Words in a Row

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

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

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?”


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.


“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?”


“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.”

Robert Plant and the Commando Lunge

Here’s one way I know I’m get­ting to be an old fart:

I first saw Led Zep­pelin’s con­cert movie The Song Remains the Same when I was 15, waaay back in 1978.

The­ater sound sys­tems weren’t much bet­ter than a cheap AM radio back then, but although I did­n’t own Charles the Deep Breather or the leg­endary under­dash Pio­neer Super­tuner yet, I had some friends with decent stere­os and I had a pair of Koss head­phones at home, which no doubt con­tributed to my old fart hear­ing, but they did a far job of pound­ing “Whole Lot­ta Love” and “Heart­break­er” and “Dazed and Con­fused” into my skull, so my brain could fill in the son­ic gaps.

It was, how­ev­er, the first time I’d seen what any­one in the band looked like.

I remem­ber think­ing how wicked cool they looked, espe­cial­ly Jim­my Page’s embroi­dered black/silver kimono-jack­et-bell-bot­tom-what­ev­er-the-heck-it-was outfit.

I thought Robert Plan­t’s hair was cool, but I also thought then, and do now, that his pack­age-bulge, which had white bleach marks or dried splooge or liq­uid paper kan­ji sur­round­ing it, was either a cucum­ber stuffed down his pants a la This Is Spinal Tap, or it was his real pack­age and he had to spend time in the dress­ing room every show rear­rang­ing his junk so the white crap sur­round­ed it just so, but either way it looked uncom­fort­able as hell—not to men­tion that he was obvi­ous­ly singing com­man­do, giv­en that the jeans were tighter than a strip­per’s G‑string, which might have helped him gain an octave or two more range on the high­er notes.

All right already! We get it!

I also remem­ber think­ing the cam­era spent an inor­di­nate amount of time focused on Plan­t’s crotch, lov­ing­ly cap­tur­ing for pos­ter­i­ty his pelvic thrusts for future gen­er­a­tions to study.

Any­way, ear­li­er today I came across1 a lis­ti­cle of inter­est­ing facts about the movie, includ­ing that the movie was shot over a three-day gig at Madi­son Square Gar­den, dur­ing which every­one in the band wore the same out­fit for all the shows except John Paul Jones, who wore dif­fer­ent clothes each day and horked up the movie’s already shaky continuity.

Zep­pelin’s con­certs were famous for last­ing four hours or more, so I thought Man, those clothes took a seri­ous beating.

This got me to think­ing about oth­er pho­tos and video of their con­certs I’d seen here and there, and after some Googling I ver­i­fied that Robert Plan­t’s bolero-style shirt and pack­age-stran­gling pants, along with Jim­my Page’s kimono-gi-kung-fu-paja­mas thing, appear in dozens of their con­certs from about 1970 up till 1980, when they broke up after John Bon­ham died.

This brought me back around to the triv­ia fac­toid about 75% of the band wear­ing the same clothes for three days in a row. Which in turn made think those out­fits (espe­cial­ly Plan­t’s jeans, which by all rights should have had exter­nal­ly-vis­i­ble per­ma­nent skid marks in back by then) would have been god-awful funky enough to kill the first 20 rows of fans at their concerts.

Watch Smell Remai—I mean, Song Remains the Same and you’ll notice they’re all drenched in sweat, and giv­en their noto­ri­ety for debauch­ery and par­ty­ing on the road, the mun­dane swamp-crack fra­grance suf­fered by we mere mor­tals had to be an epic, eye-water­ing melange of sweat, booze, tobac­co, pot, hotel carpet/drapes, smegma/sanitary napkin/splooge/swamp crack/smog/overflowing toilet/mace/sewer/sushi/caviar/effluvia abom­i­na­tion that would gag a vulture.

I mean hell, when I was still healthy enough to train in Kem­po and work out almost every day, my cup and gi pants (even though I had sev­er­al of each, washed them after a sin­gle use and wore a clean one every day) got so funky so fast I had to ditch them every cou­ple months.

All that to say I’m sure glad John Waters’ Smell-O-Vision idea nev­er got off the ground.

A Hell of a Band

This post is about a song by The Right­eous Broth­ers. I don’t know if they real­ly were right­eous, but I do know they weren’t broth­ers, so I guess I report, you decide. If you’re the churl­ish tl;dr type who can’t wait till the end of this post to hear the song, it’s down at the bot­tom, but if you skip the whole post like that you can’t be my friend or come up in my tree fort anymore.

If you’re under 45, chances are the only time you’ve been exposed to the Right­eous Broth­ers was in the movie Ghost, or pos­si­bly in Top Gun.

In Ghost, The Right­eous Broth­ers’ “Unchained Melody” plays while Demi Moore is sculpt­ing a vozz, and Patrick Swayze sits down behind her and the vozz gets ruined and they get slimy wet clay all over themselves.

