Words in a Row

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff--supposibly its like, real important!

  • Pope Ernie

    Call me Pope Ernie. Or His Holi­ness Ernest the Oneth, if you’re a Shi­ite Catholic.

    Read This Right Now!
  • ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Sort Of

    The sprawl­ing, epic saga of four (or five, sort of) influ­en­tial authors, all of whom have, alas, joined the choir invis­i­ble, but who also, may all our flagons of ale in Val­hal­la ever be full, can­not sue me.

    Read This Right Now!

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff! Supposibly its like real important

Pope Ernie

My friend Rob has a mild­ly unusu­al last name. I wit­nessed him being asked to spell it a few times, and he would joke that it was spelled just the way it sound­ed, but with only two W’s.

I’ve nev­er got­ten much humor mileage from my name. Some­times some­one will say “Is that Greg with one or two G’s?” And I’ll joke, “Two G’s: One on each end!”

Now this right here is the dif­fer­ence between a good joke and a meh joke:

“Only two W’s” is pret­ty obvi­ous­ly a wise­crack (unless you’re Welsh or Czech and your name is some­thing like Llan­fair­p­wll­gwyn­gyll­gogerych­wyrn­drob­wl­l­l­lan­tysil­i­o­gogogoch or Nejnedoobhospodařovávatelnější).

On the oth­er hand, If some­one says “Is that Greg with one or two G’s?’”, they’re ask­ing you if your name is Greg or Gregg. And “It’s two G’s; one on each end” isn’t fun­ny; it’s just confusing.

Pope Gre­go­ry the Somethingth.

Mom once told me I was named after Pope Gre­go­ry. When you grow up Catholic, being named after a Pope is con­sid­ered quite an hon­or, and I was their only male child. There has, alas, nev­er been a Pope Thing 1, Pope Thing 2 or Pope First Sis­ter, so Pope Gre­go­ry it was.

I looked the dude up once and dis­cov­ered the dude was dudes: There have been 16 Pope Gre­go­rys (or is that Popes Gre­go­ry?). Some of them were were notably good Popes:

Pope Gre­go­ry I (590–604) was a chill dude who earned the nick­name Gre­go­ry the Great; the Gre­go­ri­an Chant was named after him. The Gre­go­ri­an Cal­en­dar was named after Gre­go­ry XIII (1572–1585).

On the oth­er hand, Gre­go­ry IX (1170–1241) revved up the Inqui­si­tion from the equiv­a­lent of a Con­gres­sion­al inquiry to the Inqui­si­tion we all know and love, with the seiz­ing of prop­er­ty and tor­ture and burn­ing at the stake and all that fun stuff.

I once asked Mom and Dad which Pope Gre­go­ry I’m named after. Pope Gre­go­ry XVI died in 1846, so I assumed I wasn’t named after a Pope in recent mem­o­ry. They were a lit­tle sur­prised that there have been 16 Pope(s) Gregory(s). Mom said she wasn’t sure which one, but they knew he was a most excel­lent and boda­cious Pope and she’d look it up and let me know.

That was 48 years ago, so Mom, if you’re read­ing this, I’m still curious.

If my name was Rock­e­feller or Kennedy, I’d expect to be asked if I had Kennedy or Rock­e­feller kin. Being named after a Pope? Ain’t gonna hap­pen. No one’s ever going to ask me if I’m relat­ed to one of the Pope(s) Gregory(s), or tell me I look just like the Pope.

I’ve been mis­tak­en for oth­er peo­ple, though.

Way back in 1986, my friend Stan and I drove up north of Chica­go for a music fes­ti­val, pick­ing up his friend Blue1 in St. Louis on the way. The fes­ti­val was held on a great big piece of rent­ed farm­land, like Wood­stock, except Cor­ner­stone was a Chris­t­ian music fes­ti­val, so we didn’t have folks run­ning around naked or ignor­ing the warn­ings about the brown acid. As far as I know.

I was wan­der­ing around look­ing at the prod­uct tables of albums and T‑shirts and oth­er music fes­ti­val accou­trements, and some­one tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned to see a pair of excit­ed teen girls. When they saw me their smiles van­ished; one of them said, “Sor­ry!” and they both slunk away.

This hap­pened sev­er­al more times in the next few hours; come din­ner­time, my friend Stan and I were wait­ing in line to get some BBQ ribs before the big main stage con­cert, and some­one tapped on my shoul­der again. I turned to see a young guy hold­ing an album and a Mag­ic Mark­er; his crest instant­ly fell.2

“Sor­ry!” he said as he start­ed to slink away. I said, “Hey, wait a sec. Did you think I was some­one else?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you look like Dar­rell Mansfield.”

We got our ribs and found a place to sit and watch the big main con­cert, and lo, Dar­rell Mans­field entered from stage right.

My friend Stan stared at Dar­rell, then at me, then at Dar­rell, like Dar­rell and I were play­ing tennis.

Turns out Dar­rell Mansfield’s the best har­mon­i­ca play­er3 I’ve ever seen, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.

My friend Stan lat­er sent me a pic­ture of Dar­rell and I when Dar­rell was sign­ing auto­graphs, which I prompt­ly lost, so you’ll have to be con­tent with one of Darrell’s album cov­ers and a blur­ry pho­to of me my friend Stan also took dur­ing the fes­ti­val. As you can see, Darrell’s about 10 years old­er than me, but if you squint you can see how I could sort of look sim­i­lar to Dar­rell if some­one who just lost his glass­es saw my back from 100 feet away at night.

Change my mind.

Which no doubt explains why the peo­ple who want­ed Darrell’s auto­graph looked so dis­ap­point­ed when I turned around and they real­ized I was just some mis­cel­la­neous guy with long hair and the appalling bad man­ners not to be any­where near as tal­ent­ed or good-look­ing as Dar­rell Mansfield.

My Pre­vi­ous Best Half and I went to the same music fes­ti­val a cou­ple years lat­er, and one night we bumped into Dar­rell tak­ing his tube amp and oth­er stuff over to one of the side stages.

He remem­bered me and made an “evil twin” joke when I intro­duced My Pre­vi­ous Best Half, and he invit­ed us in the back door of the cat­tle auc­tion barn where they were play­ing; we got to hang out with the rest of the band and watch the sound­check and enjoy front row cen­ter seats.

Like I said, heck­u­va nice guy. He’s in his 70s now and had to stop per­form­ing a cou­ple years ago due to demen­tia, the same demean­ing, cru­el way my dad was also robbed of his mem­o­ries and cog­ni­tion. But my dad was one of those sweet, gen­tle guys who just got sweet­er as the demen­tia pro­gressed. I bet Darrell’s just the same.

Okay! On that depress­ing note, being mis­tak­en for Dar­rell was my only brush with celebri­ty, so let’s—

Wait; that’s not true. I’d almost for­got­ten this, but The Chow­der just remind­ed me that 15 years ago, she thought I was unbear­ably cool for a cou­ple of days because she thought I was Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Zaphod is far more attrac­tive than me, but he’s also a clue­less doof, so I can under­stand the confusion.

This was for two reasons:

  1. Zaphod Bee­ble­brox was a char­ac­ter in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the film ver­sion of which had just been released, and
  2. Zaphod, played by Sam Rock­well, wore a messy blond wig that also resem­bled my hair if glimpsed from a dis­tance dur­ing a bliz­zard through cracked binoculars.

The Chow­der was only 4 years old, so she still thought I was awe­some (quite right­ly of course, until Fake News dis­avowed her of that belief, for which I will nev­er for­give them).

And now, the moment you haven’t been wait­ing for: It’s way past time for me to explain the title of this post, so let’s talk about My Three Sons.

My Three Sons was a sit­com that aired from 1960 to 1972. The plot was lay­ered and com­plex, so you might want to take some notes:

My Three Sons—bear with me here—was about a guy who had three sons. Got all that?

The youngest of the tit­u­lar sons was named Thomp­son. Ernest Thomp­son. Sus­pi­cious­ly, every­one else’s last name was Dou­glas. Even more sus­pi­cious: Ernie’s broth­ers (Rob­bie and Chip) and their dad (Steven) were all tall, hand­some, tal­ent­ed, and con­fi­dent, and they had studly, cool names while Ernie was a short, clum­sy geek with a clum­sy, geek name. It’s almost like Steven Dou­glas wasn’t real­ly Ernie Thompson’s dad at all.

Which of course was the truth: Ernie was adopt­ed. And being around four tall studly guys who were far more hand­some and tal­ent­ed and old­er than Ernie was no doubt an hon­est-to-Tony-Rob­bins con­fi­dence boost.4

And I get that; I real­ly do. I bet every ado­les­cent scrawny geek guy wish­es he had a cool studly name: Steele Hawthorn or Rip­ley Edward Absa­lome (Ripped Abs, for short) or even just Cool Studly.

I was not an Ernie fan as a kid. I was vague­ly aware of the sit­com and the char­ac­ter (played by Bar­ry Liv­ingston, which was itself a cool­er name than mine).

That all changed when I was 15. I was a 9th-grad­er at Hay­den High School, which was extreme­ly Catholic. Dead seri­ous Catholic. To quote Jim Gaffi­gan, it was a Shi­ite Catholic high school.

And like most geeks in Shi­ite Catholic school, I spent most of my time being stuffed into my lock­er, punc­tu­at­ed with the occa­sion­al wedgie or WTSNA.5

I did enjoy going to Cam­pus Life every week, and I enjoyed going to their week-long camp thingy in the sum­mer out in Quak­er Ridge, Col­orado. Most of the oth­er atten­dees were geeks and nerds too, so it wasn’t so awk­ward social­ly. Kind of like it you were 4’ 11” tall but once a year you got to hang out with like-statured peo­ple in a con­ven­tion titled Nobody Over 4‑Eleven.

