MORE OBNOXIOUSNESS FROM THOMAS BRADY!

In a book aptly titled Iowa, (the death star of foetry?) the following lines are proffered by the Blog Harriet bully and poet Travis Nichols:

His thin story happened then while coat and pant cuffs flapped around a step-father and half sister. The memories true or not against him seem to be turning to steam, as I turned, all the while thinking of chewing out alone eventually through the ghostly meats.

We’ve seen far better work scribbled extempore from our English Comp. students.  Does this pitiful poetry excerpt from Mr. Nichols explain his Harriet Blog bully behavior?  Are they related?

Of course they are.

When high becomes low and low becomes high,
Distinctions end and all’s one: beauty’s truth and the foul-smelling lie.

Today the reigning pedagogy is to aspire to a niceness that sees goodness and beauty in everything; the result is a universe created by the mind of David Hume, where bodily sensation and doubt are all that exist, where the old enchantments and the old heroics and the possibility for new enchantments and new heroics, fade away in a welter of darkness, despairing laughter and confusion.

Scientific truths do exist; the David Humes of the world have not done away with them, and self-pity and doubt is not my message even as I point out the sorry state of certain contemporary niceties of culture.   Travis Nichols’ wretched intellectual character is finally of no importance, nor does it finally matter how the Poetry Foundation chooses to run Blog Harriet, which seems to be successfully aping Ron Silliman’s cut-and-paste service at present.

Morals cannot finally be about morals, nor poetry about poetry.  All attempts at moral self-analysis (whether universal or local) are too little, too late, for doubt never leads to anything but more doubt; rising from the ashes is a better strategy than accepting partial criticism; if wrong is not entirely overthrown, that wrong only comes back stronger; it needs but one small doubt of its wrong to succeed.  Small exceptions bedevil every moral design, and their smallness is what allows them to ruin our chance for a heaven of happiness on earth, or in the poem.

So Plato was right to make beauty and the good the same in every aspect of mind and body; the good person can make bad poetry, for the good is more important than poetry at last, but just as true is that the bad person cannot make good poetry, and this is true not because poetry is important in itself, but only because poetry allows beauty and the good to separate for a moment, so that we know ourselves, which is to know happiness: for happiness is why the self, and the self’s ability to make poetry, exist.

Because poetry cannot finally be about poetry (and thus the cry, “it’s about the poetry,” when uttered, is always wrong); poetry exists as poetry only when it furthers the Good, i.e., the happiness of others.  The unhappy person cannot make others happy (unless they are making a divine sacrifice—good luck with that) and this is why Travis Nichols bullying others when Blog Harriet was a truly interactive blog (he chose to censor intelligent contributions based on his simplistic sense of ‘playing nice’) will translate into wretched poetry written by Travis Nichols.

This is not a matter of morals so much as physics.  This is pure science, yet we still live in the dark ages in this respect, because we still believe bad people (or simplistically nice people) can write good poetry.  They cannot.

This is the great moral dilemma.  If bad people cannot write good poetry, how shall the bad person be made good, for only with poetry, in the sense Shelley meant: imaginatively going out of oneself and identifying with others, can a person be made good?  The answer is nothing  less than: the child must be given no chance to not become a poet, to not be imaginative.  There is no vocation that is not poetic, no training that should not be poetic.  Imagination, as Shelley understood, subsumes all.

And this is why Letters should be as free, open, uncensored, and democratic as possible;  why poets should not be allowed to hide behind their professional reputations any more than critics should be allowed to scorn behind a critical veneer; and why pedantry of a professional turn should never be allowed to censor, regulate, and proudly reject the amateur.  And this is not because everyone should be nice, or no one should have to wear, or not wear, shoes.  It is because the poetry is the method to be nice, and to know nice, just as unity and consistency are tests for truth.  Do biographies confute this?  Do great poets sometimes have foul reputations?  Check the reputation—it is most likely a lie.  If a great poet was deemed guilty of personal wrong, check the ‘wrong;’ was the poet wrong, or were the worldly opinons and actions of the poet’s surrounding accusers wrong—perhaps in ways not immediately known?  Or, if the poet is a vile person, check the poetry—is it really good?   Of course this throws us back upon a world of the uncertaintities of individually flawed judgments, which is precisely why we need to give those individual judgments as much freedom, as possible.

Systems and institutions act as gate-keepers to keep riff-raff out and royalty in, but what if the royalty are also riff-raff?  What if there’s no need for gate-keepers because the ‘gate’ no longer has any validity?   Even if we agree that private property is sacred and civil authority necessary, do we also agree that critical health in Letters requires the same sorts of safeguards?  Or not?  Do the necessary safeguards to property and civility also apply to poetry?  I would think not.  Why then, do so many poetry professionals, who are the first to clamor for revolutionary justice when it comes to issues of property and civil reform, put up walls when it comes to freedom of speech where they live?   It’s easy to pretend to ‘fight a system’ (the American capitalist one, for instance) when that system is so vast that the ‘fight’ is not finally having any affect at all, except verbally and abstractly.  But as soon as freedoms begin to rattle personal, aesthetic, and pedagogical windows of the actual place where the poetry professional lives, the ‘revolutionary avant-garde theorist’ quickly transforms from 1792 Wordsworth to 1845 Wordsworth, from revolutionary to conservative, and so conservativism forever reigns, from tradition to police action to police action.  There’s always one side that needs another side put down.   The cause of this is easy to see, but difficult to change, because it relates to the cause itself, the ultimate failure—on all sides of the social, religious, politicial spectrum—of the imagination.  In our minds, the other side is always wrong.

This is what we saw in 2010 at Blog Harriet and Silliman’s Blog:  Poetry professionals shut the door on speech.  

Scarriet may not have the clout of a Poetry Foundation or a Ron Silliman.

But we’ll still be here, talking.

29 Comments

  1. January 1, 2011 at 4:13 am

    .

