Been & Going

[Citizen Filter] A Brief Guide To Grieving With Dignity

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I’m going to tell you a joke:


My dog’s dying!




Well, I tried. No, but really my dog is dying, and not my second or third dog, but my first dog, my childhood dog, the dog that made my father ruin innumerable photo prints and led my mother to discover the joys of buying chicken necks from the butcher, my dog who is beautiful and perfect and once chewed up an amazing pair of leather sandals when I was thirteen and she was still a puppy.

My mom texted me last weekend (hey, that’s why this is a week late! I HAVE REASONS FOR THINGS) with an adorable photo of my 16-year-old dog and the message the she has 25% kidney function and about two weeks to live, because she had stopped eating. That was my Saturday. Doggy suicide via hunger strike. Can’t even tell you how great that was. Can’t. Even. (Sidenote: Let us all take a moment to appreciate that my mother now knows how to send a group picture text. A moment of silence for her lost innocence, and a moment of laughter because anyone who thinks previous generations were innocent clearly has never seen a statistical chart teen pregnancy over the last century, nor have they read Shakespeare.)

So here’s my handy guide to dealing with your dog’s imminent demise:

1. Cry at the wheel while you’re driving to get gas on the way to your boyfriend’s mom’s birthday party.

2. Call your mom while you’re getting gas and cry on the phone with her. Marvel at her calm attitude. Realized that your mascara is running but you’re also running late so screw it, you were going for a smoky eye look anyway and how the fuck are you going to get through a party with a bunch of people who ask how you are and with whom you usually tell the truth?

3. When your boyfriend tells you that he is definitely driving the rest of the way, concede gracefully and climb over the parking brake, exposing your underpants to the whole gas station and (this is very important) Don’t Give A Damn because you are Grieving and No One Understands.

4. Sniffle all the way to Hipster Neighborhood, where your boyfriend is practicing a song to sing for his mother.

5. When you get there, ask your boyfriend’s brother for bourbon. Drink a healthy amount. Touch up your mascara.

6. Realize that they took your suggestion of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, a suggestion you made pre-dog-dying text. Realize that it is the Wrong Song to listen to when you are saying goodbye to an old friend. Sob quietly in the kitchen, using up all the eco-friendly paper towels to blow your nose. Wobble unsteadily to the living room when they’re done, finish your bourbon, and touch up your lipstick.

7. Cry when the roommates come home with their adorable dog.

8. Cry in the car on the way to the party.

9. Touch up your mascara again. You are going to run out of mascara.

10. See your boyfriend’s sister’s new puppy, who looks a lot like your dying dog, fenced in the yard. Hold back tears and pretend the last two hours didn’t happen.

11. Spend the whole party with your boyfriend’s brother-in-law’s brothers, who don’t talk much and mostly to their mother, in Spanish, when they do. Finally be grateful you forgot most of your Spanish.

12. Drive home. Debate going out. Decide against going out, go to the 24-hour Mexican and breakfast food place and get a burrito. Get teary-eyed because they are out of pickled carrots and radishes, and you don’t even eat those.

13. Eat your burrito. Drink a beer. Sleep.

14. The next day, text all the friends you have left in your hometown and strongarm them into going to your parents’ house and petting your dog. Succeed in annoying your parents, your friends, and your dog, who just wants to sit in the yard and sample the olfactory delights on the breeze. Hope your dog hasn’t learned to text in her old age, although that would be an amazing miracle that might compel God to keep her around a little longer, but would also make you the worst person ever because you annoyed your dying dog so much that she learned to text.

This is my dog. She is the best. This is her sniffing the breeze for interesting smells, including but not limited to: Squirrel, Other Dog, Bird, Milkman, Mailman, Delivery Man, School Children, Sad Lost Deer in an Urban Setting

15. Put up a weepy Facebook status, including the fateful first picture of your dog.

16. Get a barrage of concerned texts from your older sisters, who are channeling their grief into worrying about you. Thank the Lord for the consistency of the world, in which there is a time for life, for death, for change, and for always getting so much goddamn attention when your family members are trying to forget their own feelings. It is your duty to accept their worry graciously. It is your right to bitch about it to your boyfriend. It it your fate to be simultaneously happy that you are surrounded by Loving Concern and grumpy because all that Loving Concern is Stifling.

