Category Archives: California

Kakistocracy

What fresh hell can this be?*

                                —Dorothy Parker

 

But who will bell the cat?

                                —Ancient fable (predating Aesop)

 

Stupidity does not consist in being without ideas. Such stupidity would be the sweet, blissful stupidity of animals, mollusks and the gods. Human stupidity consists in having lots of ideas, but stupid ones. Stupid ideas, with banners, hymns, loudspeakers and even tanks and flame-throwers as their instruments of persuasion, constitute the refined and the only really terrifying form of stupidity 

                                 -– Henry de Montherlant, Notebooks, 1930-44

 

Kakistocracy— government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens,

                               —Thomas Love Peacock, English novelist 1829

 

 

It is meager solace having a name for the condition that is afflicting 63,000,000 of us.  Like chronic fatigue syndrome or sleep apnea, a diagnosis may help provide understanding and treatment.  Knowing you are not just a lazy person who snores loudly is some comfort and legitimacy.  Months after the election our nation is still in shock.  Many of us have physical symptoms like sleeplessness, irritability, and free floating anxiety,  We are worried, and feel powerless, cynical, and pessimistic.  We compartmentalize and become tearful thinking about the future. Literate readers of this space (oxymoronic) may already know the term kakistocracy.

 

Amro Ali a Middle Eastern scholar at the University of Sydney, posted a blog entitled “Kakistocracy:  A Word We Need to Revive.”  (Gotta love that Internet.) He encourages a more widespread application of the word kakistocracy to describe the current government of the United States.  Professor Ali warns that an overuse of the term by applying it to any unpopular government weakens its meaning.

 

Sadly that day is here.  We are full-on Captain Quieg, and James Comey smells of strawberries. We have forsaken democracy and its ideals and are currently living under a kakistocracy.  In further bad news, we likely have a comorbid condition kleptocracy, or rule by thugs and thieves.  Russia, always in the news, is a kleptocracy.  Putin and his cronies are amassing vast sums of money and precious resources but they are not stupid, they are not kakistocrats.


This is not a sore loser, aw shucks, “get ’em next time” partisan rant (see Bush v Gore HLP March/2001).    We have endured the leadership of racists, paranoiacs, simpletons and jingoists while still cramming ourselves into the bulging leisurewear of democracy.  Now we have split our pants.


How we got here is for better minds.  What happened to the Constitution?  Checks and balances?  Our current state is horribly embarrassing, like borrowing money from a relative, having a credit card refused at a busy supermarket, or making body noises on a first date.  We do not have death squads, though Attorney General Sessions is ramping up the penalties for drug offenses. We are closing the gap on the banana republics we once scorned. First World nations are treating us as if we have ceased bathing regularly.  

 

When I was a kid I wondered what color the sky was during The Great Depression, because all the newsreels and pictures were in black and white.  I catch myself feeling happy and then I remember the president and his minions are oblivious to the principles of Jefferson, the life of Frederick Douglass, and the sacredness of democracy.  Our past and our future are being looted.  Steve Bannon lurking around the White House is a greater threat than voter fraud or even foreign terrorism.  We are living under a kakistocratic form of government.  It is mind bending; the sky is still blue but we have all been diminished.  

 

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer still spry, terrified for the republic, and writing from a beach in California. 

 

Sand Upon the Waters is on the Web

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve immortality through not dying                                   —Woody Allen

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                     —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Walking with a much younger friend the other day, I shared the news that I am developing a web presence.  My sister Nanci, a web designer visiting from British Columbia, was organizing my HLP columns and composing a website.  “I never thought of you as narcissistic” was my friend’s response.  It gave me pause.  

Granted, I subject old friends and former neighbors to my struggles and missteps on a monthly basis, but my portrayals rarely cast me in a positive light.  Of the seven deadly sins I mostly exhibit sloth, impulsivity, and a tenuous relationship between cause and effect.  I do not crave attention, but rather serve as a cautionary tale. I hope for, if not universality, at least  a faint recognition. My goal is to write about the important issues of the day, like garage sales, the conspiracy of objects, and what happens if you have nine dogs over for Christmas dinner.  Heady stuff.

