Tag Archives: time passing

Return To Our Home Town

I owe my life to the doctors, nurses, and support staff at the University of Minnesota Hospital.  My delicate and at the time pioneering emergency heart surgery was performed as JoAnne (the editor) was giving birth to our daughter Rachael at HCMC hospital. It was fall 1979, our second year in Minnesota.  I was teaching in Bloomington and we lived in a cozy house on 34th Street between Humboldt and Irving.  Thanks to new friends and neighbors, the three of us regained our balance. In the summer of 1982 we added (with considerably less chaos) another child, our dear son Ben.  In 1985, needing more space, we moved north ten blocks to a house again just off Humboldt, this time near Lake of the Isles.  That was the wonderful growing-up home that the kids remember.  We have happy memories, many centered around  Barton Open School, a K-8 adventure that provided Rachael and Ben with an excellent foundation of learning.

In about fifth grade our daughter began modeling for the Susan Wehmann agency near Loring Park. This lead, a few years later, to an introduction to a fairy godmother who provided her acting opportunities in Hollywood. Meanwhile Ben decided on UC Santa Cruz for college (Go Banana Slugs!).  JoAnne and I were frozen empty nesters.  Rachael settled in Los Angeles; with very little encouragement we followed.  In 2004 she married New Zealand actor Daniel Gillies.  Many years later, I am still writing for my dear friends, the writers and readers of the Hill and Lake Press, while living in southern California.

The Twin Cities Film Fest in St. Louis Park (October 18-28) is showing A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Rachael plays Hermia.  She has been invited to the October 28th screening.  The Film Fest folks did not realize this would unleash a  Kunta Kinte Roots-like reaction in our family.  The adults have been back a number of times, but now there are fresh young eyes and two big new reasons to come home.  Charlotte is four and full of questions, and Theo at two is just full of… zest.  (I had to promise not to immerse the children in the lake before being allowed to come). We are very excited to show them where mom and uncle Ben grew up.

We hardly know where to start:  Uptown, skyways, bridges, Triangle Park, Lake of the Isles, the Sculpture Garden, Minnehaha Creek, our old house…  I am voting for train and bus rides and other unique non-LA activities.  If you see a winded older man chasing two children racing through the neighborhood while kicking autumn leaves, the old guy might be me.  We want to show the kids a land that is not palm trees and traffic.  And dare we hope for rain?  Whatever the weather, we are excited to introduce Charlotte and Theo to the town that nurtured us, and that we still call home.

Tom H. Cook is aware that his daunting and ambitious plans for the visit could be undone by crankiness and the need for naps.  Tom has vowed to do his best.

Codger’s Corner

Notes, observations, and subdued rants about aging without complaints about the metric system, young people, or liver spots.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  This universal truth was originally scrawled by Piltdown Man, unearthed at Olduvai Gorge, and attributed to Hammurabi.   I remember it every time  I receive a mailer to come for a free dinner and coincidentally hear about a wonderful investment opportunity.  I suspect a conspiracy between my local pharmacist, AARP, and my subscription to a daily print newspaper.  I have been profiled.  They know the Internet for my crowd is unreliable, so it is a four color foldout in the U.S. mail.   They may be selling funeral plots, bit coins, eternal life through cryogenics, or space travel but

I rip up the brochures because they think I am an idiot.  The glossy invitation invariably features the juicy steak and potatoes I could be enjoying next Tuesday evening.  Am I living in a hovel eating cat food?  If so I do not have the money to “secure my children’s future”. Granted I am a vegetarian, but a giant picture of the dinner is supposed to entice me to invite the little woman out for a high class evening of sophisticated conversation and haute cuisine.  (Mother, put your teeth in we are going to motor off in our Olds Cutlass to sit in an overly air conditioned Days Inn in Temecula with 300 other rubes and learn the secret of biorhythmic investing).

