“Withholding.” (HillTex Digital, 2006-2007, Part II.)

A blog posted on October 22, 2006.

We begin, yet again, with shit.

I was sitting on the toilet tonight, nude, about to take a shower, blissfully moving my bowels and doing a crossword puzzle, when Fred came out of his dressing room and started wandering around the house. Turns out he had another flare-up of diarrhea, and sprayed brown, prawn-shaped feces all over the living room carpet, before coming into the bathroom, turning a few circles, and getting shit all over the pile of dirty clothes on my bathroom floor. My “me-time” interrupted, I got up and put stain remover on the affected clothes (mostly white T-shirts, naturally) and put them on to wash. (How did I get dog shit on my shoulder?  ) Then I started cleaning the rugs.

It’s not been an easy week.

Sunday night I started my new graveyard shift (11pm to 7am) job, and hated it immediately. While late hours are like mother’s milk to me, I am not handling this job well. The eight hour shift feels more like twelve or fifteen, and it drags on and on and on. Each night is like a long car trip.

The job is simple on paper: I compare the original text of a page from a book to a digital scan, then correct any mistakes that occurred in the scan. They call this “proofreading” (which has caused […] and James to come to the unlikely conclusion this shitty job will get me a foot in the door of the publishing industry), but it’s just looking for scanning errors. We’re not supposed to correct errors in the text, though I admit I have for my own amusement corrected things that particularly annoy me, such as the incorrect usage of the word “impact,” and the damnable practice of “camel case” capitalization.  Maybe I’ll be found out–maybe I won’t, but I’m striking a blow for the defense of Western culture.

The problem with the job is the unbelievable monotony, and more than that, the eye strain.

My work goes on in a long room, filled with row upon row of tables with computers on them. From the first night, I have chosen to sit in the dead center of the row furthest from the supervisor, next to the window so I can see hints of life outside as well as the reflection of whoever’s coming up behind me. The room is mostly quiet for those eight hours. A few people chat or groan or move around, but most are listening to music through headphones or earplugs. That is the only thing that gets me through the shift. The place reeks of the salty sweat of fat people who eat junk food all night without ceasing, of stale, re-breathed air, and of the musky stench of women who are ignorant of basic vaginal hygiene.   

On Tuesday night a woman who looked to be in her late 40s or 50s had a birthday, and they made a big deal of it, with a cake, nachos, and frozen corn dogs. (I’d brought sushi for my dinner, a nod to Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club,” and a sign that “I’m not like the rest of you people.” Never mind that I got the sushi from my neighborhood supermarket.) I did think, however, how fucking depressing it would be to celebrate a birthday at that benighted place, and realized with horror I have a birthday coming up in little over two weeks. I must get out of this job before then.

Most companies nowadays expect blind loyalty from their employees, yet give those employees little reason to be loyal. This company is no exception. There have been lots of firings and resignations there the last few weeks. The guy who interviewed me for this job had been fired before I started less than a week-and-a-half later.

A buddy of mine and former student, P___, and his girlfriend S___, had worked there for several months on the 3-11pm shift. P___ was full of good information. Then one day this past week, the bosses passed forms out to everybody, announcing that everyone was being switched from the status of contract employees, to that of full and regular employees, albeit with a pay cut. The staff had 24 hours to decide to either take this pay cut and change of status, or quit or get fired. S___ was given an extra day to make her decision, but when she brought her form in after two days they fired her for not meeting the original deadline. P___ understandably had a fit, and walked out screaming obscenities.

Also, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, after my shift, I was walking to my bus stop, and tried to cross the street. Way down the street there was somebody speeding along in a jeep, but when the asshole saw me, he seemed to speed up. I assumed it was some prick frat boy getting his jollies from making a fat man run.

Wednesday night there was a huge downpour and the area was under a flash flood warning. There was a brief break just long enough for me to get to my bus stop, travel to the area where my job is, and walk halfway to the office before the rain started up again.

The thing about the bus schedule is it gets me to the job site way too early, so I have about 45 minutes to kill before my shift starts.

I went to the front door of the building and found a fellow third-shifter standing outside talking on his cell. I tried my pass card, but it wouldn’t open the door. The other guy said he didn’t think my card would work until 30 minutes before my shift (I’ve also been told 5 or 15 minutes), but he said if I went around back and knocked, someone would probably let me in.

Well, I had to piss badly and I wanted to get out of the fucking rain and sit around in the break room until my shift started. It didn’t seem to me that I was asking for a whole lot. Someone had better let me the fuck in or I was gonna piss on the front door and go back home.

I went around back. My card didn’t work there either so I knocked on the door. I knocked again. Finally the door opened and some wormy guy in his 30s with thinning hair (the second shift supervisor) opened the door just wide enough so he could see me.

–Yes?

–Will you let me?

–Who are you? [This cocksucker had seen me before.]

–J___.

–Who are you, though?

–[Really angry now and about ready to throw a punch] J___ B___!!! I WORK HERE!!! NOW WILL YOU LET ME IN OUT OF THE RAIN SO I CAN GO TO THE BATHROOM???!!!

And with that I pushed my way through, biting my lower lip, trying really hard not to cuss that little pipsqueak bastard out. I noticed the entire second shift was looking up from their computers at me in horror. Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all.

I pissed, then went into the break room. Cell phone boy was in there already, having slipped in the front door when someone else walked out. He asked how I was liking the job so far. I let out a contemptuous “What? Are you fucking kidding me?” sort of snort and replied,

–It’s really hard on the eyes.

After that he stopped trying to make conversation.

Smart boy.

A little later I learned why everyone was so antsy about security. An unstable woman from the first shift had been fired, and they were scared she’d go postal and come back and shoot the joint up. For the time being the office was on 24/7 lock-down.

I’ve been pretty good about keeping most of the staff at arm’s length. Though they’re not on the whole a smart lot–most seem the sort of people who work in telemarketing jobs–the majority realize I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Usually people get the hint when you’re listening to music through earplugs or headphones all the time that you really don’t care to hear from the outside world. But a few are trying their damndest to be buddy-buddy.

The main offender is a dopey, doughy guy in his 40s whom I’ve dubbed “Flip Flop Man” because that’s the only sort of footwear the son of a bitch seems to own. (Hey, this is an office, not the Third-fucking-World here.) He started out sitting in the row behind mine, but now has moved to the end of my row. I think that’s about as far as he’s gonna get, because I try to put enough stuff on the table to either side of my computer to discourage people from sitting right next to me.

Generally my policy is that whenever he tries to make conversation with me I act as if I haven’t heard anything or I look right through him, the way Howard Roark was said to have done.

FFM is a needy, clingy person, and I hate those qualities in people. He tries too hard to please, and as a result sacrifices any personal dignity he might otherwise have.

Wednesday night my eyeballs were burning in their sockets, and I took off my glasses, rubbed my eyes, put in eye drops, then rubbed my eyes again. I had my left elbow resting on the arm of the chair to my left, so I could steady myself. Then, sure as shit, somebody started knocking on that chair deliberately. I pursed my lips in anger. I didn’t even have to open my eyes to tell who it was.

(Son of a bitch–had I gouged an eye out with the eye drop bottle because you want to be Chatty fucking Cathy….)