    Let me be the first to state, for the record, tirade above notwithstanding, that Travis Nichols is a hell of a good guy. Not only did he take the time and trouble to correct all my typos and misspellings on Harriet, but he also likes cats.

    As any genuine poet will tell you, anyone who doesn’t like cats is:

    A) simply blind to the intrinsic beauty and majesty of our world, or

    B) not a poet at all.

    Even Hemingway could tell you that. (Or see Charles Bukowski: ‘Exactly right’)

    Whatever you say, Travis Nichols will always be one of the good guys!

    .

  2. thomasbrady said,

    January 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    fitz, pm me with dirt on nichols stat ~tom

    But seriously, look:

    I have cats. I correct typos on scarriet.

    Look, I’m sure travis is a “good guy.” “Good guy” is the coinage of the realm in po-biz. Since poetry no longer has a public, the machinations of po-biz depend on “good guy” more than in any other field. Building a strong house or making something beautiful doesn’t matter. “Good guy” does.

    And I understand why Travis got freaked out by the free speech on Blog Harriet. His well-connected friends in the plush parlors and sitting-rooms were “talking” about the riff-raff on his site, and it was embarrassing. The executives and board members of the Academy, the tenured professor/poets and his various colleagues were worried ‘something was going to be said’ by the rebellious, outsider riff-raff. After all, look at the trouble Alan Cordle and Foetry.com caused, and this was the same disaffected ilk. Propriety was at stake. I understand. Travis probably didn’t want to be in that position, he didn’t want to be the bad guy, and he likes cats, and the po-biz executives spoke and he had to do what he had to do. He had earned connections he didn’t want to sever. Sure, I understand.

    But this is the point, Gary. It’s not a “good guy” problem. It’s a po-biz problem. The problem is bigger than travis nichols, and whether or not i like travis nichols.

    Letters will always be divided between freedom and favoritism; the latter protects its own, and freedom and the quality freedom produces is often against favoritism’s best interests. Poe v. Longfellow. It’s an old story. For the good of Letters, you wouldn’t want to suppress the Poe impulse, and yet it almost happened. But that’s another important function of Letters: not to publish Travis Nichols, but to remember the past, and these two functions are unfortunately at odds, sometimes, because we all write in a time line that’s constantly measuring us against what has gone before, and we don’t exist without the past, and yet the past may make us worthless by comparison.

    • July 2, 2013 at 12:35 am

      Dear Tom,
      I don’t think you’re obnoxious! If you want to see “obnoxious,” you ought to try getting a piece of writing past the associate editors of Evelyn Waugh Studies. They seem reborn from the wits who sat around the Algonquin Roundtable trading barbs.
      But that’s not why I’m writing. In the summer of 2010 when Scarriet was discussing Henry Adams among other authors, the editor (was that you?) confirmed a 40-year-old hunch of mine that Prof. Ernest Samuels of Northwestern University, an Adams authority whose course in American Literature 1870-1914 I took as a freshman, was Jewish. In this piece I’m submitting to Scarriet I argue that Samuels ought to share the credit Lionel Trilling of Columbia is usually given for shattering exclusive hiring practices in the English departments of American universities. In this exercise I have had the totally unexpected and invaluable help of Mrs. Jayne Samuels, Prof. Samuels’ widow, who I was flabergasted to discover still living in Evanston at the age of 100! I’ve e-mailed back and forth with her and she is obviously still sharp though frail. She was happy to serve as a volunteer “fact-checker” for me, and I can tell you the article has her and her family’s approval. My friend, the Vachel Lindsay Home historic site administrator in Springfield, Ill., is also very enthusiastic! (As you’ll see, the article gets into the varying views of Lindsay and the rather “elitist” Edgar Lee Masters.) So that’s it in a nutshell, and now comes the hard part. I’ve got the whole article on a flashdrive, which I’m going to use to try to tramsmit this thing to you. Yours, David Bittner

      • noochinator said,

        July 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

        Mr. B.: I think this link might go
        To the writing that you mention—
        Joseph Epstein penned it, and
        I brought it to the ‘riet’s attention:

        https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/ernest-hemingway-as-creative-writing-instructor/#comment-3438

        • thomasbrady said,

          July 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

          David,
          Nooch is your man for such matters.
          Who is Jewish or not Jewish leaves me in tatters.
          But yes, bring it on! I guess it matters.

          Tom

          • July 4, 2013 at 2:58 am

            I did “bring it on” this morning, Wednesday, July 3, if the reference librarian here in Omaha gave me the right e-mail address for you. He said it was hard to tell. Did you receive it? Then read it, please! Maybe you’ll like it! If you didn’t receive it, will you give me the right e-mail address to use? This article took a lot of work and I’d like it to be given a fair reading. Thank you. Yours, David

            • thomasbrady said,

              July 5, 2013 at 2:54 am

              Thanks, David!

              I did receive the article!

              Interesting.

              I’m not sure what the point is, beyond its anecdotes, but it was a good read.

              Tom

              • August 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm

                But rather than continue to compile a list of famous dogs (both real and fictional), I would simply like to tell the story of my own wonderful dog, “Pug-z,” (1965-1974), that my family had when I was a boy. As a semi-retired journalist, I actually had the story on my “to-do” list for a long time, and two years ago I finally wrote it! As a title for it, I do not think Norman Rockwell would have minded my borrowing the simple name of his well-known figurine….

                “A Boy Meets His Dog”

                By David Bittner

                • August 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

                  My father had a theory that “you could trust a dog, but you couldn’t trust a cat.” He said that if a cat was any bigger, it would pounce on you. I basically agree with this assessment of Dad’s. I think he felt, as I feel, that a dog just has certain humanoid sensitivities that are lacking in a cat. And such was certainly true of Pug-z!
                  I had recently begun the second half of eighth grade at Lincoln Junior High School in Rockford, Illinois, when we got Pug-z. I had actually had it in mind, since being promised a dog, that the breed I wanted was a dachshund. But when my mother and I walked into the pet shop, the five or six dachshund puppies milling around were paying us absolutely “no nevermind.” And then we saw Pug-z (of course she actually had no name yet), standing on her hind legs, with her front paws against the metal grille of her cage, and barking at us as if to say, “Choose me! Choose me!” Well, thus ever so simply did this little pug puppy, who was not even close to the breed I originally wanted, capture my heart! I did not even bother to ask the pet shop owner right away if the puppy was a female, which I preferred over a male. Luckily, she just was.

