Category Archives: dogs

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.”

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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. 

tom and cooper dog

Toronto Visit

Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss.

—Peter Ustinov

“We’re just back from Tokelau.  Jack prepped with “Freddie” at Choate a hundred years ago. Anyway, Freddie’s the Royal Imperial Emperor now.  We told him not to make a fuss, but apparently he stayed some executions, closed the banks and schools, and put on this amusing little festival for us.  The kids enjoyed it.  And you, are you still out in the West somewhere?”

—Imaginary voice of a globetrotting Kenwood matron

 It is particularly difficult for me to write about travel, knowing the sophistication of the Hill and Lake Press readership.  That many of you do not make it to the back page is some solace, but it is still intimidating. I must adopt the proper world weary, bemused, detached tone of a seasoned travel writer.  Toronto was a gnarly, way cool, itchin’ time, and I cannot wait to chill there again as it is awesome to the max!!!

My son-in-law, Daniel Gillies, is working in Toronto for a few months on Saving Hope, a medical drama for NBC.  He brought the family’s yellow lab, Cooper, for company.  With a place to stay and “Coopie-Coopie” for a tour guide, we walked most of the city.  Having a large dog brands me as more likely a local, rather than an L.A. tourist.

We were pleased to learn that dogs are permitted on subways, trains, and city buses in off-peak hours.  In Toronto patio is a verb.  In the summer weather, people love to patio outside with a meal and drink.  Cooper enjoys a bowl of water just the other side of the railing.  The city feel is European right down to the smoking on the street.   Very few people fit my antiquated stereotype of square jawed mounties and blonde farmers’ daughters from Saskatoon.  Toronto is the largest city in Canada and fifth largest in North America.  One half of the population was not born in Canada.

Toronto is multicultural, racially diverse, and in a big hurry.  The downtown seems to stay up late.  Cooper and I saw hundreds of mostly 20 to 30-somethings out after midnight.  Seeing as how Toronto is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan cultural center, Cooper and I fit right in.  What you rarely see are law enforcement officers.  It appears to be a city that polices itself.  It does not hurt to have a 75 pound lab with you, but I never felt intimidated on any of our walks.

“The Beaches” is an Uptown-like neighborhood with shops, a boardwalk, swimming areas, and a well defined dog beach, all fronting Lake Ontario.  Like Target Field, the Blue Jays’ retractable roof stadium is great for baseball, and it is right downtown.  On Daniel’s day off the three of us went to Kensington, a hip neighborhood right next to Chinatown.  Toronto has a Minneapolis feel with parks and greenery everywhere.  The city is vibrant, almost despite local government officials.

Torontan’s seem to be amused rather than incensed by their own political scandal.  Mayor Rob Ford was once arrested for threatening his wife.  He famously warned the city that the Asians are taking over.  Currently he is in the news for trying to buy and annex city park land adjacent his home.   He is an obese man, well over 300 pounds, who looks like he could swallow Rush Limbaugh.  Months ago Ford vowed to lose at least 50 pounds.  Ballyhooed as a charity fund raiser, there was promise of twice-weekly weigh-ins at City Hall.  He appears to have gone AWOL and gained weight, not only abandoning the project, but ceasing to come into his office for any reason.

 Toronto, a doggone good city.

Tom H. Cook is back in the States plotting his next trip, a return to the Twin Cities in the fall.

 

 

 

 

Dogs Outnumber the People

Generally it makes sense to write about a family holiday event after it happens, if at all.   Crazy Uncle Louie face down making snow angels on the shag carpet.  Teetotaling Aunt Bessie accidentally getting into the spiked punch and using her false teeth as castanets, or the kids making a surprise skating rink by damming up and flooding the garage.  This is good stuff you cannot make up.  A few humorous anecdotes, a bit of wit and wisdom, an encompassing comment on the universality of humankind, and wishes of peace and prosperity in the new year.  These columns practically write themselves.

My family and friends are less colorful.  These are nice folks, and I love them all, but I cannot remember any of them doing anything zany enough for me to write about.  This year may be different, as there are a few added ingredients.  The “perfect storm” analogy has become so cliched it is used to explain school board election results, a pot luck with only potato salads, or an entire HR department getting matching tattoos.

