Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shutting Down a Puppy Mill: A Rescue Story

Bear just after rescue

            My partner, Fox, is an Animal Communicator.  She's the real deal, she's not a poseur playing at "Pet Psychic" and taking people's money.  Her ability is quite inexplicable unless you embrace some beliefs that tax the empirical world view. I have several of these but I don't advertise the fact.
          About three years ago Fox was called to the home of a toy and teacup poodle breeder.  It was a long ride but she was getting some strange intuitions that she could not ignore.
      As soon as she arrived she knew the place was a puppy mill. Most of the dogs were hidden behind closed doors but she could feel the suffering.  She could smell it, hear it and she could sense it like low hanging clouds suffusing the house and grounds. The assault on her emotions was overwhelming.  There was such distress, such cruelty, such greed and cynicism!
            Fox consulted the owner regarding two dogs.  Why were they so aggressive?
          She kept quiet.  She was scared.  She knew that she was among criminals and she had to tread cautiously. 
Bear a few weeks after rescue
            The puppy mill was catering to a market of wealthy Chinese buyers.
This new class of upscale Chinese are fueling a worldwide vogue for tiny dogs. A documented four-pound poodle can fetch five thousand dollars in Shanghai,Canton, Hong Kong and Beijing.
            Fox carefully asked the owner to change the way she treated her dogs.  The owner was not receptive to Fox's advice.  She was making huge amounts of money.  One of the techniques she used to keep puppies small was to confine them to tiny spaces.  They were drugged on tranquilizers to retard their growth.  They had nowhere to move, no exercise, so they didn’t develop any mass.  The lighter the dog, the more expensive.  The unwitting yet culpable participants in this racket, the customers in the orient, were paying thousands of dollars for a puppy that would be sick and crazy.
            Too bad.  All sales final.  You saw the photo of the puppy you were purchasing.
You saw the AKC documents.  You sent your money and we sent you a tiny poodle.
            While the breeder was taking a phone call, Fox entered a small room and looked down at a little brown puppy.  He was confined to an aquarium, not much bigger than a shoebox.  He had an IV needle stuck into his leg.  He looked into Fox’s eyes.  She heard the words as clear as a bell: Help me!  Get me out of here!
Bear at one year
            Without thinking, she opened the top, removed the IV and scooped the puppy inside her coat.  The little guy stayed quiet.  He just kept looking into Fox’s eyes.
            In a few minutes Fox left the house with the closed bedrooms and high fenced backyard full of suffering animals.  She drove to a nearby mall and called the police.  The result of her action was that arrests were made, the puppy mill was shut down and forty seven puppies found new and far better owners.
            Fox made the ninety minute drive home with this shivering puppy inside her coat.  His hair was very long.  He looked like a little Ewok in need of a barber.
            That puppy became our Little Bear.  He is now a seven pound dog of disproportionate strength.  He is also absurdly intelligent, perceptive, stubborn and willful.  He has quirks.  He has bad memories.  He suffers from PTSD.  He can go crazy when grooming implements appear.  Anything like gleaming steel, needles or tubes can trigger a momentary aggression.
          Bear is, however, happy, healthy, spoiled and loved beyond all reason.
Bear as he is today.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Just When You've Given Up

