Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Boutros Stories


Now in his reclining years, Boutros-Boutros Doggie has just about lost interest in the pursuit of other creatures. A voracious bee-eater, I haven’t seen him snap all this season; squirrels come and go, eating out of the bird feeders, and Boutros doesn’t budge; he’s even given up on cats – he musters a pro forma chase so as to not let all dogdom down, but hot pursuit is a thing of the past. Other dogs interest him only nominally. A sniff or two, and it’s back to what other business is at hand. Fact be known, Boutros has never been a dog’s dog, preferring the company of people to other canines. I think it has something to do with reincarnation, but more on that later.

A week ago Boutros met Zeppelin, and it was love at first sight. Zep’s owner warned us away. Zeppelin didn’t like other dogs, and tended to get nasty. But, some mutual attraction pulled Zeppelin and Boutros together. Two ten year olds, they frolicked like puppies, taking turns humping each other’s heads, barking, biting, jumping – engaged in all the play of domination with no serious intent. The other day they frolicked so long and so hard I had to carry Boutros up to bed, and I heard Zeppelin wasn’t in much better shape.

Zeppelin is a malamute, and Boutros is husky/shepherd and you might guess that’s where the attraction lies, but I’ve seen the Bouter with other malamutes, and that’s just not it. Something else is going on. But what?

Long lost playmates – feasible, but unlikely; separated at birth – highly doubtful; soul brothers? Ah, could it be possible? Linked in the great cosmos through a cycle of rebirth? Maybe they were past life litter buddies; or pack buddies roaming the tundra. Some of us claim that an instant attraction to friendship, or even love, is precipitated by a past life experience - souls joined in eternity. At the risk of even more lunacy, I’ve always felt dogs to be just a step removed from humanity anyway, either by having been born up or down the reincarnational pathway. I could have known any one of you in a past life, why not Zeppelin and Boutros. It’s the only explanation I can give to the intensity of the bond these two have for each other.

The other night, Boutros left the yard and showed up at, yes, Zeppelin’s front door. We didn’t know he was missing until morning, after we had listened to a phone message from Zeppelin’s owners. Boutros showed up, barked for Zeppelin, and his people let him out to play. They also gave them snacks, and let Boutros spend the night. That morning they sat on the lawn, watching the passing parade. He’s since repeated the escapade a couple times.

Now here’s the sad part of the story: Zeppelin (and his owners) have moved. Boutros continues his sojourns to Zep’s front door, but no one is home. He sits and waits, but – no Zeppelin. When we take our daily walks, Boutros puts on his best prance, lifts his tail, and when we get to Zep’s house he dashes to the door, and barks out a greeting, but – no Zeppelin. He sniffs all over the yard, marking here and there, expecting his friend to come bounding, but – no. On the walk home Boutros transforms back into an old dog, moving at zero miles an hour with his tail down. He stops every ten or fifteen feet and looks over his shoulder, but – that’s right, no Zeppelin.

The other day we talked to Zeppelin’s owners and were told that he had run away from the new house, and was probably headed back to the old neighborhood, but was picked up by animal control. I wonder if he was missing the old house, or Boutros? I think a little of both.

So, I’ve got Zeppelin’s address and phone number, and what do you think, should I set up a play-date? I remember when I was six and my best friend moved away. I was devastated.

Oh, nuts, poor Boutros…

-The Reunion-

My friend Stephen, a true comrade in examining the far-fetchedness, or absurdity of any given situation read the story of Boutros in love and proposed that Boutros’s and Zeppelin’s relationship was analogous to my relationship with Reggie. Two old souls who meet, and are then separated, only to run to each other with every opportunity. True, we’ve been separated by miles, sometimes many miles, over the past year, but I thought Stephen’s analysis was a stretch.

Today I decided to take Boutros for a surprise visit to Zeppelin’s new house. I considered the advice many of you had offered when I asked if you thought a play date was the thing to do – a collective “Yes.” I also wanted to play the story out a little longer, and was curious as to how the lovers would react after not only a separation, but after having moved into completely different houses.

As we got within a half mile of Zep’s new house Boutros stuck his head out the car window and engaged in some very active sniffing. I thought, isn’t that amazing, he’s picking up Zep’s scent already. I also thought he might be catching wind of the BBQ and taco stands. The latter was probably the case.

