From today, my little Buddy lives only in my heart.
We were together for ten years. He saw me through good times and bad. He wasn’t a cuddler, but he always wanted to be near me. Wherever I settled — in the house, in the studio, on the patio — he’d watch me for a few minutes, then mosey over and lie down a few feet away. In time, I wanted to be near him, too, and I welcomed his gentle presence at my feet, or on the coffee table in front of me, or squeezing himself into a tiny space on my desk as I typed.
But he developed a mysterious condition around his eye, causing it to bulge. Two veterinarians were unable to pinpoint exactly what it was, but it was most likely a tumor. Neither doctor gave us much hope. There was talk of MRIs, CAT-scans, and surgery to remove the eye. Everything cost a lot, and nothing was certain to fix him. I watched helplessly while the condition grew to the point where he and I and Mrs. Jones couldn’t stand it anymore.
I’m not embarrassed to say that I cried. Now I’m wondering when I will stop checking at the back screen door to see if he’s waiting there for me to let him in.
PS: Here’s the story of Buddy, from back in the days when he was called “Tigger.” Shortly after the story was posted, he became Buddy and moved in with us.
Today is the 10th anniversary of revision99.
When I started this blog, it was after reading blogs for a few months in the sumer of 2004. Blogs were actually in the news then. It was a trend. There were already hundreds of thousands of them, maybe millions, with more cropping up by the minute. I can’t remember exactly what blogs I was reading then, but I do remember being impressed — amazed, actually — at how many great writers there were out there. I don’t know what made me think there wouldn’t be, and certainly there were (and still are) plenty of bad spellers with nothing much to say and no clever way to say it. But I found a surprising number of smart writers putting together thoughtful, funny, engaging essays, some of them posting every day, and after a while I wanted to join the club.
Blogs have changed a lot since 2004. It’s not a trend any more. Various social networks have gained unbelievable popularity, driven, I believe, by ease of use and privacy controls. On Facebook, you don’t have to know much of anything or figure much out to start creating “updates.” That resulted in a lot of people using Facebook who don’t know much of anything. It’s reflected in their “writing.” Your “friends” don’t have to articulate anything about how much they like the picture you posted of your breakfast burrito. They can just click on “Like.” At first and for quite a while you could only write 240 characters, which relieved the user from having to use language to make sense. Beginnings, middles and ends vanished, along with complete sentences. Pictures, being worth a thousand words, replaced words. And privacy controls ensured that you wouldn’t have to deal with anybody online that you didn’t already know, so there would never be any need to think up and put into words a response to someone who didn’t agree with you. If worse came to worst, you could just “unfriend” them.
The blogs that I still read don’t resemble the blogs that drew me into blogging in the first place. Mostly they are professionally written and they have advertising. In order to target the ads they use tracking cookies and other devices to find out what you might be interested in buying. That way you’ll get more ads about stuff you’ve expressed an interest in. The blogs I read these days, such as Ed Kilgore’s excellent Political Animal, are sort of patterned after old-style newspaper editorial or entertainment pages. But they’re not the heartfelt amateur writing that I once fell in love with, and by amateur I don’t in any way mean inferior. I just mean not written by pros, for money.
So the world’s changed — what else is new? I guess I must sound like an old codger growling at the neighbor kids to get off my lawn. It’s true I miss those early blogs, and the people I met online who wrote them. But nine of the twelve links in my blogroll (look it up, kids) no longer exist, or are abandoned. To fill the empty hours I do have a Facebook account, and a bunch of Facebook “friends.” In fact, I actually feel kind of guilty that I have let this blog languish for such long periods between posts, while I have been busy posting pictures of my breakfast burrito on Facebook. Anyway, I am moving on, in the halting manner of the old codger.
For most of the lifespan of revision99, I was a working man, but that ended more than two years ago. Since then I have sent out over a hundred resumés and did not find work. In the past year my rock’n’roll band fell apart. I am now old enough to receive Social Security benefits, so I applied for that. I scramble daily for little odd jobs that do not tweak my conscience or cause me humiliation. I fix computers, troubleshoot small office networks. I design web sites and write PR. Mostly I sit in the sun and read detective novels.
I don’t know if this blog will continue very far past today. Every now and then I have something to say that I think must be said, and for the reasons mentioned above, Facebook doesn’t always seem like the right place to say it. So maybe I’ll write more here. I am starting a new solo project, a musical one, and I thought it might be interesting to keep a log of its progress online somewhere. But ten years is a long time for something that’s no longer trendy, and I don’t have blogging friends any more. I don’t write anything of general interest, so I wouldn’t be able to sell ads here even if I wanted to, which I don’t, so what’s the point?
