Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Goodbye, Buddy

I had my Dalmatian, Buddy, put to sleep Monday the 16th. He was heading towards his fourteenth birthday. He was incredibly strong, unfailingly loyal, incredibly patient and gentle with other people and other animals, and always up for a burger.

I was in sixth grade when our old dogs ran away. Our parents decided that two Dalmatians were the best option. We went to a farm outside of Harney to pick out puppies. And there were quite a few. But I noticed one puppy in particular -the smallest, pudgiest, and slowest- and decided that would be my Buddy.

I had to stuff blankets and towels between my wall and my bed, so that he wouldn't fall down in between them while he was sleeping.

From middle school, through high school, through college, and into life, through moves and relocation and change, Buddy was there every step of the way: understanding, everpresent, and as always, unfailingly loyal.

What was unique about Buddy was his wonderfully, magically slightly off-centered personality. He learned how to open doors, break out of locked steel cages while we were away, get into the cabinets for food, find a way througuh a fence... we nicknamed him Houdini Dog for those feats.

He was the perfect companion to split a pizza with, even if you didn't know initially he'd be getting half. He was also a fan of popcorn, fries, and chips; but he hated -absolutely hated- broccoli and pretzels.

As is typical with Dalmatians, Buddy succumbed to hip dysplacia the last few years. Running became difficult, and so did walking eventually. It got to a point where he had difficulty standing, but that didn't stop him from wanting to be by your side -pizza or not.

His mind was sharp, his mental attention focused, but his body was failing him, even if he refused to accept it. And he did refuse to accept it. Over the last two or three years, there were a number of times when I thought that he'd had it; that it was over.

But he always bounced back, though he was generally worse off than before.

Monday, it was agreed that he'd suffered enough. I take responsibility for my selfishness of wanting him to stay with me -and Buddy fighting to keep up. I just didn't want to say goodbye.

I couldn't have asked God for a better dog. I just try to take comfort now in the knowledge that Buddy is raiding Heaven's cabinets. And his health is back, and his eyes are full of life, and he can run and walk and its as if nothing ever changed.

I will miss him. I loved him with all of my heart. I still do.

So Buddy... thank you for everything. You changed my life. And I will never forget you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hammers and Hardware: Bees

As I continue to head toward my career goal, and do my best to find alternative work in the job market, I will write about my construction/home improvement experiences, in posts that will be titled, “Hammers and Hardware.”

One of the worst things about working outside in the summer –actually, the worst –isn’t the heat, the sunburn, or the fact that if you fall off a ladder, there isn’t a snow bank to break your fall. Its bees.

I’m not talking about the docile European honeybees that couldn’t care less about what you’re doing with your life. I’m talking about yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and a variety of other related stinging flying insects that look better smashed against a car bumper than flying around freely. They can’t be content with the production of honey. They’d rather circle around you like a shark –except that they’re circling around you on a 32-foot ladder, and not 32 feet under the water.

I have been stung twice on the job while working for my father, and take much satisfaction with the knowledge that there are two less bees in the world because when they stung me, they probably broke in half trying to get their stingers out of my skin. Being stung, as anyone can attest, isn’t the most enjoyable experience in the world.

On the way home from work one warm September afternoon, my father decided to go with the van windows down rather than the air conditioning on. I advised him of the absurdity of the idea, imagining a bee sweeping through the open window and hitting me in the forehead. He laughed and told me to put the windows down.

Halfway home, it happened. But the bee didn’t hit me in the forehead. The bee hit me square in the face, and got stuck between my glasses and my nose. Within the time span of about half a second, I pushed up my glasses, saw the bee –a yellow jacket –fall onto the seat, grabbed a towel, covered the bee up, and punched it into oblivion. And then punched it some more. And then a few more times to make sure it was dead. And it was.

At least, I was told, the bee hadn’t stung me.

I woke up the next morning and half my face was swollen. My lightning reflexes and surge of adrenaline had immunized me to the half-sting the bee must have given me –not enough to make me wince but just enough to disfigure my face.

One year, early in July, we stained a deck beneath which was a mulched-in garden. As we stained, I could swear I heard buzzing. And not just some buzzing, but a lot of buzzing.

My father told me I was probably hearing things, but I informed him my hearing was excellent. As I moved beneath the deck, I scoured with my eyes the beams above me, waiting to find some large nest of bees with their sights set on me. But there was nothing there. I continued along, staining, and then shifted sideways just slightly –and moved around some mulch beneath me. And then suddenly, dozens of bees leapt up from the ground, and I leapt away. Well, more like ran.

In the movies, you see swarms of bees coalescing around a given point. I wish I’d been in a movie. I decided to go stain another part of the deck, and warned my father that there were bees over where I’d just come from. He told me I was seeing things, and that I probably ran into a swarm of flies.

Those were not flies as he soon found out. For a year now, we’d been carrying around hornet spray. Whatever kinds of bees those were, he sprayed them. But I wasn’t convinced that he’d killed them all. So I went to work on the other side of the deck, and was promptly stung in the wrist by the sole survivor of my father’s well-deserved chemical attack.

