The expected but still sad demise of Wubba

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:12 PM

Wubba has died. A close friend of Cooper’s since the latter months of 2012, he was a force to be reckoned with, strong of character and able to sustain being thrown around the house with great force. He had recently fallen ill, however, having suffered a fairly severe head injury. Wubba was five months young.

Born late last year, Wubba came from the Kong family. Known as the ultimate interactive play toy for dogs, he was designed to play fetch and even a little tug-o-war. With a muscular build, he had a delicate squeak and five talons/tails/feet so he was easy to pick up and even easier to throw about the room.

When we got Wubba, it was completely on a whim. I was in PetCo or maybe it was Pet Smart, picking up dog food or maybe it was milkbones. I always peruse the toy aisle looking for something cute that my four-legged friend simply shouldn’t have to live without. We hadn’t had Cooper long. As a rescue, he was still getting used to us and his surroundings. We were still getting used to him as well; him and his eccentricities. What he liked, what he didn’t. We had a hedge hog waiting for him when we brought him home, but he hadn’t shown much interest in Hedge. Wubba, all brown and adorable was hanging on an end display. I’d never seen one before. I thought it was just sturdy enough to withstand the chewing, pulling, and throwing that would inevitably commence.

I presented Wubba to Cooper and they were instant friends. In fact, Wubba often had the place of honor in the kennel with Cooper when he went to bed or when Kevin and I went out and Cooper went into his kennel. He always grabbed Wubba first and then they’d go in together.

Wubba, circa early November 2012

Wubba also became a co-worker. Each day, after a night spent together in the kennel, we would all get up. While Kevin and I got dressed for a walk, Cooper would wrangle Wubba and start to growl and pounce and play. Then, once we were ready, the four of us would head toward the entrance way where Wubba would be dropped to the side in favor of the leash. Once we returned, and the leash was removed, Wubba once again found himself in Cooper's mouth. Up the stairs they would race, directly into my office, where Cooper would drop Wubba to the floor, then drop down next to him.

The office wasn’t the office without Wubba. If somehow, someway, Cooper forgot his chocolate colored friend, he would race back down the stairs, big dog butt bouncing along, run into the bedroom, grab Wubba and then race back up the stairs.

Cooper doesn’t believe in walking.

For five months, Wubba has been the toy of choice. Other toys have come and been destroyed, falling victim to a red-furred dog’s ferocious paws and teeth. On Christmas morning alone two toys were promptly decimated. My mother had sent an Abominable Snowman from the Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special. My sister had sent Yukon Cornelius (I suspect they went shopping together). Both fell victim to the power and determination of Cooperman.

But Wubba stayed strong, held fast. Even on that fateful day when he and Cooper raced down the stairs and out through the back door, literally, tearing the screen from the frame. Cooper dropped Wubba in the yard and looked back as if to say “what?” Then he pointed a paw at Wubba: “it was all his idea.” Wubba didn’t deny it.

Wubba’s problems started earlier this week. There was evidently some type of altercation in my office because soon there were two brown ears discarded on the carpet. Those ears left tiny holes in Wubba’s head and errant strings. Strings that Cooper hooked his teeth on and pulled. Soon the tiny holes were big holes. And white tufts of Wubba stuffing began to appear on the floor. The head injury was catastrophic; the loss of stuffing profound. Wubba was not able to survive.

Cooper is distraught. He has been moping around the house all day, looking for best good friend Wubba. Alas, Wubba has gone to that big toy box in the wherever.

There will be no funeral. Wubba will not be cremated. He will instead be tossed into the trash when Cooper isn’t looking so that he can make his way to a landfill.

Unless Kevin decides to resurrect and restuff him. In which case we will have FrankenWubba.

Celebrating the life of Wubba on this Saturday night. He will be missed.

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live out loud

The view from the chair

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 22, 2013 11:38 PM

It's Friday and that can only mean one thing: a haircut and color, both desperately needed. A couple of haircuts ago I changed my style a bit. Because I have wavy hair that goes wherever it wants to go and because said hair is relatively finely textured, I am somewhat limited to what I can do with my dark locks. This is probably more because I simply refuse to spend a lot of time on my hair. I don't have enough time as it is. I refuse to straighten and curl and fluff and mousse. My hair gets 5 minutes a day not including a shampoo.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. My changed hairstyle. I asked Tammy, my beloved hair stylist, to give me a long shag. Now before you recoil in horror, with visions of Carol Brady haunting your daydreams, allow me to recall the conversation.

