Doggone

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My wife and I came home at 10 last night, and while she arranged things in her lap and prepared to step out of the car, I stood by the front door and yipped and whined.  Judy said, “Stop that.”  Master commanded, and I obeyed.

We dog sat a miniature whippet and a terrier for the last couple weeks.  Sedgewick and Shakespeare erupted every time Judy and I  returned from a trip and stepped onto our front porch.  When we entered, they pawed our calves, wagged tails, and chased each other around the living room to welcome us home.

And today when daughter Annie and husband Bryant walked through the door, their dogs greeted them with even more enthusiasm.  Shakespeare, the retiring chap who spent most of his days staring at us with the sad resignation of a French Existentialist philosopher, practically did back flips when Bryant greeted him.  Sedgewick tried to climb up Annie’s legs and leap into her arms.  Their tails whipped back and forth in blurs.  Their true masters had returned!

Annie and Bryant packed up and left around 3:30 and headed back to Miami.  The dog dishes, leashes, and food bin are gone.  I picked up the blankets, sheets and pillows we put out for the dogs on the sofas and floor.  The red sofa has a smooth, hair-free texture once again. Fragments of pigskin chew toys no longer litter the carpet.  I’ve washed the sheets on my bed and can expect to sleep tonight in relative ease.  (I won’t have Sedgewick wedged mid back and Shakespeare lodged against my shins.)  And I feel a little sad.

The quiet in our house is a relief, and I’m looking forward to a few weeks of an easier schedule.  The peace will be relaxing, but perhaps dull.  I’ve grown accustomed to their yips.  I also got reacquainted with the enjoyment of meeting another creature’s basic needs.  It’s similar to the happiness of feeding a first dish of ice cream to a baby.  A tiny act of generosity makes eyes light up with joy.  The exchange is direct and uncomplicated, and no subtexts or unspoken demands ruin the innocence of the moment.

Perhaps that’s why we still keep dogs around.  They serve no useful purpose, but remind us to be more open handed and simple.

 

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Night into Morning

I fall asleep in front of the living room TV around twelve, and wake up around two or three.  Wide awake, I make the habitual mistake of booting my computer.  I check my e-mail, look for messages on Facebook, watch comic routines on YouTube.  I fall back to sleep with my laptop at my side as I lay in bed, and I feel a bit of shame when I wake up with a dark screen beside my pillow, the battery sapped.  And I wonder what played on and on while I drifted off and dreamt odd dreams.

I usually wake up between 7:30 and 8, eventually stumble to the kitchen, search for a semblance of life at the bottom of a coffee cup as I share breakfast with Judy.  The day doesn’t truly begin until sometime after nine when my grogginess finally evaporates like fog in bright sunshine.

Last night I retreated to my room at quarter to twelve after listening to Stephen Colbert’s monologue, and discovered a dog under my cover sheet when I sat on the bed to take off my pants.  Sedgewick had sneaked away early and found shelter for the night. Shakespeare followed me from the living room, jumped onto the bed and settled on the lower left.  I turned off the light and lay on a two foot wide strip of mattress with Sedgewick folded against my spine.  Shakespeare eventually lodged in the crook of my knees, which made rolling over difficult.

At four in the morning my neighbor, Joe, had his latest blow out with a roommate.  (These quarterly festivities are held, inevitably, in the carport fifteen feet away from my window.)  Roommate accused Joe of damaging his truck.  Joe protested his innocence.  Roommate said, “I thought we was brothers.  But now you’re lying to me.  You’re gonna pay for my truck!”  Threats and accusations followed, a heavy motor rumbled to life, and roommate drove away.  He returned a few minutes later, however, and the argument resumed at higher decibels.  No one mentioned a gun or threatened to use one, and I didn’t hear punches landing.  I decided to let it go.  I only call the cops now when a threat of death and permanent damage seem imminent.

Sedgewick stirred at seven and woke me up.  I heard Judy open her door and walk into the hall.  The dogs stayed put, however, and didn’t chase her to the bathroom.  I took a blanket and threw it over their heads to tease them, but they accepted the covering as a gift, settled beneath and fell back to sleep.  I woke them up when I finished morning ablutions, and led them to the back door.  I yawned and batted away mosquitos as the two sniffed, peed, and convened over signs of cat, armadillo, and raccoon incursions.  The clouds hung low and gray, and we didn’t linger long.

I made scrambled eggs for Judy and me, and let Sedgewick mooch a thin shaving of cheese.  We had a good conversation, I washed dishes, and then I took the two dogs for a long walk.  I deposited their droppings under the Cassia bush in the front yard, washed my hands and retreated to my studio.  I listened to a chapter of “A Gentleman In Moscow” as I worked on a painting entitled, “Dog Days”.

