Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Second Day I Knew Andrew's Mother

This is the text of an email message I sent to a friend of mine recounting what happened on Saturday, March 4, 2006, the second day I knew Andrew’s mother.

That day was a beautiful, beautiful day for me.

As is clear from the message, Andrew and my father were not getting along at the time.

That is another long, long story.


On Saturday morning, we first woke up at 7:00, when we heard Tim crying.

Andrew said to me, "I'm going to get up now, but why don't you sleep a little longer, Josh."

"No, if you're getting up, I'm going to get up" I said, and Andrew and I went into the kitchen and Andrew made coffee. While the coffee was brewing, Andrew went to the door, opened it, retrieved the newspapers and brought them back to the kitchen.

Soon we were joined by Andrew's father, in pajamas and robe, and then by Alec, in pajamas. Alec wears the same thing to bed that Andrew (and now I) wear to bed. They are unmistakably brothers, and if I met them on the street for the first time, I would immediately know that they were brothers. If I had never met Andrew, and if Alec were gay, Alec would be my choice as the person with whom I would most want to spend my life, I have decided.

The coffee was soon ready, and Andrew poured everyone coffee and we all sat down and flipped through the newspapers. Lizbeth, in pajamas and robe, soon brought Tim in and began heating him his bottle. Alec held him while the bottle was heating--and of course Tim was fussy.

In about another thirty minutes, Mrs. Van came in, also in pajamas and robe, and she sat down. So here we all were, gathered around the kitchen table again, just like last night.

"How about a little something to eat before breakfast?" Andrew asked.

"Sure" Andrew's Dad answered. "Lizbeth and your Mom could go for some fruit, I expect, and we could have some cereal."

Mr. Van turned to me and asked "Cereal, Josh?"

"Sure" I said.

Andrew then said "Ladies, melons, berries or banana nut?"

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Would they prefer a plate of cantaloupe and dew melon and watermelon, or a bowl of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in cream, or a dish of bananas, walnuts and honey?"

Mrs. Van said she could go for a plate of melon and Lizbeth said she could go for a bowl of berries.

"Josh, what about you? Something to go with your cereal?" Andrew asked.

"That banana nut concoction sounds good" I said.





And Andrew went to work, and made his Mom a melon plate, and two bowls of berries and cream for Lizbeth and his Dad, and he made three dishes of bananas and walnuts and honey for Alec, me and himself.

He passed these all around, and then he brought out shredded wheat with skim milk for his Dad, and granola and whole milk for Alec, me and himself.

And this was just "a little something to eat before breakfast"? Yes, it was, as the "real" breakfast was to come soon enough.

But the "pre-breakfast" breakfast wasn't done yet!

After he had had his bowl of berries, Mr. Van thought he could go for a little melon, too. After Mrs. Van had had her plate of melon, she thought she could go for a bowl of berries, too. After Lizbeth had had her bowl of berries, she thought she could go for a little melon, too. After Alec had had his bowl of banana-nut-honey, he thought he could go for a bowl of berries, too. I, after my bowl of banana-nut-honey, thought I should do some berries, too, just to stay in the swing of things with everyone else. Andrew made himself a berry bowl, too, to eat along with me and Alec as we ate ours.

When we were all done with this round, Andrew asked if anyone wanted some more melon, as the melons were already cut open. All of the men said yes, so we men all ate a plate of melon, too. That meant that Alec, Andrew and I all got some of each.

When this was done, Andrew said to me "I'm going to go get cleaned up now, Josh, so I can get a head start on breakfast." Then Andrew said "Everybody, just leave your dishes in the sink, and I will wash them when I come back. What does everybody want for breakfast, so I will know what to start?"

Everybody looked around, as if they didn't have a clue.

"No requests?" Andrew asked.

No one said anything.

"How about Eggs Benedict, then?" he asked.

"Yeah, that sounds good" everybody but me said all at once, and Lizbeth turned to me and said "Andrew makes his own Hollandaise sauce from scratch. He can do it without lumps."

And Andrew asked me "Josh, can you go for Eggs Benedict?"

"Sure" I said.

So Andrew went to get cleaned up, and I was left alone with his family. I wondered if they would take advantage of this opportunity to ask me anything, and I did not have long to wait.

"Well, now, Andrew cooks for you, doesn't he?" asked his mother.

"Yes, all the time" I answered. "I cannot believe how good Andrew cooks."

"Well, he does breakfasts best" said his mother. "If he offers you fried chicken, run."

"Or that shrimp-tomato-rice dish" said his father.

"Or Swiss steak" said Alec.

"Yes, we don't want to forget about that Swiss steak, do we?" said his father. "Better to turn that down, Josh. Stick with Swanson."

"He still doesn't 'get' meat loaf" said Lizbeth. "Of course, neither do I."

"And I can't understand that" said Mrs. Van. "I have provided him with four fail-safe recipes for meat loaf, and I can't understand what he does wrong. Generally, if it is something that goes in the oven, he does fine. It is when something must be cooked on the stove that he seems to have problems. And that's why I can't understand why he can't do meat loaf. That's such a puzzle to me."

"But Andrew does excellent Wiener Schnitzel, and that is cooked on the stove" I said. "I've had it, and I thought it was superb."

"Yes, he can do Wiener Schnitzel" said Mr. Van. "When he cooks, it's like there is no midway point--it is either superb or . . .or . . . or . . .inedible. There is no in-between."

"I cannot do soufflés well, but HE can, and I cannot understand that" said Mrs. Van.

"You, Josh, will have to learn to cook the things he can't" said Lizbeth. "I am sure you will both work things out."

"I have thought that everything he has cooked has been wonderful" I said. "There has been nothing, not a single dish, that I did not find perfect."

"Then he's been leading with his strengths" said Alec. "Give it more time."

"And absolutely no fried chicken" said Mrs. Van. "Never."

"Josh, do you like to cook?" asked Lizbeth.

"I really never have" I said. "But I am going to learn, because I think we would enjoy cooking together. I enjoy being in the kitchen with Andrew when he cooks, and I like to wash and dry dishes with him. So I want to learn to cook, too."

"Joshua, there is a question I have to ask you" said Andrew's mother. "What's going to happen after graduation?"

Mr. Van immediately came to my rescue. "They are in the thinking stage about that, and not ready to decide anything yet."

"Yes, I know that" Andrew's mother said to Mr. Van. "You mentioned that." But then she turned to me and she said "But we are so curious to know. Does Andrew plan to relocate to Boston?"

"You know, we just don't know yet" I said. "We have discussed that, but nothing is firm. We're just not sure what to do."

"Do you know what you will be doing this summer, Joshua?" she asked.

"That's probably up in the air" said Mr. Van.

"I just wanted to know what he thought he might be doing" said Andrew's mother. "That's all."

I thought I at least needed to mention what Andrew had suggested for the summer. "Andrew has suggested that I spend at least part of the summer in Minnesota" I said. "But, again, that is entirely tentative."

"We would enjoy having you, Joshua" said Mrs. Van.

"Thank you, Mrs. Van" I said. "I know I would enjoying being there. But everything is still unsettled."

"We need just to let them mull things over" said Mr. Van. "I'm sure they are just focusing on getting through the school year for now."

Then Mrs. Van went in for a killer question, although I am sure that she did not do this purposefully or with any realization of what a can of worms she was opening.

"Joshua, do you think that Andrew will be able to get along with your father? Andrew's Dad says they are a case of oil and water."

"Well" I said. And I could not think of anything to say that would be both accommodating and truthful.

Mrs. Van paused for a moment, and said "That doesn't sound promising."

I was trying to think of something nice, and not worrisome, to say, and I still could not come up with anything truthful.

"If Andrew doesn't like someone, he doesn't like someone. He doesn't change his mind" said his mother. "And that can create problems. He shows them that he doesn't like them. They suffer under no misapprehensions--he lets them know what he thinks about them. He has always done that."

"And he saves up" said Andrew's Dad.

"Just like he did against [the former fiancé of Andrew’s middle brother]" said Alec "when he gave her everything at once."

"And that can create problems" said Andrew's Dad.

"And he won't budge" said Andrew's mother.

"Lose credibility with him, and you lose it forever" said Alec.

"Once Andrew has decided that a person is not worthy of attention, he ignores them or, if he has to have contact with them, he plays games with them" said Lizbeth.

"As in the case of [the former fiancé of Andrew’s middle brother]" said Alec.

This is sounding eerily familiar, I thought to myself, reflecting back on Andrew's phone conversations of Monday and Tuesday nights with my Dad.

"One thing I can say, with some confidence, Joshua, is that you and Andrew should probably never move to Oklahoma" said Andrew's Dad. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

I smiled, but I did not say anything. That probably told them everything they needed to know.

I knew I had not offered a proper response, so I thought I should say something.

"Our family is different from yours, Mrs. Van. Everyone sort of goes his or her own way. We don't look to each other for closeness or moral support. We are a collection of individuals who happen to spend part of our time under the same roof."

Mrs. Van looked hurt when she heard what I had said, so I added "But we are all happy in our own way. We just don't have the same kinds of bonds you have."

She still looked unhappy, so I added "Not everyone is as fortunate as your family, and stays close and loving and together. 'Things Fall Apart', as the poem says. 'The Centre Cannot Hold' ."

Then I realized that I had probably made things even worse, and that I should just shut up and quit while I was ahead, and leave Keats out of this entirely.

"Isn't it time for everyone to get ready for the day?" asked Mr. Van, and I was glad that he had come to my rescue once again.

