August 31, 2006
Mimi, the boys and I wanted to thank you for Twinkle. Her great run ended yesterday, and it closed with the grace and peace and comfort that she seemed to enjoy embody. That little girl you had to hand-feed in a fur-lined shoe box wound up living large. Twinkle saw nine countries and raised a family of adoring humans.
We counted the places she'd been yesterday at the vet's - The USA, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Luxembourg, which barely counts since it took about 15 minutes to drive through. France was a favorite, however. She had just had cancer surgery, three summers ago, and we took her in a van with my parents to Provence, where we spent 10 days among the buzzing cicadas and swirling lavender breezes. She liked France.
Italy provided one of her funniest memories. We were in some Tuscan hill town, and Gordon was leading us with his nose, looking for a place to have lunch. He found a promising trattoria, but I wasn't sure whether Italians were cool with having dogs at tables, so I summoned my best Italian - I had gone there for a week in 8th grade - and asked "Mangia con cani?" The man shrugged. Why not? and we sat down for a good meal. Later I was told a fair translation of what I'd said was, Can we eat our dog?
Some cold thief reached over Twinkle on a train to Prague and picked Mimi's wallet. In Switzerland we stayed a week in Zermatt opposite the Matterhorn, and Twinkle romped in the deep snow, laughing off the frigid temperatures.
Denmark provided her one close encounter with a cow. We stayed on a little island our first summer, and there was a farm across the road. Lots of very big black cows grazed there, and Twinkle was drawn to them. And they to her. It was almost as if they realized they had some sort of genetic role to play together. She walked up to one of them, a little uncertainly, and it started walking to her. She stood in place. Quickly she attracted a crowd, and these cows move very fast. When the first let out this deep bellow, Twinkle almost melted. She turned away, and was done with that. I had this funny feeling our cowherd of Flanders was afraid of cows.
It was in Germany, though, where she was in her element - it must have been the German you used to speak to her. Her special treatment began almost instantly. Yesterday, a couple of scenes stood out: that first morning, when we found a place for breakfast near our apartment, and a waitress brought water for Twinkle before she asked what we were having. How everyone in the neighborhood fed her - the couple who owned the vegetarian restaurant rescued Spanish dogs, and would produce a fresh piece of baguette for Twinkle every time she poked her head in the door, which was every time she walked down the street, of course. The mailwoman, who carried treats in her uniform pocket - a very civilized practice, I must say. The only problem, was that Twinkle started approaching every man or woman on the street and sticking that big bottle-stopper nose in their pockets.
She really was our ambassador in Germany. For the first month I was there, and I went there alone, no one made eye contact with me, let alone began a conversation. As soon as Twinkle arrived, gruff Berliners would drop to their knees, grab her face and whisper to her. Little teddy bear, lots of them called her. Hairy giant Schnauzer? They’d ask me. No, Bouvier des Flandres, a Flemish cow dog. Ah. She bite? Only dinner. My favorite story about her in Berlin has to do with that famous Bouvier aroma. We had the boys' bar mitzvah in our apartment, and invited lots of friends over for the ceremony. Twinkle was a guest of honor, having just had surgery. We dressed her in a peach-colored long-sleeved surfer's t-shirt. She had stayed by the door, barking every time the bell rang, and it rang throughout the ceremony, so Twinkle had a vocal role. The party afterward went long into the night, and Twinkle was at the center of it. Some time after midnight, she let out a fragrance that cleared the room. A doozy. An Australian friend, a diplomat, said dryly: "the French serve orange juice." Apparently, when it's time for your guests to leave, French hosts bring around trays of juice.
That Australian friend and his family visited us here in Philadelphia last month. I'm glad they got to see the girl again. Twinkle was now the grande dame, gray at the ears and beard. Slow to move. Mimi did an amazing job keeping that girl going. For more than a year she'd made her chicken and rice or chicken and sweet potatoes. Twinkle's last meal was Sunday. She went through a pound of hamburger, a half of a loaf of challah and nearly a whole bag of Pupperonis. The boys and I were on an 8-day college tour of New England. Mimi and I feared the dog would be gone before we returned. The last two nights, Mimi slept on the floor next to Twinkle, rubbing her belly. When Mimi would drift off to sleep, Twink would paw Mimi's head, and she'd keep rubbing.
