Monday, September 29, 2008

Two good men, now dead...

When I read online that David Foster Wallace committed suicide a few weeks back, I was heartbroken. A brilliant essayist and novelist, DFW managed to crystallize his thoughts in such interesting, dynamic ways. I'm generally not a fan of post-modernist fiction as I think I just like a classic, well-told, muscular story and the PoMo insistence on thick slabs of irony to go with every situation is distancing, indulgent and tiresome to me. Not so with DFW, considered a leader of the PoMo school, who managed to be both brilliant and engaged, not sneering in his academic ivory tower at the rest of us plebeian sloths. He never tried to mask his genius in his work, nor did he perform unnecessary conceptual gymnastics to impress us with his finesse: he was able to, in that way that all great artists are able to, channel God or his higher power or his greatest self, and plug into that in a way that leaves most of us mere mortals stammering and stunned. He did all this while wearing a bandanna and looking, for all intents and purposes, like he was ready to take a hackysack break at the Phish show. Apparently bandanna-wearing, hyper-talented artists also can suffer from debilitating depression and sometimes it doesn't matter if you've won major awards and are at the pinnacle of your field: you can not go on for one minute longer. At some point on September 12, David Foster Wallace ran out of minutes. Another great mind lost, and we are stuck here with Sarah Palin and her notion that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. I hope David's having a good laugh at this. [I feel like it's necessary to say that Ms. Palin's debate with Senator Biden will be the final nail in their spiraling-out-of-control coffin. G'bye, Sarah!]

Second, I was saddened when I heard of Paul Newman's passing, but it certainly wasn't a shock to my system. He was in his eighties, generally when people can expire without raising a lot of eyebrows, and my mother gets enough of those gossip magazines - not that I read such trash... okay, if it's open to a page, I might grab a furtive glimpse - that I had seen assertions that he had cancer. It was still sad, though, to note the end of someone who was so enriched by giving. I think he understood that his chiseled jaw, pout and piercingly blue eyes were simply happy accidents of DNA, the way his mother and his father's code melded together in his form. It was nothing to take credit for, nothing to be overly proud to possess. It simply was. What he could do, though, with whatever doors opened for him because of his eyes and his smile and his style, was give to others and that he did, to the tune of more than 25o,ooo,ooo, at last count. I am not in general big into celebrity worship - in fact, it disgusts me - because I have been active long enough to know there are so many good people who work tirelessly to build a better world. Paul Newman, though, stands out as the genuine article.

In a world of inane celebrities and a cynical culture that aspires to reach the lowest common denominator, I am going to miss these two.

Shalom, everyone.

PS - Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all. May 5769 (in the Jewish calendar) bring us what so many people have been asking for: no more Republicans in the White House for at least another eight years.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tumbleweed rolls past...

Things are quiet around these parts (spoken with a Gunsmoke-y accent, please) because I am busy writing an article with a fast approaching deadline. I'll get back to the agitated vegan, feminist grindstone as soon as possible.

Shalom, everyone.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weekends are for lovers...

I love the weekend. It took me about twenty-five years to love Sundays, but at some point, about the point when I realized that Sunday did not necessarily mean an angry drunk bullying and bellowing and generally making my stomach hurt, I lightened up and began to enjoy it, too. Now Sunday has earned its rightful place cushioned up next to Saturday as 'the weekend', not as a day to test that my survival instincts are operating at peak performance, and so I have two full days of pleasantness, generally. And Friday nights will always feel full of promise to me, I think, like the way they did in college, as my friends and I planned our exploits (shop! parties! bars! shop! parties! bars!) and were seldom disappointed.

These days, I loathe shopping, I can't remember the last time I was in a bar, and parties are rare. My weekends are usually comprised, in the warm months, of running around like the proverbial kid at the candy store, sampling madly, dipping my hands into the bins. I have a quaintly low-tech (actually it's more like no-tech) date book that I carry in my bag and have filled with notes. Garfield Park Conservatory Country Fair, 10:00 - 4:00. Free Day at Field Museum. Renegade Craft Fair. I do not discriminate or use common sense judgment when I'm jotting these down as many conflict and are not convenient to one another: I simply want to record them as possibilities and prioritize them when the time is right. Sorting out our weekend days often goes something like this,

