Cedar Water

The swimming season is coming to a close. Whether in Cedar Lake or the Pacific Ocean, the subtle shift has begun. Pockets of very cold water, previously a refreshing anomaly, are now asserting themselves like Trump followers. The vanguard will soon become the establishment and while “The Donald” will likely leave the race entranced and distracted by a new shiny object, the water will turn cold.

This saddens me because swimming is what I laughingly refer to as my exercise. I splash, guy4paddle, and tread water with joyous abandon. Between pretending I am Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt” and frolicking underwater, I feel energized, youthful and refreshed. A jogger friend scoffed at the number of carbs I burn and how little cardio effect I gain from my water play. I was going to let his criticism pass or more correctly roll off my back, but when he added I looked childish, I was stung enough to retort, “At least when I finish my workout I’m not all sweaty.”

One of the few things I took from Camp Ockanickon (aside from a lifetime hatred of oatmeal and singing “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin‘ Bread”) is feeling comfortable in the water. Camp was deep in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey on a dark, picturesque, spring fed cedar lake. Even at 4’ 4” I could not see my feet standing in waist deep water. This unnerved me and I failed the deep water swimming test (jump in and swim 25 yards any stroke) I was sent to remedial swim class every day after breakfast. As a non swimmers I could not join any other activity until I passed. Too terrified to leap into the ink colored water, I generally needed to be pushed. After splashing around frantically I would grab the pole and be fished out in tears.

In the afternoon during compulsory free swim time my stigma, wearing a red non-swimmer string around my wrist, confined me to the shallow area. Much worse, the caste system carried over to the mess hall, the cabin, and all non-water activities. Blue stringers (50 yards) and white stringers (100 yards) heaped scorn on us (“Red stringers, red stringers why are you here? Red stringers, red stringers have some beer!”). We would then be doused with whatever non-beer beverage was available.

I have been dancing around the most embarrassing part. I was the lowest of the red stringers: I wore nose plugs! Decades later I have difficulty admitting it. Even other non-swimmers scorned me. The plugs, pink to simulate a flesh tone I have never seen on a living person, was the only way I could navigate in the water. Blue and white stringers might deign to come into the shallow end but I quickly and painfully learned they were on a mission to pull back and snap the rubber strap. The sting subsides long before the red mark on the back of my neck. Perhaps that is why I never became a bra snapper in my adolescence.

Some of the counselors were college kids ready for “Hi Jinx” (it was the 50s) like sneaking out to the girls’ camp across the lake after lights out, then regale us with their exploits the next morning. Joey was different. He was an east Camden (N.J.) tough guy who someone (possibly a judge) thought could benefit from a summer of sunshine and fresh air. Even as a child I sensed his anger and despair marooned in a wholesome woodsy setting with a cabin full of brats. His surliness made what happened all the more surprising.

Joey was on lifeguard duty, supervising the shallow (red string/loser)area. Standing on the dock he beckoned me over. I’ll never forget his words. “Hey squirt! Yeah you, dum dum with the nose plugs. Blow a little stream of air out your nose when you go under. Just a trickle. Then you won’t need that stupid s_ _ _ on your nose.”

It was not a Hallmark moment, but I did it and it worked! It might have helped knowing Joey couldn’t care less. Other counselors had more patiently told me to blow air out. When I tried for them, I either panicked and, seeking to please them, blew all the air out at once, or I accidentally inhaled. With the breathing mastered my fear diminished and I was able to enjoy the water. Thanks to Joey I left camp a blue stringer.

My “instruction” was a momentary distraction for a bored, sullen teenager. Joey, if he is living could not possibly comprehend that I still give him thanks every time I wade into the water. “Blow it out your nose slow, dum dum!”

I am not talking about mentoring, adoption, or huge life changing sacrifices and good deeds. My focus is “Joey moments.” Serendipitous chance encounters where a word, an act, a small gesture made a huge difference. The classic is “The Lone Ranger” leaving before he can be thanked unaware of how he has altered history. I am not so grandiose but I really hope I have done small anonymous kindnesses that have been meaningful to others.

Tom H. Cook has often imagined writing a letter of support for Joey to his probation officer or appearing in court on his behalf

“The Glitch”

Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.                                                                     ––Freidrich Nietzsche

If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.                                                                       —Edgar Allan Poe

Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I have forgotten this before.