                  • August 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

                    As we headed to the vet’s for Pug-z to get her first shots, Pug-z sat on the front seat of our Rambler station wagon in a cardboard box, lined with newspaper, that the pet shop owner had rigged up for us. From the back seat I saw Pug-z look up at my mother with those big brown saucer eyes of hers, and was hardly surprised to hear Mom speak three simple words that were so close to what I was thinking myself, “Oh, she’s sweet.” And the truth is that I never did know of Pug-z to bite anybody — not my parents or me, or anybody else that I ever heard of.

          • noochinator said,

            April 9, 2018 at 1:01 pm

            I’m not so great at guessing who is Jewish either —- I’d always thought Robin Williams and Martin Short were Jewish, but neither is! Here’s the transcript of a classic SNL sketch, “Jew, Not a Jew “:

            Bob Tompkins…..Tom Hanks
            Greg Knutsen…..Kevin Nealon
            Deborah Knutsen….. Victoria Jackson
            Ted Johnson….. Phil Hartman
            Mrs. Johnson…..Jan Hooks
            “You Make The Call” announcer (voice)….. Al Franken

            [ Title graphics and fanfare music ]

            Announcer: It’s time for the game that all Americans love to play: “Jew, Not a Jew”! And here’s your host, Bob Thompkins!

            [ Bob comes out ]

            Bob Thompkins: Thank you! Thank you, thank you, Don, thank you, everybody! Welcome to “Jew, Not a Jew”! Okay, let’s say hi to our champions, the Knutsens! [ walks over to them ] Greg Knutsen — what kind of name is that?

            Greg Knutsen: That’s Swedish, Bob. My father’s Swedish Lutheran.

            Bob Thompkins: Well gee, I thought all Swedes were blonde.

            Greg Knutsen: My mom’s Irish Catholic. Yeah.

            Bob Thompkins: That’s very interesting. Debra, delightful to see you again!

            Debra Knutsen: Great to be back, Bob!

            Bob Thompkins: Debra, what was your maiden name?

            Debra Knutsen: Rochez. It’s French Huguenot. It’s pretty hardcore Protestant.

            Bob Thompkins: So, we got ourselves a real mishmash here, don’t we? Okay, now let’s go over and meet our challengers, the Johnsons! [ walks over to them, chuckling ] Ted, you hail from Oregon and are— ?

            Ted Johnson: Bob, we’re both WASPs.

            Bob Thompkins: All right, all right, Johnsons! And now, let’s play, “Jew, Not a Jew”!

            [ the fanfare music plays as the title card is pulled away to reveal a green screen ]

            Bob Thompkins: All right, hands on buzzers, everybody, hands on buzzers.

            [ The couples take their positions. Bob stands next to the green screen as an image of Penny Marshall is displayed ]

            Bob Thompkins: [ reading from a card ] Star of ABC’s long-running hit, ‘Laverne and Shirley’, she directed the summer blockbuster, ‘Big’. Penny Marshall: Jew, or not a Jew?

            [ The Knutsens press the buzzer ]

            Bob Thompkins: Knutsens! Penny Marshall, Jew or not a Jew?

            Greg Knutsen: [ softly conversing with Debra ] I think she’s from Brooklyn somewhere — I’m n—

            Debra Knutsen: Okay, okay, we’re gonna go with Jew, Bob!

            [ SFX: BZZZZZZZ! ]

            Bob Thompkins: Ohhh! No, I’m sorry, Penny Marshall was born Penelope Mashirelli, she is an Italian Catholic. Italian Catholic. Now, let’s take a minute to review the rules for “Jew, Not a Jew”! According to Jewish law, anyone whose mother is a Jew, is a Jew, so if an individual’s father is a Gentile, and his mother is Jewish, that person is considered a Jew. However, reverse the bloodlines, and that person is NOT a Jew! But, for the purposes of our game, anyone with any Jewish lineage at all will be considered a Jew. Okay, now let’s get back to our games! Hands on the buzzers now! Hands on the buzzers!

            [ The couples take their positions. Bob stands next to the green screen as an image of Michael Landon is displayed. ]

            Bob Thompkins: [ reading from a card ] Star of Highway to Heaven. He was Charles Ingalls on ‘Little House on the Prairie’, and Little Joe on ‘Bonanza’. Writer/producer/star Michael Landon: Jew, or not a Jew?

            [ The Johnsons press the buzzer ]

            Bob Thompkins: Oh, Johnsons! Michael Landon: Jew, not a Jew?

            Ted Johnson: [ softly conversing with Mrs. Johnson ] Oh boy, I heard somewhere he’s Jewish.

            Mrs. Johnson: Are you sure?

            Ted Johnson: Uh, yeah, when he was doing ‘Bonanza’, I read it —

            Mrs. Johnson: Uh — you mean Lorne Greene?

            Ted Johnson: No, no, I think he’s Jewish. Really.

            Mrs. Johnson: We’re gonna say Jew, Bob.

            [ SFX: ding ding ding ding! ]

            Bob Thompkins: That’s right! That’s right!

            Mrs. Johnson: [ squeals ]

            [ The Johnsons hug each other while jumping for joy ]

            Bob Thompkins: He was born Eugene Horowitz in Brooklyn, New York! Michael Landon is Jewish! Good, Johnsons! Ten points! Ten points. Okay, let’s continue, hands on buzzers. [ a picture of Ed Koch is shown as Bob reads from another card ] Mayor of New York— [ Greg Knutsen presses the buzzer ] Yes, yes, yes?

            Greg Knutsen: He’s a Jew, Bob!