Any­way, halfway through my fresh­man year, some­thing very strange happened:

All the girls in Cam­pus Life and at school start­ed call­ing me Ernie. I still have no idea why.

You stay out of this!

One day at school, a girl in class said, “Hey, you look like Ernie!”

I wasn’t used to girls talk­ing to me will­ing­ly, so I kept my reply simple:

“Huh? Like on Sesame Street?”

“No, Ernie!” she said. “Ernie, on My Three Sons! Doesn’t he look like Ernie?” she said, elbow­ing anoth­er girl in class, who agreed with alacrity.

By the end of the day, every girl in school was call­ing me Ernie.

I was befud­dled. Hornswog­gled, even. I wasn’t used to being pop­u­lar, or even noticed. I’d worked hard to learn how to be invis­i­ble at school and I liked it that way.

This was in 1977, so instead of Googling My Three Sons and Ernie and Bar­ry Liv­ingston, I went to the library and pored over archived LIFE, Time and TV Guide magazines.

Ernie had thick black hair; I had thin blond hair. Ernie had a Fred­dy Mer­cury-style over­bite; I didn’t. Ernie had a strong jaw with a well-kirkled chin;6 I had a shape­less mooshy chin that looked like an uncooked Pills­bury Dough Boy biscuit.

Left: Ernie. Right: Not even a lit­tle bit Ernie.

Here’s some irrefutable pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence: Pho­tos of me and Bar­ry Liv­ingston at var­i­ous ages.

The “HI ERNIE!” hollers from across the room tapered off, to my relief. But then some­thing even stranger began to happen:

The embar­rass­ing spot­light fad­ed out, replaced with casu­al, but gen­uine kind­ness and affec­tion: So many peo­ple called me Ernie that the teach­ers at Hay­den picked up on it, along with Cam­pus Life staff. I remem­ber hav­ing to ask teach­ers and coach­es to cor­rect report cards or oth­er doc­u­ments refer­ring to me as Ernie.

The sum­mer before my sopho­more year, I went to the Cam­pus Life camp thingy in Col­orado yet again. And on the first day, two or three girls gave my a Cam­pus Life T‑shirt with “ERNIE” ironed on the back.

It revved up the whole “Hey, there’s Ernie whose name isn’t real­ly Ernie but I don’t remem­ber his real name so HI ERNIE!” thing again. But this time I didn’t mind it so much. Pub­lic schools can be tough envi­ron­ments; Shi­ite Catholic schools can be even worse. Geeks and nerds like me learned to be invis­i­ble at school because being the object of atten­tion usu­al­ly means being bullied.

But some­times it doesn’t. Some­times it’s okay to get a fun­ny nick­name or to be teased about one quirk or anoth­er. Not in a mean-spir­it­ed way, but in a wel­come aboard, goof­ball-spir­it­ed way.

I still don’t know which Pope Gre­go­ry I’m named after, and I still have no idea why the girls at school start­ed call­ing me Ernie.

But that’s okay. Just call me Pope Ernie. Or His Holi­ness Ernest the Oneth, if you’re a Shi­ite Catholic. I’ll answer to either of them.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Sort Of

Don’t judge. There was a lot of coke-fueled art back in the ’70s.

I cred­it (or blame, as the case my be) my friend Todd and my friend Rob for turn­ing me on to The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the GalaxySo let’s talk about Kurt Von­negut.

Von­negut1 was one of those impor­tant authors who make you feel vague­ly guilty, giv­en that you’ve nev­er read any of his stuff except maybe Slaugh­ter­house-Five. And while some of his stuff is dystopi­an or mild­ly sci-fi, where do I get off say­ing he, not Dou­glas Adams,2 is respon­si­ble for a sprawl­ing sci-fi epic like The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy?

Stay with me here: In 1965, Von­negut pub­lished God Bless You, Mr. Rose­wa­ter, which includ­ed a lengthy excerpt from a fic­tion­al nov­el titled Venus on the Half-Shell, by a fic­tion­al author named Kil­go­re Trout.3

Kil­go­re Trout showed up fre­quent­ly in Von­negut’s work as a lit­er­ary alter ego for Von­negut him­self, but Trout’s name was also a poke at Von­negut’s friend, sci-fi author Theodore Stur­geon:4I think it’s fun­ny to be named after a fish,” were Von­negut’s exact words (he may have been a great writer but appar­ent­ly part of him nev­er left mid­dle school).

Anoth­er sci-fi author, Philip Jose Farmer,5 was so amused he snagged the Venus on the Half-Shell excerpt in God Bless You, Mr. Rose­wa­ter and fluffed it up into an entire book.

And so, in 1975, Venus on the Half-Shell hit the book­stores, just three years before The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy began on BBC Radio. The byline read Kil­go­re Trout, but the author was real­ly Philip Jose Farmer, using char­ac­ters cre­at­ed by Kurt Vonnegut.

Got all that?

What does this have to do with Dou­glas Adams or Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy? Adams was a huge fan of Von­negut, for one thing. That’s not tan­ta­mount to pla­gia­rism, of course. But if you’ve ever read, lis­tened to or watched Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll notice some star­tling parallels:

1. The Everyman Galactic Wanderer

Some­one for­got to explain this to the cov­er artist.

Both sto­ries fol­low the adven­tures of an every­day schlub snatched from his every­day schlub’s life into an inter­galac­tic adven­ture. HHGTTG stars Arthur Dent, who worked in a small radio radio sta­tion before roam­ing the cos­mos in a bathrobe.

VOTHS, on the oth­er hand, stars Simon Wagstaff, a folk musi­cian who likes wear­ing fad­ed jeans and com­fy old sweat­shirts. He has curly dark hair, a big nose and looks a lot like Kurt Vonnegut.

2. The Earth Gets Destroyed by Bureaucrats

When Hitch­hik­er’s Guide begins, Arthur Dent is lying in the mud in front of his house, block­ing the bull­doz­ers that have shown up to demol­ish his house. At the begin­ning of Venus on the Half-Shell, Simon Wagstaff and his girl­friend are hav­ing sex on the head of the Sphinx in Egypt.

Oh. This would be a good place to explain that accord­ing to Von­negut, Kil­go­re Trout was a hack who wrote a lot of thin­ly-dis­guised porn and was pub­lished most­ly in adult magazines.

And Philip Jose Farmer was the per­fect ghost writer for Trout, giv­en that Farmer’s favorite themes were sex, reli­gion, aliens, sexy reli­gion, alien sex, reli­gious sex, sexy reli­gious aliens, alien reli­gious sex, sex as wor­ship, alien sex wor­ship, wor­ship­ful sex with aliens—you get the idea.

Any­way, Arthur and Simon are both mind­ing their own busi­ness when aliens show up and destroy the Earth: The Vogons blow the Earth out from under Arthur to build a hyper­space bypass, while in Venus on the Half Shell, the Hoonhors decide Earth is too pol­lut­ed and clean things up by trig­ger­ing a world­wide flood, a la Noah. Turns out they cleaned up Earth a few thou­sand years ago already but are unhap­py things are already so dirty again.

Arthur man­ages to snag a ride on a Vogon ship and lat­er winds up roam­ing the galaxy on a ship called Heart of Gold, which was stolen ear­li­er by one Zaphod Bee­ble­brox, looks like a giant run­ning shoe, and is named after a Neil Young song.

Con­verse­ly, Simon leaves Earth on a Chi­nese ship chris­tened Hwang Ho, which looks like a giant chrome penis and is named after the Yel­low Riv­er (remem­ber what I said about Philip Jose Farmer being a religious/alien sex fiend?).

3. Pursuing the Ultimate Question With Neurotic Robots in Stolen Spaceships

So! Now we have a cou­ple of hap­less doo­fus­es roam­ing the galaxy in stolen space­ships after the Earth was destroyed by alien bureaucrats.

Arthur is trav­el­ing with a small hand­ful of human and alien friends, plus a neu­rot­ic robot named Mar­vin, who resents being a low­ly main­te­nance robot when he has a brain the size of a plan­et, and Eddie, a ship­board com­put­er who tries way too hard to be cheerful.

Simon’s on the go with Anu­bis and Athena, his dog and owl, plus a neu­rot­ic robot named Chor­wk­tap, who has free will and far too much intel­li­gence to enjoy being a sex robot (this does­n’t stop her and Simon from hav­ing lots and lots of sex any­way–ref. P.J. Farmer, the sci-fi sex fiend author, again). Tzu Li, the Hwang Ho’s com­put­er, is just a com­put­er, despite Chork­tap spend­ing all her free time try­ing to prove Tzu Li is self-aware but shy.

Our heroes have the fastest space­ships ever made and a uni­verse to explore, so they set out for some answers:

“What’s the ulti­mate answer to, you know–life, the uni­verse and every­thing?” Arthur wants to know.

Simon’s ques­tion is this: “Why were we cre­at­ed only to suf­fer and die?”

4. The Genius Vermin Secretly Running the Show

As they trav­el and enjoy var­i­ous hijinks in pur­suit of the truth, Arthur and Simon dis­cov­er the Vogons and Hoonhors are just what they appeared to be at first glance: Clue­less, care­less and cal­lous bureau­crats. It turns out there are mas­ter­minds behind the scenes who have been run­ning things all along, hyper­in­tel­li­gent beings every­one mis­took for harm­less or annoy­ing ver­min. They don’t real­ly mean Arthur or Simon any harm, but they aren’t exact­ly nice to them either–the ver­min mas­ter­minds, it turns out, are using Arthur and Simon as part of exper­i­ments to answer the same ulti­mate questions.