Alec and Lizbeth stood up and Andrew entered the kitchen at that very moment.

"You're all still here!" he exclaimed. "You must have taken advantage of my absence to grill poor Josh to death!"

"You hit that nail on the head" said Mr. Van. Then he looked very kindly at Mrs. Van and added "But only out of an excess of concern for you both."

Andrew turned to his mother and asked "What's wrong, Mom? What's got you concerned?" And he walked over to his Mom, who was still sitting at the table, and he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, I didn't ask anything any other mother would not have asked" she said. And she got up and she kissed Andrew and she said "And we all need to get ready for the day. It's 9:00. Goodness!" And she and Alec and Lizbeth all left the kitchen.

"Everything OK?" Andrew asked me and his Dad.

"Yes" said Mr. Van, and he got up and left the kitchen, too.

"Everything OK?" Andrew asked me.

"Yes" I said, and I got up and I walked over to him and I kissed him. "And I'm going to put back the sofas now and get cleaned up."

"I already took care of the living room" said Andrew. "All you need to do is to get cleaned up."

And I went and got ready for the day.

When I came back to the kitchen, the dishes had been washed, the table set, something was baking in the oven and Andrew had assembled everything he needed for the Eggs Benedict, ready to get started as soon as everyone re-congregated.

"What's in the oven?" I asked. "It smells good."

"An apple-walnut coffee cake" said Andrew.

"You're determined not to let anyone starve this morning, aren't you?" I asked, and I laughed and Andrew laughed, and he put his arm around my neck, and we stood and leaned on a kitchen counter, waiting for everyone else to return.

Soon everyone else came back into the kitchen, and Andrew gave everyone glasses of orange juice and milk and he got started on the Eggs Benedict. We played with the baby and engaged in idle chitchat during this "real" breakfast. The Eggs Benedict were perfect, and so was the coffee cake.

After we were done eating, Mrs. Van announced "OK, I am going to do the dishes. Why don't you boys all join Mr. Van for his walk?"

Apparently Mr. Van takes a morning constitutional, and Alec and Andrew and I got our jackets and we joined him.

We walked for about an hour, just strolling along, on the streets. Alec and Andrew walked side by side in front of Mr. Van and me, who also walked side by side. We really did not do much talking, but just enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll.

I could not help but notice, watching Alec and Andrew in front of us, how incredibly close they are and how easily they can communicate with each other, without the use of words. They always seem to know exactly what the other is thinking and planning to do. They would change directions without so much as a word between them, and not lose half a step between them.

Occasionally they would turn back to us to say something, or point out something, but otherwise we just walked.

Halfway through the walk, Andrew traded places with his Dad, and Alec and Mr. Van walked in front, with Andrew and I behind them.

It was a nice, almost-but-not-quite bracing walk, and I enjoyed it very much.

When we returned to the apartment building, Alec said to his Dad "Why don't you go on in, Dad? We may continue on for a bit."

And Mr. Van went back into the building, and we three walked around some more, but in a different direction. We walked three abreast, with me in the middle, between these two incredibly handsome and sweet brothers. We did not talk, but just walked. Once in a while Alec would point out something, but otherwise no one said anything. I was completely happy and content the whole time.

It was almost 1:00 when we returned to the apartment, and I was very glad just to have had this chance to walk around the city with both Alec and Andrew, and enjoy their company. It was a very pleasing walk.

"What time do you think you will want lunch?" Mrs. Van asked us as soon as we returned.

"We're in no hurry, Mom. I'm sure no one is hungry yet" said Alec.

"Then let's shoot for 2:30" said Mrs. Van. "We'll have a late lunch since we didn't finish breakfast until 10:30."

And we all went into the living room and joined Mr. Van, who was watching television. He was holding Tim and watching basketball, just as Andrew had predicted. Lizbeth was sitting next to him, and Mrs. Van then sat down next to Lizbeth.

Alec and Andrew and I sat down on another couch, with me in the middle, and we just watched the games.

At 2:00, Andrew's mother got up and went into the kitchen, and Andrew turned to me and said "Let's go help Mom" and we followed her into the kitchen.

"What's for lunch, Mom?" Andrew asked and she said she was going to grill some fresh tuna steaks and make a salad.

"What do you want us to do?" asked Andrew.

"You really want to help?" she asked.

"Yes" we both said.

"Then I'll have you make the salad, but I want you to do exactly what I say" she said.

And, step-by-step, she told us both exactly what she wanted us to do while she herself prepared the dressing for the salad and started preparing the tuna steaks. She told us how to wash each ingredient of the salad, and how to tear or to cut each vegetable, and her instructions were extremely precise.

While we were working, I said "Now, what's this about fried chicken, Andrew? Your Mom said never to allow you to make fried chicken for me."

And Andrew and his mother both laughed, and Andrew said "I don't know what the problem is, but I cannot get it to turn out right. However, I have learned to fry chicken in the oven now, and that works."

"Yes, he CAN do it in the oven" said Mrs. Van. "And it is OK. But it would be even better if he could learn to do it on the stove."

"In the oven? You're talking about Shake-And-Bake, you mean?" I asked.

"No. I fry it in the oven, in butter and shortening. I season the chicken, and fry it in butter and shortening in the oven for 45 minutes, and then I turn it and fry it for another 45 minutes. It works."

"What happened when you tried it on the stove?" I asked.

"Well, it didn't work" said Andrew, and he and his mother laughed again.

"It was perfect, if you were going for a blackened, burned taste on the outside, and red on the inside" said Mrs. Van. "With blood still oozing" she added, and she laughed, and Andrew laughed, too.

When lunch was almost ready, Mrs. Van told Andrew to alert everyone in the living room.

Lunch was nice, the salad was excellent--a bit different and a bit piquant--and the tuna was very good. Mrs. Van said the excess "fishiness" had been seeped out through multiple soakings in ice-cold water, and then prepared in a lemon and white pepper baste.

Andrew and I washed and dried the dishes, and cleaned up the kitchen. When we were done, we returned to the living room and Andrew asked Alec and Lizbeth whether they were going to go somewhere this evening.

"No, we decided we didn't want to" said Lizbeth. "But you should go somewhere if you want to. Go alone, or take your parents. You should try to do something while you are here."

Andrew looked at me and said "What about taking my Mom and Dad to see 'Light In The Piazza' tonight? My Mom wants to see that show." And Andrew turned to his mother and asked "You still want to see that, don't you, Mom?"

"Well, I wouldn't object" she said. "But you might want to go alone."

"The show closes sometime this summer, Mom, so this may be your only chance" said Andrew. "If you want to go, we will go. If you don't want to go, we will not go."

"Let's go see that with the boys" said Mr. Van to Mrs. Van. "You want to see that, I know, and Andrew is right--this may be your only chance."

And without further ado he turned to Andrew and said "We'll go."

"Is that up at the half-price booth?" Mrs. Van asked Lizbeth.

"Normally, but this is a Saturday night, so it may not be" said Lizbeth.

"Well, it might be sold out on a Saturday night" said Mrs. Van.

"No, that show does not sell out" said Lizbeth. "It has not managed to attract a substantial audience."

Andrew turned to me and said "Josh, let's go down to Times Square and check the half-price ticket booth. We'll get tickets there if they are on sale. If not, we'll walk up to Lincoln Center and get tickets at the theater. And you'll get to see some more of New York. Will you go?"

"I'll go!" I said.

"We'll take the subway. And Dad, I'll call you if we get tickets, and then we can just meet you at the theater. It's already 4:15, so we won't come back here before the show."

"What about dinner?" asked Andrew's mother.

"Josh and I can get a snack before the show if we need one, and then we all can have dinner after the show" Andrew said. "We can go out to eat after the performance, and not have to bother Alec and Lizbeth."

"That's a good idea" said Andrew's Dad. And, turning to Mrs. Van, he said "Let's do that."

"We can if you want" she said. "But I did have a dinner planned for here."

"Is it something that won't keep?" he asked.

"No, I guess not" she answered. "If you guys want to eat out, then let's eat out."

"Then let's do that. Dinner out after the show."

And with that Mr. Van got up and reached for his wallet.

"We've got it covered, Dad. You can pay for dinner if you want to" said Andrew.

And, turning to me, Andrew said "Josh, let's go." Then, turning to his Dad again, Andrew said "We'll call you when we get tickets." And, wishing Alec and Lizbeth a nice evening, we left.

We took the subway to Times Square, and we went to the Tickets booth and we saw that tickets for "Light In The Piazza" were listed on the board, and we got in line and we bought four tickets to the show. Andrew called his Dad and told him that we had obtained the tickets and he told his Dad that we would be in front of the theater, waiting for them, no later than 7:30, and that there was an 8:00 curtain.

"You want to walk around for a bit?" Andrew asked me after we got the tickets.

"Yes, of course" I said, and Andrew took my hand and we held hands and we walked around the Broadway theater district and examined theaters and theater marquees for quite some time. Andrew had never held my hand before in public, and he held hands with me, nonstop, as we walked around for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. He was very subtle about it--we walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our hands down at our sides (at thigh level, in fact), between us. No one would have noticed unless they were paying very close attention to us. He held my hand very gently some of the time, and very tightly some of the time, and some of the time he would massage his fingers in and out of my fingers. It was very exciting and very beautiful. Every time we arrived at a street corner and had to stop, Andrew would turn to me and look into my eyes and smile and squeeze my hand.

