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Bubbles & Blobs

3 skips to each stone

Three Skips To Each Stone painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year.” Marc Reisner

As I was walking home from town today, it occurred to me that nothing can prepare us for what is going to happen very soon in California, because nothing like what is about to happen has ever happened before. Forty million people did not live in California the last time, if there ever was a last time, so little water flowed in our rivers. Millions of cows were not being raised here, and millions of acres of water-hungry crops, including alfalfa to feed those millions of cows, were not being grown here during previous mega-droughts. Yes, there have been a few longish droughts in the last century and a half, but nothing like the current drought.

Shortly before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, the great opus on water and politics and greed and stupidity in the American West, suggested that when the current chronic drought eventually took hold in California, tens of millions of California residents would be forced to move elsewhere. He predicted most of them would move to the wetter eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, California farmers are up in arms because state water controllers are telling them they cannot have their usual allotments of water because there will soon be no water to allot. Curtailment is the official word for when a decrease in the expected amount of water is imposed on a farmer or city. The state recently issued hundreds of new curtailments, one of which severely limits San Francisco’s allotment of water from the Tuolumne River that supplies a large part of San Francisco’s water. How will San Francisco replace that allotment? They won’t.

Here’s an interesting factoid. If every American abstained from eating meat one day per week, more water would be saved than the annual flow of the Colorado River in a high-flow year. By the way, California’s allotment of Colorado River water is soon to be curtailed. Here is what Marc Resiner had to say about that:

“If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables.”

It would take several years of normal (whatever that is) or above-normal rainfall in California to replenish our surface water supplies and superficially ease the drought, though no computer models by any meteorologist suggests such replenishment will occur in the foreseeable future. But the Central Valley aquifer, which is nearly gone, will take centuries to replenish should the state ever be inundated with water and snow again.

And check this out: scientists have been puzzling over the 2014 discovery of what one report referred to as a “warm patch of water” off the coast of California and Oregon thought to be linked to the “weird” weather being experienced across the United States. This warm patch is more than 1500 kilometers in every direction and over a hundred meters deep. Meteorologists have never found such a “blob” in this part of the ocean and they are certain there is a link between this blob and the persistent high-pressure ridge keeping Pacific storms from reaching California and Oregon and Washington.

A recent study links this “warm Pacific puzzle” to the big freezes in the eastern United States in 2013 and 2014, but several scientists hasten to add there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the blob and global climate change. Huh? However, the blob and its devastating effect on human society in California and the American Southwest is “a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades.”

As one politic scientist opined, “The blob wasn’t caused by global warming, but it is producing conditions that will be more common when such things are caused by global warming.” Why are we not reassured?

Then there is the global financial bubble that good old Greece and a bankrupt Puerto Rico are about to burst. As the world’s stock markets and fragile economies wobble in the face of myriad debt defaults, the Bank for International Settlements has issued a report warning that low interest rates not only undermine economic health, but by allowing greedy amoral banksters to take trillions of just-printed dollars at zero interest from our so-called government in order to keep the stock bubble inflated, when that bubble does burst, any day now, central banks will have no means to counter the ensuing economic collapse because the main counter measure is to lower interest rates. Oops.

Which is to say, we are in the eye of a perfect storm. We’re running out of water, the financial markets are on the verge of collapse, and if there was ever a time to plant potatoes, this is that time. If you plant potatoes now, you should have a good crop in October. Plant several kinds in case you incur the wrath of the potato gods against one of the varieties you’ve chosen.

Other measures to consider now are buying several cases of canned beans, a couple big bags of rice, before rice gets insanely expensive, and a good supply of olive oil. Along with your potatoes, plant lettuce and kale and chard.

If you live in Los Angeles or inland California, you should quickly look into buying a house east of the Mississippi while prices there are still reasonable and your house in California is still worth something. When twenty million hyper-thirsty Californians try to relocate to Missouri and Iowa and Tennessee and Pennsylvania, real estate prices there are going to soar. And it won’t be a short-term bubble.

Well, that’s all for now. Gotta take a long shower, wash my car, water the lawn, grill some steak, and top off the swimming pool before I hose the dust and leaves off the driveway and drive to the store to get some snacks and stuff. Ciao!

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After Rain

(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser Christmas 2010. I am grateful to Bruce Anderson and Mark Scaramella for giving me the space to share my fiction and non-fiction with their readers.)