In HHGTTG, Arthur dis­cov­ers mice are the most intel­li­gent beings on Earth. They’ve been manip­u­lat­ing sci­ence all along while pre­tend­ing to be lab­o­ra­to­ry test sub­jects; in real­i­ty they’re pur­su­ing the answer to life, the uni­verse and everything.

I have to drink beer for all eter­ni­ty with cock­roach­es?

Meh. I’m fine with that as long as we don’t have to share glasses.

Simon, on the oth­er hand, dis­cov­ers a myth­i­cal alien race called the Clerun-Gow­ph, who acci­den­tal­ly pop­u­lat­ed most of the uni­verse with messy sci­en­tif­ic out­posts that dumped waste prod­ucts into the pri­mor­dial soup of the plan­ets they were study­ing. And the Clerun-Gow­ph, Simon is shocked to learn, are cockroaches.

This is a huge blow to the ego: Arthur dis­cov­ers he’s noth­ing but a test sub­ject in an exper­i­ment run by lab­o­ra­to­ry mice, while Simon real­izes all life on Earth is just, as he puts it, the end of a process that start­ed with cock­roach crap.

5. The Planet-Sized Computer

Every seek­er of truth needs an Ora­cle, and our heroes are no excep­tion. In HGTTG, it seems Earth and all life on it were an enor­mous com­put­er built in pur­suit of the answer to life, the uni­verse and every­thing (I know, I know — it was built to specif­i­cal­ly help ask the ques­tion after anoth­er giant com­put­er gave an accu­rate but use­less answer — the point is that the whole plan­et is a computer).

When Simon, on the oth­er hand, final­ly meets the Clerun-Gow­ph, he dis­cov­ers they built a plan­et-sized com­put­er to answer all the ques­tions there are. Hav­ing noth­ing left to dis­cov­er or learn, they decide to quit exploring/fertilizing the galaxy and devote them­selves to drink­ing beer.

6. The Useless answers (spoiler alert!)

At long last, our pro­tag­o­nists are about to learn the ques­tion to their ulti­mate ques­tions. The prob­lem is that in both cas­es, the answer is useless:

  • Arthur’s ques­tion: “What is the ulti­mate answer to life, the uni­verse and everything?”
  • Answer: “42.”
  • Pos­si­ble alter­nate answer: “We apol­o­gize for the inconvenience.”
  • Simon’s ques­tion: “Why are we cre­at­ed only to suf­fer and die?”
  • Answer: “Why not?”

Don’t give me that look. I said they were use­less answers, did­n’t I?

Some Disassembly Required

I know how to prove that men and women are fun­da­men­tal­ly different:

Put a man and a woman into sep­a­rate rooms alone with a new appliance—say, a bread machine—and watch what hap­pens. The woman will make some bread. On the oth­er hand—bear in mind that this is a brand new appli­ance, right out of the box—the man will take the bread machine apart to see how it works.

I’m not sure what dri­ves men to take things apart. Maybe some psy­chi­a­trist has it fig­ured out. If so, I bet the psy­chi­a­trist is a man. Why? For the same rea­son psy­chol­o­gy has tra­di­tion­al­ly been a male pur­suit: Psy­cho­an­a­lyz­ing peo­ple is very much like tak­ing them apart to see how they work.

I think the dri­ve to take things apart is genet­ic, not learned. For instance, I saw a TV show once about Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. This com­pa­ny takes new prod­ucts, dis­as­sem­bles them down into mol­e­cules to see how they’re designed, and then fig­ures out inge­nious ways to break them.

Under­writ­ers Labs pays the guys in white lab coats you see on TV com­mer­cials who build a robot arm to open and close a refrig­er­a­tor door 38 bil­lion times in two weeks. All guys, mind you—you nev­er see women in the com­mer­cials. These are the men who send cars hurtling into con­crete walls at 90 miles an hour to see what will hap­pen to the dum­mies inside.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own basements.

Odd­ly enough, their research has con­clu­sive­ly proven over and over again that the dum­mies (sur­prise!) get demol­ished. But for some rea­son, they still find it nec­es­sary to crash an aver­age of 10 cars a week.

Don’t tell me it’s all about safe­ty and research—these guys are hav­ing the time of their lives. I’m not sure why Under­writ­ers Labs even both­ers to pay them; most men would prob­a­bly work there for free. I know I would.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. I’ve also dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own base­ments (c’mon—you have, too, haven’t you? Let’s see a show of hands, guys … I knew it!).

My favorite destruc­tive fan­ta­sy, though, involves work­ing for one of the big auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. Their research depart­ments have teams that secret­ly buy com­peti­tors’ cars. Then they com­plete­ly dis­as­sem­ble the cars and mount all the parts on sheets of ply­wood, which they hang in a warehouse.

You must under­stand, though—when I say they dis­as­sem­ble a car, I’m talk­ing a lev­el of dis­as­sem­bly rarely seen on this earth. If a butch­er ren­dered a cow the way these guys take on a car, he would need 17 square acres of coun­ter­top. Every sin­gle part in the car is bro­ken down com­plete­ly: The door locks are tak­en apart into piles of tiny springs and wafers. The engine is trans­formed into a heap of pis­tons, rings, bolts, bush­ings, springs, valves and bear­ings. The starter motor is unwound to see how much wire is in the armatures.

Every hook, pin, screw, nut, bolt, gear, spring, bush­ing, sta­ple, clip, clamp, strap and wire in the car is unfas­tened, until the engi­neers have thou­sands of parts to cat­a­logue and mount on the boards. They even unstitch all the uphol­stery, sep­a­rate glued-togeth­er pieces, and cut all the welds apart until they have the orig­i­nal pieces of met­al that make up the body and frame.

They say this is done to help them bet­ter under­stand their com­peti­tors’ designs. But it sounds like a labor of love to me. I bet they draw straws to see who gets to take things apart and who has to do the paperwork.

Yep, I’d be real­ly good at that sort of thing; I’ve always been a cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­bler myself. When I was 8, my par­ents gave me a watch. I pried off the back to see how it worked (and my moth­er has nev­er quite for­giv­en me). Since then, I have dis­as­sem­bled elec­tric razors, toast­ers, an elec­tric knife, radios, car stere­os and tape decks, a vari­able speed drill, an elec­tric gui­tar, a See ‘N Say, and any­thing else I could get my hands on.

Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half.

When I was 19, I took the engine out of my car and put it back. It was so much fun I did it again a year lat­er. Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half (don’t ask).

I sup­pose (I said don’t ask!) I can under­stand why, when my par­ents gave me a bicy­cle for my 24th birth­day, my moth­er looked me right in the eye and with a straight face said, “Now don’t go tak­ing this apart to see how it works!” She need­n’t have wor­ried. Bicy­cles were kid stuff; I was in the big leagues by that time.

The all-time high­light of my decon­struc­tion­al­ist career was when I mur­dered a piano. My room­mate, George, had bought an old upright piano for $100. This beast was made by a Ger­man com­pa­ny called Gul­bransen, and it was so heavy it took eight peo­ple to move it into our house. I think mov­ing one of the rocks at Stone­henge would have been eas­i­er. The piano’s wheels left ruts in the wood on our front porch, it was so heavy. In fact, I think the Ger­mans designed that piano to hold pill­box doors shut against ene­my mor­tar fire in World War II. It was that kind of heavy.

Any­way, after we all got her­nias mov­ing this bat­tle­ship anchor of a piano, George dis­cov­ered it had six keys that did­n’t work at all. The remain­ing 82 were so far out of tune they made my dog howl when we struck them. George called a piano tuner, who came over, lis­tened to the piano, and then left, laugh­ing so hard he was drooling.

Need­less to say, George did­n’t want to take the piano along when he got ready to move out a year lat­er. The prob­lem was that he had no way to dis­pose of it, and he was too kind­heart­ed to sell it to some oth­er sucker—I mean, victim.

So while George was at work one evening, I decid­ed to sur­prise him: I took the piano apart and put it in a Dump­ster in a park­ing lot behind our house. I used pli­ers to cut the strings; a crow­bar took care of every­thing else (cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­blers don’t need hun­dreds of tools; that’s for wimps like Tim Allen).

Over the course of an hour or so that night, my friend, Dave, and I stealth­ily car­ried the dis­mem­bered piano to the Dump­ster, arm­load by arm­load. Final­ly, only two pieces were left: the back frame, which was made of huge oak beams, and the harp, a thick steel frame­work over which the strings had been stretched. These pieces weighed sev­er­al hun­dred pounds each and were the only parts that were dif­fi­cult to maneu­ver into the Dumpster.

The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

George near­ly had a heart attack when he got home and found noth­ing but a major dent in the car­pet where his piano had been.

At 5 a.m. the next morn­ing, George woke me excit­ed­ly. One of those trucks that picks up Dump­sters and turns them upside down to emp­ty them was rum­bling up the alley toward the Dump­ster. The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

The dri­ver posi­tioned the load­er’s arms in the slots on the Dump­ster’s sides and turned on the hoist. George and I clutched our sides with laugh­ter as the truck­’s engine roared—and noth­ing hap­pened. The dri­ver scratched his head and put the hoist into a low­er gear. With the truck­’s engine bel­low­ing in protest, its sus­pen­sion groan­ing and the hoist’s gears screech­ing, the Dump­ster slow­ly left the ground.

