Nov 17, 2009

Puppy Pics (And Very Few Words)

Vincent sucking on Poe's foot.  They're hungry I tell you!  Hungry!!

 Less than a week old--Barnabas and his mama's foot

Salem and momma

Salem sleeping on the best bed in the world.  Until she's big enough to get on the couch.

Leeches, crowd-surfing.

Best bed in the world.

Too pooped for photos.

So why do you think we named him "Vincent"?

Nov 14, 2009

"I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!"

"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."

This is GOING to be a post about AMC's new "The Prisoner" remake. I've been told, however, that I am now required to post something about the puppies in each and every post, however, so here goes:

Belle has taken to spending less and less time with the little ones, starting the weaning process. The puppies have a different idea, however. They LIKE nursing--often, and rather violently, and Belle gets tired of that level of abuse pretty fast so she often gets up with a full compliment of whelps attached. The resulting sound of vacuum-seals breaking is surprisingly like the sound of all those snaky black tubes popping off Neo when Morpheus first released him from the Matrix.


Okay. 'nuff said.

The Prisoner. If you've not seen the 1960's era cult classic, you need to. Do yourself the treat. It's entertaining, engaging, surreal and often rather intelligent. It deals with our peception of reality, the ways we treat others and even the nature of the relationships between jailor and jailed.

Did I mention it's surreal? One of the great joys of The Prisoner is that they didn't have the biggest budget in the world, so they really had to drag every ounce of story out of every piece of scene, make the absolute best out of every prop. Something like a white weather balloon, guided by fishing line and some engineered gusts of wind, aided by some weird growls and roars on the soundtrack became Rover, a terrifying, suffocating mechanical threat on the island. An off-season vacation spot became The Village, a place where spies are taken to be emptied of their useful information in whatever means the jailors see fit.

And now AMC has gotten it into their heads to remake that incredible series. With a massive budget they can film in Tunisa, they can remake a city block in said city into New York, can hire the likes of Sir Ian McKellan to be the chief heavy in The Village--Number Two.

I don't remember when I first discovered The Prisoner, much in the same way I don't remember when I first discovered Blake's 7 or The Avengers. They were always there, it seems, only waiting for me to find them, reveal to me their mysteries and their sly winks and their gasping surprises.

I do remember the feeling of joy as I watched each episode open, reveal its plot, the little twists and turns, the cleverly hidden clues that said "Yes, this is the same retired spy from 'Secret Agent Man' only we're not going to come out and admit it." There was always some little something to make you wonder. The Tally Ho, printed seemingly as the 'news' happened in The Village. The living chessboard. The statuary with cameras for eyes. The allusions to people who came and went from the outside world. Number 2's green dome, and Angelo Muscat's quiet, mysterious butler character who never spoke a word, but who no doubt knew more than any Number 2 ever did. For that matter, the ever-changing Number 2--each episode there was a new Number 2, eager to crack Number 6's iron will, desperate to dig through his mind, picking out the information like meat from a cracked walnut.

Except in this reinvisioned Village he's not Number Two, just "Two." Just as John Casiavetesetees whatever his name is is just "Six." And so far as I can tell there's no butler, silently absorbing everything. Cut from the story to streamline it, I suppose. Like the titles of the six episodes they're airing--the hauntingly named "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" is now simply "Darling." "Living In Harmony," the weirdly-canted American Western episode is now simply "Harmony." Each new episode bears a trimmed-down version of an original episode's name.

A lot of it seems to have that feeling--like it's been streamlined, cleaned up, modernized. The round buttons that each prisoner used to wear, the buttons that had the penny-farthing bicycle logo and the prisoner's number have been replaced by retail-style glossy rectangular badges with a number and a somewhat Art-Deco rendering of a city skyline; several tall, round-topped rectangles. The quaint little holiday houses that once dotted The Village's manicured park have been replaced by Aspen-style cookie-cutter cottages. Rover, from the previews, seems to be about five stories tall and awfully ethereal.

Another thing that bothers me? Two has a family. Yes, a FAMILY. A wife who from the previews seems to be bedbound (but perhaps kept that way?) and a son, "12-13" who Six seems to be trying to sway to the side of liberation, freedom from the restraining Village. Interesting, but way off the mark. A family is weakness, a liability, a way to do damage to an otherwise strong, untouchable target. No Number 2 would have tied himself to something as dangerous as a family.

I will say this, and this comes as no surprise--Ian McKellan's Two looks and sounds consumately wonderful. Set as it is in a desert (Tunisia, I'm told from the multiple making-of's) he's always resplendant in an ivory suit, an ice-cream cone fresh from the freezer on a hot day. He's dapper, always impeccably dressed in vest and coat and slacks and a beautiful ivory-white fedora. He oozes charm and power. He speaks like a man who is accustomed to wielding that power, a man to whom the ways and procedures of extracting information "by hook or by crook" come as naturally as breathing. But then again an actor of that caliber makes it look easy. I only hope the rest of the cast can pull it off.