After Rain

1

Who (what) are we when light from

our never-sleeping star wakes us?

“I think,” says Bob, scratching his scalp through his wiry white hair, “I was writing a poem in that dream.”

A slender man, Bob often thinks of his bowling ball of a beer drinker’s paunch as a tumor, ugly and discomfiting, yet benign. He is also handsome and remarkably graceful, yet wholly unconscious of those traits.

Bob consults his Gauguin calendar on the kitchen wall to confirm the moon will be full tonight, and here is Christmas three days in the future, Christmas reminding him of his son Daniel who he hasn’t spoken to in five years, and of his daughter Alice who calls him on his birthday in June to give him a rundown on how she’s doing, only she never gets very far before she starts taking other calls, and Bob grows weary of being put on hold so he hangs up and she doesn’t call him again until his next birthday.

His children remind him of his house in Sacramento that is no longer his house, and of his wife Andrea who is someone else’s wife now, which makes him think of the thirty-three years he worked for the state because he couldn’t imagine any other way to give Andrea and Daniel and Alice what he thought they wanted. Oh, how he hated that mind-numbing job of incessant phone calls and emails and senseless meetings to organize seminars on traffic abatement when all he ever wanted to be was a poet.

He recalls the bad air, the crowded malls, and the countless things he bought for his wife and children because he felt he had to buy them. He remembers Daniel and Susan tearing open their gifts, both starving for what was never there. He remembers sitting in church feeling cold and tired and bored and false.

All of which brings to mind the annual trip in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Sacramento to San Jose for Christmas eve and Christmas morning with Andrea’s parents, and gobbling breakfast while ripping open presents before jumping back in the car for that hellacious drive to San Luis Obispo for Christmas supper with his mother, the children squirming and miserable in the backseat, Andrea vowing for the millionth time, “Next year we make a choice,” but they never did.

Bob’s dog yips three times in quick succession.

“Sorry, pup,” says Bob, turning away from Gauguin’s portrait of brown-skinned women in paradise.

Boots, a yearling Malamute, huge and black, sits at the front door waiting as patiently as he can for Bob to let him outside to chase the delicious scents of deer and rabbit and coyote.

“Here you go,” says Bob, opening the door for Boots and letting in the sweet mountain air.

Bob has lived on String Creek for two years now, the nearest town Willits—a slow, bumpy, half-hour drive away. When he was a young man living in a garret and striving to write good poems, he dreamt of living in a fertile valley such as this, a valley surrounded by wilderness, but in those youthful dreams he was not yet bitter, nor was he so entirely alone.

He steps out onto the front porch and watches Boots race across the meadow and leap over the little stream that is String Creek, a tender flow not three-feet deep where salmon will soon be arriving at their journey’s end. Bob didn’t believe the realtor when she told him that salmon, big salmon, swam up the mountain every year to spawn in the tiny creek. “They swim hundreds of miles from the ocean,” she said matter-of-factly, “and climb two thousand feet to spawn right here in your own backyard. How’s that for a selling point?”

The idea of enormous fish finding their way to a stream that was no more than a trickle in September seemed so preposterous to Bob that he banished the thought until the week before Christmas last year. And then, after unceasing torrential rain kept him inside for six days, Bob braved the deluge and went out to walk his twenty acres; and there were the salmon, beaten and bloody, crowding the rain-swollen creek to birth their next generation.

And when he saw those salmon in the little creek, the wall around Bob’s heart came tumbling down. He wanted to shout and weep in amazement and grief and triumph, but no shouts or tears escaped him. Still, he wanted to weep, and this was enough to inspire a new poem, the first he’d written since the birth of his daughter thirty years ago.

But a few days later, Bob woke to find the wall around his heart rebuilt, and no more poems came to him. So he cursed himself for failing as a poet and for selling his soul for money and for being a terrible father and a rotten husband and a disgraceful human being, and he burned the new poem.

Boots returns to Bob, laughing in the silent way dogs laugh.

“Smells good out here,” says Bob, scratching the big pup’s head. “I’ll get my boots on Boots and meet you down the road.”

Reassured by Bob’s voice and touch, Boots races away to sniff the myriad traces of animal news.

2

Are we expressions of dreams?

Bob walks north on the valley road, moving slowly until exertion lessens his stiffness. The air is icy, the sky void of clouds, the sun an hour away from cresting the ridge.

