Marley and Amos and Me

Well, I did it: I saw Marley and Me.

Amos

Amos

This was no easy task for me. My own dog, Amos, a 90-pound golden retriever who would fall into the “helluva dog” category, died in the summer of 2007. He was undoubtedly my truest friend.

So when I sat down to watch this movie, I knew full well that I’d be a blubbery mess. Especially since both my mother and father had reported to me: “Don’t see it. I cried like a baby.”

Good lord, they weren’t kidding: I started crying when the movie studio intro started playing. By the end, I was sobbing uncontrollably in a monstrous display of saline, while my snot and mascara raced to the bottom of my chin.

So the question is, was it worth it? Did it help me get over the loss of my pup?

Well, no. Seeing up-close shots of puppy-killer being injected into poor Marley didn’t cathartically heal the wounds of holding Amos’ face against mine while the vet put him down in our kitchen. That part, I couldn’t even watch.

But I guess there’s some silver lining: I found some writerly inspiration in John Grogan, the Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who wound up writing a book about this scoundrel of a canine.

So now, my thoughts turn to Amos.

Me torturing Sarge

Me torturing Sarge

I was 10 when we got him. My childhood dog, Sarge, had just passed away, and since my brother and sister were both in college, that just left me, Mom and Dad at home. So one day, my siblings brought home a surprise. It was my dad’s birthday.

“It better not be a dog,” he barked from his birthday throne.

But a dog it was. A pudgy dog who sat on our kitchen floor thinking “who the hell are these people, and where’s the kibble.”

I didn’t know what to think about this mutt at first (though I did burst into tears at the sight of him — I’m emotional! So what!). He bit me a lot. And he peed all over.

But I grew to love him (even though I dropped him down the stairs the first day he proved to be too heavy for a 10 year-old to carry) and pretty soon, I took him wherever I went. We went on in this fashion — him riding shotty, me pouring cereal on the floor for him, etc. — for nearly 14 years.

Some important facts about Amos:

1) He could tell time. My mom swears that once, when I was in high school, she said to Amos, “Time to wake up Mary!” and — as legend has it — he looked up at the clock.

2) Amos got the paper every morning. He went down the hill, picked up The News Journal and paraded around the house with it until we gave him a treat.

Home from college, illin with the pup

Home from college, illin with the pup

3) He was a drama queen, especially in his later years. My mom would tell me about his theatrics at the kennel: They’d show up, Amos would lay down in the waiting room and roll over on his back, the front desk kid would announce on the loudspeaker, “Amos is here; a cart for Amos up front.” Two people would then wheel a large cart up to the front, bend down, pick up my dog and mount him on the cart. As they wheeled him away, he’d flip over and grin at us, like “F*ck yeah I get a cart!” The first time I saw it for myself, I peed my pants.

4) Amos was a sweet boy. He could always tell when someone needed a friend, putting his head in your lap and licking away any tears. When my parents and I would occasionally fight (as teenagers and their parents sometimes do), he would pace around the house and jump in our laps, seeming to say “Stop that! No fighting!” That would usually calm things down — anything to not hurt our boy.

Around 2005, my sister got Marley and Me for Christmas. Amos was 12 at the time, fully white-faced and noticeably slower than when he was a pup. Fearing the worst, I skipped ahead to the end of the book. I started sobbing — on Christmas! — and swore I’d never read it.

And then it was the summer of 2007. On August 22, I interviewed for an editing job in Center City. I nailed it. That evening, my parents called. They asked me how the interview went and I gave them the play-by-play. My dad said, “Great job Mar, we’re proud of you.” But then, in a classic case of When-God-opens-a-window-he-closes-a-door, he said, “Mary, your mom’s going to get on the other line.”

I immediately knew.

“You need to come home tonight. Your dog–”

That’s all I needed to hear. The other details — that he’d lost his vision, had fallen down the stairs and injured his spine, which had now caused his hind legs to be paralyzed — were too horrible to bear.

Acrobatics

Acrobatics

I went home and spent the night in the kitchen, stroking his ears and telling him I loved him, that he was the best dog I’d ever known, thanking him for being so sweet to my parents and my friends.

The next morning, when he still couldn’t walk, we called the vet. He and his assistant would be there shortly.

