Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Daisy, 2003 - 2013. R.I.P.

In 2003 CSB and I decided that, in order to ensure that traveling would always be complicated and that we would have no disposable income left after vet dog food bills, we would get two dogs. Two, because that way they could entertain each other when we were less than entertaining. We got lucky. We found Daisy and Bruno, litter mates from a local kennel. She was Alpha and he was, well, Beta or Omega. He was the runt, and would forever be the smaller and more submissive one. Then Bruno, at the very young age of six months, developed a lethal form of leukemia. This was not the plan. We had specifically chosen spaniels – rather than the beloved bulldogs – because spaniels were supposed to be sturdy and long-lived, unlike bulldogs who are genetically incapable of copulating or giving birth naturally, and have respiratory trouble, droopy eyelids, and hip dysplasia, for starters.

So ten years ago I spent a lot of time - hours stretching in nights - in the waiting room of the Animal Medical Center on East 68th street in Manhattan. I spent enough time there to learn the painful curvature of the plastic chairs and to get friendly with other vigilant pet-owners, and their animals. I met a small girl and her rabbit, named Whitey. Whitey had stomach cancer. A young man, who always sat at the farthest possible distance from everyone else in the waiting room, had a boa constrictor with a strep throat. I asked him how, initially, he was able to tell that his boa constrictor was unwell. I forget his exact words, but the gist was that it was obvious to him as Bruno’s discomfort was to me. In that waiting room I saw parrots, gerbils, and dogs and cats of every size and permutation. One morning a team of photographers from PEOPLE magazine showed up to do a shoot on the range of exotic animals and their equally exotic owners. Bruno, a Springer spaniel, and I did not qualify as exotic in either case.
Bruno’s prognosis was terrible, as it was for most animals at the Animal Medical Hospital, a tertiary care facility, the crème de la crème of veterinary hospitals. We despaired. But after several blood transfusions and treatment with cyclosporine, a drug so expensive and toxic that I was required to wear gloves when administering it, he got better. He got better and he stayed better.

Daisy and Bruno spent the next ten years playing together, chasing squirrels, birds, field mice, anything. If they got into trouble, we always knew that Daisy was the ringleader. In Maine Daisy leapt off the dock, making almost swan dives into the lake. Bruno, ever cautious, had to be coaxed into the water, and then only on the hottest days.
They were outdoor dogs. They got scruffy and muddy. Especially Daisy who never met a mud puddle she didn’t embrace. Much as I loved their luxuriant soft fur, two or three times a year I took Daisy and Bruno to Pretty Pets to get shorn. So last week, with summer approaching, I took them for their summer buzz cut. And without all her fur, it became clear that Daisy had not merely gained her usual avoirdupois over the winter, but she was bloated and distended. She was not right.
At the animal hospital I got the diagnosis: Daisy, the indomitable, über-energetic Daisy, has cirrhosis of the liver.
I was shocked. Of all the possible ailments, why cirrhosis? Daisy does not drink alcoholic beverages. Did not drink. Was she the innocent repository of the wages of our epicurean ways? Was there some Dorian Gray-ish phenomenon going on in the house whereby we get to drink our cocktails while Daisy’s liver suffers the effects?
There isn’t much to be done for a dog with liver failure, except try to make her as comfortable as possible. The one thing we could do was to drain some of the fluid that was surrounding her organs and causing the painful distension. That is what we did. Before leaving Daisy at the hospital to be drained, I had to sign several papers, including a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). Or rather, I had to decide whether or not we wanted extraordinary measures used to resuscitate her, in the event that she expired during the procedure. And here is the crazy part: I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sign the DNR. I have no problem signing a DNR for myself, or for an aging parent, but I couldn’t do it for my dog. Because she couldn’t do it for herself.

Draining her abdomen gave Daisy a few more days, until it didn’t. Until the very last she was valiant and cheerful. She was a great dog. Bruno, CSB and I will miss her like crazy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stink bugs and me, unfortunately

It would be just fine with me if the cicadas emerged from the ground, did their seventeen-year dance, and then died. They would distract me from the Brown marmorated stink bugs which came without announcements or glory or biblical allusions, and seem to have settled in, like houseguests who are dangerously available for long term visits.
I consider the stinkbugs my personal failure. Each morning we wake up and I put on my glasses and count the stinkbugs doing absolutely nothing on the ledges of the crown molding in the bedroom. Later I go into Reine’s room and open the aged casement windows and start gathering up the stinkbugs that are gathered on the window jambs, resting on the screens, likewise doing absolutely nothing. One time out of five a stinkbug will actually take flight when I attempt to remove it, but otherwise they are largely inert.
What is the point of being a stinkbug?
How is it possible that stinkbugs arrived at our house, and keep arriving at our house, no matter how many times I gather them up? And they are ridiculously easy to gather up, except from the crown molding, unless you are as tall as CSB, and even he has to use the back scratcher to flip out the ones ensconced in the recesses. Then we flush them down the toilet, being careful not to crush them. Because crushing releases their stink. (And yes, they can also swim.) You would think that at some point I would have reduced the population of stinkbugs. That sooner or later I would find fewer, not more, stinkbugs in residence. That is not what is happening. There is no relationship between my removal of stinkbugs and the population density of stinkbugs. I have failed miserably, and continue to fail miserably, at the simple task of keeping my home and hearth, my den and nest, free of vile smelling insects that appear to have no purpose.

Just now my eyes drifted upward, and there is a stinkbug ambling along the lowest ridge of the crown molding. To what end? Does it matter to the stinkbug in what direction it moves?