In Top Gun, The Right­eous Broth­ers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feel­ing” plays on a juke­box once or twice, along with the fight­er pilots singing “Great Balls of Fire” and Ken­ny Log­gins singing “Dan­ger Zone” and the pilots play­ing half-naked vol­ley­ball and fly­ing around real­ly fast and in gen­er­al slosh­ing buck­ets of sweat and testos­terone off the screen and all over the audience.

The Right­eous Broth­ers were were a huge­ly suc­cess­ful white crooner/extremely white doo-wop duet in the late ‘50s and ear­ly ‘60s. And since this post is about The Right­eous Broth­ers, I’d like to talk about The Par­tridge Family.

The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly was a TV show about a fic­tion­al musi­cal fam­i­ly loose­ly based on the real musi­cal fam­i­ly The Cowsills, who not only had a hit with the song “Hair,” from the musi­cal with the same name, but also got me very con­fused when was a kid, because it seemed to me that if a cow has sills, it should also have windows.

So any­way, The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly was nei­ther a fam­i­ly nor a band. It was a TV show with a bunch of actors pre­tend­ing to be a band that didn’t exist, except they did kind of exist because you could go to Wool­co or Sears and buy 45 RPM sin­gles labeled The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly, even though the songs were per­formed by David Cas­sidy with a band of gener­ic musi­cians, which con­spic­u­ous­ly lacked a 10-year-old bassist and a 7‑year-old drummer.

My dad hat­ed The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly. He also hat­ed The Jack­son 5, The Osmond Broth­ers, The Car­pen­ters, the Mon­kees, The Right­eous Broth­ers, and Bob­by Sher­man (who, on a side note, orig­i­nal­ly leased the cus­tom-built 747 that Led Zep­pelin used and was seen in the 1976 film The Song Remains the Same, which was about a Led Zep­pelin con­cert in New York City in 1973).

Dad did not hate any of these musi­cians for their music. As far as he was con­cerned, they were just noise. Dad was like Bob’s wife, who worked at Bob’s Coun­try Bunker in The Blues Broth­ers and who, when asked about what kind of music she liked, replied, “Both kinds: coun­try AND western!”

What Dad hat­ed was their faces. He also hat­ed 3M, the com­pa­ny that pro­duced Scotch Tape, and the mag­a­zine Tiger Beat.

Cowsills and God?

Tiger Beat pro­filed young musi­cians and actors as long as they were safe-look­ing rel­a­tive­ly short-haired guys (which is why Led Zep­pelin and Alice Coop­er and The Doors nev­er appeared therein).

Scotch Tape sold the tape my sis­ters used when they scis­sored Tiger Beat into con­fet­ti once a month in order to tape head­shots of that month’s dreami­est teen idols all over their bed­room doors, then rip them all off to tape up the head shots from the next month’s issue, which was rapid­ly strip­ping the fin­ish off the doors.

After school one day my mom asked me to go fetch her cig­a­rettes from her room. The cig­a­rettes were on her night­stand; as I picked them up I glanced at a 45 RPM sin­gle next to the cig­a­rettes. It was a sin­gle by The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly titled “One Night Stand.”

I was 9 and not too sharp on the sub­tler nuances of gram­mar and spelling, so when I saw the sin­gle “One Night Stand” on the night­stand, my first thought was Why would any­one sing a song about a piece of fur­ni­ture? 1

So I grabbed the sin­gle, along with the cig­a­rettes, and asked Mom why The Par­tridge Fam­i­ly had a song about a night­stand, which led to an awk­ward, unsat­is­fy­ing expla­na­tion about how a one night stand was when two peo­ple went to go see a movie togeth­er, but then decid­ed not to see any more movies together.

I nev­er did find out why the sin­gle was on Mom’s night stand.

Fast for­ward two years to the sum­mer of ’74. I was 11 and had vague­ly fig­ured out that a one night stand was a very brief romance, and the rea­son the guy and the girl didn’t want to see any more movies togeth­er was because they didn’t like kiss­ing. Pre­pu­bes­cent me under­stood that, because girls were yucky and kiss­ing was stupid.

We were vaca­tion­ing in Galve­ston, Texas, that sum­mer. The Right­eous Broth­ers had just released a song titled “Rock and Roll Heav­en,” and it was get­ting heavy air­play, at least once an hour all the way there, all day every day we were there, and all the way back.

If you’ve nev­er heard “Rock and Roll Heav­en,” it’s a trib­ute to the lega­cy of musi­cians who had passed on, includ­ing Jimi Hen­drix, Janis Joplin, Jim Mor­ri­son, Jim Croce, Bob­by Darin, and Otis Redding.

I did­n’t get most of the ref­er­ences oth­er than Jim Croce and Janis Joplin; Joplin had appeared on the Tom Jones vari­ety show, which my mom loved (and I snick­er a lit­tle bit now, but at least she did­n’t throw panties at the TV).2

I also rec­og­nized the ref­er­ence to “Light My Fire,” but I’d seen Antho­ny New­ley singing it on a vari­ety show and I thought it was his song.

