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The Day After Gus

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Went for a long walk yesterday after Gus’s death. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm for December 1. The leaves were orange and red and yellow and falling down. In Piedmont, they piled up in drifts.

I walked and thought, hardly noticing traffic. The sun grew warm and I took off my flannel shirt. Gus’s face rose up in my mind again and again. His eyes, maybe his best feature, so large, brown and mellow.

Gina called Gus “an old soul.” Although half chihuahua, he never barked–well, maybe five times over the years. Dogs bark, I think, when they’re upset. Gus didn’t get upset. He was an old Yoda. He just seemed to look at the world and go, “It’s cool.” He’d seen it all, and decided that mostly it didn’t matter. (Of course, food always mattered.) Another feature of his that I loved was his curiosity about people. He’d look up at every passing pedestrian on the sidewalk and want to trot over and meet them. Lots of people, mostly women, saw this old soulness in him, and adored it. Women “got” Gus. Men barely noticed him.

Yesterday was dreadful. I wallowed in grief, barely able to do anything. People called, and I’d break down. The Facebook comments—83 and counting—tore me apart. “RIP little Gus.” “Gus had an amazing life with you.” “I’m so glad I got to know him.” “A noble farewell as he crosses the rainbow bridge.” People wrote of their own departed dogs: Lola. Sandy. Sam. Rico. For all the negative things you can say about Facebook and social media, there’s this: the ability to share love and pain.

I knew he wouldn’t be there beside me in bed this morning when I woke up, but even so, it startled me. In the livingroom I looked for him even though I knew he wasn’t there. If yesterday was about grief, today seems to be about shock. It’s hard to believe it could end with such finality. One minute he’s there, and the next—shazam, gone with the wind. How does the human body and mind cope? I take some comfort in that every person who ever lived has experienced loss. We are a tribe united in many ways, of which the experience of bereavement is surely one of the more universal.

This blog. What happens now? I began it in 2008 to write about wine. That lasted for eight years, until I retired and devoted it to destroying Donald Trump and the Republican Party—a worthy cause if ever there was one. This month-long drama about Gus was merely an interlude in between the politics. Now that Gus is gone, I can’t keep on writing about him forever. I’m not going to wrap myself in black crepe and veil and be The Widow Heimoff for the rest of my life, some kind of morbid Queen Victoria forever mourning her poor Albert. At the same time, we have won the fight against Trump (I think). He’ll continue to provide fodder for ridicule, warning and commentary, but do I really want to continue down that road? Do my readers want or need it? Writing is my balm; it’s what I do in this world. I need to write, in order to have something meaningful to do every day. But without wine, Gus and Trump, there’s nothing to write about. A conundrum. If you have any ideas, by all means tell me.

Well, it will all work itself out somehow. It always does. Right?


Gus: 2008 – 2020

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Gus breathed his last precious breath today, Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 11:57 a.m.

Here are some pictures from Monday night, his final on Earth.

Around 7 p.m. he lay down in his little bed. You can see how the tumor was distorting his face, causing him to be buck-toothed.

He jumped up into my lap and looked intensely at me. I wondered what he was thinking.

I put my hand on his head. It seems to comfort him.

Then he licked my fingers.

He turned on his side, which is virtually a command to “Rub my belly!”

I sobbed a lot Monday night. But lest you think I’d deteriorated into a soggy old mess, I will admit that I watched reruns of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and laughed between the tears.

MONDAY

We awoke at 6:30 this morning, just as it was getting light outside. Gus was beside me in bed, on the big white towel I’d set out for him so the blood dribbling from his mouth wouldn’t get on the bedding. I put my hand on his rib cage; he turned his head and licked my fingers.

I gave him breakfast. He slowly wobbled over to his bowl, took one sniff, then turned around and jumped up on my big chair. Okay, so no appetite: what difference does it make at this point. I looked at the clock: 7:48 a.m. The vet would be here in less than four hours. At 8:15 we went for a little walk. A thick ground fog obscured trees just a block away. For some reason, John Lennon’s “Imagine” was going through my head. We got barely 30 feet from the front door: Gus had no interest in taking a walk. He just wanted to go home and lay down. He walked very slowly back. All right.

The vet was scheduled to arrive at 11:30. I took Gus out for our final walk at 11:15. As we left my place, I said, “Gus, this is the last time you’ll ever be in my house.” He looked up at me as if he knew.

Gina, my friend next door, who loves Gus almost as much as I do, showed up. She took this, the last picture ever of Gus and me together.