As we held our breath, the Dump­ster turned over, the lid flipped open and the harp and frame tum­bled out into the truck­’s bed, which—and I knew God loved me when I saw it—was emp­ty. The harp and frame land­ed flat in the truck­’s bed with a resound­ing, thun­der­ous boom. The rest of the pieces slid out on top, crash­ing and rat­tling into a heap atop the frame.

The noise echoed up and down the predawn street; lights began appear­ing in win­dows. The dri­ver and his helper stag­gered out of the truck, hold­ing their ears, and climbed the side of the bed, no doubt think­ing an aster­oid had just land­ed in the truck.

They looked over the side of the bed in aston­ish­ment. I could hear them excit­ed­ly ques­tion­ing each oth­er: “How on God’s green earth did a piano get in there?” the dri­ver said in amazement.

I closed my eyes and sighed wist­ful­ly, know­ing I would prob­a­bly nev­er again expe­ri­ence a moment so sub­lime this side of eternity.

The True Story of the Maximally Flaccid Pud and Your Tax Dollars at Work

I wonder if I overdid this. Nah, it's perfect.

Way back, maybe 30 years ago, My Pre­vi­ous Best Half worked at a state neu­ro­log­i­cal insti­tute tak­ing care of devel­op­men­tal­ly dis­abled patients. They were fac­ing a prob­lem with their patients that I had to deal with work­ing with the men­tal­ly ill: Many psy­chotrop­ics or antipsy­chot­ic med­ica­tions cause impo­tence, and some patients would mas­tur­bate, or try to mas­tur­bate, until they injured them­selves (skin dam­age, usu­al­ly, although some­times the patient had no trou­ble get­ting erect but would sim­ply mas­tur­bate all day every day).

Any­way, My Pre­vi­ous Best Half was in a team meet­ing at which they were dis­cussing how to deal with one such patient: Very low IQ and min­i­mal inde­pen­dent func­tion­al­i­ty, but he was oth­er­wise a healthy guy in his ear­ly 20s who had no trou­ble get­ting it up and sweet eruc­tat­ing Cthul­hu, but he  loved to mas­tur­bate. Let’s call him Dick, because duh.

Dick had been flog­ging the bish­op so much he’d chafed him­self into a bunch of open sores and ingrown hair cysts and oth­er grody things that devel­oped into a nasty UTI; they’d had to catheter­ize him, pump him full of antibi­otics and keep him in a strait­jack­et or bed restraints 24–7 for sev­er­al weeks.

He was near­ly healed, but they knew he’d just start oil­ing the old base­ball glove again as soon as pos­si­ble and were dis­cussing options to try to con­trol it with­out chem­i­cal or phys­i­cal restraints.

(I need to pause for a quick aside: My Pre­vi­ous Best Half was an LPN at the time; there was anoth­er staff nurse present, the MSN in charge of the unit, and an activ­i­ty ther­a­pist, who hap­pened to be the only male in the room.)

Some­one in the room wise­cracked that they should just give Dick some KY Jel­ly so he would­n’t keep hurt­ing him­self. After a brief chuck­le, the MSN—remember, this was a woman with a Mas­ter’s degree in nursing—said thought­ful­ly, “Look, peo­ple mas­tur­bate. Instead of pre­tend­ing we can make him stop maybe we can get him some lubri­cant and a lit­tle bit of instruc­tion so he’s, you know, just doing it more safely.”

All heads swiveled and all eyes fas­tened on the male activ­i­ty ther­a­pist, who was tak­ing min­utes. Let’s call him Willy, because isn’t it obvious?

Willy glanced up and real­ized every­one else was look­ing at him. “What?”

“We’ll need you to help Dick with this,” the MSN said.

“Help him with what? With masturbating?”

“Yes—I feel that if we can get him some lubri­cant and a bit of instruc­tion we can min­i­mize these injuries. We’d need you to adapt to what­ev­er learn­ing style will work with Dick, whether it’s just demonstrating”—I still can’t believe an edu­cat­ed med­ical pro­fes­sion­al said this with a straight face, even though Archer was­n’t there to yell about phrasing—“or a more hands-on approach.”

Willy stopped tak­ing notes. “You can­not pos­si­bly be serious.”

“What’s the problem?”

Willie said, “Buy Dick all the lube you want. But if you think I’m going to teach him to mas­tur­bate bet­ter you can for­get it. And if you ever sug­gest to me again that I mas­tur­bate in front of a patient to teach him how to mas­tur­bate bet­ter, I’ll report you to the state nurs­ing board.”

The MSN got a lit­tle sniffy. “Willy, I can write you up for insub­or­di­na­tion if you refuse a direct order.”

“Oh, PLEASE do!” Willie said. “I’d love to be there in the super­in­ten­den­t’s office or state board­’s office when you try to explain to them why you thought your job gives you the author­i­ty to order me to mas­tur­bate in front of one of our patients!”

As every­one else in the room stared at one oth­er with “Am I imag­in­ing this?” expres­sions, Willie and the MSN start­ed shout­ing at each oth­er, but then the MSN stood, took a deep breath and said, “Willy, we need to have this dis­cus­sion in my office.” They left and were heard shout­ing at each oth­er in her office for the next 20 min­utes or so.

Willy and the MSN did a lot of stomp­ing around and glar­ing at one anoth­er and address­ing one anoth­er with icy for­mal­i­ty for the next few weeks. My Pre­vi­ous Best Half nev­er found out what hap­pened in the long run—Willy and the MSN would­n’t talk about it although Willie hint­ed they’d been for­bid­den to talk about it, so she sus­pect Willy made good on his threat to inform the superintendent.

But the MSN and Willy both kept their jobs, while Dick spent every spare moment mas­tur­bat­ing and was in and of restraints for the next year or so until My For­mer Best Half went back to col­lege to fin­ish her RN.

Your tax dol­lars at work, folks.

PS: When I worked for the state hos­pi­tal we had one such guy who would go into the bath­room and try to mas­tur­bate for hours at a time, but thanks to his meds he could­n’t get erect. He was an oth­er­wise easy-going guy, a young POC we’ll call Peter, and if I have to remind you why we’re call­ing him Rod I real­ly must ask you to take this arti­cle more seriously.

One day I was on the unit with he oth­er psy­che aid, a hilar­i­ous guy I’ll call Peter,1 who looked and talked a lot like Anto­nio Far­gas from the ’70s bud­dy cop series Starsky and Hutch. We heard shout­ing in the bath­room down the men’s wing, and then some­one exit­ed the bath­room, yelling and threat­en­ing at some­one else in the bathroom.

Peter and I went to check in the bath­room and there sat Rod, for­lorn­ly twid­dling his a max­i­mal­ly flac­cid pud.

“What’s going on, Rod?” I said.

Rod was­n’t the tini­est bit embar­rassed or self-con­scious. “Shit, man,” he said. “I can’t get it up!”

Peter rolled his eyes and said, “Get your pants on and get back out in the day­room. You’re an embar­rass­ment to our race, Rod—only black man I ever seen can’t get it up!”

I don’t remem­ber exact­ly how we han­dled the inci­dent in Rod’s case notes. I do remem­ber feel­ing priv­i­leged to have wit­nessed and doc­u­ment­ed such an awe­some bit of history.

Vote for Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas: Because America Deserves NOTHING!

ANDERSON COOPER: We inter­rupt this pro­gram with a spe­cial report:

After years of tan­ta­liz­ing hints and deli­cious choco­late, but not a gold­en tick­et in sight, CNN can now answer the ques­tion on everyone’s minds:

Willy Won­ka is indeed enter­ing the pres­i­den­tial race, a dark horse indeed this late in the year; he’ll be the Brown Party’s candidate.

We join Dou­glas Fir at the gates of Willy Wonka’s Choco­late Fac­to­ry as OLLM pro­test­ers demand equal­i­ty for the Oom­pa-Loom­pas and Ever­last­ing Gob­stop­pers for all.

DOUGLAS FIR: Thank you, Ander­son. We’re all wait­ing here at the gates of the leg­endary Won­ka Choco­late Fac­to­ry for Won­ka him­self to appear as promised, after more than 50 years of silence. In the mean­time, we’ve been talk­ing to the oth­er can­di­dates to see what they had to say about Willy Wonka:

Willy Won­ka is noto­ri­ous­ly pub­lic­i­ty shy. Have you met him? What’s your impres­sion of him?

DONALD TRUMP: Oh, we talk all the time! Bigly! Yuu­u­uge! Willy is a great, great man and he’s doing fan­tas­tic things. He asked me for a job years ago and he just wasn’t a good fit, but I do love how he keeps his labor costs down; I’m look­ing into his ideas for fed­er­al employ­ee man­age­ment. Willy’s almost as amaz­ing as me! Almost, but not quite!

DOUGLAS FIR: What’s the Brown Party?

KAMALA HARRIS: It’s choco­late, you imbe­cile! Choco­late is brown!

MIKE PENCE: Choco­late is sin­ful. Are there any Oom­pa-Loom­pa females? I don’t want to be alone in a room with any of them.

HILLARY CLINTON: (mut­ter­ing) Of course you don’t, you emas­cu­lat­ed wet dishrag.

DOUGLAS FIR: Wet dashcam?

HILLARY CLINTON: (full vol­ume) Willy is one of my clos­est friends! He offered to let me use one of his servers to help with my e‑mail, but I thought he said “ser­vants,” so those alle­ga­tions about abuse the Oom­pa-Loom­pas alleged­ly suf­fered at my house are—

BILL CLINTON: GODDAMMIT HILLARY! YOU’RE NOT RUNNING! SHUT THE HELL UP!