—Steven Wright

 I am not perfect. As an opening line this is not up there with Dickens’ “It was the best of times,” Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” or even “It was a dark and stormy night,” but it did get your attention. My follies, foibles and slothful habits are well documented (see HLP 1985-present) or have a brief conversation with JoAnne (wife/editor) or any of the dwindling number of people who grudgingly admit to some shared level of friendship.

Around the house I have always considered myself a gazelle, frolicking from room to room, not creating a stir or upsetting the order of things. In my mind I put the top back on the toothpaste, refold the newspaper after reading, and place my empty tea cup in the dishwasher.   I see myself as a good person because my religion preaches that while we are all God’s children, He/She grades on a curve. As long as I can stay ahead of the troubled people who appear on reality television or hold political office, I am fine. I do, however, have a quirk known as “The Glitch.”

“The Glitch” is a lifetime malady not related to being in the prime of my senility. It is this: clearly imagine myself completing a simple task, such as making a peanut butter sandwich. I picture myself replacing the lid on the jar. I have done this literally thousands of times. (I am old and I really like peanut butter.) When someone, usually the editor, finds the open jar, I am baffled and at a loss to explain why it is missing.

Sitting at my desk, I see a wadded up Visa bill under a chair on the other side of the room. I distinctly remember the shot I launched with 00:04 seconds left in the half (a rainbow sky hook from 9 feet out) that nestled into the wastepaper basket. The crowd went wild, and then I returned to bill paying. However, there on the floor is the balled up paper mocking me. I also imagine and remember putting dirty clothes found under the bed into the hanmper, shutting open cupboards, and turning off lights before bed. The Glitch tells me I have done these things because on countless occasions I have.

Never mind my carbon footprint, someone is leaving muddy ones on the living room carpet although I distinctly remember checking my shoes before coming in. My “come to Jesus” moment came a few weeks ago when the editor was in Minneapolis for a weaving conference.   With no one to blame, I began to notice how many jobs were partially completed despite my clear recollection to the contrary. Dinner dishes I washed carefully took on grease and chunks of food overnight!

The Internet, a fairly good resource for many questions, is strangely silent on “The Glitch.”   After ruling out that I am distracted, lazy, careless, or preoccupied, what remains is a mystery.

guy4Tom H. Cook still feels like a Minnesotan. If everyone who visits him in southern California brings the TSA-permitted three ounces of liquid, his lawn will still die.

Of Sickness and Health

guy1It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like.
—Jackie Mason

The best thing about getting a flu shot is that you never again need to wash your hands. That’s how I see it.
—Chuck Palahniuk

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
—Benjamin Franklin

This column required so many disclaimers it almost did not get written, which may not have been a bad thing. How can I possibly complain about being ill when famine, pestilence, drought, and disease strike so many? There are natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal and man-made tragedies like plane and train crashes in the news. We have all suffered the premature loss of loved ones, friends and acquaintances to cruel accidents and catastrophic illness.

Let me gingerly state that my “suffering” does not even register on a scale of one being Vexed and ten being Death. I was sick, not life flashing before me, writhing in pain, praying to die, or iron lung, do not resuscitate, gather the children, last rites sick. I had what felt like a 24-hour flu and while there was no writhing, it went on (and on) for over a month. It was finally diagnosed as a mycoplasma infection (walking pneumonia). Bless my family, friends, casual acquaintances, and the kindly woman at Costco who witnessed my coughing and were ready with consolation and advice.

The consolation was great. But the “getting all up in my grill,” as we young people say, is tiring. People from many walks of life attempted to diagnose and fix me. Unfortunately none of them had any medical training. A jewelry maker I know thought it was viral, but a leather importer was not convinced it was respiratory. I am sure their inquiries were genuine, but as I entered the third week of ill health I became more of a Sudoku to be solved. My continued hacking seemed to be a refutation of one friend’s medical training (a B- in high school Biology).

When I am in a weakened state, I do not want play Twenty Questions, even it is for my own good. Had there been a change in my diet? Have I been drinking dank water? Moving my bowels regularly? Any foreign travel? Was I getting enough ruffage? Was it viral or bacterial? Was I eating plenty of garlic, had I done the chest rubs, run the humidifier, drunk the 8 glasses of water, kept up on my medications, consumed the soup? Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, one friend hovered. Despite his extensive accounting background, I was not improving. My illness was his failure. Trying to suppress a cough in his presence only made it worse. Was I being passive aggressive? I don’t think so, though I will cop to cranky.