Tammy: “So what are we doing today?”

Me: “I'm thinking kind of a long shag.”

Tammy: “No.”

Tammy, it should be noted, can bear a striking resemblance to my husband in terms of opinion.

Me: “Well not a shag-shag. More of a sort of shag.”

Tammy pondered this for a minute. She was standing behind me as I sat in her chair. We were both facing me in the mirror and she had her hands in my hair. It's interesting that a hairdresser can play with your hair and there is nothing remotely romantic about it.

Tammy: “You mean just lots of layers?”

Me: “Perfect!”

So I got lots of layers and wispys at the ends. A modern version of a shag. More Jane Fonda on Newsroom than Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch. Easy to take care of, quick to blow dry. Five minutes tops. But lots of layers means I have to get a haircut more often because lots of layers grow out very quickly. But since Tammy acquiesced to my "shag," I'm much happier.

As I sit in her chair once again on this Friday, with a new kind of color combed through my hair, I’m pondering. The color is organic which I both like because it's healthier and am apprehensive about because organic doesn't usually cover as well. My hair is very dark, always has been save for a brief journey into light brown/blonde when I was in my early to mid-30s. I liked it but the maintenance was horrific. See previous comment about very dark hair. Dark hair has dark roots. Dark roots on light brown/blonde is skunkish.

As I write this, my hair is slicked back with this new color and Tammy is currently busy cutting the hair of the person sitting immediately to my right who looks and sounds remarkably like my husband because it is. They're talking about Cooper. I’m studying my reflection and the hair color. It’s not as wet as hair color usually is. I do not have high hopes. Now they’re talking about wine. I’ve said before we have limited interests and people who know us are intimately involved in the details of those interests. Before Cooper, it was Maguire. They know we’re dog people. They know we’re wine people. Politics can’t be far behind.

Behind me another stylist, Claudia, is cutting the hair of an elderly woman. Claudia seems to have a lot of elderly clients. I think it’s wonderful. In the back, the nail lady is leaning against the wall, awaiting her next client. I see it all through the mirror. Outside, I can hear the occasional car drift by. A dog barks, then another. There is a tussle, the kind of dog interaction that we are also intimately acquainted with. I can’t help but smile.

I wonder about my gray hair and the fact that the right side of my head gets grayer than the left side. I supposed that’s because the right side gets worked more as the right is the creative side. I wonder if having a sort of shag really does turn me into Carol Brady. I never liked her, not even when I was a kid and I was supposed to think she was the coolest mom around. As far as I was concerned, the coolest mom was Shirley Partridge. She had a shag haircut, too. Then again, so did David Cassidy, and I was a big fan of David Cassidy when I was little. My hair is more his color. Carol and Shirley were both frosted blondes.

Today when Tammy combs out my hair after the color has been washed away and says “so what are we doing? Still liking the sort of shag?” I’ll smile coyly at her through the mirror and say “yep. But this time let’s go with David Cassidy.”

Living it out loud on a Friday in the salon, and celebrating the sheer joy of getting my hair done. 

If you snooze, you don't lose

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 11, 2013 8:58 PM

It seems that every month has some national designation or another. For instance, March is National Nutrition Month and coincidentally National Peanut Month. It’s also National Frozen Food Month, National Women’s History Month and National Irish American Heritage Month; the latter was even designated by Congress in 1995. Along with designated months there are also designated days, which is good for a blogger who likes to write about celebrating something each day.

Today I’m celebrating something I would like to partake in but rarely do, largely because I’m busy all day, every day and by the time I’m not busy, it’s time for bed. I’m speaking of that wondrous national day known as Napping. It’s unofficial, this National Napping Day, but I for one, think that should change. Because as of 3 o’clock on this Monday, the second day of daylight savings, after springing forward in time, I could really use a nap. For some reason, daylight savings really wipes me out. For about a week, I’m simply exhausted by the time afternoon rolls around. It’s as if I’m suffering from jet lag after a trip to Europe. The adage is that it takes a day per hour to get over jet lag. Eight hours (or Europe) should take 8 days, so one hour should take one day of recovery.