            [ SFX: ding ding ding ding! ]

            Bob Thompkins: Yes! That’s right, Ed Koch is a Jew! Ten points, Knutsens! All right! Oh — we gotta take a time out! We’ll be right back after this word.

            [ Fade to a blue/black gradient screen with text as marching band music plays ]

            “You Make The Call” announcer: Feldman’s Kosher Pickles presents: You Make the Call.

            [ Film clips of a baseball game are shown ]

            “You Make The Call” announcer: The 1965 World Series. Sandy Koufax leads the Los Angeles Dodgers into the seventh game against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax shuts out the Twins, yielding just three hits and striking out ten. Now, you make the call. Sandy Koufax: Jew, or not a Jew?

            [ cut to a sponsor screen ]

            “You Make The Call” announcer: “Jew, Not a Jew” is brought to you by Feldman’s Kosher Pickles. You don’t have to be Jewish to like Feldman’s, but it helps.

            [ cut to another World Series film clip ]

            “You Make The Call” announcer: If you said Sandy Koufax was a Jew, you made the right call. Sandy Koufax: baseball great, Jew.

            [ Fade back to the set of “Jew, Not a Jew” ]

            Bob Thompkins: Hey, we’re all out of time! That’s it for today! Tune in tomorrow, and we’ll take a look at — [ pictures of each are shown ] Bruce Springsteen, Goldie Hawn, Jose Ferrer, and Caspar Weinberger on “Jew, Not a Jew”! Bye-bye, everybody!

            [ Bob shakes hands with the contestants. Fade out ]

  3. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 9:08 am

    You are so funny and weird.

  4. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 9:52 am

    IOWA: the death star. Is it still the Kevin Bacon of “Indie lit”? Do I care? Does everyone there still want to be Joshua Clover???

    I picked up that book a few years ago, it was lying around at a friend’s house. First of all, why is the font size like 2 pt? Secondly, well, it’s garbage, like most things are. Third, the publisher didn’t publish my manuscript, which is actually a crime. The bodies keep piling up.

  5. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 10:03 am

    “Check the reputation—it is most likely a lie. If a great poet was deemed guilty of personal wrong, check the ‘wrong;’ was the poet wrong, or were the worldly opinons and actions of the poet’s surrounding accusers wrong—perhaps in ways not immediately known? Or, if the poet is a vile person, check the poetry—is it really good? Of course this throws us back upon a world of the uncertaintities of individually flawed judgments, which is precisely why we need to give those individual judgments as much freedom, as possible.”

    Yes, check the wrong(s). Check the poetry-is it really good?

    No. It’s not. It’s really very bad, as is the vile poet. The vile poet makes people “happy”, yes, just as many other vile amusements do.

  6. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I feel as though you were perhaps tripping on acid when you wrote this post.

  7. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    No the FUNCTION OF LETTERS is to publish Travis Nichols! It is! It is also to ensure the un-functioning of true poets everywhere.

  8. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    You know who else is a “really good guy”? Really shitty horrible bad people! They are truly delightful!

    • August 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      The Alpine Veterinarian Clinic was only a few blocks from our home on Apple Orchard Lane, a huge cul de sac about which some 20 brand-new buildings, each consisting of 8 to 10 two-story townhouses, were arrayed. A middle-aged veterinarian named Dr. Smith worked in the clinic without any partner. As he examined Pug-z, I heard him say something about the life span of “this breed” being about ten years. At the time I guess I was just the same way about a pet’s life expectancy that I am today about a human being’s–as I myself have recently entered my seventh decade and hope to see at least the end of it. It is really, I suppose, just another kind of “acquisitiveness,” like so many people’s ambition for all kinds of satus and favor — this kind like the greed of Swift’s Struldbrugs for long life. At any rate, I sighed audibly at Dr. Smith’s mention of “ten years.” Dr. Smith heard the disappointment in my voice and said sternly and with some impatience, “Oh, you just make sure she doesn’t get distemper or get run over by a car, and you’ll have nothing to complain about some day.” Wiser words were never spoken — even if it did take me a while to remember them after losing Pug-z only two months before her tenth birthday.

      • August 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

        When I think of all we came through with Pug-z and what a very good dog she was! We bred Pug-z when she was two–mostly thanks to my heedless encouragement of the idea, since my stay-at-home Mom was obviously going to get stuck with most of the work, with me a high school student and my father a full-time bread winner working outside the home. And unfortunately, sweetheart though she was, Pug-z was not a bright dog. The pug breed is known for its good disposition, but not for high intelligence. This had never made any difference before, except to note little things such as that when Dad and I played ping-pong, Pug-z never followed the ball back and forth with her eyes, the way “Bones,” the cocker spaniel we had for three years when I was in grade school, did. But now, much more importantly, Pug-z’s maternal instincts were not what they might have been. Maybe this was also because it was Pug-z’s first (and last) time as a “dam.” At any rate, when the puppies started coming late one morning, Pug-z did not seem to know — as she was supposed to have had it ingrained into her by Mother Nature — that she was supposed to use her claws to open the sacs each containing a puppy suspended in amniotic fluid.
        Were it not for the good fortune of having a nurse, Mrs. Joan Schmier, as our next-door neighbor who was interested and eager to help out, I shudder to think what would have happened. It was Joan who opened the sacs of the first two of Pug-z’s “sextuplets.” Then Pug-z’s very labor became troubled, and Mom and Joan wrapped Pug-z in a blanket and whisked her in Mom’s car to the Alpine Veterinary Clinic, which, as I have said, was blessedly only a few blocks away on Alpine Road, a major Rockford thoroughfare. (At the opposite end of Alpine Road, about three miles away, was Guilford High School, where I was now a second semester sophomore. And to think that I had toyed with the idea of using Pug-z’s birthing experience as my biology project! Shame on me!)
        I am happy to say that Dr. Smith safely delivered Pug-z of her remaining four puppies. The entire brood consisted of six puppies. There were five females, all apricot fawn like both Pug-z and the sire, and one male, black, in whom a couple of recessive genes had obviously united. My parents gave the middle-aged couple who owned the sire the pick of the litter,and they chose the black male.