     The images you see above represent a genuine, honest to god miracle.  Let me explain.  The first photo shows a patch of roof rot.  This rot has been letting drips of water into the interior of our RV.  We live in this RV.  We love it, we love the RV lifestyle, we love our home (which is named Raven).
     Three years ago we hired a man to repair this leak, and he spent a day atop Raven, caulking this, sealing that, fixing our problem.  So we thought. We paid the man nine hundred dollars for his work.  We were a bit shocked at this figure but we had no choice.  That was the bill.  There were materials to be paid for, there was
his hourly labor rate, etc, etc.
      We lived in all innocence for two years, feeling secure, feeling that we had no leaks, that our roof was solid to the elements.  A roof leak in an RV can be the worst sort of disaster.  It can quickly destroy an RV.  One day you're living or traveling happily in a vehicle that might have cost a lot of money.  If a leak spreads under a roof's rubber top layer, the rot can eat away at the roof like a termite colony.
     Last winter we had very intense rains.  One day in February I was doing some exercises on the floor in
our front room.  I was on my back looking up at the ceiling and I realized that there was a grotesque stain
about two feet square just above the driver's seat.  Its irregular shape was a much broader pattern than
the initial stain that had alerted me to the leak three years ago.
     The "RV tech" who had repaired our leak three years ago had not done a good job.  He had spread
some sealant, cut as many corners as possible and took our money.  Now I was staring up at disaster.
I climbed atop our valiant motor coach and inspected the afflicted area.  I crawled on my knees feeling
the roof with my fingers.  There was good solid normal RV roof on the right side.  But on the left side,
just above the driver's seat, the solid roof changed to a spongy expanse.  It was soft and mushy, it was big,
and my heart plunged to my ankles.  I knew I was contemplating a stark choice.  Repair the roof or lose the RV.
     Roof repairs are notoriously expensive.  RV roofs have their unique requirements.  An
RV roof needs to be flexible because it covers a vehicle that sways and bumps and bounces.  RV roofs
require special materials.  The roof on a motor coach is like a layer cake.  The layers include plywood,
three kinds of rubber sealant, aluminum struts, special flashing and stuff with names like "contoured seam tape".  All this stuff is held in place by aluminum molding which is screwed down by self tapping screws.
       My wife and I couldn't begin to afford the repair of this roof.  Estimates ran from two to three thousand.  There was no way we had that kind of money.  I felt like I was beating my head against a wall for eight months.  Every other kind of life problem dropped on me at the same time.  I won't delineate.  You know the drill, you've all been there.
     The rains seemed to want to come early this year.  By October it would be too late.
     I took to praying to The Grandmothers.  These are deities to whom I was introduced by my wife.  My wife was introduced to The Grandmothers by our friend, whom I will call The Sage.
     Who is more comforting than a grandmother?  Who has more wisdom than The Elders of the tribe of humanity?  Why not, I thought, pray to The Grandmothers? As a child I adored my father's mother.  I imagined her loving face in the circle of all the other Grandmothers when I prayed.
     My prayer took the form of song.  Every morning I did my exercises and finished them with my prayers to The Grandmothers.  "Oh Grandmothers," I sang, "thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed upon my family.  Grandmothers, we are in trouble now.  It may not be the biggest trouble in the world, but it is OUR trouble.  The frustration I feel as a man is like a searing flame in my heart.  I want to provide for my family, o Grandmothers, and I am failing.  I have tried so many ways to improve our lot but none have borne fruit.  I have so many gifts, Grandmothers, and I do my best to bestow beauty upon the world.  But I cannot eat my art, I cannot turn poems into five gallon cans of rubber sealant, I cannot transform my unread
books into honest and skilled workers who know how to repair RVs.  Please help us, Grandmothers, for
we have done no harm and given many blessings to many people."
     I felt a deep and gentle joy in singing these songs.  There I was, before anyone else had woken, quietly shaking a rattle and singing to invisible spirits about such mundane but important things.  I was asking for survival. I was asking to be freed from terrible fear.
     Last week, as the world seemed to be disintegrating, there was a sudden whooshing sound inside my head.  I could feel forces coming together like pieces of a puzzle.  We have friends in this
campground with RV repair skills.  A gift of funds came from The Sage. Suddenly, in a matter of days, the angel whose photo you see above was working on our roof.  She needed work.  We needed her skills.  There was just enough money to buy all the five gallon drums of rubber sealant and weatherproofing, all the contour tape and flashing.
     Woman Who Fixes Things had helped me before.  She would have helped me without pay, but I paid her what I could afford.  Now I needed Woman Who Fixes Things for a big big job.  Woman Who Fixes Things is a very special person.  When she does a job she draws upon a deep reservoir of integrity.  She does the very best work of which she is capable.  Always.  She is an angel.
     Tomorrow our roof will be repaired, finished, sealed against all elements for many years.  Woman Who Fixes Things and her friend Woman With Beautiful Voice have worked in searing heat on a burning roof.
They didn't complain.  They sang and laughed.
   The Sage provided the fuel.  The angels of work provided the skills.  I provided the prayers.  My wife
provided for all of us, our human friends, our animal friends, she gave us cool water to slake our thirst.
She gave medicine to Little Bear and Gabriel Kuruk and they recovered, as if to say, "Look, the sickness has gone, healing is here, on all levels at once."
     I thank you Sage, I thank you Woman Who Fixes Things, I thank you Woman With Beautiful Voice, I thank you my wife, The Fox, who prays on slabs of rock with her beautiful drum. And I thank you o so deeply, Grandmothers.
     I call this a Miracle.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Going Bald For Judaism

Reports from the battle front are streaming in.  The Ambassador to my Forehead says that another six hundred forty four hair follicles died this morning in premeditated hormone attacks.  By some strange coincidence this number is exactly the number of Talmudic laws that an Orthodox Jew is required to observe in order to achieve complete righteousoness.  There are, however, another fifteen thousand three hundred seventy laws scattered throughout the Mishna and Talmud that a good Jew must obey to have his name inscribed in the Book of Judgment.  It should take me about year or so to achieve the death of that many hair follicles. 