Do my columns merely serve as a buffer between real estate ads in a community newspaper, or are they, as one reader suggested, a desperate cry for help?  The real question is Are they worth preserving?  I am not talking Smithsonian, but JoAnne is tired of the boxes of newspapers that I seem incapable of discarding or organizing.  (An aside: the word fire hazard is tossed around entirely too blithely in contemporary culture.) 

I have written more than three hundred columns since 1980 and a compromise seems to be storing them in “The Cloud,” not in the basement, which we don’t have.  Nanci to the rescue.  She has searched for themes, added photos, and put together through wizardry and hard work a web site.  Might a book publisher or Hollywood literary type decide that my collected columns would make a best seller and a vehicle for Ben Stiller? I am more likely to attract a bored actuary from Dayton. 

As to the original charge of self absorption, I fear my motives are even more grandiose.  I do not paint, sculpt, or create in any meaningful way.  My website may be more like a futile grasp for immortality.  I get no money for clicks or visitors, but humor me and check it out at sanduponthewaters.net.

Tom H. Cook is grateful to The Hill and Lake Press for untold patience and friendship.

 

 

Where Are My Keys?

The game I play most frequently is, “Where are my keys?  I just had them!  They were right here!!!”   As amusing as that can be for neighbors and casual passersby, the activity I much prefer is referred to as “If I could see me now, then.”  I certainly did not invent it and most of us do it, often without giving it a name.   In my version, I am an “Our Town”-like observer, able to witness but not influence events.  The scene of my present to be viewed in my past only lasts for a minute or two.  It is an opportunity for my much younger, more judgmental self to get a peak at who I have become.

The present me will often smile at how the teenage me would roll his eyes at how I have sold out.  I take a perverse pleasure at getting my old self in situations that would totally baffle my early self. To play the game you must find yourself in an incongruous spot, and conjure the age you were when you would find the event/activity the most confusing or vexing.

If my editor (JoAnne) is with me and we are not in harm’s way because of a wrong turm I made, taking us from a dicey/sketchy neighborhood into one where people are actually exchanging gunfire, she will often play along. We had a game just last month.  My college self is watching for clues to his future.  I am driving a very large Jeep vehicle.  A much older woman is with me. It is JoAnne.  On closer look, I have aged a bit also.  JoAnne and I are yawning as we leave the city of Atlanta by highway at dusk.  We are in a massive traffic jam and somehow lost at the same time.  My young self, after getting over the short hair, decides that I/he must have moved to Georgia, which was never in any of my five year plans, if I had bothered to construct any.  JoAnne is waving around something about the size of a deck of cards, but it looks like a cross between a television and a scrap of one of those free roadmaps from the gas station.  She is urging me to move three lanes to the right in the next eleven feet.  Now the scene changes and I am sound asleep in a hospital atrium. I am wearing the same clothes I had on in the car, but now it is morning.  I have become way too comfortable in the lobby, which is showing signs of life. The day people have come to visit patients and watch insipid cartoons, or they would if I were not sleeping on the remote. JoAnne wakes me.  I follow her into a room where we must know the young woman in bed.  She looks tired, but beautiful and happy. A young man by her bed smiles and hugs me.

I need to ditch the old hippie and be totally in the present.  It is September 28th and our daughter Rachael has just given birth to our first grandchild.

 

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  He cannot wait to show Lake of the Isles to a little girl named Charlotte Easton Gillies.

Traveling Helpers

When I was a young man I did not want to run with the bulls at Pamplona (I have weak ankles) but I did want to experience the rest of Europe.  Holding me back was money, a cranky draft board, and my Great Dane, Yossarian (see HLP. Mar ‘07).  I eventually made the trip but I was well past the backpack and youth hostel age.  I never visited the Parisian fountain where Zelda Fitzgerald danced naked, or found Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts.  My middle aged sensibilities had a good enough time marveling at the architecture and soaking in the history, but I often caught myself thinking that I had missed the window.

My sister Nanci and her husband Tracy operate a bed and breakfast on Quadra Island in British Columbia (shameless plug at the end).  Paying customers are their lifeblood, but the upkeep of the place can be daunting.  A few years ago they came up with a unique solution: bring in travelers from all over the world who stay for a week or a month and help out in return for food and lodging.   Cynic that I am, I asked how they keep from attracting ax murderers or Amway representatives.  Nanci told me about HelpX, which sounds like a new age cult or a powerful stain remover, but is actually short for Help Exchange.