I didn’t want to tell the boys that Twink was in trouble before they had their interviews. We were sitting in an information session for Wesleyan when I looked over at them and couldn't stop thinking about how much I was going to wrench their lives in a few minutes. They were nine when I brought her home.
I was amazed how they handled the news. "I knew there was something," Nick said. The night before, we’d asked them to say good night to her over the phone. Gordon said he’d always thought it would happen when he was in college. "At least she won’t die wondering where her boys are," he said, searching for the silver lining. Maybe, he said, she would perk up when she saw them.
As we drove, more stories rushed back. I told about the day eight years ago when I pulled up to your farmhouse in a rented 4 x 4, having flown to Chicago to meet this girl I’d read about on the Internet. I remember your words were something like, "You can take her home if she likes you." If she likes you. You’d kept her back, the runt of the litter. She was a fraction of the size of her brothers, and so fragile that when the vet gave her anesthesia to cut her ears and tail her heart momentarily stopped. How you named her Twinkle because she was the littlest of your Star Bouviers. She’d also been busy lady, having eight babies after jumping two fences to get with Buddy. It was a perfect match: You were looking to give Twinkle her own a home and we were looking to adopt. You described her over the phone as not beautiful. Humble, but tough. I remember pulling into your place, past a herd of these thundering woolly beasts, all barking wildly as they followed my car. I regretted not wearing my liver-scented coat. Then you came out of the house with Twinkle, her leash dragging behind her. She bounded straight for me, planted two paws on my shoulders and kissed me on the mouth.
A few hours and an Arby's burger later, we were driving back to Philadelphia, listening to a book-on-tape: "Dogs Never Lie About Love." That night, we watched ESPN in a roadside motel in Ohio. When it was time to turn out the lights, I opened her crate and told her to jump off the bed. She just looked at me. No way. Finally, I picked her up - she was about 70 pounds then - and deposited her onto the floor. She flew back onto the bed and peed right where I was about to sleep. Agility, indeed.
She was prey-driven in her younger days, once going two feet up a tree after a squirrel, before realizing she couldn’t climb. Gordon remembered the time he called Nick in for hot dogs, only there weren't any by the time they got to their seats. Twinkle was standing on the table, licking her lips. She did love to eat.
We got home yesterday just when Mimi did, and Twinkle was waiting for us. She couldn’t get up, but she moved her head and offered a paw as we piled on her, hugging and kissing and crying. There really wasn't any decision to make.
A room was ready for us at the vet's. They'd laid out a fluffy blanket decorated with hearts. There was a candle, some new age music. A statue of dogs and cats playing ring around the Rosie. There was that story about the Rainbow Bridge, that gentle place where beloved pets go and wait until they're united with their families. Francie, the vet, swaddled her in a second blanket, decorated with puffy clouds, and within moments it was done. Twinkle, the littlest Star, sleeps in hearts and clouds.
August 20, 2006
Play the favorites. Hit the blogroll.
Or better, yet, write Blinq while I'm gone. Start something in the comments section.
Back after Labor Day.
August 17, 2006
Back to school for me, the late '70s, when the old KLH turntable was stacked with Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, The Allman Brothers, the James Gang, David Bromberg and Hot Tuna.
How is it that they're all coming around this weekend, playing Camden, the Shore and Schwenksville? (Are they filming a new Yacht Rock? Citizen Mom asked by email. See Episode No. 3)
Where to start? The Allman Bros. Band. My old roommate claims to have been at the Fillmore East that night in 1971 when these boys who looked like roadies blew every one away. The Allmans were on the bill with Elvin Bishop and Johnny Winter. We thank the seer who thought to hit "record" that night. The band plays like they've been on the road ever since, although they've thrown a few key parts over the years. Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe remain, joined by Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Oteil Burbridge and Marc Quinones. Still playing like family, they hit the Tweeter Friday night with some youngster named Tom Petty, who had a pretty good 1977 hit in "Breakdown."
