Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I'm off this week, so -- eight months after buying my condo and nearly seven months after moving in -- I finally got down to business with my patio/garden. This is how it looked on a dreary January day (and it hasn't looked a whole lot different over the subsequent months):

The weird curtain-like screen that did no good whatsoever and was ugly to boot is history. I plan to have a retractable screen installed next spring so I can sleep with the door open. (The patio is off the bedroom.)

I put the paint-spattered chairs (not mine) on the sidewalk and they found a happy home.

And here's how the garden looks as of today. It's a start. The ornamental grass, ferns, and hostas especially won't start coming into their own until next year. Everything will grow and spread. I can't wait for the dogs to see it. They've had no pretty scents to smell (a.k.a. plants to pee on) all this time.

Thanks to Meg for obtaining the oak splits bordering the beds; they're from a lumberyard on the Eastern Shore. I stained them mah-self. (Yes, that's a new fence; my neighbor replaced it since the first picture was taken.)

I dug up the rocks from the dirt that lies underneath the topsoil.

Note the Stonehengey rocks that formerly bordered the garden beds (see first photo). I don't really have a use for them but don't want to throw them away because I kind of don't hate them. So for now I've just lined them up on the ledge.

I've always been drawn to symmetry -- probably too much for my own good.

This is a potting shed made from a salvaged window shutter. My ex and I bought it and the rusty obelisk in the other garden bed in Frederick, Maryland. I got them in the divorce.

Grow, little planties, grow.

My garden and the city beyond.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I finally finished the book I've been reading for some weeks now, Dog Years by the poet and memoirist Mark Doty. The length of time it took me is no reflection of how much I enjoyed it, which was very much. My life these days is simply made up of fragments of time, it seems.

The book is about Doty's relationship with his two dogs, Arden and Beau, a relationship that overlaps with the death of his lover, Wally, from AIDS and his current long-term relationship with Paul. There's more on Paul in this book; an earlier memoir by Doty, Heaven's Coast -- also beautiful -- deals extensively with Wally.

I liked this passage from Dog Years:

"A while ago, I had a drink with a new acquaintance, who was taking a little time away from his work and had come to the seashore to
write a screenplay. Over a beer, in the way that people offer a topic of conversation in order to know one another better, he asked what I'd like to do if my commitments were all waived, if I suddenly had the freedom to choose whatever. I said I'd buy a place with a barn, in the country, and open a shelter for homeless retrievers.

"He looked at me a little incredulously. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. 'I don't know,' he said, 'when people talk about what they want to do for animals, I always wonder why that compassion isn't offered to other people.'

"My anger flared, a hot, fierce flush. I said, 'You asked me what I wanted to do, not what I thought I
should do.'

"He nodded. 'Fair enough.' But the damage was done, the judgment cast. If I'd been more thoughtful and less offended, I might have said that compassion isn't a limited quantity, something we can only possess so much of and which thus must be carefully conserved. I might have said, if I was truly being honest, that I've never known anyone holding this opinion to demonstrate much in the way of empathy with other people anyway; it seems that compassion for animals is an excellent predictor of one's ability to care for one's fellow human beings.

"But the plain truth is no one should have to defend what he loves. If I decide to become one of those dotty old people who live alone with six beagles, who on earth is harmed by the extremity of my affections? There is little enough devotion in the world that we should be glad for it in whatever form it appears, and never mock it, or underestimate its depths.

"Love, I think, is a gateway to the world, not an escape from it."

Those last two paragraphs remind me of a movie I saw a few months ago, Year of the Dog, starring Molly Shannon (and, hello, Peter Sarsgaard). It's not perfect, but I did like it. What I really loved was the final note the film struck: It didn't flinch from or make excuses for the fact that love of animals is a legitimate love -- not inferior to any other kind -- and in fact for some people it's the primary and most nourishing love in their lives. I really hand it to writer/director Mike White for celebrating that connection,
so often devalued or marginalized, in a mainstream (albeit indie) film.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I haven't asked, but I'll bet you anything T.Kevin also noticed Miyoshi Umeki's obituary in the paper today.

I'm of the generation whose first association with her is not the movies
Flower Drum Song and Sayonara but the TV series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. I loved Eddie, and I really loved Eddie's father, but I also loved, in a different way, Mrs. Livingston.

Don't think less of me if I phonetically and politically incorrectly remember her pidgin English one last time:
"Yes, Mista Eddie's fadda . . ." I loved how she called him that.

As I waited for the bus tonight, I challenged myself to remember the theme song to that show. At first the Partridge Family theme is all I could think of. Then, finally, it surfaced: "People, let me tell you 'bout my best friend, he's a warm-hearted person who'll love me till the end . . ."

Do you remember
who sang it (and wrote it)?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

La Vie

My mother has started to get confused about who I am -- a new stage in her slow, ten-year-long passage through dementia. On a few recent occasions, she's asked me how my family is. And she's not talking about a "chosen family" of friends or my siblings. Actually, the first time, she asked how my "kids" were, and I thought she was being playful and meant my dogs, so I told her. She laughed a little, but it was clear from the look on her face she didn't mean that.

When she asks about my family, I say, "I don't have a family. I'm single."

This past weekend, she said, "But someone told me . . ."

"No," I said, "I don't think so . . ."

"But whose kids are S______ and T______?"

"Those are your brother Billy's kids. I'm your son."

These particular moments of confusion are rare and fleeting, for now. She still smiles every time I come over and often gets teary when I leave. But I know the tears don't last long.

Her favorite tune these days, which she hums over and over like a theme, is "La Vie en Rose."