Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Monica and Bram adopted a greyhound. Her name is La Cheyenne -- a two year old, brindle colored rescue from a dog track in Tucson, Arizona. Mars and I were fortunate enough to be in Santa Fe for her arrival.

Rejected racer -

Second once, not good enough -
Has her first real place.

Love Has Its Limits

I heard the middle line of this Haiku from the female half of a bundled-up, hypothermic, dog-walking couple in Santa Fe, NM on a windy, 9 degree F afternoon.

Unhurried dog stops.
"Come on! You've peed already!"
Love has its limits.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why would I be otherwise?

I recognized Aga before Tina. Now that is good marketing.

Granted at least part of the reason was that Mars and I were in her "Amber by Aga" shop in a mini-mall along the town plaza of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Still we hadn't seen her there, or anywhere, since our one and only meeting on the first visit to her establishment three years ago. I chronicled that day and subsequent dealing with the young Polish jewelry designer's minions in this blog as the "Aga Saga"(1).

Long story short: Monica and Bram (daughter-in-law and son) first encountered Aga at the Santa Fe Flea Market and purchased some jewelry gifts, one for Mars. It was clear from the way Bram talked about his purchase, and Monica's bemusement, that he had been impressed with much more than the quality of the work itself. Time passed. Monica and Bram migrated to Santa Fe. Aga moved to her store. And Monica and Bram brought us there when we visited them. Aga's sales skills and customer service were impressive but personally not as memorable as her perfume-and-decolletage enhanced parting comment to me that day - "I like it for men to remember me." Still, on at least eight subsequent visits there had been no Aga sightings and as a result Aga was well on her way to becoming just another outdated marketing concept.

So I was totally surprised to see her at an open space in the counter conversing with a male customer who was trying to decide on a gift necklace. When her saw the face I was about ninety percent certain. But her sweater was black and bulky, not low-cut at all -- maybe not. Then I caught a glimpse of the partially obscured skin-tight, short hot-pants and moved up to ninety-nine point nine. The departing customer's use of her name as he said good bye cinched it.

That was when I noticed the music that was playing in the background. A deep-voiced female vocalist was singing what sounded to me like a James Bond opening credit piece, but I did not recognize either the movie or the performer. This wasn't a big surprise to me since (as classical music lovers), other than at our health club, neither Mars nor I listen to popular music -- particularly contemporary stuff.

The song ended. The next one began. And Aga came out from behind the counter. Since I (uhr) happened to be looking in that direction, I noticed the strap stiletto heels, and Tina Turner's name -- and legs -- flashed into my mind. I remember listening to "The Ike and Tina Turner Review" as a teenager; recall seeing Tina's 1970's return to the entertainment world as a solo act on the Sonny and Cher television program; owned and listened frequently to her "Private Dancer" album; and watched her "Sixty Minutes" interview with Mike Wallace during her "farewell tour" at the age of sixty-six. It was a follow-up to a 1991 interview. According to "Mike Wallace was so taken by her then that he couldn't resist joining her again in 2000."

TINA TURNER: You must be good to me.
MIKE WALLACE: Why would I be otherwise?

Now she is once again doing a concert tour of North America and Europe. And her legs are evidently as good as ever -- in both senses.

Aga however was not on a comeback tour. Instead she was in the store by accident -- her younger sister, who normally would have been there, was home sick and Aga had to step in for the day. Still she didn't miss a beat.

As on our other visit Aga was incredibly helpful to Mars with her two purchases -- one of which probably would not have occurred if not for Aga's customer service. And at the same time she was extremely distracting, particularly to one dragged-along male shopper who was this close to hauling his female companion into the jewelry boutique. He didn't -- although he did do the hesitation two-step. It either was the end of a very long day or the economy really is that bad.

As we were wrapping up our sale Aga mentioned that she thought we seemed familiar, so Mars and I related the story of how we first came to her store in 2003.

Aga moved forward. "Yes. I remember you." she said looking up at me.

As we left I told Mars "That should last me for at least the rest of the day!"

Why would I be otherwise?

(1) "Aga Saga" was a name that I made up totally for its rhyming quality. In order to refresh my mind as to what I had said before while writing this piece I Googled my title and was surprised to discover multiple pages of references to another type of story with the same appelation.