Aging has made me more sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and the horrors of segregation.  It is not that I have become wiser and more mature, I just need to go to the bathroom more urgently, unexpectedly, and frequently.  What do a local hardware store, a Jiffy Lube, and a mom and pop grocery have in common?  They each require pleading, cajoling, and groveling to allow a civilian to use their facilities.  Often I am directed to a latrine too far and I need to clarify the importance of my request.  It is then I imagine a sliver of what it must have been like to be black and the target of Jim Crow laws.

I am waiting for the day with impatience and dread when I care if a kid cuts across my lawn.  Are the Woodstock going, free lovin’, frisbee playing peaceniks I went to college with now sitting in folding chairs in their front yards with a hose just waiting for a young miscreant to attempt a slingshot ollie over their azaleas?

The big reveal may never come.  I guess this is a very sad one.  Many classmates, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances have been born again or found inner peace thru Transactional Analysis, Krishna, EST, Scientology, Bikram yoga, Reflexology, or selling Amway,  In my younger day well meaning folks (mistakenly as it turns out)  saw me as a seeker.   They urged me to read, experience, and be in the moment. I grudgingly agreed to attended mind expanding, grounding, enlightening ceremonies, lectures, and services as long as there was no cost, I could keep my shoes on, and it didn’t conflict with Hill Street Blues (Thursday at 9:00 PM).

My host would say, “Oh Tom, give it half a chance.”  Invariably that is what I give it.  I  am grateful, solicitous and genuinely interested on the way there.  I have a natural curiosity and I am good at asking questions and making people feel comfortable.  I tell myself not to be judgmental just let the experience wash over me.  If I am not converted, be an anthropologist and don’t poke holes.  This is the gist of my self-talk.

I fail to disclose that I am very irreverent and the more somber the occasion the more likely my cynical black humor will emerge. I am responsible, but almost powerless over it. I have to look behind the curtain and see the wizard. Every time I forget that I see comic potential in serious situations.  When my poop detector goes off, I will seek out an audience, a fellow infidel and convulse them in wicked concealed laughter.  Modesty aside, I am hysterically funny.   My “true believer” sponsors are mortified and the ride home is excruciating despite taking place at great speed with the wife screaming “faster” through clenched teeth.  There are no second dates.  JoAnne (the editor) will not accompany me and when I return home she gives me a credulous look that says, Didn’t you know you would do this?”  “I knew you would do this, you simply can not control yourself!”

Tom H. Cook has signed on at least long enough to see the current president living in a Winnebago with his fourth wife Candi, hawking Ginzu knives at the Minnesota State Fair.

Writing an Advice Column

I am living with my husband and ex-husband and their girl friends.  These women sneak their red underwear in with my whites in the laundry and now we all have pink clothing!  I try to talk to them but they gang up on me.  Don’t suggest I leave; it is my house! 

(signed) Pinky

One of the many ways I irritate those closest to me is by occasionally speaking with a heavy Scandinavian accent, though it is not my heritage.  I do it only as an homage to the original movie Fargo.  Think Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), trying to impress his wheeler dealer father-in-law with his business acumen:  “I tell you, Wade, this is really sweet deal.”

While I was dining out with friends recently, the server offered us the Happy Hour Special (two for one hors d’oeuvres) despite it being 9:00 pm, three hours after the happiness was to have ended.  To the embarrassment and chagrin of all I replied in full accent, “That would be a really sweet deal.”

fixit

I have always thought writing a nationally syndicated advice column would be a really sweet deal.  I’d call it Talk to Tom, with an accompanying picture of me caring about others (it would need to be Photoshopped).  To get started, I planned to solicit or make up a few letters from troubled souls.  I’d have one a bit spicy (PG-13), such as an inquiry from a newlywed whose husband insists on bringing a pet goat into their bedroom.