I loved “Rock and Roll Heav­en” on its own mer­its; still do. But what made it so cool at the time was the chorus:

If you believe in forever

Then life is just a one night stand.

If there’s a rock and roll heaven

Well you know they got a hell of a band!

Part of it was the puerile thrill of some­one on the radio singing the word “hell,” which was still mild­ly naughty, but what made the biggest impres­sion was that for the first time I can remem­ber, I con­nect­ed with lyrics that used a sim­i­le to touch on a much deep­er truth: Com­pared to eter­ni­ty, life is short. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. And maybe some­day those who touched our lives but have since passed on—well, maybe some­day we’ll see them again. And in the mean­time we can remem­ber them by cel­e­brat­ing their lives and legacies.

MTV didn’t exist in 1974, but thanks to Mid­night Spe­cial and Amer­i­can Band­stand, you could occa­sion­al­ly see a music video or live per­for­mance of hit songs.3

I didn’t know “Rock and Roll Heav­en” had a music video until the oth­er day, when I stum­bled across it on YouTube. And just like that, a song I hadn’t thought of for more than 40 years was back, with all the influ­ence and emo­tion it gen­er­at­ed back then.

So I now present to you, all the way back from 1974, The Right­eous Broth­ers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven.”

Time trav­el can be bru­tal, though: In this case, try not to think about how unbut­toned shirts and bell-bot­tomed leisure suits and lapels wider then your shoul­ders were once unbear­ably cool.

Dur­ing our ’74 sum­mer vaca­tion, Dad found “Rock and Roll Heav­en” annoy­ing, even though The Right­eous Broth­ers weren’t Tiger Beat mate­r­i­al, and he kept tun­ing to some­thing else when it came on. I would yell, “Turn it back on! I love that song!” from the back seat.

Made him grouchy but it was worth it.

My Dad’s Hands

I just bought a used gui­tar, so I wan­na talk about hands.

I’ve always had big hands. Today I look like an aver­age-sized guy with big hands, but when I was a kid? Oh boy.

From left to right: First Sis­ter, Thing 1, Thing 2, and holy crap I look creepy!

I have a pic­ture of my sis­ters and me tak­en when I was 4 years old. I didn’t look like a kid with big hands; I looked like a kid wear­ing a pair of those giant foam hands they use to play Slap­jack on The Tonight Show With Jim­my Fallon.

The used gui­tar I just bought is a Gib­son Les Paul. I’ve always want­ed one, but they’re hel­la expen­sive. My Best Half spot­ted a guy on Craigslist sell­ing a Les Paul, though—he was sell­ing a lot of equip­ment, includ­ing the Les Paul, for which he want­ed only $350.

A Les Paul these days can run $2,500 or more, espe­cial­ly if you get chrome PAF Hum­buck­er cov­ers, moth­er-of-pearl fin­ger­board inlays, the sun­burst fin­ish and some of the oth­er good­ies on the one I just bought.

I drove down to Cordes Junc­tion to take a look at the gui­tar. The sell­er was a groovy old­er guy who looked like a cross between Gan­dalf and Jer­ry Gar­cia: gray and white shoul­der-length hair, ZZ-Top beard, tie-dyed T‑shirt, the works.

The Les Paul was in beau­ti­ful shape; almost mint con­di­tion. Gan­dar­cia said he had a bad shoul­der and the Les Paul was just too heavy, and he had arthri­tis so he couldn’t play as much as he used to anyway.

He didn’t care about get­ting his mon­ey back as much as he cared about find­ing a good home for the gui­tar. I liked him and I liked the Les Paul, so I bought it.

(He also had a 100-watt Mar­shall amp he want­ed to place in a good home, but I like being mar­ried so I regret­ful­ly declined.)

Click to embiggenate!

Back in 1982, when I was 20, I saved up and bought a Gib­son Invad­er, which was a bud­get Les Paul: It didn’t have the sculpt­ed maple top, the moth­er-of-pearl fin­ger­board inlays, plus a few oth­er cheap­er parts.

But it was still a damn fine gui­tar, and since it was less expen­sive it was like hav­ing a project car: I didn’t mind hot-rod­ding it up. I replaced the bridge pick­up with a Sey­mour Dun­can mod­el; drilled a hole between the knobs and added a phase switch­er; yanked out the stock pots and installed but­ter-smooth CDS (or was it Alpha-Con­trol? Don’t remem­ber) pots with hand­made caps so crys­talline they could make a brave man weep.

My friend Rob, who has a habit of nam­ing things I own, named the gui­tar Sledge. And I played it, to use a tired old cliché, until my fin­gers bled.

Not long after I adopt­ed Sledge, I moved out of my par­ents’ house and moved in with my friend George. George is an amaz­ing drum­mer, and our liv­ing room was jammed with my stereo, my gui­tar and amp and oth­er accou­trements, and George’s drum kit, which looked like the moth­er ship from Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind, except it was big­ger and more expensive.


And we had a lot of friends who would come hang out: the afore­men­tioned Rob, Tori, Dave, Daniel (who gave me an Elec­tro-Har­monix Gold­en­throat talk box—DAMN Daniel!), Kim, John, and I’m sure there were others.