        • August 24, 2013 at 7:40 pm

          In the meantime, Pug-z’s nursing instincts were also slow in coming, and for the first two weeks at least, Mom had to feed the puppies a special gruel she learned to prepare. She administered it at first to each puppy with an eye-dropper. They all looked like grey little blind gophers at this time. Mom was heard once or twice to say, “How did I ever let myself get talked into this?” Eventually the puppies were able to lap up the gruel on their own, and then, finally, Pug-z caught onto the nursing idea and took over her own responsibility, altough still seemingly somewhat desultorily.
          Then, at the age of about two months, two of the five female puppies were sent by air to out-of-town relatives who had eagerly requested puppies, and we sold the other three to two Rockford people and to a woman who drove all the way from Chicago (a distance of 90 miles), to pick up her puppy. Now, of the whole puppy-raising enterprise, we knew only what we had seen on TV and the movies (things like “Lassie,” “101 Dalmations,” “Old Yeller,” and “Lady and the Tramp”), but one classic thing that never occurred to us to do was to identify any of the six puppies as the “runt” of the littter. Maybe there was just not one that stood out as such.

          • August 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm

            About a year later, one of Dr. Smith’s warnings to us nearly came tragically true. Pug-z had a mishap with a car on Alpine Road. Some neighborhood children came running to our door to tell my mother about Pug-z’s accident, and once again, Mom rushed Pug-z to Dr. Smith’s. As I arrived home from school in the afternoon, the children told me what had happened, so I was not shocked to find my mother holding Pug-z on her lap, wrapped in a blanket. Mom said this was necessary because Dr. Smith told her Pug-z might be in shock. He also told her that the pain in Pug-z’s leg, where the car had impacted on her, was making Pug-z cry. He then explained to her that dogs do not cry exactly the same way human beings do. Whereas we humans shed tears, dogs’ eyes “well” with tears when they are in pain. Only animal specialists such as veterinarians would know these things — so most other people probably never pick up on this little-visible sign that their pet is in distress. That Pug-z favored that leg for the rest of her life was something anyone could have told, though. But Mom never said Dr. Smith told her anything like “I told you so,” or “I warned you that something like this might happen.” So maybe he just counted on our scare to suffice us as a reminder to be more vigilant. And we rarely let Pug-z out of our sight again when she had to make her trips outdoors.

            • August 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm

              And I wonder if maybe Pug-z herself became more cautious when it came to “looking before she leapt.” Without really knowing anything about the interplay between reason and experience in the lower mammalian mind, I thought that maybe I saw Pug-z exercise such judgment a few years later. We built a home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where my father took a new job after I graduated from high school. We terraced the backyard with five or six railroad ties leading up to the terrace. (The thing may have looked spiffy to the neighbors but was actually just necessary topographically.) One day, I was romping with Pug-z on the terrace. After a while Pug-z went over to the edge of the terrace. She appeared to be weighing a decision. Should she, a little dog. not long-legged, and no longer young and spry, attempt to jump all the way down to the yard, or would it be a better idea to take the steps down, the same way she had come up? At last, she made an “about-face,” trotted over to the middle of the terrace, and took the steps down to the yard!
              At about this same time Pug-z surprised us with another antic, now revealing the “noble savage” side of her personality. One day she returned from some underbrush dividing our lot from our next-door neighbors’ lot, holding the leg of a deer in her mouth. I think it was probably just a piece of carrion she had found. But it made me think of a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon where Dennis was dog-sitting for his parents’ friends’ toy poodle. The poodle, bedecked in pink ribbons, got down in the dirt to play like any other dog, leading Dennis to express admiration for the pampered animal acting like a “real dog” after all.”

              • August 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm

                Yet, Pug-z was not the sort of dog you taught to do any “tricks.” She just wasn’t “that sort of dog,” to paraphrase A.A. Milne writing about Pooh Bear. Dad laughingly referred to Pug-z as “good-for-nothing,” and enjoyed pointing out to our house guests that in Chiina (where the pug breed originated), Pug-z’s “kind” was considered “a great delicacy.”
                Of course Mom always did say that Dad liked to “shock” people. Yet, though he freely mocked sometimes, and while he was not the sort of man to ever really “bond” with an animal (the way Mom and I both bonded with Pug-z), at least Dad believed in kindness to animals, and this certainly showed in the way he always treated Pug-z. In Pug-z’s last few years, when I was not usually around, Mom and Dad would take Pug-z on long walks with them in the country. By the time they turned around to go home, Pug-z would often be too tired to make the return trip under her own steam, and then sometimes Dad had to carry her back home in his arms. (Sometimes Mom did the honors.) And how many times at the dinner table must I have heard Dad invoke the law ofour faith which states that a family may not eat until it has first fed its animals. In our case, of course, that meant Pug-z!
                Years after Pug-z was gone — after Dad himself was gone — Mom told me something I must have forgotten if I ever knew it. She told me that when Pug-z was at Dr. Smith’s with her “crisis pregnancy,” Dad took time out of his busy day to visit the clinic to see for himself how Pug-z was getting along. And of course I have always known that Dad must have understood my own bondedness. “A boy and his dog,” he would sometimes smilingly say when he saw me sprawled on the floor watching TV with Pug-z nestling between my arm and shoulder.

                • August 24, 2013 at 9:46 pm

                  And then finally there was the horrible moment when Dad had to inform me that Pug-z had had to be put to sleep that morning. He stood behind me as I finished up my day’s work in the warehouse — this was during my two and a half-year hiatus from college — waiting for what seemed like a good minute before he found his voice to break the news to me. I use the word “news,” but I already knew the hopelessness of the situation. After suffering kidney trouble for more than a year, Pug-z had become incontinent both ways, and the doctor said he couldn’t save her. My mother asked him, “What would you do if she were a human being?” The doctor told her, “If she were a human being, you would wish she were a dog, so you could put her to sleep.” So I was prepared for the “news,” yet I still remember it as one of the longest minutes of my life.