She explained that it was an organization that matches host families and travelers wanting to gain skills, practice a language, take a break from their routine, and most important, share the lives of people from another culture.  Potential hosts and visitors are screened extensively.  Before any direct contact is made both parties are urged to have extensive discussions about their mutual expectations.  Nanci assured me that if I registered as a host, a Bulgarian goat herder would not just show up at my door.  HelpX is an on-line aid to breaking down the artificial relationship of awkward tourist and put-upon local.  Working, eating, and living under one roof even for a limited time helps to forge close relationships.

The fully vetted traveler expects to work with the host approximately four hours a day in exchange for food and shelter.  No money changes hands. I was intrigued by the nobility and simplicity of the organization and the potential for international good works.  Nanci and Tracy have had folks from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many European countries.  Tracy told me about a psychiatrist from Germany who had recently spent three weeks with them.  Arriving fairly burned out from his demanding practice, he became quite enamored with their electric pressure washer, and spent almost every waking hour outdoors cleaning.

They were currently hosting a young man from rural France who was spending nine months crossing Canada and the United States by train and bus, working on farms and with urban agencies that fed the hungry.  He wanted to see Los Angeles, and was I interested in hosting?  I told her that as long as he did not try to convert me or sell me aluminum siding it would be great.  If there was no risk, wouldn’t we all be friendlier and open to strangers?  My only remaining hesitation was that I do not do anything, and that it might be like the Seinfeld episode (Kramerica) in which Kramer takes on a college intern.  But if the French guy was game for loitering and wandering around he was welcome to come.

Guillaume Leblanc arrived the third week of March after working at a food distribution center for the poor in a sketchy part of Fresno, CA. His life in France is business school and a corporate internship.   At 22, he wanted to travel before finishing his MBA in marketing.  He, JoAnne, and our French-speaking friend Catherine bonded immediately.  Guillaume loved the dogs (together we have four) and was entranced by JoAnne’s weaving equipment.  He learned to spin in record time and was able to fix one of JoAnne’s broken spinning wheels.  He fit right in bicycling at the beach by day, and watching our favorite show, Damages, with us at night.  Fortunately we did not fully corrupt him.  After five days he left to work at a shelter outside of Las Vegas.

Rather than resent someone living the dream of my youth, I am delighted that there are altruistic and committed souls determined to work around the obstacles governments place in their path.  If you have a spare bedroom and could use a little help around the house or yard, and are interested in sharing your city and your life with someone from another country, contact helpx.net

Tom H. Cook remains a Minnesotan in everything but taxes, and windchill.    His sister is an artist and innkeeper.  Nanci welcomes all to her Island B&B in the civilized wilds of beautiful British Columbia.  Check it out at: firesignartanddesign.com

Motorist Critique

Safety first: Keep both hands on the wheel. Chew Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and see how happy you feel!

—Wrigley Gum commercial circa 1955

Most of us freely concede certain shortcomings, such as the inability to carry a tune, do simple math without a calculator, recall names of former neighbors, and even remember the title of last night’s video.  We are touchier about a subjects like having no sense of humor (no one admits they don’t have one) and operating a motor vehicle.  Just about everyone from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man to your great Aunt Minnie believes they are  excellent drivers and it is the yahoos on the road that make modern ground travel hair-raising.

I have no such illusions. I drive when necessary and never for pleasure.  Still I reserve the right to savagely critique my fellow motorists.  Speeders, tailgaters, phone talkers, and drunk drivers are in another circle of Hell.  What follows are behaviors that are more annoying than life threatening. 

