How to fight cancer.

The last few months have been wonderful for me. And simultaneously rather awful. But the awful stuff has inspired me, perhaps more than the good. That’s the nature of the creative process, isn’t it? To take the manure of life and use it to fuel new growth.

Pharmaceutical smorgasbord.

So many of my favorite artists turned adversity into raw material. Van Gogh was fueled by his isolation and mental illness into a turbo–charged creativity machine that cranked out another startling painting virtually every day. Frida Kahlo, whose body was crisscrossed with scars from polio and from being run over by a bus, turned her disabilities, her awful marriage, her abortions and miscarriages into the sources for her brilliant work. Hockney faced homophobia; Basquiat racism; Bacon, Goya, Picasso were all inspired by the terrors of war.

Continue reading “How to fight cancer.”

Young Tim

The first time I saw Tim was on Skype. His breeder held him up to a webcam and told us was the runt of the litter. His parents were champions. His dad was an auburn matinee idol. His mom was the rarest variety of long-haired dachshund, an English cream.

We didn’t care if he was a dwarf and a runt. We wanted him.

The breeder had named him Sly because he was. We renamed him Tim, short for Timid, which seemed kinder. Tim’s fur was black with a cream undercoat. In time, as his fur grew out he had a lavishly ruffled chest. Combined with his sleek pate and his long ears, he could look like an 18th century gentleman. One of his many nicknames was Ben, short for Ben Franklin. We also called him Mr. Nostrils because of how prominent they were.For a while we called him Black Phillip, after a goat in a movie that had been possessed by the Devil. Mainly, I called him Young Tim, even when he was no longer young.

Tim was a devil. He would slowly creep around at night, betrayed by his clicking toenails on the parquet. I’d growl, “Young Tim! Get back to bed,” and he’d slowly creep back to his basket, his plans to gulp down gallons of water and pee in the corner foiled again.

Tim was the world’s biggest hog. Whenever I went into the kitchen, he’d follow and wait expectantly for scraps to fall to the floor and he’d dart in and gulp them down. When we went for a walk, he’d glue his snout to the pavement, trying to hoover up every lump of gum, chicken bone, pizza crust or McDonalds wrapper that crossed his path. It got so I’d have to be strategic about which sides of which streets to walk him on, mapping where the trash was likely to be sparsest. When he and his brother got a little stout (the worst thing for dachshunds’ backs), we put him on rations. He got the same half cup of the same food once a day. Though we only served dinner at 5 o’clock, he would still rattle his bowl hopefully each morning, clanging it around as if to say, come on, man, give a wiener a break.

Tim was obsessive. When someone rang our doorbell, he would rub himself against the wall, licking and whining. He’d pull books off the lower shelves, sometimes removing the dust jackets to shred them into confetti. When we lived in LA, he was preoccupied with a local squirrel and would sit in the yard for hours, gazing up at the neighbor’s fence, praying for the squirrel to pop his head over so Tim could, what, we never really knew.

We also called Tim the Mailman. On every walk, he’d always deliver, peeing on the same fence post as soon as he got out the door, then pooing on the corner by the crosswalk, like clockwork, three times a day. He would never deposit anywhere else on our walks (tough occasionally, out of revenge, he’d go in the dark party of the hallway outside the bathroom).

Tim was fierce. If some dog or stranger rubbed him the wrong way he would dart and lash out, teeth bared, a growl followed by a surprisingly deep bark, like a fat man’s asthmatic cough.

But Tim was also timid. If you leaned down to pet him, he’d assume you wanted to eat him instead and he’d flop over on his back and show his round belly.

Tim had the worst breath. Earlier this year, he had his teeth cleaned and a dozen rotten teeth were plucked from his narrow jaws. For a month or two he smelt better, then the stench of rotting fish returned. Daily brushings didn’t help.

Tim was a lover. When new people came over, he’d follow them around, licking ankles, until he got picked up and carried around. That was his favorite position, not low man on the floor, but held aloft, cradled like a hairy baby, licking moisturizer off hands and foundation off cheeks, bad breath be damned.

If a guest stayed overnight, Tim would follow them into the guest room and insist on being boosted up so he could snake down under the covers and slowly co-opt more and more real estate until the humans slid to the very edges of the bed. Despite his bedhoggery, everyone insisted he sleep with them. Tim emanated love.

Tim loved to sit on the couch to watch TV but was far too short to get up on his own. He’d stand on his hind legs and tap me with his paw, then rebuffed, keep staring and staring until I picked him up. Then, up on the couch, he’d begin to rearrange stuff, nudging the remote into the floor, moving pillows, nestling into my knees or the crook of Jenny’s elbow. He was annoying as hell.

This morning, Jenny and I went through my photo archives. There were hundreds of pictures of Tim. In the snow in rubber boots, taking bath in the kitchen sink then wrapped in a towel, spreadeagled on his back in a patch of sunshine, yawning, sneezing, looking guilty. Looking at pictures made us feel better.

Soon, I’ll be ready to watch the videos. I only managed to watch one, of Tim racing like a maniac down a beach last summer, free and fleet. But videos are too much, to real. I don’t know when I’ll be able to watch the many movies I made with him, peanut butter on the roof of his mouth so he could talk about drawing. Tim was always easy to bribe, glutton that he was.

On Tuesday night, we went to the dog run. While Joe met other dogs, Tim went snuffling through the gravel. At one point I looked up from my book to see him intently digging his nose into the ground, clearly after some tasty morsel, another dog’s turd, who knows, I yelled at him and chased him off and soon thereafter we went home.