–You know, you remind me of myself just two weeks ago. That’s when I started. Two weeks ago. Yeah, it’s really hard on the eyes, especially at first, but you’ll get used to it. It’s really an easy job.

I removed my fingers from my eyelids, put my glasses back on, slowly turned my head in his direction, and gave him a sour, “Would you kindly just shut the fuck up” look.

–You know, I saw you walking the other night.

(Oh Christ, is he queer for me now too?)

–I was the guy driving the jeep. I saw you running to try to get across in time. I wouldn’t have run you over. Honest….

I just looked straight ahead and pressed my “Refresh screen” icon.

That morning I waited for 45 fucking minutes before the bus arrived to take me home. At least the rain had stopped.

Wednesday afternoon I got a message from somebody named “Meghan” at REI. At last! A job offer that would take me away from this fucking scanning place. I had researched REI and it sounded a great company to work for, and the interviewers had given off a really friendly vibe. I even noticed a job opening for an assistant editor position at their corporate headquarters near Seattle and considered applying for that too. (Although it was writing copy for their fucking catalogue–not something that especially interested me.)

…Thursday I called the number I was given but the guy that answered the phone said there were several Meghans in the store and didn’t know which one I needed. I said the call was probably a job offer, so he said he’d leave a note in the box of the Meghan he thought the message applied to.

When I called the number Friday morning I actually reached Meghan. She said she was the only person with that name in the store and had also not gotten the message.

She made me an offer, but it wasn’t the one discussed in the interview. The job would start out with very skimpy hours at first. I’d be stuck at the fucking register, then eventually moved to the customer service desk. (In the interview I said I was interested in the travel section.) I would be paid the basic starting wage of $8.00 an hour. (In the interview they’d said I’d probably get more due to my extensive retail experience.) As for moving up to full-time, that might take six months or more. I was very disappointed. Meghan had told me to show up at my first training session on Saturday the 21st, but I didn’t bother.

I had gone to the office Thursday night/Friday morning thinking it’d be the last time I ever had to go to that fucking place. Apparently the threat level had gone up and the numbers of disgruntled ex-employees had increased–they now had around-the-clock security guards working the doors. But even before these measures had been taken I had noticed a palpable sense of paranoia in the office. Several nights during my break I’d gone pacing up and down in the front office room, where the better-paid drones have their cubicles. I just needed to stretch my legs, but apparently my activities unsettled some people.

Thursday night some old woman who was probably in HR bored us for an hour going over the new company “benefits,” if you’d really call them such a thing. The insurance is totally useless to me: if you have a condition that was diagnosed before you started at this company, that wasn’t already being treated by another insurance company, a whole year has to pass before you can get coverage. So none of the meds I’m taking now would be paid for. What’s the fucking point of all that?

Most nights I go to work with the “thousand yard stares,” sick with dread of what I’m about to do. Then in the mornings while sitting 35-45 minutes waiting for the bus home I alternate between anger, impatience, and the feeling I’m going to burst into tears at any second….

Thanks to the fucked-up payroll system at this fucked-up company I’ll get my first check on the 27th, but it will only be for a week’s worth of work. So even though I started on the 15th, I still won’t have enough to cover the rent in November….

But there are other options on the plate. There is still a measure of hope out there. I finally tracked down my friend Cosme, who taught English in Japan for two years, met his wife there, then lived in Mexico City, and got a job with their State Department. The last I’d heard he was stationed at the Mexican consulate in Dallas. Well, since I last talked to him he got assigned to Shanghai. I told him I was looking into teaching overseas and had wanted to pepper him with questions. He said he has a friend in Shanghai that runs an English school and is desperately looking for teachers. So that sounds very promising….

I got off work Friday morning at 7am and was scheduled for an interview at a store at 4:30pm, which meant I had to get home and get to bed as fast as I could–by about 9am, and set my alarm for 3pm….

I had a message on my machine. The editor/publisher of the paper for which I write a twice-monthly local history column (a column I’ve been doing for free, and a paper which has been on hiatus since August and which may not start back up again until the spring, despite the fact the publisher finally secured a large bank loan to revamp it), had called with a question. He’s currently also running another newspaper, for one of the city’s bedroom communities, and since a big Austin High School reunion is coming up, he wanted to know what I could tell him about the old AHS, especially the “Old Red” school that had been built around the turn-of-the-century. What did I know about the place? Did the old building still exist? Where had it been located?

I called him, woke him up, and explained I’d written a whole article about this earlier this year, probably between January and February. I then e-mailed him a copy of my final draft.

Does anyone even bother to read my fucking column?   

Ten minutes before I got to bed, those annoying cocksuckers from the grounds crew began work right by my apartment, using their noisy leaf blowers and hedge trimmers. The noise got so overwhelming it actually went from being annoying to the point where it was almost comical. But amazingly, as soon as I slipped under the covers, they moved away and the noise stopped.

I got to the interview, but was still exhausted. (That’s one thing about this job–I want to sleep all the time I’m home, and have trouble staying awake while I’m at work. I’m in a state of perpetual exhaustion.) The interview seemed to go well, although I had to hold my tongue to keep from making a sarcastic comment when the (male) manager pulled off a bandage to examine a cut finger and announced,

–Eww, Icky boo-boo!

There are two types of positions available there–a part-time seasonal sales clerk position (with several slots available) that will go permanent for the employee who gets the highest sales figures (that’s counts me out), and a stockroom job which I assume would be more stable. I expect to be called in for a second interview there–the manager said his dream job would be to work as a restaurant critic, and he seemed to enjoy my stories.

After that I ate some teriyaki, then went to check on my status at a cigar store I’d applied to online about two weeks before. The new Assistant Manager, who was herself only hired two weeks ago, told me to fill out an application. (I’ll probably also mail them a resume, just to be safe.) It might be a week or two before they get everything together, but they are looking for a full-timer, and their pipe expert just quit. I don’t smoke anymore, but I did smoke cigars, cigarettes, and pipes for twenty years and am well-versed in those products.  

At Barnes and Noble I was told they had a stack of hundreds of applications, and that I should write a note to the management asking that my application be pulled. I also mentioned on the note my five years of experience as a retail bookseller….

Pier One Imports kept me waiting while a customer droned on and on about her plans to decorate her office for Halloween, then told me to call back the next day.

I figured I needed a treat, so I went to see the new Truman Capote film, “Infamous,” which was shot here in Austin…..

Fred woke me this afternoon and I took him for a quick walk, then called some businesses to check on my application status. A toy store actually knew who I was before I mentioned my name. The word from there was promising. There are several other businesses I am supposed to hear back from soon, and next Friday I have an interview with a camera store, the same store of which James had said,

–There’s a 100% certainty you won’t get a job there.

*******    

A blog posted on October 26, 2006.

…Work is about the same. The long shift is a bit faster now that I’ve started bringing paper along on which to sketch and plan out my “Escape from Austin”/”Fix Career” strategy. The Powers That Be in the company are still scared of former employees coming back and going postal, and the feeling of paranoia is thick in the air.

