Doodleman pinschers? Please.

Every year, in the spring, Tracy goes to Utah with a few friends, most notably Alison, her old high-school buddy, and Jane, the one who rents the house near Moab for six weeks.

Tracy and I would text or email from time to time, hers on the order of “had another wonderful hike today” and mine on the order of “more rain today; worried about the sump pump.” But we didn’t communicate much. She was out in nature, which is what she likes most on earth. She was having her David Brower-Edward Abbey moment of clarity.

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Utah. Note heartening lack of dogs

So imagine my surprise when she wrote me, “Skyful of stars tonight; Jane is researching poodle mixes.”

Poodle mixes! It was then that I felt the noose tightening. Even 800 miles away, surrounded by all the  majesty that southeastern Utah can provide — and that’s a lotta vistas — she is plotting what kind of dog to get.

I have already expressed reservations about the dog. I do not see why we need a dog. We have a cat; I’d certainly be willing to go to two cats. Three cats, even, if that what it takes to shut down this line of inquiry. But no. She’s fixated on a dog. A dog! Imagine.

Tracy has lot of allies. They come from everywhere. Just mention that you’re thinking of getting a dog, and they’re immediately on you, phones out, showing you photos of Butch or Lord Byron or Shaggypaws or Irene, each with insanely needy eyes, staring out and saying, “yes, yes, I will follow you anywhere and lay down my life for you if needed.”

If Musty or K-9 or Clover were a human being, it would be said to have serious boundary issues. They’re like stalkers, dogs — they really, really love you and nothing you can do will dissuade them from following you, because you are the leader of the pack.

Is that what you want? An animal that would follow a tree stump if it could perform the appropriate dominance rituals? A fickle, heart-on-its-sleeve, let’s-sleep-together-so-I-can-take-up-all-the-room-and-snore, pet-like entity? People actively seek that out? What does that say about people?

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People having fun without dogs.

A cat does not do that. A cat does not care who the leader of the pack is, because he’s in a pack of one and he’s the leader. A cat does not place any burden of expectation on you. Cat ownership is a series of one-night stands.

I have one committed relationship in my life, plus my daughters to whom I am also committed, and a few intense friendships — why do I need a creature from way down the food chain to bond with?

Tracy thinks the a poodle mix would be good. They don’t shed, I guess. And people who own them think they’re great, because people who own a special breed of dog think that it’s the specialest in whole damn world. The famous Jane came up with a poodle/dachshund mix (Poohund?) that is, quite frankly, the ugliest dog I have ever seen.

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The poohund. I mean, really?


A little googling reveals that poodle mixes are the most popular designer dogs at the moment. (Doesn’t your blood chill a little bit when you hear the phrase “designer dog”?) Among the species are Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Bassetoodles, Bich-poos, Cavapoos, Aussidoodles, Peekapoos, and the Doodleman Pinscher. Really? Peekapoos?

Great Dane is a dog. Peekapoo is a brand of lingerie.

Tracy makes many points. A dog would get us out of the house. (So would going to a movie). A dog is a lot more fun to play with than a cat. (Who said the need for constant play was a desirable trait in a pet?) A poodle is hypoallergenic. (So is an elephant; I don’t want one of those either.)  And, I dunno, we could dress it up and have pretend tea parties. (OK, she didn’t say that. But you could do it. Dogs are malleable.) (Need I say that a cat would never put up with someone dressing him in a cute pillbox hat. He’d be out of there, demonstrating the common sense of cats. Dogs and common sense: Not so much.)

And also, I have a pet. His name is Pancho. Just guessing here, but I don’t think he’d like a dog in his house. And my primary loyalty is to Pancho, who is a real cat as opposed to imaginary dog. Why would anyone want to torment him with a dog? Who could be that cruel? I can’t say for sure, but I am personally acquainted with a prime suspect.

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Pancho senses doom. Will the humans betray him?

But still, this conversation persists. People who think of me as weak-kneed and passive in domestic matters will have another think coming. Sure, my wife could convince me to hike five weeks in the Himalaya, but this is different. Yes, she managed to persuade me to invest in Berkshire Hathaway, although I didn’t see what the the big deal was about a shirt company. The stone circle in the front yard? It’s there, even though I mocked it. It looks pretty spiffy now, but…she can’t be right about everything.

The Cold War continues. The Vegas odds against my eventual victory are daunting, but I persist. I’m like Rocky. Perhaps I will buy a stuffed dog and bring it home, and every so often I would put it near Tracy’s face and say, “I love you so much, Tracy. Pet me please.” Wiggle wiggle. “Now I have to take a shit.”

No one is thinking, if only there were a dog here.



Photography by Tracy “just the pathetic screams of a loser” Johnston

General help by Michelle “No nickname this week” Mizera



Really, you never know

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Boy looking for a cello

About a month ago I went to see “Second Time Around,” a show at the San Francisco Marsh featuring the story telling of Charlie Varon and the cello playing of Joan Jeanrenaud. It was splendid, the conversation between Varon and Jeanrenaud exciting and unexpected. The music was all original, composed by Jeanrenaud, and it worked wonderfully with theme of the tale, which was about memory and communication and loss and death — not cheerful topics, but rendered with a light touch.

Full disclosure: I was an early investor in the project. I stress that this was not the kind of investment where the investor makes any money. I got opening night tickets, and I may get a T-shirt. Not anything that’s going to get into the Panama Papers.