Me: So there's an art fair in Lakeview Saturday.
John: I also want to see Mucca Pazza. Remember?
Me: They're playing for free next weekend at the Wabash thingy.
John: Don't we have the vegan family pic-
Me: They play early, like 2:00. I don't know - I wrote it down. Anyway, it's early. We can do both.
John: Cool. So we can do that then.
Me: Yeah. But I'm not sure about the Lakeview thing. Might be lame. I also want to take [our son] to Wicker Park because he's been talking about the playground there.
John: Well, we can do that and just hop on the Blue Line and transfer downtown.
Me: I know, but there's also this free festival on Chicago so that's close to Wicker Park and I wanted to stop at Quimby's anyway.
John: So why don't we just do that?
Me: We should. What if the Lakeview thing isn't lame, though?

Weekends in Chicago in the warm months try their darnedest to make up for the harsh reality that awaits us in January. They're so damn cheerful, these bright yellow smiley faces of warm days, and I take as much in as possible, basking in the radiance like I can store it for that brutal, gray Saturday when the sooty snow is up to my knee and we can't get out of the garage without a half-hour of shoveling. On those days, you may as well stay home and try to organize your basement, make a book with your son, dream about palm trees. When autumn folds into winter and then spring, I am generally more productive and I embrace that productivity fully when the time is right. I have piles of writing projects to dive into and that feels right when the snow is pressing in on me.

For now, though, it is warm so I am on the move. It's closing in on us, though.

Shalom, everyone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The politics of inevitability...

Something that I've been thinking a lot about lately is how on a personal and collective scale we become complicit in our own undoing. There have been messages going back and forth with the fantastic group of progressive mothers I am so fortunate to be a part of, and since the Sarah Palin Thing (last time I'll refer to her by name in this post), I've sensed not only a growing despair, but almost a forfeiture of this election, as though it were a forgone conclusion that once again, the bad guys are going to win. Well, certainly the Roves and Republican evildoers have worked very tirelessly to undermine our confidence in the right to a fair and legal election, and it is understandable that given the last eight years - one shock to our system after the next with these fiends - we are a little shaky, as though we've got some national form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'm not even being flippant when I say this.

As I wrote to my friends, though, I had to think about that Cubs game in 2003. (I am just about the last person to reference sports in any capacity, so this alone is noteworthy.) You know the one where the fan reached over and seemingly snatched the ball out of that outfielder's glove, effectively causing two runs? I wasn't watching it at the time, but my friends were over and I could hear them scream and groan and shriek. I have seen The Incident a few times since on replay. What I saw was a team that was ahead, in both the series and the game, crumble upon itself, almost literally. At the moment that the (idiot) fan reached over and grabbed the ball, there seemed to be a deathly silence that fell over Wrigley Field, and, five outs away from the World Series, within seconds, the players and their fans all bought into the so-called curse of the Cubs, that they were doomed to disappoint eternally. It was a potent and dramatic display of the self-fulfilling prophesy carried out on the world stage, and if it weren't so depressing, it would be fascinating. After that moment, the Marlins (thank you, Wikipedia!) scored run after run, the golden, overachieving child to the Cub's underachieving child, and the Chicago team, having bought so completely into the myth of their inevitable failure, may as well have been cardboard cutouts there on the field. They were already gone.

My analogy is this: we must not complicit in helping the far-right build their myth of inevitability. They are as dependent on us - progressive, smart, compassionate people - buying into it and playing that role as they depend on anything. In fact, we are doing their work for them, the work of crooks and thieves and misogynists, when we wring our hands and believe in their supposed power. What I am saying here is that we absolutely must be steadfast in bringing people away from the McCain camp through outreach and phone calls and going door-to-door, but we must also be disciplined and conscious of our thought patterns. We need to focus on what we are moving toward, not what want to move away from: we need to destroy that paradigm that is so tempting among the abused. The first group of people whose minds we need to change is our own. Not buying into the Republican inevitability myth and refusing the role of mistreated (but good-hearted) loser is as essential to winning as anything. So let's be disciplined and generous with ourselves and leave that old, worthless dynamic in the dust. It cannot exist itself without our participation. The Republicans will be frothing at the mouth for us to play the role they've assigned us. It'll be a delight to disappoint them.

Shalom, everyone

Friday, September 12, 2008

You say tomatoes, I say, "EW!"