I’ve complained to co-workers that our work room is rather like the cabin of a Trans-Atlantic flight, what with all the re-breathed air and bad smells. I haven’t commented to them about how the two women who sat next to me the other night stank as if they had roadkill under their skirts.

I have also taken it upon myself, without asking anyone’s permission, naturally, to start throwing old food and drinks out of the stuffed and foul-smelling break room fridge. My attitude is that if something has grown mold or has a September date on it, it should be tossed. Nobody else seems to give enough of a damn to do anything, so I took charge….

*******

A blog posted on October 29, 2006.

Barring some sort of miracle, this is probably Fred’s last night. He’s been in decline the last two months with renal failure, and in recent days has taken a turn for the worse. This weekend, however, he’s seemed to have lost most of the ability to stand on his hind legs, to the extent I either find he’s relieved himself sitting down (to his horror and my sadness), or if I catch it fast enough, I have had to hold him up while he does his business. He has also seemed more disoriented and ill-at-ease than usual, so tomorrow I’m going to take him across the street to the vet’s for euthanasia. (I might even have done the procedure today had the vet’s office been open.)

I will say that worrying about Fred these last months while I’ve been at home, and worrying almost to the point of physical illness when I’ve been away at work or on errands was bad enough, but being accused of being selfish and possibly even guilty of animal cruelty for not putting Fred to sleep yet is more than I can bear. I know the people who suggested such things meant well, but it hasn’t helped me any to think that there are dog lovers who believe I would do anything monstrous to my beloved Fred, especially in his last days. Nor has that added pressure really helped me make a balanced, level-headed decision about what to do. (Am I acting in Fred’s best interests or am I being goaded by the opinions of the crowd?) There have been some letters and posts, however, that helped clarify things for me or recast certain issues in a new perspective, and there have been many that have been a powerful comfort.

I grew up in the suburbs and the country. All my dogs had short lives and met violent deaths. My grandfather, however, had a bird dog he let survive to an advanced age. In her final years, she was deaf, toothless, and thanks to the fleas, almost entirely without hair. We begged him to put her down, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so.

My Basset rescue Cleo developed bloat/gastric torsion quite suddenly, and when it became obvious she could not be helped, I gave the order.

Fred, however, has been an unusual case. Never mind that he has been THE dog, the animal I have been most bonded to in my life, and with whom I’ve endured some of my worst years. Fred got a great report in his January 2006 check-up. He had a little arthritis, but that was being treated by Rimadyl. Other than that, everything, including his kidneys, was great for a dog his age. When he was diagnosed with renal failure in September, one of the first things the vet did was take Fred off the Rimadyl, since that apparently makes kidney conditions worse. I can’t help but wonder if it was the cause of the reanl failure altogether.

For the last two months I’ve not known what to make of Fred’s condition. One day I don’t think he’ll last more than a day or two, then he bounces back and I start thinking we may have several more months left together. He’d get diarrhea, then he’d get over it. He’d lose his appetite, then get it back in a big way. Up and down, over and over.

Somebody told me when a dog can no longer do three of his favorite things, then it’s time for him to be put to sleep. Others said Fred would tell me when it was clearly the time to go. Still others said Bassets are so tenacious and devoted to their people that it’s hard to tell when it’s time.

I looked for the signs, and was filled with second-guesses. One night Fred wandered the apartment and got lost on his way back to his bed. He made a wrong turn and got stuck between the toilet and the sink. He seemed very upset about this, but was this one of those signs?

I mentioned in another post how last week I came home to find him unable to right himself, laying in his own urine, barking himself hoarse, possibly for the entire ten hours (eight hours working, two hours commuting) that I’d been gone. Was this the sign to put him down? I thought it might be, but the next night he was fine and sitting upright.

But the second-guessing continued. Sure, I thought, his hind legs were bad–maybe I could get him one of those wheeled harnesses for dogs–maybe that’s all he needed. Is the constant barking a sign of pain or of mere boredom?

But Fred’s decline has been so dramatic this weekend that I know now it is the time. I called work to say I wouldn’t be in tonight. I thought of going to the store to buy Fred some special food, but just decided to stay here with him, to be steps away from him for the remainder of his life. Anyway, I’m in no condition to go out in public as it is. I hope I don’t make a spectacle of myself at the vet’s tomorrow.

For years I had hoped I’d drop dead from a heart attack the same time Fred passed, so we’d never have to be apart. I also entertained thoughts of suicide for the same reason. But since Fred’s recent decline began, I have been trying to imagine a life after him. I’ve been reading up on maybe moving to another state or country, and trying to start a new life someplace else. This project has been the only thing keeping me busy and moderately sane during Fred’s illness.

Tonight will be devoted to Fred’s comfort and enjoyment. I hope it all goes well for Fred tomorrow….

*******

A blog posted on November 6, 2006.

On Monday, October 30, 2006, around 9 in the morning, my beloved Basset Hound, muse, and best friend Fred died at the age of 15 years and three months. Apparently the old notion that one dog year equals seven years in humans is incorrect; the authorities now say 15 dog years is the equivalent of 73, 78, or even 90 years in humans, but the most precise calculations indicate 83 years. At any rate, I had known Fred for 12 years and one month, and lived with him 11 years and one month.

Fred had received an excellent report on his annual check-up in January; apart from arthritis he was doing amazingly well for his age. Even photos taken as recently as his birthday in July show him robust and well-filled-out. But very suddenly, at the beginning of September, he began drinking and peeing heavily, and the vet made the fatal diagnosis of renal failure.

Some people suggested I put Fred to sleep right then, but I wanted to see if there was anything to be done to help him. As long as he seemed to be enjoying his life, I saw no reason to end it. I didn’t want him to suffer, however.

Almost as soon as the diagnosis was made, Fred’s health became very unpredictable. One day I would doubt he’d survive more than a few days (Can he make it through next weekend? Do we have at least that long?), then he’d turn a corner and I’d think he’d be fine for many months to come (Will he make it to Thanksgiving? Christmas? Will I give him the traditional midnight kiss on New Year’s during the “Twilight Zone” marathon on the Sci Fi channel?).

The vet had put Fred on a diet of special dog food, but Fred wouldn’t touch it. I was unemployed at this time, and spent much of my grocery budget buying human foods he might like, often eating it myself if he refused it. He went through a period where the only thing he’d eat was hamburger meat, then bacon, then it was chicken for the longest time. I was having trouble getting him to eat anything with fiber in it, and this solid meat diet was giving him diarrhea. Eventually I went back to his old favorite canned dog food served over kibble; that’s what he wanted all along, and once he got back onto that diet the diarrhea ceased.   

Some people said I couldn’t afford financially to continue giving Fred the medical care he needed, even once I landed a low-paying job. But I said I would not kill my best friend over something as trivial as money. I’d find a way to get him treatment. I learned how to give him sub-cutaneous fluid injections at home–a nerve-racking process, I assure you–but it was cheaper than paying a vet to do it.  

Then we’d be out walking or basking on the lawn of the apartment complex and people would come by and say,

–Oh, what a sweet, old dog he is. How old is he? He must’ve had a rich, full life.

The implication being,

–So why haven’t done the humane thing and put him to sleep yet?