Still, while it may not be a storm, or close to perfect, my doppler radar indicates this may be a memorable holiday.  I have always been one to surprise JoAnne with extra people for dinner because I thought the resultant mix would provide either kumbaya warmth or degenerate into an uncomfortable evening of back biting and name calling.  As a fan of chaos, I am looking forward to this holiday season.

I am writing now because I will probably be involved in home repair, or at the very least, carpet cleaning and will certainly not be in a reflective mood by this time next month.  If all goes according to plan, we will have eight dogs beginning the third week of December and through New Year’s Day.

The “cousins” are coming!  They are daughter Rachael’s three rather large and very friendly dogs.  She and her husband Daniel are wisely leaving the country and we get the kids.  Our boxer and border collie (Cowboy and Hannah) love to romp through our very small house with their cousin.  Henry and Jane are a sweet puggle and border collie pair that come over most days as they live nearby with their mom, a close friend.

These seven know each other well, but the piece de resistance will be Sadie, a chocolate lab from Minneapolis who will be the surprise guest of honor.  Our dear friends Jay and Cheryl have just retired (Cheryl from the U of M) and are coming to stay with us.  They are driving Miss Sadie.  Our son Ben and daughter-in-law Erin have real lives and will sadly arrive dogless.  A few brave human friends are invited, but much of the time we will balance on the tipping point with the dogs outnumbering the people, which is fine with us.

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Tom H. Cook is a sometimes writer who lives on a busy street in Redondo Beach, where firetrucks are not uncommon.   AAAARROOOOO!   

 

 

Old Friends

…what do we talk about? give me some direction. serious or light? politics or religion verboten? sports? hobbies, dogs, gardening? d.e.     (David E. PHS ’66)

There are innumerable tales of people long out of high school using Facebook and tragically or joyously reconnecting with old friends and classmates.  My experience has been less dramatic, but more satisfying.  With the safety of cyberspace and 2,800 miles I was able to confess my attraction to Karin, the attractive, bubbly girl I was in awe of forty-plus years ago at Pennsauken High School.  Still radiant in photographs, she is happily married, a grandmother, and a teacher, living in North Carolina.  I can also add modest and gracious.  In her reply, she even pretended to remember me although we never spoke.

Dave and I were friends from seventh grade homeroom until driving age, when we could actually have visited each other.  Dave was a wickedly smart “good student” with a subtle sense of humor weened on comic books and Mad magazine.   I knew him as a very good bowler, but I did not know he was a bowling alley mechanic who bowled for free and racked up over a hundred games a week.  Nor did I know he and a mutual friend had a math study group that could have saved my life in Algebra.

We got back in touch this past June and it is fascinating to share remembrances with him.  In my adolescent haze, I did not even know about the South Jersey jazz club Dave patronized.  He wrote recently, “…i drove there in my ‘58 ford. a beautiful girl kissed me during a concert, precipitating a lifelong interest in music. we saw jazz legends like buddy rich, gene krupa, woody herman, cal tjader, lionel hampton, erroll garner, chick corea, cannonball adderly, dizzy gillespie, dave brubeck, pete fountain, stan getz, and others with their attendant bands and entourages. we sat two or three rows back from these giants and legends for the price of a few dollars.”

He studied medicine while in the Air Force and was somehow able to keep his subversive wit under control for an entire career in the military.  “when we went into Iraq the second time i spoke out against it. i saw the photos Powell showed the U.N. and i was not convinced they were what they said they were. i was told to shut up.  i’m not sure running around Afghanistan constantly killing the number 3 Taliban leader is doing us any good.  Sad when soldiers would rather go back to the war because they find it more meaningful than life in america. america seems so angry and empty. hard times used to engender a pulling together and a positive approach to solving problems. now everything proposed is enveloped in roiling invective.”