But even if I don’t put revision99 to rest I think I’ll go somewhere else to write about my solo project. Start fresh with a new design. Post my thoughts about the project, describe how it’s going, and put up music clips as I get things finished. So yes, at least one more post on revision99, in which I’ll describe the intent of the new project and maybe include a sound clip and a link to wherever the new project lives.
Until then, happy anniversary to me. I never thought it, or I, would live to this age.
An old white compact car is parked, badly, on the street right in front of my house.
I noticed it earlier today, nosed in to the curb, the back end sticking out into the street a couple of feet. It doesn’t belong to me or any of my neighbors. It’s Saturday, so the first thing I thought is that some kids stole it last night for a joyride and abandoned it hastily when the fun was over.
But while I was pondering this, a woman showed up at the car with a set of jumper cables coiled in one hand. She had a black dog with her, and she opened the passenger door and the dog jumped in. As she was opening the hood a guy drove up next to her car and stopped there, engine running. They hooked up the cables and the woman tried several times to start her car. The first few times nothing happened at all, then the engine sputtered to life, coughed , and died. She tried again, got it running, revved it like crazy, and it died again. She and her friend in the other car got out and conferred in the street. My analysis was that the car was out of gas, or had a clogged fuel line. That’s what it sounded like, and that would kind of explain the bad parking job: engine dies, no power steering, only a small space to pull into, no chance to back up and park cleanly. Whatever the problem was, she and her friend and the dog took off, leaving the badly parked car right where it was. And that’s when things turned sucky.
Since she had returned with jumper cables and a friend, I figured she wanted her car back. She just had to take the rescue mission to the next level, whatever that was going to be. But while she was gone, a Parking Enforcement cop came by. The car was badly parked. No doubt it was bad enough to get a ticket. Still, while the street here is narrow, cars could still easily get past. I would have left it alone, but then I’m not a cop.
The officer had a handheld device and she spent ten minutes keying stuff into it. I already knew the little white car wasn’t stolen, and I hoped that as soon as the parking officer knew that, she’d plant a ticket on the windshield and go away. But she stayed for a long time, taking pictures of the bad parking job, returning to her own car, punching more and more data into her computer, walking around and around the offending car.
Then — of course –the tow truck arrived. In a few minutes the little white car was gone, hauled off to the city tow yard. The parking cop sat in her car for a few more minutes, maybe adding more data to her report of the incident, maybe just recovering from her strenuous half-hour of crime fighting.
Maybe I’ll talk to the woman when she comes for her car. I don’t know what I’ll say. It’s a five hundred dollar car. Not much, but until today it was getting her and the black dog around. It will cost her two hundred bucks to get it out of impound. I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around, or she would have had a better car to begin with, or at least an Auto Club membership so she could get some assistance before The Law arrived. Of course, she’ll be without a car for a couple of days at least, because the tow yard will send a truck out and hijack your car on Saturday or Sunday, but they won’t allow you to reclaim your vehicle until Monday. If the woman has a job, she might not be able to get to work on time on Monday, because no car. So she might lose some money or maybe even her job while she’s out paying money to get her pathetic wreck of a car back. Then of course it still won’t run, because it’s not going to repair itself over the weekend sitting in the city tow yard. If all these things piss her off to the point that she gets a little rowdy protesting, she might even get to spend a few hours in jail, and then get to do 200 hours of community service.
So thanks, police. The whole episode has reminded me again that when you’re down, you just get shoved farther down. I could rail against the unfairness, or I could just be grateful that now there’s no car parked in front of my house, ruining my view of the other side of the street.
I have a sad, nervous, sinking feeling in my stomach tonight.
Molly the Cat left the back yard sometime before her dinner this evening, and she hasn’t come home yet. It’s eleven o’clock now, and I’ve walked around the neighborhood twice, calling her name and making kissy sounds, but no Molly. She’s old — almost fifteen years — and frail, but she is so fiercely independent that there has never been any question that she gets to go outside when she wants to. When she was a young cat she would often stay out until two or three in the morning, but in the past year or so, she has limited her ramblings to the immediate vicinity of the house, and she has rarely wanted to stay out more than a half hour after dark.
But today, the last day of Pacific Standard Time, 2014, she is out somewhere, by herself, late, with no food. I keep looking at the back screen door, expecting to see her skinny little self sitting there, looking in, eager to get a bite to eat and a warm place to sleep. But she’s never there.