  1. No turn signal.  Generally a guy, often in an oversized vehicle.  The inference is, it is none of your business where or when I am turning, despite how much it may aid you in making your plans.  Turn signals are for wimps and people who want to take away my freedom and my country.  (The last part may be a stretch, but I have felt it.)
  2. That is my lane!  I am in the right lane signaling to move to the left to pass a slow moving vehicle.  A car in the left lane is well back, but on seeing my signaled intent develops a deep proprietary interest in all of the passing lane and immediately accelerates so that I am unable to get over.  Similarly, when one is faced with an upcoming lane merger there are only two types of drivers.  One sees the need to quickly assess, communicate, and accommodate.  The other decides they must beat you to the spot no matter the carnage.  The latter is a common impulse in preschoolers lining up for recess.
  3. The shaming pass.  I admit I usually stick to the speed limit plus 5 miles per hour in and around town.  As one lane turns to two I am sometimes passed by a driver who feels the need to explode around me as if I had been holding them underwater.  After accelerating as if on fire, or late to a consult at the Mayo Clinic, they usually turn into a Burger King.
  4. Left turn arrow.  We are in our left turn lane, waiting for a green arrow. We are the misfits; the vast majority of cars are happily and feverishly speeding on in both directions.  Who are we to stop the onslaught and make our puny turn?  The driver of the first car in the left turn lane is the captain.  Since the light changes only in months with an “R” in them, a good safe jump is imperative.  When I am the captain, I take pride in being alert and getting as many of my team through as possible.  I hate when captains dawdle.  They always get out but seem not to care about how many of us they leave behind.
  5. The left turn swoop.  This is related to #4, and may be caused by a derelict captain who is already blissfully down the road.  The green arrow has gone from yellow to bright red. “But it has not been red for long,” reasons the swooper who flies into the intersection and forces green-lit traffic to hit their brakes, shake their heads, and shudder.
  6. Red light/Blue light.  Long ago in the playground game, and on the highway red meant stop.  Red has become the new yellow.  To many, a light turning red is a challenge and a signal to accelerate.  Perhaps we need a fourth color.  A blue light that really means do not enter this intersection until it is your turn!

Tom H. Cook now annoys other drivers in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Living at a Dog’s Pace

I have always considered myself a good and responsible dog owner: I feed, walk, play, pet, and clean up after.  My smart, devoted border collie, Hannah, and her clueless boxer brother Cowboy help me keep our two cats at bay.  Modesty aside, we seemed to have the whole dog and master thing down.  Our balance took an interesting turn when I agreed to provide a week’s care for my friend Catherine’s two dogs, (Prince) Henry, a puggle, and Jane, a sweet young border collie.

To say that Catherine is Henry and Jane’s owner is like saying that Napoleon didn’t like Russia, or that Michael Jordan was a basketball player.  She is playmate, consoler, mentor, master, and mamma to these very lucky dogs.  As a mutual friend remarked, “If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as Catherine’s dog!”  Catherine has scheduled her work and social life around Henry and Jane’s well-being.

It was only the prospect of a cruise along the Mexican Riviera that allowed her to even consider leaving her babies.  I was honored to be chosen as the temporary caregiver on the basis of this platform: frequent walks, twice daily dog park visits, timely but not excessive feeding, and a promise to sleep at Catherine’s house during her absence to provide her dogs as much normalcy as possible.  What follows is my scrambled memory of the licking, scratching, barking and good times we had.

My Week With Dogs

Outnumbered four to one, I opted for total emersion in the dog culture.  I needed to go in as the pack leader.  My weaknesses are poor hearing and sense of smell, as well as being slow, clumsy, and too big.  Under strengths are my uncanny ability to find food and the ability to drive a car to the dog park.  I believe it was the food thing that clinched my election as alpha dog.  There were licks all around, some barking and chasing, and of course treats for all!

Now that I was top dog, I readily gave up my un-doglike pursuits, such as television, computers, telephones, and newspapers.  Dogs do not see technology as bad, or confusing (like your Aunt Clara does); they just see it as taking valuable time away from sniffing, chewing, and resting.  The five of us ate, walked, wandered, and slept together. Baths and me shaving were voted down by acclimation.

A week is not sufficient time to turn into a canine Jane Goodall, but I did my best to live at a dog’s pace.  We awoke with the sun and after a quick trip outside (I did not go full dog), it was time for breakfast, a truly momentous occasion worthy of dance and joyful noise.  The rest of our day was filled with time at the park, wrestling matches, long walks, basking in the sun, cooling off in the shade, and imagining the next meal.

Each of these dog’s life activities has a function.  While the park provides needed exercise and play with others, it also solidifies our pack.  At home our seemingly random play skirmishes reenforce our position in the pack.  Our walks are fact-finding missions and a way to sniff out anything that would challenge the established order.  We need considerable resting time because a car door slamming, the passing of an unneutered Lab, a fire engine siren, a boor blabbing on a cell phone, or a noisy squirrel must all be investigated.