“Gonna finally have some blue sky,” he murmurs, smiling in anticipation of meeting Boots along the way, their day officially begun when they return home together, Boots to come and go as he pleases, Bob to spend time in his woodshop making beautiful little boxes, and in his living room sitting by the woodstove reading history and short stories and poetry. And after supper, Bob will play Scrabble and chess with himself at the kitchen table before moving into the living room to practice Bach For Beginners on an old teak upright piano until he’s good and tired and ready for bed.

Afraid the pup would run away and be eaten by coyotes, Bob kept Boots inside all day and on a leash whenever they went out until Boots was five months old. But now that the dog is so huge, Bob’s fear has largely subsided, though he still worries when Boots is gone for more than an hour or so; and he keeps him inside at night.

3

Are we flesh and bone bagpipes

to be filled with air and played?

There are eight homes on String Creek, and everybody knows everybody else, except for Bob, who made it perfectly clear from the outset he wasn’t interested in making friends with anyone. Indeed, to this day he never waves when he drives past other people coming and going in their cars and trucks, nor does he wave to people working in their orchards or out chopping wood or walking their dogs. He is a recluse and his neighbors leave him alone.

As he approaches the house of his nearest neighbor, a modest one-story home watched over by five colossal oaks, Bob is surprised to see a woman in the road. She is wielding an axe and striking ineffectually at a tangle of enormous oak limbs that have fallen across her drive and trapped her car. Small and pretty with gray hair in a ponytail, she’s wearing brown boots, black jeans, and a black Giants sweatshirt—a strong, healthy woman, but no match for the massive branches.

Bob has met this woman twice before. The first time was on his third day in the valley when she came to his house to welcome him with a bottle of red wine and a bouquet of yellow roses. He declined her gifts, saying he didn’t drink wine, which was a lie, and that he was allergic to roses, which was an even greater lie since roses are his favorite flowers. And the second time he met her was a few months ago when she walked Boots home after the pup spent the morning playing with her dog. On that day, she caught Bob out chopping wood and managed to tell him a little bit about herself before he escaped. She is German, a therapist of some sort, lives alone, has children and grandchildren, and is exactly Bob’s age: sixty-six.

“Do you have a chainsaw?” asks Bob, surprising himself by asking. “I can clear a path for you to get your car out.”

“Oh, thank you,” she says, her blue eyes sparkling. “I have one in my tool shed. Would you mind? I’m picking up my friend in town. She came all the way from Switzerland to celebrate the solstice with me.”

“But first I need to get my dog,” he says, hurrying past her. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

“Oh, I’ll send Lily to get him,” she says, looking toward her house. “She and Boots are good friends.”

Bob is about to decline her offer when a big wolfish white dog appears beside the woman and gazes at Bob with her big brown eyes.

“Go find Boots,” says the woman, touching Lily’s head. “Bring him home for snacks.”

Lily sings a high musical note and runs away.

“Are you sure she knows what you mean?” asks Bob, suddenly aware of the musical burbling of String Creek.

“Oh, yes,” says the woman, beckoning him to follow her. “She knows exactly what I mean. And she knows my feelings, too.”

“I had a cat,” says Bob, recalling his long ago life when his greatest joy was to be writing a poem he thought might be good. “A big orange tabby. And she always knew when I was sad.”

“What would she do when you were sad?” asks the woman, turning to look at him.

“She’d come to me and mew until I picked her up and held her.” He smiles wistfully. “But only when I was sad. Her name was Athena.”

“I had a wonderful cat, too,” says the woman, sighing. “A gray tabby named Omar, after the baseball player. But she killed so many birds and then a coyote killed her so I never got another one.”

Bob blushes. “Forgive me, but I’ve forgotten your name.”

“Irene,” she says, bowing in a sweetly clownish way. “Irene Weintraub.”

“Bob,” he says, bowing a little, too. “Bob Webster.”

“So how do you like living so far from town?” she asks, her accent beguiling. “We’ve all been wondering about you.”

“Oh, really?” he says, oddly flattered. “What have you been wondering? Whether I grow pot or not? I don’t.”

“No, it’s just that most people who come to live on the creek only keep to themselves for a year or so before joining in or running away, so…”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m here to the bitter end.”

“Why so grim?” she asks, pouting sympathetically. “When the air is so sweet.”