17. Cry. Drink a beer. Cry.

18. Watch cute dog videos on YouTube. Cry.

19. Get a text from your mother the dog has started eating again. She’ll be fine for awhile. Cry.

20. Realize that your bathroom is leaking water from the ceiling, walls, doorjamb, and windows. Cry, then eat a Bay Cities sandwich.

See how you too can dealing with the crippling sadness of losing a beloved pet and de facto family member in 20 easy steps! Fill your larder with booze and Kleenex and you’ll be just fine.

But don’t forget about the crippling guilt for moving away from your hometown to find education, love, and happiness! There is nothing more reproachful than the eyes of a dog who is old and sick and sad that you’re leaving, and that was last January, when we thought she had at least another year.

Happily, I’ll back in ye olde homesteade in a couple of weeks, and I’m hoping she holds out long enough for me to say goodbye. Because the only thing worse than your dog dying is when you miss saying your farewells by a day or two!

[California Seething] Tonight, On A Very Special California Seething

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If you want to find out how badly I react to death, just ask my wife to tell you about her first trip to my apartment and Dempsey the Free Range White Mouse.

The year was 1998 and the apartment was located on 94th St. between 1st & 2nd– the Upper-Upper-Upper East side, (the Manhattan real-estate equivalent of Off Off Off Broadway) in an area fashionably known as SoSpHa (South of Spanish Harlem) by me- and, ok, only by me. Conveniently, it was only six blocks south of a charming little video store that sold weed and also, I’m told, though I never witnessed this personally, actually rented videos. I think there was one copy of Quiz Show by the register which was passed around to all the Dominican families on the block who wandered in there desperate and starved for entertainment because the nearest Blockbuster was on 86th Street, which might as well have been Mars or New Jersey. My Cal Seething- 062314- andydesolate stretch of 94th Street was known primarily for its proximity to Ski Bar- an unpleasant, sloppy, drug infested mess of a D-Level meat market (the Andy Dick of frat bars) with the slogan “We’re the first step on your walk of shame!”.

Also, my desolate little stretch of 94th street was noteworthy for the wildly excessive volume of human feces lining the sidewalks. Seriously – it was the most full of shit thing I’d ever seen- and this was during the Clinton years (ahhh Bill. How I miss voting for that liar. He left such an indelible mark on all the blue states.) Now, some of you may be saying “Golly, Eric. Wouldn’t any amount of human feces on the streets be considered excessive?” – and, yeah, sure- I can see how you might say that if you’re some backwoods Duck Dynasty hick from the sticks and you’ve never actually lived in New York. But if you have, you know better- cause it’s a city where everyone is pissed off and everything’s been pissed on, and while the City never sleeps- it is often Pooped. But 94th Street was special- it was like New York won the Superbowl for being the filthiest city in America, and 94th street was the dung encrusted ring (this is, of course, before Bloomberg ruined  saved New York.

But the really disturbing thing about this situation (assuming that you don’t consider giant piles of shit on the street to be really disturbing) is that we never actually saw anyone on the street crapping. I mean, you would have thought there would just be a non-stop parade: drunks, junkies, Danish tourists, bums, Dutch squatters, Trustafarians with blond dreadlocks and suspiciously well fed dogs, fucked up Finance frat boy fuckers, Salvadoran bar backs with a long PATH train ride ahead of them, more Dutch squatters, Bridge & Tunnel Club Kids, CHUD, and tragic victims of IBS who just couldn’t make it to the nearest Starbucks- a pilgrimage of poopers from all corners of the City descending on 94th street like Muslems on Mecca (Wow. Seriously, don’t tell ISIS Cal-Seething--062314--isisI said that. I’m already in a fight with them. Thanks to their stupid jihad I can’t wear my favorite hat. Come on, FX, I understand a little product placement- but what’s next- the Sri Lankan Bob’s Burgers Liberation Army? You’ve gone too far.) But- in fact, we never saw anyone- in an urban mystery worthy of the great Don Wildman, the poop just appeared like Ted Cruz- a squat brown lump that comes out of nowhere to stink everything up.