That same roommate caught Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan in Los Angeles on their latest tours, and raved about Scaggs' still-silky voice. He's playing the House of Blues in Atlantic City Saturday, on the strength of a late-night, stripped-down CD that revisits songs like "Harbor Lights," "Lowdown," and "We're All Alone." He's been playing "Loan Me a Dime," a slow wail on guitar.
Steely Dan - well, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker - cool down the Tweeter Saturday, and Michael McDonald has returned to sweeten the vocals on the mid-period Dan classics their tight set relies on - lots of Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, Royal Scam and Aja tunes, the ancient roomie reports.
Jackson Browne is back with his guitar pal David Lindley. They're at the Philadelphia Folk Festival Saturday afternoon, leading a huge three-day line up that includes the Roches, Hot Tuna, David Bromberg, Rodney Crowell, Shemekia Copeland, James Hunter, Jimmy Lafave, Amos Lee, Raol Malo and more.
Most unusual, though, is the return of The James Gang at the Borgata in Atlantic City Saturday. Joe Walsh walked away decades ago. I used to collect their LPs back when the trio was covering the Yardbirds, and playing epic orchestral tracks, before powering up their chords and ruling the FM dial with staples like "Funk #49" and "The Bomber." Then Walsh went solo then joined the Eagles. This Rolling Stone profile of Walsh does the guitarist belated justice.
So what to hear? Actual downloads are scarce from these bands. They're pretty old school about giving it all away. They don't even offer many samples on their web sites.
Found a video of prime Boz doing "Lowdown" on YouTube from some Japanese TV show. A Dickie Betts-era version of the Allman Brothers playing "Ramblin Man." Some live Dan - doing the song Owen Wilson never heard, "Cousin Dupree." (Or this from 1973?) And Jackson Browne singing "Stay" with that scary Lindley falsetto. And Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen picking the "Prohibition Blues."
Or you could just dig out your old records.
A loaf of white bread.
A box of Magnums.
Gnarls Barkley's dressing room demands revealed.
And Orlando led the league.
"Erroneous! Erroneous!" seethes the Philadelphia police detective who blogs under the name of the Wild West lawman.
As of this posting, Philadelphia is approaching its 250th homicide. (We’re on pace for at least 400 by the end of the year.) This is the city that booed Santa Claus. This is the city that brutally beats opposing fans at Eagles games. This is the city that bombed – and subsequently burned down – an entire neighborhood! What more do we have to do to get a little recognition?
That Santa Claus thing again. Starting to piss me off. (Here's another one bugged by it.)
Earp makes his case by citing testy local blogs. Each week he posts an entry titled "People I Hate." Fellow local blogger Fitch regularly dumps on people who send him a meme - (one of those Tell Me You Five Favorite Colors sort of things.) Bob despises liberals and hippies. Grimjack "is just plain ornery." Not angry enough? Apparently not.
An article on an Orlando TV Web site reports that Men's Health considered the percentage of men with high blood pressure, traffic congestion, and FBI crime reports of aggravated assault as well as workplace deaths stemming from violence.
This helps explain why the Orlando Sentinel has a lifestyle column called Ticked Off!
Or that the city has two football teams called Orlando Rage?
Wyatt Earp leaves Orlando something to steam about:
Listen, you Orlando punk #$%^, you think you guys are angry? How about you bring your dumb #$%^ north? I’ll give you a taste of home-cooked bile and a tall, cool glass of shut the hell up! Oh, and Men’s Health, $%^ You!
His commenters seem riled, too:
"I guess there's just not much worse than a bunch of po'd Disney characters!" wrote SK
"Dude, wouldn't you be angry if Mickey Mouse lived next door to you? Always playing that damned 'It's a Small World' song, and that stupid 'Wish Upon a Star' song. I'm getting pissed just thinking about it," wrote fmragtops.