After we were done walking all around the theater district, we walked down to 34th Street and walked around The Empire State Building, and then we reversed course and headed toward Lincoln Center. Andrew stopped and showed me Carnegie Hall along the way, and in front of Carnegie Hall he asked me if I was hungry. I said "No, not in the least" and he asked me if I needed to eat before the show. "No" I said. "OK" he said. "I was only asking because there is a good delicatessen near Carnegie Hall."

We did stop to have coffee shortly after that, just to sit down for a bit and get a jolt of caffeine, and then we continued walking up to Lincoln Center, going out of our way to see the Plaza Hotel and a couple of other notable buildings Andrew wanted to point out to me. When we arrived at our destination, we walked around Lincoln Center for a while, just killing time as it approached 7:30.

We were standing at the fountain and just getting ready to head over to the Vivian Beaumont Theater when Andrew saw his parents get out of a cab in front of the plaza. We went over to them and escorted them to the theater.

At the theater, Mr. Van sat next to Mrs. Van who sat next to me who sat next to Andrew. Mr. and Mrs. Van had changed clothes, and they were very nicely dressed, which gave the event sort of a sense of occasion.

The show was interesting, but not completely successful. The book was not good, and the show was not properly shaped. A good writer needed to have been called in, and to have re-shaped the show and re-written the book. A few moments were near magical, but most of the show fell entirely flat. It was easy to see why the show only appeals to a specialist theater audience. Everything was just ever-so-slightly off key, but the serious intent of the authors was never in doubt.

Over dinner, we talked about the show, and practically nothing else. Mrs. Van, apparently a great lover of theater, said "interesting but flawed", Mr. Van said "a total failure, but a dignified failure" and Andrew said "no one associated with the production had the talent level to sustain their vision, including Adam Guettel, whose musical range was not wide enough to encompass the show." I said I withheld judgment on the music, needing to hear the score a few more times. Andrew said that he would get me the cast album and that we would listen to the music again--and make it a memento of our first evening in the theater together.

Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant near Lincoln Center, which was supposed to be highly regarded but which was over-priced and not very special, and after dinner we took a cab back to the apartment. It was after midnight when we returned. Alec and Lizbeth were already asleep, and everyone went straight to bed.

It had been a wonderful and very special day in New York City.

London Awaits

Tomorrow we will be off, and we will not be back until late in the afternoon on Saturday, September 15.

Tonight Andrew’s brother will arrive from Denver. He is coming a day early to avoid any potential flight delays tomorrow. He will spend the night with his parents, and Andrew and I will spend the night at his parents’ house, too.

Tomorrow before lunch, Andrew’s mother and Andrew’s brother and I will take the dog over to what will be his home for the next fifteen days. He will be staying with a friend from our church.

She is a widow, 75 years old, and she loves having him with her for a week or two now and then (although the dog would probably be too much for her to handle on a full-time basis). She bakes him sugar cookies and cooks steaks for him and feeds him ice cream, and he loves staying with her. Two neighbor kids will take him to the park every afternoon, just to give her a break from the dog and to give her a chance to rest. Apparently it always works out well for everyone whenever the dog stays with our friend from church. It works out well for her, the kids and the dog.

Andrew’s mother always cries whenever she has to leave the dog. The dog remains at her side most of the day, and she is accustomed to having him with her most of the time, and he is accustomed to being with her. It is very hard for her to leave the dog, and it is probably hard for him, too.

Andrew and his father should be home from work tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. We will have a light lunch, after which we will head to the airport.

The last three days have been delightful. I have had the week off, and I have been spending the last three days with Andrew’s mother, helping her do a few things around the house and helping her get things ready for London.

Andrew’s mother is a delightful woman, and I have always liked her—as does everyone. She is warm and funny and witty and caring, always solicitous of others, always looking out for others, always knowing precisely the right thing to say and do to put others at ease. There are few people in the world with her great gift of social grace. According to her lifelong friends, she has displayed this special and innate gift since she was a small child.

I met Andrew’s mother on the evening of Friday, March 3, 2006, in New York, at the home of Andrew’s oldest brother. I had already met Andrew’s father in Washington exactly one week earlier.

I remember that evening vividly. Andrew and I had driven up to New York from Washington after our classes had ended for the day. Andrew’s parents had spent that week visiting their oldest son and his family, including, of course, the new baby, who was only four months old at the time.

Here is the text of a portion of an email message I sent to a friend of mine early the next week, in which I described the first evening I knew Andrew’s mother.

[There is one item of background information readers need to know to understand one of Andrew’s remarks, a witticism that helped break the ice between Andrew’s mother and me.

Andrew’s middle brother had previously been engaged, briefly, to a young lady from Los Angeles. This young lady had visited Andrew’s family two months before, at Christmas 2005. This young lady did not make a good impression on Andrew’s family, to say the least.

She had been very unpleasant, criticizing everything, complaining about everything, demanding special foods, finding everything unsuitable, staying in bed until Noon each day and expecting to be waited on hand and foot at all times.

On Christmas Day 2005, with about 50 different foods to choose from for Christmas Dinner, she couldn’t find “a single thing” to eat and—in an astonishing and bewildering act of rudeness—had asked to be taken to a Thai restaurant. (Andrew had pointed out to her that Thai restaurants in Minneapolis were closed on Christmas Day—but he did offer to get her a bowl of Science Diet.)

Andrew’s family had been required to change her guest room three times during her visit because she had found each guest room to be unsuitable for some reason or other.

During her stay she had refused even to step foot into the living room, where the Christmas tree had been mounted, because she said the tree might emit harmful vapors.

She was a total pain, and sometime I will tell the whole story. It is a very, very funny story—in hindsight, at least, although it probably wasn’t very funny at the time.

It was a memorable Christmas for the whole family, all the way around, but not in a positive way.

To understand the full story, readers also need to know that this young lady’s third and final guest room was directly across the hall from Andrew’s room. This third room did not please her, either, but by this time she had already gone through all the guest rooms available to her and there were no more guest rooms to be offered (although Andrew had offered to help her move to the basement).

The young lady had objected to the third and final guest room because, she said, Andrew made “strange noises” at night. This would have been virtually impossible for her to know, because the hallway is quite wide and Andrew’s door was shut and her guest room door was shut. She would not have been able to hear anything emanating from Andrew’s room. Nevertheless, she was insistent that Andrew’s “strange noises” were keeping her awake at night.

Ultimately, she left the house. Andrew drove her out, or so the story is now told in his family—which is a whole other funny story in itself, which I also may tell sometime.

The short version: Andrew started making fun of her and mimicking her, openly, in her presence. Finally, she and Andrew had a heated confrontation outside the upstairs linen closet about her incessant demands shortly before 6:00 a.m. on December 31, 2005. This confrontation resulted in her leaving the house—forever.

She and Andrew’s middle brother broke off their engagement not long after.]


When we were passing New Brunswick, New Jersey, Andrew's cell phone rang. It was Alec, and he wanted to know where we were, progress-wise, on our journey. Andrew told him that we were passing New Brunswick, and Alec said "Oh, good. Then we'll see you in about 45 minutes. Mom will put dinner on the stove now."

"What will we be having?" Andrew asked.

"Mom's special Dutch Chowder" was Alec's answer.

"Oh, swell. I can't wait!" said Andrew.

"Call me when you're ten minutes away" said Alec, and Andrew said that he would.

Andrew told me that his mother's Dutch Chowder was VERY good, and that she probably had made it because it was the perfect dish to make ahead of time, ideal for a situation in which dinner could not be perfectly timed, owing to the uncertainty of our arrival time.

"It is made the day before, chilled for 24 hours, and then heated before it is served" he said.

He said it was made with chicken and dark lager beer and cream and different cheeses and an entire assortment of fresh vegetables, to which are added green onions and bacon bits as it is heated prior to being served. "You'll really like it" he told me.

When we were ten minutes away from Alec's place, Andrew called him to let him know that we were ten minutes away. And, once again, when we arrived at our destination Alec was there to meet us out front, to slip behind the wheel, and to drive into the parking garage of his building.

We did not have as much stuff to carry upstairs this trip as the time before, as Andrew had REALLY stocked Alec and Lizbeth up two weeks ago, so we three were able to make do--just--with only one trip upstairs this time.

Lizbeth met us at the door and held the door open and directed us into the kitchen, where we put down all the stuff, including our bags. Andrew's mother and father were in the kitchen--Andrew's mother was at the stove, stirring the chowder, and Andrew's father was sitting in a chair, feeding Tim his bottle.

After we put down the stuff we were carrying, Andrew took me over to his Mom, kissed her, and said "Mom, this is Joshua. Joshua, this is my mother, Jean."

Andrew's mother shook my hand, and told me that she was pleased to meet me. She did not, however, kiss me or hug me or do anything else I somehow thought she might do. For some reason, I thought I would receive an overwhelming welcome from her, but I did not receive that. She was polite and cordial, but she did not give me an overwhelming display of affection.

I told her I was pleased to meet her, and then I turned to Andrew's father and I told him I was pleased to see him again. "I apologize for not getting up, Joshua, but, as you see, I am otherwise occupied" he said to me, and then he smiled at me. He continued "How have you been?"

"Very well, thank you, sir" I said. "And you?"

"We've been having a wonderful time, all week" he answered, and smiled again. "And I am sure you can guess why."

Lizbeth turned to Alec and said "Why don't you help them take their stuff to the day room, and have them get washed up for dinner", so Alec helped us pick up our stuff and we took it to Tim's room.

"Get cleaned up, you guys, and come right back" he said. "We're almost ready to eat."

So Andrew and I washed up and returned to the kitchen.