The apartment itself was a good sized one bedroom- big for New York, small for Anne Frank. My friend Sean got the bedroom since he booked a major TV ad campaign for Starburst that year. (Sigh. I love you YouTube.) I slept behind a folding screen in the living room- which was a huge upgrade for me since I spent the year before, in an apartment in the Village, sharing a room with the bathroom sink, and so my standards for privacy were as low as my tolerance for poop in the streets was high. Basically, any apartment where my roommates didn’t have to step over my flatulent, beer soaked carcass on their way to the toilet was like a luxury fucking suite at the Ritz (If I’m honest I think my former roommates were also relieved, though they were too polite to say so. OK, they said so A LOT.)

Anyhow, it was the bacheloriest bachelor pad in all the land, and Sean and I wallowed in our unmitigated dudeness like pigs in shit (have you noticed the weird fecal theme in this post? What’s up with me today? Is the Citrucel not working? Cause if so GOD HELP US ALL.) We lived on white bread, ketchup and American cheese “pizzas” (what, you thought Subway invented the Flatizza?) and the occasional package of shoplifted cold cuts (Starburst money only goes so far.) Sean would sit in the living room majestically, resplendent in his inflatable easy chair from Urban Outfitters, slugging down wine coolers like his gay dads were Bartles and Jaymes, and playing the all the free games on the demo Cal Seething- 062314- parapperdisk that came with his Playstation (dude fucking CRUSHED Pa Rapper the Rapper.) Meanwhile, I lounged in semi-private luxury on my inflatable mattress behind the screen, surrounded by the Great Works of Western Literature I never returned the SUNY Albany library proudly displayed in milk crate bookshelves, while the faces of the Spice Girls beamed beatifically upon me from the wall (seriously don’t ask). We were like the Odd Couple with no Felix, surrounded by half empty bottles, overflowing ashtrays and half empty bottles that had been re-purposed as overflowing ashtrays- living large and riding high on cushions of compressed air until one day our bad housekeeping caught up with us when we broke a bottle and our furniture, and spirits, slowly deflated. Things were never the same again.

But, I digress- because before we got to that point- there was Dempsey the Free Range White Mouse. Dempsey was a pale little mouse that Sean got from his pale little girlfriend. We’ll call her Christy- not because that’s her name but because, seriously, who gives a fuck? Christy was a dance student, and she and her freaky-deaky NYU experimental cohorts had incorporated Dempsey into a performance art piece. After the show- they weren’t sure what to do with the mouse, and since Sean had a soft spot for the little white fluffball (and also liked the mouse) he adopted the little rodent, named it Dempsey, brought it into our home and totally got laid off of it (the man was a goddamn professional). Naturally, it was ill befitting to our dudeness to keep our new little dude locked up in a cage, plus buying a cage would have required a modicum of (gasp) effort and possibly (double gasp) a trip to the boroughs, so we just let him roam free around our pad. And for a short while- it was glorious- Sean on his chair, me on my mattress and Dempsey dashing in and out of the shadows and scaring the LIVING SHIT out of anyone who saw him and jumped to the crazy conclusion that our apartment was infested with mice, when really it was just infested with friends. Who were mice. Oh my God we were gross. Let me tell you- Christy’s replacement Kristy was particularly freaked out. Sigh. Good times.

Anyhow, the point of this whole story- is that the first time I brought my wife, then girlfriend, over to the pad, we opened the door to discover Dempsey dead. How he died, I’m not sure. I can tell you that, in the more advanced stages of my professional career as an arts professional I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to kill mice and rats and have never had one just drop dead as easily as Dempsey. Regardless- there he was- in the middle of the floor, clutching his tiny heart like Stuart Little doing an impression of Cal Seething- 062314- clintFred Sanford. And I handled it… perfectly- with utterly impeccable stoic manly man-ness. I was John Wayne. I was Gary Cooper. I was motherfucking Clint Eastwood in there- all “Looks like Dempsey didn’t feel so lucky. Punk” and I quickly and efficiently disposed of the carcass before my girlfriend even knew what was happening like an astronaut cowboy in shining armor.