I did it partially because I know Varon and like his work, and partly (I confess) because I’ve had a long distance lust relationship with Jeanrenaud for decades, dating back to her long tenure with the Kronos Quartet.

A lot of what the Kronos played was challenging to a person whose understanding of serious music kind of ended with Stravinsky. But when I was confused and weary during a concert, there was always her to look at. Although she was always remote and unapproachable on stage, she communicated a certain thrilling sexiness. Does it make me a bad person for thinking that way? Am I, perhaps, a sexist?  It may be. Nevertheless, that’s what happened, and I am required to tell the truth, mostly.

I still haven’t met her; it’s best that my love remain pure.

Varon and Jeanrenaud worked for a long time on the piece. Both needed to learn a whole new way of being on the stage. I know that they were both excited by the work, and the result. And they were right. It’s really good.

Here’s the thing: In a couple of weeks, the show is going to close, and it ain’t going to reopen. No touring, no return engagement. It’s a damn shame, but there it is. Most of the remaining shows are sold out, but, according to the Marsh calendar, there are three performances with tickets still available: April 9, April 16 and April 17.

Really, go see it. All art is transient, one way or another, but this really will disappear in a blink.


I have a top drawer in my desk. It’s where I put important things. Alas, a lot of things have seemed important over the last 30 years. So the drawer is jammed full — you have to pat it down just to close it — and I have some hesitation about looking for anything; there could be uncashed checks and unanswered summonses in there. Or a snake.

I recently made an pathetic attempt to, uh, curate the drawer. I got no further than the large pile of business cards I had thrown in there over the years. A lot of them were entirely mysterious, people I had no memory of ever meeting. (I bet you have a similar stash of business cards somewhere; it might be amusing to try to cull them sometime).

It would be silly of me to write about the sundry people represented by the cards. Maybe there are some people I really should remember, but I am real bad at reconstructing lobby conversations or dinner party chat. There might even be people who are irritated that I don’t remember them — I have a terrible memory for names anyway.  Or are, unbeknownst to me, hiding from the cops.

Still, there was grist:

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Many more where these came from

At top right is a card for an interesting new attraction in Montreal. It’s not a maze at all; it’s an “escape game,” although racing through echoing sewers is not part of the deal. Rather, you’re presented with a scenario (ours concerned a crazed scientist with a bomb and a lost love) that you must solve by ransacking the room for clues. It’s like being inside a mystery story. It’s very cool.

There are escape games in many urban areas. Google is your friend.

Next is the business card of the director of a worthy charity. On the reverse side he wrote “Madagascar” — and I have no idea why. But I saved it, because someday I may wish information about lemurs. Below it is the card of Le Bar a Huitres, a restaurant in Paris I have no memory of entering. But  I love the maps on the back, with appropriate landmarks and useful data, including Metro stops. I advocate maps on every business card; so functional, so lovely.

Center below is Alan A. Ayres, the “gentleman host” on a cruise ship we once taught on. We were all glorified help; we dined with the paying guests, but we were not of them. Ayres’ job was to dance with the unaccompanied ladies, of whom there were a plethora. He provided unthreatening companionship, loaded with buckets of British charm. And he was a wonderful dancer.

In his previous life, he and his partner had run a B&B in Dorset. Then the partner died, and he moped about for a bit, and then he decided to rejoin the carousel of life. Our last night aboard, he took Tracy for a sample dance. She looked fabulous; Alan was a gifted partner, and a gifted  partner can make almost anyone glide enchantingly around the floor.

On the left we have, top to bottom, the best coffee place in Lone Pine (because I might need that data sometime), a Libby Schaaf business card from when she was working for Ignacio de la Fuente (and she helped save the trees on our block), and a business card from Tamim Ansary, author of the wonderful “Destiny Disrupted”, to whom I exhibited fanship, although where and when that gushing happened is currently unknown.

In the middle is an oversized card I picked up somewhere. It is for a company called Previously Owned by a Gay Man. They sell “openly good furniture.” You can read the pitch. Sometimes I am very happy living in the modern world.

Did I throw away any of the cards? Not yet. They could still prove useful, because life is complicated and often circular, and you never know. That’s my mantra; that’s why why my drawer is still full.


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The book in question

It took me only a few hours to read “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics,” but they were intense hours. Rovelli disposes with the familiar bits of science history (relativity theory, quantum theory) pretty quickly, and then settles into more speculative realms, the possible implications of the current  views of how the universe works.

String theory? Sure, that’s there. But loop quantum gravity? Have you heard about that? Can your brain handle it? Planck stars? Integrated information theory? They’re all covered,  complete with their attendant mysteries.

Because the chapters are so short, every sentence carries a lot of information, and slow reading is imperative. These sentences are marvels of clarity and grace, and I was happy to be drifting along with them, almost understanding things that are still mysterious, even to experts.

But I realized that Rovelli did not write those admirable sentences at all. He wrote in Italian, after the manner of Italian people. The actual prose was created by his translators, Simon Carnell and Erica Segre.  Carnell is the author of “Hare,” a book about hares; Segre is a lecturer in gender studies at Cambridge. They’ve translated other stuff together. They’re really good. Hooray for them, and hooray for all translators who allow us to read Tolstoy, Voltaire, Aristophanes, Dante and Sei Shonagon. They work hard to embody great artists; for their efforts, they are granted obscurity and small paychecks.

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Some things are hard to translate


Photography by Tracy Johnston

Useful help by Michelle “Anytime you’re ready” Mizera