When we returned to the kitchen, Andrew went over again to his mother and he smiled at her--he gave her a dazzling, million-dollar smile, bursting with love and affection--and he said "So, now can I have a hug from my girl?" and he gave her an incredibly loving hug, and she gave him one back. He kissed her again, and she kissed him, and then he just held her for a long time in his arms.

While Andrew was holding her, he asked her how she was doing, and how her week was going, and whether she had noticed how much Tim had grown since Christmas (which of course she had noticed) and whether she had had a chance to do any shopping while in New York (she had not--she had been staying home with Lizbeth and the baby). He told her how very much he had missed her since the Christmas break and how happy he was to see her again.

"We're just going to stay here, Joshua and I, and hang out all weekend" Andrew said to his mother, and then Andrew finally stopped holding his mother with both arms. He put his right arm around her shoulder and then he reached out for me, and he drew me to him and he put his left arm around my shoulder. "That will give you a chance to get to know Josh, Mom" he said to her. Then Andrew immediately turned to me and he said "And that will give you a chance to get to know Mom, Josh."

Andrew turned back to his Mom and he said "You will like Josh very much, Mom. I know you will. He is very sweet and very gentle. And if Josh will remind you of anyone you already know and love who is also very sweet and very gentle, he will remind you of [the former fiancé of Andrew’s middle brother]."

At this, everyone burst out laughing, and whatever ice there had been was broken. Andrew's mother laughed, too, heartily, and she said to me, with a twinkle in her eye, and with great mock concern, "I just hope we have laid in enough lime for you for the weekend!" She laughed again, and then she said, again with mock concern, "And don't worry--we'll have breakfast waiting for you at the crack of Noon. But we can only hope and pray that Andrew will keep his 'strange noises' during the night down to a minimum."

And she laughed again, and Andrew kissed her again, and then Andrew left me there at her side and he went over to his Dad, now standing, and he hugged him, very, very hard, and he told him he was very glad to see him again.

Andrew's Dad hugged him back, very hard, and he held Andrew to him. When Andrew's Dad released him, Alec stepped in and hugged Andrew and kissed him and tussled his hair and nuzzled him and patted him and hugged him all over again. Then Andrew went over to Lizbeth and he hugged her and kissed her, and she hugged him and kissed him back.

Then Alec came over to me and he put his arm around my neck and he asked me how I had been doing. I told him I had been doing fine, and Alec asked me whether Andrew had been taking good care of me and whether I had been taking good care of Andrew. I told him that we both had been taking good care of each other. "Swell" he said. "Lizbeth and I are so happy that you guys were able to come up again so soon. We missed you guys after you left. We both hoped it wouldn't be long before you came up again. We're glad you're here." And Alec tussled my hair, and he said to his mother "See, Mom, his hair is really short, just like I told you. It's not even quite an inch long." And Alec tussled my hair again, and he said to me "Of course, we had to tell my Mom everything we knew about you. She was curious, as I'm sure you understand."

"Of course I understand" I said. "I would have expected that."

Andrew's mother then asked everyone "Do you think you will be ready to eat in five minutes?" and everyone nodded, and Alec started seating us at the table in the kitchen. He told Andrew and me to sit next to each other, and he asked his parents to sit next to each other directly across the table from Andrew and me, and he said that he and Lizbeth would sit at opposite ends of the table.

Andrew and his Dad and I all took our places at the table.

Alec poured sparkling cider into glasses for everyone, and Lizbeth and Andrew’s mother put three small dishes at each of the places on the table: one dish of Waldorf salad, one dish of tomato and cucumber salad, and one dish of a carrot and cabbage and onion salad. Then we were each given an enormous bowl of the chowder, which smelled heavenly, and Alec, Lizbeth and Andrew’s mother sat down.

Alec asked his Dad to say grace, and after that we all dug in. The chowder was divine. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Andrew said it takes almost six hours to make, and that it does not taste quite perfect unless it has been chilled for 24 hours, a process which somehow allows the flavors to blend. Andrew thanked his mother for making it yesterday and I, too, thanked Andrew's mother for making it yesterday. She said that it was a total pleasure to make, and that she hoped that we truly enjoyed it. I truly enjoyed it, Silvio.

The three totally different kinds of salads were the perfect complements to the chowder, and it was a perfect meal.

The conversation during dinner was very relaxed. Everyone asked us about our drive up, and all four of them told us about their week together, and they told us what Tim had been up to (which was not very much, of course, but every new facial gesture he made was a major event to all of them). Andrew's parents were very pleasant during dinner, although his parents looked at us both keenly the whole time--which is why I suspect they were seated directly across from us in the first place (and a maneuver which I believe was planned in advance).

Andrew and Alec and I each ate three bowls of the chowder, accompanied by fresh servings of each of the accompanying salad dishes each time, and Andrew’s father had a second half-bowl of the chowder. Lizbeth and Andrew’s mother made do with one bowl. When we were done eating, there was still a lot of chowder left, and Andrew’s mother said that anyone could have a bowl at any time during the weekend if anyone ever got hungry--it would take only a few minutes to heat up an individual serving.

"But, Jean, I don't think you have any plans of letting anyone get hungry this weekend, do you?" said Andrew’s Dad, smiling. "It sounds like you've got at least eight meals a day planned for these boys."

"Well, maybe not eight, exactly" she said, laughing "But they will be sure to have more than enough."

Then she got up from the table and she said, "Andrew and Joshua, why don't you clear the table and I will make coffee and get the dessert ready. We'll let Alec and Lizbeth rest."

So Andrew and I cleared the table, and Andrew’s mother made coffee and brought out a homemade lemon meringue pie. And it was TRULY homemade. The crust was homemade. The lemon filling was homemade--completely from scratch. The meringue was homemade.

"Oh, Josh, you will love this" said Andrew. "You will just die when you eat this."

And Andrew was right. It was completely different--and vastly better--than any lemon meringue pie I had ever eaten. The lemon part was almost white, not yellow, and did not even look like the lemon part in pies bought in stores. That is because lemon meringue pies in stores are made with lemon flavoring and food coloring, but not with natural lemon.

Andrew’s mother's pie had a tartness and a natural sweetness and a subtlety of flavoring and a lightness that pies from stores do not have. It was a perfect dessert, and the perfect dessert to top off what we had had for dinner.

When we were all finished with our first slices, Andrew’s mother asked us if we wanted more. I saw that there were only two slices of pie left, and I declined a second slice, thinking that Alec and Andrew would each want another slice of pie.

"Didn't you like it?" Andrew’s mother asked me after I declined a second slice.

"Yes, I loved it!" I said.

"Well, then you must have another slice. These pies will be at their best tonight."

And she pulled a second lemon meringue pie from the refrigerator. She gave Alec, Andrew and me full slices, and she gave Lizbeth and Andrew’s father half slices.

When we were done with our second slices, she asked us "More?" and Andrew and Alec said "Sure, Mom" and she said to me "Let me get you another slice, too, Joshua, so they don't have to eat alone."

Andrew’s father started laughing and he turned to me and said "Yes, these two shy, retiring creatures are always reluctant to eat alone."

And Andrew’s mother laughed, too, and said "I know they will both feel better if they know you are eating, too, Joshua."

And she gave us our third slices of pie. Normally, I could never eat three slices of lemon pie in one sitting, but the flavoring was so subtle and the pie was so good and the lemon filling so light that I had no trouble with the third slice--in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When we were done, she said "There are three slices left. Do you want them now, or tomorrow?"

We all were completely full by now, and we all said that we would think about eating those slices tomorrow.

After eating, we sat around the table for thirty minutes or so, drinking coffee, and letting the food settle. It had been an excellent, excellent dinner.

Andrew's Dad asked us what we had planned for the weekend.

"You know, Dad, nothing. Nothing is what we have planned. Josh and I talked about that on the way up, and we both decided that we would just like to stay here and spend time with you and Mom and Alec and Lizbeth. That is, unless you have something planned, or unless Alec and Lizbeth have something planned."

And Andrew looked around the table, waiting for any responses.

Lizbeth spoke first. "Well, WE have nothing planned, but we don't want to interfere with anything you guys may want to do. We certainly don't want you to feel compelled to sit home with us all day and night."

"That's why we came" said Andrew.

"Your mother and I have nothing planned" said Andrew's Dad. "The only thing we could think of doing, IF you two wanted to do something AND spend time with us doing it, was to go to a show tomorrow night or to go to the Metropolitan Museum on Sunday."

"Josh and I are totally open and have no plans" said Andrew. "Our only thought at all, on the way up here, was that Alec and Lizbeth might want to take advantage of all the babysitters present, and to go out somewhere on Saturday night. We thought this might be an ideal opportunity for them to do that. Beyond that, we have no thoughts beyond spending time with you. If YOU want to do something, then we will go with you if you want. If you want to stay here, we will stay here with you. We are happy either way."

Andrew’s Dad turned to Alec and Lizbeth and said to them "You know, you SHOULD go out tomorrow night. Andrew is right. This is a perfect opportunity for you to get out for the night. You should take advantage of it."

Alec and Lizbeth looked at each other, and they said they would think about it.

Then Andrew looked at me and asked "I wash, you dry?"

"Sure" I said, and we both got up.

"Oh, now, you boys are NOT going to do the dishes" said Andrew's mother, and she started to get up.

"Yes, we are" said Andrew. "Sit. We'll handle this. We are pros at this. We do this almost every night. You can all just sit back and talk to us if you want to. And anyone who gets bored can go watch television."

And Andrew and I washed and dried the dishes.