                  • August 24, 2013 at 10:30 pm

                    At the time of Pug-z’s death, I happened to be absorbed in some human dramas, mostly involving my frustrations in trying to graduate from college. (About two years later, in Spring 1976, I did manage to graduate, by means of “an iron will and the grace of God.” I quote the phrase Somerset Maugham used in his book, “The Razor’s Edge,” as his character Isabel Bradley’s explanation of her ability to “keep her figure” now that she was in her mid-30s and had borne two children.)
                    Yet, though getting my degree was obviously important to me, so was being able to grieve normally, and both in the case of a close great-aunt who died at this time and Pug-z’s death, I felt my ability to grieve normally was compromised by these other emotional entanglements. I was angry at these certain college “adversaries” and at myself for having to put my grief on a back burner! Eventually, however, I came to understand these entanglements as mostly the fault of these horrid college officials, and then my feelings of shame dissipated. I told myself, “It’s not a fair world, the wicked live to be old, and I regard myself as the moral victor.” I even added, “I’m sure God must have been on my side all the time.”
                    Of this I would now vouchsafe to say that there has been no clearer proof than in the dreams about Pug-z I have had for many years. They are like a reward or a “restoration” — actually more valuable to me than the normal grieving I may have missed being able to do at the time of my losses.
                    In these dreams about Pug-z, we play together as we always had, and it is really like having her back for a while. To return to A.A. Milne and the way he might have put it, “In that enchanted place [call it “the windmills of David Bittner’s mind”] a boy and his dog will always be playing.” In these dreams I invariably find myself doing the same simple little math and thinking to myself, “Now, how has a dog ever gotten to live into her 30s and beyond?” But why, I am now quick to ask myself, would I think of questioning the gift of these extra “Seasons in the Sun”? That is a song by Jacques Brel whose English lyrics by Rod McKuen have always made me think of Pug-z, the canine love of my life. “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. / And the hills that we climbed [a terraced backyard!] were just seasons out of time.”

  9. August 24, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    I will bet that the respective merits of dogs and cats have been as endlessly debated throughout the ages as those of men and women. It is no accident, after all, that the word “feline” is etymologically related to the word “female.” To many people, even a male cat that is anatomically a perfect specimen of his species and gender is still bound to seem “feminine” compared to dogs. I have four cousins who say that to their mother, all dogs are “he,” and all cats are “she.”

    I have noticed that in the midst of some very positive references to cats and cat-fanciers on Scarriet, no one has yet cared to make a case for dogs. So may I? I could cite the case of Argus, the dog of Odysseus, who yelped, then died of joy at his master’s return to Ithaca after the Trojan War. I ask you, has any cat ever held a candle so close to Pheidippides’s dying victory cry, “Rejoice! We conquer!” And what about Edward Rochester’s dog, Pilot, who barked and wagged his tail in glee upon Jane Eyre’s return, and then conspired with Jane, upon her command of silence, to let Jane surprise Rochester? And how about the famous Fala, whose small statue, carved out of granite, flanks that of his master, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.?

    Greyfriars Bobby, A Dog of Flanders, the list of “super dogs” could go on and on to include that real “Superdog,” himself, Superman’s pet, “Krypto.” (Notice, D.C. Comics has no “Supercat” as a companion for any of its Justice League members.)

    But rather than continue to compile a list of famous dogs (both real and fictional), I would simply like to tell the story of my own wonderful dog, “Pug-z,” (1965-1974), that my family had when I was a boy. As a semi-retired journalist, I actually had the story on my “to-do” list for a long time, and two years ago I finally wrote it! As a title for it, I do not think Norman Rockwell would have minded my borrowing the simple name of his well-known figurine….

    “A Boy Meets His Dog”

    By David Bittner

    My father had a theory that “you could trust a dog, but you couldn’t trust a cat.” He said that if a cat was any bigger, it would pounce on you. I basically agree with this assessment of Dad’s. I think he felt, as I feel, that a dog just has certain humanoid sensitivities that are lacking in a cat. And such was certainly true of Pug-z!

    I had recently begun the second half of eighth grade at Lincoln Junior High School in Rockford, Illinois, when we got Pug-z. I had actually had it in mind, since being promised a dog, that the breed I wanted was a dachshund. But when my mother and I walked into the pet shop, the five or six dachshund puppies milling around were paying us absolutely “no nevermind.” And then we saw Pug-z (of course she actually had no name yet), standing on her hind legs, with her front paws against the metal grille of her cage, and barking at us as if to say, “Choose me! Choose me!” Well, thus ever so simply did this little pug puppy, who was not even close to the breed I originally wanted, capture my heart! I did not even bother to ask the pet shop owner right away if the puppy was a female, which I preferred over a male. Luckily, she just was.

    As we headed to the vet’s for Pug-z to get her first shots, Pug-z sat on the front seat of our Rambler station wagon in a cardboard box, lined with newspaper, that the pet shop owner had rigged up for us. From the back seat I saw Pug-z look up at my mother with those big brown saucer eyes of hers, and was hardly surprised to hear Mom speak three simple words that were so close to what I was thinking myself, “Oh, she’s sweet.” And the truth is that I never did know of Pug-z to bite anybody—not my parents or me, or anybody else that I ever heard of.

    The Alpine Veterinarian Clinic was only a few blocks from our home on Apple Orchard Lane, a huge cul de sac about which some 20 brand-new buildings, each consisting of 8 to 10 two-story townhouses, were arrayed. A middle-aged veterinarian named Dr. Smith worked in the clinic without any partner. As he examined Pug-z, I heard him say something about the life span of “this breed” being about ten years. At the time I guess I was just the same way about a pet’s life expectancy that I am today about a human being’s—as I myself have recently entered my seventh decade and hope to see at least the end of it. It is really, I suppose, just another kind of “acquisitiveness,” like so many people’s ambition for all kinds of status and favor—this kind like the greed of Swift’s Struldbrugs for long life. At any rate, I sighed audibly at Dr. Smith’s mention of “ten years.” Dr. Smith heard the disappointment in my voice and said sternly and with some impatience, “Oh, you just make sure she doesn’t get distemper or get run over by a car, and you’ll have nothing to complain about some day.” Wiser words were never spoken—even if it did take me a while to remember them after losing Pug-z only two months before her tenth birthday.