I have always had a "thing" about tomatoes. I don't think that there was ever a time in my life when I didn't blanch even slightly at an unwanted tomato slice hiding under a bun, a horrifying little baby tomato in my salad. When I am eating out with John, all are duly removed and placed on his plate where he sometimes eats them and sometimes does not. If I am not with John, I remove the offending tomato(es) and place on a bread plate or the farthest region of my own plate. I have bitten into previously undetected tomatoes, sliced through that skin, that slimy gulp of bitter seeds and spit them immediately into napkins: I cannot abide them in my mouth. On more than one occasion, I have been tricked by an evilly deceptive grape tomato, mistaking it for its non-grotesque doppelganger, bitten in and, in a burst of unanticipated juice, nearly fainted. I have learned the hard way to not take chances on any dubious grapes.

Tomatoes gross me out, pure and simple.

I have had foodies outreach on their behalf to me, their hearts pure and full of missionary spirit, certain that I just haven't had the "right" tomato. I have had an organic farmer tick off a list of the most unusual tomatoes, describing them in the most darling, nurturing way like I just didn't understand her children. I have listened patiently, I think, and in my mind, I know they are right. But also in my mind, I see these tomatoes - plum, cherry, organic, fancifully named heirloom varieties, petite as berries, big and proud - and I think no, yuck, ew!, yikes, gross, shudder, absolutely not. I am not a picky eater - aside from that whole vegan thing, which really is just common sense, not pickiness - and I have always been a food lover. Ask my mom and she will tell you, full of a Jewish mother's first source of pride, "She was always a good eater." I was and I am. I'm just not a good eater of tomatoes.

I wonder sometimes if it is linked back to my father, a vision of him chewing on a tomato that is imprinted on my psyche permanently. He loved tomatoes, big wedges of that beefeater type, eaten with iceberg lettuce and Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing. And he ate those tomatoes while bullying us at the dinner table, so it's possible I have just a deep psychological association. My brother has one, too, but his object of scorn is salad dressing, and with him, he knows that it is absolutely because of our father, seeing him red-faced with rage, screaming at someone or another, his mouth slathered with the viscous stuff. For whatever reason, this didn't affect me in the same way and I was able to see that this was him, not salad dressing. I enjoy salad dressing just fine and can't imagine eating my roughage without it.

My brother, however, cannot get over it. He will order salads with no dressing, not even on the side, not even oil and vinegar, though in recent years he has deigned to an accompanying lemon wedge. I have eaten out with him, and I see that even with servers who have heard every possible food neurosis, that this is a new one to them. They are intrigued, I have seen, time and time again. "No dressing?" they'll ask. "No, thank you." "Do you want it on the side?" "Nope." "Oil and vinegar?" "Nah." They all shrug and collect the menus, temporarily stupefied. Then my brother eats his naked salad as though it's the most normal thing in the world, refusing the acknowledge that the server and her colleague are watching from back by the kitchen, unable to fathom such bizarreness at table six. I have seen this happen, too. So maybe deep-seated and irrational phobias of specific foodstuffs run in the family. Thanks, Dad!

Anyway, the point of this all is to brag with how far I've come with my aversion. Even while I've been a raw tomato hater (and stewed, or any preparation in which they are mostly intact), I have been a cooked tomato lover. I love marinara, I love salsas both red and green, (this leads me to believe that my thing with tomatoes is not actually a phobia but a matter of personal taste) and I love the zestiness a spoonful of tomato paste adds to a sauce. When we were planning our garden this summer, John pushed for tomatoes. I was a little nervous, not knowing if I could handle it - holy mackerel, how neurotic I am - but I agreed. This would be a good test to see how far along I am with facing my fears. We already had a few plants vining on our stakes, and then one of John's clients, a kind of wacky and intense tomato farmer, gave us another plant. Again, I accepted this with a little apprehension.

The tomatoes, well, they have thrived in our little garden patch. In September, there are still a bunch ripening on the vine. Green, pink, red. Some time in August, I summoned my courage and started picking. I was going to make marinara from scratch. I went out there with our biggest colander and filled it up. A few days later, I gathered the courage to face the tomatoes again, this time for a little one-on-one interfacing prior to their journey toward marinara.

I gathered my recipe and supplies. A knife, a bunch of bowls, including one full of ice water, a cutting board, a yellow onion, lots of garlic, salt and pepper. I cut little 'x' marks in the tops and bottoms, and dipped them in boiling water before they were plunged into their final icy bath. That was not so bad, and was, in fact, kind of meditative in its mechanization. Still, I was holding tomatoes in my hands, raw ones, and there is something about the smell of a raw tomato that makes me lurch a little. That was a walk in the park next to skinning, seeding and coring them, though, which was like a vegan snuff film. I'm getting queasy now.

