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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Dear Daddy,

I don't know that I've ever written you a letter. Maybe one of those adorable notes that a child scribbles in a panic, like, "Dear Daddy. Please hide us or Mummy will spank us." Of course, I would have signed your birthday cards, as few as they were. I never wrote you one of those "Forgive your-father-forgive yourself" letters that was suggested in rehab. Besides, amends are the 9th step. Back in rehab, I was still stuck on the 1st step—trying to imagine a life without drugs and alcohol.

Did you ever go to an AA meeting? I've never told you this, but I still have your old address book. It's cover is an olive green leather, and when I open it, it wafts malty, leathery, like the smell that came off you all cozy in your bathrobe. Inside are your crazy scribbles—just like mine—footnotes, asterisks and sections emphatically underlined. It brings me comfort to know we had this in common. As well as, it turns out, something else. In the "A" section you capitalized the word "ALCOHOLISM" next to a phone number. It's only 7 numbers long, in the days before Toronto needed area codes. I have never called it. I wonder if you ever did.

And I never wrote anything I could read by your graveside. Not because I was wrapped up in any thickly woven blanket of resistance to it, but because you don't really have one. You were a doctor to the end, devoted to medical research and the fruits it might bear. Your ashes are buried in a mass grave dedicated to those who donated their bodies to The University of Toronto Medical Science. I think you might get a kick out of the fact that your daughter is the epitome of pure science fiction. Not only did your wife give me a kidney, but later, the son-in-law you never met did too.

So where I visit you is under a tree in High Park.

High Park. Where we used to play soccer. Where you took us tobogganing. Where you planted snap dragons and tomatoes in our allotment garden. Where a tree is now planted to remember you by.

When I am in Toronto, this is where I go to talk to you. A delicate sapling of a linden tree was planted for you, what 20 years ago ? 25? It is now a stunning tree. In the summer, it flourishes thick with bright emerald, kinda-almond-shaped leaves. But I can recognize it in the winter, too, when the branches stretch long and thin, elegantly barren. When it was planted, they also engraved a small brass plaque with your name, "Peter Ivanans. Life is Precious. 1940-1978." But then some kids stole it, so that was the end of that.

I still think about you. Often. Even though it's been 36 years since you died. I think about you when I hear The Beatles. When I see soccer games. When I smell beer. (Notice I didn't say, "When I drink beer." Those days are over for me, too.) But I especially think of you at Christmas time.

You know how they say there are 5 stages of grief—were those even around in 1978?—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Well, I'd like to take this opportunity to add a 6th one. The Christmas Factor. When you died on December 13th, 1978, to this 10 year-old girl, you kinda took Christmas with you. The day after you died I still went to school. It was the Christmas Carol concert at B.S.S. (Bishop Strachan School.) "Mum made you go to school?", you ask. Well, you know Mum, life goes on, and all that jazz.

I remember looking around at all the other girls singing in chapel. Why did they make little girls wear a white cotton veil? I don't think they do that anymore. Was it tradition? To remind us that there is something higher than us? I usually hated wearing that stupid veil, because it always messed up my hair—Mum always did such a fabulous job of color co-coordinating my ribbons with my uniform—but I was grateful for it that day. I used it like a private curtain, one I could hide behind, then peek out from periodically, and watch the other girls singing.

I didn't sing. I faked it. I knew if I tried to sing I would start crying. And I didn't believe I could ever stop. So I mouthed the words. It's what all the pop-stars do nowadays to prerecorded tracks. They get into a lot of trouble for that, but no one noticed me. Instead, I listened to the devotional harmonies soar far past the Technicolored-stained glass windows into rafters, filling the chapel with an unbearably mournful sound. My favorite music suddenly haunting, elegiac, bend-over-clutch-my-stomach painful.

The celebration of Jesus' birth became the soundtrack to your death.

Turns out Mum was right. Life did go on. I remember thinking, "Today I got up. I went to school. Daddy died yesterday. And everyone is just singing. How is that possible?" But it was.

3 years ago today, Daddy, I completed a 60-day stay in rehab. That's right, 33 years to the day after you died from alcoholism, your daughter was discharged into the world a barely sober woman. Is discharge the right word? Should it be graduate? I mean, it's not like I got a diploma or anything.

It used to drive me nuts, I mean, crazy, when those dripping-in-prayer-beads-tangled-up-in-lotus-pose types would nod their head at me knowingly, patronizingly and whisper inaudibly that "Everything happens for a reason." Fuuuck that.

But I can't deny the coincidence. December 13th. So, I call it a beacon, a warning light I can never let burn out. But who, what is guiding this light? And how do I keep it burning?

In the charred, smoking remains of your death, the answers are still hazy, unclear. Will I ever understand why I am getting a chance at a sober life, and you didn't? No. In the same way, that I can't comprehend African arms being sliced off for the blood diamond trade, dogs being tortured for fun, or conning the elderly. Yes, these are the things your little girl wonders about, tries to understand, every December 13th. No wonder I was never up for rockin' around the Christmas tree.

In the haunting echoes of Christmas hymns I hear Mankind's ache to understand, the passionate desperation to believe. But if all of Mankind can't understand God's plan, why would a little girl of 10? Or a woman of 43?

But on December 13th, 2011, I became willing to believe.

You missed so many things, Daddy. You missed my first kidney transplant. Mum gave me a kidney! It lasted 23 years. You missed my wedding day. The ceremony was in the B.S.S.chapel, the same chapel where I stood lip-synching; laid down prohibition on Christmas, less than 24 hours after you died. You would have loved Kevin. He sings, he photographs, he loves dogs. And, oh! He plays the bagpipes. He played "Amazing Grace" at our wedding. Huh. Maybe you were there after all, because the entire time I thought of you.

I have one good memory of us at Christmas time. It plays solid, cinematic, fresh as the day it "once-upon-a-time-d." It was the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, 1975. We had a tradition. You'd whisk us away from an overwhelmed Mum cooking up a Danish storm in the kitchen—the luscious, rich scent of roast pork, red cabbage and caramel potatoes wafting down our apartment hall—and you'd drive us around the neighborhood. We'd oooh and ahhh at all the Christmas lights—glittering rainbow-ed teardrops glinting against icy roofs—comparing, laughing over who liked what arrangement best. Look, a snowman! There's a Santa's Hat! Had we already done that? You and I were standing outside on the little balcony off your master bedroom in our downtown apartment. Strung along the main balcony was our steadfast strand of alternating red and green lights, the one we would point to, how we could recognize home, when we turned the corner off Bloor St, and drove up High Park Blvd. If I stood on tiptoe, I could see the elegant bare arms of the park's frosted trees. Together we huddled against the cold. It was a awesome night, the kind of winter night Canadians find beautiful. I leaned into your slight frame, gazing up into your toothy grin and felt safe. We were looking for Santa. For Rudolph and the other reindeer. "Is that him?" I cried, pointing to the flickering red light of a passing airplane. "No." you explained. "Rudolph's nose shines steady. It does not blink when he's working." And then you cried out, that funny, joyous shout of yours. "There he is! There's Santa!" And I saw it. There it was. I saw the light. A steady stream of red, unblinking, moving silently through the dark winter sky. "Where is he going?" I cried. "Why isn't he coming here?" "He's coming", you assured me. "he's coming. He's just going east to Montreal first."

And I believed. I believed.

You made it so easy to believe. And when you died, I guess, I just couldn't anymore. Believe in love, or possibility. Or the magic of Christmas.

I lied. I have one other Christmas memory. I remember that "Good King Wenceslas" was your favorite hymn. I tell Kevin this every year when we light the real, "Danish" candles on our Christmas tree. I picture the four of us—Mummy, N., you and me—"waltzing" around the resplendent tree, softly aglow in candlelight and the tacky shimmer of tinsel garlands. Sometimes holding hands, sometimes holding our carol books, the candles flickering in the merciful breeze of our dance. I remind my husband of this every year, and he never says, "I know, sweetheart. I know." He just nods quietly and we sing.

And singing is no longer painful.

"Sire the night is darker now

And the wind grows stronger.

Fails my heart, I know not how,

I can go no longer..."

You would have liked him, Daddy. No. You would've loved him.

I believe in him. He made me believe in love. And possibility. And the magic of Christmas.

And now, I am willing to believe in Him.

So for Them, I will try to love Christmas again.