And we talked to them the entire time.

Andrew and I did not really have any news to tell--we assumed, no doubt rightfully, that Andrew’s father had provided everyone with a full accounting of the events of last weekend at Westfield.

So we talked about the movies Andrew and I had seen together, and the books we were reading, and we talked about Andrew's roommates and the fact that they seemed to have no problem with the fact that I hung around their apartment quite a lot (and this was a topic in which Andrew's mother was apparently quite interested, for some reason), and we talked about the courses I was taking this semester. The time passed quickly and very pleasantly.

When we were done with the dishes, we sat down at the kitchen table with them, and we all had some more sparkling cider and we talked about basically nothing until it was time to go to bed. But even though we were talking about basically nothing, everyone seemed to enjoy it, including me.

Everyone prepared to leave the kitchen and turn in at about 11:45 p.m.

Before we left the kitchen, Andrew hugged and kissed his mother and said good night, and she hugged and kissed him back. He hugged his father and said good night, and his father hugged him back. He hugged Alec and said good night, and Alec hugged him back and tussled his hair. He hugged and kissed Lizbeth and said good night, and she hugged and kissed him back.

What did they do to me as I said good night? I said good night to Andrew’s father, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said 'Good night, Joshua." I said good night to Alec and he tussled my hair and said "Good night, pardner". I said good night to Lizbeth and she pecked me on the cheek and said "Good night. Sleep well." I said good night to Andrew's mother and she put her hand on my shoulder and said "Have a good night, Joshua."

Andrew and I went into the living room, and Alec and Lizbeth followed, saying that they were going to get the sofa beds ready for us. We told them that we would just do it ourselves, and we did.

We changed into our "sleep gear" and returned to the living room. The living room is very light at night, even with the lights turned off, because of all the lights from the city that flood the room.

I asked Andrew what his parents thought about me, and he said that everything was positive.

"If not" he said "their reaction would have been different."

"How so?" I asked.

"They treated you like family. If they did not think that, they would have signaled that, and you would have known it, believe me."

"How would they have signaled that?" I asked.

"Well, number one, you wouldn't be here. And neither would they" Andrew said.

"Number two, you would NOT have been awarded my mother's Dutch chowder and a lemon meringue pie."

"And, number three, they would have tried to stay as far away from you as decently possible. Instead, they spent the entire evening in your company--they wanted to do that, they enjoyed doing that, and they were glad that they did that."

Andrew paused, and then he said to me "We couldn't have hoped for anything more."

I asked Andrew whether his parents liked me.

"Well, I know my Dad does, because he told me that. And my mother has not had a chance to get to know you yet, but she is obviously pre-disposed to like you because she received favorable reports from Alec and Lizbeth about you. And when she gets to know you, she will like you very much--I have no doubt of that."


And Andrew’s mother does like me. She likes me very much. She grew to like me very quickly, and I grew to like her very quickly. She is one of the prime reasons why I am so happy to be in Minneapolis.

I have loved spending the last three days with Andrew’s mother. I had never before been alone with her for such an extended period of time, and I cherished the time we spent together this week. Andrew’s mother is remarkable company. She is also a remarkable woman.

Whenever Andrew’s mother and I are alone together, she frequently tells me stories about things that happened when her three sons were boys, and I have always enjoyed hearing these stories. She also talks about her own family, and Andrew’s father, and the early years of their marriage, and interesting things she knows about the history of Minneapolis and Minnesota. She has what must be an unlimited number of such stories to tell, and I always find them fascinating.

My own parents worked for a living and both my mother and father were always gone all day. Moreover, they were separated for a time, and I lived with one of my grandmothers on and off for several years. I never experienced the unadulterated joys of family life and the constant parental attention and devotion and affection that Andrew has always enjoyed. That is probably why I love these stories so much. I get some sort of comfort from them, just as children gain comfort from the deep myths of the unconscious buried within fairy tales.

I think Andrew’s mother has always understood this, because she has always been very motherly to me, treating me as one of her own, giving me as much attention and affection and love as she gives her own boys. She is one of those persons who has unlimited love to give, and she gives of herself freely. I have been a fortunate beneficiary of her love. I have been privileged to have her all to myself for three days this week.

We really did not do much. Andrew’s mother pretty much had everything ready for London before Monday. The only thing for her to do is actually to put the clothes into the luggage, which she will do tomorrow morning.

This week I helped her do some light housework, and I helped her do a load or two of laundry, and I helped her run some errands to the food store and to the Post Office and to church and to the dry cleaners. I took the dog to the park Monday and yesterday. Today I gave the dog a bath, so he would be nice and clean when we take him over to his new temporary home tomorrow. I got as wet as he did during his bath.

I also helped her in the kitchen, which I always enjoy very much. Andrew’s mother is a serious and inspired cook, and she takes every facet of food preparation very seriously. This is a gift she has, and it is a gift she enjoys very much. I don’t know what she would do if she did not have people to cook for.

Andrew’s mother never does any seriously heavy housework, just as Andrew’s father never does any seriously heavy yard work, because Andrew insists upon doing the heavy tasks himself—and I have always helped him. Nothing irritates Andrew more than seeing his parents try to do too much or have loads of work dumped upon them, and his parents pretty much leave the heavy work to him now, and this has been true for the last several years.

One sure way to get up Andrew’s nose is for someone to create unnecessary work for his parents, whether it be houseguests, relatives or, even on occasion, Andrew’s brothers. This is the one thing that will set Andrew off—as the girl who briefly was his brother’s fiancé learned, to her detriment, at Christmas 2005.

After witnessing the girl treat his mother like a servant for ten days, Andrew erupted early one morning and read the girl The Riot Act. The girl left the house, never to return, later that same morning—to the relief of everyone, as it turned out, including her own fiancé.

Andrew’s parents have told me that that morning was the only time that they have ever heard Andrew utter curse words, and that it had been rather alarming to have been jarred awake that morning before 6:00 a.m., hearing Andrew screaming and cursing at someone in the upstairs hallway!

The girl fully deserved what she got, by the way. I really will have to tell that full story sometime. I don’t think Andrew would ever revisit that matter himself.

While Andrew’s mother and I were getting things done the last three days, I asked Andrew’s mother to select a disc of English music that she especially liked—something to get our minds ready for London—for us to listen to.

She made her choice without hesitation. She selected a disc of Edward Elgar’s music, a disc featuring the Enigma Variations, coupled with the five “Pomp And Circumstance” marches. The performances, on the Philips label, were by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Andre Previn.

I have never listened to much Elgar, although Andrew and I had listened to Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Sea Pictures not long ago. I had heard the Enigma Variations on radio a few times over the years, but this was the first time I listened to it intently, over and over, and this was the first time I started to appreciate what a great piece of music the Enigma Variations is.

The orchestration is brilliant. The character sketches are very penetrating and very revealing. The music has the widest possible emotional range and, where called for, the deepest possible sentiment. The music is shaped very well—it has “dramatic and emotional arcs”, as Andrew always says. The central “Nimrod” variation is deeply affecting. It almost inspires weeping. The final variation ties together, beautifully, everything that has come before and closes the piece in a great and fiery blaze of glory. This is stirring music. It touches the soul. This is surely one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

The recording seemed to me to be a magnificent one. I asked Andrew’s mother whether this was the finest recorded performance of the Enigma Variations. “Probably not” was her answer. She said she had selected this recording because the recorded sound was so fine and because she liked the fact that the “Pomp And Circumstance” marches were the coupling.

The “Pomp And Circumstance” marches were stirring, too. I had never thought of these marches as “serious” music before, but they are as serious as any music ever written, with extended introductions, sophisticated materials connecting the different march sections, opulent orchestrations and very good tunes, subtly altered each time they re-appear. I would like to hear these marches performed in the concert hall sometime. They would have a stupendous impact on an audience. After listening to these marches with my full attention, I was ready to join the R.A.F. of 1940 and blast the Nazis out of the skies above Britain!

Other than spend time with Andrew’s mother this week, I have not done much. Andrew and I had dinner at his parents’ house on Monday night and again last night. We will be having dinner here again tonight, and staying overnight. We have been getting as much rest as possible so that we will arrive in London fresh and energetic and ready to go.

Among the things Andrew and I have done this week is to select our books for the long flights over the Atlantic.

Andrew chose “Earthly Powers: The Clash Of Religion And Politics In Europe, From The French Revolution To The Great War” by Michael Burleigh.

I chose “Moscow 1941: A City And Its People At War” by Rodric Braithwaite.

Andrew was assigned the task of choosing a book for his brother. He chose “Battle For The Ruhr: The German Army’s Final Defeat In The West” by Derek Zumbro.

It is very possible that none of us will do any reading at all on the plane. However, if we want to read, the books will be there to help us pass the time. If one or more of the books is boring, we can pass them back and forth among us.

So tomorrow we head out. Tonight will be our final night with the dog for two weeks, so we will give him lots of attention and lots of fun tonight (and this being Wednesday, this is chicken night for the dog, which he loves). We will also give Andrew’s brother lots of attention tonight when he arrives.

We never did receive that invitation from the Duke And Duchess Of Kent to join them for tea at Wren House. It is possible, I suppose, that the invitation became lost in the mail. However, we have concluded that it is far more likely that the Duke and Duchess have stricken us from their social calendars.

In retaliation, we have resolutely and permanently removed their names from our Christmas card lists. Further, in the unlikely event that the Duke and Duchess ever visit Minnesota, we have decided that we will ignore them completely for the duration of their visit. If by chance we happen to run into one or both of them at the hardware store or at the vet’s office or at the butcher shop, we are going to pretend that we don’t even recognize them!