After a few wrong turns, my usual modus operandi, we parked about four doors down from Zeppelin’s house. Boutros was anxious to get out of the car. More anxious than usual? I don’t know. We walked the four houses and Boutros made a quick right turn into Zep’s yard. No one was around, but the door was open. I called in, and Zep’s human came to the door furiously burping her month old baby. I told her I happened to be in the neighborhood – nothing like starting out with a lie – and she stared daggers at me and said, “This is just not a good time, I’m burping the baby.” Well, Jesus, I thought, what’s the big deal about burping a baby? To make matters worse, Boutros had left my side and was busy in the neighbor’s yard marking trees and bushes. So I was standing there like I had come to visit, and since she hardly knows me, I’m sure it all seemed a bit odd. I managed a, “But I’ve brought Boutros to visit Zeppelin.” She turned away, and in a few seconds her husband came out with Zeppelin. At the same moment a little girl from next door stepped onto her porch and yelled, “Hey, your dog’s in my house!” I sensed that things could possibly be getting out of hand, but Boutros came trotting out on her heels. Did he come bounding to Zeppelin? Not on your life. He was much too busy crawling under a bush to get his back scratched. I called him, he ambled over, saw Zeppelin, and they tenderly touched noses. Zeppelin jumped up, and somehow bumped Boutros’s bad hip, and they went at each other with snarls and exposed teeth – right for the throat. Things were not going well. The gathered humans looked at each other, and started making excuses for the dogs’ behavior. “Oh, they have bad hips.” “It’s been awhile since they’ve seen each other.” “They’re not used to the territory.” By this time Boutros had disengaged, marked spots all over the yard, and was out of sight down the side of the house. Zeppelin was just hanging, but seemed to be a little stunned.

“Well,” says I, “I was just in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d stop by, and I guess I’ll let you get about your day, c’mon Boutros, and I’ve got some shopping to do, c’mon Boutros, Boutros…” And they said they were a little busy anyway, so I got Boutros out from behind their house and we left.

I got home and started thinking this was a little like how Reggie and I behave after a separation. We tenderly greet, get into a little spat about nothing, reestablish our boundries, and then all goes well. So, maybe Stephen does have something there. But, and much more importantly, does this mean I have to run the exercise again? Give the dogs a chance? Maybe call ahead next time? Of course, I’m thinking if I never go back they’re going to either think I’m weird, or they had somehow offended me, or who knows what. And, if I do go back, or call, they’re going to think I’m weird anyway, don’t have much of a life, or who knows what else.

Maybe I’ll just wait ‘til Reggie gets home, try not to act like Boutros and Zeppelin, and see what she thinks.

Boutros is asleep under the table. He’s in dream-land, running his paws and barking. Do you suppose he’s dreaming about Zeppelin?

Oh, nuts…


About ten years ago I was in an automobile accident that left me seriously banged up. After months in the hospital I got home with a fairly rigorous physical therapy regimen ahead of me. On the plus side, the therapy would take place at home so I wouldn’t have to deal with wheelchairs, vans, and hospital visits.

I had a dog, a shepherd/huskie mix, as adorable as all get out, who went by the name of Boutros-Boutros Doggie, on formal occasions, but Boutros, for short. Prior to the accident we had lived together for about ten years, were devoted to one another, and, except for the hospital stay, spent my entire convalescence together.

Boutros was a people-oriented pooch. When someone new came to the door, he’d stand, bark once, sniff the air, and announce his status as “dog of the house” by waiting in their path for an acknowledgement. That was the exact routine when my physical therapist made her first visit, and she paid Boutros the minimum amount of attention to get through the door. I don’t remember her name, but she came to be known as “Vlad the Impaler,” for her no nonsense, no-pain-no-gain approach to physical therapy.

I have to grant that it took a few visits before she had me writhing in agony, so in those visits Boutros got used to having her around.

One of my injuries was to a knee-cap that had been fractured in four places, and twisted completely sideways. I was repaired by an excellent rodeo doctor who happened to be on call that day and was used to weirdly broken bones. He did a great job, but the hang-over from the surgery was a mass of scar tissue that prevented me from bending my leg. Vlad’s job was to get me to push through the scar tissue. Her technique was to have me lie on my stomach, and try to bring my right heel to my right buttock. Of course it was impossible, so she would grab my ankle and offer an assist. It was this exercise that wiped her real name from my mind, and firmly cemented Vlad the Impaler in its place. She pushed my leg and I started panting. She pushed a little more, and I added my voice in a series of high pitched and staccato screams, a little more and I was beating my hands on the floor. This was torture, and within moments of the screaming and pounding Boutros was standing at my head with an alarmed look in his eye, licking my upraised face. The torture didn’t last very long, thank god, but from the time we finished, and worked through a few gentler exercises, Boutros didn’t leave my side.

Vlad’s visits were scheduled for every other day, giving me time to recuperate, exercise on my own, and dread her next arrival – which came like clockwork. I answered the door with Boutros at my side, as usual. What wasn’t usual was that Boutros wouldn’t get out of the way when Vlad tried to walk in. Not a growl, not a bark, just a refusal, even as she tried to squeeze by. I thought the behavior odd, but didn’t give it much of a thought as I moved away from the door and made a few clicking noises for Boutros to follow.