Oh, it was gory. One bowl for skins, seeds and innards, another bowl for the remains, I worked as quickly as I could, breathing out of my mouth to avoid the horrible seedy smell, but not being able to avoid the creepy, mealy feel of a skinned tomato in my hands. Clearly, I could never be a surgeon. I had to work as quickly as possible so not to quit. The onions and garlic were cooking in olive oil, and it was time. I chopped them up - and if there was a way I could have done it, I would have used two extra hands to cover my eyes - working quickly but trying to also make them small as possible so as to avoid the dreaded chunky marinara. Anyway, before too long, it was done and simmering on my stove top. I had to admit that it smelled lovely, and I felt proud filling Ball jars with the stuff a couple of hours later. The next day, we had the marinara on pasta with roasted vegetables, and I was quite pleased with myself.

Since then, I have gone through another round with the tomatoes that have confronted me in the garden and our CSA box, and, sadly, it wasn't much easier, but, gladly, the resultant marinara was still wonderful. There are another bunch in the refrigerator and more will arrive tomorrow from our organic farm, waiting for a date in my tall stock pot. I am gathering the courage again.

I would have thought that with all the tomatoes I have dispatched this summer that my family would be swimming in marinara all winter with Ball jars full looking so quaint and reassuring in our basement, but, after all the seeding and coring, it really doesn't amount to much. This makes me really respect the hard work behind marinara and I don't think that I will buy another jar without feeling some sort of deeper appreciation of it. The price we pay for good, organic marinara, $4.00 - $8.00 a jar or so, really is worth it. I will still probably continue making my own every summer.

Now if I could only get someone else to do the all dirty work.

Shalom, everyone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin hates God's creatures...

In my inbox there are messages from friends, emails with photos included of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin posing with her son and a recently killed moose, shot by her, with blood all over his neck and muzzle, his head turned at an awkward angle as they are crouched in the snow behind his body. I’ve also got messages about her bounty of $150 for every left foreleg of an Alaskan wolf, and her $400,000 state campaign to promote the aerial hunting of wolves and bears, something so sickeningly cruel and unsportsmanlike I can’t even begin to comprehend how a self-respecting hunter would support it*.

Try as hard as I might, I can’t help but be confused by how many Christians will not only kill one of God’s creatures unnecessarily, but how they can also derive pleasure from it. I understand that because of the ingrained dominionist views in which those of us Judeo/Christian and Muslim traditions have been steeped, we think that animals were put here for human disposal and whim as though this were fact. [As an interesting side note, Republican speechwriter Matthew Scully, ethical vegetarian and author of Dominion, the highly regarded book exploring and criticizing our cruel treatment of animals, wrote Sarah Palin’s RNC acceptance speech. Despite his work on behalf of non-humans, his hypocrisy is staggering.] I can accept that this is the mindset in which people have been raised and, though I heartily disagree with its arrogance, I understand that how we are encultured to accept self-serving beliefs.

What does not compute for me is how the benevolent and all-knowing God Christians worship (as well as Jews and Muslims) could create beings with central nervous systems and the capacity to suffer only to have them all at our questionable mercy. This, and the incomprehensible suffering most non-humans must bear at our hands, is what turns many vegans into atheists. Why would such an exalted, wise being, the holiest spirit imaginable, create these complex, dynamic bodies, wired to experience pain and the desire to avoid it, when a different food and materials source, one without sentience, could also have been created? (Of course, we have that – they’re called plants – but knowing that omnivores see animals also as food, this is what I am talking about.) The question of how God could betray and shun the animals so nakedly is one for individuals and theologians to sort out. What I am asking here is how Christians like Sarah Palin can take such delight in brutalizing their Lord’s creation. Isn’t killing a magnificent being, one that a Christian accepts is of the Lord’s careful and perfect design, a slap in the face to its creator? Doesn’t that imply disrespect for God’s perfect creation?