4

hungry animals

Irene’s chainsaw is out of gas and in need of oiling. She finds some oil, but her gas can is empty.

“Do you have a length of hose?” asks Bob, glaring at the funky old chainsaw. “For siphoning gas from your car?”

“My car is electric,” she says, apologetically. “The man who cuts my wood brings his own fuel.”

“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” says Bob, turning to go. “I’ve got a much better saw and plenty of gas.”

“Great!” she says, calling after him. “You’re a prince, Bob.”

5

desperate criminals

Bob likes Irene. He admits this as he jogs back to his house. And he likes that she needs his help, which reminds him of how he met Andrea.

He was shooting hoops at McKinley Park in Sacramento when Andrea walked by disconsolately pushing her flat-tired bike. Bob had a pump on his bike and offered to fill Andrea’s tire so she could ride a bit further before having to walk again. He ended up riding with her and pumping up her tire every few blocks until they got to her house.

6

lost children

Bob eats two bananas and three big handfuls of almonds to give him energy for the work ahead. Now he loads his saw and axe and toolbox and gas can into his pickup; and as he is about to get into his truck, he realizes that he is happy. So he stands still for a long moment and enjoys the rare sensation of being eager to help someone.

7

visionary geniuses

Irene comes out of her house as Bob is inserting his earplugs.

“Good news,” she says, smiling warmly. “My friend, her bus is delayed, so we have extra time to clear things.”

“Extra time,” says Bob, daring to return her smile. “What a concept.”

“All the time in the world,” she says, laughing. “In no time at all.”

“I should have this cleared by then, I think,” says Bob, putting on his work gloves. “I hope.”

“You’re an angel,” she says, gazing fondly at him. “My savior.”

He pulls the cord and his saw roars to life.

Irene covers her ears and retreats into her house.

Bob lowers the whirring blades onto the bough and braces himself as the teeth bite into the wood.

8

earthworms

Eleven months ago, on a rainy day in January, Bob was driving into Willits to buy his suicide kit—a gun and bullets. On a hairpin turn halfway to town he came upon a little girl, barefoot and filthy, carrying a cardboard box.

Bob stopped to see if he could help her, and she said, “My dad wants to drown them so I’m going to Safeway in Willits and give them away.”

There were four pups in the box, three dead, Boots barely alive.

Bob steps back as the blade comes through the bottom of the bough, his seventh cut complete. He shuts off the motor and sets the saw down. His heart is pounding, his shirt soaked with sweat, his beard and face and hair covered with sawdust.

Irene brings him a big glass of water. “Boots and Lily are in the kitchen,” she says, speaking loudly so he can hear through his plugs. “I think I will keep them inside so they don’t run off. Lily hates chainsaws.”

“Thanks,” he says, gulping the water. “Big old tree. Too bad so much had to come down.”

“Yes,” says Irene, taking his empty glass. “But I can use the firewood, and now I will have more light in winter.”

“The benefits of tragedy,” he says, laughing self-consciously.

“The opportunities of crisis,” she says, dancing away.

9

indigenous hominids

Bob has been working for three hours and is exhausted, the driveway not yet clear.

“Help me,” he whispers, speaking to God. “Help me do this.”

He tries to lift the saw to start the next cut, but his arms are too tired. So he kills the motor and sits down on the last bough he has yet to clear, the largest of them all, and recalls the last time he saw his son.

Five years ago. Sacramento. Bob arrives at Daniel’s house in River Park to visit Elise, his beloved grandchild. She is four years old, Bob’s only certain joy in those terrible days of his horrid divorce and the nightmarish selling of his house and the humiliation of training his replacement for that insipid job that defined him for thirty years.

After a few beers, Bob begins disparaging Andrea.

Daniel interrupts and asks to speak to Bob outside.

On the front lawn, the Gingko leaves turning yellow, Daniel says, “I don’t want you saying bad things about Mom in front of Elise. It isn’t fair. She wants to love you both. Needs to, Dad. She needs to love you both.”

“Fair?” says Bob, trembling with rage. “Was it fair that bitch used me for thirty years and dumped me like so much garbage?”

“That isn’t true,” says Daniel, shaking his head. “You used her as much as she used you.”

Bob explodes—blasting his son with cruel obscenities.

Daniel goes inside and closes the door.