Some letters would not even need much of a response.  Take “Marilyn of Widows Peak, Georgia.”  She enclosed a powerful poem she found tucked in a Gideon Bible at a truck stop motel where she was about to throw away her sacred vows and, as she put it, have “carnival relations” with a dried fruit vendor from Cincinnati.  I only need thank Marilyn, extol her bravery and reprint the poem in its entirety.  Boom, another whole column. (Ka-ching $$$)

I was getting excited about helping the downtrodden, lonely, and misunderstood. The rewards of syndication barely crossed my mind. A fancy degree is not required to give advice to the lovelorn, just a little common sense, which admittedly is not my strong suit.  Mostly you need to be kind, caring and genuine, which I can fake

Another helpful ingredient is a collection of wise but vague sayings and parables.   Don’t sugar coat the truth but wrap it in a pithy, humorous but knowing manner.  To close, suggest the writer seek out a therapist/counselor/clergy person.  That is the “playbook.”  The referral is the safe, middle of the fairway, don’t get sued response.

Before I could begin my venture I was disheartened to learn Dear Abby, Dr. Laura, Miss Manners, Dr. Ruth, Ask Amy, Dear Ann and the rest have large staffs working tirelessly to help lost souls. They have offices, copy machines, consultants, accountants, lawyers and a staff handling thousands of requests.  My bubble was burst.  Suddenly it was looking like a real job.  I opted to take a nap and remain a fan of the genre.

I enjoy my guilty pleasure, and freely admit to reading the Dear Abby letters in the newspaper on a daily basis.  To clarify, I call all the advice mavens Abby as Minneapolis’ Abigail Van Buren (Pauline Phillips) was the gold standard.  JoAnne and I attempt to guess “Abby’s” response and verbally craft a better one.  It is not one of my stellar traits but I feel a tinge of smugness comparing my problems to those who write in to the paper.  I do on occasion wonder where all of the concupiscent young women with poor judgement and raging libidos were when I was much younger.  They certainly didn’t live in Pennsauken, New Jersey in the 1960s and frequent the Cherry Hill Mall, or the Nassau Diner.  Unless my friends and I were not as cool…Nah.

When the upper crust mother of the bride thinks the new in-laws may be stealing her silver and it is a month before the wedding, I have to chortle.  One woman wrote that her boyfriend played around so much she did not know if the child she was expecting was his.  My favorite was a young man who rationalized that because he had delayed choosing a career; at 28 he worried that he was too old to start medical school and face ten years of training.  Expecting sympathy he concluded, “After all, I’d be 38 when I finished, isn’t that a little ridiculous?”  Dear Abby responded, “If you don’t go, how old will you be in ten years?”

I find myself muttering incredulously at the unfathomable and exasperating situations out there.  “No seventh chances!”  “Leave the lying weasel immediately.”  “Run!  As far and as fast as possible!”  I cannot believe some of the “writers” are in the same phylum as the rest of us.  It does however help explain the ascension of Donald Trump.

Tom H. Cook feels like he is playing “Whack A Mole” with the medical profession.  No sooner does he complete an appointment than another arises.  

Cook’s Codger Corner

By Thanksgiving Trump will lose interest or be injured while chasing a shiny object.
—Tom H. Cook           August 2015

 If Trump becomes president, Mexico and Canada will both construct (and pay for) walls to protect their borders from fleeing Americans.
—Ibid     May 2016      

Let us write to you in words you can understand. We are not displeased with your writing per se but our readership is becoming more mature and the pithy, hip, urban underground bling that you have been throwing down is too avant-garde for the speed bump lovin’ tweedy leaf rakers and corduroy cowboys we need to keep chill. The Board digs your vamping, but we will be unable to continue employing you unless you can help us skew older.  So Tom, you may be too hip for the room. Rock on and keep it real!  If you want to try an “oldster column” we will consider it.  Peace out.     —Editorial Board Hill and Lake Press

 

    Cook’s Codger Corner
Money saving tips and ornery observations buffalunatix

 Hey fellow seniors. Put on a flannel shirt because even though summer is coming it is still a bit chilly first thing in the morning.  WCCO says high of 70, but not in my pantry.

We are all concerned about money, what with property taxes and the like.  Fat lot of good it does to have a house that keeps going up in value if you are not going to sell it.  Who wants to leave the neighborhood and give it over to the hipsters?  Yeah, their kids are cute, but where am I supposed to go, to those chi-chi condos downtown?  Monthly association fees and people living on top of me, no thanks.

Well enough chatting.  Let’s get into the e-mail bag.

