Feel Free…

To take your dog's poop home with you

…to take your dog’s poop home with you

To smoke heroin at the car wash

Or to smoke heroin at the car wash…

To waste away before an indifferent public

…and waste away before an indifferent public.

Our parallel worlds:  Civility in the neighborhood, enforced by gentle pleas and social shaming; feral disorder on the boulevard.

A state of nature and an oasis of calm separated by a distance as short as a frisbee toss.

The blessings of freedom may be enshrined in the Constitution but are enjoyed differently, depending on how you feel about personal responsibility and whether you act on it.

Would a billboard which read: “Feel free to smoke crack elsewhere” have a salutary effect? How about “Smoke faster, get it over with”?  Or “God loves you and wants you to be sober”?

Mark Zuckerberg has called for a universal basic income, welfare for all, offered unconditionally.  The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics will, as a matter of technological determinism, eliminate many jobs currently held by Americans.  A UBI would preserve the Social Contract. “So that we may have roles we find meaningful…and that everyone may have a cushion to try new ideas.”

Would it?  If you were told you didnt need to go to work tomorrow because you were being replaced by a seven-armed anthropomorphic device wirelessly operated from a server farm,  but not to worry,  your paychecks will keep coming courtesy of the US government,  unto death, what would you do with your time?

“I’d go surfing every day,” said my coworker, when I put the question to him. “I’d surf and I’d bake and I’d take pictures.”  And why shouldn’t he? It would be free.

But for how long could this immunity from labor be sustained?  Binge watching Netflix might not feel like freedom after awhile.  One might begin to miss the leash. The UBI people may begin to envy the clock punchers.  Jobs might be hoarded like property, to be passed on to heirs like a family estate.  Because we’ll all be compelled to remove moral judgements about idleness (robotics!) anger will be misdirected everywhere.

We might drive up Sepulveda looking at the guys smoking heroin at the car wash and think….those aren’t derelicts, they’re Early Adopters.

The 12-year Houseguest

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

He carried the Cross, now he wears the Crown

Jack came to us as a two week foster care arrangement. He was lodging in the Glendale animal shelter at the time, and being eternally hopeful, extended his paw into the adjoining cage to say hello to a much larger dog.  So his leg was in bandages and his head wrapped in a cone when he arrived at our door.

“He’s not staying,” I announced. “He doesn’t fit the color scheme of the house. Our other dogs are brown and rust colored.”

I was in my Aesthetic Fascist period then.

He trotted in this weird sideways canter, probably due to the injury, one paw crossing over the other, ears flopping up and down like antennae. He had terrible breath. He wasn’t very bright.  The first time I let him off leash, at Runyon Canyon, he skittered straight down the hill, out the front gate, down Vista Street, and kept running until a samaritan intercepted him wandering Hollywood Blvd, “looking confused”.

Despite his apparent dimness, he knew instinctively to place his head on Mrs. U’s bosom whenever I tried to initiate a discussion of What To Do About Jack.

And so a third dog bed was purchased and he took his place in the menagerie.  He was already down to only a few teeth at that point. I figured a year or two, at most.  It was 2004.

Dogs and cats came and went at Chez UpintheValley, but Jack, like some canine version of Dick Clark, refused to age.  He outlived them all, even Woody. He remained eternally hopeful.  He proved to be the lowest-maintenance house member we ever had. No vet bills but annuals and teeth cleaning, which did little to assuage his halitosis.  When we took him to my parents house, he rode in the car all the way to Mendocino County standing up, staring out the window.  He jumped into San Francisco Bay. He forded the Eel River.  The first time he saw snow, he pranced through it like a gazelle.

Two years ago the arthritis set in and he began clicking around the house like Nosferatu, at all hours.  But he always gobbled the kibble.

To our amazement, there were another 30,000 miles left on his tires. He made it around the block with the others on the morning walk.  More recently, when he no longer could, he still gimped his way to the front door when you came home.  He yipped indignantly if he got stuck in the back yard. Even to the last week, he roused himself for a pepperoni stick.  When he stopped eating, it was time.

We have no idea how old he was. Our best guess was 17.

I’m glad we kept him.

9063502109_1d447581c1_c

Look Homeward, Angels

IMG_3574

We hold on to the leash for her own good.  There are no internal limits on frolic, unless she learns them the hard way, which we don’t have the stomach for.  Impulsive joy will lead her past a point where she can find her scent home.  There will be freeways and fences between us.  There will be Parvo-ridden pools of stagnant water. There will be anti-freeze lurking in overturned hubcaps. Scorpions. Razor wire. Dognappers. Drainpipes which lead to tight corners in which she can’t turn around.

In the dark recurring dream I have from time to time, I finally find her on the other side of Sepulveda.  Catching sight of me, she bounds forward, ears back, happy and relieved,  into a charnel house of indifferent cars….

IMG_3460

The bonds of restraint we can place on people are not so simple.  Short of incarceration, we rely on an admixture of love, shame and subsidy, in different portions, to guide people away from or toward their worst instincts.

IMG_3243

After the RV, you’re down to the shopping cart.

IMG_3400

After the shopping cart, you’re down to the rolling bucket on wheels.

IMG_3529

When you can’t walk anymore, they call the paramedics to take you away.

IMG_3593

Then one day your Mother can’t find you.  You’re gone.