I laid on the floor with Amos and waited. He gave us all his doggy smile — he still had his youthful energy, but I think he knew it was his time.

The vets arrived and told us what to do. My job was to hug him, turn his face away from where they’d inject him. “Just sleep now,” I said. “Sleep now.”

They made the injection. I felt the life drain out of him. Looked in his eyes and he was gone.

My mom, dad and I all just cried and cried. I can still picture my father weeping openly, something I hadn’t seen before or since. “Well,” said the vet. “He was one in a million.”

Amos loved car rides.

Amos loved car rides.

I still don’t know how I had the strength to hold my dog while he died. Guess I just had to be there for him, like he’d been there for me in the midst of all those breakups and college rejection letters.

It was my task to write to the family. I did so that afternoon, sending out a four-sentence email to our extended family. I got 40 lengthy responses, all from people who’d been touched by this wet-nosed ruffian who came to us in 1993.

“It better not be a dog,” my dad had said then. And what a dog he was.

So that’s my Marley story.

I don’t think seeing Marley and Me helped me get over my dog dying, no. But here I am, writing this little tribute that, while probably sad, sappy and overly long to you, was a long time coming on Pish de Luxe’s part.

Amos, I hope you’re up there picking up God’s newspaper. He better be giving you treats.

The best dog in the world.

The best dog in the world. Miss you buddy.

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On Gender and Religion

In lieu of an actual blog post, I’d like to share a lovely quote from my always quotable father, Bernie vO.

(When asked how woman came to be, he said…)

“And then He ripped the rib outta that sonofabitch and said, ‘You need a pain in the ass!'”

Helped me understand a lot of things better.

Teach The Children Well

My sister’s daughters, Olivia (9) and Charlotte (7), are getting older. They’re starting to get “cool.” And they’re starting to discover music.

Olivia

Olivia

But what should be a wonderful time of discovery in any young person’s life is getting muddied by the abundance of pure filth out there. It’s horrible. They’re rocking out to Rihanna, Fergie and Alicia Keys. These are kind of okay. But then — oh, it’s so bad — there’s the likes of Hillary Duff, the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.

I can’t have them listening to this crap!

When I was wee, my brother and sister were teenagers. So I grew up watching Yo! MTV Raps, listening to Neil Young, and practicing the Moonwalk. Having been given a solid foundation, I’ve been able to steer clear of the *NSYNCs and Blink 182s of the world, for the most part.

Olivia and Charlotte, unfortunately, don’t have cool older siblings to guide them. They just have each other.

This is where Aunt Mary comes in!

For Christmas, I’m making each of them a mix. Pulling from my collection of soul classics, 80s throwaways and new-fangled, under-the-radar jams, I’m hoping to build in each of them a basic understanding of rock, as well as a solid grasp on the fact that rock isn’t dead.

The idea is to give them 20-odd songs each, plus a $25 iTunes gift card, so they can go off and discover even more good stuff. No crap allowed!

Charlotte

Charlotte

But this is a tricky endeavor. As much as I’d love to include, say, Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl by Broken Social Scene — a rather P.C. song beloved by girls everywhere — I can’t have my nieces discovering other BSS songs like I’m Still Your Fag and Handjobs for the Holidays.

And while I’d like to include such a great song as Heartbeats by The Knife, songs about weekend-long trysts simply won’t do. That said, the entire Liz Phair catalogue is out.

But anything’s got to be better than Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis, a Top 40 hit that 7-year-old Charlotte knows by heart. Sample lyric: “You cut me open and I keep bleeding love.” How is that appropriate?

So here’s my list (with tremendous help from Rawle) so far (and some of these are obvious, but remember, we’re starting at zero here):

  • Moby Octopad, Yo La Tengo
  • From the Morning, Nick Drake
  • Wild Wild Life, Talking Heads
  • I’m a Rocker, Bruce Springsteen
  • Maps, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Starlight No. 1, Mojave 3
  • Lonely Teardrops, Jackie Wilson
  • Amsterdam, Peter Bjorn and John
  • Teen Angst, M83
  • Little Wing, Jimi Hendrix
  • Listen to the Band, The Monkees
  • Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Billy Bragg and Wilco
  • Wildflowers, Tom Petty
  • 14 Forever, Stars
  • Islands, Cat Power
  • Any Other Way, William Bell
  • Deep Red Bells, Neko Case
  • Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Led Zeppelin
  • Back in Your Head, Tegan and Sara
  • Chinese Translation, M. Ward
  • The Laws Have Changed, The New Pornographers
  • Heroes, David Bowie
  • Waiting in Vain, Bob Marley
  • Velouria, The Pixies
  • Something So Strong, Crowded House
  • Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure
  • Mushaboom, Feist
  • Trapped, Jimmy Cliff

I could go on and on. Few things are more gratifying than passing on music you love to the uninitiated — I just hope this shit gets listened to.

