Just Bill and the Mister

December 15, 2009

LONELY AT THE TOP OF THE BOTTOM

Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 10:55 am
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The agony of victory has at last subsided, and I can now write about it.

Almost three months ago, on Monday, September 28, 2009 something perfect came to an end.  But nothing perfect can be expected to last forever.  It’s built into the nature of things that something flawless will eventually be marred and brought down. 

On that day came the end of the Golden Age of Failure here in our town:  After nineteen losses in a row, tying an NFL record, the Detroit Lions lost their way on the road to pro football immortality.  Instead of losing and thus securing unshared first place, they beat—no doubt inadvertently–the Washington Redskins. 

But out of a wish to salvage something, I see a certain negative perfection in this.  Failure is the only kind of perfection the Lions deal in, so, had the Lions lost one more game, thereby achieving an unshared record of sequential defeats in the NFL, they would have been out of step with the essence of mediocrity.  Real mediocrity calls for sacrifice—in this case, an unshared record.  Hence, mediocrity was achieved when the Lions won.

 As one columnist put it, the sighs of relief drowned out the cheers of victory.

 All the principals were interviewed.  Even the team’s owner, Mr. William Clay Ford, the architect behind the unbroken string of nineteen defeats, condescended to speak to reporters.  Isolated for years by the burden of his team’s relentless pursuit of perfection, he had finally lost his grip. 

Up to that point, he had managed to assemble a team uniquely gifted at losing, commanded by a hand-picked general manager whose talent for hiring dud coaches and quarterbacks left the pundits week after week with less to say.  Mouths open as the clock again ran out each Sunday, the writers must collectively have thought:  How many ways can you flog a dead Lion? 

It was hard not to feel sympathy for them.  After all, there are just so many synonyms for hopeless.  But now the journalists’ long night of the soul was over.  Against all he held to be good and true, Mr. Ford had reluctantly fired his GM, not just his general manager but his friend, the two of them, for so long, lonely at the top of the bottom. 

But at last Mr. Ford’s staunch spirit gave out—or, he sensed himself summoned by a higher calling.  That calling obliged him to sacrifice his personal quest for more defeats in favor of the greater good, namely the demands of the common man and their sports writer flunkies, all of them badgering the beleaguered team owner for a victory.    

So, the Lions won.  Too bad.  These days, Detroit is down on its luck, but in those heady weeks, months and years of recent history, at least we had something to call our own.  Even so, let the Golden Age of Failure shine in memory.  Requiescat in pace.

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December 10, 2009

COMING CLEAN, PART TWO

Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 9:06 am
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The previous post detailed the facts as best we know them about about our rescue dog, Chelsea. 

My wife Barbara did manage to find the web address of the family that got rid of her.  The wife responded with a well written, self-serving e-mail.  In it, she describes Chelsea as having been acquired, when she was about two,  from a family living in a trailer.  Her tail was already damaged, and her left eye blind–says the writer.  The second family’s reason for wanting a another  dog was to serve as a companion for their Australian cattle dog. 

The writer characterizes Chelsea’s life with her new family as ideal, a happy, outdoor-dog’s life in the company of their alpha male cattle dog.  The two lived outside, chased cars and wildlife, and were, according to the writer, boon companions. 

Then the alpha died.  After this, the writer says Chelsea retreated under her favorite bush and spent her days there.  Given her ways when she came to us (and however self-serving the rest of the e-mail may be), this makes sense.  Chelsea is extremely sensitive, and almost alarmingly intelligent.  It’s easy to think of her grieving over the death of her companion, a powerful male cattle dog.  For a long time before we learned any of this, my wife and I thought Chelsea was grieving over having been taken from her foster family (those good people will get a posting of their own).  In fact, of the dozens of dogs in our community encountered on walks over the years, only two have roused Chelsea’s interest.  Both look something like Aussie cattle dogs. 

Then, we’re told, someone in Chelsea’s new family had a baby.  This, added to Chelsea’s grieving, caused her stock to drop with her owners.  She was now boring, no fun, just there without purpose under her bush.  So, the family got a golden retriever puppy.  From what we know of her, it’s easy to believe how big this did not go over.  Chelsea doesn’t like frisky, in-your-face dogs, especially puppies.

But in the end, what gives the lie to at least some of the writer’s history is the nasty, near-death state of neglect our dog was in when she was dumped at the Vanderburgh Humane Society in Evansville, Indiana.  Everyone who has a dog and cares about it knows the following: along with the basics of food, water and shelter, dogs at a minimum need Heart Guard as a prophylactic against heart worm, and Frontline or something like it to prevent fleas. 