KAMALA HARRIS: I LOVE Willy Won­ka! It’s ter­ri­ble how those poor Oom­pa-Loom­pas are treat­ed. Willy Won­ka is my hero; the per­son I most want­ed to be until he filed that restrain­ing order. I think—

DOUGLAS FIR: Wait; I thought you said you love Willy Wonka.

KAMALA HARRIS: I do! He’s such a—

DOUGLAS FIR: You’re friend­ly with him even though you think he mis­treats the Oompa-Loompas?

KAMALA HARRIS: IT WAS A DEBATE! (cack­les wild­ly) But I am real­ly very seri­ous­ly con­cerned about the Oom­pa-Loom­pas and I’ll try to get around to releas­ing them from prison as soon as no one’s loo—uh I mean, as soon as I have a minute.

BILL CLINTON: Won­ka flies around in that glass ele­va­tor, right? I’m not sup­posed to talk about any­thing involv­ing pri­vate­ly-owned air­craft, so I have no commen—(the remote cam­era abrupt­ly tilts side­ways with a loud crash while the pic­ture disappears)

HILLARY CLINTON: YOU ASSHOLE! YOU’RE NOT RUNNING EITHER!

DOUGLAS FIR: Bill Clin­ton, Joe Biden and Don­ald Trump have all been accused of sex­u­al harass­ment and oth­er inap­pro­pri­ate acts.

Most of us know very lit­tle about Willy Won­ka, on the oth­er hand. For those of you who say they have met Won­ka: What’s your take on his per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al conduct?

THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS:

Oom­pa-Loom­pa doo­p­i­ty dance
Won­ka can keep his dick in his pants!
Oom­pa-Loom­pa triple-dog dare
Won­ka will nev­er sniff at your hair!

What do you have when you con­stant­ly Tweet?
Or pay some­one off ‘cause you want­ed to cheat?
What if you sleep your way to the top?
Your neck will be the first one they… CHOP!

(Soloist): Good rid­dance to bad ru-huh-bish!

Oom­pa-Loom­pa choke on your polls
You are all a bunch of ass­holes!
Won­ka always tells you the truth
Like the Oom­pa-Loom­pa doo­p­i­ty do! ♬

DOUGLAS FIR: What? Wait; why are the Oom­pa-Loom­pas here?

WILLY WONKA: The Oom­pa-Loom­pas are my vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, that’s why.

DOUGLAS FIR: He’s here! Willy Won­ka is here speak­ing with CNN for his first press appear­ance in more than 50 years!

Mr. Won­ka, I speak for the Amer­i­can peo­ple (minus the deplorables) when I ask:

Why are you enter­ing the race? What can you offer Amer­i­ca that one of the oth­er can­di­dates can’t?

WILLY WONKA: Offer? I’m not offer­ing any­one any­thing. Good day, sir.

JOE BIDEN: Willy Won­ka? He makes choco­late, right? Is he that Her­shey Nestlé guy? Where are we on that? Is this Penn­syl­va­nia? C’mon, man!

DOUGLAS FIR: But sure­ly you feel Amer­i­ca deserves an answer—

WILLY WONKA: Deserves? You want to talk about what Amer­i­ca deserves? I’ll tell you what Amer­i­ca deserves: NOTHING! You get NOTHING! You LOSE! I said good DAY, sir!

DOUGLAS FIR: Um, okay; I see. What do you fore­see in America’s future?

WILLY WONKA:

There’s no earth­ly way of know­ing
Which direc­tion we are going!
Not a speck of light is show­ing
So the dan­ger must be grow­ing!
For the row­ers keep on row­ing!
And they’re cer­tain­ly not show­ing
ANY SIGNS THAT THEY ARE SLOWING!
YAAAAEEHHHAAAAAHHHH!

DOUGLAS FIR: Well, a sim­ple “I’m not sure” would have been fine, but okay. Can you elab­o­rate on your state­ment that—

MISTER ROGERS: “Elab­o­rate.” That’s a big word, isn’t it? Do you know what “elab­o­rate” means?

(ANDERSON COOPER, DOUGLAS FIR, DONALD TRUMP, MIKE PENCE, HILLARY CLINTON, BILL CLINTON, KAMALA HARRIS, THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS, and WILLY WONKA instant­ly gen­u­flect as all the angels in heav­en and on Earth sing):

♬♬ Mis­ter Roooooogers! ♬♬

JOE BIDEN: Roger that! Loud and clear! Um, you go first; I don’t—

DOUGLAS FIR: (shov­ing Joe Biden out of the way) Mis­ter Rogers is here, Amer­i­ca! He’s right here! What do you want to talk about today, Mis­ter Rogers?

MISTER ROGERS:

Oh, I have so many ideas for you!
And you have things you want to talk about
I do, too!

DOUGLAS FIR: (try­ing not to cry) Thank you, Mis­ter Rogers. If I may ask, do you have any thoughts about—

MISTER ROGERS: It’s nice when some­one when some­one wants to talk and share, isn’t it? Would you like to share today, Dou­glas? I enjoy mak­ing new friends, don’t you?

ANDERSON COOPER: (shoves Dou­glas Fir aside) Mis­ter Rogers! I’d like to get your opin­ion on…

MISTER ROGERS: Oh, my friend Dou­glas had to leave. Does that make you sad? It makes me sad some­times when a friend has to leave. But I think we’ll see Dou­glas again, because he wasn’t angry; he just had many things to do.

ANDERSON COOPER: Mis­ter Rogers! Can you tell us why you want to run for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States?

MISTER ROGERS: Oh, I don’t real­ly enjoy run­ning. I do go swim­ming every morn­ing, though. Do you like to swim, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER: Um—not real­ly, but I’d like to ask your posi­tion on immigration.

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

ANDERSON COOPER: There are many issues con­nect­ed to for­eign pol­i­cy that the US has to—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

ANDERSON COOPER: I’m not talk­ing about domes­tic pol­i­cy when it comes to—

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to have a neigh­bor just like you!

ANDERSON COOPER: Yes, fine, but I’m not talk­ing about peo­ple on your block; I want to—

DONALD TRUMP: Block? Which block? My dad gave me a small loan of $1,000,000 to get started—

MISTER ROGERS: I’ve always want­ed to live in a neigh­bor­hood with you!

DONALD TRUMP: No way, los­er. You’ll drag prop­er­ty val­ues down and—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

KAMALA HARRIS: So you’re propo­si­tion­ing ME to—

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to have a neigh­bor just like you.

MIKE PENCE: Yes, but can you guar­an­tee there won’t be any fun­ny busi­ness with—

HILLARY CLINTON: And here we go with the vast right-wing con­spir­a­cy again! Last time—

MISTER ROGERS: Let’s make the most of this beau­ti­ful day!

ANDERSON COOPER: Yes, fine, but I’m try­ing to get you to—

DONALD TRUMP: Okay, yes, every­thing is beau­ti­ful in its own way, fine! But what—

MISTER ROGERS: Please won’t you be my neighbor?

JOE BIDEN: Wait, do you live in Scranton?

DONALD TRUMP: Live in Scran­ton? I OWN Scranton!

JOE BIDEN: I was born in Scran­ton, but we have no bananas in Scran­ton, PA!

KAMALA HARRIS: Stay in your lane, Grampaw!

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to live in a neigh­bor­hood with you!

KAMALA HARRIS: Who told you my addre—

MISTER ROGERS: Oh won’t you please?

ANDERSON COOPER: If you think you can get my address by—

JOE BIDEN: Address? What was that thing Wash­ing­ton did at the gut­ters; no, the burglar—

MIKE PENCE: That’s GETTYSBURG, you idiot!

KAMALA HARRIS: Look, I know THIS IS A DEBATE! but I think we all deserve to hear—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

DONALD TRUMP: Not unless you have some gold paint and…

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

KAMALA HARRIS: “My” neigh­bor? So you think you own your neigh­bors and you’re rein­forc­ing the whole master/slave dynam­ic that…

MISTER ROGERS: Please won’t you be my neighbor?

EVERYONE: YES! OKAY? YES, I’LL BE YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBOR!

MISTER ROGERS: Hel­lo, neighbor!

 

The Helicopter Song

I love the smell of The Surfaris first thing in the morning!

When I was 4 or 5 my par­ents had some friends over for a bar­be­cue. Every­one was milling around in fine bar­be­cue fash­ion, and then the radio played a song I’d nev­er heard before. It was amaz­ing! There was some­body laugh­ing and then heli­copter sounds, but it did­n’t have any lyrics.

I planned to ask Mom and Dad what the song was, but they were busy doing things and I forgot.

A cou­ple of days lat­er Mom was putting some­thing on the record play­er, and I remem­bered the bar­be­cue and said, “Play The Heli­copter Song!”

“The what?” Mom said.

“The Heli­copter Song! There was a guy laugh­ing and heli­copters! And there weren’t any words!” Mom had no idea what I meant. I did, but I could­n’t describe it well enough. I gave up, frustrated.

A cou­ple days lat­er we were dri­ving some­where and the heli­copter song came on the radio.

“That’s The Heli­copter Song! That’s The Heli­copter Song!” I yelled.

“That’s the song you meant?” Mom asked.

“Yeah! It’s The Heli­copter Song!”

And it turned out that the heli­copter song was… (drum roll])1

“Wipe­out,” by The Surfaris.

