The present erases the past, and Oscar is getting older

Dear Willow:

So, Oscar decided to barf on my office carpet during one of our recent Monday morning calls. I was able to clean up the bulk of it while still listening in.

Thank goodness for the mute button.

And also for near-professional-grade rug cleaning machines.

I’ve been working from home for years, so I’m used to the interruptions, but how are you all doing more than a month in? What are your challenges?

Do you remember that viral video from a few years ago of the guy in his home office being interviewed by the BBC and his daughter marches in, ready to party? He gives her the Heisman while trying to maintain his patter, but then an even younger kid bops through the door, livin’ large in one of those mobile bouncy chairs.

Next, a woman slides into frame, frantic, trying to corral the children and usher them back out without being seen, but of course she is on camera the whole time. At the end, we see her from her knees, outside the door, reach up to the handle and pull the door closed.

It’s as good a physical comedy as you’ll see this side of a Buster Keaton film fest.

As I recall, there was some instant outrage at the man in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The woman who frantically tended the children is of Asian descent and people assumed she was the man’s housekeeper / nanny.

She is his wife, and the whole family couldn’t be more adorable.

During the pandemic social distancing period, incorporating one’s kids into the show seems to be a necessity born of invention. I think Jimmy Fallon may lose his late night gig to his kids when this is over.

It’s interesting to consider what is truly necessary to meet audience expectations for broadcast television these days. I watch the first 30 minutes of the Today Show most weekdays, and Savannah Guthrie is broadcasting from her basement with a green screen of her living room behind her. Al Roker does the weather from his kitchen sitting in front of a computer monitor.

It’s totally fine, like as a viewer, I don’t think I care if it ever goes back. Is this because I’m simply habituated to this new normal or because there isn’t really a difference?

When Al Roker’s back in the studio am I going to be suddenly shocked at how much better the Today Show has become? I’m thinking how hard it is to track and measure these things unless you do it purposefully. (It’s one of the reasons I’m a big believer in our Flash Study.) The present seems to erase the past.

Like with Oscar. I know I’ve shown you pictures of him, but here’s one to jog your memory.

Because Kathy is a veterinarian, we’re always going to wind up with the dogs others don’t want. He was abandoned at the clinic she was working in at the time, probably about 8-10 months old, with a terrible case of mange that left him nearly hairless with weeping sores, itching constantly. He didn’t have a name tag, so the technician who took him in named him “Idgy” (for itchy).

His tail arced like a comma over his back and didn’t stop wagging in the few moments he wasn’t itching. Kathy thought he was a golden retriever puppy, or at least that’s what she told me, possibly to tamp down my objections to taking on a new dog with a bad skin condition.

Oscar is cognitively impaired, a diagnosis confirmed by a CT scan that showed brain abnormalities. He looks to be at least part “Carolina dog,” a feral breed that has been domesticated. He is an oddball.

If Oscar is standing on a wood floor his right rear leg gradually slips out from under him until it looks like he’s going to fall, after which he yanks it back underneath his body. When we got him, he had to spend a month at the clinic getting daily medicated baths, and the first time he and I met, I took him for a walk down the office park cul-de-sac near the clinic, him unable to grasp the concept of a leash, choking himself half to death, until we arrived at a driveway framed by a couple of large decorative rocks which Oscar promptly started barking at.

I will never forget the first day we brought him home. We had recently put one of our previous pair of dogs, Sam (Samantha), to sleep. Cancer. I’d adopted Sam right before I started grad school, a golden retriever / collie mix that had been abandoned at a clinic where Kathy was interning as a student. (You’re sensing the theme.) What a dog she was. I’d planned on crating Sam at night like the experts recommended, but the first night when she started crying, I pulled her up into bed with me and onto my chest and that was that.

In grad school, when I would go to my desk to write, she would curl up at my feet for the duration. She was a flower dog at our wedding.

I couldn’t believe we were replacing Sam, sweet, docile, easygoing Sam, with Oscar.

Our other dog, Scully (yes, she was named after the X-Files character), who was Kathy’s dog in vet school and then ours together with Sam for a decade, couldn’t believe that we’d replaced Sam with Oscar either. Scully was a lab mix (maybe dachshund?), something of an alpha, and pretty old, so Oscar was not something she was interested in.

Oscar’s first day home, I brought him up to the FROG space in our previous house and gated us in there together. It was a couple hundred square feet of open space with a TV and couches, and he frantically raced around sniffing everything and freaking out, sniffing and freaking out, like a dog who’d never set foot in a house before. (Possibly because he hadn’t.)

As Oscar raced around for an hour, and then two, and I tried to redirect his attention to a toy or me, or anything other than his frantic sniffing, succeeding only briefly, I thought about how living with Oscar was going to be intolerable.

Frustrated, exhausted, I stretched out  on the couch, trying to will myself to a nap. No more than a minute later Oscar ceased his sniffing, jumped onto the couch and settled against me, falling asleep almost immediately. I pressed my face into his new fur, mostly grown in. He still smelled a little medicinal from all the baths.

It turns out that the dog is a savant for sleeping in proximity to a human. He knows how to find the perfect nook and he isn’t picky about the human. If you find yourself on our couch, you will soon find Oscar next to you.

He’s old now, 14? 15?, but how he is now—trailing behind me as we walk, rather than pulling, so deaf you have to touch him to wake him up—may as well be like he’s always been. Today’s Oscar is yesterday’s Oscar, because yesterday’s Oscar is never coming back.

Does this make sense? I clearly haven’t forgotten the previous Oscars, but those previous Oscars are no longer relevant because this is the Oscar we have.

Objectively, we will not have Oscar for many more years, though knock on wood, he’s doing amazingly well, and already beat a sinus fungus a couple years ago that required a surgeon to bore into his skull and pack the cavity with athlete’s foot medication. It left him with a little Harry Potter scar. It’s cute.

We adapt, we move on. We pick up scars.

 

Yours in pensiveness,

John

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