As I said, I don’t understand. Or is her brand of Christian more in the Ann Coulter camp, who wrote in one of her books (I will not promote it even slightly by giving the title), “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” Really, Ann. Really? How beautiful. There is either a serious (and most likely deliberate) misinterpretation of the Bible at work here or God is nothing but a sadistic bully. I choose to believe the former. Or does the vengeful, angry God of the Old Testament cause confusion for Christians, providing for them an example of the kind of being who would flood and plague a whole population because of a few infidels? A God who is willing to kill everyone but Noah to make a grand, sweeping point? This must be Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter’s God: surly, irrational, cruel.

Increasingly, I am thinking that the evangelistic, right-wing, fire-and-brimstone Christians should be identified as something other than the word ‘Christian’. Could they be called Old Testamentists or something like that? Because Christ, well, I can only think that Christ would not want to lend his name to someone who kills innocent beings and then smiles for a picture. I think that those of us who are vegan (but not necessarily Christian) are better examples of Christ’s teachings than any damn Scripture-quoting earth- and animal-destroyer like Sarah Palin. Maybe Matthew Scully can set me straight on this.

Shalom, everyone.

*I do acknowledge that hunting is a more honest way of eating meat than simply going to the grocery store or the drive-though, and though I do not endorse animals being killed at all, I think that anyone who wants to eat it should have to hunt for it. One, at least the animals would have lived a more natural life until it was needlessly killed, and, two, there would be a lot fewer animals consumed. So hunters still suck, but all meat-eaters need to examine their habits.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Buster update...

For anyone interested, Buster's condition hasn't improved much (still very wobbly on his legs, walks to the side, major eye goop) but his mood has improved substantially. I consulted with an animal communicator friend of mine (she is a goddess) and we had a very moving, emotional telepathic conversation with Buster. Roll your eyes all you want, disbeliever, but his basic demeanor has been so much better since we spoke. After our talk, for the first time in three days, were able to get him off the step he'd been camped out on, and moved to a much better location, near lots of windows and refreshing breezes and light, plus in a spot that is more conducive to feeling included in the family. It has made all the difference, and he's actually walking around, wobbly legs and all, accepting jowl and ear scratches, wagging his tail more than he usually did in good health. I know that no matter what, he is not suffering, he is comfortable, and he is feeling loved. That means the world to me.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Got to love those fundamentalists...

I cannot believe that this country of mine - the one where I was taught and dutifully studied the Constitution, this place where I was raised to believe that the (mythical, but still) separation between church and state existed and the notion, even if it were merely theoretical, that we were a people brought together to messily carve out a democracy - I cannot believe that a woman like Sarah Palin could seriously be offered as Second-in-Command of our country, let alone mayor of a tiny town in Alaska. Yes, that was one sentence. If it weren't just such a colossal embarrassment, like this country needs yet another black eye on the world stage, it would make any thinking person seethe with rage.

Sarah Palin is nothing short of terrifying and, really, a giant slap in the face of women everywhere. We should be outraged that this smirking fundamentalist is presented to us as a viable choice with her antediluvian belief system. (Not that I would vote in favor of a Republican candidate even without her, of course.) She is against the termination of a fetus, even in cases of rape or incest, and she supports teaching creationism (small 'c' as I just can't capitalize that silliness) in schools, presumably in in science class, alongside, well, actual science as though they are natural counterpoints. (Science belongs in science and creationism belongs in Mythology 101.) Our country would be one heart attack, one stroke, one unfortunate anvil falling on the head of the President away from her being Commander-in-Chief. Tell me, anyone with more than two brain cells duking it out, tell me that's not terrifying. I mean, the prospect of McCain along is scary enough on its own and there's not a lot that scares me after eight long years of the Bush administration. Sarah Palin would be such a fantastically bad choice for anyone who values freedom and liberty, she would make us say, "Remember that George W. Bush guy? Whatever happened to him? And remember how warm and engaging that Dick Cheney always was? What a sweetheart. Those were the days."

Sarah Palin referred in her RNC speech to her "servant's heart," which struck me like a thunderbolt: don't fundamentalists supposedly have "servant's hearts" and, further, wouldn't a terrorist also have one, willing to do anything as long as it could be twisted to serve one's God or a conviction about one's God? Terrorists are fundamentalists. It was then that I started imagining Sarah Palin as someone who would be stoning another woman to death if she lived in different circumstances, for daring to be independent and modern. Sarah Palin represents a giant step backwards and I am livid with John McCain, a man I could scarcely stomach to begin with, for offering her as a legitimate running partner. What a deeply misogynistic insult. I can only compare it to him offering a card-carrying, active member of the Ku Klux Klan (do they carry cards? That might imply a degree of literacy, so I'll presume not) as Vice President. Not only that, but this person would be African American. Can you imagine such a scenario? That is who Sarah Palin is to women who value our freedom and modernity: a member of the KKK. I'm sorry if that sounds dramatic and absurd, but it's true. And she's not such a friendly face to anyone else who's not a wealthy wingnut.

