Actually, the view from Roo's seat.
There is no other possible explanation for how crazy she gets some days.
Up a hill. Dig a hole up there until if you didn't have any fur on your face you would be blue in it. Down the hill. Dig another hole, only this time, four feet deep with the dirt hitting passing bikers in the face. Back up a hill. Back down as fast as possible. Time your arrival on the path to barrel in front of a biker going as fast as you are, causing him to kill himself. Check his backpack in case it contains tortillas. Throw up some of the dirt you've been ingesting from all that digging. Check the vomit for any pieces of leftover duck jerky. Tear a tree in half. Go swimming. Trot over to Dad to shake off next to him. Dig another hole. Chase a passing dog away in case he gets any ideas about your mouse. Run up another hill. Pretend there's a herd of deer up there and run around in wild circles until you're dizzy. Ignore the whistling and distant voice calling you. Insist on going up a trail that would kill a Sherpa rescue team. Go home, eat dinner. Throw it up. Eat that. Throw it up again. Eat it again. Come inside the house. Ask to go outside again. Ask to come inside. Ask to go outside again. Be left outside. Mope at the door until let in. Immediately ask to go out again. Find a mud spot. Throw yourself down in that and wiggle around. Ask to come inside. Elude the towel Dad tries to dry you with and instead position yourself under the piano to shake off so that Dad will have to get underneath and clean the water and mud off the 70-year-old spruce soundboard. Run upstairs. Run downstairs. Run back upstairs. Jump up and down like a bucking bronco until let out again. Turn around and ask to come inside again. Drop down on the carpet and pass out. Only for a minute - you forgot to ask for a cookie by running to the kitchen as fast as you can and slipping on the floor and knocking over a chair. Be given the cookie. Pass out again.
I’m typing with only my left hand. My right hand is in a sling made of a six-foot leash looped twice around my neck. I’m practicing being one-armed, because in a few weeks, I will be, for some time. I’m not sure how long. A few months, at least.
My right shoulder has to be replaced. They have to saw off the top of the humeral bone, drive a new one into the marrow, slice off part of the shoulder blade and hammer a new socket and three nails into the side where the ball-and-joint fit together. I’ve had two operations on this shoulder over the years, and there is no more repairing it. The thing has gone the way of the suspension in your '71 Gremlin and quit working altogether.
Overall, I think I’m up to 21 operations, though I lost count years ago. Many of those were minor – things like an appendix or a few hernias, but many were substantial. Orthopedic repairs after being crushed in the Himalaya, the removal of a paralyzing spinal cord tumor, the first primitive shoulder surgery. I’m filled with steel bars, staples and screws. I am an example of the correlation between number of scars on a person and how boneheaded they are.
I’ve known for a long time that I had to do this, but I’ve been putting it off because of Roo. The surgeon tells me that it will be a minimum of two weeks with no walking of any kind whatsoever. After that he says it will be a minimum of two to three months before being permitted on anything more than a sidewalk. Holding a leash? Too dangerous. Roo is well-behaved on a leash, but it doesn’t take much for her to be startled or to jump at a passing squirrel and no jarring will be permitted. But, it just can’t wait any more. The shoulder is trashed. It's murder.
The first time I had surgery on that shoulder was when I was 19. Back in those days, shoulder surgeries were slaughterhouse affairs. My arm was taped to my chest for six months, and after that in a sling for another six. Physical therapy consisted of a beefy guy leveraging his entire weight on me and whanging my arm to one side, like the put-down in a brutal arm wrestling match. The object was to tear the scar tissue that formed in the shoulder.
This took place at a rehab clinic in Manhattan that was filled with athletes from the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Jets and Giants.
One day, one of the Yanks happened to be walking past the room when the therapist put my arm in position and on the count of three bore down on it with all his weight to tear the scar tissue. You wouldn’t believe the sound that made. It stopped the Yank like he just landed on third to beat a double play.
Word spread among the players, and when it was time for my bi-weekly sessions, a gaggle of them would gather at the door to watch. Naturally, as the skinny, awkward kid with Coke-bottle glasses, an odd nerd incongruous to the athletes for the pretty Vassar girls waiting for me out in the lobby, I developed the ethic of maintaining a completely straight poker face during the spectacles. I’d fix one of them with an unblinking gaze and a little smile while the scar tissue was torn. It was a good act.
“Yo, man, come on, come on, hurry up!” one of the athletes would announce to the rest while I was placed on a special table designed to keep steady under the load. “Beker’s here! Come on!” They'd splash out of their whirlpool baths or interrupt the heat treatments they were getting, and eight or ten of the strongest professional badasses in the New York metropolitan area would jostle for position just inside the door. They could have come in the room, but they never did. They couldn't risk the bad mojo.
“Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, fellows,” I would invite them.
“You okay with this?” the therapist would ask.
“But of course,” I would answer. "I live to spread light."
The therapist would then entwine my arm in his in a complicated position for rotating it outward to rip the scar tissue while at the same time supporting the shoulder to keep it from dislocating. This embrace provided a dramatic setup. The Yanks and Knicks would grab each other like skittish teenage dates at a horror flick. One or two would put a hand over their eyes and peek through their fingers. Baseball players, in particular, could not stop themselves from shielding their crotches, as if a line drive was headed straight for them instead of me.