I’ve never had too much trouble with jet lag. Even when I went to Japan, which has either a 16 hour or a 17 hour time difference depending on whether we’re in daylight savings time or not, I recover fairly quickly. Of course, I was a lot younger then.

But one hour of daylight savings time and I’m down for the count. So reading about National Napping Day today made me feel, well, tired. Especially this afternoon, at 3 pm, as the sun streamed in through my window and warmed my loft, as I sipped a glass of cold, filtered water, as Cooper stretched and yawned, snapping his jaws closed as his eyes flickered back to sleep.

National Napping Day was created by Boston University professor William Anthony and his wife Camille in 1999 with one goal: to encourage people to take a nap wherever they are – at home, at work, on vacation.

Sleep in general has a number of health benefits. It can help protect against heart disease and obesity. It can actually help build stronger bones and increase a person’s ability to remember things. Think of how many brain holes you have when you’re not sleeping well. Thoughts and ideas just fall right out.

Sleep also has beauty benefits. I know I always feel like I look better when I’ve had a good night’s sleep. My skin is more hydrated, my eyes are brighter; even my hair is bouncier. Unfortunately I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep.  Perhaps a nap would help.

Napping, even a short one of just 20 minutes, can help boost alertness. NASA did a study that found higher alertness in pilots after just a 40-minute nap.

Napping improves learning and memory, especially if you can nap for an hour or more. Brain holes can close and your brain activity actually remains high all day.

Napping increases creativity. Now this is one I can really get behind since what I have to do all day is be creative, or at least try to be creative. A nap leads to a lot of activity in the right hemisphere, the side of the brain linked to creativity.

Napping can actually improve work output. In fact, short power naps can help sleep-deprived, worn-out employees more than a cup of coffee.

Napping makes you feel happier than non-napping. This goes back to the sleep and health and beauty benefits. In other words, wanna improve your mood? Take a nap.

Wanna get rid of stress? Take another nap. If you’re stressed, you may not be sleeping well, so a nap or even relaxing in bed for just 10 minutes can provide a mini-vacation, at least according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Not surprisingly, the National Sleep Foundation is very big on National Napping Day. I am, too, even though I can’t remember the last time I actually celebrated a nap, national day or not. For all those who do nap, I’m envious. For all those who are thinking about taking a nap, it’s time to lie down and be counted because with this kind of snooze, you can’t lose. I like to think of it as living it out loud very, very quietly.

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live out loud

And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:27 PM

Episode 3: Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles

In the ongoing saga that is the proper training of our pre-owned puppy, Cooper Michel, I thought it prudent to report the following: Trainer Danielle came yesterday morning, was here for another hour and a half, we learned even more and we have homework.

She called just before the appointed time of 9:30, said she was about a mile away and that she was going to drive by the house, honk her horn, and then park down the street a bit. We were to get Cooper suited up and then exit the house to walk. In essence she wanted to see how we were progressing after our first training session two and a half weeks ago. We stood anxiously in the kitchen, watching out the window. Cooper, oblivious as always, was crashed on the floor with best good friend Wubba. We’d already gone for a walk earlier in the morning so that he could have some regular time, and to get in what we call Pee Ops. Part of our training is to control him at all times, including when he gets to pull up at a tree and squirt. Hence, the Pee Ops.

Danielle drove by, honked twice, we got Cooper up, attached his pinch collar and leash (again) and prepared to exit stage left. He was jazzed. Two walks! And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Woohoo! Saturday’s are the best day in the world! I really like it here! You guys are the best parents ever!

We left the house with Kevin on leash duty, or as we call it, the Chain Gang. We stopped in the driveway and looked to see where Trainer Danielle was standing. I finally spotted her behind several cars just down the street. She motioned with her hand for us to walk. We started moving, with Cooper merrily trotting next to us. Then she emerged from behind the cars, with a dog.

Now regular readers will remember “the incident,” that horrid Saturday three weeks ago when our little Cujo attacked a poor, unsuspecting Golden Retriever after managing to unhook his leash. “The incident” was the catalyst for Trainer Danielle. “The incident” made us terrified of ever seeing another dog on the street again, ever. Did I mention ever?

Two and a half weeks ago, in our first session, Danielle had brought two of her own dogs, a big American Bandogge Mastiff and a German shepherd, the most well behaved dogs we have ever seen. Which they should be, of course, because she’s a dog trainer and her own dogs are her best references. And Cooper learned to be just fine with them. Maybe he would be with this new dog, too.