Then I saw the vet coming down the street, holding the box that would shortly hold Gus’s body. He was very nice, very sweet. Since he had asked not to do the euthanasia indoors due to the pandemic, we did it in the breezeway next to my building.

Gina came with me. It was hard, very hard. First, I held Gus close to my heart as Dr. Smith injected him with a sedative. It took about 5 minutes for the little guy to fall asleep. Then Dr. Smith put a soft blanket on the ground and asked me to place Gus on it. His little body was limp, but his eyes were open and his pink tongue was hanging out of his mouth. He looked almost cute. But when Dr. Smith got the syringe with the pentobarbital ready, I completely lost it. Couldn’t watch. Hid behind a wall, gasping for breath. Gina said something. I realized it was my responsibility to Gus to be his witness, so I turned and watched. In went the needle. Everybody was crying. Gus lay still. Dr. Smith said I could say goodbye. I got down on my knees while Dr. Smith and Gina kept a respectful distance. I covered my dog with kisses and whispered things in his ear. My tears fell on his soft fur.

Dr. Smith made a paw print of Gus, which I shall always treasure.

He gently put Gus into the box. Afterwards, Gina and I went for a walk. She was so kind, so gentle, so loving. We talked. Then I called Marilyn, who truly also loved Gus. We’d spent a lot of time together over the years, and Marilyn used to watch Gus at her house when I traveled for work. We talked, remembered, sobbed, as I had sobbed when Marilyn’s Golden, Maisie, died. Both Gina and Marilyn told me I should get another dog. I don’t know.

I dreaded going back home. An empty home, with no Gus to greet me. I saw his little bed by the patio window. Empty. Never again to hold him.

And now, whatever is to come. I miss Gus more than words can say. My heart aches. I feel a thousand years old.

Next to my computer is a King James Bible. I opened it at random. It was The Book of Job:

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away.


Tomorrow morning

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This will be a long, difficult day.


“Religious liberty” is just another rightwing lie

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Next time you hear a radical Christian complaining about attacks on “religious liberty,” you should know this: They’re lying. It’s not “religious liberty” they want, it’s permission for them to indulge in the orgies of racial discrimination, homophobia and anti-choice they enjoy with an almost sexual relish.

Keep that in mind when you interpret the latest Supreme Court decision on “religious liberty,” in which the extremist Catholics on the court decided it’s more important to allow superspreader events in churches than to keep Americans alive in this age of COVID-19. The five justices who struck down New York State’s limits of church attendance all were Roman Catholics of an extreme rightwing bent: Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas and Coney Barrett, possibly the most radical of them all, whose ties to the shadowy “People of Praise” cult means she subscribes to the notion that “wives must submit to their husbands.”

If this was the year 500 B.C. that might have been an acceptable belief, but in America, in the 21st century? Yet that’s what you get when you allow Biblical literalists to run things. And yet, this Republican violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state is nothing new. Republicans have been trying to decades to promote the views of extreme rightwing Christians and enshrine them into law. Forty years ago, for instance, President Ronald Reagan sided with Bob Jones University, a fake university that was in reality a madrasa for young evangelical, rightwing propagandists, in a lawsuit the school filed against the I.R.S., which correctly denied Bob Jones tax exemptions on the basis that the school was little more than a racist institution disguising itself as an educational institution. That was but a foreshadowing of dozens of similar cases in years to come, including that notorious Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who cited her own bigoted Christian beliefs in refusing to register same-sex couples for marriage. Davis, who was widely and properly reviled by most Americans, was strongly supported by other rightwing Christians who believed that their views on love and marriage should be allowed to trample on the rights of all Americans to love whom they choose. For instance, the president of the Kentucky State Senate, Robert Stivers, actually had to audacity to assert that, as a result of Obergefell v. Hodges (which legalize same-sex marriage), “the Supreme Court ruling has completely obliterated the definition of marriage.” Just whose definition of marriage, he did not make clear, but I will: the conservative Christian definition.

What we, as Americans, are going to have to reckon with, sooner rather than later, is this ongoing, concerted and dangerous attack on our historic democracy by extremist elements among the evangelicals, Pentecostals and Coney Barrett-style rightwing Catholics. They wish (and they make no bones about it) to un-do our democratic, non-sectarian principles and establish instead a theocracy in America that can only be described as Taliban light. No, they don’t want to chop off the hands of thieves, but if given the power they seek, would they force gay men to be castrated, the way the Nazis did? Certainly, there have been such suggestions from insane people over the years.