We went through the warm-up exercises, and made our way to the dreaded knee-bender. I got down on the floor, and onto my stomach, and Vlad got down onto her knees ready to assist. As soon as I got my leg into a right angle Boutros stepped up to Vlad, and sat down looking at her. There couldn’t have been more than a foot between them. Vlad placed her hand on my ankle, and Boutros, again without a sound, lifted his paw and knocked her hand away, then he stood up, and got his face right into hers. I could see all this just out of the corner of my eye.

“Richard, could you ask your dog to back off?”

I called Boutros, and he came around to my head, and sat, but didn’t take his eyes off Vlad. As she started to push my leg, Boutros stood up again. I could see he was not going to let the exercise happen, so I leaned up onto my elbows, and suggested we move to something else. Vlad saw the wisdom of the suggestion.

Unfortunately, the exercise had a good purpose, and we had to do it whether Boutros wanted it to happen or not, so, as it turned out, Boutros started spending my therapy time in the back yard. I’d lure him out with a tennis ball before Vlad showed up.

Boutros passed about 6 months ago, and of course I still miss him – for many reasons, not the least of them being the clear manifestation of love that caused him to swat that woman’s hand right off my ankle. When people tell stories about how cute or smart their dogs are that’s the story I tell.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

India in a Stolen Moment

The other day I was sitting in my room on the third floor of a 5-Star business hotel in Chennai, India, watching the Iraq War on BBC when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a short flurry of red confetti falling outside my window. It was a little shower of bougainvillea petals that had been dislodged by the hemp ropes that banged against the window a few moments later.

After endless repeats of the same street fighting in Falluja, the window activity of two frayed and knotted ropes held the possibility of being the most fascinating sight of the morning. I was proven right when two dirty, brown feet slipped into view eventually followed by a young window-washer wearing a blue workman’s uniform, and considering the lack of any other safety features, an incongruous bright yellow hard-hat. He was dangling, without benefit of even a board to stand on, seeking a foot-hold on the six inch ledge outside the window. After he got his balance he glanced inside, and though I know he saw me, respected my privacy by not acknowledging my presence. He must have been trained to ignore the guests, and besides, he had a few more pressing matters to attend to than the cheerful and incessant, “Good morning, sir,” the non-dangling employees are instructed to offer.

His window washing kit consisted of a well used, dry cloth, and a lot of elbow-grease. He held the cloth in his mouth as he inched along the ledge in order to reach the whole window.

When he was done with my window he grabbed the rope between his toes so it swung out behind him and, I suppose, repositioned itself on the roof-top. At that point the garden workers below were shouting up, and the window washer was carrying on an animated discussion with someone above. After a minute or so of consultation and bright smiles he stretched his legs around a concrete abutment and disappeared from view.

The entire time this work went on I sat unmoving, afraid if I stood up I’d distract the poor guy to disastrous consequences. And then he was gone, and I was free to go back to the war.

That event was India in a “stolen moment:” a five star hotel, global communications, a flurry of color, and a man dangling from a rope performing a service for what I’m sure was little more than subsistence pay.

The Circular Conversation

Conversations in India tend to veer in unexpected directions, sometimes taking you right back where you started. Here are three certified true and verbatim:

1. At a restaurant:

After having ordered the coconut souffle I was presented with a dish that looked to be more like a coconut pudding (another item on the menu.)

Me: Ah, waiter, is this the coconut souffle or the coconut pudding?

Waiter: (Enthusiastically) Yes.

2. While aimlessly riding a bicycle through some back lanes in Kerala I was approached by another cyclist:

Cyclist: Where are you going?

Me: I don't know.

Cyclist: (after a pause) I am speaking English.

Me: Yes, you are.

Cyclist: You are speaking English?

Me: Yes.

Cyclist: Where are you going?

Me: I don't know.

Cyclist: (another pause) Very well, I will go with you.

3. In a hotel room. I'm sitting on the bed, a fellow from housekeeping (HK) is changing the light bulb.

Me: Excuse me, why is there a hole in the ceiling?

HK: (after a moment) It is for the fan.

Me: Oh. Where is the fan?

HK: The fan is in the suites.

Me: Oh, ok. So why is there a hole in this ceiling?

HK: For the fan.

Me: Well, why is there no fan?

HK: The fan is in the suites.

Me: (after a pause) Oh.

Monday, April 11, 2005

An Introduction to Five Lenten Gospels

Sundays in Lent

This past Lenten season (2005,) I decided my Lenten duty would be to pay attention to the Gospels, “crack them open,” as they say, and put my reflections to poetry.

