Sunday, December 04, 2005


Arthur, our Guinea Pig, died this evening.

He'd lived with us for five and a half years. His home was a cage in our living room right next to the TV and beside the computer. Every time I reached for his peanut/sesame treat bag, he'd come flying out of his little wooden shelter and stand in his food dish with his head up, waiting for the treat. Whenever we opened the vegetable drawer in the fridge, he'd start squeaking, begging for a piece of lettuce, spinach, carrot, or whatever. No way could we prepare veggies without hearing him calling.

I always felt guilty whenever I thought about his living conditions. He spent most of his life in a 15x30 cage, with a little wooden tunnel, a drinking bottle, and a ceramic food dish. He really didn't seem to like it much when we'd let him out. He'd mostly sit still waiting to be put back. I think he didn't like not having the cage above his head - maybe the open "sky" scared him.

Arthur was a well-traveled pig, covering more than 40 thousand miles in our motorhome - twice to Florida. We put his cage on the floor under the table while driving, but as soon as we'd stop for the night, Z would move his cage onto the dashboard where he could look out the front window and watch the world go by. This past summer we spent a week at a really nice campground near Destin, Florida - Top Sail Hill RV Park. Our campsite was so big and so private, that we let Arthur out of his cage and he'd run into the brush at the edge of the site. He spent hours at a time, running back and forth in the bushes; we heard him more than we actually saw him, although his nose would pop up every now and then to let us know where he was. I think that was the most freedom he'd ever experienced. Yet he didn't complain when we'd hunt him down, pick him up, and put him back into his cage for the night.

Funny how all the books and websites about Guinea Pigs with kids all mention that their short 4-5 year life spans can be an opportunity for kids to deal with this painful fact of life. Arthur was six but up until Thursday this week, he seemed in the best of health.

We're going to miss him.

Today, I worked on the supersize xmas lights that we bought at Costco to put on our deck. They didn't come with any usable mounting system - each light has a stake that is supposed to be pushed into the ground, but that won't work in frozen ground. So I had to build wooden "stands", each with a hole drilled into it for the stake, which I'll mount to the deck railing with screws. The plastic shades included two halves that were supposed to snap together - more or less permanently. The problem is that one of the sets only had two "lefts" (or rights) and couldn't snap together. I spent several hours filing and cutting each piece so that I could glue the damn thing together. Typical bargain! I suppose it's a good thing I don't live anywhere near a Costco, or I'd probably have spent the afternoon trying to exchange the damn thing. Tomorrow I'll install them.

I only played my cello for about 45 minutes today. Z was sitting at the computer right beside me, which stunted my confidence, I guess. I just didn't feel it all pull together today, so I worked on the scales for a while then put it up. Everyone I know snorts when I mention that I'm working on the cello.

It's cool how easy it is to post pix on this blogsite! I'm going to have to start dressing up my postings.

I just finished reading Ann Rice's new book, "Out of Egypt", which tells the story of Jesus from age 7 to 8. She's good at putting you into the head of her main character, but the story is a bit weak. I'll miss her vampires.

"It's All Right Now" by Charles Chadwick
I just finished the best (two) books I've read in a long, long time. I randomly picked up "It's All Right Now" by Charles Chadwick at the library, and admittedly struggled with the first few chapters, and then I couldn't put it down. The story starts with the narrator, Tom Ripple, a windbag like no one else in literature who tells us that he's writing these memoirs to fill the time at work, since he has nothing productive to do but wants his boss to think he was busy. As he describes in rich detail the various neighbors and communities he finds himself living in, we watch him slowly self destructing and then eventually finding wisdom and some comfort in his relationships.

I chuckled, snorted, and burst into laughter many times as Ripple bloviated his way through life. One of the funniest scenes was when he was at a local "commune" taking a class, and after leaving the room to (unsuccessfully) find a bathroom he comes back and overhears everyone mocking and laughing about him. I liked how he reported their jabs without any comment of his own. Another really funny scene occurred at a Christmas party at a neighbor's house (where he had earlier claimed to know all there is to know about antique Himalayan rugs). I was depressed that the story ended, but I was touched by the elegant richness of the book and the entertaining way he reported even the most trivial facts of his life. Ripple was a gasbag without peer as he naively reported the obvious ridiculing reactions of his friends, neighbors, and casual encounters.

After finishing the book, I sat for a long time reflecting on it. I can't remember being touched like that for many, many years. I went online and learned that this was the first published book for this author in his 70s and that he'd been writing this book for more than 40 years, in bits and pieces. There's an interesting scene where Ripple is in Poland in the early 90s and has some time to kill so he goes to library at the British Council where he runs into an old man who stops and stares at him for a long time, and then leaves. A clerk tells him that man was the director of the Council who was retiring and going home to England. It turns out that Chadwick retired as director of the British Council in Poland in the early 90s.

I'm going to actually buy a copy and read it again (I've only read four or five books twice in my whole life).

"Any Human Heart" by William Boyd
One reviewer of Chadwick's book mentioned there were some similarities to "Any Human Heart" by William Boyd; which turns out to be another fictional memoir of another British character who lived through the artistic/literary heyday of England in the 30s. I really liked this book as well.

The hero, Logan Mountstuart, is a minor writer (reporter in the Spanish Civil War, spy in WWII, art dealer in NY, etc.) who has encounters with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as Virgina Woolf, Hemingway, Picasso, and numerous other painters and authors of the era. His shallow self-absorbtion costs him wives, girlfriends, and many friends throughout the years. We witness his slow self-destruction as much due to his drinking and pills in response to the loss of his wife and daughter to a V2 rocket in WWII. At his lowest point he is penniless eating dogfood and selling newsletters in the street for a local political group (which turns out to be an arm of the Bader-Meinhof terrorist group). Like Ripple, Mountstuart eventually learns to accept his failings and those of the world around him, in his old age. A great read. I've picked up several other books by Boyd.

Maybe it was my own mortality reacting as I read these two deeply personal novels that opened into the soul of their narrators. These two books still haunt me.

hasta manana

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