Friday, May 10, 2013


Stephen and Loki reflected in the Fog City Diner on New Year's Day, 2013, before  Loki's diagnosis
Written on the plane from SFO to SYD, San Francisco to Sydney, about 30 hours ago.

I put the dog down 11 days ago. 

Loki did me an odd favor by contracting terminal cancer just when he did. I set out a few years ago to make turning 60, which I accomplished on April 6, a turning point. I described it as using my 60th year as a re-evaluation, but in the event the great bulk of the reevaluation occurred in a great clump at the end. The first part of that 60th year was a year where, as happens in a career, success an frustration bounded ahead in equal and matching parts. Midway through, my boss changed my job description; I like to say that I re-write my job description not annually but every third trimester. I like it that way, and evidently so does the boss.

But like so much in my life, it forces forward in me a chameleonesque adaptability that is belied by only apparent stridency and my entirely phony self-confidence.

The dog's death ripped the veil off those traits, at least for me, and that is part of the favor that Loki unwittingly did me. My life has been so many memes. Gay liberationist, typesetter, cyclist, leather guy, scholar, registrar, those are the broad lines, but I am so restless, so itchy and fidgety. I search out anchors and hang on to them, human and inanimate, and for the last twenty years, canine. Loki ripped me away from his anchor, and made me squarely gaze down into the free radical status that must be the source of any creativity or joy and involvement that I might muster in my 60s.

I needed to be free of dogness both for time and for perspective. I keen for him, all the while, for his being, for his anchoring, for his companionship.

Stephen and Loki at our last annual New Year's Day self-portrait reflected in the window of Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf. BTW, I've been working on that gut ;-} 

So I got thinking about keening. I am on a flight to Sydney for two weeks of primarily family-oriented vacation. I have three days in Sydney on my own, and I have done some social media correspondence to see if I might set up some intellectual encounters. Nothing set in stone even yet; social media intellectual affinity does not translate readily to face-to-face affinity. Not trying to be superior here; I too am not so much suspicious as leery lest I be the fool who imagines that a perceived electronic warmth would be real in the flesh. It is not so much that we do not trust the other, but that we don't want to be the one who ends up overplaying his hand at a table of merry hucksters. Even if we don't really believe any of us are hucksters. It just might be better not being flesh and blood to each other. We just don't know.

But on keening. Australians use the word keen, in my limited online experience, to mean enthusiastic … I'm keen to meet you. I know what it means, but the term is still poetic for me, as above, whereby I keen for my dead dog. It has a sense of irreducible longing, where the Australian usage has a sense of realizable desire. It is curious that there is an Indonesian word that sits right smack in the middle of these two meanings … rindu … normally translated as longing, but also with the sense of being in love. So there is a phrase, sakit rindu, which literally means sick with longing, but has the sense of being in love and pining for the presence of the loved one. Rindu as a concept haunts broad swaths of Indonesian poetry, whether in the sense of love of the beloved or love of god as the beloved in the Sufi-istic sense that is increasingly literally against the law and punishable.

So being keen on something says that I want it in the context of it being possible to get and keening about something says I want it in the context of it not being possible to get. Rindu is the two senses merged and left inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved.

That is my psyche at each and every juncture - inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved. It is a source of perverse self-satisfaction that many think me self-confident, even arrogant, assured. It's a parlor trick that I have taught myself over the years. I have had to come to terms with the fact that a personality like mine just plain rubs some people the wrong way. Costanza-like, I cannot bear it and demand to know why, why, why don't you like me. But I have applied a parlor trick to that also and, except for the slight look of desperation that I cannot help but proffer on such occasions, I think I hide my inner George well enough for practical purposes.

Inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved … those have been the sources of any creativity and accomplishment that I have ever known. Loki's death puts me squarely face to face with them again, unanchored, unrestricted. That was his last gift to me. And so, as the heartache recedes, the keening with no answer, I resolve to be keen on the future, yearning for a sexagenarian burst of creativity and expansiveness. 

Stephen, self portrait in the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, February  2013. The sculpture is Untitled, 2010, by Anish Kapur, who is most famous for the Chicago Bean
All photos by arod.

Friday, April 26, 2013


I put Loki down this morning. He's been my dog since July 31, 2000 until today, April 26, 2013. He was six months old when Richard, my then partner and now sainted ex, and I picked him from all the other mutts at the San Francisco SPCA. He was so calm and he had those deep soulful brown eyes that penetrated from behind the bars.

Loki and Stephen, saying hello

I was 47 when I got Loki and the photo above is the first photo ever taken of him, in the office where I worked with Chad who took the photo. Loki's calm in the cage belied his nervous nature. When I walked him out of the SPCA to the office where the photo was taken, he just about jumped out of his skin when the first car passed us by. We learned that he had been an apartment dog that had to be turned in by his first owner because dogs were not allowed. Loki was afraid of boxes in his puppyhood, and we figure he was kept in a box before we got him.

His first name was Banjo, but that did not do it for Richard and me. We picked Loki, the mischievous. His full name was Loki da Dawg. He was a doggy type dog. That's how we saw him.

But this blog post is not meant to be a life history or even an obituary. It's meant as a reflection on a dog and a man, and dogs and what they mean to us.