According to those measures, Philadelphia is No. 27, between Denver and Baton Rouge. Wilmington scored an unhealthy No.6.
I've been waiting to read how thoughtful Germans are reacting to the admission from Guenter Grass, 78, the Nobel Prize-winning author, that he served in the Nazi Waffen SS as a teenager. Finally, some strong stuff in English.
During the three years I lived in Berlin, 2000-2003, there tentatively emerged a genre of memoir and history that gave voice to Germans' own feeling of victimhood during the war. I interviewed the author of a popular book called The Fire: Germany Under Bombardment, 1940-1945, which considered the 635,000 Germans killed during Allied bombing raids. Jorg Friedrich's previous work had dug into the crimes of his parents' generation. W.E. Sebald was another writing powerfully of the Germans' suffering in the war they brought on themselves. It made for an amazing national dialogue.
Grass weighed in with Crabwalk, which examined the torpedoing of a German refugee ship in the Baltic Sea. He has long served as the German left's most prominent anti-war conscience. It was long thought he'd been conscripted as an assistant to an anti-aircraft gunner - a common job for teens.
Then the shocker: In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Grass last week disclosed that he had volunteered for military service at 15 to get out from under his parent's watch, and joined a labor service. It was a while before he realized he'd been called up to the Waffen SS as the war was winding down. He fought as a marksman in a tank division until wounded and imprisoned by Americans.
The SS was a protective force that began as a body unit for Hitler and grew into the killing machine that operated concentration camps and carried out mass exterminations. Grass, who discloses more about his war service in a forthcoming memoir, told the paper: "It weighed on me. My silence over all these years is one of the reasons I wrote this book. It had to come out, finally…. Later this feeling of shame burdened me."
Yesterday, Sign and Sight did the service of translating into English some of the reactions of more prominent Germans. Read them here. It's fascinating reading from a country that doesn't shirk from facing its Nazi-era crimes.
Joachim C. Fest (79), Historian: "I wouldn't buy a used car from this man. I don't understand how someone can present himself as the nation's guilty conscience for 60 years and then admit to himself having been deeply involved."
Martin Walser (78), writer: "The most responsible of all contemporaries can not disclose after 60 years that he landed in the Waffen SS through no fault of his own. That casts a devastating light on our climate of coping with its normalized modes of thinking and talking. Grass' independent statement should act as a lesson to this adaptable moral climate."
Erich Loest (80), Author: "Grass does not need to be accused for what he has said. He was very young and was without any influence that could have prevented him. I also wanted to register with the Waffen-SS but my school director prevented it. Grass should tell us, why he is only writing about it now."
Klaus Theweleit (64), Essayist and cultural studies scholar: "This is an advertising campaign for a publicity addict who has written a new book. When Grass reads in a survey that not 102 percent of all Germans know who he is, ideas like this occur to him."
And from Henryk Broder, a German Jewish writer, who explained in Der Spiegel Online how he wasn't surprised: "The normal case of citizen Grass illustrates how strong the craving is for authorities and role models, even in a liberal and permissive society. And that is why the disappointment is so great when you find out suddenly that you were following a false idol. But Grass can't do anything about that. On the contrary, Grass the politician has repeatedly demonstrated an arrogant incompetence, which his fans misunderstand as the wise words of the great prayer leader. There is only one annoying aspect of the affair: That through Grass, the Waffen-SS will be rehabilitated. If Grass was there, and his hands did not get dirty, our boys must not have been so bad - just fighting troops, somewhat aloof, the material of which novels are made. The memorial has been knocked down. But the pedestal remains."
U.S. authorities are advising women to leave their gel brassieres at home when flying. This, ABC News reports, after information from the foiled London terror plot suggests women were to be used to sneak explosives onto a plane.
A husband and wife are being questioned after they were alleged to have planned to hide a liquid explosive in their baby's bottle.