The gang brought me, the alpha dog, all dangers, real and imagined.  I maintained final say on what action was necessary.  Our pack was Tea Bagger conservative and hyper-reactive to any perceived change.  The troops were able to return to sleep instantly; not so their leader.

Hannah initiated most of our activities.  She was second in command and, like Radar O’Reilly, seemed to know my plans before I did.  At home she usually watches over me, but the new order seemed to suggest that I had been delegated to Henry’s care.  We spent the week being guys, each of us clearly relishing hanging out together.  We cuddled and took frequent naps.

Cowboy had come to us as a rescued dog, as was every dog in the pack but Henry.  Cowboy’s traumatic early years have left him timid and afraid, despite his impressive physique.  The slightest noise startles him and frequently starts a chain reaction of barking that rumbles through the house.  What is very sad is that he does not know how to play.  He watches the rest of us fetch, tug, and chase but he does not know how to join in.  Still, the pack accepts him.

Jane is the wild card, smart and ambitious, a lizard-chasing hunter.  She and Hannah are “The Girls,” indefatigable, curious, running in and out of the dog door and upending poor Henry.  Jane enjoys being mentored and chewed on by Hannah, but since she leapfrogged over Cowboy and Henry in the hierarchy, she may have bigger plans.  (“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”)  I feel like telling Hannah to beware the Ides of March.

I read while others licked, but that aside, I tried to stay in rhythm with the pack.  The days had a natural flow, and our week ended too soon.  Looking back, I feel myself going over to the dog side. I loved my life as a dog, and I still feel the call of the canine.

 

Tom H. Cook is a no longer local writer.  He has grudgingly returned to working and interacting with humans, although he will never view corgis the same.     

    

 

 

 

 

There Are Places I Remember

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain                                 –Lennon/McCartney

The daily newspaper is a shell of its former self.  If you hold the Star Tribune up to your ear you can almost hear the ocean.  I have clearly not gotten smarter, but I can finish the morning paper before a cup of tea.  A friend suggests that she is paying 50 cents a day for a hand delivered sudoku.  The paper has become an advertisement for its website.  The few stories I am interested in are teased in print but only available on-line which means going into the other room and wresting the computer from JoAnne.  Invariably she is doing something important with megapixels that makes my curiosity about Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson’s relationship seem almost trivial.

Smart, literate, young people of my acquaintence look at me as if I still have a telephone landline (which I do) when I suggest subscribing to the paper.  My generation is the boorish guest, finally herded to the front door but still in search of their keys and fiddling with their galoshes.  There may only be 87 of us, but we want our newspaper (by cracky)!

I will miss the daily paper if it goes before I do.  I am nostalgic for the days of a morning and evening newspaper with actual news in it.  I even miss the printers ink that in my youth found its way up my elbows and face while I pored over the sports section.  As a kid, I was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.  The morning Philadelphia Inquirer went to press before the conclusion of night games played on the west coast.  There would be a hint, “After three innings the Phiilies trailed the Dodgers 5-1.”  It did not look good for the “Fightin‘ Phils”, but they did not lose until The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin arrived at 2:30 PM.

It was summer and no school and the wait was somehow enjoyable.  If I finished my chores and walked Smokey (the first in a long line of insane boxers) perhaps the Phils would rally.  In hindsight the Phillies were by far the worst team in the National league when I was growing up and they lost a lot, but I believe the wait helped me learn to delay gratification which came in handy when I got my first thirty year mortgage.

In those days, some news stories were slow to develop and filter down to us.  If a celebrity had a satanic navel ring collection or was involved in a steamy affair with a notary public we were blissfully unaware.  If there was a problem in Borneo or Tierra del Fuego eventually the local paper might pick it up it from the New York Times, or the AP, or UPI.  As it turns out the “Fightin‘ Phils” fought mostly with each other.  They were a racially polarized, hard drinking carousers.  Fortunately the stories of my heroes heartlessly taunting Jackie Robinson did not become common knowledge until my illusions had been shattered in other places.

There was a not so benign paternalism at work in my youth and it is good that there is no returning.  I do not want that country back.  We are exposed to much more information in a seemingly instantaneous manner and that ought to render us not only better informed, but somehow smarter.  Speaking only for myself, I find the drumbeat of a 24/7 newscycle more overwhelming than helpful.  I have more “news” than I have places to put it.  I am also troubled that a decent web design can almost mask quackery,  and those prone to illogic and xenophobia seem to be able to access “information” that allows them to get crazier, faster.  I am not sure this is progress.