Forever and Ever,
Your daughter,


Friday, November 21, 2014

1131 nights (In Praise of The Hospital Bed)

The first time I slept overnight in a hospital bed I was 13 years old.

The walls were coated a hideous shade of pale green, somewhere between pistachio and mint, but without any of the flavor. I sat at a pay phone talking to my mother, who for some reason could not be in two places at once and was at home taking care of my 11-year-old brother. What was up with that? I mean, he’d been a latchkey kid at 9! 

A nurse marched up to me, something suspicious clutched in her hands. I tried to explain to her that despite the hospital gown and raging fever that stained my cheeks a fire-engine truck red, I was otherwise occupied, and could she please come back later? She was having none of me, and with a practiced flick of her wrist, jammed an 8-foot long Q-tip down my throat, despite my gasp of protest. She sealed it in a labeled cylinder and marched away, her arm swinging angrily, my future culturing on the cottony end. I sat in stunned silence; my mother's voice a faraway cry. Shimmering globules dripped off my chin, smearing the end of the receiver with a goopy slime of snot and sadness. Totally worth missing my 8th Grade Science exam.

I returned to the hospital room I shared with three other girls. I curled up in my bed; the day’s scheduled activities had now wound down—the rounds, the procedures, the dispensing of the medications. With the conclusion of visiting hours, the main lights were shut off. An eerie stillness settled in the halls. I dug it. It was a mixture of recess and lockdown. Sure, I was not there of my own free will. I was imprisoned both externally, by those four grody green walls, and internally, by the disease that brought me there—which in my case turned out to be Chronic Kidney Disease. But I was free! Upon my island of blankets and buzzers, I could do whatever I wanted—watch TV, reread the card all my classmates had signed, nibble on Arrowroot cookies and sip warm apple juice—just as long as I didn’t have to sit up. Talk about your teenage wasteland! Tubular!

 In the darkness of my overpopulated room, I watched the girl in the bed next to me. She had one of those small, mysterious boxes that played music. She would listen to it most of the night, leaning it against her tented knees. "Have you heard of The Go-Go’s?" I shook my head silently. "They are so cool," she insisted. "We're supposed to be quiet," I whispered back as she climbed into bed with me. Was she a veteran of the hospital bed? She climbed aboard with ease, leaning back against its pillowy bow, deftly showing me the ropes. With the yank of a lever here and the tuck of a blanket there, she capsized all fear; swaddling my sea legs high aboard our terra firma, safely above the linoleum floor. Silently she placed one of the earphones onto my left ear, extending the plastic headband beneath our chins—stretching it wide like a plastic smile—then affixed the other earphone to her right ear.

She played the track, “Our Lips are Sealed”. We lay side-by-side, not touching, together, the glow of my IV machine fluoresced her young face. We remained that way for a while, taking silent heed of The Go-Go’s haunting refrain.

“There’s a weapon/

we must use/

in our defense/


My patient-in-crime was right. They were cool. And so was she. It didn’t matter to me what she had been admitted for, or even what her name was. Life became really simple. Who needed the stress of my first period, the pressure to get all A’s or the anxiety of returning home to a fatherless life? Not this teenager! Sure, I was attached to an IV drip, but quite frankly, some of those ginormous 80’s accessories were just as hard to pull off.

I’ve learned a lot over 33 years in and out of a hospital bed. It’s pure escape—a personal island over which I prevail. Sure, I usually have to contend with a raging fever [Possible Transplant Rejection], a mysterious undiagnosed malady [E-coli Poisoning, a Ruptured Ovarian Cyst] or face a life-threatening condition [O/D on over 120 Benzodiazepines] in order to qualify for one, but that’s a small price to pay for autonomy. Because once you’re there, you reign supreme, sovereign over the bed and all that surround it. The doctors, the nurses, the chaplains, the administrators, their entire raison d’être is but to serve you. A lifetime commitment to immunosuppressives aside, it’s the greatest gig in town.

My favorite time remains lights-out. God bless the night nurse who can navigate his way around a blood pressure cuff in the pitch black, allowing me to peacefully zone out on a narcotic nightcap of Xanax and Dilaudid, and ignore the world that exists below the metal cradle in which I lie dozing. But just one unmanicured toe upon the linoleum floor will connect me to the reality that lies beyond discharge. Nagging issues like, did I send my kidney transplant into rejection with drug abuse? And, will my husband, who gave it to me, be mad?

Instead, I focus on the fashionably soft mood lighting that glitters throughout the Hills of Beverly or stare glassily at the telegenic images of reality flickering silently from a television set on high. Man, do those Housewives have problems! Where to eat! What to wear! A hospital gown and a TV tray delivered to your door, nay your lap, make life really simple. Just sayin’. And then there’s the fabulousness of the 21st Century hospital bed. This Canadian girl has arrived! Graduated from the Catholic, socialist bed of pulleys and weights to the glamorous Cedars-Sinai bed of bells and whistles. Your feet can be up while your head is down! Too many positions to count. Who said a girl’s electronic best friend was “The Rabbit?”

I’ve been looking at success all wrong. It’s not about the high-powered career, running 5-miles a day, popping out babies or traveling the world. I’ll take Chronic Illness any day. Don’t underestimate the power, the self-control and the sheer stamina it takes to lie day in and day out in a hospital bed. That’s success! Working at least one, if not two diseases. Btw, alcoholism really works in a pinch. (I know. I know. How’d I get so lucky?) Sure, the violent and ceaseless throws of detox may be uncomfortable (unbearable), but if that’s what it takes to stay the course of self-actualization, I’m in. Stay with me here. Detox is also an untapped form of cardio, depending upon your level of commitment. Pills? Booze? Pills and booze? Pills and booze and anorexia? It’s always a win-win. You are dehydrated from the start, and then finish strongly with a superior set of abs after hurling for hours.

And romance? Forget Valentine’s Day. There’s surprising romance to be found at the end of a hospital bed. Who needs The Little Blue Box when there’s a pink bedpan handy? There is nothing more romantic than your husband of 19 years visually combing through (if you ignore the worried look in his eye), the gobby strands of your bile for undissolved medications. Feel your heart expand, even as your abs contract, and witness true love. Don’t think about the hour-long drive home he has to make, his sleepless night ahead, his burdensome day at work and the return trip to Cedars-Sinai he will make after hastily gobbling down a Subway sandwich in the car. Listen instead to his voice as together with the elderly Filipino nurse, they scour your bedpan, steaming with fresh bile. Listen to his murmured offerings of love, “That’s definitely a Cell-Cept”, “No, that’s too big to be a Cyclosporine”, then turn and lie fetal in your hospital bed, satisfied. You have it made in the shade.

You think your husband giving you a kidney is romantic, just wait until you do everything in your power to destroy it.

He climbs into bed next to you and spoons his body around yours, adjusting the curled ends of the bed to cocoon you both, until you are ready to metamorphose and embrace what lies beneath; a world where illness does not have to conquer all. I was 42 years old when my toe finally touched down. When my unslippered feet finally hit the linoleum floor.

It’s been 1131 nights since I last slept in a hospital bed.

I hope I never sleep in one again.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Wahlter White: A parable (L'odeur de la méth)

My basset hound’s paws smell like corn chips.

I bury my nose in between the cracks of Wahlter’s prehistoric-looking paws and go deep. I suppose when you break it down, it’s kinda gross. Those paws have been everywhere. They’ve walked through sand and shit and they’ve been licked with a tongue that’s been places no man can go. But, I jam my nose between his toes and breathe in the scent of nutty, verboten carbs like white pasta, or fresh-bread rising in the oven, the prickles on his puffy, suede-like pads scraping my skin and I’m hooked.

He came with the name Wahlter. The shelter added the “h”, we added the “White.” Officially, his full name is Wahlter White McIntyre. I’m not so much of a feminist that my dog needs to have a hyphenated last name. Please. Then it would be Wahlter White Ivanans-McIntyre. And that’s just not fair.

At VidCon 2014, my husband and I sat with Wahlter in “The Pet Collective” booth—a couple of 40-somethings lost at sea in an ocean of social media exhibits—under the delusion we’d be drawing attention to the rescue organization where we’d adopted him, but quickly realizing he was a cute and fuzzy ploy to draw in the Tween-set to sign up for the “Pet Collective’s” You Tube-type channel. Collect members, acquire sponsors, and you too can film cute videos of kittens and puppies all day long and make a living! Clearly, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Does anyone dig ditches anymore? I’m guessing “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” will not be found on any “Gen Y” iPod Playlist. (Or is the younger generation considered Gen “Z”?).