Even worse than the incursion of stinkbugs into our house, is the fact that we – I – seem singled out by this infestation. Other people in town do not spend their mornings removing stinkbugs, dead and alive, from moldings and windowsills and muntins. Other people do not flush stinkbugs down the toilet in order to prevent them from expelling their stink, and then worry about wasting water with all that flushing that has nothing to do with human excretions and everything to do my personal aversion to stinkbugs, and to the stinkbugs’ proliferation.
And by the way, I am not generally squeamish about insects. I keep bees, for goodness sake. Once in Oaxaca Reine and I ate chapulines (toasted grasshoppers); they were crunchy and, though not delicious, were relatively innocuous. There are few things I like better than watching spiders spin webs.
Where have I failed, in this elementary task of home maintenance? Does it really matter that I can make pesto or lemon soufflé, if a stinkbug drops from the chandelier onto your shoulder during the main course? (Yes, this has happened.) It seems to me that while I was raised to have few expectations for myself, it was assumed that I would manage a household and that I would dominate the domestic realm as my mother did, and does. (Though now that I consider it, since my father’s death - predating his death really, but only noticed during those weeks when we were all sitting at his bedside, dishing up the morphine - my mother’s kitchen has been infested with pantry moths. Generations of pantry moths. But pantry moths are not stinkbugs. They do not resonate of moral laxity and turpitude as stinkbugs do.)

According to an interview we heard last week on Science Friday, on NPR, with an entomophagist, of all the insects this writer/researcher had eaten all over the world, the most disgusting was a stinkbug he had eaten alive. Once in his mouth the stinkbug crawled around and so he, the voluntary entomophagist, was required (By custom? By his captors? At gunpoint??) to bite down and crush the stinkbug and then not only did it smell terrible, but its viscera oozed out and did not taste at all good.

But at least the stinkbugs have not moved into his home, causing him (me) to castigate him(my)self as a failed housefrau, unworthy of the title.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Games for Adults and Children

Leda, brilliant granddaughter, knows many things but thus far in her six+ years on earth she has learned nothing about horse racing. Given that she didn’t spawn from racing families, that she doesn’t live in Kentucky, and that she not (yet) developed a taste for bourbon, this is not surprising. But CSB, who likewise does not live in Kentucky, has always loved watching the Kentucky Derby, because his father did, and that is enough to constitute a tradition. And now with Leda inquiring assiduously into the silken attire of the jockeys, and the role of a muddy racetrack, and the amount of money involved, that tradition is launched for another generation. I had threatened CSB that Leda and I would gather round the TV screen wearing large floppy hats adorned with wildflowers. But we failed in that key element of the tradition, due to barely turning on the television by post time. (6:30 is early to be coming inside to watch TV, when it is still light outside and there are still seeds to be sown and weeds to be pulled and chickens to be fed.) But we did manage to gather. The horses paraded with their jockeys. Or the jockeys paraded with their horses. There was exactly one female jockey and exactly one African-American jockey. The gun went off. The horses shot out of the gate and stuck together, all except for Orb, in 16th place. We anticipated Normandy Invasion (why not Fallujah Offensive?) would win the war. Then Orb leapt ahead, and in 2:02.89 minutes, the race was over. Leda wanted to know what a horse would do with $2 million.

I know that Angry Birds is entertaining and satisfying in certain atavistic ways, but still, there is nothing like Hangman for enlarging one’s vocabulary while getting re-acquainted with the alphabet. So, as Leda and I took Metro-North into Grand Central yesterday – where we would rendezvous with her Dad for the handover – I taught her to play Hangman. She was a natural. For her first turn as the Hanged, she guessed letters in alphabetical order, which is not a good idea.(And it would never happen again.) She would have lost but we negotiated several extra body parts & accessories for the hanging body: barrettes, striped socks, ears, knee caps. She took a turn and stumped me with POOP. I should have guessed – known, remembered - where a six-year-old’s mind would turn, but I regret to say I was genuinely stumped. I too would have lost the game & given up the ghost, had she not given my hanging body a crown, and then a sword, and then a handbag. Then she insisted that since I very nearly lost, she would take a second turn making up the word. Nearly losing would trump taking alternate turns, she explained. I methodically guessed the vowels first. By U I was already mostly dead. Then I guessed consonants while wracking my mind for words I knew she could spell. That was foolish. Because she can spell more words than I can name, and because once again I failed at the obvious. The word was BUTT. By then we were pulling into the station, which was a good thing.

Later that day, the downstairs bathtub was returned to us, to the human bathers of the house. Because yes, CSB finished constructing their outdoor home: a separate fenced-in play area and a large wooden box that looks unnervingly like a cheap coffin. We carried them outside one by one, their wings a-flutter, their hearts a-beating. This morning they are still out there, in a scrum at the open door of their casket, deciding whether to make the giant leap onto grass.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Here's what I am hoping for this weekend: that the baby Cornish games hens in the downstairs bathtub will move to their new home out of doors. Out of the house. Outside where chickens belong. Not inside. But out in the fresh air. That's what I am hoping.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You can never dig in the garden without coming upon broken bits of glass and pottery. Yesterday it was blue and white.
Your grandmother embroidered the seat covers for her dining room chairs with arrangements of flowers never seen in Annam, Belgian flowers that emerge from bulbs after winters of damp grey felt. Then the Japanese army, not so long before a distant threat - like another century's plague - was right outside their city, and their gates. She left the embroidered dining room chairs behind, along with the unbroken pottery and the portraits of the children, in the house at deux cent seize Rue Pelerin. Three weeks later, her friend, Madame Ngu, dined with the Japanese general and set her bottom upon your grandmother’s embroidered hyacinths.
In the camps, a hyacinth bulb could prolong a life by several days. But death came in the end.