“….we are in iran/afghanistan to prevent terrorist attacks on the u.s. we’ve been there for 9 years and there is no end to the threat. with the military maxed out in their efforts, one can extrapolate a forever war. sort of one like the british fought while maintaining their colonies in india and elsewhere. to leave the mideast , we are told, would lead to numerous and more severe attacks on the u.s. earlier in our lives we were told that losing in vietnam would lead to a victory for communism and, in keeping with eisenhower’s domino principle, a toppling of one country after another to the red menace. we got out and now we can buy clothing from vietnam, and from our greatest trading partner, china. we knew who the terrorists were before the tower attacks but we fell victim to our own bureaucracy. we know who the likely suspects are now, which makes the job of subverting their activity easier. i just hope the huge increase of government security and intelligence layers doesn’t create a wall against information transfer. we seem to be horizontally challenged at crucial times. in regards to the economy and the solutions offered. we are hamstrung by  political party rhetoric and posturing. look at the oil spill as an example. the company and its engineers fashioned a solution that has apparently worked and nature is seemingly working its magic in erasing this mistake by man as it will ultimately do with mankind itself. did the  political visits to the site or  the various beaches, or speeches screaming this or that provide anything of substance? except now the conspiracy theorists now think obama and the government set fire to the oil rig. i’m going down to louisiana to apply for compensation to offset the damage done to my brain by listening to all the crap spewed into the airways. i guess we should be thankful there can only be a 24/7/365 news cycle. thank god we don’t live on pluto. one hell of a long year and a horrible climate. ( i do not agree with the current lack of planetary status for pluto. any heavenly body named after a lovable dog is a planet in my book ). will stop for now. i’m getting winded. cya. d….

     Dave and Sylvia, his wife of 38 years, recently retired and live in San Antonio, Texas.  My admiration grows for him with each correspondence.  I do my best to keep up, but his rants and pearls reveal his wisdom and irreverence.  It is a delight to turn on my computer and receive an Andy Rooney/Will Rogers dictum.  What follows are a few more of Dave’s reminiscences occasionally combined and edited for space.

my dad used to take me to the park across the street from camden high and hit many a baseball to me when i was 7-8 yrs. old. eventually i caught some. my first dog, topper, a border collie, got the rest and would run them back to my father. afterwards we would walk to the top of a rise where he showed me the tomb of walt whitman. he said he was a great poet and that i should read his poetry. i did, in college. i always was taken back to the times on that hill. i’m there now.          

i never complain. i have no right to do so. my childhood and adulthood have been more than satisfying. i wish i had done more for others. part of the catholic ethic i guess. thinking of my parents and friends i will see no more stops me in my tracks. i am inadequate to the task of describing their greatness. when he was dying, my dad asked me whether he had been a decent father. i was stunned and burst into tears. how can you put into words the importance people have on your life? 

i loved comic books. i had spiderman #1 that my brother bought me when i had the flu. i gave it to my brother to pay for college tuition.

“…the social security system is solvent. leave it alone. medicare has been tweaked. do people want to return to the times of dickens. okay, i guess, as long as you’re not the kid in the bootblack shop researching plots for novels. if the tax credits expire, we all sacrifice very little. the very wealthy would theoretically pay 3K more b.t.c., before tax consultants. i had a next door neighbor who owned a summer house, a boat, and put all his kids through large universities, took European vacations AND always paid less income tax than me. why do people who have the most complain the most. year. a sign of divine intervention?. maybe our situation in life is a sign of the existence of a mediocre being. peace bro’. cya. d…….

i always think back to english class when we were told to write 500 words about an ash tray. i could never do it. and now i can’t help but do it.

8.5% unemployment is ok. 9.5% is politically catastrophic. 90% of the population is employed. not happy, but employed. a short time ago the stock market was 8500. now it is 10,500. nobody is happy. growth is 2.5-3.0%. a disaster. 2.5-3.0% during the previous administration not even mentioned. tax cuts had a seven year run followed by an economic collapse. answer to the economic crisis; more tax cuts. trillions spent to outweaponize russia during the cold war. trillions spent to prevent terrorists from crashing a plane into a building. in the future build more spread out, smaller buildings to house command and control of the government, finance and military. we have computer systems now people. we borrow a billion dollars a day from china to use for defense against china. we buy everything from china. we are supporting china to be our adversary. things are blown up out of all proportion. everything will end our society as we know it. it must be true because everybody is saying it. other than leading to changes of faces in congress, i don’t really see any realistic actions being taken. since i see no sense of urgency being taken by our leaders, i can only assume things aren’t that bad. so when somebody gets into your face about our country becoming socialist; our economy collapsing; attending the wrong place of worship, just smile and go to the park with a good book. take a deep breath; it’ll all be over soon.cya d..

