lip at the top was painted a bright yellow with the name Tower Records in red block italic letters that leaned left instead of right. On the roof and sides of the building were an ever-changing pantheon of the newest albums by the hottest bands, one of a kind artwork airbrushed onto huge canvases that could be seen the moment you rounded the curve on Sunset. You could find anything there. Old records, new records, records from across the sea. Celebrities shopped there too. We never saw anyone famous there though.

At least as far as we knew.

Anyway, when I read that there was going to be a walking tour of West Hollywood, I wanted to go. So much history packed into such a small amount of space and most of it I had just whizzed past in a car without appreciating what I saw. Now what you need to know about West Hollywood is that it is far and it is crowded.

Which led to me being late and having nowhere to park.

Spanish style
Spanish style
Blanche studies the tile outside of Clark Gable's
Blanche studies the tile outside of Clark Gable’s

I stashed my car in the big parking garage at the huge shopping plaza on Sunset and hurried to catch up with the small group making its way down Laurel Ave. There were about fifteen people and a white silkie chicken named Blanche. I’m not sure how much Blanche actually got out of the tour, but she seemed to be having a good time.

Our guide Roy led us up and down the neighborhood, into secret courtyards where Gable and Dietrich once lived, past Jim Morrison’s last LA address and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s upstairs apartment, pointing out architectural features unique to California, fine work by famous architects. A little gem here, another gem there. History you could touch.

Saved
Saved
Valentino Courtyard destined for destruction
Valentino Courtyard destined for destruction

But interspersed with the beautiful architecture and fun stories were little eulogies. Roy would point at some huge faceless apartment complex and say “This used to be a gorgeous little Craftsman home.” Or he would point at another building, still standing, but restored in a way that totally destroyed its original beauty. The saddest sight of all was a small L-shaped courtyard which had been built in the silent film era. Its days were numbered. The residents had already been evicted. The grass had been left to die. Soon it would become just another four story apartment building.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's apartment
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s apartment
Jim Morrison's place (note the photo of him in the lower right window)
Jim Morrison’s place (note the photo of him in the lower right window)

Now I get that property in this part of Southern California is hard to find. I know that businesses come and go and owners die or move away. I know that places change hands and the old owners have no say in what the new owners do to them. I get all that, but every time one of these little bits of history disappears, Hollywood loses a little bit of its soul. If everything that is unique about Hollywood disappears, it isn’t really Hollywood anymore. It becomes no different than anywhere else. And it was different. And it is still different here and there, if you know where to look.

Storybook Style
Storybook Style
Marlene Dietrich's balcony
Marlene Dietrich’s balcony

Hollywood architecture used to be like a wild, brightly colored Dentzel carousel, the kind of carousel where the traditional horses had been replaced by cats and bears and dragons with an occasional ornate bench for those who preferred not to ride. But as time went on and property values grew steeper, the exotic jumpers started to decline. You can fit more people on a bench than on a seahorse. So the seahorse was replaced by a bench. And then the stag and then the lion disappeared, each replacement bench becoming a little shoddier than the last. The day is coming when that last zebra will be replaced by a pair of lawn chairs zip-tied together and no one will remember what it was like to ride at all.

Cheers to the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance for trying to do something before that last zebra is gone.

On the way home, I drove past what used to be Tower Records. The building looked empty. The glowing yellow and red lip had been whitewashed out, the huge airbrushed albums were all gone. All that was left was an anonymous white box with the word “LIVE” written on the corner.

It was anything but.

Still Life with Siamese

Calvin guarding my Texas hat
Calvin guarding my Texas hat

So I went to a concert Sunday night to watch a performer I had first seen in person twenty years ago. Both great shows, but it got me to thinking about time and the difference between the type of show a person does when he is younger and the type of show he does when he’s older. The younger show was brash and funny, the older show more thoughtful and introspective.

Apparently introspection is catchy.

Anyway, as I was getting ready to leave for work yesterday, two of my characters started a scene that takes place years from the present set of stories, my fictional equivalent of the gap in the concerts. I could tell it was just going to be a scene or two. Short, sad, poignant. But I had to get to work so I took off and hoped I’d get a chance to write it down later.

But when I got to work, it started to transform. More characters wanted in on the action, the poignant moment turning into an inciting scene for an entire story. And every scene that showed up diluted the original by half. Soon nothing would be left but a watery gruel. The argument in the men’s room was the last straw. Do I want this to be sad or stupid?

I chose sad.

As soon as I get home, I crank up the computer and get to work. And, yes, the characters have decided on short and sad as well. I am deep into it, typing as fast as I can and then….

“MwaaaaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAA” at my bedroom door.

Which is Siamese for “Let me in.” Or at least it is Calvin for let me in. I’ve found that no two Siamese sound exactly alike. Calvin is more of a loud tenor, Hobby is more of a cranky baritone. And neither of them say “Meow.”

I ignore him and try to keep writing, but Calvin will not be ignored.

“MWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!  MWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!  MWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

You get the picture.

So I open the door. “Okay, okay, come in.”

“MwaaaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaaAAAAA,” he says, trotting around the bed and trying to judge the distance up to my Wacom tablet. I use a tablet instead of a mouse. Unfortunately, it has buttons on it that scroll or hide windows. I never use the buttons, but Calvin likes to sit on them and activate them with his butt.

“So what do you need?”

“Mmmmmmmmmm.” Now the Mmmmmmm sound is a funny little noise made without even opening his mouth. It is a considering sound, a maybe sound. If he’s not quite sure what he wants or whether or not he likes something, he will mmmmmmm.

After two tries (he is seventeen years old so some days are better than others), he gets up on the tablet. I remove him before he can activate any buttons and set him on the bed.

“Do you want to go outside?” I’m hoping this is the right answer. Calvin likes to go outside and pee on the car tires. He learned that from our old Dobie Spencer. Spencer is gone, but Calvin still likes to pee on tires.

“MwaaaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaaAAAAA.”

“Okay, give me a minute. I’m right at the end of this story.”

“MWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

“Okay, okay, you can go out right now.”

I let him outside, leave the door open a crack so he can come back in and return to the computer. I get one sentence typed and then…

“Waaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Imagine whiny child inflection.

“Not right now, Hobby.”

“WAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Now Hobby has been sick (he’s also seventeen) so it is important that he eats. So if he wants to eat, I have to go feed him. Right now he will only eat tiny bits of chicken so I cut him up a few chunks, wash my hands, go back to the keyboard.

But before I can close the bedroom door…

“MwaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaAAAA.”

“There’s chicken in the kitchen, Calvin.”

He comes around the bed, eyes the tablet, wiggles his behind.

“Calvin, can I just finish my story?”

“Mmmmmmmmmm.”

Of course, by this time, I’ve totally lost the flow of the thing. I’m not sure exactly how the story ends anymore, but I remove Calvin from the Wacom tablet and type something.

Maybe it’s finished, maybe it’s not.

I’ll try again when I have less company.

 

Fine Dinning

Green Water Blue Sky

So every year, Lisa and I and whoever else we can drag along go to the Irish Fair in Pomona. They hold it at the L.A. County Fairgrounds which they make a bit more festive by adding Irish banners to the flag poles and green dye to the fountains. Half a dozen little stages are scattered around outside the huge concrete commercial buildings. Little food stands line the main thoroughfare hawking hamburgers, hot dogs, bangers and mash.

But we never eat at those places.

Not that they’re bad. It’s just that after you’ve spend $12 for fish and chips and another four bucks for a drink, you’re left standing in the sun with a plate in one hand and a soda cup in the other with no place to sit and no way to eat your meal.

Enter the buffet. Where, for twenty dollars, you get not only a seat, but bangers, mash, salad, corned beef, shepherd’s pie, peas, potato salad, corned beef, cabbage, dessert and a drink. All you can eat, in the shady cavernous interior of one of the commercial buildings.

Perfect for a warm day, especially if you’ve left your third arm at home.

I checked the website the night before to make sure that the buffet was happening this year. And there it was. “Fine Dinning,” it said. Ha ha.

Except that it wasn’t a typo.

Because this year, right next to the tables with their little white tablecloths, was a stage.

With a Celtic rock band playing on it.

Loudly.

With every decibel reverberating through the big concrete jet hangar-sized building around us.

We ate there anyway because we were starving and the food was good. But next year I’m bringing my earplugs.

Scarred for Life

So I back when I was in grade school, I started my first book. It was actually a writing assignment, but I knew it was going to be a book so I confidently titled it “Chapter One.” I’m not sure now what the exact instructions were. I was just excited that I was going to get to write something.

Back in those days, I was very into animal stories. Not the cheerful happy Disney kind. The kind where everyone dies at the end. I’d just finished reading one where the main character was a wolf cub who hides in a crack at the back of his den to avoid being killed with the rest of his littermates. I thought that crack idea was the cleverest thing ever. (Okay, okay, I was ten, all right.) And the murder of his family quickly paved the way for the wolf cub to become an orphan and have a series of adventures. That was pretty much the plot of all the books I’d been reading. Step one, protagonist animal’s family gets wiped out. Step two, adventures.

