Matt Labash, dog listener Jun 8, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 37 • By MATT LABASH
I've had a lot of dogs of many different physical types, but each has come loaded with the same daunting reminder: the countdown clock I can’t help but hear ticking away inside of them. I suppose I come with one of those, too, if I care to confront reality. Denial may be easier on the nerves, but the actuaries don’t lie. Your average American these days lasts 78.8 years. My average large purebred lasts about 8. Meaning over the course of a lifetime, I’ll bid farewell many more times than they will.
Recently, I had to say goodbye to Moses, 145 lbs of beautiful Bernese mountain dog, the closest I’ve ever come to sharing my house with a black bear. We acquired him as a rescue—the family who’d owned him couldn’t handle his ursine qualities. And I doubted my own capabilities at first, when he jumped on the couch, snapping menacingly if we tried to remove him. Or when he treed my son up a magnolia after ripping off his shirt. Forced to lay down the law, I smacked Moses in the face with a magazine—nothing thick that would hurt him, just a harmless Weekly Standard. But he never tried to eat my children again, and we were brothers ever after.
The most affectionate dog I’ve ever known, he’d swat me with his paw when I hadn’t sufficiently reciprocated. He’d greet me by nudging his cinder-block head under my crotch, lifting me off the ground, and tunneling through my legs as though going through a canine car wash. He’d fish by my side, standing in water up to his undercarriage, licking largemouth and bluegill for good luck before I returned them to tell confused tales to their fish kin. The end came without warning. One day we were walking routinely along a bank of the Chesapeake Bay. Four days later, a secret cancer had crippled him. As the doc loaded his needle with the final solution, there were distrustful eyes and growls and miserable yelps. The dog didn’t seem to care for it much, either.
I kissed Moses’ snout, promising I’d come find him on the other side. Then went home and held some flies that a good friend had tied from his fur—long-forgotten Maine streamers and Royal Wulffs and Grey Ghosts fashioned from his tricolor clippings. Even opening the care package some months earlier, I was gnawed by how quickly our present becomes our past, knowing I’d be holding these flies long after I could hold the dog that they came from.
I did what I always do after losing a dog—I got a new one as quickly as possible. My wife sometimes looks askance at this practice, as I so ruthlessly try to replace the irreplaceable. I assure her that if she goes before I do, there’ll be a tasteful mourning period before I hit christianmingle.com. But as the vet’s hollow sympathy card read, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” So I figure I’d better get moving. Or as the writer Sydney Lea framed it when recounting each of his gun dogs, “I also recognize that if one of those adored dogs had in fact lived as long as I have, there’d be only the one to adore. Death is the mother of beauty, as poet Wallace Stevens put it.”
Now I have Solomon, a regal Great Pyrenees with melancholy elephant-eyes. The rescue service found him abandoned in the rain in a Dollar Store parking lot, burrs caking his polar-bear coat, as he tried to enter the car of whoever would have him. (And we pretend dogs are the animals.) They don’t know how old he is, which might be a blessing. If I can’t determine when his clock started, maybe I won’t worry so much about when it’ll stop.
On our second outing, I let Solomon off the leash on a boardwalk at a riverside park. He looked back at me with you-don’t-own-me-white-man defiance, then jumped off the boardwalk, taking me on a mile-long chase through sucking mud and dead cattails, until he swam a creek and disappeared. Hours later, after vainly calling him, I slogged back through the marsh to my car, cursing God that I was down two dogs in one month. Until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Solomon reappear like a stealthy, mud-splattered ghost, nonchalantly sniffing a stalk of chickweed, as if to say, “Relax, I’ll be here for a while.”
Re-leashing him, I tried to play as cool as he was. But I’ve never been happier to see a creature. For Solomon wasn’t the only one in need of rescue.
Cita and Irwin M. Stelzer, in the presence of heroesApr 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 30 • By CITA STELZER and IRWIN M. STELZER
"Keep our story going,” implored Commander Dave Evans in his remarks closing the monthly meeting of the Korean War Veterans Association, General Brad Smith Chapter. At the meeting, one of us—Cita—had given a talk, as she often volunteers to do to veterans’ groups, about Winston Churchill, based on her book, Dinner with Churchill: Policy Making at the Dinner Table. So it was that we found ourselves in a bar and meeting hall in a sparsely developed section of Scottsdale, Arizona.
David Skinner stays young.Mar 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 24 • By DAVID SKINNER
Over the holidays, I was at my sister’s place. The youngest generation was racing about the house screaming “Not in the face!” as they shot each other with foam projectiles launched from colorful plastic rifles.
Claudia Anderson, inspired by beauty.Feb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
Reading about an exhibition that’s about to open at the Milwaukee Art Museum—“Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair”—took me back to the night long ago in Cincinnati when my teenage daughter and I saw this African-American extravaganza live.
Joseph Epstein, Yeah Man
Jan 19, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 18 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
I once appeared on a panel at the National Endowment for the Humanities with two women who talked about the importance of their secondary education. One was German and spoke reverently of the gymnasium she was fortunate enough to attend. The other, an American, spent her adolescence in France and mentioned her deep debt to the lycée that gave her so sound a grounding in the classics. When my turn came, I remarked how I envied them, and allowed that I had myself gone to a public high school in Chicago notable for its disadvantaged teachers.
Joseph Bottum counts the days Jan 5, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 17 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
until after Christmas.
Christmas doesn’t really begin until Christmas—Christmas Day itself, that is. And I don’t mean just in the way the Christian churches lay out the season: the whole 12-days-of-Christmas thing, if you remember. And I know you do, because everyone remembers the song about the partridge in a pear tree, which is what our loves would give us on the first day of Christmas, if they were true.