And they were all excel­lent musi­cians, and we would jam, which means THEY would jam, because I was still learn­ing to play, so I stum­bled around in the back­ground on gui­tar, sound­ing like Lin­da McCart­ney sort of play­ing key­boards and kind of singing along with Paul, who was too kind to tell her the sound guy had her micro­phone turned off.

Harsh truth: I loved play­ing gui­tar, but I was caught in that frus­trat­ing trap of hav­ing juu­u­ust enough tal­ent to under­stand what real­ly good gui­tarists were doing, but know­ing I’d nev­er ever be that good.

That was okay. I didn’t need to make a liv­ing play­ing gui­tar, and I was lucky enough to spend time with some real­ly good musi­cians and enjoy both­er­ing the neigh­bors with them.

Like most gui­tar guys I accu­mu­lat­ed a lot of gear: stomp box­es, a real live tube amp from Fend­er that tried very sin­cere­ly to kill me, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry, and a pink pais­ley Tele­cast­er that yes, looked just like the one Prince played, although I hadn’t heard of him yet.

I hotrod­ded the Tele­cast­er even more; pri­mar­i­ly with BMG active pick­ups that were encased in black ceram­ic blocks and looked unbear­ably cool, plus oth­er stuff I won’t bore you with, before I final­ly admit­ted I just didn’t like the Telecaster.

Oh, it looked cool and it sound­ed good when I played it, but it sound­ed GREAT when any of my real musi­cian friends played it. Also, Rob nev­er named it any­thing. I think he knew it wasn’t going to work out for us and he didn’t want to make the breakup any more painful.

It was the neck. A lot of Fend­er gui­tars have one-piece rock maple necks, and the Tele­cast­er was one of them. But it was too skin­ny, and with my freaky huge hands I felt like I was play­ing a pencil.

Our pastor’s son was about 12 at the time, and he’d saved up lawn-mow­ing mon­ey and bought a real­ly beat-up, life­less acoustic gui­tar. He was sav­ing up to buy an elec­tric gui­tar, and then he planned to save up even more and buy an amplifier.

So I gave him the Tele­cast­er and said he could just wor­ry about sav­ing up for a new amp. I didn’t see any point in try­ing to recoup the mon­ey I’d spent fix­ing it up when I could give it a good home with some­one who need­ed it and was already far bet­ter than me at guitar.

And 30 years lat­er, I found a beau­ti­ful Les Paul that need­ed a good home. Kar­ma, baby.

Not acid-washed jeans. I wore bell-bot­tom jeans because my feet are so big, but no one sold acid-washed bell-bot­toms, so Rob and I would put our jeans in the sink, splash bleach on them, then throw them in the wash­er. Rob called ’em “Cloud Pants.”

I have exact­ly one pho­to of myself from the years I spent liv­ing with George and the musi­cians’ com­mune we oper­at­ed: I think I was 22, and I’m play­ing Sledge. I was about as tall as I am now, but pipeclean­er skin­ny, and my hands are still ridicu­lous­ly big, if not as X‑Man mutant big as they were when I was a kid.

When 1995 rolled around, I’d been mar­ried for a while and No. 1 Son was on the way, so I did what any red-blood­ed Amer­i­can man would do: I quit my job, sold our house and moved us all to Ore­gon so I could go to college.

And while we were pack­ing up to move, I made two bad deci­sions that still haunt me: I looked at the big pile of gui­tars and amps and stomp box­es and oth­er gear I’d accu­mu­lat­ed, and I decid­ed it took up way too much room.

I also got rid of an antique bar­ber chair for the same rea­son. That chair was ridicu­lous­ly cool.

Some­times you see these memes ask­ing what you would say to your­self when you were a teenag­er; I would tell myself not to get rid of my gui­tar stuff and not to give away the bar­ber chair. But I prob­a­bly wouldn’t lis­ten. I’m stu­pid that way.

So I loaded up the car with all my gear, except for a grungy old JDS acoustic I want­ed to keep because I liked drag­ging it to con­certs to see if I could get sig­na­tures on it, so Randy Stone­hill, Phil Keag­gy, Ter­ry Tal­bot and Bar­ry McGuire had all signed it.

(I also have a Vil­lage Inn kids’ col­or­ing book/placemat that No. 1 Son and Bar­ry McGuire col­ored togeth­er when No. 1 Son was 3, but that’s yet anoth­er story).

I drove to a music store in Tope­ka, the name of which I for­get, but it was on 17th Street behind a no-kill cat shel­ter that used to be a Hardee’s, and I trad­ed it all in on a real­ly nice 12-string Wash­burn acoustic, which I still have but play only on the rare occa­sion when I want to play Supertramp’s “Give a Lit­tle Bit,” because the stu­pid-big fin­gers on my stu­pid-big hands make the gui­tar sound like a cou­ple of cats run­ning around fight­ing on top of it.