Wahlter sat in the middle of the booth, ears hanging low, a furry statue of calm, unfazed by the sudden Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound rolling through the cavernous hall. I recognized that wave of teenage-dream screams! I looked up to see a shock of lavender hair—peaked like the hard, mountainous nipple of a meringue—bob through the crowd. A pulsating throng of Tweens surged after the vibrant bouffant.

“Who was that?” I asked one of the unimpressed “Collectives”.

“Tyler Oakley”, he drawled, bored, all of 25.

“Tyler Who?” I asked, suddenly feeling very old upon learning Oakley has over 3 million Twitter followers. But what does he do? In my day, teen idols played music. Now teen gods are like Ramen noodle packs. Just add Twitter. Kim Kardashian is only famous because her mother promoted her sex tape and now they have a clothing line at Sears. She has nearly 25 million followers on Twitter. Maybe I’d have a line of perfumes or unstylish clothes, too and not be lying on the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, volunteering with my dog in the middle of the day if I had a parent hyphenate (mother-manager-reality TV star-media whore) like Kris Jenner. But then I would miss this. I dug my face into Wahlter’s belly. Unconcerned with my embarrassingly defective ability to tweet these thoughts into cyber space, Wahlter had rolled over onto his back and splayed his legs, displaying his adorably deflated balls and fuzzy little penis for all the world to see. I raised my head up and called out to The Tweens, “Come and meet Wahlter White!”

The Tweens shuffled over, dwarfed by the enormous plastic conference passes that hung awkwardly around their necks reminding me of the way medical students wear their stethoscopes, ill fitting, as if they have not quite grown into them—which they haven’t.

During the many, many times I’ve been hospitalized, medical students would cluster around the foot of my bed, slyly staring at me like children through museum exhibit glass, aloof, yet intrigued by the bedridden woman with kidney failure. They’d bulldoze me with questions, prompted by their supervising physician and try and diagnose me. I could barely respond. All I wanted to do was vomit into a bedpan. Or onto their shoes. But, oh, the evil flicker of glee I felt when they would misdiagnose this kidney transplant patient feverishly writhing in the throes of detox or acute rejection. “Not so easy playing God, eh?” I would smirk inwardly. Fuck their degrees. I can’t take a doctor seriously until they have at least one line on their face. They would leave and I would wait for the sweet relief of a hypodermic to take me away. Or the close second was when the service dog made its rounds and I could bury my nose into its neck. Clammy, warm. I could feel the blood pulsating beneath its musty fur. Life.

But the Tweens’ were pimply and fresh, flushed pink with hormones and their whipped-cream loaded, Starbucks’ caffeinated sugar rush. Their eyes, already sparking with overstimulation, would roll knowingly when I introduced Wahlter. “His name is Wahlter White?” they would cry, delighted, recognizing the name of the lead character on AMC’s wildly popular series, “Breaking Bad”. Why are today’s youth watching a television series about a chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin? Where are the parents? When I was 12 we were addicted to trading stationery. But the Tweens did not just stare at Wahlter through the proverbial museum glass. They got down on their hands and knees with me to greet the exhibit’s star. They would Facebook/Instagram/Tweet photos together with Wahlter and I watched their faces plump wide with smiles. Teen angst dispelled with the gentle rub and a stroke of my boy’s belly. (OK. And a Smart Phone.) A maternal glow spread inside my chest. All was not lost.

No, I never experienced the joy of childbirth, the rearing of a child. No kids for me, because of the whole kidney-transplant-high-risk-pregnancy thing (She says glibly.). They (Who is “they” anyway?) say God is too big for us to understand, that there’s a reason for everything. I search. I try to find Meaning in it all. I’ve even went to church for a while. I attended the Hollywood Presbyterian service held on Sunday mornings in a warehouse painted black. It throbbed with House music on Saturday night then exalted Christian rock on Sunday mornings, testifying under the purifying light of a disco ball. I would sit in the back row, skeptical, sometimes cringing, not sure what to make of it all. ”God is good,” they would chant. “All. The. Time.” My friend, M., clean off crystal meth, would sit even further back, casually observing from a back wall by the restrooms, which probably served as a shrewd vantage point for hitting on the club’s Unsuspecting Wallflowers or Over Glossing Hotties the night before. I waved my fingers in M.’s face and spookily chanted “crystalll…” I was trying to evoke to the fond memory of the 4 of us—together with my husband and his wife—tearing up the Tennessee countryside searching for the fast food chain “Krystal”. There we could score, satisfying our late-night cravings with an enormous, grease-stained paper bag stuffed with square-cut, American cheese-slathered sliders. M. thought I was reminding him of his junkie past.

He had once told me he missed everything about crystal meth, the chase, the score, the smell. What did meth smell like I wondered? Did it smell like its ingredients? Like the cold medicine (or battery acid, or drain cleaner, or lantern fuel?) they cooked? I didn’t understand his obsession at the time, as I was still successfully performing my tightrope act of pill popping, having not yet fallen into the netted abyss below. M. is now divorced from my friend and lives back in Los Angeles. He is addicted to crack and never sees his two sons, my two godsons.

Dog is God spelled backwards. “They” like to find this significant, like when the Led Zeppelin records were played backwards in the 70’s, and deep satanic meaning was found in the warbled lyrics. I think about this, as I kneel on the floor of the Convention Hall, and gaze up into the blinding fluorescent lights. I bury my nose into Wahlter’s paw and I’m transported. I don’t hear the screams of the Tweens, their inexhaustible chatter streaming through Cyber Space. I don’t crave the candy, the carbs, my children. The tightness in my chest unclenches, a restrictive band that has lost all elasticity. I sniff, therefore I am. I come back for more. And I wonder what meth smells like.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dear Bono

Dear Bono,

We’ve known each other forever, though we’ve never actually met.

 The closest I ever got to you was when I stalked The Edge and his family for a few minutes on the Santa Monica walking streets, dying to procure an autograph. But my inner groupie choked. I was certain he’d be a wholly justified asshole, dismissing me and my sycophantic grovel with a curt shake of his head and I’d never be able to listen to U2’s music again.

But you would never do that. You’re too good. Well, that’s your name, right? Not Paul Hewson, but “Bonovox”, which is Latin for “good voice”, —which you later shortened to “Bono”, which just means “good”, one extra “O” away from God. I always thought this was way cool. I grew up in the era of one-names—Cher, Madonna, Prince—but my name shortened (“Hen”) does not possess the glamorous mystery of your moniker, which sounds cinematic—like the title of a major motion picture: “Bono: The Light Side of the Force.” Mine is just a female chicken.

In the mornings, I’d jump out of bed, never hitting snooze, and dress my 13-year old, flat-chested frame for our morning sermon—(“Gloria”: “Gloria, in te domine”—Psalms 30). I could never get close enough to you. I would mash my Walkman’s headphones flush to my ears, underneath my chapeau-en-vogue—usually my John-Taylor-from-Duran-Duran fedora. It would act as rebar, securing the headphones to my head, all the better to vibrate with you. Your groan was so intimate, your wail so vulnerable.  Your confessions sustained me on the laborious, claustrophobic hour-long subway ride to high school. I couldn’t hear the plebian mutterings around me as I navigated the bleary-eyed masses; I heard only your testimonies of love—(“Pride”: “One man come he to justify.”—Isaiah 53:11). Your passion was infectious, evangelical. It felt like a religious ecstasy I couldn’t yet possibly understand. I forgot about the pubescent under-the-blouse-over-the-panty fantasies scribbled in my journals; silly stories always climaxing with the words, “And I came.” A sophomoric intellectualization since I had no clue how sex finished off. You were so much more satisfying.

Your call to arms was to follow and I did—(“I Will Follow”: “If you walk away, walk away.” —Ruth 1:16). I was only too happy to become one of your disciples. My glossy, metallic-purple teenage lips had no filter (still don’t), but yours didn’t either. You were always kicking and screaming about Apartheid or Greenpeace or some other 80’s cause au courant. You wore your heart on your sleeve, so I decided to sew mine there too, along with rock band patches like “Rush” and “The Police” and bedazzling, plastic jewels. Who needed religion, when I had your words? You sampled from The Bible, you did all the theologizing for me. So I rejected religion before it could reject me. All I had to do was slip on my headphones and turn the dial to 10.