The new dog was a jet black labradoodle who looked a bit like a big throw rug or afghan.  She stopped in the street, gave him a hand signal and he collapsed into a pile, with a front paw tucked underneath. She indicated that we should keep going, then turn around and come back. She got her dog to get up, walked a bit more, then collapsed him again. Up down, up down, down up, down up. He just kept lying on the asphalt on command. At least it was still early. There was no traffic and the heat wasn’t yet horrible (it got to about 85º yesterday).

Trainer Danielle with Cooper

Finally, she told us to stop, in the shade, and she brought black rag-dog closer and closer, telling us what to do with Cooper, watching how we were with him and how he was reacting to the new dog. Once on the sidewalk, she had her dog turn around and lay down with his back and butt facing Cooper.

“Kevin,” she said from beneath her huge sunglasses. “Bring him over here so he can get a whiff.”

Kevin edged closer; Cooper took a smell.

“Ok, let him closer and relax the leash.”

Kevin: “No.”

“It’s fine. Let him get closer. Let him smell and sniff and lick if he wants.”

Kevin. “No.”

Remember. “The incident.” We’re going to have commemorative t-shirts made.

After several more back and forths with Danielle saying let him go and Kevin stubbornly refusing, Kevin relented and Cooper got good and close, and proceeded to perform the equivalent of a somewhat pornographic act on the black rag-dog, who just laid there and did absolutely nothing.

Danielle kept referring to the dog as Crew. I asked if he was one of hers. Nope. He was a client’s dog and she was taking him for the weekend because the clients were having a huge party and they didn’t want the poor dog relegated to the dog run for the entire day/night. Plus he’s kind of a wimp. Just a year and a half old, Danielle has been training him since he was 8 weeks old and he is afraid of his own shadow. I asked what his name was. It’s Crouton. So Crew is actually Crou, and his complete name is Crouton Rainbow Sprinkles. Or as Danielle called him yesterday, “bait.”

It was funny. Sort of. You know, given “the incident.”

After Cooper got a few more licks in, we wanted to ask if Crouton tasted like a garlic or an herb, and if it was like having a Caesar salad.

But we didn’t.

Because that would have been rude.

An hour and a half and much training later, we began to move into the reward part of the training. As in see-a-dog, get-a-treat. We’re reconditioning and rewiring Cooper’s brain to believe that seeing a dog is a really good thing and it leads to treats. We have two weeks to practice this theory. We’re calling it Pavlov’s Cooper.

In the mean time, the misadventures of Cooper Michel, pre-owned puppy, continue. At least he has a real name.

Living it out loud in the OP with Coopertino, Cooperlicious, Cooper Dooper, Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. 

In which I cover myself in words

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:04 AM

One of my favorite quotes is by the writer Anaïs Nin, which states, simply, that “We write to taste life twice.” I have it framed and hanging on a wall in my office, just above the light switch. I hadn’t thought until today that it might be a metaphor for the very act of writing. Is writing something we turn on or off? Yes. Is being a writer something that can be turned on or off? I don’t think so. Not for most writers and definitely not the ones who are passionate about it, even when it hurts them, even when it kills them; especially when it brings great joy. To be a writer is not something one does. It is who one is.

I am reminded of this fact all the time because I am never not writing. Oh, there are times when I’m not physically putting words onto paper, or in most cases, to a word document, but even when that’s not happening, I’m thinking about writing, getting ideas for a story or how to write myself out of a particular dilemma I have created in whatever piece I happen to be working on. I’m jotting down thoughts or interesting lines I think of. When I wake up, after an especially vivid dream, I find myself scribbling notes on a piece of paper. My desk is littered with pieces of paper.

I have written before about my fear that I’m not a very good writer, a fear that plagues many. Sometimes I write something and I sit back and think “Wow. That’s pretty damned good.” That doesn’t happen very often. Mostly I write something and I think “Hack.” I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’ve always thought that people cursed with self-awareness inevitably hold themselves back, and I believe that most writers, this one included, are hyper aware. We see things that others don’t see, we hear sounds differently, smells transport us in ways that it don’t others, and we are forever compelled to scribble those awareness’ onto paper, iPhones, iPads, computers, journals, whatever is handy.

