Wagging a grateful tail

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Fifth Avenue. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH

Monday, December 3, 2018. A rainy day in Manhattan yesterday, with lots of fog and temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s! Overall it was a grey and rainy weekend in New York, but pleasant for everyone who took to the sidewalks, the museums and the shops and restaurants.

I was surprised by the thickness of the fog yesterday morning when I took the dogs down to the river just before noon. I’d forgotten to bring my camera, and had to go back to retrieve it to get the shot.

Looking south from East 83rd Street toward the 59th Street Edward Koch bridge at noon yesterday.

However, in the few minutes that it took, when I returned it had lifted some from my first glance when I could not make out the lighthouse on the tip of Roosevelt Island, and the new apartment complex (on the left) next to the RFK Bridge. They were not at all visible. I started singing George and Ira Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day … in London town,” (I know it sounds corny, but it’s true…) regretting that it couldn’t be transposed to little ole Manhattan. Within the hour, however, I could see everything clearly. It must have been a low-flying cloud dipping its toes in the Atlantic.

Looking northwest from the same position, toward the northern tip of Roosevelt Island (the lighthouse) and across the water to Queens, and to the north, the apartment complex still in completion, about the same time.

Well here we are in December, ten minutes after January and three seconds before. I was driving up Madison Avenue the other night and was once again in awe, like a kid seeing it for the first time. I don’t know if the holiday does much for the people but the lights make it clear: love the beauty of it all while it’s there to love.

Which speaking of beauty, last week I wrote about my dinner with Arriana and Dixon Boardman and our conversation about dogs and ultimately about the ASPCA of which Arriana is on the Board. Conversation is lively, as you might expect from those two friendly individuals, and we shared some connections to liven it up more.

But it was when we got into talking about our dogs — and cats, let’s not forget the cats … they notice, y’know — that give us so much pleasure. The kind of pleasure that washes your heart and restores your soul. A lot of us still don’t know about that, unfortunately.

“Hey, don’t forget about us!” says JH’s cats Sophie and Ewok.

The dog talk centered mainly those we’ve adopted/rescued all our lives. Their gift to us is the result. With their devotion they provide the opportunity to feel good, as in good life.

After dinner, I sent them a piece I wrote eight years ago about the death of one such friend, Buster. It was very effective because Buster was very effective with me to the moment of this writing.

The following day, Dixon sent me something I did not know about, the Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’Neill, known to friends and family as “Blemie.”

I don’t know where Blemie lived or was brought up, although my imagination provided some clues, like Manhattan and Connecticut. Because his “master” was a man named Eugene O’Neill. I actually wondered if it might have been the house where the “Tyrone” family lived in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” If so it would have been Blemie, no doubt, who provided the sweet intermissions in that heavy drama.

Eugene O’Neill with his dalmatian, Blemie.

Blemie’s attitude is definitely refreshing, even for those of us strangers reading it. For example, it tells you a lot about the man who wrote “The Hairy Ape,” “Strange Interlude,” “The Moon for the Misbegotten,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Desire Under the Elms,” and dozens more. I was never aware of the abundance of the man’s works: he had to be working all the time!

Hit or miss, that’s all God’s labor.

I could imagine Blemie snoozing at the man’s feet, exuding the alpha required for such intensity of the man’s sweat and tears (figuratively speaking).

Meanwhile, here’s Blemie’s Last Will and Testament.” Like all interesting Wills, it gives you some clues about the heirs.

I, SILVERDENE EMBLEM O’NEILL (familiarly known to my family, friends, and acquaintances as Blemie), because the burden of my years and infirmities is heavy upon me, and I realize the end of my life is near, do hereby bury my last will and testament in the mind of my Master. He will not know it is there until after I am dead. Then, remembering me in his loneliness, he will suddenly know of this testament, and I ask him then to inscribe it as a memorial to me.

I have little in the way of material things to leave. Dogs are wiser than men. They do not set great store upon things. They do not waste their days hoarding property. They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith. These I leave to all those who have loved me, to my Master and Mistress, who I know will mourn me most, to Freeman who has been so good to me, to Cyn and Roy and Willie and Naomi and — But if I should list all those who have loved me, it would force my Master to write a book. Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always been an extremely lovable dog.

I ask my Master and Mistress to remember me always, but not to grieve for me too long. In my life I have tried to be a comfort to them in time of sorrow, and a reason for added joy in their happiness. It is painful for me to think that even in death I should cause them pain. Let them remember that while no dog has ever had a happier life (and this I owe to their love and care for me), now that I have grown blind and deaf and lame, and even my sense of smell fails me so that a rabbit could be right under my nose and I might not know, my pride has sunk to a sick, bewildered humiliation. I feel life is taunting me with having over-lingered my welcome. It is time I said good-bye, before I become too sick a burden on myself and on those who love me. It will be sorrow to leave them, but not a sorrow to die. Dogs do not fear death as men do. We accept it as part of life, not as something alien and terrible which destroys life. What may come after death, who knows? I would like to believe with those of my fellow Dalmatians who are devout Mohammedans, that there is a Paradise where one is always young and full-bladdered; where all the day one dillies and dallies with an amorous multitude of houris, beautifully spotted; where jack rabbits that run fast but not too fast (like the houris) are as the sands of the desert; where each blissful hour is mealtime; where in long evenings there are a million fireplaces with logs forever burning, and one curls oneself up and blinks into the flames and nods and dreams, remembering the old brave days on earth, and the love of one’s Master and Mistress.

I am afraid this is too much for even such a dog as I am to expect. But peace, at least, is certain. Peace and long rest for weary old heart and head and limbs, and eternal sleep in the earth I have loved so well. Perhaps, after all, this is best.

One last request I earnestly make. I have heard my Mistress say, “When Blemie dies we must never have another dog. I love him so much I could never love another one.” Now I would ask her, for love of me, to have another. It would be a poor tribute to my memory never to have a dog again. What I would like to feel is that, having once had me in the family, now she cannot live without a dog! I have never had a narrow jealous spirit. I have always held that most dogs are good (and one cat, the black one I have permitted to share the living room rug during the evenings, whose affection I have tolerated in a kindly spirit, and in rare sentimental moods, even reciprocated a trifle). Some dogs, of course, are better than others. Dalmatians, naturally, as everyone knows, are best. So I suggest a Dalmatian as my successor. He can hardly be as well bred or as well mannered or as distinguished and handsome as I was in my prime. My Master and Mistress must not ask the impossible. But he will do his best, I am sure, and even his inevitable defects will help by comparison to keep my memory green. To him I bequeath my collar and leash and my overcoat and raincoat, made to order in 1929 at Hermes in Paris. He can never wear them with the distinction I did, walking around the Place Vendôme, or later along Park Avenue, all eyes fixed on me in admiration; but again I am sure he will do his utmost not to appear a mere gauche provincial dog. Here on the ranch, he may prove himself quite worthy of comparison, in some respects. He will, I presume, come closer to jack rabbits than I have been able to in recent years. And for all his faults, I hereby wish him the happiness I know will be his in my old home.

One last word of farewell, Dear Master and Mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: “Here lies one who loved us and whom we loved.” No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail.

Tao House, December 17th, 1940

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