The Aga Saga is a sub-genre of the family saga of literature. The genre is named for the AGA cooker, a type of stored-heat oven that came to be popular in medium to large country houses in England after its introduction in 1922. It refers primarily to fictional family sagas set amidst the economic class that might have been expected to own such cookers, but has also been applied to describe such settings within novels of other genres. The nickname "Aga Saga" is sometimes used condescendingly about this type of work. The term was incorporated into the Oxford Companion to English Literature in 2000.
While the label has been applied to settings within other genres, it is typically interpreted to refer to "a tale of illicit rumpy-pumpy in the countryside" according to a 2007 article in The Observer. (

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Size Two Haiku

Kristin Chenoweth
Could be haiku (count the sounds).
But she's just too short.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rhythms and Rituals

Living with pets really makes you aware of the rhythms of life. Particularly when you normally don't share a residence with them, and then find yourself settling down for the night in their bedroom.

This October Mars and I house-sat for Audrey the dog and Kit the cat.

During the daylight hours Audrey never slept -- or at least we never saw her in that particular state of unconsciousness. Her job, as documented elsewhere, was to guard the house -- a responsibility that she took very, very seriously. Although she did take occasional breaks to come inside and join us in the living room.

(Picture by Mars - click to enlarge)

When she did, Audrey usually stretched out on the carpeted floor with the sunshine from the window lighting up the lower part of body. Then she struggled -- successfully but with difficulty -- to keep the lids of hers eyes from dropping shut. Frequently she would drag herself to her feet and drop onto her daytime bed located in the adjacent hallway. Still she managed to stay awake.

Come nighttime it was a different story.

Audrey has a dog nest under a bench on the floor of the master bedroom. We were not told what her normal bedtime was but her behavior indicated that she would gladly have gone there at any time after sunset.

One evening around dusk Mars went into the bedroom and Audrey followed. When Mars returned to the couch moments later Audrey remained in the other room. About 9:15 she slowly strolled out to where we were; looked accusingly at us; lied down for a while; then went back to her sleeping nest. Other nights she hung around the living room glaring at Mars and me when we turned on the television or opened a book any time after dark.

When we finally did go to bed Audrey fell asleep quickly and deeply. And stayed totally in that state until about 6:30 a.m. when she staggered out of bed, stretched with some dog yoga poses, and performed her morning ablutions loudly with her tongue. She stayed there until the two of us walked down to get the morning paper at the end of the steeply sloped driveway. After delivering the news, and wolfing down some breakfast, she headed outside to guard the house.

The cat on the other hand napped several times during the day -- normally for a few hours at a stretch. Still she managed to spend a good portion of the daylight hours, and most evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 outside in the high desert -- stalking small animals and doing other fiendish feline things.

(Picture by Mars - click to enlarge)

When we turned in for the night she joined us in the bedroom, usually crouched under the footstool. Then at some point she crawled under the covers with us.

Her first nocturnal visit came on our second night at around four in the morning. She stayed for about an hour and left. Her subsequent visitations began earlier and lasted longer.

Neither Mars nor I have ever shared our bed with a non-human, living creature. When we had our dog Nicole and Mars was at evening college getting her I.T. certificate I would sometimes fall asleep on the floor watching television with my back up against the dog's equally asleep dorsal side. I remember the feeling of living warmth, the smell of domestic animal, and the nocturnal breathing, sputtering and body movements.

The cat experience was similar but on a smaller scale. For one thing she was the one doing the positioning. Sometimes I felt her heated presence in the small of my back -- other times on my shoulders. Instead of breathing in fits and starts there was a rhythmical purring sound that seemed to come from an artificial voice box positioned deep within her chest. The sound was pitched to a basso level -- much too low for an animal of Kit's diminutive stature to generate. Most of the time she wasn't touching me at all and it was only the warmness and the vocally generated vibrations that me aware that she was even there.

We had been forewarned that the cat would probably join us in bed and I did have some apprehensions about being walked on and scratched in the middle of the night. Only once did I feel her tiptoe along my left side as she was apparently deciding whether to visit or not on our second night there. So from a fear factor perspective Kit's cohabitations were painless. I was nonetheless aware of her presence, and as a result did limit my own movements so as not to disturb her slumber -- probably with some loss of restfulness on my part.

Sleep is annoying -- something that you involuntarily end up doing everyday because your eyes can longer focus on the words you are attempting to read -- an unwanted interruption to the business of living -- eight hours of your life that you will never get back. For Audrey and Kit it seems to be an integral part of who they are.