You were the soundtrack playing in my head, in his room, when glassine thoughts of what we would do to each other hardened into the delicious reality of loving and licking; long, lovely make out sessions after school, before high school sweethearts turned sour. (“With or Without You”: “See the thorn twist in your side.”—2 Corinthians 12:7) You were wailing as we found deep rhythms in your rhyme. You must have heard me wailing too, as I finally realized what the women were talking about in those Nancy Friday books my mother would slide far beneath her bed. And in the flushed silence afterwards, we’d lie entwined, in the giggly, googly-eyed reverent awe first love dares to offer and you would croon of our bliss.

I loved your private performances, but it was in the pit where I could truly worship you, arms swaying, stretched high above my head, palms spread flat to the glory of the enlightened stage—(“The Fly”: “Love we shine like a burning star.”—Luke 10:18). Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for the black leather cat suit. That’s a classic. I keep that image locked deep in the vault, perfect for days when I run a little dry for material. If you know what I mean.

BTW, I’m sorry I couldn’t invite you to my wedding. I’m sorry I had to answer in bold letters on the DJ’s questionnaire: “What kind of music do you NOT want to hear?”—NO U2 or HEAVY METAL or RAP. It’s unseemly to think about another man on your wedding night, right?

Don’t hate me, but I did tune you out for a few years. Your voice thrummed like white noise as the sound of my life overwhelmed me—kidney transplant, marriage, Hollywood. And what was with that video? I didn’t understand why you were all dressed like the Village People. But it was more than your cringe-inducing costumes. In the past, your message of love had anchored me to the clear vision I had for my life; a windshield free of the slimy smear of bad choices that were beginning to collect like dead insects, insects like “The Fly” you personified when you first donned your now iconic shades, never to remove them again. Is that why couldn’t I hear you anymore? Had you become a caricature? Or an iconic seeker?

When I finally made it to Joshua Tree National Park, I was certain it would change my life. You promised. You said it had changed yours when you recorded the seminal album, The Joshua Tree”. But the silence in the desert was terrifying; it was beyond quiet. It hurt. All I could hear was the wild-rapid rush of questions in my head—doubt, expectation, fear. My bones felt burdened by the oppressive heat, unable to hold my head up and see the vulnerable starkness that might inspire. I drove slowly, winding our car through a path of the spiked succulents, their crooked fingers pointing heavenward. And when I couldn’t take the sound of silence anymore, I turned you on—not to hear your voice, but to drown out my own—while praying that my sleeping husband in the back seat wouldn’t wake up.

My life began to spiral. But you knew that. You wrote my theme song—(“Vertigo”: “The jungle is your head”.) Nothing in my life made sense anymore—rejection, disease, death—all of it screeching like feedback, distortion impossible to equalize. So, I followed your mission around the world—distraction by exaltation. I brought friends! Alcohol! Drugs! We were believers! (“Wild Honey”: “You were my shelter and my shade.”—Isaiah 25:4). Through the shantytowns of Mexico City we followed you. We endured the crass, commercial strip of Kalakaua Drive in Honolulu and its cigarette-littered beaches, knowing I’d hear The Word that night. My insides were shrinking at the same rate my addictions were growing—quickly, fervently. With every song, with every swill of every pill I’d ratchet your homily higher.

In my California King bed at home, I lay next to love, true and loyal, willing to follow me anywhere, but I only wanted to follow you. Lost in my life, you were my compass: Self, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll—(“Running to Stand Still”: “Sweet the sin, bitter the taste in my mouth.”—Revelations 10:10).

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I’ll never forget the first time I saw you. On heavy rotation on MTV, you strode masterfully across the flame-lit stage of Red Rocks, Colorado, fearlessly brandishing a white flag of surrender. You were brave, careless with your passion. And I fell in love—with your magic and your mullet—and joined your crusade.

But, you are no longer the incendiary front man. Your spiritual search no longer ignites, for your faith now smolders constant, burning steady like well-tended coals. Did you have the answers to faith all along? Clutched in your hands, the white flag as avatar of the simplest and most powerful of all life’s tools? Surrender. I surrender and I become empowered? Can it really be that easy? And did you know all along, but just decide to take me on a raunchy, raucous, soul-searching ride? Because I’ve loved every goddamn minute of it.

Your voice still stirs my soul, but gently now, like a soft gust that bounces a frothy bloom on its branch. Your gravelly groan reminds me of a time when I didn’t care that I was lost. But now I care. I’m not breaking up with you, I swear—(“Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?”: “Baby, can we still be friends?”). It’s just, I need to turn you down for a while, so I can listen to the silence I’ve evaded all my life.

And find what I’m looking for.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you grateful?

So it's Canadian Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving conjures up images of a long table laden with rich food, surrounded by laughing members of a functional family who actually like each other. We are told to stuff ourselves with a turkey dinner and unironically declare what we are grateful for. It usually goes something like this: "I'm grateful for my health, my family, my home...".


I humbly submit to you, my alternative:

1) I am grateful my kidney transplant failed. I would not have known what I can survive.

2) I am grateful my husband is out of town. I would not have known how much I can miss him.

3) I am grateful Daddy died when I was 10. I would not have known you can build a family with friends.

4) I am grateful for the isolation of arctic Canadians winters. I would never have savored the nostalgic longing of the California heat.

5) I am grateful for Facebook. I now understand the definition of "A Colossal Waste of Time." As an aside, I also understand the definition of "hypocrite."

6) I am grateful for our suffocating medical debt. I have learned the meaning of "Money Well Spent."

7) I am grateful I have never tried Botox. #1. As an addict, I wouldn't know when to quit AND #2. Damn. Those people look crazy!

8) I am grateful for the hell of a migraine. It puts me in the moment faster than anything on earth.

9 ) I am grateful Oprah is no longer on the air. Actually, That's a lie. I miss her.

10) I am grateful Nickleback seems to have disappeared. It needed to be said. 

11) I am grateful Prednisone is the single worst taste on Earth. Anything after that morning pill is bliss.

12) I am grateful all of my dogs died. I would not have known how deeply I can love an animal.

13) I am grateful a tarantula (Lois) lives by my back door. She teaches me to walk through my fears every day.

14) I am grateful it's increasingly more difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning. Because once I'm up, I'm golden.

15) I am grateful I didn't succeed as an actress. I would never have discovered how much I love writing.

16) I am grateful Nicki Minai exists. I now realize how underrated silence is.

17) I am grateful my hair is falling out. I have learned the more I focus on beauty, the uglier I feel.

18) I am grateful organic meat is really expensive. I would not have discovered the glory that is tofu, tempeh and all things legume.

19) I am grateful for back fat. Not really. I just don't understand what it is.


20) I am grateful I am an alcoholic and a drug addict. I would never have found my god.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Taylor Swift Rules the World (Shake it Off)

  Was she singing on EVERY radio station?

I jabbed at my car’s dashboard. Preset 1. Preset 2. Preset 3. Taylor Swift was singing on every air wave throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. And we don’t even like Country! I slammed the radio off, shutting her down mid-wail. But really, there is no shutting Taylor Swift down. She is everywhere. I merged onto the 2 freeway, the silence inside my car growing thicker with every passing mile, choking me softly. I like driving to music. There is nothing better than blasting a crank-worthy pop or rock tune, windows down, hair flying as I cruise for home. And tonight I was in need of said salve; music to soothe this middle-aged woman’s aching soul. Anything—classic rock, new pop, even Old Skool R & B, but please, no more Taylor Swift! What was her genre anyway?  Country? Pop? Soft Rock?  Did she need to be queen of all genres? This nearly 46 year-old driver was growing increasingly more resentful towards a certain blonde mega-watt music star for monopolizing all the airwaves. Now I had to listen to the “What-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life?” anxiety whirling through my brain. She’d left me no choice but to drive home in the kind of doomed silence that leads to dangerously introspective thought which leads to cookie-dough binging which leads to the morning-after scale-weighing. And nothing good ever comes of that.

Taylor Swift. It’s all your fault.