So. Starting tomorrow night on AMC we get to see this re-invented Village, this new Six and Two. There's even at least one grossly overt nod to the original--when Six wakes up in the desert outskirts of The Village he is witness to an elderly man who seemingly has escaped. This elder wears the trademark black sport coat with white trim, khaki pants, boat shoes and deep blue shirt that Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 always wore. The director says it's to tie the two together, so that we can imagine that Number 6 has been trying and failing since the 60's to escape from The Village, and the new Six meets his numbersake.

Uhm...did anyone think to watch the original first? The trial never happened? "Fallout" never occurred? Number 6 met and unmasked Number 1, seeing himself beneath the layered masks? What about his apartment door in London opening with that eerie mechanical whine, just like his apartment in The Village? Jailor as prisoner, and the butler returning
"home" with him...

Yes, I'm going to watch. Probably will even watch every single one even if they stink, and I really sincerely hope they don't, but we'll see. I'll let you know in a few days what my initial verdict is.

Be seeing you.

Nov 2, 2009

Memento Mori

It's been a very full week, let me just say that up front, and circumstances have made me think about how life runs in long, strange chains. How the littlest thing, the most overlooked moment can set you on a whole new path.

I used to go to dog shows a lot, decades before I considered myself anything close to being a dog show person. Admission was free, the coliseum was ten minutes away, and I liked dogs. I'd go and watch the Dobermans, because I loved how strong and brave they appeared, and I'd watch the German Shorthaired Pointers because I grew up with one as a kid. I'd watch the people fervently grooming and brushing and I never once thought I'd be one of those people.

Couldn't tell you now what ring I was watching, but I was watching some breed or other when I felt a very long, very hard something slip tightly between my legs. Now, in my sum total experience that's something I do, not have done unto me. I turned and watched a small lady with a very long, very tall dog with the longest nose I've ever seen walk off. I'm sure she said something apologetic but I don't even remember. I knew I'd never seen that kind of dog before, but I dismissed it from my mind and went on watching the breed ring.

Later that day I saw that same dog and lady again. They were in a quiet part of the coliseum, and she was moving at a very fast jog alongside her dog. Now, ordinarily a jogging woman is enough to make me stop and look but it was the dog that caught my attention. It wasn't that he was tall (he was, exceedingly so) or that he had a coat of beautiful flowing curls that ranged from black to russet to white. It wasn't even his long, elegant face with small, tucked-back ears that looked like it had been designed for cutting through the wind. It was the way he moved. He moved like he was floating, like his feet weren't quite touching the ground and he was in fact flying, and all the leg movements were just a smoke screen to hide the fact that he was disobeying gravity's immutable law.

I stood and watched for a while, and when they stopped I walked over and said nine fateful words. "Excuse me ma'am. What kind of dog is that?"

Perhaps someone with sharper ears than mine would have heard the switch being thrown, might have noticed the change in the air as the train of my life slipped onto a new track entirely, but not me. Maybe Jesse noticed, but if so he never told me. He won't be able to tell me now, if he'd ever planned to. He died about a week ago. I won't get into how, suffice to say it was too early, and it wasn't fair, but then again Death never stops to ask how you'd like it to happen, it just does.

He changed my life, though. For a year I learned about Borzoi. The wife and I continued to talk about going in the show ring but instead of with Bedlington Terriers like we'd planned the talk turned to Russian Wolfhounds. I kept up loose contact with Rita, and the next year I saw her again at the same AKC show. This time she handed me his leash and said "Here, go walk him around." She smiled then, a little secret smile whose meaning I missed entirely. She knew. She knew how she felt when she walked her first Borzoi around. She knew full well how it felt to have someone ask about that rare breed, how it feels to walk beside such an elegant creature.

I made one circuit of the building with him, then a second. I felt like someone had given me the keys to a sports car, felt like the kid who asked for a Breyer horse for Xmas and got a real pony instead. I was so proud, smiling like I'd been given candy from a well-meaning stranger, and I ate up every moment with gusto.

You guys know the rest of the story. We brought Belle home not long after that, and it's been a whirlwind ever since. Coursing. Show ring. Learning the ins and outs of traveling with a 75 pound dog, learning new cities, seeing new faces and familiar ones too. Learning how political the dog show world can be, and learning how heart-breakingly exhilarating it can be to watch your dog run after a white plastic bag with every ounce of their body poured into the effort. Knowing that the same dog that trotted off the field to stand ribs-deep in the cow pond after the race just won Best In Field, and the judge hands you a ribbon, a huge rosette of red, white and blue. Learning how proud you can be when she finishes her ring championship and you can put that magical "Ch" in front of her name. Not to mention the best part: spending years with an extraordinary breed of dog. Bonding. Learning together. Forming that connection that you can only form with a dog.