Lemme ‘splain: When I was a kid in the ear­ly 1960s, we lived in Tope­ka, KS, about 7 miles north of Forbes Air Force Base. Air­craft often flew right over us com­ing to and from Forbes; usu­al­ly heav­ier car­go air­craft; once every­one in Tope­ka got to watch a brand-new Air Force One land at Forbes for the first stop in its inau­gur­al test flight, fuel up, and take off again.

This was much ear­li­er, though; maybe 1967 or ’68. The war in Viet­nam was rag­ing along full blast, and we often heard large chop­pers fly­ing thump­ing along over­head: long-range spe­cial-ops copters like the Siko­rsky MH-53, aka the Jol­ly Green Giant, or Boe­ing CH-47 Chi­nook dual-rotor heavy car­go helicopters.

It hap­pened often enough that I didn’t con­scious­ly lis­ten to them, but they still made a hell of a lot of noise.

And so it hap­pened that when I heard “Wipe­out,” the long drum breaks, heavy on the bass and toms, remind­ed me of all the big chop­pers fly­ing overhead.

I didn’t know how to explain this when I was so young. So years lat­er, when I was in my ear­ly 20s, a friend of mine was show­ing me how to play “Wipe­out” on gui­tar, and I sud­den­ly remem­bered: THE HELICOPTER SONG!

I told Mom and Dad about it, but they did­n’t remem­ber any of this.

So either I’m hal­lu­ci­nat­ing or The Sur­faris tricked me.

Feelings

If you’ve ever watched peo­ple argue online, you know the argu­ments is over the instant some­one posts a chart. You can’t argue with charts!

So if you need to dis­cuss emo­tions with some­one and don’t know where to start, this handy chart will set­tle any confusion!

Click to embiggenate!


 

John Denver Was an Alien and He Killed Himself and All I Got Out Of it Was This Boring Childhood

I owe John Den­ver a debt of grat­i­tude, and not just because he did us all a favor when he acci­den­tal­ly killed him­self in a plane crash.

No, wait. That’s entire­ly too snarky and cyn­i­cal, even for me. Den­ver was an amaz­ing song­writer, musi­cian and per­former; real­ly he was. Let’s just say my rela­tion­ship with him was a bit rocky1 for a few years.

Our sto­ry begins with Den­ver’s birth: John Den­ver was his stage name; his giv­en name was Hen­ry John Deutschen­dorf Jr., and he was alleged­ly born in 1943, in Roswell, New Mexico.

Based on his giv­en name and place of birth, there are only two pos­si­ble con­clu­sions that can be drawn:

  1. He was a Nazi, and smart enough to get out of Ger­many a few years before his com­pa­tri­ots, change his name, get a fake birth cer­tifi­cate, but not hide in South Amer­i­ca, or
  2. He was an alien who got strand­ed on Earth, like E.T.

I’m firm­ly in the alien camp, and here’s why: No Nazi could release 33 albums of award-win­ning music with­out a sin­gle tuba or accor­dion appear­ing in any of his songs.

And maybe he died in a plane crash. Or maybe it’s like Elvis in Men in Black, and he just went back home.

But as fur­ther proof I offer his album cov­ers. About half of them were, I believe, cod­ed dis­tress sig­nals to his home plan­et. He was try­ing to “phone home,” to coin a phrase.

No, real­ly. Check out these highlights:

John Denver Sings, 1966:

Looks like a col­lage of Most Want­ed mug shots. But Den­ver was still learn­ing how to mim­ic humans; it’s pos­si­ble he thought Most Want­ed meant Most Popular.

Take Me to Tomorrow, 1970:

What’s he doing here, stalk­ing the Unabomber? It sure looks like he’s peek­ing into the Unabomber’s cab­in. And that soul­less, blank stare could have belonged to Jef­frey Dahmer.

But the title’s the clinch­er: Take Me to Tomor­row. Yeah; that’s an alien ask­ing the Unabomber if he can build a time machine or maybe a warp dri­ve engine.

Whose Garden Was This, 1970

Some peo­ple can get away with bare-chest­ed por­traits. John Den­ver was not one of them. Espe­cial­ly not when his scrawny, pale geek chest was super­im­posed over some ancient rel­ic look­ing a lot like the alien ship in Indi­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull.

Aerie, 1971

Den­ver cud­dles with his pet vul­ture and watch­es the sun­rise. He appears to be shirt­less again.

Or giv­en the album title, maybe it’s an eagle and they’re sit­ting in the eagle’s nest. Which would make Den­ver an eaglet.

This is get­ting creepy.

Farewell Andromeda, 1973

Def­i­nite­ly a cry for help. He’s star­ing off into space with a bunch of ghost ani­mals sit­ting on his hat, and some­where along the way he stole Kirk Dou­glas’ chin.

But now we at least know which galaxy he was from.

Den­ver released some new mate­r­i­al over the next ten years or so, but most­ly he coast­ed on great­est hits and hol­i­day albums, until…

One World, 1986

Neptune’s nose nuggets! What the hell is he doing? Stand­ing on the sur­face of the Sun?

(Now we know where James Cameron got the idea to kill both Ter­mi­na­tors in a bath­tub of melt­ed steel at the end of T2: Judge­ment Day.)

Hav­ing now proven John Den­ver was an alien, lemme loop back to the part about how I owe him a debt of gratitude.

In Sep­tem­ber 1975, Den­ver released Wind­song, the cov­er art of which looks most­ly human. The tracks did include a cou­ple of alien hints, such as “Look­ing for Space” and “Fly Away.”

In Wind­song, Den­ver also sang a song to a boat. Not a song about a boat; a song to a boat. It was titled “Calyp­so,” which was also the name of a boat owned by famous oceanog­ra­ph­er Jacques Cousteau (not to be con­fused with the bum­bling detec­tive in the Pink Pan­ther movies).

Yep—“Calypso” was a love song to the boat of the same name, com­plete with nau­ti­cal sound effects: seag­ulls, waves, bells ring­ing, cab­in boys get­ting bug­gered, crew mem­bers puk­ing over the rail; all that fun stuff.

First Sis­ter and Mom had both been hope­less­ly in love with Den­ver ever since he released Rocky Moun­tain High, but Mom went thor­ough­ly insane over “Calyp­so.” She want­ed to lis­ten to “Calyp­so” All. The. Time.

I can’t crit­i­cize her for that; we’ve all got­ten obsessed with a song or album and played it around the clock. It’s eas­i­er when you’re stoned, but still. I was 12 that fall; I liked John Den­ver too, but not quite at the Beat­le­ma­nia lev­el Mom and First Sis­ter did. Thing 1 and Thing 2 liked him too, but with­out any scream­ing or fainting.

Mom had bought the album, but she also bought the sin­gle for “Calyp­so.” It was the B side of “I’m Sor­ry,” which you should con­sid­er dra­mat­ic foreshadowing.

Like this, except uglier.

And every morn­ing when Mom roust­ed us all out of bed to get ready for school, “Calyp­so” was already on the record play­er in the liv­ing room. (Remem­ber the huge TV-radio-record-play­er con­soles pop­u­lar at the time?)

She would put the sin­gle on the turntable, put the lit­tle arm doohick­ey in the mid­dle so the record play­er played the sin­gle over and over, wake us all up, then bus­tle around like a Step­ford wife, hum­ming and singing and fix­ing break­fast so cheer­ful­ly it tempt­ed me to stick a fin­ger down my throat, barf on my break­fast, and claim I was sick so I could go back to bed.

It wasn’t just the abom­inable cheer, though. It was “Calyp­so.” I liked the song at first. But it usu­al­ly took every­one about 45 min­utes to get up, have break­fast, apply teeth­breesh and get out the door. Dur­ing which time “Calyp­so” played at least a dozen times.

After a cou­ple days of this, I hat­ed wak­ing up, I hat­ed “Calyp­so,” I hat­ed John Den­ver, I hat­ed Jacques Cousteau, I hat­ed Jacques Cousteau’s stu­pid boat, I hat­ed the record play­er, and I hat­ed break­fast. My sis­ters didn’t seem to mind the song, but I have the atten­tion span of a squir­rel on crack, so it didn’t take long for me to get tired of “Calyp­so.” I didn’t want to ruin it for every­one else, so I didn’t say anything.

I’m not sure how many days we break­fast­ed to “Calyp­so”; maybe four or five. But one morn­ing, 10 min­utes into yet anoth­er “Calyp­so” marathon, Dad got up, went into the liv­ing room, opened the record play­er lid, and scut­tled “Calyp­so” with that glo­ri­ous teeth-on-edge SKVRRRRYK! sound of a record being ter­mi­nat­ed with extreme prej­u­dice.2

Dad came back into the kitchen, grabbed his lunch box, kissed Mom and wished us all a good day, and left for work as my sis­ters and I sat open­mouthed in shock.

Mom and Dad weren’t per­fect; they dis­agreed or argued occa­sion­al­ly. They nev­er had any seri­ous dra­ma or the kind of fights that make the kids hide under their beds. If any­one had said they want­ed to lis­ten to some­thing else, Mom would have been hap­py to put on some­thing else. She isn’t the self­ish type of per­son who wants what they want, but doesn’t care about any­one else. She loved “Calyp­so” and found it joy­ful and uplift­ing and she want­ed every­one else to feel joyful.

And Dad rarely raised his voice, much less lost his tem­per or start­ed break­ing things.  He’d obvi­ous­ly had his fill of “Calyp­so,” but I think he was just being ornery and sil­ly when he stopped the record.