A few years ago I watched a 60 minutes segment about Swift, as she prepared to launch her “Speak Now” world tour. Even Veteran TV reporter Lesly Stahl seemed slack-jawed at the way Swift deftly navigated her role as CEO of this undertaking. She’d vacillate adorably, frequently from impressionable 20 year-old, “Look! Sparks!” as technicians rehearsed with pyrotechnics, to an insight decades beyond her age when she spoke of her art and perspective of this life she’d been granted. It was annoying.

Swift rose to superstar status along the typical speed-of-light-trajectory that fame-craving Americans demand. There is an unspoken formula for stardom and it usually goes something like this. Take wunderkind, underage beauty (a la LeAnn Rimes) + undeniable raw talent + someone-willing-to-take-chance-on-you = overnight sensation.  I wanted to ignore her. Ignore her lithe and lovely frame, (Is she naturally that thin? Does she starve herself? Does she take pills?), her gleaming Rapunzel-like tresses so fairy-tale thick, (Are they extensions? Then surely a wig!) And I wanted to ignore every moment of her red carpet dance—never a misstep, never a tumble. Designers probably clamoring to clothe her perfect size-2 frame. (Or is she a size 0? Because that would be even more perfect.) All that without ever opening her mouth.

And when she did open her mouth, she belted out hit after hit after hit, even crossing over onto the pop charts. In 2008, she scored a Grammy nod for “Best New Artist”. By age 24, she was already on her 4th album. And she writes all the freaking music herself! She storyboards her own videos! (Next up, a perfume! Scratch that. She already has one.) Swift was dating cute singer after hot star after handsome dude. Me? I was sustaining “complications” in my marriage. And the awards! Don’t even get me started. This girl with the perfectly-dewy-skin-that-never-needs-a-rice-paper-blot, masterfully strumming her guitar and crooning about t-shirts and bleachers had nothing to offer me.

Even her name was perfect. Taylor Swift. Her first name—simple, strong, perfectly androgynous—sounded like the title of Giant Corporation (which she was swiftly evolving into. Pun intended.) And her last name was an active verb! My name is a bizarre ethnic jumble. 99% of the population mispronounces my first name, and no one ever bothers to try to pronounce my last name. They just wait for me to explain it to them, annoyed that it isn’t something simple like Smith. Or Swift.

One of these reasons alone—her beauty, her talent, her social life would be reason enough to hate her. But all three? It just wasn’t fair.

Meanwhile, I didn’t understand why I knew so much about her. We have cut off our cable, I once called tweeting twatting, and I scroll Facebook mainly to see transatlantic photos of my second cousins. I am not social media savvy. I had satellite radio, but I never listened to country music. The music is pat, the lyrics mind-numbingly simple. I like music with angst, an intense guitar riff, a complicated lyric; head scratching, “But what does it MEAN?” significance. Give me a crotch-grabbing rock star over Swift and her guitar sitting on a stool like the lead in a high-school production of  “Our Town” any day. By the insidious osmosis of supermarket rags, mini-TVs at the gym and flat screens in waiting areas, we have been programmed to assimilate Taylor Swift. I will reject the Swift as Soma! I will not succumb! I will not become of one of her minions! 

And then the inevitable backlash hit. Singing live at the 2010 Grammys, Swift’s performance was less than stellar. Oh, let’s call a spade a spade. She bombed. And suddenly, she was a falling star, sparking out as fast as she had risen in the celebrity sky. We loved to love her, now we loved to hate her. This is part of the aforementioned recipe for success. We still have an appetite for destruction; we are gladiators at heart, even if we do dress up our dogs in tutus and paint their toenails. This was Part B of the formula for stardom: The Backlash. “She can’t sing. She can’t keep a man. She ain’t Country anymore.” For Swift, the hits just kept on coming.

This was when I began paying attention to Swift, because now she was an underdog. I understand the underdog. I am an underdog. Now, I have never personally bombed at The Grammys, but I understand a little about crawling out from underneath the weighty anvil of Public Opinion. We were suddenly sistahs.

At the next Grammy awards in 2011, she gave a performance of her hit song “Mean”. It was clearly orchestrated as retaliation dedicated to all the meanies and bullies who’d vultured over the previous year’s catastrophe. I remember the way the camera zeroed in on her eyes at the end of her performance. Swift's eyes like lasers seared the camera’s gaze, deeply, defiantly. And I thought, “Holy crap. Taylor Swift just told the whole world to Fuck. Off.”

Taylor Swift. You da bomb.

Now, I wouldn’t say I became a fan. Her music is still not my cup o’ tea, and I’m not a 20-year old male, so I have no reason to troll her videos on You Tube. But Rolling Stone described her "squirmingly intimate and true songs” to be "literally ripped from a suburban girl's diary." And 45 million Twitter followers can’t be all wrong. So I began to listen with open ears.

Once I got past the distracting filter of Auto-Tune on “I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In”, I realized I’d missed the sound of her soul tearing in heartbreak, the meaty drippings of unrequited love left on the recording studio floor. I’d missed that SNL’s parody of her stunned, open-mouthed gape at her Grammy win was only funny because she was so genuinely surprised. And I’d missed that her self-confessional lyrics were non-negotiable because she truly was an artist, one human being trying to connect with another human being. All the rest—her buffed and bedazzled façade—blinds us to the reality that she is brave enough to manifest her inner Plato and examine, write about and volunteer up her life. And innately understand Life’s just not worth living if we don’t. Even if you are worth $200 million dollars.

Can someone that famous, that accomplished, that beautiful have angst, or if she does, surely it doesn’t run as deep as mine? Isn't true angst reserved for those suffering with Ebola or the homeless? But then I wouldn’t qualify for soul-searching either. All you have to do is listen to her heartbroken howl on “Trouble” —“OH! OH! Trouble, trouble, trouble…”—to know her angst is real. And maybe it isn’t mutually exclusive. Maybe you can have angst and be happy. I know I am.

But then, I’ve never been dumped by Jake Gyllenhaal.

And so I turned the radio back on. There she was, no surprise, grinding her way through the bridge, a hyper-sexualized woman-child bringing home her recent smash, "Shake it Off!" with its infectious chorus, “Shake it off! Shake it off! AH! AH! AH! Shake it off! Shake it off!” It reminded me we all have a story. And, mine? Life was good. I was driving home to my love. The one thing she doesn’t have. 


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Letter to my Mom

Dear Mum,
When you were 52, you told me you still felt like you were 21.
At the time, I thought you meant aging was surprising, that your mirror image was disturbingly different from the picture you carried of yourself. That, boy, was life unfair.
It was the 70’s. I was 10. You were 36. The Middle East was on fire. In Toronto, Daddy’s disease held us hostage. Up and down our downtown apartment corridor as Gaza Strip we would run, my brother and I, away from your warring factions. Daddy—trapped inside his alcoholic prison, and you—on the front line, battling back, refusing to be terrorized by a disease Daddy simply couldn’t free himself from. Your inner warrior emerged—tall, blond, outwardly fearless, drawing forth your strongest weapon—your maternal instinct—and you smuggled us out of a war zone 6 stories high with a view of High Park.
Dead at 38, Daddy lost the war. We survived. You kept us safe.
And you never dropped the ball. Suddenly single, you worked full-time, at work and home, building us back up from the singeing rubble of his death. You refused to rest until new soil was turned—a Viking farmer with a plough tied to her back—sacrificing all but the grip on our hands. You never let go. We, too, knew of drinking powdered milk, sparing portions of generic cheese and garden furniture as décor in our living room—not unlike the post WW 2 period you endured as a child. But you painted and puttied and persisted, taking us from rations to riches. And through thin wisps of black smoke emerged a beautiful home—a sanctuary—where every day 3 little words were said over and over and over as mantra.                 
“I love you.”
I felt safe.
When I was 13, I lost my kidneys. When I was 19, you gave me one of yours.
You say you never thought about it. You had to save your child’s life.
Over those years of illness, you wove me a tapestry of love, thick threads of compassion and concern sewn together with hands so elegant and strong. I love your hands. They could stitch the finest embroidery and still rip out a pair of spark plugs. Hands that stroked my throbbing head and clutched mine ever tight throughout procedure and pain.
That day when you were 52, you were readying to move back to Denmark, where you were born and raised—you could no longer play the role of “Mum”. Under the florescent lights of your Joe-Job, you were wilting, fried from sadness and stress. A working actress, I was moving to Los Angeles with my husband, Kevin. Your parting gift was the tapestry you’d woven for all of my 26 years.
What happened to us?
Separated by miles of ocean, my tapestry became worn and threadbare, gnawed through with gaping holes of resentment. I remained a child, demanding to hear from my Mummy. Demands get lost in the roar of the ocean.
And the continents divided us.
Had it become my job to love you differently? I could stand on a stage, memorize someone else’s lines, but had I not understood, that it was now time to assume the role of adult, and although still your child, no longer act like one? I missed you. We would talk, but I would forget my part, improvise things I would instantly regret. And you disappeared into the wings.
I became sick, rejecting your kidney. I missed your hands. Dying, I reached for your tapestry, pulling its ragged remains around me, but found no comfort. And so I reached for something else. Down the path of addiction I wandered, running wild with fear, getting so lost I nearly joined Daddy on the other side.
But I’m still here. And after 6 years apart, so are you.
Maybe when you gave me your kidney, you gave me the best of you. In those silent years between us, was I meant to hear your muffled cries, an agonized regret that your gift of life that was failing me? And after Daddy, was it all just too much?
I get it now. You lost your husband. You lost your Kevin.
Now I have Kevin’s kidney inside of me. They tell us never to refer to it as his. “The kid” is mine, my child. My responsibility. I have finally grown up.
When you were 52, you told me you still felt like you were 21. Now I know you meant we never feel completely comfortable in our skins. And no, life sure isn’t fair. But wrapped inside the tapestry you wove, I always felt comfortable, safe.
Now it’s my turn to make you feel safe.
I love you, Mum.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Must Love Dogs.