It’s been an interesting task.

I’m not a literal believer in any part of the Hebrew, or Christian Scriptures. In fact, I’m so off-the-charts as a Catholic that I can’t – in good faith – recite the Creed. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the judgment of the living and the dead, in their literal sense are all too much for me. Truth be told, Jesus Christ as the “only Son of God, our Savior,” is also further than I care to go.

How in the world can a person who doesn’t accept JC as Son of God, and Savior call himself a Catholic?

Good question.

I was born into a Catholic family, baptized, and confirmed as a Catholic, brought up as a Catholic, educated in Catholic schools – how could I be anything but a Catholic? Sure, sure, “cultural Catholic.” Yes, but it’s much deeper than that.

When I came back to the Church, at age 50, after 36 years of wondering if I could be a Catholic, I was told I was reentering a family, and like most – if not all – families, dysfunctional, and I had to accept this, and work with it. The other side of the coin was that the Church (or at least my Parish) would accept me – dysfunctional, by Her definition or mine, as I may be, and work with me. I thought that was a pretty good deal.

This, I do believe, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The time I spend practicing my brand of Catholicism is my opportunity to discover, and/or contemplate what those things may be. And, there is community here, which I respect and love; and the communal rituals move me toward goodness.

The argument as to what is literal truth and what is metaphor I leave to others because I have, for the time being, anyway, decided for myself.

So, my reflections on the Lenten Gospels will not stand up to any orthodox evaluation, but I’ve found the process to be a blessing, and quite challenging – and, whatever I have written continues as process in an unorthodox but sincere practice.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Lenten Gospels

I. The Temptation in the Wilderness
(Mark 4: 1-11)

After forty days
Of solitude and fasting
A man might gnaw at a stone
Thinking it was bread,

Or grow wings
And fly
Around the cities of his mind,

Or walk naked
He were clothed,
And perfumed.

A man might do these things
And people might say
He was possessed.

I would say
He was

II. The Transfiguration
(Mat 17: 1-13)

"A Matter of Fact"

Erie, Pennsylvania
Like every Starbucks
corporate living room
filled with strangers

Nat King Cole
on the sorta hip
always inoffensive
competing with
the grinding
and steaming
of coffee.

I’m pondering
a biblical summit meeting,
Christ transfigured,
locked in conversation
with Moses and Elijah,
But what they’re talking about –
I don’t know.

At the table
next to mine
A gray-haired
black man
Had made himself at home
with crossword puzzle, newspapers,
and a brown, leather bound bible – prominent.

I had a feeling
he’d know
and wouldn’t mind
my asking:

“Excuse me,
are you a student
of scripture?”


“Mathew 17
Jesus on the mountain
Peter, James, and Andrew.
Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah,
what were they talking about?”

“Mathew 17,” he said,
“Peter, James, and John,”
he corrected,
“Jesus was thanking them
for paving the way,
and he was promising them
he would continue the work.”

“The work? What work?”

“Redemption. It’s all about redemption.”

And that
was that,
Matter of fact,
even as Nat King Cole
lost his baby
and almost lost his mind…

Even at Starbucks,

It’s all about


III. The Woman at the Well
(John 4: 4-42)

In the long shadowed evening
In the first quiet of the day
He sat at the well’s edge
And brushed a pebble
That fell as lively as a star
Down to Jacob’s water.

Walked across the shadows
With her shadow
Clinging to her
Balancing a jar on her shoulder.

Who is this,
She wondered,
And as the pebble touched water
All her secrets
Rippled between them.

He asked for a drink
And she gave her eyes
He asked for food
She gave her heart
He told her everything
And she forgave him

And was never thirsty again.

But later,

He would cry,


IV. Sight to the Man Born Blind
(John 9: 1-41)

Left to his own devices
He would have perfected his blindness
And faded completely from sight.

The prophet packed his eyes with mud
And as he washed himself at the river
The world assaulted him.

He found himself answering questions
That had nothing to do with sky, or sun,
Or the astonishing and transparent water
He held in his hands,
And saw,
For the very first time.

V. The Raising of Lazarus
(John 11: 1-43)

Even Jesus
Must have been
as he wrenched
the spirit
from beyond
and forced it
his friend’s

Even He
Must have been
how nature roared
as Lazarus rose
from his stinking tomb.

And even He would weep.

Why Blog?

I do a lot of reading, and thinking that goes unexplored within a community because we just don’t have time to get together often enough to talk about this stuff. So, welcome to what I hope will be an ongoing conversation with more of you than I could possibly physically talk to.

This also gives me a form for thinking in print, which I hope will help make me a more disciplined thinker – and writer.

And, it’s like being published - without the hassle.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Separated at birth?