As if all this wasn’t enough, during Fred’s final illness I was also frantically searching for a job so I would not be evicted, become homeless, and lose all my belongings. For a time I was also attempting to take a college technical writing course online, but I just couldn’t handle it and dropped it after a month.

The week of October 23rd Fred seemed to take a turn for the worse. One morning he over-ate and came close to getting a case of bloat. Another morning I came home from work to find him unable to right himself, laying in a pool of his own urine, and barking himself hoarse, though within minutes after my arrival, and for several days thereafter, he was his old self again.

It was torturing me to go off every night to a job I hated and didn’t really want in the first place, to work the graveyard shift, leaving Fred alone for ten hours, without company or somebody to look after his needs. I hoped he’d spend most of my time away sleeping. I was terrified Fred would die alone and frightened. I spent my work nights worrying about this, but usually during the last two hours of my shifts my panic would build up. I’d leave work and practically run to the bus stop (not that that made the bus arrive any faster), then once I got to my neighborhood I’d run home, praying for him to still be there, to hold on for me. And always, Fred managed to still be there, still alive, whiny and anxious to go outside.

But by the weekend of the 28th-29th it was clear Fred had taken a major turn for the worse. He’d been having some trouble up to now with his hind legs being wobbly, but that weekend he seemed to be having trouble standing up altogether. When he went outside I often had to hold his rear end up so he wouldn’t sit down in his own waste while he was eliminating it. I didn’t mind helping him in this way, but I also knew I couldn’t be with him around the clock.

By the afternoon of Sunday the 29th I had decided I’d have Fred put to sleep the next day. In fact, I might have done the deed that day had the vet hospital been open on Sundays.

I took Fred outside for what was to be his final trip out basking on the lawn. He used to love sitting outside, the sun’s rays easing his arthritis, and I wish I’d spent more time with him like that. He didn’t pee while we were outside–he’d already done that on my shirt when I carried him out. And I couldn’t get him to poop either.

We were sitting on the side of a small hill. At one point he flopped over onto his side–usually a sign of relaxation–but this time he didn’t look particularly comfortable.

At some point I felt of one of his hind legs and noticed for the first time the almost total lack of muscle. How had I not noticed this before? I knew Fred’s body as well as my own. In fact, years before, I had spotted a scratch on Fred’s cornea that took a vet with an optical instrument about five minutes of careful searching to find.

We stayed outside for an hour or maybe 90 minutes, until the sun had moved away to the point we were sitting in shadow. I carried Fred inside and sat down to look at my e-mail. (Lately I had taken to carrying Fred part of the way inside and outside on our walks because a) his hind legs had gotten so wobbly and his feet would slide on slick surfaces, and b) I often had to take him outside while I was right in the middle of something or about to run off to an appointment and so I was in a hurry. I hope he never felt rushed by me.)

I set a bowl of water in front of Fred and eventually he made his way around the room and sat directly behind my chair and began barking incessantly. Now over the years I’ve learned what all of Fred’s barks and noises and grunts and cow moos mean, but I couldn’t tell what he was carrying on about. It was getting on my nerves, and I finally turned around and said,

–Fred! What is the matter with you?

He kept barking, so I tried to gently ease him along to another place not so close to my ears. It was only then that I noticed he’d voided his bowels on the spot, was sitting in his feces, and was unable to move.  He was highly upset, and I was saddened, but it was the final piece of evidence I needed to convince me that I needed to put him to sleep in the next 24 hours. Fred’s personal dignity demanded that I do nothing less.

At some point I talked on the phone to my friend James about the situation and my decision. Fred was almost part James’s family as well, as Fred and I had stayed at James’s house for almost two months in 2004 after our apartment complex burned. Fred had claimed James’s living room couch as his personal throne, and repeated vacuumings had failed to remove Fred’s white hairs from the carpet.

James said that even though my vet’s office was across the street and less that 150 yards from my front door, he’d be by the next morning at 9:30 to drive us over there.

From this point on everything seemed like a scene out of a prison movie about a guy on death row. The Last Meal. The Last Treat. The Last This. The Last That. Every little thing became invested with extra symbolic weight. But the Governor never called with a stay of execution.

We napped off and on during the evening. I actually got Fred to sleep a little while in the bed. We had slept in the same bed together for almost eleven years, but about six months ago he stopped doing it, preferring instead his “dressing room” (my walk-in closet) or the floor of my bedroom. Was this because I’d purchased so many extra pillows? Was it because he was beginning to dribble urine a bit in his sleep and thought that would upset me? Or was he preparing me for a time when I’d be forced to sleep alone?

I was able, one evening on the week of the 23rd, to coax him into bed for a little while. I scratched his head and neck and he fell almost instantly to sleep. We slept alongside each other for a few hours, then he got up and wanted to be let down. And then, as I said, on the evening of the 29th he let me put him in the bed for a little while. For the most part he was uncomfortable, until he managed to lay himself across the entire width of the bed, at the exact halfway point. He slept for about thirty minutes to an hour, with me somehow curled into the fetal position in the upper half of the bed. It was good to be alongside his solid, protective, rumbling form one more time.

When we retired for the night, I considered sleeping next to him on the floor, as I had done with my cat Poose when he was dying, but Fred’s recent accidents on the carpet made that a bad idea. Some time after I’d turned off the light and gone to bed I heard the grunts and steaming, snorting noises that indicated Fred had come into the bedroom and settled down on the floor. I got up and gave him one last goodnight kiss on the top of his head.

I have an active dream life, but oddly enough, I’ve rarely dreamt about Fred, and when I have it’s always been a nightmare. Usually the bad dream would involve Fred being in danger somehow, getting loose and running out into the street or something like that. A few weeks ago I dreamt he’d fallen through the open risers of the stairs outside our apartment building and I didn’t think I’d catch him before he fell all the way through.

We woke up repeatedly during the night–roughly every 60 to 90 minutes. As soon as Fred made a noise I would spring out of bed to see what the problem was. A few times I woke on my own and heard nothing. I thought, I hoped, that maybe Fred had passed away peacefully in his sleep, that he’d cheated the executioner, so to speak, but I was wrong.

At some point we got up for the day. Fred peed on the living room rug and I got the leash and collar and, oddly enough, had to actually convince him to go outside. We never even made it to the lawn. We stayed on the wooden bridge that connected our apartment to the parking lot and the rest of the outside world. Fred peed again, and did a lot of standing and sitting around, looking down. I took a lot of photos. (Fred is the only animal I’ve had who has been sufficiently photographed.) I got a few shots of two birds sitting on an electric power line. But for some reason, when I wasn’t taking pictures of Fred I was looking away from him, off into the distance. I don’t know why.

After about 30 or 45 minutes, at 8:30, I turned around and walked Fred back inside. But just as I was doing this, James drove up and waved. To me he looked like the Grim Reaper himself. He was an hour early! Was he robbing Fred and me of our last hour together? I hadn’t even managed to call the vet’s office and decide whether to get them to send someone to put Fred to sleep here at home or to do the procedure over there. Then I finally decided it was better this way. Fred might die an hour earlier, but it would no doubt have been an agonizing hour for both of us.

James stayed outside. I took off Fred’s collar and leash out of force of habit. Fred drank some water and headed back to his dressing room to nap. I stopped him and said,

–Wait Fred. Don’t get too comfortable. We have to go.