"Do you ALWAYS have to write about being an alcoholic?"

The long answer: "but-i-feel-so-empowered-since-i-now-have-daily-freedom-from-the-insanity-of-my-mind-and-the-bodily-cravings-it-is-such-a-relief-to-understand-i-am-not-a-bad-person-but-a-sick-person-sometimes-i-just-want-to-shout-it-from-the-rooftops-and-sometimes-i-just-want-to-squawk-from-the-darkness-of-my-cave-but-i-must-go-forth-and-BLOG!"

The short answer: "Uh, no?"

My poor husband.

My poor, beleaguered husband. Poor, poor, poor K. Seriously, I need to make a t-shirt. It would sell like hotcakes. (Do hotcakes sell in L.A., because seriously, no-one here eats carbs.) What the hell did he get roped into when we jumped into that puddle of marital bliss one sunny, spring afternoon back in May of 1995? For a while there, there were no romantic misty mornings or sensual afternoon showers to meander through, clutching hands, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Our marriage had become a full-blown tornado. A Category F5. The force of nature that tore through our life leveled it all: honesty, hope and trust. Pellets of ice shredded all Honesty like shingles off a roof sent flying through the air. Feeble whispers of Hope were drowned by howling winds that seemed to rise up from direct from hell. And Trust was flattened, like a structure demolished, useless until built back up from scratch.

But somehow, someway, Love survived.

[kidneytransplantaddictionoverdoserehabrelapseseparationrecovery—maybe if i write it really small and smushed together K. won't notice this part.]

You try getting through that unscathed.

So when my husband asks, I listen. There's nothing I won't do for him. Except give him a kidney. So I began to scratch my head, in an exaggerated fashion, much like a animation character who has way more hair than me (damn you, immunosuppressives!) and pondered.

What should I write about? What would make him smile?

Quickly I observed that there are a number of topics that are invariably off-limits:

The Killers
My first boyfriend
Brandon Flowers
The Medical System in America

I also observed that there are certain topics I am not interested in writing about:

The LA Scots (more drama than a Telemundo novela.)
Bag piping (a girl needs a break.)
How much Kevin complains about how hot Los Angeles is in the summer (Winnipeg is waiting.).

And then it came to me. Quick as a flash of light. Or the wag of a tail.


Who doesn't like dogs? I'm sure, actually, I KNOW some of you are out there, and quite frankly, I don't trust you. But all that matters for this blog is how much K. and I LOOOVE dogs.

Especially our own.

My first dog was Ralph. Ralph was a beagle. I was 16 and I fell in love. There is nothing like your first dog. It's a little like your first orgasm—nothing prepares you for it. I was absolutely smitten. From his smushed-up scowl to the white tip of his thick, bushy tail that spun erect whenever I walked through the door. His whiskers would part like wings every time his wee leather lips pursed with sweet suspicion to belt out his trademark, "WOOOOOO!" I used to stare for hours at his "I heart  my BEAGLE" leash because "beagle" had suddenly become the CUTEST WORD IN THE WORLD.

Ralph was a puppy when I bought him. Never again. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Even as a pup his personality was formed and ready. He was the ornery old man who'd sit on his porch and yell at the children who'd scamper across his front lawn. But Ralph was secretly a love muffin. He was all bark and no bite. (Except for that one time. Poor K.) He was fine with the world and everything in it, especially if he got to GO FOR A WALK. He'd walk for hours on end, especially with Bedstefar, my Danish grandfather, who never owned a Danish hound of his own, but quietly logged many hours with Ralph over their (Bedstemor and Bedstefar's) many visits to Toronto. What a sight that was. My 2 favorite guys in the world—my Bedstefar and my beagle, Ralph, trotting down the salted, wintry sidewalks of Toronto together. Testify!

Until K.

K. and I shared Ralph for 8 years. He moved in with us in 1994. And he traveled Route 66 with us all the way to The City of Angels.

This is Kevin's best memory of Ralph:

It was a spring evening in Toronto. 1992. We were in love. I believe it was the first time, or one of the first times Kevin had met my mother. And it was the first time he met Ralph.

After my father's death, my mother, brother and I moved from an apartment in downtown Toronto, to a house on the east side of High Park. How I raised Ralph then is downright hazardous compared to the responsible dog owner I am now. I used to just open our front door and let Ralph run around the neighbourhood for a couple of hours. Take that, Neighbourhood Watch! (spelled with  "u".) I never got him neutered. Terrible. Who knows how many greyhounds with beagle faces are running around the West End of Toronto now? I know. Live and learn. So Ralph was used to running up the sidewalks of Geoffrey St.. It was our family ritual—the running of the beagle—whenever one of us was making our way down the street from the streetcar stop on Roncesvalles, another would bring Ralph outside and wait. Amazing to think we survived without cell phones. We would just guess when someone might arrive home. "Mum said she'd be home by 6pm. I'll peek outside and see if she's on her way."

And then all hound would break loose.

That spring evening, Mum stood on the top of the porch. At one end of a taut leash, her hand protectively clamped, at the other end, an extremely eager beagle, rigid with combustible energy, ears up, cocked like radar cups, nose pointed outward—and his lipstick if you really want to know the truth. (Not neutered, remember?) I threw up a big wave and an even bigger "RAAALLLPH!". It was a slow-motion movie sequence. Time would stand still when I saw my bud. My Mum would drop the leash as she bent to whisper, "Where's Henriette?" This old hound would bound down the patio steps and instinctively turn right and then tear up the well-preserved Canadian sidewalk towards me. But who was this? Kevin stopped short.  His face lit up, with something that can only be described as puppy love (Get it?). Ralph bounded towards us with his big beagle grin, lots of tongue, yelping with delight. He was relentless in his exuberance, joy bursting from every danderous pore of his wiggling body. It was The Greeting That Had No End. Kevin took in my wonderful dog from head to paw as Ralph jumped up on me and then K. gasped with tentative delight,

"You have a BEAGLE?"

But why was he running on an angle? I could already read K.'s mind and we weren't even engaged.

"Ralph's spine was infected when he was 3. He was paralyzed, couldn't walk for 10 days. A little Prednisone, and miraculously, he could. But ever since then he runs on a bit of an angle. He starts at POINT A, but ends up at POINT C. A little unorthodox, but he gets there."

My beagle Ralph walked a crooked line. Yup. My kind of dog. 

"I've always wanted a BEAGLE!"

[Honestly, folks, I think that sealed the deal.] 

I told you. There's nothing like your first time.

If Ralph was the sitcom curmudgeon, then Bessie was his heart o' gold wife.