On Tuesday night, Tim began to vomit and squirt diarrhea. All night long he was up, puking and squirting and gulping down water. It’d happened before. Both he and his brother picked up stomach bug at least once a year,. It usually went away a few hours. Occasionally, it called for antibiotics and a rice diet. When Patti died, both hounds had the runs for a couple of weeks, brought on by stress-less and grief.

On Wednesday morning, Tim came out for a walk —but the mailman didn’t deliver. He threw up again, as we crossed the street and nearly got clipped by a cab. He sat under my desk and I checked him every few minutes, finally putting him up on my lap. By lunch time, I couldn’t hold off any longer. It was time to call the vet. Tim was slumping to the ground and making little noises. The vet said to come in, there was an open slot in an hour. I couldn’t wait that long and rushed over to Abingdon Square.

The vet took him in right away. Tim was dehydrated, his blood sugar low, so she gave him fluids. Then the X-ray revealed a white textured rectangular area. His small intestine was filled with something that looked like gravel. Gravel from the dog run. Gravel that was’t moving any further but was compacted in his tiny gut. Dr. Greenburgh said grimly, “He’s a very sick little dog.”

We rushed to the pet hospital on 15th street and he was whisked into the ICU. The emergency vet told us there was a possibility that if he was sufficiently hydrated that the gravel would start to pass but, otherwise, Tim would need surgery.

A couple of hours passed. Jenny had rushed over from her office and we sat numbly in the waiting room, sleep deprived and stressed out. The doctor called us back in. Tim’s blood sugar levels, his white blood cell count, other vitals all indicated that the treatment wasn’t working. His abdomen had fluid in it, probably from sepsis. It seemed his intestine had a rupture and was leaking bacteria. He need surgery immediately followed by a long recuperation period.

We went to down to the ICU to visit him. Tim lay on a table, as nurses tried to take his blood pressure.The vet had given him methadone to lessen the pain.He didn’t seem to recognize us as we stroked him and murmured into his ears. We said goodbye to him and went home to wait by the phone to hear from the surgeon.

At 8 PM, he called. Tim was ready for surgery, but he had no blood pressure. His blood sugar was still terribly low. He wasn’t responding at all and was very, very weak. The surgeon was very worried that Tim would not take it through the operation. I asked him, “Are you suggesting we don’t do it?” “It’s your decision but I am not optimistic.” I hung up and Jenny and I talked, tearfully. We didn’t want Young Tim, who has led such a love-filled and blessed life, to become some science project,doped up, sliced open, only to die among strangers in a strange place.

I called the surgeon back and we got in a cab. Twenty minutes later, we were hugging Young Tim for the last time as the doctor gave him an anesthetic and then a lethal injection.

He felt no more pain, and went to see Patti at 9 PM, hearing us murmur in his ear, “Good dog, Tim, you are such a good dog, we love you Tim, what a good dog.”


The crying game

I made this Hokusai-influenced journal entry a couple of weeks ago, but the same sort of wave has hit me a couple of time since. Its clout is overwhelming and the emotion it dredges up is so non-specific, a crippling blow to the solar plexus, a kick to the scrotum. It’s not like the sort of grief that has a word or a thought or an image at its core; it’s just total and blanketing. It hits and suffocates, then recedes, then hits a second time, then mercifully passes all together.


I am so not used to crying. It’s something I was good at when I was little, like running or cartwheels or jumping off the top bunk. Now, as a grown-ass man, I am horribly out of shape as a cryer. It’s as bad as vomiting or marathon sneezing in the way it grips me and fills my head with uninvited fluids, bulging my eyes and forcing ridiculous noises out of my mouth.  What a mess.

In some ways, it’s very welcome. Because I worry about how resilient I am, how able I am to function, there is something welcoming about collapsing, knowing that I am not utterly compartmentalized and blinded by denial. These thundering paroxysms of emotion provide perspective, reminding me that I can travel forward but may have occasionally to stop and pay the piper. I can handle it.

It can be a bit scary for Jack, I think, and I try to shield it from him when I can. But he seeks me out, puts a consoling arm around my shoulder, bringes me a glass of water. Then I pull myself back together and we go out for pancakes.

Missing Hoofy

I was blessed with an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support in the first few weeks after Patti’s death. Equally mercifully, that tide pulled back in the ensuing months and now most people have receded from my sphere. It was all too heavy, seeing a look of deep concern on the faces of  every person who I ran into on the street, and I felt like a sponge absorbing everyone’s grief over and again. That sounds sort of shitty and selfish but it’s been tough enough sorting out my own feelings.

The grieving process is a hard one to unravel or predict. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief aren’t terribly helpful, too orderly and well-defined;  there’s just no rhyme or reason to how I feel most of the time. Denial is an easy refuge, just getting on with life until the dam breaks and I am forced to deal with my emotions. I also worry at times that I am too okay, that I am too level-headed, but then my deeper feelings find a way to worm to the surface and reassert the enormity of what’s happened.Yuk.

An aside: One of Patti’s many nicknames was ‘Hoofy’ for her occasionally clumsy ways. This is a drawing of a necklace I gave her years ago, a collection of silver feet and hoofs. She loved it and wore it a lot. It makes me wonder: will I ever know anyone else whose tastes, weird and particular, are so in tune with mine? Who else could appreciate and encourage my taxidermy collecting, my medical textbooks, my love of sardines on toast? How do you replace a one-of-a-kind treasure?