As the therapist rose on his toes in advance of bringing his weight down, the room would silence. Then, R R R I I I I P P P P! the shoulder would go. It sounded like a quick tear in a crisp newspaper. The guys would all let out their breath and wince and groan and bury their faces in the palms of their hands. It was the high point of their day, just as watching a few captured Phoenicians get their arms chopped off by a gladiator would have been in another era. Some things never change. I was glad to oblige.
“Oh, man! How ain't you dead yet?” one would call.
“OUCH, DUDE! SHEEEEE-OUCH!” another would say.
They would punch each other in the arm or put half nelsons on each other. Some Jet would towel snap a Giant. It was the only locker room bonhomie I had ever participated in, having successfully eluded participation in every high school sport, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Except for the actual ripping and tearing, which had to be repeated a few times each session, it was fun.
OK - so I'd be sweating by the time it was over. But that was the only sign of stress. While I got off the table and worked my way back into my sling, I'd shake my head at the players and say something like, “Try to remember that the next time one of you pussies is rolling around in the dirt and screaming your head off on national TV because a wittle ball hit you in your wittle hand.” Having a scrawny kid tell them that always brought a big laugh. They'd make way for me to pass them in the corridor and shake me by the left hand and say, “All right, man, all right,” as if they were holding the ropes for me to leave the ring in triumph after 15 rounds of beating up Joe Frasier. As soon as I got outside, I'd jaywalk into the middle of roaring traffic on First Avenue and scream.
Luckily, I got a lot of practice at being one-armed. It comes back to you quickly. Just now, I made it through getting undressed, showering, getting dressed again, taking out the garbage, opening the coffee container, loading the coffee maker, replacing the wire ties that hold the coffee bag in place, tearing open the Equal packets by tooth, cleaning the coffee maker - and the opening and closing Roo’s duck jerky bag - all with, if I do say so myself, astonishing dexterity. The only scary part was remembering how much I would need to worry about not slipping in the shower when it's for real. The surgeon told me that if that happened we, “would have a problem. A big problem.” He makes it sound like they're out of titanium and have to use a couple of old sherry glasses in there.
But now, as I write this, it's nearly one o'clock, and the Kahoo is starting to go crazy. It's a beautiful day in Asheville and it’s time for her walk. Twice a minute she imagines that she hears me thinking about a mouse and jumps up. Since we teamed up, I doubt she’s gone five days without her long walks, so it’s not realistic to expect her to suddenly dispense with them. A dog will adapt, but that doesn’t mean they’ll understand or be happy about it. It is going to be a huge diminution in her circumstances. If I could wait until the heat of summer, I would, but there's no way.
This is exactly the sort of situation I hoped to cover with Roo’s List, but I was never able to find a way to implement that as a website. It's simply too expensive to develop something like that. There are no cheap solutions. And it wasn't possible for me to embark on a new career, learning how to code and build a specialized website. But, man, oh, man, the failure to implement that idea is something I regret every day. Especially right now. It wasn't for lack of trying. I simply don't have the chops to develop a complicated website. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.
Anyway, that's the news from the front. Rookie Kahoo is staring at me and pacing around. She really, really, really wants to get going. She is who she is in her heart when she is out on her walks.
Might as well get going while the going is good.
This is what Roo looks like when she trots back to see just how slowly I'm limping along and to suggest that I hurry.
Soon after this, Roo went off into the woods. I followed her, as the ground wasn't too treacherous and I was curious. Way off the trail, in a spot that had to have been chosen for its isolation and tranquility, Roo found this grave marker. Someone named Ripley must have been well loved to be given such a thoughtful burial in a wild and peaceful place. And someone carried that headstone into the forest. If anyone beside Ripley's family, Roo and I have been there since the burial, I would be surprised.
I did the same thing for Orville, taking days to gather stones for a marker for him in Colorado. When Roo and I went there, I took her to his marker.
Here was the odd thing. I hadn't been there in eight years, and a friend of mine told me that over time, the conical pile had flattened out. It made no sense. There are no earthquakes there - what would have made the rocks settle? The wind? It does blow hellaciously in Boulder.
Roo and I made our way up to the mesa where the rocks were. The white pyramidal-shaped rock on top - which is a big, thick 25-pound rock - inexplicably split in half back when I placed it there - was on the ground and the formation was flattening. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, I thought. First I thought I would leave it to nature, but I changed my mind and spent some time piling the stones back up.
There is a little trail leading right up to it, and a woman of about 30, riding barefoot and bareback, was coming up on a big brown horse. He was an expensive cutting horse of a type popular around there. I heard her yelling at the horse, "Don't you make me get off here! You better not make me get off here!" But the horse wasn't listening to her, and she started screaming, "Son of a bitch! You goddamn son of a bitch!" at him.