When we go for a motorcycle ride, I am the designated RIO, as in radar intercept officer. What I really do is give directions or point out things to watch for in case the pilot, in our case, Kevin, hasn’t seen them. Like the fact that there is a sea of brake lights ahead and the world is coming to a dead stop. Often though, we are out in the middle of nowhere, cruising along a relatively deserted road where we only see the occasional pickup truck or car, sometimes another motorcycle or two, almost always traveling in the opposite direction. We give the designated motorcycle wave, a quick acknowledgement with the left hand that never rises above the seat. It’s a quick “Hey, ride safe” to another cyclist we’ve never met and never will. I have little to do back there save for watching the birds passing low in front of us, or the side of the road for whatever trinkets may have fallen from passing cars. I see a lot of shoes and other items of clothing. Most of the time, I simply let my mind wander and it invariably creates some sort of story or at least the basis for one. Kevin asked me once what it is that I do back there while we’re riding through the canyons or along a back road to nowhere. I told him I write. He just smiled and nodded as if to say “Of course, you do because I’d expect nothing less.” He’s never asked me again.

The novelist Philip Roth once told an aspiring writer to “Quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good.” Elizabeth Gilbert responded by asking if writing is really all that difficult. “Is it more difficult than working in a steel mill, or raising a child alone, or commuting three hours a day to a deeply unsatisfying cubicle job, or doing laundry in a nursing home, or running a hospital ward, or being a luggage handler, or digging septic systems, or waiting tables … or pretty much anything else people do?”

I sometimes envy people who dig septic systems or drive garbage trucks. I have no illusion that they’d rather being doing something else, but perhaps they are perfectly content to simply work for a living and not have to think too much. Writing is constant thinking and it’s exhausting and exhilarating at once. Gilbert has said that writing is “The best life there is, because you get to live within the realm of your own mind, and that is a profoundly rare human privilege.” It also doesn’t usually get you institutionalized, like others who live within the realm of their own minds.

Writers are notorious complainers. We take a gift from the universe and we curse it endlessly, and yet we love it so. We are lost without words, we are forever searching out new ones to twist into sentences that become paragraphs that grow up to be chapters and eventually graduate into a book, hopefully a decent one.

Journalist Red Smith once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” The writer to whom Philip Roth’s advice was cast is Jake Tepper. He wrote in a blog post on The Paris Review that “The one thing a writer has above all else, the reward which is bigger than anything that may come to him … is the weapon against boredom. The question of how to spend his time, what to do today, tomorrow, and during all the other pockets of time in between when some doing is required: this is not applicable to the writer. For he can always lose himself in the act of writing and make time vanish.”

As can I. I write instead of read because if I’m reading, I’m not writing but rather reading something that someone else wrote and I feel guilty and in awe and inspired all at once. I write to explore the joy and sorrow and mystery that is this life. I cover myself in words and I am warm and cozy and scared to death. And so I write more and when I’m done, I can sleep to dream, or ride on the back of the motorcycle to think; I can switch on the light and taste what imagination tastes like. I’m not sure I can describe it, though. Give me just a minute to scribble. 

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live out loud

If it's Friday it must be

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:04 AM

Time to celebrate the end of the week, and more importantly, the beginning of the weekend and especially my favorite day of the week – Saturday, a day when we don’t have anything we have to do and can happily spend our time doing anything we want to do like relaxing a bit, cooking something exotic and different, tasting our wine and eventually opening a bottle crafted by someone else;

A day to relax a bit, a day when the emails slow to a trickle and the phone doesn’t really ring and work gets done but surfing takes priority and the laziness sets in and all I want to do it take a nap even though I don’t;

All about the countdown to the Oscars taking on hyper-kinetic, wall-to-wall media coverage, even more so than usual, complete with Live Team Coverage from in front of the whatever-it’s-now-called theater as preparations are happening and the red carpet is shown still rolled and in plastic and giant Oscar statues stand at attention to greet the beautiful and the glittery, and I’m already bored;

A beautiful day for a walk, or three;

The start of warmer days, at least according to the weather dudes on KABC who keep telling us how horrible the cold is and how equally horrible the rain is even though we desperately need it and to hang in there because “there’s a big change coming in the weather, folks, and I think you’re going to like it;”

Almost time for a motorcycle ride;