I will make a bargain with God:  I will trade every dead hair follicle for one obscure Talmudic law.  Each moribund follicle will equal the observation of one recondite Jewish commandment.  Therefore, my incipient baldness will equate with total salvation.  This salvation will require no moral efforts, no eating of Kosher food, no prayer before tying my shoes or blowing my nose , no ruthless self evaluation, no de-cluttering of my apartment, no financial and fiscal awareness, no meditation, no long sweaty hikes uphill, nothing else will be required of me for the rest of my life other than going quite bald. 
Seems fair enough to me. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Redux on "Why I Started Smoking Again"

Some months ago I wrote a piece called “Why I Started Smoking Again.” It was about teaching photography at two different schools.  One was a paying gig for affluent kids.  The other was a volunteer mentoring thing.  I took a lot of pictures of the kids at the “low income” school.  This one captures a certain spirit, and I wanted to share it.  I have only three or four photos from the rich kids school and I don’t have anything like this.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Spook Lady : From Confessions Of An Honest Man

This excerpt is from my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN.  It occurs when my protagonist has just returned from Afghanistan.  He is struggling to free himself from addiction and is living in a skid row hotel in San Francisco.

The Spook Lady
1983:  The Arlen Hotel, San Francisco

          It’s almost time for the Spook Lady to start.   Aaron looks at the hands of the clock.  They are supposed to be luminous, but the tired green radium barely shows that it’s four thirty.  
          He turns off the light and listens to the sounds of the hotel and the city beyond.  In this not-quite-dawn hour, the world is like a rattle snake anticipating the sun.  It’s too cold to move.  It can be poked and prodded without consequence.  But in another hour, one would not want to prod.  And in another two hours, one would not even come close.
          Across the hall, in Room 303, the speed freaks are arguing about who got more dope.  Upstairs, in the room directly overhead, someone is pacing evenly and steadily back and forth,  signature of god only knows what despairing thoughts. 
          Distant rock music.  It never ends, the sonic pollution.  By ten it will be pounding on his walls, thumpety thump thumpety thump.
          Now, there is sufficient silence to hear the voice of the Spook Lady.  She  lives next door in room 304.  Since he checked into the hotel, two weeks ago, Aaron could set his clock by the beginning of her four thirty harangue.
          He never hears an answering voice.  Only the woman enters or leaves the room.  During the day, she takes her spot outside the hotel door, dressed like a hooker from the thirties.  Stamped with utter loneliness, she waits.   She looks seventy, maybe seventy five years old.
          She wears the same outfit every day: a vivid blue dress, elbow length mauve gloves, lace-up black heels, fake carnation perched atop brittle, dryed hair.
          She looks as if she’s waiting for a trick .Maybe she has a clientele, Aaron speculates..  Nothing in this place would surprise me.  Got a double amputee male hooker in room 301.   A professional safe cracker in 297.  Assorted psychotics.  A woman who makes tin foil helmets to block CIA transmissions from satellites. 
          The Spook Lady waits for her vanished lover,  the man she beats with her words, every night at four thirty a.m.
          “You damn mothafucka!”  There she goes, punctual as a Japanese train. “Who was that I seen you.....”  The words fade in and out.  Aaron turns to his other side, groaning, not wanting to hear it, needing sleep.  He pulls the blanket up across his shoulder and looks out the window at absolutely nothing.  There is a wall inches from his window.  At night it sheds no light, it’s just a piece of tar. 
          “Money?” the woman cries.  “What fuckin’ money?  You don’t fuckin’.......” Bad tempered, jealous, she scours her ancient paramour.  Does his ghost materialize in the hour before dawn?  Does he wear clothes sixty years gone?  Spats, a cane, diamond stickpin.  Do his white teeth gleam?  Does his gold ring flash?
          “A big man?,” the crone derides hoarsely.  “Ha ha, don’t make me fuckin laugh.  Hey, don’t drop those.....oh you bastard!.......well, that’s Jim so and so and he can eat my....”
          Night after night, this goes on.  It lasts about twenty minutes, then tapers off into silence.  Names flow in and out of the ethers.  Old debts, old crimes.  Old revenge.
          When I leave at eight this morning, she’ll be there, Aaron knows.  At her place by the door.  She never returns my look, never meets my eyes, never acknowledges the essential fact of neighbor-ness.  Her eyes are fixed on an invisible street, invisible buildings, invisible people. 
          She has observed the same routine every day that I’ve been here.  Same place, same clothes, same fake flower,once crimson but going utterly white from the bleach of the sun.  Buses wait at the light.  Cars pile up, then surge forward honking and roaring.  The city’s life is flung like an acid onto the pavement.  The Spook Lady sees big black Nash Sedans, high rounded Pontiacs instead of Hondas and Camaros.  When the sun sets, she goes to her room and waits for her lover in the mists of damaged memory.
          Aaron wakes every night at four twenty five,exactly, taut with tortured anticipation. He can’t help it.  The Spook Lady has become one of the denizens of his insomnia.
          She is suddenly loud.  “Gimme that! Hey!”  Something goes thump!
          Aaron’s ears are like huge radar disks, pulling away from his face, elastic, stretching.
          It’s quiet for a moment.  Hotel sounds emerge from the background.  Then he hears the woman weeping.  “Ooooh!” She moans.  “You black hearted son of a bitch!”
          What did he do?  Did he hit her?  Is there a red hand print on her face, slowly fading?  Can the shades of the past force blood through capillaries?
          Sound of glass shattering, another thump, right against the wall behind Aaron’s head. Then she laughs.  “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.”  The indivdual “Ha”s toll like a cathedral bell.  It is a sound so devoid of mirth that his skin crawls.
          At eight, when he leaves the hotel in the morning, he can barely glance in her direction.  He has been listening to a gaping red wound, one that pulsates and festers and never heals.
          She doesn’t know.  She doesn’t care. 
          In her mind, Aaron is the ghost.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Writer's Magic Curtain