She had her fingers clenched in the horse's mane - he had a bit in and reins on, but she was desperate and yanking on anything she could get ahold of, twisting everything this way and that, trying to make an impression on his ribs with her ankles. The horse cared not at all. He didn't like her, and wanted her to know it. He was enjoying showing her what he was made of. She didn't know how to ride him or make him want to be her horse. I had never seen so much contempt in a horse's eyes. I didn't know they were capable of it. He wasn't quite at the point where he was going to throw her off, but you could see that he was starting to consider it. As he got closer, his breathing got louder, and I could hear it in-between her yelling at him. How I hoped he would dump her.
When they got to the top of the rise, Roo - remember now, this was only a month after the end of her torture in LA, and she was a mess - and now the first time she ever saw a horse, and it was this taunted, ready-to-burst guy on the brink of murder. Roo spooked and bounced around a little and then crouched down and got in his way.
The horse, finding a dog underfoot, rose up on his hind legs and hoofed at the air. He gave his rider a mighty shake to get her loose of his mane. She slid off his back end. On the way back down he landed right on Orville's rocks and had to get his footing back. I got to Roo before she took off across the prairie.
"Every goddamned time!" the woman hollered as she got up. She was literally spitting mad and the spit on her chin didn't quite match her expensive haircut. She started yelling at me.
Now, the closest I ever got to being a hippie was when I was 12 and my long hair and Sticky Fingers T-shirt got me thrown out of a Nixon event at the Waldorf Astoria that I had been assigned by a paper to report on. But of course I've had lots of friends who were, and one of the best things about Boulder used to be that it was a bunch of hippies backed up against the Rocky Mountains. But the hippies have been priced out, and rich, imitation hippies have swarmed in to take their place. They tore down the chicken coops to put in the swimming pools. All hat no horse hippies. It's hard to store-buy hippie, but plenty of expensive boutiques will equip you up to resemble Janis Joplin in Boulder, Colorado.
"Get that goddamned dog out of here!" she screamed.
Well. That was about it. I hadn't said anything until then.
"Lady," I said, "You ever give that horse a chance to walk over you, he's going to break your back and love doing it. That horse thinks nothing of you. That horse hates you. Sad to see. Sad to see."
She knew it was true, but what burned her up more than the horse hating her was that someone had seen him hate her. That someone had seen her merit that hate. It didn't go with the Om pendant and Mongolian beads she was wearing.
At least she knew better than to try getting back up on him. The horse had cowed her. He was practically dancing with delight at his success. As for her, I don't know how dumb you have to be to go out barefoot on a prairie filled with cactus, brambles, old barbed wire, flint rocks and a hundred years of broken beer bottles, even on a horse who means to get you through. But she found out, and I bet next time she decides on a rig with saddlebags stuffed with sneakers. Roo and I watched her hop off, trying to act like it wasn't hurting her, but it was. Nobody's tough enough to make it barefoot on that hard earth.
I didn't take Roo too long to calm down. I restacked the stones, and looked out over the view at the park Orville used to love. I wasn't expecting them to last. Nothing does. Nothing is meant to.
But, hell, don't take it out on the horse.
Most dogs die of old age before they realize their life's ambition of catching a squirrel. Even Roo, who lives to hunt, doesn't bother to chase them every time she sees them any more. She's sick of them, always scurrying up the nearest tree, their little tails bobbing up down so invitingly. Still, there might be no animal in the world more interesting to her, more desirable as a catch, than a squirrel.
On the trail, Roo often disappears from sight when she goes off to chase someone. This time she wasn't gone a minute when she came back to show me this. It isn't certain that she caught that squirrel. I didn't see a chase, so either that squirrel was already dead when she found it, or some lightning strike of luck edged the squirrel into Roo's path and she pounced. Maybe he was just an especially daring squirrel and asked for it. He could have been showing off to his friends. Maybe he just knew too much. At first I didn't think so, but looking back on it, it seems that the odds are good that she did nail him, because not only was she extremely proud but also slowed down the way she does after a big endorphin rush.
Roo carried the squirrel around for 15 minutes before burying it. As you can see, she accorded the squirrel full military honors with a careful interment.
RIP, little squirrel, whoever you were.
If anyone ever asked you to put in one word what this blog is about, you would answer the same thing I would. Science.
Proceeding along the lines of inquiry that began last summer with Science Experiments You Can Conduct On Your Dog, the above photograph is proffered in the hopes of settling one of the most enduring mysteries of field biology: Do bears confine certain body functions to the woods? No other scientific question occupies a place of such prominence in the public's consciousness. It is so pervasive that it is the first thing people think of when asked whether, for example, they'll take fries with their Big Mac or if they would mind finding their boss slumped over his desk in the aftermath of a lethal thrombosis.
The logic here is inescapable. Names have meaning, therefore, no one nicknamed Little Bear, Bearface, Jr. or World Bear, could possibly not be mimicking the behaviors of her five-toed cousin.
Moreover, those of you who have been following the psychosocial development of our test subject know that she refuses to conduct her toilet in her own back yard, insisting, instead, on being transported to the woods. If the existence of parallel behavior can be demonstrated in the common Ursus Americanus - if it is the case, in other words, that they, too, will not go in their own backyards - the matter might be decided for once and for all.