When I am ill, my life is a game of Chutes and Ladders. Friends, neighbors, necessary errands, and even fun activities are obstacles taking me away from the goal, which is to be home, where I can wallow in my own germs. When my mind is foggy, everything and everyone seems to be keeping me from being horizontal.

Writing this after recovering, it seems obvious: Why didn’t I just stay in bed until I felt better? But as the days pile up I feel that I should be better by now and I continue to drag myself around, perhaps fearing the unspoken scorn of, “Are you still sick!?”

In Annie Hall Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) opines to Annie (Diane Keaton) that life is divided into two groups, the horrible (those in constant pain and facing terminal illness) and the miserable, which is everyone else. He advises her to be grateful she is only miserable.

Tom H. Cook a formerly local writer is able to take even large gel capsule medications without water!

“You Can Really Taste the Savings”

earby-owl1.jpg“Why, a four year old child could understand this report! Run out and find me a four year old child. I can’t make head nor tail out of it.” –Groucho   Marx

I never doubted both my children would find someone special, marry, and eventually spawn. It is completely natural and has been going on since the Taft administration. JoAnne, with her knowledge of crafts, cooking (soups a speciality) and singing, is a natural grandmother. Her extreme patience, a virtue she says I have helped her to develop, is an another plus.

My main concern has been about my ability to be a grandfather. I was an adequate parent, but a grandfather is supposed to be a font of calm wisdom and gentle humor. Since my daughter Rachael got married in 2004 I have watched for signs of my evolution into a camping, outdoor-loving Mark Trail or at least a calm, pipe-smoking Mr. Fixit in a flannel shirt. Words like consarnit, drat, and fiddlesticks have not crept into my vocabulary. I do not motor into town, nor am I “fixin‘ to.” I have not been able to cultivate friendships with canasta playing neighbors named Blanche, Ethel, or Hiram. I would risk my life if I were to call JoAnne “mother.”

Granddaughter Charlotte is nearly two and I have not yet made her a bird feeder out of scrap wood left over from a deck I built. I love her and her newborn brother Theo, but I sweat panic attempting to assemble anything requiring instructions. I can barely say, let alone whittle, a wooden whistle without sounding like Elmer Fudd. I do not have a tool bench I can warn the young whippersnappers to be careful around. I doubt they will ever visit me in my non-existent workshop (“Watch but don’t touch!”), while I router the hasp onto the dorsal flange and wood putty the octal corners of their broken toy.

My legacy will not be defined by things I build or repair. Instead I am Tom-Tom, the provider of baked goods. When driving up to visit the kids I invariably stop at a local supermarket with a generous selection of day-old pastries. I have always found that cakes, breads, and pies taste just as good — if not a little better — once they are past that pesky sell date. Dipped in tea or milk, a well-aged cinnamon bun fresh from the freezer is nearly as good as one from the oven, and at 75% off, it is no contest.

One day Rachael bit into one of those sweet rolls, looked at JoAnne, and declared, “You can really taste the savings!” They laughed hysterically. It and I have become a gentle family joke. We all want to be remembered for something.

Tom H. Cook is a no longer local writer attempting to find humor in the aging process. He has been known to remark, “Argh, I forgot to buy gingko!”.

The New Guy

Inquisitor: So, if you don’t mind my askin’, ya got kids?
Victim: No, just haven’t…
Inquisitor: We’ve got four.  They are gifts from God.  You and your better half church-goers?
Victim: We’re kind of lapsed Druids I guess…
Inquisitor: (crinkling her nose in skepticism and simultaneously pleased to have solved the mystery) Well there ya go.  They’re a lot of work but they bring so much joy.  Can’t imagine life without them.  JIMMY, GET DOWN FROM THERE AND GET OVER HERE NOW! QUIT YOUR SNIVELLING OR I’LL GIVE YA SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!

Stranger Inquisition, or S.I., is a little understood malady which strikes relentlessly and without warning.  One in five Americans over the age of 21 are subjected to stranger scrutiny if they are unmarried, childless, or without grandchildren.  Possible side effects include mood swings, anger, rage, homicidal thoughts, and jaw discomfort due to excessive teeth clenching. The Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM-5) has chosen not to address S.I..  There is no government or private sector funding, nor are there any current studies underway in the United States.