It doesn’t take much imagination to take the homophobic attacks of radical Christians like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Franklin Graham and extrapolate them into a full-fledged national attack on LGBT people; indeed, while most of the Supreme Court Catholics have the sense to stay quiet about their views, two of them, Alito and Thomas, blasted Obergefell v. Hodges in the name of—you guessed it—“religious liberty.”

It should be concerning to lovers of freedom and democracy when religious fanatics, at the highest levels of government, feel unconstrained in expressing such notions of repression. These haters are limited only because our democratic system of checks and balances prevents them from the full, brazen exercise of the power they crave. One of the reasons why Trump was such a threat was because he attempted to demolish that system of checks and balances. He was largely unsuccessful, but if he continues to stoke hatred and fear among rightwing Christians during his post-presidency, and then if he runs for re-election in 2024 and wins, we’ll have the biggest fight imaginable before us. It will be a choice: Do we allow our Constitution, with the democratic liberties it guarantees, to run America? Or do we shred that sacred document, and turn our country over to the Ayatollahs who would destroy it?


An interview with Melania Trump

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I’m pleased to announce my new interview with departing First Lady Melania Trump. We met in her Sitting Room in the White House East Wing. Looking radiant in a Chanel asymmetrical chemise, shocking pink in color and decorated with aubergine crescent moons and her grandmother’s sapphire brooch, Mrs. Trump was warm and welcoming as she offered me croissants and coffee. I began by asking her if she’ll miss living in the White House.

MT: Why would you ask that, darling?

SH: Well, because your husband was defeated for re-election, so you’re going to have to move out by Jan. 20.

MT: Oh, don’t believe the rumors. My husband was re-elected in a landslide. We have no plans to leave the White House. You really need to stop listening to fake news.

SH: So you believe he won?

MT: Of course! Ask the lawyers. Ask Rudy—he’ll tell you. And Kayleigh. Don’t you just love her? I call her the nice Kellyanne Conway. Would you like a petit-four?

SH: No, thank you. I’d like to ask you about your former life in Eastern Europe. It’s often said you were an “escort” prior to marrying your husband. What did you do as an escort?

MT: I entertained wealthy businessmen and diplomats.

SH: How did you entertain them?

MT: Oh, you know, stuff.

SH: Can you explain?

MT: I’d much rather talk about my husband, and the things he has accomplished for America. He’s the best friend the Negroes have ever had, you know.

SH: Could you see yourself becoming an escort again, now that you won’t be First Lady in 56 days?

MT: Again, I don’t know what you’re talking about. My schedule as First Lady is already planned through next August. We’re giving a State Dinner at the White House on Feb. 6 for President Erdowan, of Turkey, one of my husband’s good friends. Would you like a ticket?

SH: But Mrs. Trump, on Feb. 6, the President of the United States will be Joe Biden.

MT: Who?

SH: Will you live in Mar-a-Lago, Mrs. Trump?

MT: I like Mar-a-Lago very much. I love to walk barefooted on the beach, looking for pretty seashells. I love wearing a billowy sea-skirt that blows in the breeze. Sometimes I bring my favorite Secret Service agent, ____ [name withheld], and we play behind the sea wall.

SH: Do you have any hobbies, Mrs. Trump?

MT: Oh, yes, I love puzzles of all kinds. And can openers.

SH: Do you have a favorite mammal?

MT: I love hamsters.

SH: Did you do the decorating here in your lovely Sitting Room?

MT: I did! Just like Jackie Kennedy. She’s my role model and hero for a First Lady. My sense of fashion and hers are quite similar.

SH: Who’s your most un-favorite First Lady?

MT: Oh, that awful cow, Michelle Obama. When we moved in, the White House was filled with dust and grime. I think the Obamas hate America. Of course, he wasn’t even born here. Do you know, when they lived here the White House stank. They had the most awful people coming to visit. The Oval Office smelled like sweat.

SH: Did you like Barbara Bush?

MT? Who?

SH: Were there any First Ladies you admired, besides Jackie Kennedy?

MT: Another petit-four?

SH: Many people have commented on your husbands lie’s. Does it bother you that he’s untethered to reality?

MT: Tell me a supposed lie that Donald has told.

SH: The biggest inaugural crowd. Mexicans are murderers and rapists. Obama was born in Kenya.

MT: Fake news! He never said any of those things.

SH: I’m afraid we’re going to have to end this conversation, Mrs. Trump. You’re not willing to deal with reality.

MT: It’s been very nice taking with you. Another petit four?


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