Time for a trip to Costco to pick up some necessities, like coffee beans and Grey Goose because yes, Grey Goose is a necessity when it’s Friday and there’s company coming, and because it’s another great way to waste an hour or two;

Time to make a plan to wash the cars;

Time for some bad-for-us Mexican food or some Wendy’s also bad-for-us chili with everything just because every once in a while we have to – really;

Time for penne pasta with pesto and garlic bread made with melted butter and grated garlic toasted on fresh sourdough and topped with Romano cheese, served to our guests as Cooper moves from one to the other, putting on his best cute, begging for some pasta or even better, a crust of bread, just like a Dickens’ character only with better hygiene;

Time for good wine, good friends, lots of laughter and sharing of stories of hopes and dreams, of disappointments and sorrow, of dogs and cats, of memories and of the future;

A wonderfully perfect time to welcome the return of Fritini;

Time to live it out loud.

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live out loud

Garota de Ipanema

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 15, 2013 9:11 PM

In a seaside neighborhood in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro, there is a beach known for its elegance as well as its parties. Two mountains called Dois Irmãos rise toward the sunset on the west end. The ocean is a light azur blue that foams green and white as it rushes onto shore. Waves can reach nine feet, and bronzed men and women stroll the sands. There are universities, art galleries, theaters and cafés. A parade is held during Carnival in February and the streets are suddenly haunted by people in costumes and masks. Known as Banda de Ipanema, it attracts more than 20,000 people each year. I have no doubt that it’s fun and fabulous, but the Banda is not de Ipanema I like best.

It’s the Garota.

Her name was Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a nineteen-year-old living on Montenegro Street. A model by profession, she inspired a man named Vinicius de Moraes to write about her. Each day he would watch from the Veloso bar-café as she would stroll to the beach and walk to the sea. At 5’ 8” and with brilliantly dark hair, she attracted the attention of many, though she looked straight ahead only at he. Heloísa was the Garota de Ipanema. It was the title of a bossa nova song that was first performed in 1962 and appeared on the 1964 Stan Getz and João Gilberto album Getz/Gilberto. Its English lyrics were written by Norman Gimbel. In English, she is The Girl from Ipanema.

It’s a song that, at least for a while, became a bit of a joke. It was soft and seductive and over-recorded. In fact, it’s believed to be the second-most recorded pop song in history, after Yesterday by The Beatles. In 2004, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, thus giving it well-earned legitimacy.

It was one of the first songs I learned to play when I was first learning to play guitar. I think I was in the 4th or 5th grade. For some reason, I had decided I wanted to be a guitarist probably because I found an old guitar in the hall closet of my parents’ home. It was a small guitar, not standard size, and it had nylon strings. I have no idea why we had a guitar in the house; neither of my parents played, at least not to my knowledge. It’s also entirely possible that I’m remembering this wrong. But I recall the instrument fondly, complete with its worn, brown fabric case. I took private lessons from a lady in Hyde Park, the New York town we lived in at the time. Each Thursday at 4:30, my mother would take me and I would try my damndest to wrap my fingers around the neck to form chords. It wasn’t long before my teacher implored my parents to get me a new guitar, and they did, a beautiful steel-stringed Yamaha. It was my pride and joy, and I somehow managed to learn to pluck out the song about the girl on the beach.

I stopped playing the guitar steadily in high school, though I still took it with me to college, and then stored it in my mother’s basement when I drove to California. I haven’t seen it since. Somehow it got lost, stolen or perhaps sold. Kevin bought me a replacement several years ago for Christmas and I’ve plucked a bit, though nothing lately. One of the pieces of sheet music I need to get is Garota de Ipanema. Someday.

Today, we were listening to a Pat Metheny CD I picked up the other night. Called What’s it all about, it’s an entirely acoustic album, recorded in 2011, mostly using a Solo Baritone Guitar. One of the songs that came blasting through the stereo was Garota de Ipanema. Haunting, salty, sexy and smooth as a walk to the sea.

Metheny wrote of the song that it was one of the first he ever learned as well. How strange, and strangely wonderful, to know that I actually have something in common with this great jazz guitarist.

It made me nostalgic for my old guitar in Hyde Park, for lessons that were a lifetime ago, for a song about a place that I’ve never been. It was definitely worth celebrating on a hot, dusty Friday in February. 