Tom H. Cook is returning for his fall pilgrimage and hopes to go to a Twins game, and bore the life out of as many old friends and neighbors as possible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

House Finish Man Die

You must never stop building the house.  If you continue to build you will live forever.  But if you stop, then you will die too.                                –The Boston Medium

 

It was on the advice of her psychic that Sarah Winchester contacted The Boston Medium. Winchester had lost both her young daughter and husband.  The medium suggested that the souls of those killed by her husband’s rifles were angry and that she seek a way to appease them. Rather than establish a relief fund or a charity for the victims’ families she abandoned the comforts of New Haven, Connecticut in 1844.  Armed (no pun intended) with a mere $20,500,000 and half ownership in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the plucky if delusional widow moved west to San Jose, California.

The mansion she built is renowned for its size and utter lack of a master building plan.  Begun on her arrival, it has approximately 160 rooms (ample quarters for the spirits of the dead), 10,000 window panes, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces and doors and stairways that lead nowhere.  A paint job required 20,500 gallons of paint and could never be finished because the early work would need re-doing before the last portion could be completed.  Crews needed to work around the clock to forestall Mrs. Winchester’s death.  The second ballroom was under construction when the aged and arthritic matron passed away in 1922.

I do not believe I have the same quest for immortality.  I have not even added a bird feeder in the seven years I have been in California or adopted an exercise regime that will extend my life, but I have no other explanation for my growing collections.  Like Mrs. Winchester, I can not see dying before I have read all of the books that line my walls.  I have hundreds of CDs, many that I have yet to listen to because the cover art does not look as good as the twelve I play for all occasions.  Still I plan to enjoy each and every one of them someday.

I am currently 306 podcasts or one week and 37 hours of non-stop This American Life and The Dan Patrick Show behind on my iPod, with more being downloaded everyday.  I will listen to them.  My DVR is set to record everything from old Bob Newhart episodes to Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I watch just enough to keep the recorder at 90 % of capacity, but not overflowing. I rarely play any of my 500+ DVDs that I plan to watch, as the Netflix shipments cut into my available viewing time.

At this point you may be thinking Sure, he has a lot of books, music, and videos, but he has not crossed that all important line that separates the collector/hobbyist from the obsessive pack rat.  You are probably thinking nothing of the sort and I am being easy on myself. But if that were the extent of my “collections” I could rationalize it as a remnant of misplaced 1960s reverence for the media.

What catapults me over the line and into a world of delusion is my shirt collection.  I am ready to come out of the closet and admit to owning over 300 shirts.  I worry that I will spill things on my shirt…things that will not come out. (You would think I lived on grape juice.)  Or I will have another laundry mishap (see HLP May, 1999).  Consequently, when I am at a garage sale, I feel the need for backup, so I browse the men’s shirts.  I am a very common size, and too often there are shirts just calling me.  I have tried raising the bar and buying only all cotton, linen, or silk, freshly dry cleaned shirts selling for $1.00 a piece or less.  Still they find me.  Something comes over me, and I cannot walk away.

It will be handy to have dress shirts if I ever get a job again.  The dark silk ones are for my next (first) ultra swanky cocktail party.  These shirts are not to be confused with my “clubbing wardrobe” where Bianca or Simone may accidentally spill a drink on my clearly expensive outfit and I can laugh it off.  I have fancy golf shirts (I don’t play) and yacht party attire which I would undoubtedly ruin as I get seasick in the harbor.  If I am invited to a luau or a surprise party for Don Ho I have about 25 Hawaiian shirts to choose from. Don’t even get me started on my Scottish wool lumberjack shirts for ski trips and hikes in the great north woods with my chums that look like they star in beer commercials.

I have shirts for almost all occasions.  Shirts I plan not only to wear, but to wear out in my lifetime!  This will take a while because I currently keep them safely ensconced in my closet.  I tend to wear the same weather- and peanut butter-beaten T-shirts every day because I spend most of my waking hours with dogs who are notoriously forgiving of my attire.

I cannot wait for the occasion so special that I put on my silk shirt, pack the unread book I have been hoarding, throw some new CDs on my car stereo and head up the coast for a rockin’ weekend.  In the meantime I’ll be at a garage sale building up inventory or else at the dog park.

 

Tom H. Cook is an ex-HLP loiterer.  He will miss the editorship and friendship of Jane Johnson who is returning to England.

 

 

 

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.