    When I think of all we came through with Pug-z and what a very good dog she was! We bred Pug-z when she was two—mostly thanks to my heedless encouragement of the idea, since my stay-at-home Mom was obviously going to get stuck with most of the work, with me a high school student and my father a full-time bread winner working outside the home. And unfortunately, sweetheart though she was, Pug-z was not a bright dog. The pug breed is known for its good disposition, but not for high intelligence. This had never made any difference before, except to note little things such as that when Dad and I played ping-pong, Pug-z never followed the ball back and forth with her eyes, the way “Bones,” the cocker spaniel we had for three years when I was in grade school, did. But now, much more importantly, Pug-z’s maternal instincts were not what they might have been. Maybe this was also because it was Pug-z’s first (and last) time as a “dam.” At any rate, when the puppies started coming late one morning, Pug-z did not seem to know—as she was supposed to have had it ingrained into her by Mother Nature—that she was supposed to use her claws to open the sacs each containing a puppy suspended in amniotic fluid.

    Were it not for the good fortune of having a nurse, Mrs. Joan Schmier, as our next-door neighbor who was interested and eager to help out, I shudder to think what would have happened. It was Joan who opened the sacs of the first two of Pug-z’s “sextuplets.” Then Pug-z’s very labor became troubled, and Mom and Joan wrapped Pug-z in a blanket and whisked her in Mom’s car to the Alpine Veterinary Clinic, which, as I have said, was blessedly only a few blocks away on Alpine Road, a major Rockford thoroughfare. (At the opposite end of Alpine Road, about three miles away, was Guilford High School, where I was now a second semester sophomore. And to think that I had toyed with the idea of using Pug-z’s birthing experience as my biology project! Shame on me!)

    I am happy to say that Dr. Smith safely delivered Pug-z of her remaining four puppies. The entire brood consisted of six puppies. There were five females, all apricot fawn like both Pug-z and the sire, and one male, black, in whom a couple of recessive genes had obviously united. My parents gave the middle-aged couple who owned the sire the pick of the litter, and they chose the black male.

    In the meantime, Pug-z’s nursing instincts were also slow in coming, and for the first two weeks at least, Mom had to feed the puppies a special gruel she learned to prepare. She administered it at first to each puppy with an eye-dropper. They all looked like grey little blind gophers at this time. Mom was heard once or twice to say, “How did I ever let myself get talked into this?” Eventually the puppies were able to lap up the gruel on their own, and then, finally, Pug-z caught onto the nursing idea and took over her own responsibility, although still seemingly somewhat desultorily.

    Then, at the age of about two months, two of the five female puppies were sent by air to out-of-town relatives who had eagerly requested puppies, and we sold the other three to two Rockford people and to a woman who drove all the way from Chicago (a distance of 90 miles), to pick up her puppy. Now, of the whole puppy-raising enterprise, we knew only what we had seen on TV and the movies (things like “Lassie,” “101 Dalmations,” “Old Yeller,” and “Lady and the Tramp”), but one classic thing that never occurred to us to do was to identify any of the six puppies as the “runt” of the littter. Maybe there was just not one that stood out as such.

    About a year later, one of Dr. Smith’s warnings to us nearly came tragically true. Pug-z had a mishap with a car on Alpine Road. Some neighborhood children came running to our door to tell my mother about Pug-z’s accident, and once again, Mom rushed Pug-z to Dr. Smith’s. As I arrived home from school in the afternoon, the children told me what had happened, so I was not shocked to find my mother holding Pug-z on her lap, wrapped in a blanket. Mom said this was necessary because Dr. Smith told her Pug-z might be in shock. He also told her that the pain in Pug-z’s leg, where the car had impacted on her, was making Pug-z cry. He then explained to her that dogs do not cry exactly the same way human beings do. Whereas we humans shed tears, dogs’ eyes “well” with tears when they are in pain. Only animal specialists such as veterinarians would know these things—so most other people probably never pick up on this little-visible sign that their pet is in distress. That Pug-z favored that leg for the rest of her life was something anyone could have told, though. But Mom never said Dr. Smith told her anything like “I told you so,” or “I warned you that something like this might happen.” So maybe he just counted on our scare to suffice us as a reminder to be more vigilant. And we rarely let Pug-z out of our sight again when she had to make her trips outdoors.

    And I wonder if maybe Pug-z herself became more cautious when it came to “looking before she leapt.” Without really knowing anything about the interplay between reason and experience in the lower mammalian mind, I thought that maybe I saw Pug-z exercise such judgment a few years later. We built a home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where my father took a new job after I graduated from high school. We terraced the backyard with five or six railroad ties leading up to the terrace. (The thing may have looked spiffy to the neighbors but was actually just necessary topographically.) One day, I was romping with Pug-z on the terrace. After a while Pug-z went over to the edge of the terrace. She appeared to be weighing a decision. Should she, a little dog. not long-legged, and no longer young and spry, attempt to jump all the way down to the yard, or would it be a better idea to take the steps down, the same way she had come up? At last, she made an “about-face,” trotted over to the middle of the terrace, and took the steps down to the yard!

    At about this same time Pug-z surprised us with another antic, now revealing the “noble savage” side of her personality. One day she returned from some underbrush dividing our lot from our next-door neighbors’ lot, holding the leg of a deer in her mouth. I think it was probably just a piece of carrion she had found. But it made me think of a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon where Dennis was dog-sitting for his parents’ friends’ toy poodle. The poodle, bedecked in pink ribbons, got down in the dirt to play like any other dog, leading Dennis to express admiration for the pampered animal acting like a “real dog” after all.”

