So Long, Little Friend

September 20, 2009

glass of water on tableLike most people, I would prefer the days to unfold like the colorful pages of a Dr. Seuss book, populated by the playful antics of furry, non-existent creatures and lots of nonsensical rhyming.

OK, maybe that’s just me.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of reality to real life and it’s not always easy or pleasant.

I’ve known Paloma for nearly twenty years and, for most of that time, I’ve known Coltrane. She had found Coltrane in a garbage dumpster, a tiny ball of black fur that someone had left for dead.

Coltrane had found someone who would give her a home.

I’ve stated before that I am a dog person, but when Paloma and I became a couple and, later, when we moved in together, I made an effort to embrace the felines that came with her.

I didn’t understand them.

They wouldn’t curl up and watch sports with me like my dog had. They certainly wouldn’t fetch. I had no idea what was on their minds.

‘trane was, perhaps, the most inscrutable to me. She was calm, contented, and a mystery. Buddhist monks would have envied her zen-like state. Sometimes she would give me a gentle head butt.

Though she was old, she was healthy. She moved at a leisurely pace, but she retained remarkable agility.

Over the past year or so, Paloma would, on occasion, comment that she was trying to emotionally prepare herself for the day when Coltrane’s long life would reach its conclusion. I dreaded the idea because I knew how hard that day would be for her.

Then, about six months or so ago, I was writing one evening. Paloma had gone to bed. Coltrane quietly ambled into the living room. I knew what she wanted and scooped her into my arms.

In the kitchen, I doled a portion of one of her favorites into her dish. As she ate, I filled a tumbler full of cold water from the fridge and took it back to the living room.

Several minutes later, ‘trane climbed onto the coffee table and drank from the glass of water. As I rubbed her head, it struck me that the two of us shared numerous daily rituals including this one.

It was that evening that I realized that somehow, perhaps when I wasn’t thinking about it, Coltrane and I had developed a bond. I also realized that the day that I had dreaded for Paloma was now one that I was dreading for myself as well.

Last Thursday, I arrived home to find Paloma tending to Coltrane. The small animal was struggling in her efforts to do the smallest of tasks, tasks that a day earlier she could do slowly but with little trouble or pain.

The spirit was still there – the abiding sweetness – but her small body was failing her.

On Friday morning, Paloma made the difficult but compassionate decision to let Coltrane go. She did so with no hesitation and knowing that it was the one, final act of kindness she could offer ‘trane.

And though it was hard, and though she’ll be missed, it was a peaceful end to a good, long life.

Mark Knopfler – Going Home (Theme Of The Local Hero)
from Local Hero soundtrack

I considered posting some music by Coltrane’s namesake, but one song kept coming into my head the past few days – the closing song from Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to the movie Local Hero. Much like ‘trane, the movie is low-key, quirky and sweet with a charm that sneaks up on you and is hard to shake.

As for the song, there’s a touch of sadness, but that quickly gives way to a determined melody and concludes with an anthemic, almost joyous close that leaves you feeling that everything’s going to be alright.

Dire Straits, Pick Withers And The Winter Break Of My Discontent

February 27, 2009

Here, it is often said that if you don’t like the weather, wait twenty-four hours. Actually, I’ve been trying to inject new blood into that maxim by saying, if you don’t like the weather, move ten feet to the right.

It hasn’t caught on, yet.

The reason I’m even considering the weather is that after a couple days of warmth, tonight it’s cold again and I’m trying to remember the last place I lived that didn’t have a draft.

Psychologically, I wonder if I now associate a draft with the concept of “home.”

But having grown up in the lower Midwest, I was accustomed to cold from October through the end of March – none of this low 70s in January nonsense. There were no days off from the raw temperatures.

The shame that Paloma and I won’t have kids is that I could deliver that parental speech triangulating long distances, heavy snow, and walking to school backed by true experience. It would be an Oscar-worthy performance.

As I student at a large university, on an average day, between hiking to classes and work, I was probably trekking at least five miles (thank God for the Walkman).

One winter, I was stuck working through Christmas Eve. The campus was empty and I was crashing at a house owned by my girlfriend’s uncle.

The girlfriend’s brother lived there as did two of her cousins and a couple of other friends. No one remained, though, except for the roommate who managed a Pizza Hut (think Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed & Confused, except, you know, managing a Pizza Hut).

I watched a lot of late-night cable, slept on the couch under a mountain of blankets, and worked myself into a state of catatonia due to the relentless boredom.

I was also going through some kind of Dire Straits phase which lasted for a good six months. On one of those nights during that holiday break, I stayed up ‘til dawn taping every song by Dire Straits, A to Z, from their debut up through Brothers In Arms. I think I even threw guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack work into the mix.

(has anyone gotten a large government grant, yet, to study OCD in music fans?)

Poor Dire Straits. Has any band that was the biggest in the world – as Knopfler and company arguably were with the album Brothers In Arms – been so lightly regarded?

Of course, since that winter and following spring, I’ve rarely listened to Dire Straits even though I own everything save for their final studio album. Their songs pop up randomly on the iPod, though, and it’s a reminder that they did have some fantastic stuff.

And they also had a drummer named Pick Withers.

It’s a name that I just like to say from time to time

Dire Straits – Water Of Love
I always thought that Water Of Love was the underrated gem from Dire Straits’ debut.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, it’s always been one of my favorites by them.

Dire Straits – Tunnel Of Love
Is there a consensus on the best Dire Straits’ album? I’d have to go with Making Movies and Tunnel Of Love is that record’s stellar opener. Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band plays piano on it.

It has a way cool cover, too.

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
Musically and lyrically, Brothers In Arms is astonishingly evocative.

Mark Knopfler – The Long Road
The Long Road was from one of Knopfler’s soundtrack efforts for a movie called Cal. I seem to recall watching the film in college with a friend and it was so slow and depressing that we only made it halfway through (it’s a pretty grim flick about the IRA).

The song is pretty, though, and strangely hopeful sounding.

If you want an engaging, overlooked film with a Knopfler soundtrack, find a copy of Local Hero. Every time I think of it, I suggest to Paloma the idea of running a bed and breakfast in a small, seaside Scottish village.