Fred looked at me in a startled way. He was a creature of habit. He liked to do the same thing every day at the same time, just like me. What was this variation on the ritual?

I had the strangest thought: Was this the look the Tsar and his family gave the Bolsheviks when they announced their death sentence?

I took some more photos.

I gathered together various pricey, never-used food products I’d gotten at the vet’s, products with a money-back guarantee. I put them in a backpack and set them outside, telling James to get the vet hospital staff to credit these purchases to my account while I was in the treatment room with Fred.

I put Fred’s collar and leash back on and wrapped him in a blue towel, both to give him comfort and protect my shirt from possible incontinence. I carried him out of the home we’d shared for two-and-a-half years, set him down on the stoop, locked the door, noticed that James had still not gotten the backpack (he was cleaning the garbage out of his back seat), so I awkwardly got the backpack onto my back, then picked Fred up again. Halfway to the car I felt some twitching and rumbling under the towel, so I set Fred down on the lawn and he had one last bowel movement, which James then scooped up and threw away.

We got into the back seat and headed out the back way of my apartment complex. James asked a strange question–if we were going to the usual vet across the street or another one. I could barely talk at this point. Tears had begun streaming down my face and my throat was twisted in knots. I had promised myself I’d keep a stiff upper lip in public and save my breakdowns for home, but it wasn’t working.   

We pulled up to the vet’s office and James went inside with the backpack while I extricated Fred from the back seat. I assumed James had announced I was bringing in Fred for euthanasia because when I got in the door the receptionist said,

–A room’s ready for you…down on the right,

and a nurse who herself looked on the verge of tears stood in the treatment room doorway to usher us in. All was in readiness. (I’m sure I was quite a sight–a near-middle-aged man crying, carrying in a dog who was clearly uncomfortable.)

It was only later that I learned James had not announced why I was there. When he walked in the receptionist asked who he was there for and all he said was “Fred.” He didn’t say “Fred Bankston” or “James Bankston’s Basset Hound Fred” or anything like that. Just “Fred.” Fred was a one-named celebrity, like Cher or Elvis. James had but to say the name and the hospital staff knew everything, the who as well as the why.

Nurse #1 asked my story. I gave her the basics. I said I didn’t need to see the vet. Let’s just get this taken care of. She left the room and came back with a blanket for Fred to sit on.

Nurse #1 left again and Fred and I had some alone time together. I thanked Fred for all he’d done for me, for all the good times we’d had, and apologized for the many times I’d failed him. Then Nurse #2 walked in and explained the euthanasia procedure to me. She would take Fred into the back and hook him onto a catheter, then bring him back into the treatment room. Fred’s vet was actually there that day, and he would come in and administer the lethal dose. This was different from how it was done with my other Basset, Cleo. She was to be given two shots with a hypodermic. The first was to relax her, the second, to be administered ten minutes later, was to actually put her to sleep, but she was in such bad shape the first shot killed her.

One of the nurses asked about cremation arrangements. (I’m sorry, but I objected to talking about such things in Fred’s presence, silly as that might sound.) Did I want the remains returned? Definitely. Did I want them returned in an urn or would I rather get them back in a plastic bag, allowing me to either disperse the ashes as I wished or get an urn of my own. I picked the latter option. I trust my own tastes in design before those of others.

Nurse #2 was unsure if she could carry Fred by herself. I told her how to pick him up and carry him in a way that wouldn’t hurt his left shoulder.   

I paced around the treatment room. They were sure taking their sweet time. I hoped Fred didn’t die in the back without me. I heard dogs barking and yelping back there, but none sounded like him.

Finally Nurse #2 came in with Fred and the vet. I had to tell the vet everything I’d already told the nurses about Fred’s condition and how I’d arrived at the decision. The vet seemed to agree it was the right time, but then again, he had implied in a September phone conversation with my mother that he thought that was the right time too. (I say “implied.” He made it very clear he didn’t believe in telling people what they should or should not do with their animals.)

I made everybody switch sides and get on the other side of the table so that Fred’s good right eye would be facing me.

The vet asked if I wanted some private time with Fred and I said that was okay, that I’d already had some. He explained,

–This may not be like it is in the movies. He might not gently close his eyes and drift off to sleep. This may be quick.

Fred was not looking at me. I had my arms around him. Cleo had died looking into my eyes.

Fred jutted his head up and struggled to let out three successive barks, but no sound came out. He was so weak.

The vet’s thumb was over the hypodermic plunger.

I said,

–Okay.

Fred looked down.

Fred was not looking at me. I had my arms around him.

Fred let out a belching grunt, a familiar sound. He looked straight ahead.

Before the hypodermic was even empty Fred’s head dropped down, his body slumped, and fell over to the left, away from me.

He was not looking at me.

It was just that quick.

The vet put down the hypodermic, took up his stethoscope, listened, then whispered,

–He’s gone.

Fred had died peacefully, but you couldn’t tell it from his face. His eyes and mouth were still open, his upper canine teeth bared almost aggressively over his lips. He almost looked like he was on the attack, something uncharacteristic of a dog so good-natured and friendly.

The vet quietly assured me I’d done the right thing. He said he’d had a long phone conversation with my mom where she’d explained about all the tough times Fred and I had been through. (His recap of the conversation matched my mother’s version exactly.)

I didn’t care that tears and snot were streaming down my face.

The vet took off his stethoscope and began folding it up, when Fred unhinged his jawand let forth with a loud, violent, ragged rush of air–inhalation or exhalation, I couldn’t tell.

Horrified, I yelled,

–WHAT’S THAT???!!!

But the vet assured me it was just an automatic bodily reaction, that Fred was indeed dead. A bit later, Fred’s body did this again, three times in a row. I cried harder. And I even heard the vet swallow down a sob. He asked if I wanted some time alone with Fred. I said I did, and he wished me well and said he’d enjoyed being Fred’s vet. Nurse #2 told me to tap on the window in the door when I was ready for her to take Fred away.

I stroked Fred’s side and head. Felt of his rope-like tail. Rubbed his silken, velvety ear between my thumb and fore-finger. Tried unsuccessfully to close his eyelid. Weighed his “weird little bag,” the scrotum-like sebaceous cyst that hung from his chest. Now we’d never figure out what the heck that was. Patted his once pillowy flank, upon which I’d rested my head so many times. Kissed the cinnamon red circle of hair on his right side. Squeezed his massive feet. Why had I never gotten around to making plaster casts of his paws, or for that matter, recordings of his voice? Ran my fingers under his dewlaps, his chin and soft mouth, his black nose, over the tip of his tongue, protruding out now between his front teeth. He hated anyone trying to bother with his teeth, and never let me brush them. By the time they were in serious need of cleaning he was too old to risk the anesthesia that goes with dog teeth cleaning. I did not lift his lips to look at his teeth this time, not did I try to clean the gunk out of his nostrils–he hated that too. I let him win these two battles.  

I knocked for the nurse, and Fred and I went our separate ways.

I went out into the lobby. James was outside getting money from an ATM. He had decided to pay for the cremation. (My mother later offered to cover half of that.) The receptionist said everything else had been taken care of. (My mom had agreed also to cover the euthanasia costs month before.)