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Writer as bully

by Lorin Michel Friday, February 1, 2013 10:09 PM

When I was little, I was going to be a famous actor. After that I was going to be a rock star. Both of these fancies had passed by the time I was 12 or 13. Yes, I was in several drama productions during high school and it was fun; and sure, I continued to lip sync into a hairbrush in my room, but I knew neither of those would become an actual profession. I didn’t have the talent, nor the desire to be the center of attention, always on stage. I wasn’t designed for it. What I came to know I was designed for was something behind the scenes, something that involved words. It’s something I actually knew as a little girl.

From the time was I was seven or eight, I was writing stories. With a small pocket notebook crammed into the back of my wrangler jeans, and the nub of a pencil slid down next to it, I would find the tallest tree I could, climb as high as I dared, position myself on a branch and write stories of intrigue and mystery. The heroine’s name was always Julie, for the heroine on TV’s The Mod Squad. I thought she was hopelessly glamorous and cool. I thought the stories they did were exciting. At seven, I didn’t yet know or appreciate good acting in equally good stories. In my tree I would write and write and write until it was time to climb down and go inside for dinner.

As a teen, I graduated to writing horror and ghost stories. There’s something about ghosts and death and vampires and monsters that intrigues all teenagers, then as now. I seemed to always get an A on those tales and won several awards. Then I went to college, enrolled in their art program. I didn’t know what I was going to do with such a degree. I also enrolled in English classes. Before long I realized that I wasn’t a very good artist and didn’t even like it that much. I wasn’t visually creative. I threw myself into writing instead, graduating with a degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. I didn’t know what I was going to with that either, but at least I was happy.

I have always been driven to write. Whenever I have tried to veer away from that path, it has not fulfilled me. I have returned time and again to story telling, in one form or another. It’s not always a literal story though sometimes it is. Often times it’s story telling in the form of a company story. I do many of those and enjoy every one because each involves creation, the suspension of disbelief; it involves words and the art of stringing them together to form sentences, paragraphs, pages.

It’s a passion, a sickness, a need; an addiction. A day does not go by that I don’t write something, even if it’s just for this blog. Every day I am driven to the written word. I no longer sit in a tree. Instead, I sit in my loft. But there is something inside me that makes it impossible for me not to write.

I often wonder if I’m any good; if I’m really just lucky. I’m sure that I’m nothing more than a hack. Someone able to put sentences together nicely but without style; sentences that are fine but don’t sing. I question constantly whether this addiction is good for me. But like any drug, I must do it daily and have no desire to stop.

Several days ago, a book was released called “Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They do.” It’s edited by Meredith Maran. Inside, writers like Susan Orlean, Rick Moody, Jane Smiley, Walter Mosley, and Armistead Maupin among others, discuss the craft of writing and of being a writer. It’s a fascinating look into the sickness that is writing.

In it Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen writes that: “The only thing that makes me crazier than writing is not writing.” Memoirist Mary Karr says: “I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money.” I can relate.

Joan Didion who is sometimes one of my favorite writers because of her brutal honesty wrote this in her 1976 essay Why I Write: “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives with ellipses and evasions – with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating – but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

It’s an interesting observation and I think a correct one. When I read I am looking to be convinced, to be transported, to be illuminated. As such I suppose I am being bullied a bit by a particular writer’s point of view. And as a writer, I equally suppose that I am bullying others to see things my way, to remember instances from their past because I suggest that they do. Does that really make me a bully? I don’t know.

James Frey, the acclaimed then humiliated writer of the false memoir A million little pieces admits: “I’m really not qualified to do anything else.” I suppose there are worse things to do than bully with the written word. Would that all schoolyard bullies could write to entice someone to see their point, rather than intimidate with fists and worse.

That would be a story to tell. Those would be words to celebrate

Through the years

by Admin Thursday, January 31, 2013 9:48 PM

I was listening to internet radio today as I do sometimes and the song Through the Years came on. It’s kind of a sappy song by Kenny Rogers, an artist I never particularly cared for. But the song brought tears to my eyes. My dad and I danced to this song at my first wedding. Suddenly I was back in 1988 on a parquet floor under a big white tent in the middle of a field in New Hampshire. In the foreground there were apple trees, off to the side, an acre or so away, was a field of horses, grazing and prancing. The sky was darkened with clouds and the air was cool.