I do know he didn’t scare any of us; we were just gob­s­macked, and it took about 3 min­utes for the inci­dent to become a fam­i­ly joke: Some­one would turn on the TV or ask Mom or Dad per­mis­sion to play a record; the rest of us would yell, “Not ‘Calyp­so’!”

So yeah, John Den­ver got a lot of air­time in our house.

A few years before The Calyp­so Inci­dent, a song on one of Denver’s alien-art albums caught my atten­tion: It was Farewell Androm­e­da, and the song title was “Please, Dad­dy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).”

It’s from the per­spec­tive of a lit­tle boy whose Christ­mas mem­o­ries were of Dad­dy com­ing home at mid­night Christ­mas Eve and pass­ing out under the tree, or his mom smil­ing brave­ly and shoo­ing the lit­tle boy upstairs as his dad arrived home, laugh­ing and hol­ler­ing drunk­en­ly; the impli­ca­tion being Daddy’s going to be smack­ing Mom­my around a bit.

Here’s an odd thing: I thought the song was hilar­i­ous. I was 10 and when the song played I thought it meant Dad­dy was up too late assem­bling gifts and fell asleep under the tree. I pic­tured Dad­dy as a lov­able doo­fus, not a vio­lent alcoholic.

There’s an old say­ing, rumored to be a Chi­nese curse: “May you live in inter­est­ing times.” It almost sounds like a bless­ing until you think about it. Thanks to World War II, for exam­ple, the 1940s are far more inter­est­ing than the 1950s.

I had no frame of ref­er­ence with which to under­stand “Please, Dad­dy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christ­mas)” because my child­hood was not interesting—no vio­lence, no alco­holics, no abuse. Noth­ing inter­est­ing at all.

I’m bor­ing, but that’s not a bad thing. Some­times bor­ing is good.

I guess it’s not John Den­ver who deserves that debt of gratitude.

I still won­der if he was an alien, though, what with all his bare-chest­ed weird album cov­er art.

There’s a posthu­mous col­lec­tion of his best music that came out in 2004, 7 years after his fatal plane crash. It’s even titled as such: John Den­ver: Defin­i­tive All-Time Great­est Hits.

This offered a price­less oppor­tu­ni­ty to define his body of work and career, to shape his lega­cy once and for all, so here’s hop­ing they chose cov­er art that avoids the weird­ness of some of his ear­li­er albums, and—

Oh for fuck’s sake! Really?

If You Give Your Wife a Peppermint Plant…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

If you sur­prise Your Best Half with a pot­ted pep­per­mint plant, she’ll want to move it to a per­ma­nent pot.

Since it’s 100+ out­side, she’ll do it in the kitchen.

To move the pot­ted pep­per­mint plant to a per­ma­nent pot, she’ll have to remove it from the dis­pos­able pot.

When she removes the pot­ted pep­per­mint plant from the dis­pos­able pot, a hand­ful of pea grav­el nei­ther of you expect­ed will fall in the sink.

When the hand­ful of pea grav­el nei­ther of you expect­ed falls in the sink, most of it will end up in the garbage disposal.

If there’s a hand­ful of pea grav­el in the garbage dis­pos­al, you’ll have to stick your hand in to fish it out.

When you stick your hand in the dis­pos­al, you’ll dis­cov­er your hand is too big and you can’t reach any of the gravel.

If you can’t reach any of the grav­el, you have to remove the dis­pos­al to get the grav­el out.

When you remove the dis­pos­al you’ll have to turn it upside down and shake the grav­el out.

When the grav­el is removed from the dis­pos­al you need to hold it up and turn the met­al retain­ing ring thingy to reat­tach it.

When you try to turn the met­al retain­ing ring thingy to reat­tach the dis­pos­al, you dis­cov­er it’s impos­si­ble to line up the retain­ing ring when you can’t see both sides of it.

To see both sides of the met­al retain­ing ring thingy you have to lie on your back with your head and shoul­ders inside the cabinet.

To get your head and shoul­ders inside the cab­i­net you have to remove the drain­pipe, P‑trap, dish­wash­er hose and dis­pos­al drainpipe.

When you crawl into the cab­i­net you get runoff water soaked into your shirt and hair and a face­ful of the revolt­ing goop that builds up inside drains and disposals.

When you fin­ish clean­ing up and put every­thing away, Your Best Half will apol­o­gize for all the mess.

When Your Best Half apol­o­gizes for all the mess, you tell her you didn’t expect the tem­po­rary pot to be half full of grav­el either, and it was no big deal.

So: Don’t give Your—wait, I mean, DO give Your Best Half an unex­pect­ed gift. If you make Your Best Half’s day, who cares if you have to clean up a mess?

Touched by an Angel

Angel could­n’t do any tricks. Oh, she’d mas­tered the basics: She was house­bro­ken; she’d come when we called her; some­times she would sit if she was being offered a treat. That’s about it.

There was one oth­er thing, though:

Angel could talk.

In 1999, when No. 1 Son was 4, we decid­ed it was time for him to raise his own dog. After inter­view­ing a num­ber of avail­able can­di­dates at the Humane Soci­ety, we round­ed a cor­ner and came face-to-face with an incan­des­cent white mon­ster. “Chew­bac­ca: 1 Year Old,” said the plac­ard on her cage.

Chew­bac­ca most close­ly resem­bled an albi­no Ger­man Shep­herd but was much larg­er, weigh­ing in at a good hun­dred pounds. Our vet thought maybe she was a Shepherd/Russian Wolfhound mix, but we nev­er knew for sure.

She sat on her haunch­es, one ear cocked straight up and the oth­er flopped for­ward endear­ing­ly, and regard­ed us calm­ly, head tilt­ed. No. 1 Son was instant­ly entranced. “I wan­na take her!” he said. “Can I pet her?”

“I’m sor­ry,” the vol­un­teer escort­ing us said, “but only adults can go in the cage.”

“Don’t wor­ry,” I told No. 1 Son. “I’ll check her out.”

I entered the cage and squat­ted down in front of Chew­bac­ca. Hold­ing my hand out cau­tious­ly, I start­ed to intro­duce myself with non­sense dog­gy talk: “Well, look at you. You’re a sweet­heart! Who’s a good girl? Are you a good girl?”

Instead, I found myself say­ing, “Hey, Chewie. Think you might want to come hang at my house?”

Chew­bac­ca sniffed my hand, then licked it with the far­away, apprais­ing look of a wine taster.

“Hmm,” she mused. “Might be doable.” She glanced at my wife and No. 1 Son. “They part of the deal?”

“Yep.”

She licked my hand again. “You know,” she said, “I’m not usu­al­ly this impul­sive, but you got a deal, Mister.”

In the van on the way home, Chew­bac­ca sat eager­ly next to No. 1 Son, look­ing at the traf­fic stream­ing by.

“What are we going to call you?” I said to Chew­bac­ca. “I don’t think Chew­bac­ca is real­ly your name, do you?”

“You got that right,” she muttered.

“Snow­bear!” my wife sug­gest­ed. “How about Snowbear?”

“Hey, let’s call her Queen Fros­tine, like in Can­dy­land,” I said.

I glanced back. Chew­bac­ca was whis­per­ing in No. 1 Son’s ear; he frowned and whis­pered back. She shook her head and whis­pered in his ear again, he nodded.

“Angel,” No. 1 Son said.

“What?”

“Her name is Angel,” he repeat­ed firmly.

I glanced back at Chew­bac­ca — I mean, Angel. She looked smug.

She nev­er admit­ted it to me, but I’m con­vinced Angel want­ed to grow up to be a Bud­weis­er Clydes­dale. Even giv­en her size, her strength was almost unbe­liev­able. You did­n’t take Angel for a walk, she took you for a pull.

No. 1 Son’s favorite game with Angel for sev­er­al years was to pick up a toy, then grab her col­lar. Angel would imme­di­ate­ly spring to her feet and shout, “Pull!” No. 1 Son would throw the toy across the yard and Angel would pur­sue it, hoick­ing No. 1 Son vio­lent­ly off the ground and tow­ing him along effort­less­ly like a ban­ner behind an airplane.

Angel’s abil­i­ty to talk nev­er seemed unusu­al to us: We thought No. 1 Son was going to raise Angel, but she did­n’t get that memo and decid­ed she would raise him, so I sup­pose it made sense to com­mu­ni­cate on a high­er lev­el. Most peo­ple could­n’t hear her talk, but among Angel’s fam­i­ly and clos­est friends there was nev­er any non­sense dog­gy bab­bling: We com­mu­ni­cat­ed like peers.

Like many kids, No. 1 Son was a lit­tle bit fear­ful of being alone in his room at night. Angel quick­ly assumed own­er­ship of that issue. At bed­time we would often be loung­ing in the liv­ing room while Angel snoozed in the corner.

“Angel!” my wife or I would say.

Angel would crank open an eye. “Bed­time?”

“Yep.”

“Okay.” She would stretch, trot upstairs with No. 1 Son and climb into bed with him, keep­ing watch and return­ing to her liv­ing room nap only when he was asleep.

Occa­sion­al­ly her flop­py ear would flick upright while we watched TV. “No. 1 Son’s awake,” she’d say, trot­ting back upstairs. Twen­ty min­utes lat­er or so she’d be back. “He’s asleep again,” she’d say. “Is Let­ter­man on yet?”

In 2002, my wife, No. 1 Son and I took a trip to Chi­na, return­ing two weeks lat­er with The Chow­der: Our 7‑month-old adopt­ed daughter.

I went in the house first and asked Angel to go out back for a lit­tle while. “We have a sur­prise for you,” I said.