    Yet, Pug-z was not the sort of dog you taught to do any “tricks.” She just wasn’t “that sort of dog,” to paraphrase A.A. Milne writing about Pooh Bear. Dad laughingly referred to Pug-z as “good-for-nothing,” and enjoyed pointing out to our house guests that in China (where the pug breed originated), Pug-z’s “kind” was considered “a great delicacy.”

    Of course Mom always did say that Dad liked to “shock” people. Yet, though he freely mocked sometimes, and while he was not the sort of man to ever really “bond” with an animal (the way Mom and I both bonded with Pug-z), at least Dad believed in kindness to animals, and this certainly showed in the way he always treated Pug-z. In Pug-z’s last few years, when I was not usually around, Mom and Dad would take Pug-z on long walks with them in the country. By the time they turned around to go home, Pug-z would often be too tired to make the return trip under her own steam, and then sometimes Dad had to carry her back home in his arms. (Sometimes Mom did the honors.) And how many times at the dinner table must I have heard Dad invoke the law of our faith which states that a family may not eat until it has first fed its animals. In our case, of course, that meant Pug-z!

    Years after Pug-z was gone—after Dad himself was gone—Mom told me something I must have forgotten if I ever knew it. She told me that when Pug-z was at Dr. Smith’s with her “crisis pregnancy,” Dad took time out of his busy day to visit the clinic to see for himself how Pug-z was getting along. And of course I have always known that Dad must have understood my own bondedness. “A boy and his dog,” he would sometimes smilingly say when he saw me sprawled on the floor watching TV with Pug-z nestling between my arm and shoulder.

    And then finally there was the horrible moment when Dad had to inform me that Pug-z had had to be put to sleep that morning. He stood behind me as I finished up my day’s work in the warehouse—this was during my two and a half-year hiatus from college—waiting for what seemed like a good minute before he found his voice to break the news to me. I use the word “news,” but I already knew the hopelessness of the situation. After suffering kidney trouble for more than a year, Pug-z had become incontinent both ways, and the doctor said he couldn’t save her. My mother asked him, “What would you do if she were a human being?” The doctor told her, “If she were a human being, you would wish she were a dog, so you could put her to sleep.” So I was prepared for the “news,” yet I still remember it as one of the longest minutes of my life.

    At the time of Pug-z’s death, I happened to be absorbed in some human dramas, mostly involving my frustrations in trying to graduate from college. (About two years later, in Spring 1976, I did manage to graduate, by means of “an iron will and the grace of God.” I quote the phrase Somerset Maugham used in his book, “The Razor’s Edge,” as his character Isabel Bradley’s explanation of her ability to “keep her figure” now that she was in her mid-30s and had borne two children.)

    Yet, though getting my degree was obviously important to me, so was being able to grieve normally, and both in the case of a close great-aunt who died at this time and Pug-z’s death, I felt my ability to grieve normally was compromised by these other emotional entanglements. I was angry at these certain college “adversaries” and at myself for having to put my grief on a back burner! Eventually, however, I came to understand these entanglements as mostly the fault of these horrid college officials, and then my feelings of shame dissipated. I told myself, “It’s not a fair world, the wicked live to be old, and I regard myself as the moral victor.” I even added, “I’m sure God must have been on my side all the time.”

    Of this I would now vouchsafe to say that there has been no clearer proof than in the dreams about Pug-z I have had for many years. They are like a reward or a “restoration”—actually more valuable to me than the normal grieving I may have missed being able to do at the time of my losses.

    In these dreams about Pug-z, we play together as we always had, and it is really like having her back for a while. To return to A.A. Milne and the way he might have put it, “In that enchanted place [call it “the windmills of David Bittner’s mind”] a boy and his dog will always be playing.” In these dreams I invariably find myself doing the same simple little math and thinking to myself, “Now, how has a dog ever gotten to live into her 30s and beyond?” But why, I am now quick to ask myself, would I think of questioning the gift of these extra “Seasons in the Sun”? That is a song by Jacques Brel whose English lyrics by Rod McKuen have always made me think of Pug-z, the canine love of my life. “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. / And the hills that we climbed [a terraced backyard!] were just seasons out of time.”

    I am now a man in my early 60’s. My ambition at this time, as I have already indicated, is to reach the age my Biblical namesake, King David, did. The Bible says David lived to be 70 exactly. Actually I believe I may already have fulfilled some rather unusual purposes I think I was put here on earth for, but getting my “three score and ten” (the figure “70” as David expresses it himself in the 90th Psalm and that I call “the basic plan”) would still be nice.

    Now, there is only one book of the Bible where a dog is spoken of as someone’s “pet.” That book is the Book of Tobit, where it says, “Tobias and the Angel walked along the road, and the dog followed behind.” Note: that’s “the” dog, as if it were “their” dog and not “a” dog, as if it were just any old dog that happened to be “easing on down the road.” “On the Road With the Archangel” (N.Y., Harper, 1997) is a novel based on the Book of Tobit by Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister who lives in Vermont. As the novel’s main character, Tobias, lies dying at an old age, he “feels the dog carefully taking his hand in his mouth in order to lead him to wherever it was he might be going next.” In just that same way, I would be perfectly amenable to having Pug-z someday serve as my Beatrice and guide me in the upper realms.
    ######

  10. thomasbrady said,

    August 25, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Thanks for the Pug-Z story, David. I don’t think there’s a dry eye in the house.
    Tom

    • August 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      That’s one way I define my style of journalism, Tom: “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry.” So that’s a fine compliment you’ve given me! Maybe I should propose to some of the networks that someone start a new soap opera: “Dogs of Our Lives”? (Just as long as they realize I mean special canines and not some of the unattractive girls I went out with in high school, fearing the competition of other boys)? Yours, David

    • noochinator said,

      April 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Yes, great job on the Pug-z story — my eyes were misting over as I read it.


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