It didn’t take long to regret my deci­sion. Three days lat­er, as we hit Inter­state 70 west on our way to Ore­gon, I exclaimed “Why the HELL did I get rid of 12 years’ worth of stuff I loved? Why didn’t I just get rid of the sofa or the TV or My Preg­nant For­mer Best Half?”

My Preg­nant For­mer Best Half, who was in the car with me, expressed her dis­plea­sure at this remark by giv­ing me a pinch that still hurts today.

And so I went to col­lege and met many oth­er musi­cians who were bet­ter than I’ll ever be, includ­ing Andy Gure­vich (the tit­u­lar guru of the Gure­vichi­an cult, which is also anoth­er sto­ry), Matt, John, and some more folks I hope I don’t offend by not remem­ber­ing them.

And I watched them play and I enjoyed it, but I missed being able to stum­ble around use­less­ly behind them.

And I vowed that even though my play­ing sucked, some­day I would buy anoth­er elec­tric gui­tar, just as soon as I could afford to feed my fam­i­ly with some­thing more than Top Ramen.

But that nev­er hap­pened, because I was too busy ruin­ing my hands. Which reminds me of my dad’s funer­al, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I had a series of stu­pid­ly dan­ger­ous jobs in my 20s and ear­ly 30s: I worked night shift in a con­ve­nience store, in a state hos­pi­tal with the men­tal­ly ill, and as a res­cue mis­sion chap­lain before col­lege. No, not as dan­ger­ous as being a cop or a fire­fight­er, but then again cops and fire­fight­ers have train­ing and equip­ment and insur­ance and stuff.

Dur­ing and after col­lege I also worked as a con­crete mason and on secu­ri­ty teams in col­lege and in church and elsewhere.

After that I got a job doing web devel­op­ment, which I loved, but which also helped me build up a love­ly nascent case of carpal tun­nel syndrome.

But after all the stu­pid dan­ger­ous jobs I’d had, I got bored with hav­ing a safe office job, so I joined a Kem­po karate school to spend more time with my kids, and wound up lik­ing it and help­ing teach (even though I was about as good at mar­tial arts as I was at gui­tar). Which also did not do my hands any favors.

Com­e­dy is not pretty.

I have some real­ly cool scars and sto­ries about griev­ous injuries to my hands and fore­arms: A spec­tac­u­lar (human!) bite scar on the back of my right hand; a scar and nerve dam­age on my right wrist from being hit with a bro­ken bot­tle; a frac­tured ring fin­ger that healed crooked; a burn scar at the base of my thumb from being splashed with sul­fu­ric acid (yet anoth­er sto­ry), sev­er­al bro­ken knuck­les, assort­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue injuries from break­ing bricks at Kem­po demos, and oth­er stuff I forget.

That was just my right hand. I abused my left hand even worse:

Dur­ing a Kem­po spar­ring match I blocked a punch with my left pinky fin­ger, which emit­ted a glo­ri­ous­ly hor­ri­ble snap that made every­one in the room wince; I caught my hand between an engine block and a garage floor; I got hit on the back of my fore­arm so hard a bunch of gan­glion cysts showed up lat­er; and I got mauled by dog who took a cou­ple of good chomps out of my fore­arm and hand and left behind a big numb area.

Oh, and I also got diag­nosed with MS, which caus­es some stiff­ness and numb­ness in my left arm and hand, and to top it all off I’ve got a bit of arthri­tis here and there in both hands that I’m sure will be loads more fun in the future.

Just before Dad’s funer­al two years ago, I… what? No, that’s not a non sequitur; I said I was going to talk about my dad’s funer­al right up there. Pay attention!

Just before Dad’s funer­al start­ed, Mom and my sis­ters and my kids and My Best Half and I all went up to view him in his cas­ket, and to give him some gifts: I gave him a John­ny Cash CD; The Chow­der gave him a lit­tle apple pie (anoth­er sto­ry), and oth­ers I can’t remember.

The funer­al direc­tor was there, dis­cussing Dad’s appear­ance with Mom, and he looked at Dad’s hands and remarked, “These are the hands of a man who worked hard.”

True. Dad was a glazier for more than 40 years; he also did handy­man work on the side for those 40 years and also rebuilt or remod­eled just about every­thing in our house to boot.

After he retired he did handy­man stuff almost full-time (I remem­ber him jok­ing that retire­ment was bor­ing, what with only 40–50 hours of work a week). He was in demand as the main­te­nance guy for a num­ber of rental hous­es and small apart­ment buildings.

Today I was look­ing at a pic­ture of Dad tak­en in April, 2002: He’s sit­ting on a hotel room bed next to No. 1 Son, who was 6 years old, and he’s hold­ing The Chow­der, who was 7 months old.

Right to left: No. 1 Son, The Chow­der, a bag of wal­nuts, and Dad

The hotel room bed was in Chang­sha, Hunan Province, in Chi­na. And the rea­son we were there was to adopt The Chowder.