Stranger Inquisition literature worldwide is also sparse.  There was Bachelors level research being done in Antwerp, Belgium and summarized in The Daily Twerp, a weekly shopper (June, 2006), almost a decade ago. What we do know is Stranger Inquisition is a result of close proximity of an inquisitor and a victim.  Actual physical contact need not occur, but quite often (59%) the inquisitor will squeeze the arm of the victim and on occasion (22%) pinch the cheek.

Inquisitors are generally women over fifty (84%) and gum chewers (97%).  They need only a few minutes of questioning to irritate a victim.  Being an inquisitor may have a genetic link, and seems to grant one immunity.  Two inquisitors alone in a confined space, an elevator for example, will quickly attempt to top each other with their quantity of grandchildren and the breeding prowess of their offspring.

Inquisitors would much rather attack what they see as an unbalanced molecule, namely a well coiffed person not bedraggled and frazzled to the point of exhaustion.  Telltale signs like gum in the hair, Silly  String embedded on suede shoes, or Happy Meal toys dangling from pockets signal a fellow parent.  Inquisitors are relentless proselytizers.  They attack early arrivals at business meetings, anyone not in a pack at social gatherings (pot lucks, community fund raisers, religious retreats), and in banks and grocery checkout lines.

JoAnne and I were married for almost ten years before having our first of two children.  We endured the questions and unsolicited advice.  Our daughter Rachael and then her brother Ben brought us not only great joy, but temporary relief from S.I. As I aged, the drumbeat for grandchildren began. Curiously, it was never sounded by anyone in the family.  Only a woman with the tattoo Born To Raise Children, driving an SUV with decals of stick figure children in the rear window, and sporting a bumper sticker “Ask me about my grandchildren,” had browbeaten me.  The arrival of granddaughter Charlotte a year and a half ago has not only been a wonderful addition, but has also silenced the inquisitors.

Now I am waiting for someone to say, “Only the one?” because by the time you read this we will hopefully be reveling in the arrival of Charlotte’s little brother, tentatively named The New Guy.

Tom H. Cook has never felt the need to wear a giant button with a picture of his children. He has never knowingly advised random strangers about their private business.  

belanko 1 by Tom Cassidy

belanko 1 by Tom Cassidy

Questioning My “Self(s)”

The total self of me, being as it were duplex, partly known and partly know-er, partly object and partly subject, must have two aspects discriminated in it, of which, for shortness, we may call one the “me” and the other the “I.”
—William James (The Principles of Psychology)

I was brushing up on my Descartes the other day, particularly his classification of two worlds, one of mental objects and one of material things. That led me to William James, Piaget, Winnicott, and of course Wittgenstein. I added the “of course” as kind of a joke, but philosophers have been puzzling and grappling with the duality of self for hundreds of years. Despite their huge head start, after thinking for just a few hours I was coming up with insights and original ideas that, modesty side, could be game-changers in the field of dualism. Unfortunately “game-changer” reminded me the Super Bowl pre-pre-game show was on. Hours later I was so glazed over, my only thoughts were of nachos, switching my Internet provider, lite beer, and getting my hands on a Ram truck that I could drive up the side of a mountain.

I am not usually a deep thinker but a recent vacation had me questioning my “self” or “selves.” I was going to be gone for less than a week. This is like a gimme putt for golfers, easy to overlook but deceptively complex in its simplicity. I was packed and out the door in fifteen minutes. My other self was in charge of unpacking that evening. Someone had brought a stalk of bananas, three bags of cookies, two jars of peanut butter, enough medications for me to visit Albert Schweitzer in Africa, eight pair of underwear, five sets of earbuds, two shirts, and one pair of socks. My other self had to make do with the random assortment. (Neither of my selves would go to a local Target to supplement my wardrobe.)

This creature of the moment is often at war with my future self. At dinnertime there is only enough butter scrapings for one item. Do I garnish my evening baked potato or save the last bits, tucked deep in the foil, for a piece of toast in the morning? (Even though it might add clarity, I am reluctant to name my various selves, or speak in the third person.)

Whoever I/we are there seems to be agreement that all media is to be saved for just the right moment. I will start a magazine article, book, or television show and decide that it is so entertaining that it would be better appreciated at another time. I have a stockpile of shows to watch, but will often suggest watching a marginal program to free up space on the DVR. This greatly vexes JoAnne (the editor) and she gets mad at us (oops, me) until future me retrieves an episode of Homeland or The Good Wife a couple nights later when there is nothing on.

