Interview with a Squire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 13, 2013 11:02 PM

He shows up on time, dapper in his gray fur tipped with hints of black. It is darker nearer his body, and it occurs to me that he is aging the opposite of humans and even dogs, or at least the late Maguire, the one he dubbed his Knight. He has been known ever since as the Squire, the ever-present attendant and companion to the noble dog, the one who helped get him ready for battle and in the end, helped him prepare for the inevitable.

He settles himself into the corner of the branch of the birch tree in the back yard. The sun streams down through the trees, the leaves around him rustle slightly. He pays them no attention. Pulling a nut out from his cheek he starts to nibble.

“You don’t mind if I eat, do you?” he asks politely. “I’ve been traveling and I lost a little weight. Now the missus wants me to get healthy. She doesn’t like me skinny.”

I assure him that it’s perfectly fine for him to eat and nod, agreeing that he looks a bit thin but that he also looks good. Perhaps it’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen him haunting our trees, racing along the walls and dancing atop Kevin’s – Hey, Kevin – studio. I ask him where he’s been. Between bites and acorn chews he tells me.

“I got a job,” he says. “Some squirrels from Washington contacted me through squirrel mail and said they were getting ready for this thing called Squirrel Week. And I thought, come on. There’s a week celebrating me?”

I say that I’ve heard of that but didn’t know much about it.

He chews for a minute, bringing his little squirrel hands up to his mouth, and then he swallows. He tosses the rest of the nut to the side. He starts to speak again and then he freezes. Suddenly he is on high alert. His fur stands on end, the black tips at attention, his black eyes straight ahead, his ears perked.

Inside the house, the new dog, the knight-wannabe, stirs. I am out on the patio with a cup of coffee and the new dog, known as Cooper, wants to be outside with me. He is rather attached to me, as it turns out. But as I am having a chat with the Squire, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have him racing around, trying to cause trouble. I tell Cooper to hush and assure the Squire that we’re cool.

“Sometimes he makes me wish I was a flying squirrel,” the Squire mutters.

Squirrel Week, it turns out, was started by The Washington Post to celebrate the much loathed and more beloved rodents –

“Rodents,” he repeats. “Piiittthhhh.”

– who are descended from the Sciuridae family from some 40 million years ago. There are 285 known relative-types and most live in either terribly cold climates or exceptionally hot areas. They like to eat birdseed and nuts, they scavenge and forage for food and they love to play chicken with cars. I have seen too many relatives of our beloved Squire end up splat on the road. It’s not pretty. I see them dart out from seemingly nowhere and as they start across the asphalt I find myself cheering them on: “Go squirrel, go!”

“We’re creative in our approach to life,” the Squire says after a few moments of silence. “If we need to get someplace, we get there. We call it the squirrel squirt. If we need to extract a nut, we figure it out. It might take a while, but it happens. It’s about overcoming challenges. You know, like being called a rodent.”

That is a challenge, I agree. As the fictional Carrie Bradshaw once intoned: squirrels are just rats with cuter outfits. I admit that I’ve always found that funny. The Squire looks at me steadily. I can tell he’s trying to decide if he should be insulted. I assure him he shouldn’t be. I also laugh at jokes about Italians and about women, even sometimes about Italian women. He smiles. He says it’s good to be back and that his job didn’t really pan out. I ask what it was.

“Getting all 285 to pose for one picture,” he says. “Wasn’t happening. Not even close.”

I have one more question for the Squire. How is he getting along without his Knight?

“Oh, you know, it’s hard,” he says sadly. He’s quiet then, lost in squirrel thoughts. “I miss the big guy. And he was a really good guest blogger. I have trouble with that sometimes.” He pauses.

“I guess I still have big paws to fill,” he says with a smile.

And with that he is up off the branch and scurrying up the tree. I watch him go, wondering why the Washington Post felt the need to have a Squirrel Week and if Cooper will ever be the knight we hope he’ll be. I’m lost in my own squirrel thoughts when I hear my name:

“Hey Lorin,” he says. I look but can’t find him. “Sometimes you just gotta let the nuts fall where they may.” I smile. “And May will be here before you know it! Bye!”

His voice disappears then, too. But the Squire is back, and I for one am celebrating him – and all of his brethren – on this Saturday as we are all living it out loud … in cute outfits. 

The therapy of music

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:45 PM

The British orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski once said: “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”

I interpret this quote as saying that both are art forms, both start from nothing but a thought, a desire, a feeling. A painter has something tangible in front of him, something he can touch. A writer is much the same, with a piece of paper, or a computer screen. A musician has her instruments. They exist in the quiet until she gives them life and their melodic sounds paint the air with song.

Our house is often filled with music, chosen for the time of the day, the day of the week, and the mood of the house. On Sunday mornings, when the sun is lazy and we are equally so, I usually put on a Live365 station called Seascapes. It’s a blend of new age and instrumentals, a bit of jazz. It’s very mellow and non-intrusive. During the week, I play a variety of jazz, 70s soft rock, and whatever hits me as being interesting. Sometimes I opt for the silence rather than the paint.

On Friday nights, we flood the house with standards. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, and more current crooners like Steve Tyrell, Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., and Diana Krall. It’s the kind of music that goes exceedingly well with martinis.

When Saturday rolls around, we tend to blast out classic rock, as if we’re reliving our youth. When we’re working on a house project or even cleaning, we tend to put on the Los Angeles radio station – yes, actual radio with commercials and everything – KLOS and it always plays exactly what we need. We sing along, we dance, we get stuff done.

Music can make you fall in love. Actually it’s probably your hormones making you fall in love but music helps set the mood. When Kevin and I had our first date, we went to a place called Monty’s, at the corner of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards. There was a piano player, a lounge act, who played a lot of covers, one of which was the stupidly and unnecessarily majestic MacArthur’s Park. But we both found ourselves singing along to it and generally loving it as if it had been composed by Mozart. We knew all the lyrics. I think we started to fall in love during MacArthur’s Park.

People have a “song” that is theirs; they don’t have a painting or a book. They have music that defines their relationship. Ours is not MacArthur’s Park. It is the song Get Here by Oleta Adams. I don’t remember how it became our song – perhaps my husband does. But I do remember that it’s ours, and every time it comes on, we stop whatever we’re doing and crank the stereo. It was the second to the last song that played before we walked down the aisle. (The song that played when we walked down the aisle was George Winston’s Canon.)

Music can break your heart. If a relationship you’ve been in ends, every song you hear after that breakup seems to have been written only for you. It’s as if the musician took up residence in your heart, in the space where your love used to reside.

Music can make you angry. Loud, pulsing hip hop music irritates me. I can’t listen to it. It raises my blood pressure and not in a good way. Roy and Bobbi live in an area of the San Fernando Valley where the proximity to other homes and apartments is incredibly close. They have a neighbor that blasts Mexican polka music that makes their teeth hurt.

Music can soothe your soul. It can send you soaring to incredible heights or crashing to depths of despair. It’s important at weddings, and at funerals. It sets the stage for a life, and it celebrates the end of one. During the film (a personal favorite) The Big Chill, the song that plays during the funeral at the beginning is an organ version of The Rolling Stones’ You can’t always get what you want. The organ version eventually and fairly quickly becomes the Stones’ version, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Music is therapy. It sets the mood, enhancing or squashing. It permeates a room, it helps you drive, it gets you through the day. It flows over you and settles the soul.

The 19th century German poet Berthold Auerbach wrote: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” That’s a song worth celebrating, one worth singing out loud. 

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live out loud

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