So, what to do when looking to augment one's shape while traveling?
We now know that breast implants are the new way to fight bombs.
Pretty soon, they'll just ban women on planes altogether.
August 16, 2006
Forget that the streakin' Phils have scored 24 runs in two days against the first-place, less-than-amazin' Mets, that they're 2 and a half games out of the wild card sweepstakes with 45 to go. Ever the realist, Phillies Nation describes why getting to the playoffs will be no cakewalk.
Swing And A Miss picks the heart and soul of the Phillies.
Bleeding Green on why The NFC East, the toughest division in football, is falling apart.
The Phanatic describes how to scare off an angry Eagles tailgator after he threatens to trash your car. (It has to do with T.O.)
Scrapple whittles the Birds roster down to 53.
Phillies catcher Chris Coste, author. (Includes a glimpse of why Sal Fasano is a real man.)
The Good Phight analyzes the numbers behind the Phillies surge, and concludes they've made some sort of Damn Yankees deal with the devil.
Yes, we are waiting to exchange it until Monday because we're barbecuing this weekend.
Yes, these things are allowed on airplanes.
Folks hoping to gin up some publicity for a new online game called "Gold Rush" ordered a Zogby International poll of Americans' knowledge of popular culture versus, say, things that one might pick up in school.
Yes, you might have heard the headline, U.S. citizens are more versed in Homer Simpson than the Homer that wrote The Iliad.
I asked the people at AOL and Mark Burnett Productions to generate some local results. They came back with what the pollsters were told by respondents from the metropolitan area that includes PA and Jersey burbs. It's not pretty.
They polled 355 adults in the region between Aug. 1 and Aug 4. Results are accurate plus or minus 5.3 percentage points. Here's the worst part -- it's not like pollsters got a bunch of dolts to answer questions. Half the respondents spent at least some time in college.
67 percent knew Homer was the name of the father on The Simpsons. About 29 percent could name either The Iliad or The Odyssey. (It should be some consolation that more Philly folks knew the answers to both these queries than did Americans as a whole. This was true in general of all the questions. We should be less ashamed than the rest of the country.)
65 percent knew Superman was from the Planet Krypton. 44 percent knew Mercury was the planet closest to the sun.
59 percent correctly answered that CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation. And -- trumpets, please -- even more, 61 percent, said that CIA stands for Central Intelligence Agency.
If you're a little disappointed at that last result, take heart in this:
A blazing 72 percent could identify the Three Stooges, which makes sense given their Philadelphia lineage. And extra 3 percent knew Shemp. But only 56 percent could tell the names of the three branches of the U.S government - Executive, Judicial and Legislative.
71 percent could identify Harry Potter, the boy wizard created by J.K. Rowling. But only 55 percent were able to name Tony Blair, the boyish British prime minister.
Philadelphians were better at naming Snow White's dwarfs than Supreme Court Justices. Sleepy came in first - 54 percent knew him. Dopey (pictured above, left) placed with 45 percent. The Supremes? The best score - 56 percent - went to "not sure." Among actual justices, Clarence Thomas scored best with 23 percent name recognition. Antonin Scalia came in second, with 14 percent.
17 percent could name the federal judge from Philadelphia who became the 110th Supreme Court Justice this year, Samuel Alito. (Why he placed lower than Scalia in the earlier question is one of the poll quirks. Maybe people were checking the ball scores while answering.) And the winner of American Idol in May? A larger share, 24 percent, correctly named Taylor Hicks.
There's more, but it's too depressing to detail. More than half the respondents could not name a single member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Philadelphia area. The second highest share, 24 percent, named someone who didn't actually represent the Philadelphia area. Robert A. Brady scored highest with 6 percent name recognition.
But there's a limit to how dumbed down we've become.
38 percent knew the name of the CBS reality TV show where hundreds of microphones and cameras eavesdrop on house guests -- Big Brother.
Yet 79 percent could name the person who authorized the real reality show where the National Security Agency eavesdrops on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals -- President Bush (pictured above, right.)