The relationship is complicated. Present self squirrels away desserts in the freezer to be savored at a future date, yet the here and now self puts future me on the spot continually. For example, the deadline on this column is today. Do you think anyone got an early start on it?

Tom H. Cook is a former Fuller Brush scholar, linguist, and pipe cleaner artist. He is currently seeking investors for a fantasy jai alai league.

Considering Gift Giving

I think somewhere in Leviticus is the first mention of Black Friday sales. In ancient times there were far fewer people to line up outside the bazaar and no electronics to speak of but still it was a thou shalt not. Whether it was because of graven images or false gods before me, I am not a biblical scholar. I do recall reading that God (or the management) would smite line cutters. Shopping was easier in ancient times as there were only about forty-three things, and everyone needed most of them. Once the classic gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and pecan nut roll went out of fashion, holiday gift giving became problematic.

To me a gift should say: I know you. I know your soul. You are already a complete human being. May this artifact or act of kindness I bring to you brighten your day and ease your burden. May the thoughtfulness of my gift touch you and remind you of me every time you use it. May we be forever linked by my insightful offering that, despite my professed modesty, gives you a rare glimpse into the profound regard in which you are held. Let me tell you it is hard to do life-changing and stay under twenty bucks!

Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic who sets the bar so high I am forced to slink under it, or I am a clueless, self-involved sloth. Either way I do not exchange gifts. If I find someone’s “Rosebud” (spoiler alert: it is a sled), it will probably be at a garage sale in June. I will not wait six months but instead give it right away, leaving me empty handed for the holidays. When I say I do not need anything I am not being coy. If I need an external hard drive I will not drop subtle hints to friends and family, I will just go get it.

Practical people mystify me. If friend Agnes (not her real name) wants a a cranberry merino sweater from Macy’s she will send her brother Jeff (that is his real name) the link so he can one-click purchase it and Sara (oops) gets exactly what she wants. Granted this is no Gift of The Magi, but it is smart, efficient, and no one has to wander around the mall with a bunch of cretinous mouth breathers or suffer receiving another of Jeff’s beer steins. Still it robs Christmas morning of a certain spontaneity until it is revealed that the color was sold out (because Jeff waited) and he was forced to scramble. “Can you believe I was able to luck into the last one left?” he crows, “and it is mostly purple –go Vikes!”

It was probably 1982 and a couple we knew very well were moving from Minnesota to Pierre, South Dakota. Unencumbered by children and many possessions, they had rented a van and filled it to the brim. Before they could leave my friend’s teenage brother brought her and her husband a going away present, a very large over stuffed chair. He was 17 and had strapped it to the roof of his car and driven from Illinois. Sometimes presents are not practical but the gesture is so sweet. The couple are no longer together but I believe she still has the chair.

Tom H. Cook is a somewhat local writer and a complete washout the one time he agreed to participate in a Secret Santa program at work. (He resorted to “gifting” office supplies from his own desk.)fixit

Admission to the Afterlife?

“Please listen carefully because our menu options have changed … (garble garble)
or, if you (are brain dead, lonely and bored and) would like to speak to a representative press 9 now or simply remain on the line.”

I am one of the seven drivers in North America that does not run red lights. I vote (even for county deputy assistant waste management controller), yield right of way, hold doors for others, pay taxes, recycle, floss, stand up straight, say please and thank you, and nod agreeably during weather-related conversations. I do not mumble, litter, chew gum, describe everything as awesome, or forget the Alamo. There are other things I do not do but modesty prohibits me from an extensive list. These may be my greatest virtues. Suffice it to say I am not a great humanitarian.

I hope to live quite a while longer, but what if admission to a good afterlife is like applying to college? My life GPA (money) is not the best. I will need good references and solid extracurricular to have any shot at even a state school Heaven. I have trouble imagining a Judgement Day with St. Peter and the Pearly Gates, but if there is one, the topic of good works will certainly come up.

When the economy tightened many jobs were eliminated, and those who remained were asked to do more with less. I sympathize with the front-line service providers. Supervisors, under the guise of efficiency and profitability, became bullies and petty tyrants. Now surveys and questionnaires abound whenever there is a transaction. I know if I indicate anything less than blissful, near orgasmic satisfaction someone will get called on the carpet. (I once had a helpful phone worker counsel me where to safely put 8s and 9s to make the survey more credible.) I am familiar enough with professional jargon to provide a specific critique of a staff member’s performance to management-types.