Bob lifts his head as a big brown United Parcel Service truck comes around the bend and stops a few yards from Bob’s pickup.

Now a beautiful man with creamy brown skin hops down from the truck and says, “Sorry to bother you, but could you move your truck? I have a package for Bob Webster. Last house on the road.”

“I’m Bob Webster,” he says wearily. “Trying to clear this tree so Irene can get out.”

“You want some help? I’m Alfredo Lopez. Brought you a million books from Amazon. I wondered if I’d ever get a look at you.”

“I hide whenever you come,” says Bob, laughing at how silly he has been for so much of his life. “But now I’m too tired to hide.”

“I’ll get my earplugs,” says Alfredo, hopping back into his truck. “You lend me your gloves, I’ll get that last limb for you.”

“You’re a prince,” says Bob, slowly rising to his feet. “Thank you.”

10

goldfinches diving out of the sky

Driving home from Irene’s, Boots beside him in the cab, Bob begins to shiver violently.

Too exhausted to bring in his tools, Bob barely has the strength to open his front door.

His heart beating erratically, Bob somehow manages to take a shower and crawl into bed.

11

angels descending with wings extended

Bob and Alfredo hover in the air over String Creek, the tender flow dammed with logs and debris. Below the dam, hundreds of salmon lay gasping for oxygen in the dry beds.

Bob and Alfredo attack the dam with huge electric carving knives.

The dam gives way and Bob runs down a wooden tunnel into the living room of his old house in Sacramento where Daniel and Alice are hiding behind an unadorned Christmas tree.

Bob sings to his children, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

And here under the tree, presented on a red pillow, is the package Alfredo brought.


12

and golden slippers touching down beside the river

Having slept through the night and most of this next day, Bob wakes to the slow steady beating of his heart.

He gets out of bed, his arms and legs aching from yesterday’s labor—dusk giving way to moonlight. He feeds Boots, starts a fire in his woodstove, and runs a hot bath.

And as he watches the water tumble from the spigot into the tub, he conceives the letter he will write to Daniel and Susan and Andrea.

Greetings from String Creek

I hope you’re sitting down when you read this so you don’t fall over in amazement and hurt yourself. Ahem. As you know, I have been a self-righteous, self-loathing, self-pitying jerk for a very long time, and you have suffered greatly because of my actions toward you. I don’t expect you to forgive me for being so unkind to you, or to believe me when I say I have changed, but I want to invite you back into my life, however that may manifest. Maybe we could write to each other. Or maybe you could come and visit me. And should you invite me to Sacramento, I will come in peace as a friend.

From now on I am going to make a conscious effort to live my life with an open heart and an open mind, and do my best to eschew (gesundheit) blame and shame and judgment. I want to love you, nothing more.


13

we kneel to kiss the lucid flow

Lying in his hot bath, Bob weeps for the first time in three decades, and when he is done weeping, he laughs.

14

and imbibe the divine infusion

Bob goes out naked into the moonlight, his body steaming, and immerses himself in String Creek.

Now he hears splashing downstream—the salmon coming home.

15

clarity after rain

Bob shaves off his beard and dresses warmly for the walk to Irene’s. But before he and Boots leave the house, Bob opens the package delivered by Alfredo, a package from Bob’s granddaughter Elise who is nine-years-old now.

Her gift to Bob is a turquoise T-shirt, turquoise being Bob’s favorite color. Across the chest in purple thread she has carefully embroidered

I  AM

ELISE’S GRANDFATHER


16

After Rain

Who (what) are we when light from

our never-sleeping star wakes us?

Are we expressions of dreams or

flesh and bone bagpipes to be filled

with air and played or hungry

animals or desperate criminals or

lost children or visionary geniuses

or earthworms or indigenous

hominids or goldfinches diving out

of the sky or angels descending with

wings extended and golden slippers

touching down beside the river

where we kneel to kiss the lucid

flow and imbibe the divine infusion

of clarity after rain?

(Photo by Marcia Sloane)

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Changing Seasons

(Every year for the past four years I have been commissioned by Bay Woof, a Bay Area Dog magazine, to write a Christmas story for them, a short short story about dogs and their people at holiday time. I hope you enjoy the tale.)

Changing Seasons

1

Early December. A sunny kitchen. Tea and cookies.