I’m going to bed now. I put her bed on the back porch in case she comes back when I’m not there to open the door. I expect I’ll wake up and check for her at the door a few times. There’s no use looking for her any more. She has never come when I called her anyway. I hope she’s OK. I hope she comes back. I won’t be mad at her if she comes back.
UPDATE, March 11: She did come back! She vanished just before her dinner late Saturday and I found her about the same time the next day, hiding in the bushes at the side of the house. By that time she had not eaten or had fresh water for 36 hours. She does not have any broken bones or visible wounds (like from a car accident or animal attack), but she was bleeding from the mouth and her breath is foul. My guess is she was in a fight (uncharacteristic for her) and bit somebody hard enough to lose a tooth, and now has a stinky infection in her mouth. She has done little but eat and sleep for the past day and a half, although she is not much interested in dry cat food, which supports the lost tooth theory. I’ll have a vet check her out, but she is my baby and I am so glad she’s back.
My unemployment has faded into retirement, which in turn is fading into a sense that I’ve got to do something with my time.
I’ve got to make something, be something, earn some money. My year-and-a-half job hunt didn’t go well, and I gave up after about 200 applications. I don’t blame anybody for firing me, or for not hiring me. I have a lot of skills, and one of them is annoying people.
I’m sitting this quiet winter Sunday morning on my couch in the living room, my big cat Buddy — formerly Tigger — by my side. My need to be doing something is on hold for now, which makes me a little crazy, because after having jobs for 50 years I feel kind of empty without one, and I have taken on some tasks that I should be doing right now, instead of sitting on the couch. Even on Sunday morning, my feeling of responsibility is taking away my ability to enjoy doing nothing. Nothing, which I always thought would be cool to do. Now that I have nothing to do, I want something to do.
I fix computers and troubleshoot small computer networks. I somehow talked myself into a part time gig writing a weekly newsletter for a local small business. I play in a rock’n’roll bar band. And I teamed up with an old friend and former business partner to start a web design company. I call this “scrambling.” I get a few bucks every now and then on an uncertain schedule, and I look around for the next little payday. I can’t just go to my mailbox at work and pick up my next paycheck on Friday. I have to scramble for the money. It’s working — sort of — but it’s not answering the big question, maybe because I haven’t figured out what the big question is.
I lived hard, and I took my retirement a little bit at a time, while I was young. I didn’t care about the future. I was sure I wouldn’t live to see it. Now I’m in it. A black man with an alien-sounding name is President. California — my lush Promised Land — is turning dry and desolate. Telephones have morphed — abruptly, it seems to me — into little talking computers you carry in your pocket, and they tell you where to get some pizza and who wants to be your “friend.” Like my many sore muscles and my grey hair, this future has crept up on me, and it feels like yesterday only in a parallel universe.
For a year and a half in the 70’s I was in a band that played the same club every weekend.
They’d had the gig for a long time before I joined — who knows how long? — and they were the worst, or maybe the second-worst band I’ve ever been in. I didn’t know them or anything about them, but somehow I’d gotten wind that they needed aÂ guitarÂ player, so I called the number andÂ offeredÂ to audition by sitting in with them on a Friday night. My friend drove me there in his VW bus, about a thousand miles up the 605Â FreewayÂ from Long Beach to the San Gabriel Valley, basically a foreign country to me. On the way there I had my first ever hits of cocaine, pharmaceutical grade stuff stolen by a nurse from a hospital and decanted into an innocuous looking sinus spray squeeze bottle. Say what you want about the evils of drugs. There was a loud happy party in my virgin brain by the time we arrived at the venue.
I blew them away, of course, partly because they were an awful band of not-quite musicians. But I surprised myself, too, with my playing, which I believe was better than ever on that occasion. I admit to this day that I am not a virtuoso player, but on that Friday night in that bar in Rosemead or wherever the hell I was, I was fast and tasteful with everything I tried. (The blow helped, I’m sure, although later I was to discover its true evils.) And when I jumped in uninvitedÂ on background vocals the deal was sealed, and I had one of the most lucrative and mind-numbingÂ gigs of my life.
We had the regular gig at the bar, but there were also weddings, bar mitzvahs, reunions, office parties,Â quinceaneras, corporate events — endless performances, some booked years in advance. The keyboard player was the leader. He had a cheesy portable organ, and he would call us back from our breaks with a little ta-dah fanfare.Â We played wrong chords, bad arrangements and lame songs, and the work just kept coming. It was weird.
I never fit in with them. Except for the lead singer, a black guy with an absolutely majestic voice, I didn’t even like them. They had picked up their instruments and learned them specifically to be in that band. It seemed to me they were operating in a sort of musical vacuum. They didn’t know music structure or theory. They played by rote, sometimes from sheet music they bought, or, worse, Â sometimes they tried to figure out the song by listening to it on the radio.