 

Tom H. Cook would like to remind everone that the last day to wish someone a Happy New Year and men it is January 27th.

Retirement Pursuits

Well-meaning folks who barely know me seem to think I would be happiest playing golf every waking moment of my retirement.  Many seem disappointed almost to the point of belligerence—and that’s without me launching into a PC rant about the geo-ecological water and land resource usurpation that the game requires.  I could claim that moral high ground, but the real reason is more mundane.  It is too clichéd a solution for what to do now that I retired for the third and probably final time this past February.

I have good friends who golf, and a few that may even have the patience to play with me, but aside from their company there is little that draws me to becoming a links man.  And just a look at me tells all but the most obtuse observer that I am no Mark Trail.  I would rather watch an entire golf match on a grainy black and white 7” television while standing up than to hunt or fish.  Most of my inquisitors are well-intended and simply curious as to how loitering, reading, and wandering around with my dogs can provide me with sufficient stimulation to sustain life.

I was not on a quest for fulfillment, and long ago gave up the notion of an examined life, but I have stumbled onto two things I enjoy.  One is my version of gardening or, more specifically, plant rescue.  Since Monday is Trash Day, Sunday is Trash Eve, and a good opportunity to adopt plants, pots, hoses and brooms, as well as umbrellas, lawn furniture, fountains, and so forth.  I do not have a green thumb or know the plant name of anything that is not a rose, but I enjoy picking up discarded plants and nursing them back to health.  JoAnne often accompanies me on this Sunday sleuthing.  Our back yard, while not yet old people scary jungle eccentric, does show promise.  We take much of the furniture and other goods of value to the local Salvation Army, forestalling its date with the landfill.  I am now on a first name basis with some of the intake workers, and while none have ventured to ask where all of this stuff is coming from, the consensus seems to be that I am a conscience-stricken cat burglar with very bad taste.

The other role that I am growing into is neighborhood anchor.  In 1977 JoAnne and I moved to the East Calhoun neighborhood of south Minneapolis from Naples, Florida.  Knowing no one, we were clearly in need of good neighbors.  The two families right out our back door were wonderful to us.  They were each Austin, Minnesota natives and only a bit older than we were, but wiser, and more established professionally than JoAnne and me.  Jay and Joy Dean had two young angelic children, Mike and Margo, and Linda and Lance LaVine had the equally sweet Nicky and Natasha.

We resisted the impulse to alliteration, but started our own family in part because of the happiness we observed in these helpful, mentoring families.  When our kids came we were often too busy to take full advantage of the guidance and acceptance they offered to us.  I owe my career choice to Jay.  Regardless of how frazzled we would be, Lance had the remedy: “Come on over for a cup of tea.” Many times we declined, begging off due to this imagined crisis or that.  Lance was wiser but knew we had to chase our own windmill.

We now have neighbors with two very young children and high stress jobs.  One is an attorney, the other a corporate recruiter.  I am not smart or worldly, and I have never been a head hunter for a Fortune 500 company, but I have made lots of mistakes, and I have time to listen. He is generally gone and she is running here and there.  Frequently they are too busy, as we were twenty five years ago, but in the spirit of Linda and Lance LaVine, I have extended to them a standing invitation for a cup of tea.

 

Tom H. Cook hopes that you will say hello to the LaVines and Deans for him.  Thank you for the great response to Keith Oldemann.  I am glad to see he has so many fans.  Please add the work of film-maker Robert Greenwald.  He is also able to cut through our national political pea soup in an entertaining manner.  His four documentaries (Out Foxed:  Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, Uncovered: The War On Iraq, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices) are sobering and informative.  He validates our greatest fears, but does it in a manner that is pointed without being pedantic.    

Hannah and Cooper

I wanted a Cooper dog.  Rachael and Daniel, my daughter and son-in-law, have a yellow lab mix they rescued two years ago.  Cooper’s past is a mystery.  He is somewhere between three and seventeen years old and is a jolly, flatulent, eighty-five pound couch potato.  A friend to all, he is the sedentary, overweight football-watching uncle I never had.  Cooper makes himself at home wherever he is. At our house he assumes his position on the most comfortable and expensive piece of furniture and only stirs at 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM to inhale a meal.