Recently a Best Buy sales associate was explaining 4K TV, LED versus plasma, HDMI pixels, Smart TV and HI DEF. He knew mountains more than me, but he had a grammar glitch. I felt he would have difficulty getting promoted or taken seriously if he continued to refer to different models as “these ones.” I mentioned it to him lightly and with humor. I do not know if it stuck. I also made sure to find his supervisor and let her know how helpful he had been.

My best work is on the phone. If a representative seems willing to go off script and actually help me, I tell them (and the ubiquitous Big Brother) how much I appreciate them explaining how my cable bill is bundled or why it costs more to fly 300 miles than 3,000. I agree to remain on the line to complete a short survey. Whether talking to an airline or an insurance company, behind the behemoth are people pressured to perform. What I do is not sufficient to spare me from spending my afterlife in a roaring fire pit and an eternity of Kenny G. music, but I try to help.

Tom H. Cook is a local writer and professional jacks player. He accidentally invited everyone he has ever e-mailed to endorse him on LinkedIn.

The Secret to Humor

The secret to humor is surprise.
—Aristotle

Unlike the scholarly, well footnoted opuses I usually bring to this space, I have decided to foresake the dusty library stacks and my arduous original research to celebrate summer’s last gasp. Join me in a hammock with a lemonade (although it may get crowded) for a few vignettes that make me smile and laugh out loud. Although on disparate subjects, each features a wry twist.

The early 1970s comedy The Odd Couple featured divorcee and sportswriter slob Oscar Madison sharing a Manhattan apartment with Felix Unger, a commercial photographer (portraits a specialty), neat freak and meddler. A favorite episode has Oscar going on and on lamenting a lost romance of his youth. Felix, ever the nudge, tracks down Judy, Oscar’s former flame, and sets up a surprise meeting. The show’s final scene is Judy, all 450 pounds of her, rushing into Oscar’s arms. Will this be an awkward moment? The show is saved and will always remain in my memory because an equally delighted Oscar rushes toward her and blurts out, “Judy, you lost weight!”

* * *

Science class at my junior high school in Pennsauken, NJ. We are watching a black and white educational film about insects. Our teacher Miss Grover, who was rumored to have lost a fiancee in the Spanish American War, is presiding. In this era almost any diversion from “the lecture” was appreciated, note the word almost. A few minutes into the film we become aware that this screen gem is funded by a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, whose answer to almost every question is DDT. (This is pre-Vietnam and today’s target is termites.) The film takes an ominous turn. “You may see a half dozen termites chewing on a baseboard.” I recognize the narrator’s voice from his work on “Russia: Threat or Menace?”, but today his crusade is to warn of another kind of vermin. In a voice usually reserved for fellow travelers and Hollywood types he implores us, “Do not be fooled if you see a few termites. There may be thousands doing damage on the other side of the wall!” The camera cuts to a spot that is black with termites! Those of us who are not sound asleep are terrified. There was silence. Finally my friend Steve crinkles his nose and naively wonders aloud, “I have thousands of termites in my garage. Does that mean that there are two or three on the other side of the wall?”
* * *

Who can forget our own Lake of the Isles’ Mary Tyler Moore Show ? Late in the series Ted Baxter and Georgette get married and quickly become adoptive parents to a 10 year old son. The boy is struggling in school and the Baxters turn to newsroom gang for advice. The whole WJM crew offers words of encouragement and vague suggestions to Georgette and Ted, who are crestfallen and clearly out of their depth. An elderly relative of Lou’s happens to be visiting the newsroom, and he gets drawn into the discussion. After witnessing the hand wringing, he asks if he might offer an observation. “I’m an old man and I’ve seen one or two things in my lifetime. Sometimes there’s a reason why a child is not doing well in school…and it’s very simple, but no one ever thinks of it! He could be stupid.”

* * *earby owl

The scene is the locker room of a very exclusive English club, think dark oak, chandeliers. Three older members have just emerged from the showers when a number of women appear, having clearly walked through the wrong door on their tour of the facilities. There are shrieks and laughter as the men race to cover themselves. Two of the men grab towels to rap around their waists. The third man hastily places a towel over his head. After the women depart the first two men ask their comrade to explain his unusual behavior. He pauses briefly and then responds, “I cannot speak for you chaps, but in this town I am better known by my face.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer. Unlike those spouting the cliche du jour, his next rodeo would be his first.