I couldn’t stay with them, despite the money. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t getting rich with them. It was enough money to live, that’s all. But for a freelance musician, that was a lot. Most of us have to have a day job. I moved on finally, another in a long string ofÂ questionableÂ decisions I’ve made in my life. They’re probably still playing out there in the valley.
Sometimes I can still hear that little organ fanfare, and I wonder if it’s time to come back from this break.
I found the old snapshot in a shoebox in the garage.
The girl is maybe 18 years old, adorable, still showing a little baby fat. Her skin is tanned, except for the pink in her cheeks. She is seated at a kitchen table in front of a window half-covered with dime-store curtains. Her luxurious dark brown hair is a couple of inches longer than shoulder length, parted a little to the right but not “done.” She is holding a spray can of Black Flag House & Garden. Not really holding it, but with her hand around it the way you might have your hand around a drink as it rests on the table, in between sips. She knows this is funny, and she is telling the camera this with a smile that lights her whole face, really the whole room, and still, after all this time, stops my heart.
She is wearing a little sleeveless thing, mostly green with a close white print on it, a little halter top and shorts all of one piece, that might have been called a sunsuit in earlier times. I know this garment. I know how short the shorts are. I know how it can come off with one zipper in the back.
I know this girl.
She dumped me decades ago. Shortly after we met she gave me this picture that had been taken a year or so earlier. I don’t know exactly how old it was or who snapped the shot, but this was before the days of digital cameras and cell phone photography, when you had to buy film and load it into the camera and then you could only take that many pictures and you couldn’t see any of them until you had shot the entire roll and had it developed, back in the days when you had to put some effort into it, when a photograph really meant something. We didn’t know each other very well at the time, and when she gave me this picture I didn’t know she was saying this is important, what I’m giving to you, and I have more to give, if you only ask. Eventually, I got the message.
We were together for — a year? Two? She lived 50 miles away from me and I thought nothing of making the drive in my rickety car, out to the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley. Once we drove together a thousand miles in that old sled, to another state, just to look at the trees and the mountains we found. I can’t think of any reason for that trip, except I wanted to be alone with her, away from everyone else, because I couldn’t get enough of her.
I didn’t do it right, of course. I broke our promise, the one we made to each other in her bedroom that first time in the Valley, and the other times that followed. We never spoke any words about it, but she knew, and I knew. At some point I began pretending that we were sophisticated grownups enjoying each other immensely, nothing more. Of course I didn’t tell her this, but she knew. Women always do, usually before they even have any evidence.
I thought I was getting away with my bad behavior until one night we left a party together, I thought to go outside and make out. I don’t know how long she’d planned it, or even if she’d planned it. But after we got in the car, and before any hanky panky got started, she told me calmly we were finished, that I wouldn’t be seeing her again. She’d come to the party in her own car, and she was going home without me. From then on, she would be going everywhere without me. She wasn’t angry or emotional, but there was nothing I could say to change her mind. I tried.
So it turned out right after all, I guess. I got what I deserved, tossed out with the trash. She got a fresh start, without me, when she still had all the time in the world. Vaguely, I knew there was a lesson to be learned from this episode. I didn’t learn it, but at least I got enrolled in the class.
I hope to graduate some day.
When I was a small boy, I cut my hand with a double-edged razor blade.
It didn’t hurt — at least I don’t remember any pain — but the bright red blood shocked me. It was flowing out of my hand, I couldn’t even see the cut, and it wouldn’t stop. When I touched it, it got all over my other hand, and then all over my T-shirt when I tried to wipe it off. I was paralyzed with fear, and the blood kept pouring out of the invisible cut. I had two thoughts more or less simultaneously: I want my mother, and there is no way I can explain this to her.
I can’t even explain it to myself, looking back at it through the fog of many decades. What was I doing, that breezy Spring day, walking across a baseball field playing with a Gillette Blue Blade? I can see this blade now in my mind, and it was clean and blue and shiny. Not a rusty old blade that you might find under the bleachers, although why would it be under the bleachers at a municipal ballpark? How did I get my hands on it?I don’t remember, but it seems now that there must have been only two ways: Either I took it from my father’s shaving stuff in the bathroom, or somebody out on the baseball field gave it to me.