Neither were apparently provided to Chelsea.  And obviously, she was never groomed.  The writer told us the dog had been spayed before coming to live at her new house, so there had never been any need to take her to a vet.  Nor was she ever allowed in the house.  We judge from her initial refusal to eat regular dog food that the family fed her with table scraps.

And so forth.  When bitter thoughts about this treatment rise and add to the day’s store of angst, I comfort myself with knowing that, had Chelsea lived in Evansville with people worthy of her, she would never have made the journey that brought her to us. She’s been with us now five years.  Like the white hairs on my chin, those on Chelsea’s speak to “the aging process.”   

Yes, it’s the process leading all things organic back to alluvial  ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  But so what if this is true for all living things?  Chelsea has become so important to us that every time my wife and I try to imagine life in her absence, we fail.  When she dies, no strength of reason or common sense or simple acceptance of How Things Are is going to make much difference.  It will be awful, and we will have to grieve our way through, as we believe she did. 

Knowing this makes each day—six or seven of Chelsea’s for every one of ours—a ticking, time-conscious blessing.

December 5, 2009

FESSING UP

Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 9:06 pm

 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My master says it’s time to come clean.  He thinks the whole Bill-and-the-Mister idea should be laid to rest. 

 The photo at the top of this blog is the one used for the cover of his second novel, Just Bill.   Barry Knister is the author—the ‘mister’–and the dog he’s been speaking for up to now is the one in the picture.

Bill is a real dog, and he lives with a friend, Bob Nelson.  That’s the man who actually rescued him.  But Bill’s real name is Shadow, because he “shadowed” Bob on a road in western Michigan, as is described in Just Bill. 

Except not exactly.  After the novel was published last year, Bob revealed that he had in fact rescued or captured Shadow, not on a road but later, while the dog was drinking from the lake where the Nelsons live during the summer.  Bob roped Shadow and took him home.  In the following days, he asked around, went to the local humane society and various shelters.  He even made up posters and stuck them on trees and phone poles.  No one contacted him, so Shadow became family.

In other words, Knister, the person writing this (on my behalf) got it wrong in literal terms, however right it may be for the story he wrote.

But the point to be made is not literary.  It’s a matter of sensibility.  The dog in the novel is an Everyman dog, a regular-guy kind of dog.  He’s a dog like the ones next door here in Michigan.   This is not the case with me.  

So Knister thinks it’s time to cash out the Bill idea.  Not Just Bill, the novel, but Bill as the other voice in this blog.  He’s decided its time to start presenting a different transliterated reality.  That’s the word he uses.  It’s not the right word, because I don’t have an alphabet.  But what he’s been doing for his fictional dog is what he now wants to do for me, which is what the fancy word stands for.

The sensibility thing has to do with me, Chelsea Knister.  As best Knister knows—as best I know—I’m a border collie mix.  At least “mix” seems a good bet.  I look like a border collie, but I’m heavier.  I have a white blazen on my chest, and white paws similar to Bill-Shadow’s, except I’m double-coated as all border collies are. 

I am blind in one eye, the left, and something’s wrong  with my tail.  It’s about half the length it should be.  Collies have long, wavy tails, the kind you see on golden retrievers.  It works something like the outrigger on a dugout canoe.  Waft the tail to the right when you dodge left, and it helps you to balance. 

Why is my tail the way it is?  Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell anyone.  Maybe it’s been that way since I was born, a defect of some kind.  Maybe it was injured or cut off.  Knister will never know. 

So I have these attributes that he read about when he was looking for a dog to adopt.  He was scrolling through the petfinders.com website, and stopped when he saw my picture.  

 PICTURE OF CHELSEA GOES HERE, IF AND WHEN SHE PERMITS HERSELF TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED

Plus, there was a short narrative about me, written by a woman named Sheila Fawcett, a volunteer.  I was described as having been dumped by my owner at the Vanderburgh Humane Society in Evansville, Indiana.  When this happened, I was covered with mats (hair all clumped in knots), and I was dying of heart worm. 

From these few facts alone, you already know something about the people I now live with.  Anyone who doesn’t keep scrolling through the list of dogs after reading such details is probably not someone you want to trust with serious decisions.  Hardened-silo nuclear missile management, for instance.  In the most charitable terms, Knister and his wife have to be hopeless sentimentalists.  Suckers for hard cases and lost causes.  People who love movies about losers who eventually make it, etc.

Anyway, Knister didn’t keep scrolling through the next screens of border collies, all of whom would I’m sure have looked like better bets.  He stopped, and went to work to learn more about me, the hard-luck collie.  Once in, all in, as they say.  I flatter myself in thinking he did a smart thing.

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