So- great. Fine. No problem- why am I bothering to tell you this story? Because everything I just said above is a complete lie. When I saw Dempsey I freaked the fuck out- less Dirty Harry, more I Love Lucy. I screamed, I hyperventilated, I think I actually said “let’s just leave and come back later”- even though Sean was out of town for a week. I guess I was hoping that the Dead Mouse Fairy would be stopping by to pick up the Cal Seething- 062314- lucycorpse and leave us a shiny new quarter in its place. It was my girlfriend who efficiently settled me down, disposed of the corpse and, for some utterly baffling reason that I’m still totally grateful for, actually married me later. I mean, like a couple of years later- not later that day- that would have been disrespectful to Dempsey.

And why am I telling you this? Well, like I said when I started- I don’t deal well with death. And the proof of that? It just took me over 1400 words to tell you a story I could have put into 140 characters (“Pet mouse died. I freaked out. Girlfriend tossed corpse #notclinteastwood #gotsomesplainintodo #dempseyrip”) and why did it take me so long? Well, OK, sure, it takes me 1400 words to order a burger at In & Out (“Could I get that Animal Style- that’s the one with the onions? Right, the grilled onions? Which doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it- I mean- are there really animals out there that are grilling onions? Except for humans of course, I mean, sure humans are a kind of animal and, yeah, sure we grill onions- but if I ordered my burger ‘human style’ you would think I was some sort of cannibalistic serial killer and Cal Seething- 062314-’d call the BAU and they would have to fly out in their G6 and search through Bartlett’s quotations for the perfect thoughtful quote for catching a cannibalistic serial killer, like maybe something from the Donner Party- which, by the way- can I just say- Worst. Party. Ever (except maybe the Republican Party). I mean, I don’t know the Donners- but if you’re gonna have a party, the least you can do is buy some fucking Chex mix or something to keep people from resorting to cannibalism- because, honestly, once you get that Chardonnay flowing- you don’t want a bunch of hangry guests on your hand trying to cook the first guest who passes out on the couch.) but, still, in this case, I was clearly procrastinating because, well, like I said, earlier, I don’t deal well with death.

Of course, the funny thing about death is that it doesn’t really care whether you deal well with it or not- it finds you anyhow. Ha! That is funny! Wait, no, no it’s not. Anyhow, last week, death snuck into the theatre without a ticket (or even the Stage Door code) and took away one of my staff. Someone that I really liked- perhaps even loved. Wow. You have no idea how long it took me to write that sentence. I went through a million different permutations: “someone I really cared for”, “someone I was quite fond of”, “someone, you know, super neat” – all terrible. Even when I finally did decide to include the “L” word, I did it hesitantly, with Cal Seething- 062314- dannyqualifiers, hedging my bets- the idiotic middle-school, Danny Zuko playing it cool in front of the other T-Birds instincts kicking in to protect me from mockery by assholes like…uhm…well…me. The woman who passed away, Bonita, had no such compunctions. She told me she loved me when we spoke on the phone during her illness,when I told her not to worry about her job- just to focus on getting well. And she told me she loved me during her long recovery from surgery when I assured her she could come back whenever she felt ready. And then she told me in person during her brief return to wellness and to work, before she got sick again. Love for her wasn’t a currency to be invested prudently for minimum risk and maximum reward, it was a gift she couldn’t wait to share with the world- a shiny red bicycle she could ride through the neighborhood beaming with joy. It was a gift she couldn’t help sharing, even when she didn’t say the words. She shared it with her smile, the attention she paid, the way she remembered names, the little corners of shared interest she found with co-workers. As the emails poured in responding to the announcement of her passing, each person brought up something new that they shared with her- classic movies, Miami Vice, fashion, the Snoopy dance- the stupid little stuff that makes life worth living, the silly string that ties a community together, the little gifts she shared with all of us every day.

At her funeral, we could see the extent of her impact in the number of people that came to honor her from all areas of her life. Much like weddings, whenever I go to a funeral, I’m always struck by just how little I know about the person who is the focus of the event. At weddings, it makes me a little sad- like here I thought I had some special bond with a particular person, and it turns out I’m just one more well wisher waiting in line for a cursory hug.  At funerals, though, it’s reassuring to see how many people show up- like, it’s great to see just how well loved the person was. Which, I suppose, is exactly the same way I should feel during weddings, but, you know, happiness has a way of making people douchey whereas with grief comes largesse. This is why every person should have the opportunity to attend their own funeral, like Deb did, just so they can see how well liked they are.
Also, every person should have the opportunity to sing lead on a verse of “Sugar High” with a kick ass 90’s band on the roof of the record store where they work, like Gina,

every person should have a drum set at work which they play angrily while they blast “If You Want Blood” to blow off steam when a big evil corporation tries to take over their family business, like Joe,
(Seriously, YouTube- I don’t care if video did kill the radio star- I still love you.)