Like cries of “Norm!” on Cheers, calling “Coopie!” is almost an involuntary reaction when the big guy comes for a visit.  He drags you by your shirt or pants leg and like Joan Rivers insists that you “taullk” and catch up on petting him and singing his praises.  He particularly loves the Sesame Street song C is for Cookie when “Coopie” is substituted for “cookie.”  After the tummy-scratching (his) and arm licking (yours), Cooper settles back to watch the other dogs and people tussle and carry on.

After the death of Stella the once-insane boxer, we were looking for a companion for Cowboy, the grieving widower boxer.  Rachael and Daniel have an unerring skill of rescuing wonderful dogs.  (Either that or there are thousands of great dogs being put down each year.  I choose to believe the former.)  And so, before we left on our big Tahiti-Australia-New Zealand adventure (HLP 3/07), we told the kids that if they chanced upon a great Cooper-like dog in the month we were away, to go ahead and adopt her if they did not mind providing the care until we returned.

Since we draw the line at two dogs per family, vacancies are as rare as Supreme Court seats.  Careful consideration would have to be given.  The position available was for a full size female dog, and for the first time, a non-boxer would be eligible.  This was based on how much we loved Cooper and Sunny, the kids’ other dog, a delightful chow and collie mix.  My preference was for a large, overstuffed, sweet companion I could grow old with that would appreciate long naps and short walks.

Before we had taken off our shoes, been probed and had our passports stamped at LAX, the kids called and said they had found a dog!  As patriarch I retain the power of veto, but JoAnne and Rachael and Daniel would have the necessary three votes for a ¾ override, a power which they exercise frequently see (T. Cook v Thai Restaurant, 2002), or (T. Cook v Wedding Guest List, 2003).  Aware of the precedent and the fact that the furry bundle was already in their car and networking a powerbase of her own, I chose to be magnanimous, build consensus and demonstrate flexibility, unlike some leaders I could name.

We are entering our third month with “Hannah” a year old Australian shepherd-border collie mix.  I would have written about her sooner, but this is the first opportunity I have had to catch my breath.  I believe Hannah is smarter than a fifth grader, and certainly light years ahead of all of our boxers.  She’s about 16 months old.  Found last summer in West Hollywood, she was taken in and housed for seven months at a veterinary clinic and shelter.  I mention her history only because she appears to have suffered no ill effects from her life on the streets or her long kenneled confinement.  She loves everyone.

She is a voracious learner and explorer, raising questions about what is under certain shrubbery and how fast our aging cat can run.  These are questions that our long line of boxers never contemplated, let alone acted upon.  Hannah bonded with JoAnne and me immediately. Her deep eye contact suggests she may have had some EST training.  She is so inquisitive it can be exhausting attempting to stump her with any task easier than long division.

She is our Hannah Banana the world’s squiggliest palindrome, and she lives to please us.  Alas, this is not in the pipe and slippers, Smithers to Mr. Burns, or Radar O’Reilly to Colonel Blake manner.  Hannah looks into my eyes as if to say, “Except for the power of speech and opposable thumbs, I am your equal.  Let’s go out and play. It will do you good.”  So my dreams of a placid retirement have been shattered by a dog that will likely outlive me.  She is determined that we get out and share activities,  rummaging through dumpsters (for me) and herding dogs at the local dog park, an inborn passion she cannot resist.

 

Hannah is like having a young girlfriend, but rather than requiring a comb-over and a new wardrobe, she continually challenges me to amuse and teach her. I believe she is capable of learning anything short of Three Card Monty.  The weak link in this is me learning dog commands and conveying them to her.  We bought The Dog Whisper, but neither of us (i.e. neither Hannah nor I) has read beyond the first chapter. As much as I would have enjoyed drinking beer and watching TV with “Son of Cooper,” little Hannah has me out at the dog park every day. She is an absolute treasure.  She has stolen my heart and probably strengthened it.

 

Tom H. Cook would like to shamelessly plug his son-in-law’s film, which he shot in Panama.  The first six minutes are viewable on YouTube.  Type in “Wait for Me” and then “Panama” or “Daniel Gillies”. Rachael has a cameo at the beginning.