It will serve them right!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Our Final Weekend At The Lake

Our weekend at the lake was very pleasant. It was our last weekend at the lake this year.

We did not do much. We did some reading, and we walked through the woods with the dog, and Andrew and I went swimming. Otherwise, we just enjoyed the quiet, and played with the dog, and talked. Yesterday we stayed in much of the day because it was dark and overcast and rained seemed imminent. It was eerily quiet, and lovely.

This afternoon we closed the lake house for the year. There truly was not much for us to do.

We turned off the water supply and drained all faucets. We moved all deck furniture and all lawn furniture into the garage. We removed everything from the refrigerator (not that there was much there anyway) and we turned off the electricity. (It is an all-electric house, so we do not have to worry about turning off the gas.) Our final measure was to close and lock the window shutters, which were built inside the house so as to protect the house in the event of window breakage during a winter storm. And that is really all we had to do.

Leaving the lake house sort of made me sad, because I have always found happiness there. When I am at the lake, I am free from all cares and worries and concerns. It is beautiful there, and peaceful, and still. I can hardly wait until next summer, when we will get to go to the lake again.

Andrew and his father work this week until Noon on Thursday. Since I am off those days, I think I will join Andrew’s mother. I will help her get things ready for London, and I think she will find a second pair of hands to be useful. I also think that Andrew and I will have dinner over at his parents’ house this week, since I will already be there.

We are all getting very excited about our trip.

Andrew is starting to get positively giddy, just like a little kid at Christmastime. London is his favorite city in the entire world, because there is so much to do there, more than any other city anywhere. Andrew’s excitement is starting to rub off on me.

I have only been to London once, when I went on a European trip with my Dad. We saw the absolute essentials of London—The Tower Of London, Westminster Abbey, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, The British Museum—but my Dad and I did not have enough time to make a leisurely exploration of the city. We gave London a quick once-over before we moved on to the continent to see the highlights of Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria and Italy, part of a whirlwind tour.

Andrew has been to London countless times, and he knows the city very, very well. He knows London better than Minneapolis, because he has spent a lot more time walking around central London than walking around downtown Minneapolis.

Andrew says that this trip will be a perfect mixture of culture, history, architecture, art and pleasure. I think he is right. This trip will be only the first of many leisurely explorations of London that Andrew and I plan to make.

I have our itinerary practically memorized. I think we have planned an incredibly rich and varied schedule of things to see and do. I don’t think we will be bored for one minute.

Rule Britannia!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Farewell To The Bookstore

Tomorrow is my final day of work at the bookstore. In some ways, I will be sorry to have to say “Good-Bye” to the place. Everyone there has been very good to me, and I have liked working there very much. Nevertheless, it is important for me to obtain a real job, with real wages, and real benefits. I begin my new job on Monday, September 17.

Tomorrow after work Andrew and I and his parents will go to the lake. This will be our final visit to the lake this year. We will close down the lake house before we come back home. It will not be very complicated.

This summer I have started to like going up to the lake as many weekends as possible. I am sorry that this will be our final weekend there this summer.

Next week I will have my days free, at least until late Thursday afternoon, when we will all depart for London. Since Andrew and I already have our gear for London fully prepared, ready to go, I think I will go over to Andrew’s parents house during the day next week, and help Andrew’s mother get things prepared for the London trip. I think Andrew’s mother will welcome the assistance. I also think she will welcome the company.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

George III And His Scandalous Siblings

Andrew and I have also been reading “A Royal Affair: George III And His Scandalous Siblings” by Stella Tillyard.

This bit of Royal History is mostly familiar to those who follow the subject. George III had eight siblings, and his siblings did not share his devotion to duty and family, as is already well known.

The book is almost hijacked by the story of Caroline Mathilde, a younger sister of George III married off to the young and irresponsible King Of Denmark. This particular Royal Alliance was not a successful one, and the breakup of the marriage almost resulted in a war between Britain and Denmark. Caroline Mathilde’s adventures may have been the most interesting of all George III’s siblings, but her story is ultimately little more than daytime drama in a royal setting.

From a lasting perspective, the adventures of George III’s siblings resulted in The Royal Marriages Act Of 1772, still on the books today. This law prevents members of The Royal Family from marrying without the sovereign’s consent until they have attained the age of 25. Upon reaching the age of 25, members of The Royal Family are required to apply for permission to marry to The Privy Council, which has twelve months from date of application to issue a decision.

Even though several of George III’s siblings had married commoners or Catholics, which The Royal Marriages Act Of 1772 was designed to nullify, by 1775 all but three of George III’s siblings had died. George III was to survive for another 45 years, and this law designed to control his siblings was to live on far beyond its original intended purpose. It was most recently invoked to prevent the marriage of Princess Margaret Rose to Peter Townsend in 1955.

Why did Andrew and I buy this book? It was reviewed favorably in The Times.

We both love to read The Times. The political and foreign policy columns in The Times are unmissable, and there is nothing comparable in U.S. newspapers: stylish, thoughtful, learned, provoking, and mostly free from cant. By comparison, the columns in The New York Times are merely embarrassing.

Alas, The Times review of the George III book failed to note that the book was largely soap opera. Andrew and I would not have purchased the book if the review had been more forthcoming about the true nature of the book.

George III was a very interesting monarch, although he is given little credit as a successful ruler on either side of the Atlantic. Although Britain lost its American colonies during his reign, it did emerge unscathed from The French Revolution and it did win The Napoleonic Wars, at sea and on land, while George III was on the throne. By 1820, the year of George III’s death, Britain had established its supremacy as Europe’s greatest power, a place it was to hold well into the next century.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fatal Purity: Robespierre And The French Revolution

Andrew wrote about the Andrew Mellon biography we have been reading.

Andrew and I have also been reading “Fatal Purity: Robespierre And The French Revolution” by Ruth Scurr, a young British historian. This volume is not so much a pure biography of Maximilien Robespierre—although it is, in part, that very thing—as an examination of his role during The French Revolution, particularly during The Reign Of Terror.

Robespierre is a difficult subject for a biographer because he led an “interior” life. Although he was a public figure, he did not reveal himself to his intimates, primarily because he appeared to have none. He also did not reveal himself in letters, diaries or journals.

What historians must rely upon, in evaluating Robespierre, is primarily the public records of the time. These records have been picked over so many times, by so many historians, that it would seem that there is little new for Scurr to discover. And there is indeed nothing new in this volume.

Scurr begins her tale by informing the reader that she likes and admires Robespierre, inviting the reader to believe that she has uncovered new information that provides a fresh twist on Robespierre and his activities. However, as soon as the corpus of the story begins, readers quickly discover that Scurr is telling the same old story that has been told countless times before—and told much better, and with far more insight and depth, by other historians. It is difficult to understand the source of Scurr’s admiration for Robespierre, because the story of his butchery as she tells it is no prettier than anyone else’s. What is it about Robespierre that Scurr found appealing? After reading her book, I can only say “Beats me”.

And this truly is a very poor book. The book should never have been published. There are so many books about Robespierre and The French Revolution, all far better than this, that one more unimaginative rehashing has no rightful place on library shelves. The best thing I can say about this book is that it was only 432 pages long.

Why did Andrew and I buy this book? It was reviewed favorably in The London Review Of Books. Why did the LRB reviewer give the book an excellent review? Beats me.

“Fatal Purity” is Scurr’s first book, and I wonder whether it was based upon her doctoral dissertation. It unmistakably carries the odor of an academic project by a less-than-first-rate student at a less-than-first-rate institution (Scurr studied at the Oxbridge circuit--but the work coming out of both Oxford and Cambridge has been extremely spotty for at least the last decade, as my university professors constantly decried).

Scurr has the irritating habit of telling the reader her analysis of people and events before she actually describes those people and events. Her ensuing descriptions, however, never support her so-called “analyses”. There is a glaring disconnect between the two—although this “cart before the horse” method is consistent with the field of dissertation-writing.

Her book is all the more painful due to the fact that Scurr does not write well. Could not her academic advisors and editors have offered some guidance and advice about clear and concise writing?

This is some of the worst history writing I have ever come across. Ineptitude this blatant is comparatively rare, at least among books issued by major publishers.

And there, perhaps, is the rub. This book was first published in Britain by Chatto And Windus, and released in the U.S. by Metropolitan Books. Major publishers, clearly, took a pass.

Andrew and I should have taken a pass, too.


Our weekend was fun.

We got our gear for London ready Friday night. We got our clothes washed and folded just the way Andrew needs to get everything into our bags. He folds everything JUST SO, so that it doesn’t wrinkle, and then he puts everything into the bags JUST SO, so that everything fits. Miraculously, it somehow works. I don’t know how he does it. We each have everything we need for fifteen days packed into one medium-sized bag each.

We rose early Saturday morning and went over to pick up Andrew’s Dad and we all went to breakfast. We went back to Andrew’s parents’ house after breakfast, and Andrew and I did lawn work most of the day, getting everything ready for Saturday evening’s cookout.

The cookout was splendid because the weather was just about perfect. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too humid and there was plenty of shade until the sun went down. It was delightful, actually, and I think everyone had a good time. The dog behaved himself.

This afternoon we visited the Nordic landscape exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts. This was the only North American venue for the exhibition, which previously had been on view in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm.

I did not think much of the exhibition, and neither did Andrew, and neither did Andrew’s parents. Only one major painter had a work in the exhibition, Edvard Munch, and all of us had seen much finer Munch paintings before, including in Hamburg, where we had seen the finest of the three versions of “Three Women On A Bridge”, the finest Munch painting I have ever seen.