It was a Jehovah’s Witness funeral, BTW- the first one I had attended. I was a little embarrassed when I realized that the event was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible)- but I was still able to follow along to pick up the major points they discussed:

  1. The world as we know it is an imperfect and wicked place.
  2. The good news is that when we die, we simply go to sleep until we are resurrected by Jehovah into a perfect world.
  3. The bad news is that when exiting the Kingdom Hall parking lot, traffic is really bad, so we shouldn’t even TRY and turn left on Slauson.

Cause, you know- even though you’re probably gonna be resurrected and all- they’d just as soon you didn’t go to your long sleep WHILE PULLING OUT OF THE PARKING LOT. Also, and I’m not sure anyone’s thought of this- if you think traffic on Slauson is bad now- just imagine what it’s gonna be like AFTER the resurrection. Cause not only are there gonna be way more cars on the road, but dead people are like the worst drivers ever. I mean, not to be prejudiced, but, come on- you know that you do not want be on the 405 in rush hour behind some dead guy in a Prius. Seriously, dude, when you see that “my other car turned left on Slauson” bumper sticker on the back of the car- you might as well call into work right then- cause you know when they say “the late”, they’re gonna be referring to you.

And, of course, Death never shows up alone. No siree Bob. He always has his bratty little sister, Regret trailing along. Because, while Death stands silent and aloof all decked out in black listening to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me on his Discman (Death is oldCal Seething- 062314- cindy skool), Regret is trailing behind him in pigtails and a party dress and she’s just saying the darnedest things. Things like “Golly, Eric. If you liked her so much- why didn’t you try harder to find out what was goin’ on with her after she went out of work that last time?” and “Boy- I bet you feel prettttty dumb for saying ‘I’ve gotta call Bonita this week’ while she was out and then not doin’ it. Huh? Dontcha?” and “Gosh, I bet she would have really loved if you would have gone to visit her and brought her a great big bunch of flowers. Butcha didn’t! You’re in big trouble, mister!” And that all brings me back to me first point- which is- that I deal really badly with death. I sort of ignore it for as long as I can until it’s right in my face and then fold like a $3 umbrella in a light drizzle. So- I guess my procrastination was foolish form of optimism- like if I acted as though there was plenty of time, there would magically be all the time in the world. It was dumb. Fortunately, Bonita was smarter than I was. The last time I saw her, I was at the theatre on a Sunday for some annoying reason that I totally don’t remember (I’m just assuming it was annoying.) She was at Stage Door and I was lurching through the building, trying to get out of there and bellowing random instructions at her from around the corner. Well, she wasn’t having any of that. She stopped me in my tracks, called me over, and we talked for a while about this and that- nothing of any major importance. Just catching up. She hugged me and told me she loved me and I said I loved her too, smiled, and walked away. So while that doesn’t shut Regret up completely- it helps to remember.

So yeah, Death- fuck that guy. Hate him. I’d say he’s not welcome in my theatre any more, but, sadly, it’s not up to me. He shows up when he wants to show up and takes who he wants to take and whether it’s a free range little white mouse or a big hearted woman that everybody loved- there’s not a damned thing we can do about it. Huh. Wow. What a terrible ending for a post. OK- let’s try something else.

So- yeah, Death- fuck that guy. Hate him. Takes everyone. But then there are weddings, new babies, conversations in the hallway, birthday cake in the break room, arguments over Fargo, March Madness pools, World Cup games in the lobby, gossipy phone calls, accidental Reply Alls, giggling fits during meetings, new interns, impossible projects, lunchtime therapy sessions, inside jokes, and the million forgotten moments that add up to a life surrounded by people- and Death doesn’t get to take those. Those we can keep- at least til Death takes us. So live your life, share your love, keep in touch with your friends, send Regret to her room. Oh, and be careful pulling out onto Slauson. There’s a lot of traffic out there.