James found out later that the guy that was doing the cremation was a friend of a friend and a trustworthy guy, so I’m not likely to get back the ashes of some old lady’s Pekinese instead of Fred’s.

James asked me where I wanted to go and I said,

–Home,

but as soon as we pulled up in front of my apartment I thought the better of it and asked if we could drive around awhile instead.

So we drove, as I free-associated and wiped the tears off my face. I repeated an observation that I made when my dad died:

–The only good thing about death is that when the worst happens, you can at least stop having to worry about it.

And I also realized that I had not in fact dropped dead of a heart attack from the shock of losing Fred, as I had long suspected I would.

James and I then drove over to the home of a friend who had played a major role in providing Fred with care the last two months, and I cried on her shoulder. Then James took me to breakfast, where I calmed down considerably and was even able to laugh a little. We ran some errands, but by noon I was tired enough that I wanted to go to bed. I had not decided whether or not I was going to work that night–I’d already missed two nights in the last few days (Wednesday and Sunday), and thought if I missed more I might get fired. But if I went I’d need to get some sleep first.

As soon as I stepped into the empty apartment I lost it all over again. I had two messages from my mom–the vet’s office had to call her to confirm her address when they ran her credit card. I called her back and we had a long conversation, or rather, she talked, while I blurted out words through strangled sobs. She was amazed I’d been in the room with Fred when they put him to sleep; she said she couldn’t have handled seeing that. I said I would never have considered not being by his side for that. She told me I should consider getting a kitten next time around instead of a big dog, but I said I’m going to wait and see where I wind up geographically before I get another animal. She said,

–Whatever you do, you need to get out of that apartment as much as possible.

–But where?…I have no place else to go!

She gently, but repeatedly, suggested I should try to go to my job that night, saying boring, monotonous work might get my mind off my grief, that that helped her with my dad’s death. We discussed the similarities between my father’s death and Fred’s, how both during their long, exhausting final illnesses had had brief periods of seeming recovery that had built up in us false hopes, how complicated the grieving processes connected to them were, what huge vacuums their absences left in our lives.

I took a shower. When I stepped out and stood before the sink I looked around, automatically expecting to see Fred in one of the two spots he traditionally occupied after my showers: the bedroom floor, or his dressing room. But he wasn’t to be seen.

I spent an hour tossing around in my bed, unable to sleep because my heart was still beating too quickly from all the crying. I finally knocked myself out with half a Clonazepam and slept five hours. While drifting off I tried to convince myself I felt Fred’s massive form on the lower right-hand side of the bed.

James had said that whether I decided to go to work or not, he’d come by at 10pm to check on me. For whatever reason I decided I would go to work. I had enough to worry about without getting fired or getting an even smaller paycheck than the puny one I was expecting.  

Why hadn’t I spent more time with Fred? Why did I go to the movies Friday and Saturday nights, right before he died? Was I trying to escape the sick room atmosphere of my apartment? I had had no moral qualms about getting away now and then from my dad’s bedside when he was dying, whenever the atmosphere became a bit too much, but abandoning Fred like that made me feel terribly, terribly guilty.

I had decided years ago to spend as much time with Fred as possible, because I knew that when he died I wasn’t going to be thinking,

–Gee, I wish I’d spent less time with him.

I consciously turned down engagements and canceled activities so I could be with Fred instead. I spent the better part of five years at home with him when I was unemployed. (And privately, part of me had hoped I’d stay unemployed throughout the rest of Fred’s lifetime, so I could always be with him.) And yet at the end there still wasn’t enough time. Why had I gone and done so many frivolous things with so many tiresome people? Why had I rushed so many of our walks? Why didn’t I sit outside with him more? Why did I not cuddle with him on the floor more often? Why did I let the TV and the Internet cut into our time together? Why didn’t I spend more time just sitting watching him sleep?

But on the other hand, Fred did have a very happy life. I’ve been looking at the photos I took over the years, and he was always a jolly dog.

He was also exceedingly friendly and never met a stranger, so that he was always shocked when his love and kindness were met by hostility from certain animals. He especially beamed when petted by kids.

And he was a spoiled dog as well. When most dogs get a sticker burr in their paws they stop and chew on it until they remove it. But Fred would stand still, raise the injured paw imperiously, and wait for me to pluck the sticker burr out. If I didn’t do so immediately he’d cast me a doleful look over the shoulder.

Up until a few years ago he liked to climb up into my bed. (Eventually I took the mattress and box springs off their frame and sat them directly onto the floor so he could climb up easier.) But when I was at home he would walk into the bedroom, place his front paws and chest on the edge of the mattress, then look over his shoulder, expecting me to be right there to give his hind legs and butt a boost up to the bed. He didn’t need this boost–he just expected it. I know this because when I wasn’t at home he’d climb up all by himself.

And when our apartment building burned a few years ago, I didn’t grab any of my precious books, my keys, my money, or even any clothes. I just put on a bathrobe, got the leash and walked out with Fred. (As it turned out all the rest of our stuff managed to survive the fire.) Fred found the evening a bit of a bore, and napped through some of it.

And so James appeared, as promised, Monday at 10pm. I told him I was going to work and I gathered my things. For once, I didn’t leave a light on, nor did I leave the TV on to give Fred company.

Out on the stoop James said,

–Man, I don’t know who’s having a harder time with this, you or me.

Sarcastically I asked,

–Oh? How many crying jags have you had today?

–None, but I almost did just now. All these years I’ve come to pick you up and drive you someplace you’ve always said the same thing to Fred, the same kind of good-bye, just before you shut the door. But tonight you said nothing.

I’d not been at work long before I began to seriously doubt the wisdom of going in that night. But I also realized that it would be a long, long time before I ever did feel right, and apparently I couldn’t just stop going to work, as much of a blessing as that would’ve been to me psychologically.

I sat all night at my terminal, checking for errors on digital scans. For once I didn’t suffer from really bad eye strain, because my eyes kept welling up with tears all night. My co-workers didn’t seem to notice, un-evolved cud-chewing brutes that they were. As long as I leaned in toward my screen and held my hands up to my face in pretentious author jacket photo poses, nobody noticed anything amiss.

But the music I had with me was a problem. The only thing that keeps me sane on that job is the fact I can listen to music while I work, so I bring about two dozen CDs every night. But everything was getting me down. The joyous warblings of the Polyphonic Spree depressed me. All the classical pieces sounded like funeral marches. All love songs were out. Any songs mentioning fire or burning (you’d be surprised how many there are) reminded me of my baby dog getting cremated. Oddly enough, Bright Eyes didn’t depress me; compared to the way I feel right now, indie mopester Conor Oberst sounds like Norman Vincent Peale.  

I was able to let go and cry a little bit on the walk from the office to the bus stop. But I got ambushed at the bus stop by Lou Reed’s song, “Perfect Day.” When it came on I figured it was Lou singing to his girlfriend about a romantic day they’d spent together–what harm could there be in that song? Then came the lines,

–Just a perfect day/You made me forget myself/I thought I was someone else/Someone good….

and I just lost it. Then I imagined how I looked, a fat guy in his 40s, wearing warm-ups, crying quietly at a bus stop at 7:30am during rush hour traffic, and I felt truly pathetic.

