The drive belt on my record player has gotten a bit tight, so the girls and I haven’t had Dance Party USA in a while. Its ailment is apparently caused by moisture, or age, or something (I can only Google these things). It makes everything play a bit fast, which is strangely okay for some artists, but not others. It turns the Beatles and Michael Jackson to shit. Van Halen is okay, but that’s debatable even in their intended state. I’d stopped listening to vinyl months ago in frustration.
I could purchase a new turntable, and in the past I would have. Thing is, years of financial folly have reduced me to penny pinching, so I make do with my Chipmunkesque combo player, which has paper clips jammed into the tape deck (thanks to Cora). Yes, I’m playing it on the correct speed.
I’ve been languishing on my phone, cranking YouTube videos out its shameful speaker, or silently staring at Fucking Facebook. That damned screen is almost always jammed into my face, and I reached the breaking point last week. If I’m home now, my recently-paid-off Samsung is on the charger. I’ve deleted The Dreaded App. I’m going cold turkey.
Bathtime rolled around and I got the girls set, temperature and toothbrush-wise. Cora is pretty adept at drain handling and faucet supervision, and Bea won’t send waterfalls through the kitchen ceiling if I make sure there aren’t any cups within reach. My office is adjacent to their bathroom and within view, so I’m pretty certain they won’t drown while I select a record.
I have an old greatest hits album by The Association, and I can (and often do) have a religious experience while yelling along to that thing. It might even be enhanced by the speed issues. I hope this isn’t sacrilege to any aficionados of vinyl or 1960s sunshine pop.
“Along Comes Mary” was blasting, and butt naked Bea came slipping and sliding into the room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. She said, “Let’s rock and roll,” and began to cut a rug. She’s two-and-a-half. I flopped her on my dad’s old rocking chair and popped a diaper on her before the office floor became a pee puddle. It wouldn’t have been the first time. She left a funny wet butt and hand print on the fabric, which was a deeper red where she’d landed.
My father once told me he’d rock his grandchildren in that chair. Oh, we’re rockin’, Pops.
“Mary” was the last song on that side, so I went to lift the needle. “Do another,” she said, insistent.
“Okay,” I said. “If you want to rock, let’s rock.” I pulled Black Oak Arkansas out of my storage crate marked A-F and set the needle on “Hot and Nasty.” I whipped the hand towel I’d used to wipe up Bea’s footprints around like Elvis’s scarf, and bellowed. Bea performed an expert booty shake.
In the meantime, Gina was downstairs with William reading a text from her mother. Her grandfather, a 92-year-old WWII Navy veteran, had been knocked down by his dog. He didn’t break anything, but any fall at that age is harrowing.
Back upstairs, Cora had arrived in the office with her froggy towel over her head like a cape, and now we were really going. It was time. The song ended and I quickly switched out Jim “Dandy” Mangrum for Jefferson Starship’s “Jane,” my speed facilitated by the fact that it’s the first track on that side of Freedom at Point Zero. No eyeballing involved, just put the needle down and let it fly. This Simple Home Office DJ Trick Will Amaze You.
I was hitting all the high notes and making up my own. The girls were whirling dervishes. My hands and head were lifted to the heavens, then down, up, and down, communing with nature.
My wife was below, weeping, while the elephants paraded overhead. Later, she said she was more angry at the dog than anything, which I understood completely. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but when there’s that much at stake with an animal involved, my first inclination is to do away with the beast.
The People First Party going on above concluded its jam session with Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me,” good enough to sway to, but not so raucous that it would leave the girls hanging with their dials turned to eleven. It was time for bed.
The song ended to cries of more, but I deflected them with the promise of two bedtime stories. Bea, well on her way to mastering manipulation, made it four. I keep the books I most enjoy closer to the bed, so her choices were predetermined. You can’t outwit the master.
After the lullabies were sung and the kids were tucked and smooched, I floated down from Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven to find grey-faced Gina, who gave me the news. We contemplated canine homicide together for a moment in the kitchen. This is how we blow off steam. We’re not about to start up Puppy Murder Inc., but someone does need to get that fucking mutt out of there.
I consider myself a semi-reasonable person, especially when I’ve had time to ruminate, so I know it’s not about the harrying hound. It’s about fear of loss. I’ve called it pre-grief before, and the scientists call it anticipatory grief, but it is what it is. Hell, he could live twenty more years, but we think, “What if?” We want to remove every pitfall. We second guess our decisions before they’re even made, then we dissect them afterward until there’s nothing left.
This ain’t my first rodeo, pardner.
Maybe it’s my protestant genetics, but even at the height of elation, guilt remains. It is the voice in the back of my head, like the one that whispered into the General’s ear at the moment of his triumph, “Respice post te. Hominem te memento.”
Look behind you and remember that you are only a man.
Perhaps we are ridiculous and futile in our efforts. Maybe there’s a dog in your life that you’d sacrifice to defeat death itself! You’d stand victorious, glorious conqueror of entropy, as you somehow trapped the reaper in that canine carcass and set it ablaze, delivering us all from loss. We know, though, that our misdirected cruelty is in vain. It is a totem brutality committed against the ether, which runs through our fingers.
But we can dance, and repeat this stolen prayer (thanks, George), “Not today.” As long as my voice will carry, it is so. It is not now. It is never now as long as I can think it. There are guitars hidden in these grooves. The still autumn air waits to be moshed by our hot breath. The beams of my cheaply-constructed home moan and pop under my weight in reply to my pleas, “Hold me, hold me, hold me.”