“The dog is the problem,” says Carol, wasting no time stating the case to her brother Ben. “And because I have four cats, two little kids, a busy husband, a formal Japanese garden ill-suited to a large dog, and no time to take the dog for walks; and you are single, self-employed, have a big unkempt, pardon my French, backyard, and your grown daughter visits only rarely, you should take the dog.”

Ben waits before responding, certain his sister has more to say.

“We’re so close to resolving this,” she adds with a hint of ferocity. “He needs to move.”

“Pop or the dog?” asks Ben, the quip irresistible, though he knows Carol will take him literally.

“Pop, of course,” she says, exasperated. “He spends half his time at Fall Creek Village with Mary already. He’d move tomorrow if he could feel okay about leaving the dog behind.”

“Kirk,” says Ben, stating the dog’s name, short for Kierkegaard, their father a retired philosophy professor. “The last time I talked to Pop he said he wasn’t sure he was ready to give up the house. Or Kirk.”

Carol sighs emphatically. “Our father is eighty-four. He risks life and limb going up and down the stairs to his bedroom. The front porch is a broken hip waiting to happen. The only thing keeping him in that death trap is the dog.”

“Kirk,” says Ben, nodding. “The love of Pop’s life.”

“Mary is the love of his life now,” says Carol, gritting her teeth. “He’ll have a wonderful life at Fall Creek Village, and there’s an apartment available in Mary’s building. He can be moved in by Christmas. Don’t be selfish.”

“Sis,” says Ben, smiling sadly, “this has nothing to do with selfishness. This has to do with Pop being ready to move.”

“The dog is the problem,” says Carol, folding her arms.

“Kirk,” whispers Ben. “His name is Kirk.”

2

A large brownish mutt, seven years old, with a barrel chest and floppy ears, Kirk is often mistaken for a brown Lab, though his face is more St. Bernard and he is a reflexive herder, so sheep dog is suspected in the mix. Whatever his origins, Kirk is definitely a one-person dog, and Oliver is that person.

Kirk is sniffing around the backyard when Ben arrives in the late afternoon. The scent of Oliver’s son elicits nary a reaction from the dog, for Ben is kin to Oliver and therefore part of the pack.

“Come in,” says Oliver, calling to Ben from the kitchen. “Door’s open.”

Ben enters and finds his father bringing forth a perfectly cooked chicken from the oven, the kitchen table set for two.

“I thought we’d eat in here,” says Oliver, setting the sizzling fowl atop the stove. “There’s just the two of us, after all. No need to make the long trek to the dining room. This house was made for a big family, not one old fart and a big farting dog.”

As if on cue, Kirk noses open the kitchen door and trots inside, eager for a taste of the delectable bird. Ben smiles at the dog, and though he can imagine Kirk living with him, and likes the idea, he cannot imagine Kirk being content without Oliver.

“I always share with him just a little of what I’m eating,” explains Oliver, carving a piece of chicken and dropping it into Kirk’s bowl. “He doesn’t beg, but…” Oliver grins at Ben. “I guess I’m telling you all this because…if I ever move from here I’d like you to take him. Would you?”

“I fear he’ll pine away without you,” says Ben, gazing at Kirk gazing at Oliver. “He’s not a cat, loyal to whoever feeds him. You guys are soulmates.”

“True,” says Oliver, nodding, “but you smell like me, and you’re lots of fun, and I’ll come and visit. Probably more than you want me to.”

“You know, I’m surprised were having this conversation, Pop.” Ben thinks of his sister Carol and chuckles. “I didn’t think you were ready to let go of this place.”

“I wasn’t until yesterday,” says Oliver, filling their goblets with wine. “Mostly because of Kirk. But now that I know the secret to a successful transition, I’m ready.”

“And what, pray tell, is this secret?” asks Ben, smiling quizzically. “And where did you learn it?”

“I have now read seven books about dogs, and three about wolves, and the secret, in a nutshell, is familiarity plus trust plus love.”

3

Two days later, Ben comes to live in his childhood home with Oliver and Kirk. And every day he accompanies them on their thrice-daily walks, taking the leash with more and more frequency until Kirk no longer bats an eye when Ben holds the reins, so to speak. The three of them dine together, hang out by the fire together, and go on drives together. Ben wears Oliver’s jackets, and Oliver teaches Ben where Kirk loves to be scratched and all the things Kirk loves to eat.