We adopted Bessie after living in Los Angeles for about 8 months. Bessie was an old basset hound K. discovered in the back of the Pasadena Humane Society. IN THE BACK. This was not good news for Bessie. But what was good news was that we fell in love instantly and took her home. Bessie was 10. She had been found wandering around a parking lot. And she had been adopted and then RETURNED because she had a tiny lump on her back the size of a peanut that, in the end, never grew any bigger. Their loss. Bessie was pure love. Bessie had no baggage. None. Not even a handbag. For a rescue animal this is rare. We called her our ballerina girl—bulimic and beautiful. She was our L.A. girl, appropriate as we lived on Hollywood Blvd. at the time—the Laurel Canyon end. Bessie was thin, social, too social. In fact, Bessie's only flaw was that she'd get distracted pooping. This was challenging when walking her along the famed Boulevard. If someone called out, and they often did, "OH! She's ADORABLE!", Bessie had to stop. She knew she was beautiful. She'd stop pooping, look up, wag, wag some more, even as we cursed her latest fan for interrupting the precious ebb and flow of her BM. It was worse than bribing a toddler with M and M's to use the potty. (Not that I know anything about that. Poetic license.) She also threw up every morning, hence the bulimia. Just a wee "Blargh"—every morning. Nothing major. Compact. Contained. A polite little retch to clean out her system.

[Sooo L.A.]

Kevin fell hard for our sweet Bessie Lou.

"I've always wanted a BASSET HOUND!"

[Wait. I thought you always wanted a beagle?"]

This is Kevin's best memory of Bessie:

As perfect as she was, she had one major flaw. A titch of anxiety. But it only came out beyond the sheltered walls of our North Hollywood duplex. When at home, and paired up with Ralph the Grouch, the two personalities seemed to balance each other out. One Curmudgeon + One Pollyanna = 2 Happy Hounds.

Traveling triggered another personality altogether.

Doggie co-dependency makes traveling, uh, challenging to say the least. One time we threw caution to the wind, or was it intelligence?, or maybe it really was caution?, because I would never do it again. We flew Ralph and Bessie with us to Winnipeg, Canada. Because as much as we loved seeing K.'s family, we couldn't bear leaving our own family behind. So we bought the doggie crates on Craig's List. We discovered that transferring through Denver or Minneapolis would be impossible because the outside temperatures dropped too low for dogs to transfer planes. So Vancouver it was—Canada's Miami Beach. And we stocked up on those doggie tranquilizers. Ralph took to the tranquilizer obediently, swallowing his pill, manifesting it like a pro, his bloodshot eyes and heavy head happily chilling upon the collection of pillows we'd stuffed inside his crate. Bessie, on the other hand, became a beast. Our sweet stuffed animal come to life was plunged into the throws of panic once the tranquilizer hit her bloodstream. Even back then I was confused. ("But Bessie! It's drugs!") Our demure princess howled and bayed and cried whereas King Ralph, The Howling Hound of Hollywood, shut right down and enjoyed the riiide, man.

And it only got worse upon return from Winnipeg to Vancouver.

We stood wrangled inside long, snaking lines with frustrated travelers, pure anarchy contained only by the ingrained Canadian desire to be polite at all times and those ubiquitous velvet (poly-blend?) ropes confining us to the teeniest square of linoleum at this pseudo-border. We were all tired, hungry and frustrated after long flight delays due to de-icing. Stupid Canada! Does it have to snow every January? It was New Year's Day. Christmas was the nostalgic past and the only thing in the future were maxed out credit cards and the strong possibility that we would miss our flight home. Those darn Canadians. So fair and reasonable. No racial profiling here! We would have to wind through those ropes like everyone else. There was no deal I could negotiate with 4 suitcases, 3 airport trolleys, 2 doggie crates, and 1 wildly embarrassed husband.

If there's one thing to know about my husband, it is that he does not like attention. Is this incongruous with him playing THE LOUDEST INSTRUMENT ON EARTH? Yes. Is it a contradiction of sorts that he loves to sing in front of thousands of people? Correct. Is it somewhat odd that he runs a business where he has to deal with people very day? Absolutely. But attention on HIM? Not so much. Why was Kevin embarrassed you might ask? Well, our darling basset hound was having the same reaction to her tranquilizer—that is to say, none. In fact, it did the opposite and cracked her out—catapulting her into a tweaking frenzy—winding her up so tightly that when the howls of agony began to emit from her perfectly sculpted snout, a flurry of frantic heads rippled through the line-up like "The Wave", each one looking in a different direction for the murder that had just taken place on Canadian soil. No. No-one had been killed, but my pacifist, my very own St. Francis of Assisi, was flipping out and wanted to kill. his. dog. Kevin was sweating. Bessie was sweating. Kevin was shaking. Bessie was shaking. Ralph was safe and stoned. And I was just plain ol' annoyed. ("I mean Bessie, if you're not even going to enjoy the drug, share the wealth.") As her howls of agony got louder, the tittering around us grew in tandem, until it was full-blown event. Our dog was howling! Everyone was howling! They were all baying and laughing and for a moment everyone's frustrations with Customs were lifted away with the snowflakes that were keeping us grounded.

And then we missed the plane.

We took a break from dogs for a year and a half after Bessie and Ralph died.

We had Bessie for just over 4 years.

Ralph lived for 17 years and 27 days.

And then we discovered "Daphneyland". A rescue for basset hounds in Acton, California.

To arrive at Daphneyland is an Experience. Because basset hounds are such a loyal, kind and gentle breed (with notable exceptions like Bonnie, the Killer Basset. Another blog.), cute clusters of houndiness can hang without (much) incident. We arrived at the ranch for the first time in 2004 and parked at the bottom of the hill near the residence. Atop the hill was the kennel, and around the kennel, a chain-link fence enclosing about an acre of desert land. This is the "common area"— where they "Release the Hounds!" As we pulled up, the Pavlovian sound of our wheels grinding into the hard, dusty sand triggered approximately 50-70 basset hounds to come flying, and I do mean flying, down the side of that hill to greet us. Mega-watt ears flapping, tails pinwheeling with delight and oh, those slobbery snouts loudly trumpeting that welcoming sound only a dog-lover can stand.

"AHHH-ROOOOOO!" Times 50.

And from my husband's lips a sentence that killed my Princess Leia fantasy dead in the dirt.

"OH! THIS is my fantasy!"

[Well, then.]

Soon after we met Daisy. The Dais. The biggest basset hound in the world. She was fat. Really fat. Like, where-do-I-get-one-of-those-doggie-treadmills-that-I've-seen-on-the-News-at-6-to-help-her-lose-weight, fat? I was terrified we couldn't give her a good quality of life, terrified she'd never be able to enjoy herself, terrified she'd never be happy. But Kevin was only terrified that I wouldn't say "Yes".

I said "Yes".

Our 10 year-old Daisy was never svelte like our Bessie Lou, but she was Comedy. When we moved from North Hollywood to Shadow Hills, we moved into a rented house on 5 acres of land. Daisy learned to hike with me. She was never the sprinter, more the endurance waddler, but she always strut through the finish line. She was generous, thoughtful, bringing us petrified gophers and rats on a semi-regular basis—busting through the front door with purpose, flinging down her trophies with a sassy wink and a prideful wag. And she had a dark spot. She had a past. Sometimes she would need to walk away from all the love we smothered her with and have a little "me" time. But my greatest fear was never realized.

She was happy.

This is Kevin's best memory of Daisy:

2 nights before she died, the 3 of us were bundled up by our pillowed headboard, blissfully zoned out on mindless telegenic waves and the endorphin rush that comes from softly stroking dog fur for hours on end. Suddenly, she began to eject herself from the comfort zone of our arms. Perhaps eject is an overstatement. She had never done this before and it became clear it was hard for her to navigate our fluffy bed. An overweight basset with back issues is usually not in any great hurry to leave the comfort of a pre-existing archaeological dig of pillows and sheets. Once excavated, and human Slave is intact, they STAY. But Daisy was insistent on moving. She waddled around, wiggling her body awkwardly, trying to build momentum. "What are you doing, sweet Dais?", we wondered. Finally, she settled down against a freshly excavated barricade of comforters. She fine tuned her new spot with a detailed snout. And then she stopped. She was sitting completely opposite from us, just looking. Not staring, looking. She looked first at the one, then the other of us. Daisy was nothing if not fair, balanced in her love for us, loving us equally, but uniquely. That night, we held a conversation without words. We both felt it, any true blue dog lover can sniff out those moments, even if we don't know at the time what they mean.