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At 10:30 I browned some chicken in a pan and began to prepare lunch. We ate at 11:30, and the morning ended.

 

 

Invasion of the Canines

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My bed, early morning:  sleeping with the enemy.

It began slowly, so slowly that we remained unaware for several days that they had already established a beach head. They pretended to be adorable creatures, uncomplicated beings who lived for simple pleasures.  They fooled us with their cuteness, their large eyes that drew us in and made us want to pet them, feed them, take them for walks.

2 out of 5 dog nests:  colonization has begun.

Before we knew it, our house was cluttered with their food and water bowls, their leashes, harnesses, medicine.  Pillows and sheets lay strewn on the floor in cool spots where they could lounge.  Our house began to seem more like their house as they competed with us for seats on the sofas, as they attempted to control entry and exit by barking at anyone approaching the door.

Our daily schedule shifted until we adopted their Circadian cycles.  I found myself taking them for walks at eleven o’clock at night, the time of day when I normally flip between reruns and the local news while dozing in my recliner.  I learned to look over my shoulder and step carefully while cooking, as the canines tended to hover near my feet waiting for morsels to drop.  Without quite knowing why, I began to give them slivers of cheese as they gazed hypnotically up from the kitchen tiles.  I felt pleasure as I watched them gobble up my offerings…I admit that my will is mostly compromised.

My wife is so far gone that she smiles when they attempt to muscle her out of her spot on the sofa.  One climbs in her lap, stands on its hind legs on her thighs, places its forepaws on her chest, and stares into her eyes.  Judy responds to his aggressive, I-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach by hugging  and petting him.

DSC_0355 (2) With Judy under their control, they turn their attention to me.

It will all be over in about a week.  The canines have arranged for our daughter to take them back to Miami, their base of operations.  But will their influence leave with them?  Late evening walks are cool and peaceful in our neighborhood.  I may continue them.  Sharing food, attention and living space with “innocent” creatures has begun to seem normal.  Dogs in my bed, burrowing under my blankets give me a sense of security as I fall asleep.

Where will it end?  Will I start to haunt pet stores and shelters?  Will I stare with envy as dogs parade their owners up and down my street?  Will I even feel a bit of affection for the pit bulls next door who look at me as if I’m a large slab of meat?

I’m like Donald Sutherland in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers:  another species is trying to take over my life.

 

 

The Miami Pack

 

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Sedge and Shakes

The Book and the Traveler arrived at our house with their Miami pack in tow.  “Sedge” and “Shakes” surveyed us suspiciously, but the Book assured us that they’d be no problem at all.  Judy and I smiled and nodded…We had no choice.  The Book knew that she could count on us for favors, that we couldn’t say no.

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Sedge, the nervous one with searching eyes and the shrill bark of a killer, stared us down as if willing us to make a sudden move.  (We all knew how that would end.)  Shakes studied us carefully to search out our weak points.

Book and Traveler told us a few weeks back that they had to make a trip to Las Vegas to “make presentations at a conference”.  Who knew what they meant by presentations?  I didn’t ask them to describe the attendees.  It was better that I didn’t know.

I drove B and T to the airport and wondered what they had packed in a giant suitcase… Book’s modus operandi is to carry books wherever she goes.  Perhaps she had packed a few extra.  It’s part of her routine to build a fortified nest of texts before she “delivers a paper”.

T talked about distant countries during the drive, the habits of the native folk, the crowded conditions, poverty.  Perhaps his trip to Vegas was yet another scouting mission, but this time to assess the state of American life.  What did he plan to do with this information?

When I arrived home and turned the knob on my front door, a series of sonic disruptions tore through the air.  My eardrums ached as if they had been ruptured.  The intimidation had begun.  Sedge and Shakes had been on the look out, and they met me on the carpet inside the door.  Shakes pounced on my calves, and Sedge circled my ankles as if attempting to trip and take me down.  I stepped  back, and they dashed away.

I anticipated that they would attempt to establish their dominance inside my home.  My fears were confirmed immediately:  they leapt onto sofas in strategic positions and dared me to dislodge them.  They had the high ground.  I slunk to my recliner in defeat and tentatively sat down.  They stared at me, and Sedge yipped once.  Shakes yawned and casually bared his teeth.