So I decided that I would write a story about a cougar cub because I liked cougars better than wolves. A cougar cub who was totally black like a black panther. (I know, I know, cougars don’t come in black, but I wanted him to be black. Ten years old, remember?) And he would have some kind of identifying white mark on his shoulder (because being a totally black cougar was not identifying enough apparently.) His siblings would all be normal beige cougars who would show up fine in the darkness, but because he was all black, he could hide in the back of the den and not be seen.

As long as he covered up that damn identifying white mark on his shoulder.

Anyway, Shadow or Midnight or White Spot or whatever his name was, survives a little cougar Armageddon by hiding in a narrow place at the back of the den. It was a variation on the crack thing only better because he was already pretty invisible to begin with.

We had a substitute teacher the day we turned our assignments in. She collected them all and went off to read them in the back of the room while we studied history or something. I was rather proud of my work. I mean it was about a black cougar. How could she not like a story about a black cougar?

Half an hour later, she showed up at my desk, story in hand. The look on her face was not promising. “You didn’t write this story. You copied it from somewhere.”

I felt a tremendous surge of guilt. “Well, just the crack thing. The wolf in the book hid in a crack.”

“So you did copy this from a book. Do you know what that’s called? That’s called plagiarism. That is illegal. These aren’t your words.”

“They are my words.”

“You said they came from a book.”

“No, the hiding in a crack came from a book. But it’s not exactly the same.” I was tremendously confused by this time. She was getting angrier and angrier.

“You can’t steal other people’s words.”

Everyone was staring at me. I sank down into my chair. “I borrowed the crack idea.”

She was practically breathing fire by now. “I don’t care about the crack idea. Did you write this yourself or not?”

“Of course I wrote it myself.”

She looked at me for a long moment, trying to decide if I was lying or not. “You wrote this all by yourself?”

“Yes.”

She tossed it down on my desk. “Then it’s very good.”

I threw the story away on the way out of class that day. I was so terrified by the whole encounter that I never wanted to show anyone anything I’d written ever again.

I got over it.

Sort of.

But still, years later, today to be exact, when a co-worker reads something I’ve written on a project and asks “Did you write this yourself?”, I totally freeze up. I’m ten again looking up at that lady who is certain that I’ve copied my entire first chapter from another writer’s book and I don’t know what to say.

Of course I wrote it myself. Why do people keep asking me that?

There wasn’t even a crack in it.

Revising Myself

Image
The Boot (little Tosca dog added for cuteness)

So let me tell you about the mental deterioration caused by having a boot Velcroed to your foot. The emotional arc runs like this. First, anger and self-pity. (“Why did I have to break my stupid foot AGAIN?” “Why am I the only one who has to drag this heavy boot around?”) Which segues into a sort of grudging acceptance. (“Well, my foot does feel better with the boot on.”) And, perhaps, even occasional glee. (“What a great time of the year to have a handicapped placard!”) But as time and patience wear on, the boot feels less and less like a help and more and more like an anchor. By the end of six weeks, I was ready to chew my leg off. Plus, it is pretty much impossible to sleep with the damn thing on so by the seventh week, I was not only depressed but severely sleep-deprived.

Which turns out to be the perfect state for doing a final reread of a novel because a) it keeps you from thinking about the Boot and b) your internal critic has fallen asleep in a corner.

Now I’m not recommending that anyone who is having trouble revising a novel should run out and break a foot. I’m just saying that rereading stuff you wrote years ago is much easier when you are semi-conscious.

Oh, sure, certain parts are fun. There are whole sections that are fine and then, suddenly, there’s an inexplicable scene, something so off the wall that you don’t even know why it’s there.  Then you spend several hours trying to read your past self’s mind. Failing that, you take the scene out and put it in the discard file. Not the trash, mind you, but the discard file, because sometimes, half a book later, you realize why you needed that inexplicable scene so you have to dig it out, dust it off and put it back in. Much easier to do when you aren’t totally sane or well-rested.

But then I got the Boot off.

About the time I hit Book Three which, well, needs work. A lot of work. First twenty-six pages are great, page 27 is a mystery to me.  Then there appears to be some important stuff missing which I didn’t notice when I wrote it originally but realize I need now. And as the pages go up, so do the places that need shoring up or rewriting or discarding or something. And I begin to wonder if maybe I should just abandon Drac and company and go see what’s on TV.