If I could borrow a page from what has become a critical aspect of the foreign policy popularly known as “The Bush Doctrine”, I would wage preemptive war against all bees –except European honeybees. Such action proved invaluable the summer we decided to begin regularly carrying around bee spray.

We were cleaning out gutters on a ranch house. I cautioned that it might be a good idea to get up on the roof and check the gutters for bee nests rather than simply climbing up and finding out the hard way. My father laughed, so I went up onto the roof ahead of him from the side of the house without gutters, and observed a nest at one end. Before I could warn him, he’d flopped a standing ladder against the gutter, and the tenants of the bee tenement roared up into the sky. I dove onto the roof and sprayed. We both survived the incident unscathed.

By far the most alarming incident that involved bees involved a deck with a built-in bench. The bench required staining underneath. I’d been standing on the bench, sitting on the bench, staining the bench, but had not yet been underneath the bench. I’d seen no bees. But my ability to understand the evil ways of bees led me to believe that there was a bee nest underneath this bench. So I cautiously peered under one side of the bench. No bees. I cautiously peered under the other side of the bench. No bees. So I laid on my back and scooted under the bench- and came face to face with a nest and half-a-dozen yellow jackets. I flew out from under the bench, and sprayed the nest. I watched the bees drop dead, one-by-one.

I stood there, in the summer sunlight, resplendent in my preemptive victory over the bees. It was a stunning and decisive victory, perhaps rivaled only by Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville or the initial shock-and-awe invasion of the War in Iraq. The bees would not win that day.

But my victory was short-lived. I turned around to find my father staring at me. With an expletive, he asked, “What are you doing?” I figured he’d see the dead bees, see the problem that I’d narrowly avoided. But before I could explain my triumph, he succinctly growled: “Get back to work.”

I hate bees.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ayn Rand's "Anthem" Reviewed

For the reader new to the novella Anthem, Ayn Rand’s prose may seem jarring at first. Our narrator, Equality 7-2521, speaks with a sophistication reminiscent of a past age, as well he might, for he lives in a modern dystopian paradise, a glorified Street Sweeper. He speaks in an odd way, referring to himself in a fashion conjuring images of Tolkein’s mind-rotted Gollum: “Our name is Equality 7-2521… We are twenty-one years old.” Yet Equality 7-2521 does not possess a rotten mind; indeed, far from it. Equality thinks too much, and for society, that is too dangerous.

Equality presents a challenge to the collectivist society which has spawned him in a mating ward, as Ayn Rand presented a challenge to the communist idealism that transformed her native Russia. Both valued the individual above the unabated will of the state; and in Rand’s Anthem, Equality exists in a society where individualism has been eradicated. And so Equality speaks from the position of the state: “We are twenty-one years old”, rather from the perspective of the individual: “I am twenty-one years old.” There can be no individual will or self-identification because it interferes with the unchanging metaphysical purpose of the state.

Yet, it is the scholars and the intellectuals who have crafted an individual-deprived state; and it is the common man –the common, lowly street sweeper –that dares to think independently of the state, before understanding just what it is to think independently of the scholars and intellectuals that conform to established patterns of thought. Equality is not just concerned with the labors assigned him by the rulers; he is concerned with and intrigued by the natural world. He “rediscovers” electricity in a tunnel he stumbles upon, and he stumbles upon love when he first sees the girl he refers to ever after as “The Golden One”. Rand ultimately likens Equality to Prometheus, and the Golden One to Gaea, although one might well walk away from Anthem with the understanding that Plato’s chained individual has escaped the cave.

Rand’s Anthem is short and pointed, yet there is a tenderness to her writing that captivates the reader, and draws one away from the overbearing and suffocating city in which Equality dwells. Hopelessness gives way to light, to the love Equality finds in the Golden One, and in himself. It is in these small moments of poetic justice that the reader escapes the city with Equality and the Golden One, following them across the fields and into the woods, to discover relics of a long forgotten past: an old home, clothes of varying colors, and above all, books. It is through learning and understanding that Equality becomes Prometheus, and the Golden One Gaea, and through their leaning that they understand freedom and the individual.

The house becomes Equality’s Walden in certain respects; and he endeavors to begin society anew. Yet it is in Equality’s sense of individualism, so adverse to collectivist orthodoxy, that leads him to declare that he must be free of his brothers to be free. Yet, such an extremist sense of individualism is tempered by his later declaration that he will one day fight for the rights of other men. But Rand did not complete the idea: Freedom isn’t necessarily being free of one’s brothers, but being able to be free among them. Aristotle finds in man a rational, social animal, and Rand’s Equality is already longing for a new society to rediscover the knowledge of the past that paves the way to a better future. Equality can be seen as the progenitor of a social contract, just as the American Founders were the progenitors of the United States Constitution.

Undeniably, one of the most important messages the reader takes away from Rand’s Anthem is one of self-autonomy. Sapped of individual spirit, and will, and choices, the society for which the citizens are mindlessly prepared ceases to progress, and human freedom is systematically sacrificed and destroyed for the preservation of the state. It is not the hallowed halls lined with the intellectual elite or the commanding rooms of leading classes that drive the power of nations. Rather, the power of nations resides in the voluntary state and free condition of its individual people.

(originally published 5/7/10 at