Dad’s hands were small­er than mine (hell, Bigfoot’s hands are small­er than mine). But they were thick and cal­lused and cord­ed with mus­cle and scars, and they looked like two bags of walnuts.

Right now I’m 5 years younger than Dad was in that pho­to. And while I’ve nev­er made a liv­ing work­ing with my hands, oth­er than the afore­men­tioned stint as a con­crete mason in col­lege, I like to think I’ve inher­it­ed some of his bet­ter traits:

He had a bea­t­up old poster in the glass shop he worked in; it said “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

He wasn’t preachy or pushy; all he did was set a stan­dard and then demon­strate it.

I deliv­ered the eulo­gy at his funer­al; lat­er some guys he’d worked with, plus his for­mer boss, told me his co-work­ers would gripe at times that Dad was kind of slow and didn’t turn things around as fast as every­one else.

His for­mer boss told me how they answered that gripe: “Yeah; he’s a bit slow­er. But he nev­er, ever has to go back and redo anything.”

It’s only been for about the last 10 years of my life that I’ve real­ized just how much that influ­enced me, with­out him lec­tur­ing or preach­ing at me once.

I’ve owned a cou­ple of hous­es; I’ve worked as a writer, a graph­ic design­er, an edi­tor, a web design­er and a web devel­op­er. When I do stuff I try to find a way to do it ele­gant­ly and sim­ply, to avoid quick-and-dirty solu­tions in favor of doing it right the first time.

Draw me. Draw me like one of your French Bulldogs!

The oth­er day I was sit­ting on the floor in our liv­ing room and tun­ing the Les Paul. Pep­per was lying in front of me with her head on my knee, gaz­ing ador­ing­ly up at me like she was Rose DeWitt and I was Jack Dawson.

My Best Half thought that was cute and took a pic­ture with her phone.

When I saw the pho­to I chuck­led at the way Pep­per was mak­ing eyes at me, but then I noticed that my hands looked like sacks of wal­nuts, just like my dad’s hands.

Most of the jobs I’ve had in my life don’t cre­ate a tan­gi­ble lega­cy; I can’t point at things I’ve made or fixed, or art­work or books I’ve writ­ten or things I’ve built.

But my hands look a lot like my dad’s hands; a coin­ci­dence of genet­ics and life expe­ri­ences for sure, but I can live with hav­ing huge, half-ruined hands if it means I can hon­or my dad’s lega­cy a lit­tle bit.

Fishes in the Deep Blue Sea

You know that song “Joy to the World”? Not the Christ­mas car­ol, but the Three Dog Night song?

I like that song, but it pro­vokes mixed feelings:

While it’s play­ing you love it, and you wish they’d keep play­ing it for anoth­er 20 min­utes because it’s so much fun, but when it ends you feel dis­ap­point­ed for about 10 sec­onds and then you real­ize if it was one of those self-indul­gent eter­nal jams, like when Led Zep­pelin jammed on “Dazed and Con­fused” in the movie The Song Remains the Same for FORTY-FIVE FREAKING MINUTES, and by the time it was over you decid­ed you nev­er want­ed to hear it again as long as you lived, except next time you’re on a road trip and you hit shuf­fle on your phone and it shows up, you lis­ten to the ENTIRE FREAKING FORTY-FIVE MINUTE CURSED JAM AGAIN and you hate every sec­ond of it but some­how you can’t quite bring your­self to skip to the next song, so instead you wait till you see an over­pass com­ing up so you unbuck­le your seat belt and floor it and you smash into a con­crete bridge pil­ing at 130MPH+, and as you lie bro­ken and bleed­ing in the twist­ed, steam­ing wreck­age you smile, because you see the Grim Reaper him­self approach­ing you wear­ing his black robe and car­ry­ing his scythe, and you won­der idly why he car­ries a scythe instead of rid­ing in a com­bine or even using a string trim­mer, and as he approach­es you look for­ward to his sweet, qui­et embrace, but then you sud­den­ly real­ize even though your car and your body look like giant owl pel­lets, THE STEREO IS STILL PLAYING, and in abject hor­ror you watch as Death pulls out an iPhone 5s and wig­gles his index fin­ger at you in a silent “naughty naughty” and he claps a pair of Beats Solo 3 wire­less head­phones on you and taps the iPhone, then drops it in the dirt next to you, and mean­while you’re won­der­ing why Death uses an anachro­nis­tic reap­ing tool like a scythe but also has some spiffy head­phones and an iPhone 5s, which was released only 7 years ago, but then you real­ize you’ll have all eter­ni­ty to pon­der the rid­dle because the iPhone 5s is play­ing “Dazed and Con­fused” from The Song Remains the Same on repeat, but instead of play­ing the whole song it starts at 9:05 and plays until 13:20, then skips back and starts at 9:05 again, and as every diehard Zep­pelin fan knows, Jim­my Page starts man­gling a poor inno­cent cel­lo bow at 9:05 and treats the audi­ence to a ghast­ly cat­er­waul­ing shriek of a cel­lo bow/guitar solo so awful and infa­mous the only way This Is Spinal Tap could spoof it was hav­ing Nigel Tufnel play gui­tar not with a bow, but with a vio­lin, and while he’s screech­ing around with it he also kicks anoth­er gui­tar on the floor, and you get to enjoy eter­ni­ty lis­ten­ing to it.