Being a superior being, I was of course easily able to adapt and accommodate those that are slaves to their own particular behavioral patterns. After all it was their territory.

So every night at exactly ten o'clock I circled the bed seven times in a clockwise direction, flipped my pillow over four times, cracked the knuckle of each little finger once, and released myself into the arms of Morpheus. I certainly wasn't going to lose any sleep over their silly, obsessive, little rituals.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Privet Moment

We had our first snow and sleet of the season on Sunday. It was a minor event with no accumulation. But while it was happening our neighbor was having her privet hedge chain sawed to the ground by a large man wearing a sweatshirt and sunglasses. It's a shame -- they deserve better than that.

The hedgerow is just your basic common privet, and has fallen into disrepair over the years. The green growth is pretty much clustered near the top of the bush nowadays -- with bare stems below. Various other, more combative, forms of vegetation have insinuated themselves in at the base and their branches and leaves poke out at odd angles forming a frenetic, threatening looking fence. Periodically our neighbor would make a facile effort to restore the barrier to its more pristine condition but she only worked on the very top of the hedge and usually lost interest about half way through the job. Sunday's full-scale onslaught is actually the first wholehearted effort I have seen in regard to the privet since Ernest was the resident landscaper.

"The formal hedge says 'privacy, please' in a manner far more civilized than a stockade fence. A fixture of the suburban landscape 50 years ago, fast-growing privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium and L. amurense) remains a fine choice where conditions are right: To thrive, this deciduous shrub requires a temperate climate and a homeowner willing to wield sharp shears as often as needed." (

(Not my privet)

I grew to adulthood without ever personally experiencing either the benefits or the responsibilities of a privet hedge. I occasionally saw them protecting the borders of properties that, at the time, I didn't feel I could ever aspire to. Even the word itself bespoke an elegant, English attitude of seclusion, solitude, isolation, freedom from disturbance, and freedom from interference. Perhaps that is why I came into home ownership with a somewhat worshipful view of this semi evergreen barrier

Then we bought our first house. And I had my first hedge.

Unfortunately the previous owner did not share this feeling of awe and respect for the barrier shrub on the western border of his property. Nor did he develop, during his two-year ownership, even the slightest desire to maintain this or any of the other horticulture that quickly began to overrun the landscape shortly after we took possession in April of 1979.

By the time I noticed the condition of the hedgerow it had reached a grossly uneven height of over eight feet in places; was dotted with several supple offspring of its neighboring maple tree; and enwrapped throughout with various vines. My father-in-law, who was guiding me through the first growing season in which I actually had to pay attention to growing things, brought over his electric hedge trimmers and stepladder -- and led me through my first privet adventure. It was not fun.

Shortly thereafter I noticed Ernest trimming the hedges across the street. (Ernest was not his real name. I dubbed him that based on his strong facial resemblance to late American novelist with his thick white beard and habitual long billed baseball hat. And his no frills approach to yard work.) He pruned the privet pretty much every week, by hand, with wood handled hedge shears. It was a workmanlike ballet.

Ernest stood behind the floral barrier like a maestro keyboardist -- his mind focused on the final result; his eyes riveted on each out-of-place twig; his body squared up to the target, tensed for action; and his hands hovering within striking distance then swooping down rapidly to put the cutters into action. With only seven days growth the surface of the bush was, at worst, only modestly uneven. And the undergrowth intruders were barely visible. Still, as he moved along the line of battle from right to left the privet became noticeably smoother and more proportionally shaped. When he finished he lit a cigarette and surveyed his work, snipping away any lingering imperfections and inhaling deeply.

Several years later the couple that employed Ernest passed away, and shortly thereafter he stopped coming. Over time I gained control of my own privet and switched to regular hand pruning rather than a semiannual all out electric assault. During that same period the appearance and health of the privet across the street spiraled downward. And now on the last day of November, in swirling snow and sleet, a total stranger took it down to the ground.

I did the same thing to my own hedges a few annums ago -- albeit with a hand pruning saw and some lopping shears on a warm autumn afternoon. And they grew back thicker and stronger than they were before.

The privet across the street should also. Plants don't really care which tools we use, or how well we know them. The artistry, if there is any, exists in the head and hands of the gardener.

And in the imagination of those who watch them work.