Dear Codger,
Do you know how much toothpaste is wasted every year?  Probably a lot.  Don’t throw out that nearly empty tube.  Cut it diagonally with a pair of shears (scissors).  There is another week’s worth of paste in there!                           Sharon M.      Girard Ave.

Dear Codger,
My kids want me to throw out all my maps and just Google or tell Siri when I want directions.  I need something I can spread out and look at and maybe write on. I want the big picture.  I can’t bring the computer in the car, and with all the traffic and horns, pay attention to a voice saying ”in four hundred feet merge left onto the Badger Creek entrance to I-94.”

I am going to AAA and see if they still have real maps like we used that summer to go to Mt. Rushmore. Hope they still lay out the route with those nasty smelling markers.
Linus E.      Chowen Ave.

 

Dear Codger,
All the grocery stores put the oldest milk in the front of the case.  Get on your knees and rustle around the rear of the cooler.  Someone with tats (tattoos) and piercings will come and offer to help.  Ask if they have a fresher container in the back.  Almost always the sell by date they find will be a week later!              Barb P.            Humboldt Ave.

 

Dear Codger,
I just had a check-up and my doctor said, “Don’t buy any green bananas.”  Is that bad?  I’ll hang up and listen.                                    Merlin G.         Irving Ave.

Tom H. Cook is a writer of sorts.  He serves at the pleasure (and whim) of the Executive Board

 

 

 

 

Humor Snob

I never wanted to see anybody die, but there are a few obituaries I have read with pleasure.
—Clarence Darrow

Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped.
—Groucho Marx

They say such nice things about people at funerals that it makes me sad I am going to miss mine by just a few days.
—Garrison Keillor

My uncle Sammy was an angry man. He had printed on his tombstone: What are you looking at?
—Margaret Smith

As one of the few remaining newspaper subscribers, I feel a civic duty to start the day with the news of the night before. I feign surprise and pretend I do not own an iPad. Besides, events are not real until I have seen them in print. My routine has been the same for years. First the sport section, littered with DUIs, assaults, and occasional ball scores. Next the front section, currently featuring the antics of contestants vying for the office once held by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

I have only recently become an avid reader of the obituaries. I read not just about the famous, but ordinary citizens. Obits of the well-known often have a bit of “Behind the Music” quality to them. The hint of graft, plagiarism, or sexual dalliance is included because their transgressions were too public and may be the main reason they are remembered. Note of their passing may offer a “perspective” on the deceased’s penchant for other peoples’ pensions.

Those of us who are less newsworthy have to buy our own space. The loving tributes suggest that in many cases either the will has not been read yet or the prime heir has the responsibility for crafting the final words. An obituary is clearly not the place for a roast or for settling old scores. I have met many dour, petty and dislikable people who, if the paper is to be believed, led a secret life of philanthropy, warmth and kindness.

I may have obit envy after reading about the great accomplishments and sterling lives of those around me. Please consider the following with a grain of salt: My quarrel with most obituaries is they will mention the deceased’s great sense of humor.

I was a not-too-successful stand-up comedian, public speaker and writer on the subject of humor. I admit to being a humor snob. Many alleged humorists are merely exchanging old bromides about Ole and Lena, making fun at the expense of others, or passing on “jokes” that unfairly target a group of people. Their anecdotes are formulaic, and older than they are, some tracing to Homer.

A humorist’s best subject is one’s own misadventures.guy2 by Tom Cassidy Self deprecatory humor is funny because we have all had a similar thought or experience. Another type, observational humor, features the weaving of seemingly unrelated events together. First there is a glint of recognition and then the satisfaction as we “solve” the joke and arrive at the punchline together.

Those clumsily clever Toastmasters and Rotarians with snappy lines like “Cold enough for you?” and “Did you get a haircut or just have your ears lowered?” are not really funny.

As scary as death may be, I believe I am more fearful of being lumped in with everyone else who is said to have a good sense of humor.

Tom H. Cook is a former neighbor who, unlike Rhoda Morganstern, has decided that he will keep better in southern California.

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 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

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

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. 

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.