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I retreated to the kitchen a few minutes later to put on a roast, and when I returned I saw them lolling on their cushions fast asleep.  They knew that their campaign of  territorial conquest had been successful and that no further effort was necessary.  I skulked away to my bedroom and met Judy in the hall.  She seemed unusually cheerful and reported that our two “guests” had been good company.  Stockholm syndrome:  the first signs.

I avoided Sedge and Shakes for the next hour or two, but an odd sound pulled me out of my room.  Shakes sat in his spot on the sofa and fixed me with a burning look of subdued aggression.  He barked once in a commanding tone.   Judy said, “They want to take you out for…a walk.

I gulped and reached for the leash.  I thought of the scene in The Godfather where three mobsters drive to a remote spot, and two execute the third.  “Leave the gun and take the cannoli,” I thought as I stuffed a plastic pooper bag in my pocket.  Maybe I’d return with a dog deposit.  Maybe I’d not return at all.

They pulled me to a drainage canal and nonchalantly urinated on bushes and random muddy spots.  They tried to chase a squirrel, a lizard, two egrets.  A gentle breeze blew, and I relaxed.  Maybe this was a just a walk after all.  But Sedge suddenly turned toward me and growled.  Shakes took a position on my left flank and waited with a quivering left haunch.  What did they want from me?

I knelt down and patted Sedge on the head, and he licked my hand.  Shakes wagged his tail when I scratched his chest.  I paid my tribute to them, and they accepted me into their pack.  I was a made dog.

Shakes squatted and squeezed out a log.  I picked it up with my plastic bag.  I said, “Good dog,” and they pulled me home.

 

 

What Painters Think About

Folks have asked me what I think about while I’m working on a painting.  If it’s a funny or sarcastic project, they assume that I’m cackling nonstop as I mix colors and apply brushstrokes.  Some seem unaware that canvases can take hundreds of hours to complete, and that no one maintains the same mental state longer than a few seconds.

A children’s counselor once told me that artists are insane while they make their art.  I failed to convince her that I’m lucid while working, and that no one (Van Gogh included) could make a painting work if he or she didn’t make thousands of clear-headed decisions.  I also told the counselor that she might be mistaking the nonverbal thought patterns that arise in painters’ minds for signs of insanity.  The inner monologue sometimes falls away as we work.  Instinct and feeling take over…Time seems to disappear, and painting becomes more like prayer or meditation.

Below is a recreation of my thoughts while painting.  It’s not a transcription, of course, but may give readers an inkling of what I think about before I hit the sweet spot of inner silence.

 

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Mexican Bull (oil/canvas)

Maybe I can finish this today.  No, can’t work too long.  Got to get groceries and pay some bills.  That color’s garish…No wait–It’s better than what I wanted…What the hell was that?  Sounded like a five hundred pound squirrel landed on the roof…maybe a magnolia pod.  Did I dream about that chewing sound in the attic last night, or have the rats returned?

 

DSC_0298 (2)Quilt (oil/canvas, 2018)

Oh crap.  This looks like Paul Klee.  Who am I ripping off besides him?  Hello Kandinsky.  Hello Max Beckman.  Steal from the best, leave the rest…Jesus, the left side looks like a greeting card.  Got to mess that up.  I’ll sour those colors and add a black line…Better, but still too pretty.  Might as well add bunnies and flowers.  Picasso said you have to destroy something if it looks too good too early in a painting…Asshole…I wonder if artists have to be assholes to become famous?  I’m an asshole…When will my ship come in?

A truck drives by with a dog hanging half way out the window.  It barks at regular intervals as it progresses down the street, and the noise fades and shifts key as it moves farther away.

Doppler Dog strikes again…I wonder if we should get a dog.  No time right now to take care of a dog…Hmm…that passage looks like a dog’s tail…Or is that a toe?  Meh.  It’s a blob of paint.  Ugly blob…Scrape it off…My shoulder hurts.  There goes the knee.  Is it hot in here?  Maybe I should get up and turn on the fan, stretch, but first…Well that looks better, but now I have to change five things to compensate…Patience, man, patience.

 

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Lake Louisa (oil on canvas)

Helen thinks that I’m a nut job, and that Friday student thinks I’m Donald Trump’s twin…”Who am I anyway?  Am I just my resume’?”   What was that song I heard yesterday…I’ve heard it before…Don’t have the cd, but the singer’s name is…Senility strikes again…I’ll think of it later, but her last name started with a P.  Penn…Penwright…Peyroux?  

I get up to look at what I’ve done, move that painting off the easel and stand it against a wall.