And if you have any suggestions, by all means drop me a line!

Grace-Writing 101

Someone else's grace

Someone else's grace

Tomorrow, my dear friend Lesley is spending Thanksgiving in Connecticut with her (somewhat new) boyfriend Pat’s family, The Mulherns. How loverly.

But there’s a catch! She has been informed that she’s in charge of asking the Lord’s blessing before they put fork to turkey. Needless to say, she has to hit one out of the park.

And so, she turned to her old friend Mary for writerly guidance.

—————-

Lesley: wanna help me write a grace for pat’s dinner

me: a grace for pat’s dinner!

i guess it can’t be “rub a dub dub thanks for the grub yay god”

Lesley: i was thinking more thoughtful

like, “let us be thankful today with family and friends, and for this smorgasbord and thank you for letting me join you this weekend, yay god”

me: sounds great to me, i would welcome you into the fam lickety split

maybe you should mention the state of the economy, and how you are so lucky to have this juicy bird in your feast

Lesley: ah yes

me: we will write it on a napkin at the pub tonight

—————-

No idea.

No idea.

And so, we met at the POPE (Pub on Passyunk East) for beer, pierogies and Thanksgiving grace brainstorming. We came up with some nice rhetoric about thankfulness, and prayers, and turkeys, and family. All the old favorites. I told Lesley I had enough material to write something great and simple and I’d send it to her tomorrow.

(Parenthetically, Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special was on the TV on mute. We watched as he slayed a bear who’d broken into his Christmas cottage, only to see Elvis Costello emerge from the bear’s wound. They proceeded to sing a song (that we couldn’t hear) Bowie-Crosby style. It made no sense. And juxtaposed with the death metal filling the pub quite nicely.)

—————-

And then, it was delivery day!

me: oh lesley i don’t want to work! like

Lesley: work on my grace

me: okay.

here’s a start

As we gather together, let us be thankful for the feast before us, our countless blessings and the love of our families. Let us also think of those who are less fortunate and count them in our Thanksgiving prayers. And a special thank you to the Mulhern family for inviting me into their home this Thanksgiving day. Amen.

how was my grace?

Lesley: very nice

me: thank you

Lesley: i will have to practice

me: yes definitely

So in your Thanksgiving prayers, please save a quiet reflection for Lesley’s Thanksgiving in Connecticut with the Mulherns. And, should Lesley decide to use it, please also pray that none of the Mulherns are editors and tear my grace apart. Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Mama

Check out Postcards from Yo Mama for more. I love this shit. Special thnx to Eric Smith for recommending a great procrastination tool.

Something about getting a written exchange from your Mom, especially in digital form, is kind of like seeing her throw a baseball for the first time – and she rocks. Her throws are speedy and sharp, and she spits on the ground and shouts “Two down!” to the outfielders afterwards. You stand there shocked, thinking “What the hell is she doing? Why is she throwing baseballs? And (horror of horrors) is she actually better than me?” Ultimately, it’s quite endearing, and you’re both proud of Mom and afraid her throws will sting your hand.

Take my own mother, the esteemed Ann Louise.  It takes her 45 minutes to write a 2 paragraph email – she thinks it’s amazing how fast I can type. But she’s also got to be the wittiest, wryest woman I know. I submitted two Moms emails last week, the first re: when the dog died, and the second re: France and mountains. And here’s another snippet from the digital land of Mom:

Aunt Elsje is now on the same bowling team as I…we should be formidable?!? Is this the right word…I’d better check.

And another:

You sounded so quiet on the phone; I thought something was up or askew. Love, Momma. So, how about those Redskins, huh? What a trouncing. Ouch.

I love my Moms. Email-wise, she’s a cool Jimmy Rollins.