You know, like normal people.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie Oliver! where Fagin, master fence and pickpocket, has decided to give up his life of crime and work like everybody else. He is confidently walking into a brand new sunrise when suddenly, from behind a pillar box, out steps his prize pupil the Artful Dodger, all decked out in top hat and tails, holding up a stolen wallet. Fagin hesitates, reviews the situation, and decides that maybe he’d been a little too hasty about tossing aside his old profession. He takes the wallet from the Dodger and off they go to look for more.

That’s kind of how revisions are for me. I work until I’m frustrated, hip deep in the spaghetti of intersecting plotlines, no idea how to get out from where I am. I decide I hate everything, that none of it is good, that no one wants to read it anyway. And the burden of making all the little pieces fit together right falls away. I’m free, released, heading off into the sunrise. But then I turn a corner and there is Drac, a little smirk on his face, holding up a shillelagh.

“Bet you wonder what I’m doing in Ireland.”

“No, I don’t give a damn what you’re doing in Ireland. I’m done, I’m finished, I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I don’t.”

He twirls the shillelagh. “You know, it’s not actually my shillelagh.”

“I don’t care whose shillelagh it is.”

“And after the Ireland story, I think there’s one about Texas.”

“I’m not listening.”

He pulls out a Carney’s chili dog. “And, of course, there’s this story.”

I hesitate. “Oh, yeah, I like that story.”

He takes a bite of the hot dog and smiles. “I know.”

“All right, all right. Gimme that.” I tear the hot dog out of his hands. “So what happened in Ireland?”

“Hell if I know. You’re the writer.”

Good thing he didn’t give me the shillelagh.

Taking the Characters for Chili Dogs

 

Sometimes you write the story; sometimes the story writes you. I generally have more luck when the story does the telling. When I jump in, it usually ends up like it does when I jump into someone’s conversation at a party and suddenly realize that they were talking about real saints and not the New Orleans football team.

Anyway, the current story takes place in Hollywood. Mostly. Important bits of it do anyway. And when I think of Hollywood, I think of faded glamour and hot dog stands, not movie stars and Kim Kardashian.

Which means that I would be a lot less disappointed on a sightseeing tour of the Sunset Strip.

But I digress.

The story needed a location in Hollywood and I immediately thought of Carney’s. Carney’s is a hot dog stand in an old train car, well, actually, two old train cars, that has been selling chili dogs on the Sunset Strip for almost forty years. Back in my Hollywood days, we used to pass by it many times a night as we cruised aimlessly down Sunset, but I’d never actually been inside. Still, there are photos on the Internet, so I figured I could wing it.

I figured wrong.

Because me randomly picking a place I don’t really know is not the same as a character grabbing hold of a location himself. The characters know what they are going to do before I do. I’m not sure how that happens, but if I get out of the way and let them, the story comes out much better.

So here I am with a scene that could best be described as useful. It moves the action from here to there, but it is about as energetic as a dead possum. This left me with two options. Go to Carney’s or just make stuff up. I chose Option A.

Because Option B does not involve chili dogs.

Elaine took pity on me with my broken down car and my broken down foot and agreed to drive me up to Carney’s for some lunch. She was a little concerned about the traffic. She needn’t have worried.

Turns out there is nothing more deserted than the Sunset Strip on a Sunday morning.

We pulled into the driveway beside Carney’s. No one at the picnic tables. No one at the windows of the train car. Only one car in the parking lot.

“Are you sure it’s open?”

“Well, if it isn’t, we’ll go to Canter’s.”

Which wouldn’t help the story at all, but they have a Reuben to die for.

So we park and get out. I’m at least going to take a few photos of the outside of the place. As I’m framing my first shot, another car drives in. A friendly couple from Texas gets out and they immediately volunteer to take a photo of Elaine and I with the train car if we will take a photo of them with the train car.

Which leaves me in the embarrassing position of having to explain that I don’t really want any photos of anyone in front of the train car, just photos of the train car, all by its lonesome.

For a story.

About vampires.

On the Sunset Strip.

Damn it.

I may not have mentioned the vampires because I usually don’t if I can get away with it. I don’t remember. I was too busy feeling awkward.

Elaine saves the day by offering to take a photo of them. I go back to taking shots of various angles of the train car, hobbling around as much as my foot will let me.

I took pictures of everything because I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed. I took pictures of the tiny train car bathroom. I took pictures of the zigzag handicap ramp. I took pictures of the picnic tables out front. I took pictures of the view of the hotel across the street from out of the train car window. Pretty much everything but the far west end of the train car because it was far and I was gimpy.

So I get home, full of chili dogs and inspiration. Things are flowing nicely. I know almost every inch of Carney’s now. I can use anything.

Drac decides he needs to make an entrance from the far west end, the only part of the entire building I hadn’t had a good look at.

Thank goodness for Google Maps.