Right now I am trying very hard not to be scared of Sarah Palin because that is feeding into their power dynamic. I am focusing instead on bringing about positive change. Darn, though, late at night when I can't sleep, thoughts of her chill me to the bone. I wish that I could make a subliminal message recording that the whole nation could hear, simply with the word, "Obama, Obama, Obama..." repeated again and again. (Actually, given my first choice, it would be Kucinich's name I'd repeat, and next in line would be Nader, but after that, it would probably be Obama.) My fingers are crossed that sanity rules.

Shalom, everyone.

Obama, Obama, Obama...What? I didn't say anything.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Buster is a fifty pound basset hound we adopted from a large animal shelter in Chicago twelve years ago, back when I worked there. He is nearly thirteen now as his birthday's on October 15. It's rare when an adopter knows her dog or cat's birthday because that information is usually not part of what is available. I happen to know Buster's birthday, though, because he was dropped off with his American Kennel Club papers as a six-month-old puppy. His name was Bilko at the time and he was, in shelter terminology, surrendered because he was not housebroken.

I happened to be at in the lobby as he was brought in because I was waiting for a group of students. I worked in the education department of the shelter. I was helping out with directing people until my class arrived and I saw a woman enter the building, with a distressed demeanor and an absolutely beautiful basset hound puppy. I asked her if she was leaving the dog and she answered with a sad but determined look on her face, "Unfortunately, yes." As I directed her where she needed to go, the puppy looked up and licked my knee before he was led off. I made a mental note, though none was necessary, to visit him later.

When I did go see the former Bilko a couple of hours later, I learned of his story. (That, to me, is one of the saddest aspects of the lives of these homeless dogs and cats: they each have a story and we tend to see them as one, largely indistinct mass without histories, like they simply appear at shelters, prior experiences wiped clean because we usually don't know them.) He, however, had an easy to trace trajectory through his birth papers and various receipts, back to a breeder where the woman who dropped him off - her name was on the receipt from the breeder and the form from the shelter - purchased him.

He was black, brown and white, his coat like velvet, perfect for nuzzling, and he was slim, even skinny, for a basset. His ears were long enough to have an inch or so to spare when they were measured against his long, proud nose, which I came to learn is something desirable in one's basset, at least according to the AKC guidebook to the breed that I read once. He was a beautiful boy, if one goes for that whole long-eared, sad-eyed hound aesthetic, which I certainly do, imprinted in my childhood by a beagle puppy named Duffy that my parents bought and then banished two weeks later. (A story for another day...)

John and I had another dog at the time, a perfect beagle-basset mix named Lenny, also adopted from the shelter. I wrote about Lenny extensively on my old website, Vegan Street. Lenny was not only extremely handsome (a big ol' beagle head on a modified basset body and a pair of the most dewy and soulful copper penny eyes you can imagine: people gasped at his exquisite orbs all the time) but he was just perfection on four legs to us. He fit into our lives so elegantly it was like John and I always had the outline of his particular little puzzle piece next to us, waiting to join the picture. Once we adopted Lenny, everything fit together. But this is about Buster, not Lenny.

We adopted Buster for mainly three reasons: 1. Because I was a little ashamed of working at a shelter and having one measly dog compared with some of my colleagues, who had like ten or eleven. 2. I thought that Lenny might like a playmate. (Ew, that sounded all Hefner-y. Now I'm imagining Buster in short shorts and a poofy blonde wig.) 3. Buster was very lovable. Oh, there is a forth reason, too: because I can make quite a pest of myself when I get my mind set on things, like the three compelling reasons above.

