Friday, August 12, 2011


In my younger days I burned the candle at both ends, and sometimes even the middle. If I could find a wick, or the hint of one, I’d set it ablaze. Like almost any young man my preoccupation was wine, women, and song.  At those rare moments of adult sanity when I entertained thoughts I’d eventually pay a price for my misadventures I’d dismiss them and move on to a new one.
These days many of the memories of my youth have faded and I’m left with the physical reminders that there is a price to be paid for burning the candle of youth. A little over two years ago I went through open heart surgery, thanks to my love of greasy food. Six weeks or so ago the pain in my back was so excruciating I could barely get my tennis shoes on when I got out of bed at 5:00 A.M.  I went to a chiropractor for the first time in my life. It took several treatments to get the arthritis to respond to the chiropractor’s skilled hands. Two Sundays ago I had to go to the emergency room at Newman. Blood tests revealed that I’d had a flare-up of pancreatitis, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I wouldn’t even with it on a politician. For a week after I left the hospital I had to maintain a liquid diet. If you’re anything like me living on chicken broth, popsicles, diet Jell-O, noodles, and one cup of morning coffee can get very old, very fast.
You can see that I’m struggling with the aging process. That’s why I’m glad I have my buddy, Jack, the ugliest dog in Emporia. He’s a great teacher.
Like me, Jack is getting long in the tooth. A few months ago he seemed to be on the verge of going to the old bone yard. But, thanks to Floyd Dorsey and daily enzyme treatments Jack seems to be doing alright. He’s no spring chicken, mind you, but he’s alive and has occasional visits from the sweet bird of youth.
Our days together start with a walk. By seven he’s back home and ready for breakfast. It takes me a few minutes to cut up the pills and sprinkle the enzymes on his food. As I do, Jack gets a case of the happy feet. He jumps up and down. The sound of his toenails hitting the wood floor reminds me of the sound of a flamenco dancer’s castanets. As soon as his bowl hits the floor Jack hurls himself into his work. It takes him less time to eat the food than it took me to prepare it for him. Then, it’s off to take a nap in his favorite spot under the piano.
For the next forty-five minutes I tune in to C-Span’s “Washington Journal getting my daily fix of what America is thinking. As soon as I’m satisfied that the Republic is safe for at least one more day I fix breakfast for myself, which amounts to Shredded Wheat, skim milk, orange juice, daily medications, and two tablets of pancreatic enzymes. Then, if the mood strikes me, I might sit down in front of my laptop and work on an essay, mow the lawn, or go to a commission meeting and stick a barb or two into Emporia’s high and mighty.
While I’m doing my thing Jack spends his day quietly. He’ll chew on a bone for a while, then hide it from Ranger, the Sheltie, and Brudder the cat. If he doesn’t have a bone to work on he’ll sit in front of me and emit strange guttural sounds and muffled “Ruff’s” to let me know he needs one. When he goes outside he moves slowly, showing his age. But, it all changes when a neighborhood squirrel occasionally does his high wire act between the utility poles running along the right of way in back of our house. Jack sees him and it’s like he’s been hit by an instant jolt of electric youth. He vibrates, then runs full tilt toward the interloper, barking as he does. He’s never caught the squirrel, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Jack seems quite content. For him, life is quite simple – food mixed with enzymes, a daily bone, concessions to age and occasional bursts of youth. There’s a meter, a rhythm to it all and it’s quite mysterious to observe. I heard Bob Dylan describe it this way once:
“Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be
To each his own, it’s all unknown
If dogs run free”

As I take part in his these daily rituals I’m learning that Jack and I are in some ways very much alike. We’re just two old dogs living our sunset years on enzymes.

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