“Oh, c’mon! You guys were gone for­ev­er! I hard­ly remem­ber what you look like!” she complained.

We brought The Chow­der in, ignor­ing the occa­sion­al yell from Angel out back: “Hey! What are you guys doing? Hey! I smell some­thing fun­ny! Hey!”

After every­one was set­tled I let Angel back in. She charged across the kitchen and skid­ded to a halt at the liv­ing room door.

“Okay, I’m sur­prised,” she whis­pered to my wife out of the cor­ner of her mouth. She sat down and stared at The Chowder.

The Chow­der, who had nev­er seen a dog before, stared back up at the white, pant­i­ng mon­ster tow­er­ing over her, its gleam­ing teeth fram­ing a pink, lolling tongue and its intense black eyes fixed on her.

After about 10 sec­onds of unbear­able ten­sion, I decid­ed if The Chow­der did­n’t start scream­ing soon, I would.

Then Angel did the most amaz­ing thing I’ve ever seen:

“All right, then,” she said firm­ly, and crouched down, putting her head on the floor. She stretched out and crept slow­ly across the floor toward The Chow­der, stop­ping when her nose was almost touch­ing The Chow­der’s foot.

“Now lis­ten,” Angel said gen­tly, look­ing up at The Chow­der. “I can’t take care of you if you’re afraid of me. That’s no basis for a good rela­tion­ship. So here’s the deal: I’ll lay right here and hold still until you aren’t scared any­more, okay? Go ahead — pull my ears, poke my eyes. I won’t hurt you. You’ll see!”

The Chow­der ten­ta­tive­ly reached for­ward, grabbed Angel’s flop­py ear and came away with a dou­ble hand­ful of fur. Angel smiled and closed her eyes. “See?” she said. “Noth­ing to be afraid of.”

The Chow­der stared at the fur waft­ing away from her chub­by fin­gers, then squealed with delight and dove face-first into Angel’s ruff.

As the years passed, Angel was pro­mot­ed from Chief Exec­u­tive Dog to Chair­dog and final­ly to Dog Emer­i­tus as oth­er cats and dogs came and went. She’d chuck­le tol­er­ant­ly at their exu­ber­ance and arro­gance, but made sure they knew the score, espe­cial­ly when it came to The Chow­der and No. 1 Son.

An avid movie fan, Angel would do her best R. Lee Ermey imi­ta­tion with the new recruits, then tran­si­tion to a father­ly Gre­go­ry Peck (as Atti­cus Finch) as she impart­ed her wis­dom to them. Occa­sion­al­ly they’d get too big for their britch­es and we’d get to see a home re-enact­ment of the Veloci­rap­tors try­ing to take on the T. Rex in Juras­sic Park. “AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” she’d roar as she hurled her oppo­nents around like rag dolls.

But Angel nev­er appoint­ed a pro­tegé until last year, when Bosco, a minia­ture Black Schnau­zer, joined the fam­i­ly. Bosco massed about 10 pounds to Angel’s 100, but he had the rare com­bi­na­tion of guts, intel­li­gence and will­ing­ness to learn she was look­ing for. She tol­er­at­ed far more guff from Bosco than any­one else, although she so rad­i­cal­ly out­sized Bosco she would often sleep through his most fero­cious attacks, snor­ing away as he chewed her ears and pounced on her.

But most of all she spent every wak­ing moment teach­ing him every­thing she knew: “No, no, no, NO! The food stays here in the bowl! Now look — don’t both­er them when they’re at the table. See, you just sit here in the cor­ner and look hope­ful. Some­one’s at the door — Bosco, that’s your cue! Get over there and bark! Hus­tle!”

Bosco, although he did­n’t share Angel’s gift of speech, was an apt pupil and learned very quick­ly. R. Lee Ermey retired and was replaced by kind­ly old Mas­ter Po, who gen­tly but firm­ly led her young, impetu­ous Grasshop­per down the path of enlightenment.

Sev­er­al weeks ago, we noticed Angel was­n’t eat­ing much and was los­ing weight. She’d always been lean and mus­cu­lar, but we could sud­den­ly see her ribs and hips. Our vet not­ed a fever and pre­scribed antibi­otics and an appetite stim­u­lant. We bought pre­mi­um canned food for her and she start­ed eat­ing again, but after a few more weeks we real­ized she not only was­n’t putting any weight back on, she was still los­ing it. Bosco some­how under­stood the time to attack Angel was past and instead cud­dled her pro­tec­tive­ly every spare moment.

In anoth­er week or so, Angel’s weight had dropped alarm­ing­ly; she looked gaunt and bony, but still as gen­tle and bright-eyed as ever.

“Bosco’s got this,” she’d say apolo­get­i­cal­ly as Bosco would leap over her to bark at the door. “I’m just kind of tired — gimme a minute.”

In her last week with us, Angel began to have dif­fi­cul­ty walk­ing. We fed her her pre­mi­um canned food with a fork as she lay on the liv­ing room car­pet, gen­tly thump­ing her tail. “I know I’m break­ing the rules,” she said to me sheep­ish­ly one after­noon. “Sor­ry to be a hassle.”

“Now don’t you wor­ry about that,” I said. “You’ve got a lit­tle pam­per­ing coming.”

“Thanks,” she said, fin­ish­ing the last bite. “I’m not worried.”

“Good,” I said.

“As soon as you have a minute,” she con­tin­ued, “I know you’re going to fix every­thing. No rush — soon as you have a minute.”

I did­n’t reply. She looked at me steadi­ly, con­fi­dent­ly, for a moment before sigh­ing con­tent­ed­ly and tak­ing a nap.

The morn­ing of August 9, Angel could­n’t get up. “I’m sor­ry,” she mum­bled. “I’ll feel bet­ter after a nap. Don’t wor­ry about me.”

She slept in the liv­ing room all day, occa­sion­al­ly wak­ing up to check in with Bosco, who by now had ful­ly assumed the role of Chair­dog pro tem.

Around 9 p.m. she woke up, looked at me and said, “Hey, I don’t want to be a pest, but I’m ready for you to fix every­thing. When­ev­er you have a minute. I just can’t get much done like this, you know?”

My wife and I sat down with her. “Angel,” I said, “I wish I could make every­thing okay. I real­ly do. But I can’t. I’m sor­ry, hon, but I can’t.”

She looked sur­prised. “Real­ly?”

“Real­ly. I would if I could; you know that.”

Angel looked at my wife. “Is he mess­ing with me?” Her eyes shin­ing, my wife gen­tly shook her head.

Angel thought a moment, then sighed and smiled. “Okay. Um, can you do me a favor?” She looked embar­rassed. “I real­ly need to go out­side. I was­n’t going to say any­thing, but….”

“Sweet­heart, don’t be embar­rassed!” my wife said. We helped Angel to her feet and half-car­ried her to the back door, across the patio and onto the grass, where she did her busi­ness, then collapsed.

“Whew!” Angel pant­ed. “Thanks!”

I got a beach tow­el and my wife and I gen­tly cra­dled Angel in it, lift­ing her so she could pre­tend to walk back inside. I was sur­prised — Angel looked like a bag of bones, but she still weighed a ton.

About 11 p.m., we set­tled back down in the liv­ing room with Angel — my wife, No. 1 Son, The Chow­der, Bosco and I — cov­ered her with a blan­ket, and told her it was our turn to put her to bed for once. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” she said skep­ti­cal­ly. We were sure. She’d earned it.

Angel pant­ed heav­i­ly, clos­ing her eyes but refus­ing to lay her head down. “Wait — I’m not sleepy yet,” she kept say­ing. Occa­sion­al­ly she’d open her eyes and look at one of us in sur­prise. “Oh, you’re still here?” she said.

“You bet. We’re right here with you,” my wife said. She’d brought blan­kets and a pil­low down and was lying next to Angel, ready to spend the night.

Angel closed her eyes and her head sank slow­ly, then sud­den­ly jerked upright again. “I’m okay!” she protest­ed. “I’m not sleepy yet!”

Some­how we all real­ized simul­ta­ne­ous­ly what she need­ed. And so, for the very first and last time in her life, we engaged in some non­sense dog­gy talk with Angel: We told her she was a good girl. A very, very good girl.

She looked around at us. “Real­ly?” she wheezed.

“Real­ly real­ly,” my wife said. “You did a good job rais­ing our boy. Did­n’t she?” She looked at No. 1 Son.

“Yes,” he whis­pered. “You did.” He gen­tly stroked her flop­py ear.

The Chow­der looked anx­ious­ly at her broth­er. “Bub­by, we’re gonna see Angel in heav­en, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “She’ll be wait­ing for us.” Reas­sured, she buried her face in Angel’s ruff for the last time. “G’bye, Angel,” she said.

Angel looked at me.

“Don’t wor­ry,” I said. “It’s okay for you to go.”

She looked at Bosco, who had been lying by her side for hours. Bosco winked.

“Okay,” Angel said. “Okay. I’m just gonna take a lit­tle nap, then.” She final­ly relaxed, lay on her side, and closed her eyes.

Angel stopped breath­ing just after midnight.

We’d made arrange­ments to take her to the vet for cre­ma­tion, so I decid­ed to wrap her in her favorite blan­ket and put her in the back of our Jeep until morning.

I braced myself and lift­ed the still, silent bun­dle. It was light as a feather.

When we came back inside, Bosco was in the kitchen sit­ting on his haunch­es, his head tilt­ed alert­ly at us.

“Okay, guys,” he said. “I got this now.”