This week is my final week of work at the bookstore. It was a pleasant job, and an easy job, and a job free from pressure, but it was not a real job—and it didn’t pay like a real job. I was happy to spend a year there, working thirty hours a week, but I never viewed it as anything other than a temporary position. It is time for me to enter the world of real employment, if only for a year. I look forward to working full-time at a real job during the next year.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Our Upcoming Weekend

This week has been a boring week, and I have liked it. Andrew has liked it, too.

I don’t think we’ll do much of anything this weekend.

Tomorrow night we are going to get our stuff packed for London. Before the evening is over, we plan to have our main bags packed and our carry-on bags all ready to go, too.

On Saturday, I think we’ll go over to Andrew’s parents house and do some yard work. We are going to have a cookout in the evening, and some friends will be joining us. I just hope the dog leaves a few morsels of food for the guests!

On Sunday, after church, we plan to go to the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts and see a special exhibition of Nordic landscape painting.

This is the only weekend we will have to do these things, because next weekend we plan to go to the lake and close down the lake house for the year. The following weekend, we will be in London.

We are still waiting for an invitation from The Duke And Duchess Of Kent to join them for tea at Wren House. We are starting to worry that the invitation may have become lost in the mail!

Maybe we’ll just drop in, unannounced.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gustav Mahler

Andrew has completed one of his final assignments. He has written about the discs currently in our player that we have been listening to. Now Andrew only has three more assignments to complete before his blog goes on hiatus: Caspar David Friedrich, the Vienna Philharmonic, and a note on three current American conductors.

When Andrew and I are done listening to the current round of discs, we are going to listen to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. We will do so because that work will be performed at one of the Proms concerts we will attend next month.

I am unfamiliar with the Mahler Seventh, so we plan to listen to the Pierre Boulez recording with the Cleveland Orchestra on the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Andrew has already mailed to his brother in Denver a different recording of the Mahler Symphony No. 7. He sent his brother the Claudio Abbado recording with the Chicago Symphony, also on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Andrew sent the disc last week so that his brother could become familiar with the work before hearing it in London.

Andrew’s brother has already received the disc and he has already listened to it. He told us tonight that he hates the Mahler Seventh. He told us that listening to the Mahler Seventh was as stimulating as looking forward to a return visit to The Petrie Museum, both of which he claims will be about as much fun as a visit to the dentist.

Even though our Proms tickets are already purchased, Andrew’s brother may decide to skip the Mahler Seventh. If I don’t like the work after listening to it a few times, I may skip the Mahler Seventh, too.

I liked the Mahler Fifth I heard with Andrew. I also liked the Mahler Sixth I heard with Andrew. However, I hated the Mahler Second I heard with Andrew. We missed “The Song Of The Earth” because of a snowstorm.

Andrew told me that if I liked the Sixth, I’ll like the Seventh, even though it is completely different from the Sixth. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

I sure hope Andrew’s brother doesn’t misplace that other recording of the Mahler Seventh that Andrew sent to him!

He mentioned to Andrew tonight that he wasn’t sure, but that he thought he might have thrown it out by mistake!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Private Lives

I think the highlight of our weekend was attending Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” at the Guthrie Theater.

I had never seen “Private Lives” before. Andrew had seen a performance of the play once before, because the Guthrie Theater had staged the play back in the 1990’s. Andrew’s parents had seen “Private Lives” twice before. They had seen the 1990’s Guthrie staging and they also had seen a production starring Maggie Smith in the 1970’s in Chicago.

I thought the play was enjoyable and sort of fun. It was, however, perfectly predictable. It was apparent, three minutes into the first act, exactly what would happen and exactly how things would turn out by the final curtain. The lines were sometimes good and sometimes not. Coward was not quite as clever and not quite as witty as his reputation.

Naturally, the play is dated. It is very, very 1930, it is very, very British, it is very, very class-conscious and it is very, very artificial. It was also sort of slow-moving. “Private Lives” probably is a good example of the three-act “well-made play” of the time, and probably the only surviving example, but it is no masterpiece of world drama.

For the play to work, I think the audience must fall in love with Amanda and Elyot. I also think the audience must believe that the actors portraying Amanda and Elyot are genuine upper-class British people from the 1930’s, narrow in their outlooks, wrapped up in their own personal concerns, but also completely charming if not fatally irresistible.

The Guthrie actors were capable, but they did not convince me that they were British and they did not convince me that they were from the 1930’s and they did not convince me that they were from the upper class. They certainly were not charming or irresistible.

“Private Lives” calls out for stars and there may be no stars today of the right type that could bring this piece of fluff to life. I can’t think of any contemporary actors who would be obvious candidates to cast in this play to make it work.

Andrew’s parents said that Maggie Smith had been a completely captivating Amanda and that the play flew by in a flash with her in the lead. They said that they couldn’t take their eyes off her for the entire performance. However, they also said that she horribly overplayed everything, wringing every possible laugh from the material, and that her performance verged on caricature.

I’m glad we saw the play, but I would not rush out to see it again anytime soon.

The Guthrie stage design was extremely elaborate and very beautiful. The setting almost overshadowed the acting ensemble.

Andrew and I didn’t do anything else notable this weekend. Today we attended a family function. Last night and tonight, we got Andrew’s brother’s gear ready for London. The weekend flew by before we knew it.

I only have two more weeks of work at my current job. My last day at the bookstore will be Friday, August 24.

In the middle of September, I will start work, full-time, at a law firm downtown. I will be an administrative assistant, and my work will involve data entry, word processing, document storage and retrieval, filing and whatever else I am assigned to do.

It is a real job, with real pay and real benefits. I plan to work there for a year before I enroll in law school.

My first day will be the Monday following our return from London.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Torch Is Passed Early

Andrew is completely sick of blogging. He can hardly stand it anymore. Consequently, I am going to pick up my assignment a little early, and take things over right now. Frankly, I don’t think Andrew can make it to the end of the month.

There are four more entries Andrew will write before he stops writing for a few months (or forever).

ONE—I will rely upon Andrew to write one more entry addressing compact discs we are listening to.

TWO—Andrew will write about the alleged Caspar David Friedrich painting owned by The National Gallery Of Art in Washington, a painting that is NOT by Caspar David Friedrich. I have been hectoring him to write about this misattribution since last November, when we saw the painting in question in Hamburg, but he has been resisting me. I made Andrew promise to address this issue before he exits the stage. It is an interesting story.

THREE—Andrew will write an entry about the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, an orchestra that is much misunderstood in the United States, even among so-called music experts. Andrew lived in Vienna for a year, and he attended performances at the Vienna State Opera almost nightly during that year, and he knows that orchestra and its history and its dynamics well.

FOUR—Andrew will write an entry about American conductors Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano and Kent Nagano, and how their activities have been covered, with varying degrees of accuracy, by music journalists. All three conductors were the subjects of recent profiles, one of which was startlingly honest, one of which was partially honest, and one of which was entirely dishonest. Outside of a handful of outposts such as Chicago, Dallas and Washington, American music criticism is in a dismal state, and Andrew is going to write about this distressing situation.

Andrew may or may not get these four assignments completed before we all depart for London.

Today, after work, Andrew took a bus from downtown to the suburban bookstore where I work.

He took me to dinner, and then we went shopping because I needed a few things for our London trip.

For our trip, I needed a new wallet, and a new wristwatch, and a new belt, and a new pair of shoes, and a new rain jacket. We found everything I needed, and we had a lot of fun finding just what I wanted. Normally, I hate shopping, and so does Andrew, but we like to shop together because we have a good time whenever we go shopping by ourselves. Even food shopping with Andrew is fun—in fact, food shopping with Andrew is one of my favorite things to do.

When we were done picking up what I needed, we went to a large food store and picked up all the personal grooming items we would need for London.

Andrew is very skillful when it comes to preparing for and packing things for a trip. He knows exactly how to do it.

The key is to keep things very simple. For instance, all of Andrew’s clothes for a trip are almost identical. His trousers are all the same: cotton-and-wool cuffed-and-creased trousers in shades of black, gray, very dark blue and dark blue. His shirts are all the same: cotton crew-neck shirt-sweaters in shades of black, gray, dark blue, blue and white. His shoes are the same: two pairs of stylish saddle shoes with firm soles. For London, he will take one light tan rain jacket, with lots of hidden interior pockets. Throw in boxer shorts, socks and sleep gear, and Andrew’s packing for fifteen days away from home is simple as pie. Every item of clothing is interchangeable, every item of clothing is easily folded and packed, and every item of clothing is simple and stylish and equally suitable for daytime strolling and evening concert- or theater-going. And Andrew can get all of this clothing, packed perfectly neatly and perfectly tightly, into one medium-sized piece of luggage!

Andrew is so good at this, in fact, that his brother has Andrew prepare HIS clothes and luggage for their trips together, too. Andrew’s brother leaves his travel clothes in Minneapolis, and Andrew gets his brother’s clothes and luggage ready, exactly as he does his own, and he takes his brother’s bag to the Minneapolis airport and he gives it to his brother right before check-in at the international desk. It works out perfectly for both of them, because all Andrew has to do is to pack the same things twice. It is very efficient!

I learned the benefits of The Andrew System last year for our trip to Hamburg, and I am now a confirmed disciple of The Andrew System. I pack exactly as Andrew packs, with one departure: my clothing uses a different color scheme. My trousers are all dark brown and dark green, and my shirt-sweaters are all dark green, rust, light brown, tan, yellow and white.