On the fourth day of Ben’s stay, Oliver leaves Kirk alone with Ben for the entire day. And though Kirk seems a bit anxious in Oliver’s absence, he eats well and walks with his usual vigor, and acts like a happy puppy when Oliver returns.

4

After seven days of Ben’s living at Oliver’s, the three of them move to Ben’s house and resume their routines in this new place. Oliver talks to Kirk several times a day, explaining things; and because Kirk is deeply intelligent, he gets the picture and begins to devote more attention to Ben.

5

Two days before Christmas, Oliver makes the move from his old house to his new apartment at Fall Creek Village. Ben leaves Kirk at home when he comes to help his father pack up the last of his things, but Kirk somehow escapes from the yard and finds his way across town to Oliver’s, twenty blocks away.

“I wonder how he got out.” says Ben, more surprised than annoyed by Kirk’s arrival. “I thought my backyard was hermetically sealed.”

“A most clever fellow,” says Oliver, wrapping his arms around Kirk. “No fence or gate can keep him in when he has a mind to get out.”

“Then how will I keep him from running away to find you?” asks Ben, enjoying the sight of his old man with Kirk, two buddies saying goodbye.

“Oh, he’ll stay with you,” says Oliver, kissing Kirk’s nose. “He just came to be with us one more time at the old den.”

6

Ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve, the night cold and clear, Ben and Kirk arrive home from an evening stroll, and here is Oliver kneeling at the hearth, building up the fallen fire. He is wearing a black tuxedo, which is very unlike him, and shiny shoes. Kirk licks Oliver’s face and wrinkles his nose at the scent of Oliver’s odd new clothes.

“Mary took me to a snazzy party,” says Oliver, getting to his feet. “I haven’t worn a tux since my tenure party a thousand years ago.”

“Where is Mary?” asks Ben, giving his father a hug.

“Back at the ranch,” says Oliver, holding onto Ben longer than usual. “I had her drop me off. I just…missed you guys. Thought you could take me home in the morning.”

“Our pleasure,” says Ben, heading for the kitchen. “Egg nog?”

“I’d love some,” says Oliver, sighing contentedly.

Now Kirk barks to say he wants some egg nog, too.

“Yes, yes,” says Ben, touching Kirk’s head. “Only no rum in yours.”

fin

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Tiger Bunnies

On this rainy December day, we cannot resist tying together the feeding frenzy on the carcass of the icon known as Tiger Woods, the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, the extensive media attention awarded a woman in Arkansas for giving birth to her nineteenth child, the so-called jobless recovery, the so-called healthcare debate, and our collective denial of what actually going on here on spaceship earth, circa 2010 (Christian calendar).

Ukiah Blog Live, a culling of thought-provoking counter-mass media internet essays provided by the estimable Dave Smith of Mulligan Books, has been rife of late with articles about the impending worse-than-ever economic collapse, vegetarianism versus the eating of mammalian flesh, and our inevitable return (as a species) to a genteel version of the Dark Ages (if we’re lucky) in the aftermath of peak oil and the bursting of various noxious economic bubbles. These reports are countered hourly in mainstream media mouthing government/corporate propaganda with happy news that things in general are getting better even if they seem to be getting worse in the majority of specific cases. The jobless recovery, reports The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, will soon create new jobs because, well, it just will.

The climate talks in Copenhagen have everybody buzzing about the billions of dollars to be earned through not releasing carbon into the atmosphere. That’s right. If you can prove you’re not being bad, Daddy will give you some money. How will you prove you’re not being bad? You will pay some scientists (with bona fide college degrees, mind you) to say you are being good. Won’t that be nice? How about that for some job creation?

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, a very rich and famous golfer and salesperson for several powerful multi-national corporations, has been having copious sex with expensive prostitutes for several years, but the news just recently leaked out to the mass media, so Tiger is currently being publicly flayed for popping the noxious bubble about the what why who he never was.

Also meanwhile, Michelle Duggar of Arkansas just gave birth to her nineteenth child, and Michelle’s husband (reputed to be the actual father of the nineteen kids, one of whom just had a baby, too) told the adoring media, “We will continue welcoming children as long as Michelle is able to have them.”

“Welcome. You will be in bed number twenty-two. Here’s your meal card, your blanket, your pacifier, and your cell phone. Try to be good.”