I put Loki down because the malignant tumors in his jaw and throat were threatening a catastrophic event, and his breathing was starting to be labored. I see no point in letting an animal under my care suffer, and the imminent suffering would have been grotesque. Outside of the cancer, Loki was still vigorous, gobbling down his breakfast on his last day, and then, albeit slowly, retracing the steps of our regular Saturday morning walk in Golden Gate Park and through the AIDS Memorial Grove. By the end of the walk, it was slow going indeed, and from there I took him straight to his demise.

Loki and Stephen, saying goodbye

This is the last photo ever taken of Loki, by me by shutter delay today in the big circle in the AIDS Memorial Grove. He would be dead less than an hour after this.

When a dog dies, it is like the loss of a limb. A dog's attention is constant; his work is to observe and, in his canine way, interpret every move his master makes. Part of the need for animal connection, I am convinced, is an inner harmony with being watched by a beast. The conversation between beast and man is not in words or in concepts, but in physicality and presence and response.

It's not like that when a person dies. This has been a bad year in my circle that way. We lost our friend Jim Gaither to a sudden heart attack last July, and we lost our friend Lindi Press to a galloping and cruel cancer on New Year's Eve. When a person dies, it is kaleidoscopic. it touches so many, alters so many paths and connections. It takes years to adjust to human loss, and even years are not enough in so many instances.

People often say that dogs are like children. It's just not true. The death of a child never ends. The death of a dog zeroes in on his few primary persons, and we feel empty and bereft. But we move on soon enough. I will never forget Loki, as I can never forget Laddie, my boyhood dog, nor Den, the husky who immediately preceded Loki. Remembering any of them makes me wistful and nostalgic. It makes me remember their presence as we wandered and cavorted and hung out. It will make me want him by my side again.

Loki on Strawberry Hill

I did some calculations, and I figure that Loki and I walked about 27,000 miles together. The photo above was taken on top of the hills above my alma mater Cal. Walking is my solace, the best way to think. Loki and I came to walk together so natively to each other, unspoken patterns repeated countless times. Loki didn't really like other dogs, especially big ones, and especially golden retrievers and boxers and big labs. So he was always on leash. I preferred it that way anyway because I walk to move along, cover distance. Dogs left top their own devices tend to dawdle or travel in circles.

I was never Loki's care giver or whatever term is preferred now. I was his master, and we had a clear hierarchy. He knew how to read what I wanted, because I taught him how, and by and large he obeyed. By and large only because I, for many years, had to take firm measures to walk past the aforementioned big dogs. But he got it, and we did it. We understood each other; we felt each other's presence.

Loki contemplating

He was a contemplative beast as contemplation goes in beasts. He showed his skepticism when he didn't cotton to an activity or a chain of events. He made his assessments rapidly and he stuck to them. My roommate called him Mr. Grumpipuss because of that long low glower he proffered as his initial position on pretty much anything outside the norm. He'd give it to me when he thought it was time to go to bed, or time for a walk. O, how I already miss that look. I want him to glare at me right now, to command with his eyes, to assent with his swinging reluctant gait in the face of an unwanted order.

O Loki, my sweet sweet dog.

Because a dog is a lot about ego, about the owner's owning. The connection is direct and unmediated and particular. With Loki gone, I am left with myself. I have one less angle, one less buffer. You know, the world is a bloody bleak place, but we hide that with our friends and creativity and actions and brainpower. And with our animals. There is a special pureness in the way that a dog obscures the bleakness, and when he is suddenly gone, by my call, that bleakness presses into my heart and makes me long for his warmth, his presence, walking still beside me as he did for 13 long beautiful years.

So good bye Loki, good bye. Good bye.

Loki snoozing in the sun

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


the sun breaks through clouds over the San Francisco Bay looking east from San Francisco
Skyline over the Bay, 2012

When I was a boy, I played a solitary game with a lacrosse ball and the two story wall in the back yard of one of the houses we lived in. I bounced the ball off the wall according to arcane rules, and received a fixed number of points if I caught it. most throws were for 3 points, and 7 such throws consecutively gained me 21 points for a victory. I had to score exactly 21, which is, as you know, 3 times 7. My favorite numbers from my earliest memories have always been 3, 7, and 21.

But if I missed or overplayed one of the catches, the next available winning score was 32. Not sure why, but those were the rules. And I'd have to do some dipsydoodle throw with a non-three score to get there.

I'm thinking about 32 because today, New Year's Day, is the 32nd anniversary of my moving from Vancouver to San Francisco. January 1, 1981. Long ago and far away. Little did I know that it was a turning point in many ways. Reagan was inaugurated a few weeks later. AIDS was in our midst even though we did not know. Vancouver was on the cusp of being completely rebuilt, and San Francisco was a little further away from having its countercultural soul ripped out of its chest by an avalanche of filthy lucre.

But none of that interfered with my beating heart as I climbed on the plane that day. I was in tears as I waved goodbye to best friends; we'd spent New Year's Eve in a waterworks of a party at my old place. I left behind my partner, Gary Bandiera, who would join me a few months later.

Boundaries in life are funny things. Even when you see them, as I did 32 years ago, it is hard to comprehend what the flavor of life will be on the other side. And it has been many flavors. I have been a gay activist here, a student through three degrees, a nurse to my numerous friends impacted by the plague, and now a higher education professional. A long 32 years.

And in this upcoming 33rd year, I will celebrate in my adopted home my 60th birthday. It is a long way from a boy throwing a ball against a wall  and trying to avoid having to count to 32. I've counted to 32 a different way now, and can only hope that I can continue to count.

First blog post in over a year, but bound and determined that there be many more.

Photos by arod.

sun bursting through clouds