Saturday, February 16, 2008

Don't Get Your Hopes Up

The new message from both McCain and the Clintons seems to be, “don’t get your hopes up,” and “I may not speak as well as Senator Obama, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have good ideas.” And I’m here to tell you they are cynical and stupid messages to be sending to people who hunger for hope and intelligent discourse.

Yesterday a friend of mine, who is a retired History Professor and knows the things that interest me, sent me an email with a book review from New York Times. The book is called, The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby. I have been complaining about the dumbing down of all discourse, the generalized decline in the level of public conversation, or in the case of news pundits, commentary, and it’s driving me a little mad. I’ve attributed much of this public stupidity to nearly eight years of listening to President Bush mangle the language every time he speaks. But, of course, it goes much deeper, and started much earlier. How else can you explain all those grown men standing behind their podiums and raising their hands when asked to “Raise your hand if you don’t believe in the theory of evolution.” Apparently the schools have gotten a lot worse since I attended. This is the stuff of junior high biology, isn’t it? Have we stopped teaching biology as well as civics?

But in Senator Clinton’s case, to claim she can’t give a great speech is nonsense. It’s politically shortsighted and stupid to assert. But the “don’t get your hopes up” message is cynical and makes us, the Democratic base, justifiably furious. Senator Clinton should not cry, except in private. She should not claim she’s being picked-on and her feelings are hurt, and she should not ever say this process is unfair. She has a very well know brand name, and a well oiled political machine. She personifies the term “Washington insider.” She has a husband who is, at least among the Democratic base, well liked and respected, so claiming that things aren’t fair is a little disingenuous. But saying Senator Obama offers us false hope is vile, and will come back to bite her.

We, as Democrats, are going to need the passionate young people who are so inspired by Barack Obama. They are the future of our Party and of our Country. Without their enthusiasm and energy we have no future. They are our children. They are our grandchildren. And they sound a lot smarter than their elders right now. Maybe we should listen to what they have to say. Maybe we can all learn something new. Maybe we, too, can learn to speak a little smarter.

Death Is Stalking Geeky

I am watching my old dog Geeky slowly die. He has been my companion for ten years. He was a young dog when he came my way. Maybe three or four years old. Certainly not a puppy. I fostered him through Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as a companion to my old dog, Lucy, who was slowing down and seemed to need some doggy companionship. I wasn’t sold on Geeky at first, but Lucy loved him instantly, and since my reason for getting him was to perk her up, we kept him. He had been abandoned twice, surviving on the streets until he got picked up and then rescued and placed in foster care. He looked pretty rough at first, scruffy dull coat, skinny. And his manners were not all one would have wanted in a dog, but Lucy liked him, and so I committed to training him. Geeky is a Pointer, Chocolate Lab. mix. With a good diet and daily training his coat became shiny and he learned to sit and stay, he learned down, off, and no. With one exception he became the perfect companion. He never learned to heel. He was strong, and on leash, he could nearly pull me off my feet. So walking Geeky was always difficult. Lucy, a black Lab, Chow mix, on the other hand learned to heel with such ease and consistency I could always walk her off-leash, and so give Geeky my full attention. Still walking with Geeky was difficult. Then everything went to hell in our lives. And so I stopped paying attention to the dogs, because I discovered my mother had vascular dementia.

I had to go to Santa Barbara and move her back to Salt Lake so I could take care of her. She was incontinent. I was her only family. So I had no one to help me. My mother liked to run away, naked preferably. She groped every man who came within groping distance. She fought me when I tried to bathe her, and she fought me every time I changed her diapers. It was like dealing with a strong, mean adult toddler. She took things out of the fridge and hid them in the strangest places, like between the cushions of the couch, and under my pillow. She hid kitchen utensils. Sometimes she hid her turds. It took all my time and all my attention. It eventually drove me crazy. I started hallucinating a couple of weeks before I found a place to take her for awhile.

The day she left for her first stay in a nursing home, I called 911 on myself. When the operator said, “What is the nature of your emergency?” I said, “I’m not sure if this is an emergency or not, but I’ve been hallucinating for a couple of weeks.” The operator said, “Yes, that is an emergency. Please stay on the line.” Within minutes there was an ambulance in front of my house. I spent two weeks in the Psych Ward at the University Hospital. And all during that time, friends and neighbors took care of Lucy and Geeky. And in all that time, Geeky stayed under my bed. He would come out to eat, he would go out once a day to pee and poop, but the rest of the time he stayed under my bed.

Lucy died within a year. She got chronic, and then acute hip dysplasia. She couldn’t climb the stairs to my bedroom, so I took to sleeping on her dog-bed with her, downstairs. My mother came home to live with me again because she kept running away from the nursing home and getting hurt in the process. She also stole something from a male patient’s room, and he beat her up. I felt so guilty when I picked her up. She looked like she’d been run over. Black eyes, bruises everywhere, her nose looked broken. I felt like such a failure. I could protect no one. Not even my dogs. And Lucy was in terrible pain.

So on the day I decided to put Lucy down, my mother was standing over us, as the House Call Vet gave Lucy her last shot, and while I held Lucy in my arms as her life slipped away, my mother was bouncing up and down saying, Whee, Whee, Whee, as if we were on a ride at an amusement park. Geeky hid under my bed. My mother groped the Veterinarian as we carried Lucy’s corpse to his van to take her for cremation.

And then I watched helplessly as my mother lost every last bit of the human identity she had, until nothing was left but meanness. When all other language meaningful gesture left, what remained was the flipping of the one fingered salute, and the words, “Fuck off!” and a lunatic grin, as she shuffled off down the hall, endlessly pacing. Eventually she was unable to chew and swallow. She went into Hospice care on her birthday, December 23rd and slipped into what looked like a waking sleep, unfocused open eyes, but absolutely vacant, heart still beating. She died about 3 A. M. on Christmas morning, a little over two years ago.

Now it’s Geeky’s turn. He probably has cancer, or maybe it’s just hard living and old age. The Vet says he wouldn’t survive anesthesia to do a surgery and find out what is killing Geeky, and pain medication seems to ease his pain. Over time I have increased his dose, and now, today I started giving him a half a seditive. He loses weight, despite my cooking for him. He gets chicken and brown rice, steak, ground beef, ground turkey, sweet potato. He likes Beggin Strips and small Milk Bones, but he will no longer eat his kibble and continues to lose weight and strength. He sleeps a lot. Sometimes he struggles for breath, but he seems to be comforted by my presence. He sleeps on my bed at night, but hasn’t the strength to jump up there anymore, so I lift him. He has taught me to respond to his woofs for food, for company and attention and now he woofs in pain, looking at the wall, or nothing. He likes me at my computer during the day. His bed is right beside me while I write. Geeky’s is the only real physical contact I have with another living creature. I stroke him, and calm myself in soothing him. I’ll be lucky if he makes it to Spring.

There was a time during my mother’s long dying, her loss of identity, memory, smell, taste, everything that made her human and alive, when I was terribly depressed. I lived moment by moment trying to keep her safe, fed, clean, and I slipped deeper and deeper into depression. There were days when, once the chores were done, I locked us (me, Geeky and my mother) in my bedroom. I turned my computer on, pulled up a blank page and sat my mother at the keyboard. She would pretend to type for hours, and I could drift into the cottony sleep of depression. My mother was no longer anyone I had ever known, except for the meanness and profanity. I felt pity for her, but knew if would make little difference to her where she was, who she was around. I was just the person who wiped her ass and fed her. If it were not for my love for Geeky and my responsibility to care for him, I would have simply killed myself. It is Geeky I owe my life to, and it is to Geeky’s final days and dying that I now give my full attention.