Now I know she was saying goodbye. A good and proper goodbye, worthy of the Good and Proper Dais.

This time, we waited only 6 months to return to Daphneyland. We were hooked on hounds, addicted to rescuing senior dogs.

When we met the smallest basset of them all, who turned out to have the biggest heart.

Here's the tribute I wrote for Maggie May when she died very suddenly just 7 months ago.


As soon as I spotted Maggie's little black back come tearing out of her cage, I thought, "OMG! THERE'S MY DOG!" She was little—40 lbs.—smaller than any hound we'd ever owned. She was arguably the prettiest. And she was most definitely the sweetest.

Kevin, once again, could not get enough of our current basset. And it was so much easier to eat her up with a spoon because she was "Compact Basset"—coming in a conveniently smaller-size for extra snuggling! But it took her a long time to get comfortable, and it was difficult to watch. Everything scared her. If you dropped a pot, a spoon, a feather. As we found her voice, a nervous high pitched wail, we began to tease her mercilessly, "I'm Maggie. I'm afraid of Air." A sweet, plaintive, "Noooooo..." was her reply for everything. But thankfully, her anxiety dissipated even as ours grew. During the most challenging time of our marriage, through illness and addiction, unemployment and separation, she blossomed, her heart spilling over with love when we came up short. Maggie flourished when we needed her most, indeed, finally finding her gloriously nipple-studded belly in rehab with me.  She was always happy, always twirling and completely ROBBED at The Arcadia Basset Hound Picnic placing an unspeakable 2nd!!!

But she didn't care. As long as she could keep wagging.

Kevin's best memory of Maggie:

Picture it. Shadow Hills, 2010. The bedroom of one fatigued husband and his bedridden wife. The wife lies under a mountain of blankets. She is hiding from Life and The Cold. She is always cold. The husband lies in the opposite direction, facing the foot of the bed, watching TV. He lies in his tighty whities on his stomach, sweating, gasping for air. He is always hot. Maggie, their adorable, slightly wall-eyed basset, lies parallel to her master. She digs him. She wants to please him. They are both lying with their legs sprawled behind them like pressed ducks. The wife laughs. The husband begins to softly bark, edging his nose skyward. Maggie begins to squeak, uncomfortable, uncertain. The wife laughs again. The husband begins to bay like a coyote. Maggie squeals now, straddling that line between complete bewilderment and the joy of crazy. The husband starts to yap, continuous barks of encouragement, now directing them toward his confused little canine. Maggie has had enough. She retaliates—her tiny barks of protest comedic from such a wee little frame. Her barks grow louder and louder until they shift into growl and then finally shift into an anthemic xylophone trill of epic proportions.


Her trill was hilarious, a surefire party trick that would ignite the room with delighted "Oooh's" and "Aaah's".

And it was the sound that sustained me during those dark dialysis days and nights. When I could hardly stand another minute of my existence, Maggie would do the howling for me.

"His name is Wahlter White?"

Wahlter waited for us. We met Wahlter at Daphneyland in January of 2013 when we were taking pictures of the hounds for Petfinder.  We still had Maggie May. We weren't looking for another dog. But Wahlter was looking for us.

Wahlter waited 13 months for us.

"And then there's Wahlter..."

[Which we like to sing to the tune of Pharrell's  "Because I'm Happyyyyyy..."]

We've had Wahlter for 5 months now. I don't now why I was so nervous to have male dog energy again. After 17 years of Ralph, I just figured there was no going back to The Penis. But it was a gamble that payed off in spades.

When we brought Wahlter home, I hadn't heard K. giggle like that in 6 years.


Wahlter is nervous in his own way. He's the only hound we briefly considered medicating. The first time we came home after leaving him, there were slobbery, goobery sheaths of saliva covering every window pane of our cabin. And we live in a cabin with french doors—read panes of glass, many, many panes of glass. Books were knocked over, K.'s hard drives were toppled and every surface had been mounted in the desperate attempt to FIND MY OWNERS. We would return home to complete destruction and the polar opposite—euphoric celebration. The panting, the spinning, the sheer depth of his gratitude that we were home was touching, troubling. Would he adjust? Thankfully, with a little lavender oil, a little classical music and a little more time, it seems he has grasped the idea that we do return home—always—and that his fears of abandonment are pure fiction.

Wahlter is delighted by all things. He can be merrily trotting beside me as I take the garbage out and then, "SQUIRREL!"—or in his case, "GECKO!"—and ZOOM!, he's off, tearing across our sandy yard and diving into a one-inch squared crevasse, completely perplexed as to why he can't jam his whole being inside. He is equally delighted to simply sit and stare at me in the morning as I putter around the kitchen. Brewing coffee, washing dishes, taking my meds. He ignores the black cloud above my head that takes its sweet time dissipating into the light of day. He just watches me wake up, unflappable. I am charming to my dog as both my inhuman morning self and my electric night owl self who can't stop "Hoo-hoo-hoo-ing!" until the wee hours of the night. He loves it all.

And we love all of him.

And he is of profound comfort when he curls up with me at night. My protector, who knows nothing of my Diseased past. His tail wags like a malfunctioning metronome on triple speed at the mere sight of his partner-in-bromance, K., while simultaneously "Grrring"—just a slight warning growl—channeling my Ralph, who used to growl with bulging, suspicious eyes if anyone came too close to me when I was lying down.

Ralph protecting me from Future Diseases. Wahlter now protecting me from Diseases Past.

Somehow it has all come full circle.

Kevin's best memory of Wahlter:


So now that we have a picture of their personalities, this is how I imagine the conversation might have gone down at The Rainbow Bridge when Maggie joined Ralph, Bessie, and Daisy that cold January night here on Earth.

A wee, tri-colored basset hound finishes crossing a beautiful bridge alight with a technicolor glow. She stops to pee.

MAGGIE: Noooooo. Where am I?

Enter RALPH, age 17, (think: Robert De Niro meets Robin Williams), BESSIE, age 14, (think: Paris Hilton meets Drew Barrymore) and DAISY, age 14, (think: Elaine Stritch meets Melissa McCarthy). They surround MAGGIE, age 14, (think: Kristen Wiig meets Kristen Bell). Butt sniffing and tail wagging ensue for several minutes. RALPH lets one rip.

MAGGIE: Noooooo. Who are you guys?

RALPH: I'm Ralph. The dog that started it all. You may have also heard of me as GayBeg104, The Gay Beagle, Ralphum, Boobus, Bud, Budson, just to name a few.

DAISY: Ralph. We get it.

BESSIE: I'm Bessie. I'm beautiful.

DAISY: I'm The Dais. Welcome. It's cool up here. No-one cares that you're big, or that you pee on the floor, or even if you eat your own poop. So knock yourself out. 

MAGGIE: Noooooo. But I miss Them. They never cared if I did any of those things.

RALPH: How are they doing?

MAGGIE: It was very sad for them for a while, but they always loved me. So much. Too much.

RALPH: Too much? How is that possible? I couldn't get enough.

DAISY:  Ralph was never neutered.

RALPH: True, true. I just mean, they were awesome.

BESSIE: They told me I was beautiful. All the time.

DAISY: Me, too.

RALPH: Me, too.

MAGGIE: Me, too.

There is a prolonged silence.

MAGGIE: Do you miss them now?

RALPH: Well, we see them all the time. You get to kinda watch over them. But you don't miss them. You'll see.                          

DAISY: And this place is the shit. All the food you can eat. You can chase whatever you want. Sniff anything. And you never, ever feel alone. Just loved.

MAGGIE: That sounds nice.

BESSIE: I'm beautiful.


DAISY: And we'll get to see them again.

MAGGIE: But how do you know?

DAISY: We just do. You'll see.

MAGGIE: Can I hang with you guys?

RALPH, DAISY, and BESSIE: Of course! We're family!

MAGGIE: Family!


As the dinner bell sounds, my 4 beloved dogs go running off into the sunset, tails wagging, ears flapping and hearts bursting with joy.

So yes, my cherished canines, our Love survived.

And no, I don't always have to write about alcoholism.

But I always have to write about what's important to me, and nothing was more important to me than you guys.

I hope this made you smile.

[For K.]

[And Ralph, Bessie, Daisy and Maggie]
Must Love Dogs.