Tim, my first husband, and I got married on that June afternoon, outside in a field on a hill. It was as traditional a wedding as I could have had. Neither of us wanted a church wedding, nor did we want a big wedding. We wanted friends and family, and we wanted it to be informal in a formal way. I wore a wedding dress; he wore a tux. My sister was my maid of honor; his brother was best man. My brother was an usher. All the groomsmen, and my dad, wore the same style tux. Tim wore a morning coat. It was all very beautiful.

My mother and sister and I had carefully chosen flowers at the local florist, but we also had wild lilacs, my favorite flower, on every table and dripping down from the trellis. We ordered a tiered wedding cake. We opted to make the food ourselves, or rather my mother, her friends, and our relatives made the food.

The morning of the wedding, I was up at 5:30 since I hadn’t slept much anyway. There was much running around still to do. My dad had offered to pick up the cake and I gladly let him. He arrived at my mother’s house (they were divorced by this time) and I went out to meet him. The cake was in the trunk of his car and we admired it for a minute or two. Then he reached in to pick it up so he could put it on the designated cake table, but he dropped it. I stood there in disbelief. He was mortified. I have no doubt he felt absolutely terrible, but I didn’t care. He had dropped my cake. My wedding cake. I turned around, ran toward the house, burst into the kitchen, announced that “dad dropped the cake” and locked myself in the bathroom.

A friend of mine who was there trying to keep me calm sprung into action. She called the woman who had made the cake, gave her directions and the woman came to “fix it.” I was still in the bathroom. I eventually pulled myself together and went back into the kitchen where my poor father stood. He put his arms around me and told me how sorry he was, and I told him it was fine. He felt worse than I did. As if a cake was what would ultimately ruin my wedding, destroy my marriage. It wasn’t, but it was an omen. The rain that started exactly at the time the ceremony was supposed to start was another one. We got married anyway, and for the briefest time, nothing else mattered. Not the fact that Tim and I fought all the time, not the weather; certainly not the cake.

During the traditional father and daughter dance, dad and I danced to Through the Years. There are no real songs written for fathers and daughters at weddings. You make due with what you have to choose from and hope that it doesn’t sound as sappy as you fear it does.

My mom and dad, at my first wedding. I don't know where my first
wedding pictures are so I don't have a pic of dad and I dancing.

Hearing that song today took me back to that floor, under that tent, on that Saturday afternoon in June of 1988. As all of our family and friends watched, dad and I danced. I can still smell his aftershave. He was so proud that day, so handsome in his tux. I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad in a tuxedo before. I think I only saw him wear a tux one other time after, when my sister got married.

For that brief time, I was once again daddy’s little girl. I wouldn’t ever be that again.

Tim and I split up three years later. It’s amazing we lasted that long. Ten years after my first wedding, I had a different kind of wedding. Much more casual and relaxed, and this time in California. My dad was here for that, too, but there was no big field, no tent, no parquet floor. It was just Kevin’s and my immediate family and closest friends. We had it catered, and we got married in our own backyard in front of a tree drenched with sparkling white lights. We had the entire family stand up with us, so Dad didn’t walk me “down the aisle” this time. We didn’t even have an aisle. The guy that married us, Jerry, had been ordained on the internet. I don’t think we had flowers. I had a single rose to carry. The food came from a local restaurant, the cake from the local grocery store. The music that played was chosen by Kevin and I and pumped through our own stereo system. There was no DJ; no one danced.

At one point, my dad was standing with Roy and Bobbi and Kevin walked up to chat. Roy and Bobbi took that as their cue to leave the Father-in-law and Son-in-law alone. The two of them sipped their champagne. My dad often wore a rather stern expression. To the uninitiated, it was a look that could be interpreted as profound uncertainty and distrust. Kevin was still uninitiated.

Finally, dad spoke: “This is all legal, right?”

Kevin fidgeted, and assured him that yes, it was. Everything was legal, nothing to worry about. Jerry was completely official.

Dad nodded. He took another sip of champagne and looked around the yard, a much smaller yard than the first one, but a much happier yard, too.

“Good,” he said to Kevin. “Because I don’t want her back.”

Kevin tells that story all the time. It was what made him fall in love with my dad, and like me, he misses him. He misses him for the relationship they could have had; I miss him for the relationship we did, through the years.

Me and dad, at my best and last wedding

Missing my dad today but celebrating his droll humor. 

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