Why, I wonder, are we celebrating one American woman having nineteen children when there are millions of women around the world (and in America, too) having more kids than they can adequately feed? And why is over-population not the number one topic of discussion and emergency planning at the Copenhagen climate talks?

Recent studies by bona fide universities and scientists with actual college degrees have proven conclusively (and this even got a mention in the Press Democrat) that the most effective way, by far, to reduce carbon emissions in the world is to spend money on birth control. By far. Seven dollars spent on birth control saves something like four trillion tons of carbon emissions. Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but I wanted to get your friggin’ attention.

There are nearly seven billion people on our beautiful little planet (that’s not an exaggeration). The regenerative carrying capacity of the planet, depending on which bona fide scientist one speaks to, seems to be somewhere around a billion of us, give or take a few hundred million. Regenerative Carrying Capacity refers to what a particular eco-system can support without necessarily suffering any damage to its health and viability as a system. Put another way, there would be plenty of everything for everyone forever if we would thoughtfully reduce our population and stop being so violent and greedy. As soon as possible.

Why don’t we do that? Why do nations in Europe go into panic mode when their populations begin to finally decline due to falling birth rates? Because capitalism (otherwise known as a big old pyramid scheme) is founded on, runs on, exists because of, continuous growth coupled with continuous consumption. Which explains why the official verbiage from the Copenhagen climate talks goes something like this, “Please reduce your carbon emissions, once you’re born, but don’t not get born because we need the system to keep growing.”

What does Tiger Woods have to do with over-population? For all his fooling around with high-class hookers, Tiger and his official wife only have two children. So far. Well, but, see, Tiger likes, apparently, to have sex many times more often than his one wife wants to have with him. (Oh, maybe not. Maybe she’s ready to go twenty-four seven and Tiger just longs for variety.)

Now listen up, boys and girls. Tiger is not some oversexed stud. He’s a normal healthy young man with a normal healthy sex drive and average sexual capacity. Nature, over millions years of evolutionary tinkering, designed human males to function exactly as Tiger functions (physically). Remember: it has only been in the last few dozen human generations that we tasty animals have been much more than easily caught snack food for gigantic carnivores, otherwise known as lions and tigers and bears. We got eaten as fast as we could breed. Thus male humans evolved to be capable of (and desiring) lots of sex, while human females evolved to want sex, too, while being capable of getting pregnant every month as opposed to only once or twice a year, as is the case for most other large mammals. Mice and bunnies, it should be noted, not deer and whales and lions and tigers and bears, are the procreative peers of humans.

We wonder if the previous paragraph about human sexuality made you, dear reader, uncomfortable, or even somewhat anxious. Have we broached a taboo subject? Heaven forbid. Perhaps a few minutes of watching television or surfing the Internet or leafing through the newspaper or skimming a fashion magazine will ease your anxiety. You won’t have any trouble finding some psychosexual stimuli to feed your cognitive addiction to titillation. Sex, sex, sex. Watch it. Hear about it. Click on it. Be assured you can get it if you really want it (or some facsimile thereof.) Be pharmaceutically supported in being able to perform adequately should the golden opportunity arise. But whatever you do, don’t connect your fantasies of sex with shortages or pollution or urban sprawl or economic disparities or starvation or the deaths of thousands and millions of superfluous humans in China, India, Iraq, America, Brazil…

Thank goodness the phony healthcare bill they’re about to force on us (a bill that will make it a crime not to buy inadequate usurious insurance from organized criminal organizations) will allow a woman to have an abortion. Hallelujah. A great victory for women and polar bears, we are told. And jobs will be created. In the insurance industry. To process all the new folks being forced to buy inadequate usurious insurance.

I’d go on, but I’m itching to watch the Victoria’s Secret Anniversary Runway Show featuring twelve of Tiger’s thirty-seven mistresses wearing almost nothing and promising everything as they strut and jiggle their impossibly perfect bodies to electronic sex music. And then I may catch a little of the Bangladesh flood coverage and that great new documentary about the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers, source of most of the water for most of the people on earth.

I used to belong to an organization named Zero Population Growth, but they were forced, yes, forced by popular demand and funding impasses, to change their name to The Population Connection because so many otherwise reasonable people were offended by the very idea of zero population growth.

How we survive big cats

and long winter

we no have many baby?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Todd is currently writing the sequel to his novel Under the Table Books. His web site is Underthetablebooks.com.