That type of blade came in a cool dispenser — a flat blue plastic box with a thumb hole on one side and a slot on one end. You could see the center of the top blade through the hole, and you’d put your thumb on that part of the blade, sliding it out through the slot at the end, directly into the razor. The next blade would then be visible in the hole, ready for the next change, but the main thing is your razor would be loaded and ready to go without you ever touching those dangerous sharp edges.
Maybe after seeing my father perform this procedure I just had to try it myself. Only of course I ended up with the blade in my hands, not in a razor. A safety razor, as they were called.
I remember thinking, out on the field, with the green grass stretching hundreds of yards in all directions and the warm sun and the pleasant breeze, there is no danger here. This blade is not so sinister. See how it bends and flexes, not at all like a dangerous knife. Why is everybody so nervous about these things? Why have I been kept away from them all this time?
I remember walking while I thought these thoughts, and it was somewhere in the bending and flexing and scoffing that the blood started pouring out of my hand. I had almost convinced myself that this was not even a real blade, that it was just a benign plastic replica, a prop. It couldn’t possibly have just cut me. I had felt nothing, and now there was all this blood. I was afraid and confused. Afraid of the frailty of my skin, confused over the treachery of the blade, shiny and blue and smiling and innocent, like the devil. This blade had fooled me, lulled me into carelessness. I’d been laughing at it, and then it had turned on me.
Of course I ran home. I was a small child, and I didn’t know what else to do. I sensed that I would be in some trouble over playing with razor blades, but also I knew my mother would clean the wound and bandage it, and maybe if I played my cards right I wouldn’t get spanked or yelled at.
In any case, I felt it was worth the gamble. Much later I would develop the resources to take care of my own wounds, the better to deceive not just my mother, but everyone.
With the media frenzy surrounding the death of Steve Jobs, I have been contemplating life and death.
They are playing clips in heavy rotation on TV and radio from his commencement speech at Stanford a few years ago, after he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and had already had a liver transplant. He must have known he didn’t have much more time, and he told the graduates something like this:
“Death is an important part of life, because it clears away the old to make way for the new. You are new today, but don’t forget that someday you’ll be old, and death will come to clear you away. Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Whatever you do, make sure you do what you love.”
I’ve heard this advice in various forms from various people my whole life, and I have come to the conclusion that it’s not the way the world works. It’s that “do what you love” thing that has caused an entire generation to believe they (we) are special, and that the world owes them (us) a living, that we are entitled to experiment all our lives, try this career, sample that lifestyle, and somehow everything will work out.
After many years of study, I can tell you that everything does not necessarily work out. Sometimes you lose your job, your wife, even your home. Sometimes there are powerful reasons why you have to stay in a dead-end job — for example, you need the paycheck, you have responsibilities, people who depend on you for food and health care. You “live someone else’s life” because that someone supplies the paycheck, and no matter how difficult or demeaning the work may be, you suck it up, because you have to. You don’t go chasing dreams, because you have to survive.
Here’s how I think life works: You roll the dice, and you see what happens. Whatever happens, you have to deal with it. You might become a billionaire, like Steve Jobs, or you might lose your shirt. The good news is you can roll the dice as many times as you want, chase various dreams, take many lovers, try different vocations. The bad news is, each roll takes something out of you: your money, your time, your heart. There’s no hard limit, but after a certain number of rolls, you will run out of resources to roll again. You may not have any more money, or enough time. In my case, I don’t have the heart any more.
I went through many years of confusion and denial about this, because I believed that if I followed my dreams, things would work out, and in that context it didn’t make sense that things weren’t working out, at least not the way I’d hoped. Now I know that life happens the way it happens, and you can bend the arc a little bit, but you can’t make it turn out exactly the way you envisioned it. Steve Jobs took a bunch of technology that had been invented by others, packaged it attractively and dropped it into a market that was ripe to take off. It was probably difficult for him, 25 years later, to think back and see it happening any other way, but of course it might have happened differently. How many millions were following their dreams at that same moment in time, and how many of them achieved phenomenal success?
Not very freakin’ many.
We don’t want to admit it, because we want to put Steve Jobs up on a pedestal and believe that he represents the inevitable result of perseverance, hard work, and doing what we love. If he can do it, so can we, because that’s the way it works, right? The more likely truth is that he was in the right place at the right time, and along with the love and the hard work and the perseverance, he was damned lucky.
The funny thing is, when I try to imagine what I would do with my life if I had it to do over, I think I would take pretty much the same path. I’d like to think I’d do it better, make better decisions at the important junctures, but maybe that’s just the experience talking, experience I wouldn’t have if I were really “starting over.” Maybe I’d be luckier the second time around, and maybe not. But if I had a second chance at my life, I guess that’s what I’d do: Do it over.