 

 

 

Good Old Cooper

May God endow you with pain.              Baba Farid, Sufi poet

JoAnne (wife/editor)  “What are you writing about this month?”
Me “I thought I’d write about Cooper.”
JoAnne  “You have already written at least three columns about him…”
Me “Do you know how many entire books have been written about Winston Churchill, Stephen Foster, and Sacajawea?”

JoAnne (a bit exasperated and recognizing she has again fallen into an exchange where logic is useless.  Nevertheless she continues gamely) “They were famous people. Cooper is a dog.”

Me (exchanging a conspiratorial wink with the behemoth at my feet) “That,” I say, pausing for emphasis, “Is what he wants you to believe.”

*                    *                *               *                 *                  *                  *                    *

Cooper was a wedding present my daughter Rachael and son-in-law Daniel gave to each other almost eleven years ago.  Cooper is an over-sized yellow Lab who comes across as an oafish, hale fellow well met, ready to ask about “the missus” and your golf game.  A tail thumping Rotarian glad hander, who will grab your clothing and pull you to the ground to rub his belly.  At dinner parties he settles down after the meet and greet and plays the perfect guest.  Careful not to take the host’s favorite chair, he avoids politics and religion and does more listening than talking.  He seems to blend into the woodwork.  It is not until dessert is about to be served that the host realizes that an entire pumpkin pie that was on a high counter is missing.

Cooper is a trickster, perhaps in the coyote or Sufi tradition.  He has been pulling stunts like this for more than a decade.  Traveling with Daniel, he adjusts seamlessly to months of fast-paced downtown living in a Toronto high-rise.  Charming the doorman, he is off, walking without a leash through the financial district.  He could be just another securities trader concerned about the downturn in the China market.  What gives him away is not that he is a dog, but that he is not on a cell phone.  He knows that a cold wet nose to the back of a knee can redirect a chatting, oblivious business person and keep things moving.

Daniel and I believe Cooper is a prankster, far smarter than he appears.  In repose he is a Zen-like cipher, a Rorschach test.  We love to speculate on his past.  He often acts the part of a tweedy, befuddled, long tenured classics professor oblivious to the toilet paper stuck to his foot.  We are convinced this is just his cover.  Was he C.I.A.?  I am not sure where that rumor started.  Did he prep at Hotchkiss and get recruited to be a helper dog before washing out?  Was he once a companion to an elderly man who was finally unable to care for him?  He gets very excited when he sees very senior citizens.  He still pees like a racehorse in one spot as if he used to receive very few walks and had to make the most of every outing.

“Coopie” was already an old soul when Rachael and Daniel found him in a shelter in the San Fernando Valley.  This would lend credence to him having been in The Company and then discarded.  While all the other dogs barked and pleaded to be noticed, Cooper slept undisturbed as if he knew the kids were coming for him.  He ambled off just hours before facing “the green mile.”  He has been family ever since.

That is what is making his present condition so gut wrenching.  Cooper is probably about fourteen and has led a full if circumspect life.  His eyes are clear, and his appetite legendary.  His back legs are now too weak to support him.  After a few steps he likely tumbles over.  He remains good natured and nonplussed by his worsening condition.

After fall his tail thumps loudly, signalling that poltergeists have again tripped him up.  He rises with aid, his dignity and sense of humor intact.  Doctors have ruled out hip dysplasia and arthritis.  He baffled the neurologist; his X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI were unremarkable.  He has received laser treatments, acupuncture, and is on more drugs than Michael Jackson.  Cooper has a rear harness that allows us to take some of the weight off of his back end.

The veterinarians say he does not seem to be in pain.   Still, it is like watching the once graceful Willie Mays attempt to play centerfield for the Mets at forty-two.  No one wanted to cut the future Hall of Famer.  If you squinted just right for a play, he was still the “Say Hey Kid.”  Fans cheered mostly from relief every time he made it back to the bench alive.  “Coopie” still takes great joy in eating and a good nap.  He is “still in there” and we cannot let go.

When informed an injured athlete is “day to day,” Keith Olbermann will add, “Listen, we’re all day to day.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  This was an incredibly difficult story to share.  For happier Cooper columns and others visit sanduponthewaters.net.