Jesse was in my life too, during those years. We'd travel to Fort Worth and visit, and there he'd be--three feet tall, three inches wide and every gram of him comprised of power and grace and a consuming desire to be with friends, with people who love him as unconditionally as he loves them. He even spent some time here with us, lounging around one January in the cool air in our back yard, lying in the piles of pecan leaves we were trying so fastidiously to rake up. I wanted to keep him, Rita wanted to give him a good home after he retired, but we simply didn't have the space for him, as much as I regretted it.

So now here we are. Sheba and Remy are just passed their first birthdays, their entire careers as runners and show dogs ahead of them. Growing from pups that you could comfortably hold in your lap to dogs who command half the couch when they sit with you. Belle pregnant, growing wider by the day, moving slower, her body crowded by seven new bodies. Sitting up one evening with her, hurting each time her whole body clenched, pushed. Wanting to cry with her every time she cried out, not understanding why it hurt to push but her body overriding her brain and pushing anyway. Holding a placenta in your hand, still fever-hot and dripping with blood while your wife carefully attaches hemostats to the newborn puppy's umbilical cord, cuts it, towels the tiny thing until it squeaks with outrage, then hands the tiny puppy to Belle to lick, to clean. Watching the tiny blind thing find a nipple and latch on with fervent need while her brothers and sisters each come into the world the same way. Bloody, covered in slick fluids, squealing and thrashing legs that refuse to obey, eyes and ears closed, filled with a hunger for mother and milk and warmth.

It hasn't been a week yet and already they've grown, rapidly. The biggest is already two pounds, and they're all healthy and sleek and show tiny glints of the graceful, elegant hounds they'll become in a few short months. They're developing personalities: Luna the fifth to be born, the smallest, talkative and feisty. Poe, marked with a huge black heart on his white side who likes to sleep on the outside of the puppy pile. Einar, the biggest so far, who loves to bury himself right into the middle of the pile, disturbing his litter mates. Vincent with his tiny black pencil-thin moustache across his upper lip just like Jesse had.

Rita, when she called to deliver the news that Jesse had died, said that maybe he'd be reborn into one of our puppies, one of our seven who arrived just two short days after he left our lives. Perhaps she was right--there are two tri-coloured pups in there, and one a male. Maybe that old soul, that light foot and that unstoppably cheerful spirit found a new outlet, a new way to burn bright in the world. I certainly like to think so.

Bilbo said it best: you never know where the road is going to take you. Thank you, Jesse, for setting my feet on this one.

The Classic Horror Litter:

"Shadow Over Innsmouth" -- Barnabas

"Sleepy Hollow" -- Punkin'

"October Country" -- Einar

"The Telltale Heart" -- Poe

"What The Moon Brings" -- Luna

"Fall Of The House Of Usher" -- Vincent

"Old Black Magic" -- Salem

A Funny Thing Happened In The Kitchen

A few mid-mornings ago for my Second Breakfasts I decided on a single slice of wheat bread (the real kind, nice and dark and rich, not that weird ‘white wheat’ pseudo-bread) dressed with a thin layer of creamy peanut butter and a steaming cup of Prince of Wales tea.

“What’s so interesting or funny” I hear you ask, “about making a half-sandwich, except maybe the not-all-that-clever LotR reference?” Well, I’ll tell you. I spread the peanut butter with a plastic knife, the kind with the tiny serrations on. Seems the peanut butter was just the right consistency to hold the pattern beautifully so the very thin layer of tan was covered in hundreds of perfect, tiny left to right furrows. The first thing I thought about was how you furrow grout like that when you’re laying tile on a floor or wall. The second thing I thought was “Wow, if I lay a second slice of bread on top and give it a gentle side-to-side wiggle as I press it in place it’ll REALLY adhere.

Yeah, I’ve been watching This Old House and HGTV way too much.

Nov 1, 2009

An Open Letter

Dear Great Pumpkin

Well, another Halloween has come and gone, and I spent the whole night in the most sincere pumpkin patch I could find. Sadly, and much to my distress, you did not see fit to fly over in your ceaseless eternal wanderings and gift me with brightly wrapped presents. I can only assume that the particular patch I chose to spend the cold, wet night in did not meet your high expectations for sincerity, because I know you respect sincerity above all. Surprisingly, even my constant efforts on your behalf, furthering your cause above that of that red-suited fake Santa Claus person didn't affect your decision this holiday, but I understand that we cannot be expected to understand Your ancient and inscrutable thoughts.

Ah well. I assure you I will continue ever vigilantly to remain sincere and forthright, and I await next Halloween with a heart overflowing with zeal, hoping beyond hope to see you rise up from my pumpkin patch.

Most sincerely yours,