Sunday, February 10, 2008


I promised some time ago to upload a photo of the old toad who died so unexpectedly a while back ... and here it is. He was certainly an old friend ... he sat unperturbed on various of the rocks in his tank by the front door and stared back at me for more than a decade. I still miss him.

I have the animal thing in spades. I watch out of the window of the train in the morning and try to count egrets and herons on the big pond right aroud South San Francisco. Today in Golden Gate Park, I sat the dog down and he and I both were transfixed by the bison who were munching away no more than 15 feet away, albeit separated from us by a pair of fences. I say hello aloud to sparrows and crows and whatever unhappy small mammal manages not to hide himself from me. I have a dozen tanks in the house, fish and amphibians. Over the years, I have kept various crustaceans and gastropods as well, though the only such beings I have now are piggy-backers and stowaways.

The problem with keeping animals is that eventually they die. Like people. Perhaps my later life habit of keeping animals relates to all the men I lost to AIDS. While they live, I relish them. When they die, I mourn ... and, in mourning, remember mourning.

Driving around yesterday ... warm day, too many human beings out and about for my taste, but there was no way out of it because I absolutely could not wait any longer to buy new work shoes ... some character on NPR rambling on about how research has shown that people who lie about embarassing things tend to be more successful in life than those who tell the truth. They did a study ... that line is always humorous to me ... and asked people embarassing questions like "Have you every fantasized about raping someone or being raped by someone" and "do you enjoy your ... shall we call them ... movements" ... and then correlated their answers to their success in assorted endeavors in life. They asked a bunch of college athletes before a big swim meet, and the ones who wouldn't admit to embarassing stuff tended to end up being the winners.

Tonight on 60 Minutes, Katie (hand me a bag) Couric kept pestering Hillary with a bunch of inane questions about whether she has doubts, and Hillary just said that winners never think negatively (this is a considerable reduction). Hillary is right, I suppose, and I suppose we really do want a President who is and thinks she is a winner. But that ain't me, no way. I recently confessed to my big boss (by "big" I mean two or more leaps above me in the chain of command) that I always start a project by imagining complete, abject failure. That seems to calm me, because once I have live through that nightmare, I am the more at home with imagining success.

But that is not where I started to go here ... I was thinking about reliving the grief of dead friends through the death of long-time captive animal friends. It must say something about a low-bore depressive/contemplative personality that I surround myself with tiny creatures that, no matter how much delight they provide me, will eventually pass on and leave me at least passing empty.

This is too depressing. Especially after a weekend with two long beautiful walks in urban nature.

So, a propos of nothing ... and I think I have raised this before ... why is it that the Tai Chi/Falun Gong people who crowd the park weekends have not learned that cheap boom boxes and poorly recorded tapes have been superseded by very cheap and high quality digital recordings? Are there no Tai Chi people with iPods? I do find these little gluts of quasi-military physical reciters a little annoying ... I don't mind the ancient Chinese ladies, but the males under 50 bug me, and the old guys who, even when not waving their arms, studiously ignore my existence ... they bug me too.

But if you are going to walk in the park and enjoy the experience, you have to let such self-absorbed irritations be fleeting and minor ... and so it is ... and turn it quickly to self-mocking at how persnickety one would be if one did not rein in impulse and reaction.

So too I reined in impulse on another score. Recently in the park, they installed a "disk golf course" in an old forest that had long been typically empty of humanity except for a few dog walkers vainly seeking solitude. Yech, I said, and I vowed petulantly and angrily that I would not let them interfere with me with their frisbees and what I assumed would be their arrogance. Well, the "frisbee golf course" finished, now the disc-golf-tribe is out and about in little groupings ... and it turns out that they are a harmless lot obviously, uninterested in interfering with cranky middle-aged dog walkers feigning a scowl the better to chase away encounter. They wander about typically in fours ... the stoner underdressed equivalents of golfers, I suppose. It turns out that disc warriors need multiple discs to play their game, and each one of them carries a squarish bag to bear the tools of their sport ... and their pot and beer, one suspects. All middle-aged white guys, ill clad, and slumping as they walk and talk in low tones. There was one woman, but I had to look quite closely to determine that she was in fact a she ... she was not so much mannish or frumpy as evidently preferring dumpster-diving fashion.

So I will accept them as I accept the Tai Chi mafia ... everyone in the park resents everyone else ... sort of like culture vulture tourists in Bali ... as if the experience would be the more genuine if only I were the only one who knew about it.

Cranky, cranky. I feel a little like my old toad pictured at the top of this ramble.

Photo by Arod.

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