To Jim­my Page’s cel­lo bow/guitar solo, that is.

I hate it when that happens.

Sasha the Rez Dog

Our dogs got into a fight Mon­day. They say not to break up a dog fight, but I’m not gonna sit and watch them fight­ing in the liv­ing room.

Sasha had pro­voked a num­ber of fights with Pep­per, and Pep­per would grab Sasha by the scruff of her neck and just pin her down while Sasha snapped and snarled; we’d grab a tow­el or blan­ket and cov­er Sasha’s head, then grab their col­lars and pull them apart when they start­ed to calm down.

We’d been dither­ing about Sasha’s behav­ior and what to do. She’s total­ly sweet and lov­ing with peo­ple, but for some rea­son she turned the nor­mal play fights dogs have into real fights.

I looked into no-kill or res­cue shel­ters in the area, but no one want­ed to rehome a dog with the stip­u­la­tion that she had to be an only pet. They all had lengthy wait­ing lists anyway.

Pep­per’s our big­ger dog; she’s a Cata­houla Leop­ard Hound and she’s insane­ly pow­er­ful. Sasha’s a Black Lab/mumblesomething mix. If Pep­per want­ed to hurt Sasha she could have ripped her to pieces, but all she ever did when Sasha attacked her was pin her down like Sasha was a puppy.

Any­way, when they fought on Mon­day I pulled the blan­ket over Sasha’s head and the S.O. grabbed Pep­per’s col­lar; as we start­ed to gen­tly pull them apart, Sasha pulled her­self loose from Pep­per’s grip and tried to lunge at Pep­per again. My left arm got in her way as I was try­ing to pull the blan­ket around her, and she nipped my forearm.

Pep­per pushed for­ward and pinned Sasha back down again, but much hard­er this time. I pulled Sasha away again and she howled.

I got her in a bear hug and held her while The S.O. put Pep­per in her ken­nel; Sasha stopped strug­gling, so I moved the blan­ket to see if she was hurt.

She had a super­fi­cial cut on the back of her neck, but as I tried to exam­ine it I real­ized she had­n’t just nipped me; she’d bit­ten me three times. I had two good chomps on my fore­arm with five or six punc­tures, and then a real­ly nasty punc­ture between my index and mid­dle fin­ger knuckles.

We cleaned the punc­tures and I would have been okay with ban­dag­ing them up, but the punc­ture on my hand was too deep. I tried to approx­i­mate the edges and see if but­ter­fly tape could close it, but no good.

So we went to the ER. They sutured me up and sent me home.

Ani­mal Con­trol called Tues­day morn­ing, as I expect­ed. The offi­cer said he need­ed to come assess the sit­u­a­tion and that Sasha would have to be quar­an­tined for 10 days, but he thought we could prob­a­bly do that at home.

I told him about their pre­vi­ous fights; I’d got­ten a minor nip dur­ing a pre­vi­ous one; My Best Half got a nip and a jammed fin­ger in a dif­fer­ent one; Pep­per had got­ten a lit­tle tear on her ear in yet anoth­er one. The lit­tle nips here and there had pro­gressed into more seri­ous injuries. We were heart­bro­ken, but it was just too risky to keep Sasha anymore.

I said I did­n’t know what to do; we were seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing putting her to sleep since we could­n’t rehome her or get her into a no-kill shelter.

Turns out the Prescott Val­ley Humane Soci­ety is a no-kill shel­ter, and Ani­mal Con­trol could take her there with the con­di­tion that she need­ed to be placed with a fam­i­ly as an only pet.

Sasha was already a res­cue dog; we’d adopt­ed her from the Coconi­no Coun­ty Humane Soci­ety. She’d been found liv­ing fer­al­ly on reser­va­tion land (I found out that hap­pens so often they actu­al­ly have “Rez Dog” list­ed as a breed in Ani­mal Con­trol’s data­base). She was in rough shape; she had a nasty case of demod­ec­tic mange and seem­ing­ly every species of worm there is.

When we adopt­ed her, she’d been spayed, dipped and dewormed, and she just need­ed TLC, rest and food. She was 7 months old but she did­n’t have pup­py breath; her breath smelled like feces and gaso­line from the worm meds. Her fur was brit­tle and greasy, she was still skin­ny, and she was afraid of everything.

I want­ed to name her Dob­by, after the house elf in the Har­ry Pot­ter movies. She had big flop­py ears and looked per­pet­u­al­ly ner­vous. I was vot­ed down.

We gave her a nice gen­tle oat­meal bath and just let her rest in her ken­nel; she seemed to feel safer in it. She did­n’t take long to blos­som into a won­der­ful dog, crammed with ener­gy and per­son­al­i­ty and the goofi­ness all dogs have. Until cou­ple of months ago, we were enjoy­ing her and look­ing for­ward to a long, hap­py life with her.