                                                                              This frightened child is me at the age of five.
                                                                            I may have been practicing the Vulcan Mind Meld.

Writing and The Magic Curtain

Art Rosch
Aug 31, 2010

            One of the strange things about writing is the way I regard pieces of my work as brilliant until a couple of days, months, or even years later.  Then, The Magic Curtain goes up in my mind and I see that the writing is not brilliant.  It may have potential, it may be utter crap but it isn’t the masterwork I once thought it to be.
            Every writer knows what I’m talking about.  It’s a bit like trying to eat soup on a trampoline.  The very surface of our work is unsteady and keeps moving.
            I KNOW that certain pieces of my work are brilliant.  But….what if that curtain goes up?  How can I ever tell?  My books haven’t been published yet, so there’s no external applause meter to guide me in the nature of audience response.  The meter itself can be unreliable.  Getting published doesn’t mean anything except that someone sees dollars signs behind the work’s title.
            It’s taken me a long time to learn how to write.  I have work that I can rely on to be good.  I have work that I trust.  I have a gut feeling about certain poems, scenes, chapters or essays.  Can I trust my gut?  I have to.  Even though my gut has been wrong in the sense that the work I trusted wasn’t as good as I thought.  It wasn’t awful.  It was provisional; it was in progress.  I needed time to revise the work so that it reached the level I sought.
            I’ve been writing an autobiographical novel for thirty five years.  It’s current title is CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN.  I might point out the obvious truth that an autobiographical novel requires some age, it needs some bio about which to be auto.  Now that I’ve passed the sixtieth year of my life, I feel like I can view my story in a different light.  The truth about my life is that I’ve had to be broken before I could be repaired. 
I had an agent back in the late seventies, a big-time agent.  He took my books seriously.  I had two books at the time: CONFESSIONS and a sci-fi epic called THE GODS OF THE GIFT.  The agency assigned an editor to work with me.  I had expense account trips to New York.  It was very exciting.  I felt as though I was just on the verge of huge success.  The publishing industry expected big things from me.  I had sold a story to Playboy, a comic sci-fi story that won Playboy’s Best Story Award for 1978.  Every door was open to me.  The fact is that I was like an unripe mango.  Had I been plucked from my tree in 1980, I would have been spit back with a wince and a curse.
            I was invited to Playboy’s 25th anniversary party.  This was a gathering of movers and shakers in the world of writing and the arts.  I collected a pocket full of cards from people like Philip Roth and the bosses of Random House and Doubleday.
            If I had sold those books thirty five years ago, I would not now have the books that have been my teachers and companions in the art of writing.  My Magic Curtain needed to rise hundreds of times before I could write mature novels.  I had to experience that rush of insight that said, “This writing isn’t as good as you thought it was.  Time to do some revision.”
            I expect that The Magic Curtain will always be an integral part of my writing life.
Sooner or later I will have readers.  I owe it to those readers to produce writing of the highest standard.  I may not be David Foster Wallace or Don DeLillo.  I am myself, and I write the stories that I am permitted to write.  I will never be formulaic, I will never treat my audience with contempt.   I always hear the rustling of The Magic Curtain, telling me to be careful and to stay humble.

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