When we introduced Buster and Lenny at the shelter, they didn't maul one another so we considered that a success. Buster bounded after Lenny, skittering across the cement floor, ears flopping, as he brayed like a sea lion. Lenny, for his part, ran in dizzyingly tight circles that Buster's clumsy puppy body couldn't compete with, teasing him with his easy agility. This first meeting set the tone for their relationship: Buster would forever be trying to impress his big brother, and Lenny, dignified and proud, would barely deign to notice. Finally, fresh out of creative solutions, Buster would simply bark with all his might, a loud baritone of a woof, one after the next until he was acknowledged. That bark alone chased a burglar out of our home in the middle of the night two years ago. Well, not the bark alone, I guess: the gnashing teeth at his leg might have also been persuasive.

So Buster.

Our lives together have been complicated a little, not always an easy fit like it was with Lenny, who passed away (I can't bare to say the 'd' word in reference to him) in 2002. Buster pooped and peed all over the gorgeous parquet floors of our apartment in Humboldt Park, pretty much from the day we adopted him until the day we moved out eight or so years later. In our home, he appears to be largely able to control his bladder, hallelujah, but that was one exceptionally long housebreaking period. (John has a funny story about when he was on the phone with a client and Buster walked into his office and started peeing. John didn't say anything because he was in professional mode and his client was talking, and then Buster started pooping. Buster stared at John, clearly agitated but unable to express himself, the whole time.) Buster also had this little flirtation with caprophagia, a.k.a, poop eating, which is every bit as appetizing as it sounds. This is all one thing, kind of like taking care of an infant for a loooong time, but it is the aggression that makes our relationship an uneasy one at times.

The first time Buster growled at me should have been a harbinger of things to come. He had only come home with us from the shelter that day when I took a piece of tin foil away from him and got a growl. I thought that it was just Buster being a puppy, play fighting, but in the coming weeks and months I learned that that was just the way he was wired. He could be unbelievably sweet and affectionate, but there was this other side that would lash out when we would least expect it. After many calls to behaviorists, pretty much every last one concluding that we should euthanize Buster, we simply adapted. No hands above the head, no challenging, if he finds a chicken bone on the street, it's his. One night he was lying on our bed with me and I petted him. Something, I don't know what, perhaps some long ago harsh hand, awakened in him a ferocious response and he knocked me over, biting my face. I screamed for John with blood gushing out of my mouth. John used butterfly bandages and masterfully closed up my wound as I tried not to sob and screw it all up. We should have gone to the hospital but I was afraid of Buster being taken from us. A small scar remains on my upper lip. (Buster also bit a famous - well, famous to us - vegan cookbook author who had the audacity to pet him while she stayed at our home. Stitches and a hotel room were promptly acquired.)

In some ways, Buster is more complicated than Lenny. Life was always pretty enjoyable to Lenny, whereas Buster was always haunted by something. I very much misunderstood him as a puppy, thinking that he was goofy and untroubled. If I had been a more skilled behaviorist, I would have seen his challenges more clearheadedly, seen that haunted look (haunted by what? A few months with a bad family? A hard time getting a nipple as a nursling?) and known that there was a depth of experience there.

I love Buster but it's complicated between us sometimes. I cannot allow myself to be vulnerable to him the way I was when I was bit in the face, so I pet him very cautiously. To love Buster these days is to respect his space and love him from afar. Just as with humans, dogs have their own preferences, their own temperaments. Our son knows that Buster is not a "petting type" dog, has known that since he was old enough to toddle after him. I absolutely think that if Buster wants more of a hands-off approach to affection, that is his prerogative. I think that it's important that our son know that companion animals do not exist for whatever our whims may be; they exist for their own reasons, as Alice Walker's famous quote goes, and if Buster wants his existence to be a certain way, so long as it does not hurt another, that is his right.

Buster appears to have suffered a stroke a couple of days back. He is wobbly on his feet, his head is leaning, he is sleeping a lot and not eating. The fact that he allowed John to pick him up without a bite is telling. The vet believes that if it was a stroke, he should be able to recover fairly well. It could also be a tumor, though, which makes a less favorable prognosis. It is strange to be hoping for a stroke, but that's what we are doing.

He is staked out in the steps, allowing us to pass with the occasional snapping at the cat. He hasn't eaten in two days, but he is drinking and does not appear to be suffering. Buster, his velvet tri-colored coat now much more dull, fully gray in the muzzle, seems to be deciding if he should stay or go. In the meantime, we send him our love, which is complicated but still, somehow, unconditional.

I hope that he knows how much we love him. He does know that life can be complicated, even for a beautiful basset puppy.

Prayers and positive visualizations for Buster, please.

Shalom, everyone.