So the offi­cer came to the house and I signed the paper­work sur­ren­der­ing her to the Humane Soci­ety. I gave him Sasha, her med­ical records, the info on her chip and her favorite blanket.

And then she was gone.

We’ve been wrestling with the feel­ing that we made a bad choice, or that we failed her or gave up on her.

When you adopt a dog, though, you’re tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty not only to pro­vide for her, but also to do right by her when it’s time to make tough deci­sions on her behalf.

She’s only 3; I thought those tough deci­sions would be years away when she was old and the time had come to free her from suf­fer­ing at the end of a long, hap­py life. I nev­er imag­ined the tough choice would be to pick her up, put her in a cage in an ani­mal con­trol van, and close the door on her puz­zled-but-trust­ing face.

All I can do is believe we adopt­ed her when she need­ed it, and we nursed her to health and enjoyed her for a time, but that time drew to a close, and we had to send her on to be some­one else’s beau­ti­ful, goofy, lov­ing dog.

I hope they let her keep the blanket.

In These Difficult Times

In these dif­fi­cult times, times can be uncertain.

That’s why, in these chal­leng­ing times, we often expe­ri­ence demand­ing times.

And in these demand­ing times, adver­tis­ers espe­cial­ly are con­front­ed with tough times find­ing suf­fi­cient­ly severe syn­onyms to describe these try­ing times.

So, dur­ing these hor­rid times, we stand ready to help you through these cat­a­stroph­ic times; times so ghast­ly we scarce dare give them utter­ance. Because it’s real­ly, real­ly atro­cious­ly hard to find syn­onyms dread­ful enough for these appalling times of har­row­ing times.

There­fore we find our­selves, dur­ing these apoc­a­lyp­tic times, feel­ing sober­ly proud and also hon­ored­ly solemn to pro­vide you, our beloved, alert, revered, per­spi­ca­cious and also emi­nent­ly watch­ful edu­cat­ed wise insight­ful bril­liant nim­ble sheep, with the—wait; make that bril­liant nim­ble SHREWD, um, smart people.

Just remem­ber: In these abom­inably wretched vile trag­ic despi­ca­ble times, these times can be abject­ly shock­ing heinous bar­bar­i­cal­ly mal­odor­ous noi­some putrid scabrous scat­a­log­i­cal pes­tif­er­ous icky no-good very bad yucky and no fun at all.

That’s why we want to remind you that we’re all in this togeth­er, so why not use 70 or 80 words when one or two would do?

Children of the Sun

It was the '70s, okay? Everything had to have a vaguely erotic nude airbrushed chrome hood ornament thingy.

It’s been at least 35 years since I thought of this song. If you were in high school in the late ’70s, you’ll prob­a­bly shriek in hor­ror and out­rage just from see­ing the title and artist: “Chil­dren of the Sun” by Bil­ly Thorpe.

If, like me, you bought the album, you no doubt remem­ber Thor­pe and the rest of band looked mighty weird, even by ’70s standards:

In addi­tion to the req­ui­site vague­ly erot­ic nude air­brushed chrome hood orna­ment thingy on the cov­er, you also had to have a pho­to of the band doing any­thing except smil­ing. Smil­ing was right out.

This pho­to is fur­ther enweird­ened by the guy on the left putting on part of a three-piece suit and then for­get­ting what he was doing, the guy in the mid­dle star­ing at the cam­era while look­ing like an Amish child moles­ter, and Bill Thor­pe over on the right look­ing like he can’t stand the sight of the oth­er two.

If you’re under 30 and won­der­ing why I bought a whole album just to get one song, lemme ‘splain:

In those dark pre­his­toric times, an awful lot of artists got rich sell­ing albums with one, maybe two, hit songs, plus six or sev­en son­ic abor­tions they threw togeth­er in 20 min­utes or so, know­ing if you were seri­ous about your music sound­ing bet­ter than an old AM radio with a blown speak­er, you’d pay $9 to get just the one or two hits.

Things have real­ly changed.

Nowa­days artists write one okay­ish “meh” type of song, put it on YouTube, go do a bunch of blow with Kanye West or Kei$ha or those are the only cur­rent artists I can name; then you can throw togeth­er an okay­ish “meh” video and 73 alter­nate ver­sions and a video doc­u­men­tary about you writ­ing the song and karaoke ver­sions and then do a half sea­son of “Amer­i­ca’s Got Atten­tion Whores” and by then you’re pret­ty much set for life.

It’s a gui­tar, Bil­ly. You don’t need to shove it into your armpit like it’s a crutch.

Any­way, Thor­pe looks even weird­er on video than he did in pho­tos. Plus he’s play­ing a Les Paul strapped up almost to his chin, so it looks like cross between a vio­lin and a mandolin.

If you’re real­ly brave, or you’re crazy, or your gag reflex does­n’t work, you can watch the video. It’s right down there. Don’t say I did­n’t warn you.