Did I just make everything worse?  Man, the middle needs a highlight, and those colors on the right look too mucky now.  When did I begin to lose all my talent…what little there is…Oh, come on now…it always looks bad half way through…maybe if I pop that red, palette knife a little white, glaze a purple over that mess and…

Judy knocks on the door to the studio and invites me to join her on a walk.  We head up Chilean Drive and talk about an upcoming visit from our daughter, the folks who used to live in the house at the corner, and the north wind that’s bringing another cold front.

When I get back my mind is clearer, and I look at the painting with fresh eyes.

It almost looks done!  When did that happen?  Time to spray for elves…Now I’ll just accent that scrabbly field of yellow, twist a red line along that edge…Might be done…Should I sign it?  I hate signing a painting…You get close and a signature screws everything up…An act of hubris and the gods of painting smite me…Can’t think of anything more to do on this one, and it’s good enough…for now…Ah, the familiar feeling of partial defeat…But that other painting in the corner is calling me…Maybe that one’ll turn out better…Wait a minute!  I can fix this one if I…maybe…That’s better…hmmm…

(Silence.)

 

Walk Through An Art Show

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I saw my show, “Happy Paintings for Well-Adjusted People”, for the first time last Thursday.  My wife and daughter came to the opening that night, and I mostly interacted with faculty, a man named Tony, and two high school art teachers who happened to be on campus at the time.  I gave a lecture about my work to the folks listed above and a class forced to attend.  But the somewhat listless students listened and didn’t lapse into smart phone drifts of attention too often.  I got a few questions at the end that helped me to explain things a bit further.

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Judy helped me to refine my speech, and we agreed that the underlying theme in a lot of my work is humor.  So I opened and closed my presentation with jokes.  One featured hump back whales, and the other told a story about swimming lessons involving trips to the middle of Lake Erie, a tough father, and being tied up in a bag.

My work was treated with respect, and the reception felt warm and friendly.  I recommend Daytona State College and the curator, Viktoryia McGrath, to any artist interested in exhibiting their work in a college setting.

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My daughter, Annie, spent the weekend with us and brought along Shakespeare and Sedgewick, her two dogs. She left early Easter Sunday afternoon, and Judy and I both felt a bit sad now that the flurry of activity had ended and the house was a lot quieter. We decided that we will be moving next door to a child once they settle down in a permanent location.

Now I’m looking forward to making new paintings under less stressful conditions, finishing out my semester, and starting summer projects.

Dog Quest 2017

 

Animal, Dog, Pet, Puppy, Cute, CanineNext Dog????

Our dog Sammi died in the fall of 2003.  As a black, white and tan rat terrier she was eight pounds of guile, cunning and nervous agitation.  When she ran down the street her legs moved so fast they blurred.  The neighborhood kids called her “The Hover Dog”.

At times her terrier level of anxious energy was too much for me, and I swore a few days after I buried her in our back yard that I’d never get another dog.  But my daughter and her fiance’ visited over Christmas with their two pups, and my wife Judy and I found ourselves talking about the possibility of getting one.  Our house seems large and empty after our visitors leave, and we feel an urge to fill up the open spaces with an active presence.  And Judy and I are somewhat tied to staying close at home.  We have spells when direct contact with friends and family is limited, and we feel a need for extra companionship.

My sister had an Australian Shepherd the last few years of her life when she suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Charlie was an intelligent, very loyal mid sized dog.  He was a consistently hopeful and cheerful presence.  However he was extremely protective of Carla and would butt anyone with his nose who came too near to her.  Once he got me in the side of the neck when I attempted to arrange Carla’s feet on the foot rests of her motorized chair.  And my Dad had bruises up and down his forearms from similarly misguided interventions.  Judy has vertigo and sometimes walks with difficulty, and while I liked Charlie a lot I don’t want to get a dog who protects her from me.

Our search is complicated by our allergies to dog dander, so Judy is looking up hypoallergenic breeds.  We’re discovering that most of these are expensive.  And we want a more mellow dog, but one not too large and dull witted like a Lab.  We may have to find a mixed breed mutt to suit our needs.  And we’ll probably have to wait until after our daughter gets married in May to get serious about finding a dog.  We don’t want to deal with new routines and dog training while planning a wedding.

On Sunday we went to Central Park in downtown Winter Park.  Judy wanted to see something beside the insides of our house and our yard.  We sat in the shade and watched a squirrel digging up nuts, toddlers chased by parents, a guy making balloon animals for children, and two lovers kissing and caressing on a blanket.  And we saw dogs, dogs, dogs.  We commented on the size, shape and personalities of the ones we saw, and I turned to Judy and said, “It really does sound like we’re getting a dog.”  And I thought about all the happy possibilities.