I got back to the apartment complex. No white face was waiting expectantly for me in the living room window. The detritus of Fred’s life and illness was still in evidence all over the loudly echoing apartment: still-filled water bowls, spilled kibble, half-eaten cans of dog food and bottles of baby food, bloody paper towels, liters of pedialyte, pills, sub-q bags, tubes, and needles. The living room carpet was still wet from where he’d peed on it 24 hours before, back when he was still alive.

The morning stretched out blankly before me. For the first time in eleven years I had no caring duties or rituals to perform. There was nobody to walk, nobody to clean up after, to feed, to give treats to, to pet, to talk to. Nobody.

*******

A blog posted on November 8, 2006

Monday night I woke to find I had a message from the vet’s: they had Fred’s ashes. I broke down yet again. But you know how little kids cry? A kid will fall down and skin his knee, cry his head off for a minute-and-a- half, then suddenly stop, and 50 seconds later he’ll be dry-eyed, quietly sipping his chocolate milk. It was like that.

I have been pricing cremation urns and boxes online. I haven’t decided what form of container to get–a box or an urn–nor have I decided whether to get it made out of stone, metal, or wood. I don’t care how much it costs–Fred deserves the best.

Tuesday morning after work I headed to the neighborhood Baptist mega-church to vote, then went by the vet’s to get Fred.  

Fred was a large, beautiful dog, yet his ashes now weigh a little over one pound. Eggshell-white, they came in a clean zip-lock bag, surrounded by bubble wrap, and placed in a white cardboard box about the size of an index card file box.

There was an envelope on top of the box with Fred’s name printed on it elegantly. Several hours passed before I thought to check inside the envelope. There was a printed notice that said the actual cremation had been done on November 2nd, my birthday, All Soul’s Day, the Day of the Dead.

Tuesday night I went by a McDonald’s before work. I got a burger to eat then and another for my break at work. When I took my break at 4am I discovered some son of a bitch co-worker had stolen my burger, leaving behind the wrappings. This especially pissed me off since my job pays so badly I have only $3.50 to last me until Friday.

This incident reminded me of the first camping trip I went on with the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. We were told to bring a sack lunch, then cook the rest of our meals. The other boys stole my lunch, then later grabbed me and tried to force my face down onto the bloody vagina of a dog in heat that wandered into the camp….

*******

A blog posted on November 12, 2006.

Sunday night James came by to take me to work, and using pessimistic logic in twenty minutes basically talked me out of the two job prospects I’d been pinning my hopes onto.

–Well, the problem with the restaurant critic job I applied for in Dallas was first they just wanted samples of my work, but now they’re asking me for my strategy of how to do restaurant coverage now, next year, and five years down the road. Fuck if I know, man! I haven’t been in Dallas for 22 years. I only heard about the job a couple weeks ago–how do they expect me to suddenly pull a big long-term strategy out of my hat like that? I’m just not an idea man. I can’t just make up ideas instantly like that.

–So you’d do better with a job where they tell you what to do, like an assembly line?

–No, goddammit! That’s not what I said….

And then…

–So this guy Andy in Shanghai contacted me last week about this teaching job, and Cosme [my friend in Shaghai] wrote me a few days later and said I should do it only if I really, really want to, but that I needed to hurry up and make a decision.

–Yes, you should.

–But then he turned around and said it would be better to wait until March because winter in Shanghai this year is supposed to be a bitch. And I said be it November or March, there’s no way I could come up with the up-front money any time soon that I’d need to fly over there and get set up. This fucking job I have now doesn’t pay enough for me to save anything.

–Do you really want to go to China?

–Not especially. As far as Asia goes I’m much more interested in Japan, but that takes even more up-front money.

–Then why would you take the job?

–In the vain hope I could use it to get a similar job in Europe when the contract ended, because that’s where I want to be in the fucking first place, and it’s hard for Americans to get work in Europe unless an American company sends them or they marry a European or something like that.

–But you don’t want to teach in the first place.

–Right, but it may be the only kind of work that could get me over there.

–I think you should just go to Europe and write, since that what you want to do and that’s what you’re good at.

–But how the hell am I gonna support myself over there doing that?

That conversation knocked the wind out of my sails. I’d been looking into teaching overseas for over two months. Frantic research into the topic was the only thing that kept my mind occupied during Fred’s final illness and has been the only hope I’ve been clinging to while at this hopeless, miserable, dead-end job I started last month. Now everything seemed to be drying up and blowing away. I went into a deep depression that only intensified once I got to the job.

Monday afternoon I had to get up before I’d gotten my full requirement of sleep so I could go to a job interview. This was at a fancy cigar store in my neighborhood. I was interviewed by the Assistant Manager and the owner. I seemed to have all the right answers, but when the owner, a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper pompadour, a shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest, a gold chain and medallion around his neck, and a large booger in his right nostril, asked what I smoke currently I said that I stopped smoking a few years ago. After that he got very quiet and the next day the Assistant Manager e-mailed to tell me I’d not gotten the job.

I went back home after the interview and tried to grab two more hours of sleep before work, but failed.

I already wrote about Tuesday–voting, getting Fred’s ashes back, and having my lunch stolen.

Wednesday I also had to get up earlier than I wanted to to go to a second interview at a bookstore. I’d already interviewed with the Manager, and now, for some fucking reason, they wanted me to interview with two Assistant Managers. I probably queered that interview too. They asked if there was anything I’d like to change about myself and I was too tired to think of anything clever, so I just said I wish I wasn’t so easily discouraged.

I also told of how when I was the Assistant Manager of a bookstore, I didn’t have to get stuck on the register all the time, and could occupy myself instead with working with the books. One of the interviewers said,

–What? You don’t like working the register?

I said that if I have a say in the matter I much prefer working with the books.

But the main thing about that experience was I couldn’t help staring one of the interviewer’s teeth. You know how some women have huge breasts and dress in tight, revealing tops, then get mad when men stare at them? Same principle here, only instead of having a big rack this woman was profoundly buck-toothed.

Not only did her teeth stick out in all sorts of directions like a log jam in a flume, but her huge gums also protruded forward to where I kept imagining what the bones in her mouth looked like. I’ve long been fond of the folksy expression, “He’s so buck-toothed he could eat an apple through a picket fence,” but this woman went above and beyond even that. I found it hard to concentrate on the Q&A with those freakish things poking out at me.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings I actually managed to wait at the bus stop for my ride back home without crying.

Thursday I managed to get in a full, uninterrupted day of sleep before work….

I woke about 6:30pm on Thursday. It was totally dark outside. I didn’t know where I was, what the day or time was, or how long I’d been sleeping. As soon as my awareness came back to me I was filled again with what can only be called a suicidal despair, with sorrow over Fred and utter hopelessness over my job situation. I wondered if that would be the night I finally broke out the sleeping pills and plastic bag.

I was frustrated over the stupid, simplistic advice people keep giving me. Feeling down? Go to your dead-end job and do pointless, repetitious, monotonous work—that’ll fix it.

Exhausted from your job? Sleep less and go to the gym. Never mind that you’re so tired you fall asleep at work.

Job’s not paying enough to pay the bills AND eat? Then snap your fingers and find another job. Never mind that you’ve been looking everywhere with no luck and every place else that is hiring pays $1.00 to $2.00 less than this one.

Short of money? Cut into that sleeping time and sell things on E-Bay. Better yet, now that you’ve lost Fred, one of the two things you care about, it’s time to sell the other thing you love, your library, because it’s unhealthy and weird to have that many books anyway.

Feeling hopeless? Read the Bible and pray. Never mind that the verses and the prayers seem like empty words to me at best and mocking words at worst.

What? Still upset about that dog? He was only a dog! Says […],

–Well, lots of people have lost animals–that kind of loss doesn’t compare to the loss of a parent, grandparent, or especially of a spouse?

Oh yeah, says who? Fred was bonded to me practically like a spouse. It was a spiritual kinship.

–Oh well, that is your choice then….

What? Loving a dog is now an “alternative lifestyle choice?”  

Matters got worse when I went to work Thursday night, got my paycheck, and realized after I paid my bills I’d have $125 left upon which to eat and get to and from work for the next two weeks. How can I save any money that way? How can I finance a job-hunting trip out of town on that? And for its shitty wages, lack of insurance, and poor conditions, this place is the only full-time offer I got. I crunched the numbers and realized this gig pays over $10,000 less a year than my last full-time job.

When I told […] this [that person] said,

–Well, a lot of people have to live on less than that. Be glad you even have a job and aren’t on the street. And stop harping about that uRb-N-gUyDz job. That’s ancient history. God may not even let you get that much money again!

Pointless pointless pointless. No hope. No way out. How to get out of this dead-end, this trap?

Friday I decided to cut into my grocery money and go to the movies. I caught a double feature: Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” and “Flags of Our Fathers.” “Marie Antoinette” was sumptuous and entertaining, plus I was predisposed to like the main character, since we share a birthday and a history of French spending sprees….

I had an hour-long wait between movies. Since I was determined not to sit through any more of those fucking interminable advertisements, I spent the hour pacing on the pavement in front of the theatre, to the apparent bewilderment of some of the patrons. Practically every male between the ages of 14 and 25 who left the theatre was making a lame attempt at imitating a routine from “Borat.”

“Flags of Our Fathers” was very long (I really only noticed because I had to piss so badly). but it was very well done. Great action and a wonderful commentary on the horrors of war. It was probably Ryan Phillippe’s best performance since the first half of “Cruel Intentions” (when he’s still a manipulative prick, before he falls in love and becomes moral and a sap).      

But the sight of all these soldiers watching their friends die horribly naturally turned my thoughts back to Fred. I walked almost a mile from the theatre home and cried pretty much all the way….

I don’t think anyone really grasps how bad and how hopeless I feel right now. I always thought Fred would stick around until the good times returned, but things have only gotten worse. I went back to bed and had what was probably the worst crying session I’ve had since Fred died. I had to cover my face with my blankets because my screaming was so loud I was afraid I’d alarm the neighbors. It took me awhile to get back to sleep.

I dreamt I was stuck on a lofty bridge in what somewhat resembled downtown Austin. Flood waters were raging and several bridges and parts of bridges were being bended and  snapped by the power of the water. Was there any escape?

I was awakened by the noise of a column of boxes of books falling over and hitting a window. I got up and began moving things around, in an attempt to make the storage set-up safer….

*******    

A blog posted on November 19, 2006.

Sleepwalking

Not much to report. Nowadays I get off work at 7am, catch the bus around 7:30 or 7:35am, get home at 7:47am, shower the filth of the outside world off me, check my e-mail, read a bit, retire between 9am and 1pm, sleep until 9pm, get ready, catch the bus at 10:05pm, then sit at work from 11pm to 7am, trying not to fall asleep or lose my mind from the boredom. I make a point to avoid small talk with the sub-human mouth-breathers at the job; the only real conversation I have all week is with James when he drives me to work on Sunday nights when the bus doesn’t run. On my days off I either sleep around the clock or go to two or three movies in a row to try to forget the situation I’m in.

What happened this week? My friend D___ got out of the hospital okay. My friend Max sent me some CDs he’d burned. I told him all about the Paris trip. (I was thinking about the Paris trip the other morning while waiting for the bus, trying to figure out how the hell I can ever find a job over there, when a guy pulled over his car, got out carrying a Mapquest print-out, and announced he was lost, didn’t speak English, and was from France. An omen?) I slept around the clock on my day off Friday, then spent Saturday at the movies….

I also had to cancel my cable because my job doesn’t pay me enough to afford it….

Aww, fuck it. This is bullshit….

*******    

A blog posted on November 21, 2006.

I got up about 9pm last night, after about seven hours of sleep. I was still tired, but I was also very nauseated and had IBS. I wound up calling in sick to work, a move which cost me $66 that I can’t spare, but I really didn’t want to be shitting in my pants on the bus, at the bus stop, on the walk to the office, or every couple minutes at the office.  

If you don’t have IBS you can’t imagine what it’s like–the uncertainty that you might have an accident in public. And it’s brought on–surprise, surprise–by stress.

I went back to bed about 10pm and slept until 6am. I’ll probably try to get a little job-hunting done and go to bed yet again, then try to make the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning shift. At least due to the holiday I’ll have four days off later this week. Now if I can just figure out how to get out of this job and into something better.

[…] sent me two job notices yesterday–one with the fucking post office job and the other as a military journalist in the National Guard. Doesn’t [that person] know there’s a fucking war on? I don’t want some fucking Iraqis cutting my goddamn head off on Al-Jazeera!

There has to be some way out of this dead-end I’m in now.

*******    

A blog posted on November 25, 2006.

[When James and I were running around the other day] …I told James a bit about the work I do, how I see pages every night of books by best-selling authors and I can’t believe how poorly-written so many of these books are. James reiterated his belief that I should lower my standards of writing and try to produce something commercial and popular instead of “literary.” I said I didn’t think the Paris book was complicated or literary at all, and as for fiction, well, I’m just not especially motivated to write fiction. It’s just not my thing.

I added that I often play games with myself at work: if I get a page of a book that is of true literary excellence, I try to identify the author (assuming the author or title isn’t printed on the page). A writer given to digressions and bitching about his job? Well, I know it’s not my book. He mentions the “Cosmodemonical Telegraph Company”? Must be Henry Miller. Another writer mixes Catholic imagery with homo-erotic passages about French prison life? Gotta be Jean Genet.

Sometimes I try to guess the book by the typeface used. I got several pages of footnotes the other night that I rightly guessed were from Carlo D’Este’s biography of General Patton.  

But for the most part the books that come through the office are dull and poorly-written–Christian romances, do-it-yourself manuals, sword-and-sorcery novels with lots of people saying “Aye” to to each other. Thanks God I’ve started bringing my own paperwork with me to work to help pass the time….

*******

A blog posted on December 1, 2006.

Fred’s been dead one month as of today, Thursday the 30th.

The pain has not lessened. The vacuum left by his absence is huge.

I spent as much of the day as I could sleeping, so I’d not have to think about it.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s