All three of us use our carry-on bags for our books and our compact disc players, which leaves plenty of room for gifts for the return journey.

For us three, preparing for a fifteen-day journey is a snap! It requires virtually no thought, and very little planning or preparation.

Andrew’s parents, however, are not utilizers of The Andrew System. They pack a far larger variety of clothes, and take far larger pieces of luggage. It takes them a couple of days to decide what to take and to get everything together.

This weekend, Andrew will get his brother’s clothing prepared and his brother’s luggage packed. His brother’s stuff will be all ready to go by Sunday night. Andrew even does his brother’s personal gear and shaving kit for him, because he knows precisely what his brother likes and needs. And Andrew’s brother never worries that Andrew will forget anything, or leave anything behind, or leave something out. He has total confidence that Andrew will take care of him.

It’s a pretty good system!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Basketball And Brothers

For some reason, our basketball night got switched.

Last winter, Tuesday night was basketball night. For the last several weeks, however, Wednesday night has become basketball night.

I don’t know the exact reason for this change, but Wednesday somehow seems to fit everyone’s schedule better recently. It may be nothing more than the fact that many churches suspend Wednesday night services in the summer, making Wednesday nights available right now.

Basketball is my favorite sport, and the one I am best at. I still have my shooting eye and I still have my jump shot.

In high school and junior high school, basketball was my life. It was the most important thing for me, more important than my family or my schoolwork or anything else.

The last official basketball game I played was an unexpected loss in the Oklahoma high school regional finals. My team had been heavily favored to win that game, and we lost it in the final two minutes. We were better than the other team, but at the end of the game we lost our nerve. We started playing in order not to lose, not in order to win.

I was devastated at the time, but my devastation ended the following Monday morning. When I work up that Monday morning, I realized that basketball was now behind me permanently and that I needed to move forward with more important things. I have never looked back.

I still love to play and I play as often as possible, but I now play for enjoyment. I don’t play in order to win.

Andrew plays basketball for enjoyment, too, but two of the guys we play basketball with play in order to win. Everyone knows this and those two guys are always placed on opposing teams and they are matched up against each other. We have to do this or the games will not be fun for everybody else.

There is no sport I play now to win. Everything I play now is for fun.

The same is true of Andrew, except that he plays tennis to win. Tennis is Andrew’s serious game, and he devotes his full energies and attention to winning at tennis.

I never play tennis with Andrew because he is too good for me and it is no fun for him to play against me. He can wipe the court with me if he wants to, and I’m a pretty fair player. He can run me ragged all over the court with pinpoint shots and serve me off the court and return my serve with winner after winner.

Andrew now only plays tennis during the week and he plays downtown very early in the morning or at lunchtime. He plays with two other guys who can play at his level. He generally plays each guy once a week, and those two guys play each other once a week.

For fun, Andrew and I also play handball and racquetball, but we really don’t play anything else. We don’t have time to play soccer or rugby or softball, too.

Unlike Andrew, his brothers are very competitive and they always play EVERYTHING to win. They play handball and racquetball and basketball to win.

They also play monopoly and checkers and canasta to win. They are very competitive in everything.

When Andrew plays anything against his brothers, he never plays to win but he always plays just well enough to keep things interesting. This is something that must have been worked out long ago, when the three brothers were kids.

Andrew and his brothers are very close and they have a deep understanding of one another. They do not even need to talk to communicate with each other. A quick glance at each other is all they need to communicate.

Andrew and his brothers can go for hours without talking and yet they are aware of what each other is thinking and feeling.

I have watched them watch basketball games together, and I can observe them communicate with each other with quick glances and nods. For instance, they do not need to talk in order to settle on which particular ESPN basketball game to watch. A couple of glances back and forth is all they need.

Andrew and his brothers also often communicate in monosyllables. A series of “yeah” and “sure” and “OK” is all they need to carry on a full conversation that is meaningful to them. It may not be meaningful to me or anyone else, but it is meaningful to them.

I never had that with my brother and sister, probably because I am six and seven years older than my full siblings. The age difference was too great for us to develop the kind of bond Andrew and his brothers have.

I’m not jealous of that bond because it is so special and because I can see that it is so special. What Andrew and his brothers have is a great and beautiful gift, and I would never want to take that away from them or interfere with it in any way.

Andrew is very special and his brothers are very special and they have welcomed me into their lives. That makes me feel special, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Dog

Andrew adores his family dog. He is crazy about that dog, and that dog is crazy about him. They have a special bond.

Andrew and I will have custody of the dog from tomorrow afternoon until Tuesday night, so Andrew will get plenty of dog affection over the next few days. Andrew’s parents will take the dog over to our apartment on their way to the airport tomorrow afternoon—Andrew’s parents have keys to our apartment—and the dog will be there, waiting for us, when we get home from work tomorrow night.

That dog is just like a person. He has his own personality and character. He has his own routine. He has his own habits. He has his own likes and dislikes. He also has his own rules.

Among other things, he will not tolerate being ignored. He expects—no, he demands—to be included in everything. This means meals, and car rides, and all household activities.

In our apartment, the dog expects to sit between Andrew and me on the sofa, and he expects us to pet him and he expects us to talk to him and he expects to be able to lick us freely. When he feels like taking a nap, he expects to be able to lie upon us and he expects us to sit there and to remain quiet as long as he naps.

He eats dog food once a day. He gets a big bowl of special dog food his vet recommends first thing every morning. After he has gone through his dog food, however, he expects to eat people food for the rest of the day.

If meat is part of the breakfast menu, he gets meat. Bacon, sausages of any kind, ham, Canadian bacon—he gets it all. He is never given any kind of eggs, but he is always given pancakes if pancakes are on the menu. When he is served pancakes, the pancakes are cut into small pieces and milk is poured over the pancakes so that they are extra moist for him. He loves pancakes.

At lunch and dinner, he is served the same kind of meat and potatoes as everyone else, except that his food is cut into tiny pieces so that it takes him a while to eat it. He WILL eat cooked vegetables, but he is not given cooked vegetables because he cannot digest them properly. However, he IS given things like applesauce and noodles and macaroni and pasta, if those things are on the menu, to go with his meat and potatoes.

He loves dessert, and he always gets the same dessert everyone else is served UNLESS the dessert is made of chocolate. At Andrew’s mother’s house, if Andrew’s mother makes a dessert of chocolate, such as chocolate cake or chocolate pudding or chocolate ice cream or chocolate cookies, she will always make something extra for the dog: white cupcakes or vanilla pudding or vanilla ice cream or peanut butter cookies. Peanut butter cookies are the dog’s favorite. When the dog is staying with us at our apartment, we never eat anything chocolate so that the dog does not miss out.

The dog does not suffer from two of the health problems associated with German Shepherds, at least not yet. He has never secreted yellow bile, a sign of digestive problems, as some German Shepherds do, and he has never had signs of the special hip problem common with many animals of his breed. Now that he is seven years old, his hips are checked at the vet every six months so that any hip problem will be caught early.

Every time he arrives at the vet’s office, he passes water on the floor as soon as he walks through the door.

Sometimes Andrew’s mother takes him to the vet, and sometimes Andrew’s father, and sometimes Andrew and I. I helped Andrew take the dog to the vet twice. Andrew told me in advance what would happen as soon as we stepped inside the front door. Andrew was right. The dog passed water the very minute we walked through the main door.

The dog expects to be given a treat when his vet visit is over. If he does not get one, he will help himself. He will jump on his hind legs and take a treat from the bowl on the receptionist’s counter.

Andrew talks to the dog like he’s a person. He talks to the dog all day. Andrew does not talk baby talk to the dog, or dog talk. He talks people talk to the dog.

Andrew always tells the dog what we are going to do for the day. In the morning, for instance, he will tell the dog that we are going to clean the apartment in the morning, have lunch, and go out and play basketball and do food shopping, and return home for dinner. The dog looks at Andrew as if he fully understands what Andrew is saying to him. It’s spooky.

The dog constantly jumps up on Andrew and puts his paws on Andrew’s shoulders and licks him. Andrew pets him nonstop and tells the dog that he loves him until the dog jumps down. This goes on all day.

When the dog rides in the car, he rides in the passenger seat, and the window is always cracked so that the dog can stick his nose out the window. This is true winter and summer, and whether or not there is a human being in the passenger seat. If there is a human being in the passenger seat, the dog simply sits on the passenger’s lap while he sticks his nose out the window.

Long car rides are difficult for the dog because he gets bored. For some reason, he can’t sleep in the car. On trips to the lake, we stop every hour so that he can get out of the car and run for ten minutes. Otherwise, the trip becomes too difficult for him.

The dog gets lots of exercise. He is constantly being taken to the park. Andrew and I take him to the park. Andrew’s mother takes him to the park. Andrew’s father takes him to the park.

At his favorite park, he has a fixed routine. He first runs along a pathway through a wooded area. At the other end, he expects to play fetch ball, except he knows that Andrew’s mother does not play fetch ball with him. His preferred balls are tennis balls. There are other games he likes to play at the park, too, but fetch ball always comes first. If there are kids playing in the park, he will jump right in and play with them.

When he is at home, he goes outside to play in the back yard every ninety minutes. He walks and runs around the back yard for twenty minutes, and when he is done he leaps up the stairs onto the back deck and sits next to the glass door, waiting to be let back into the house. If no one opens the door, after about a minute he will start to bark. He will do one quick bark, and stop and wait. If that is not enough to attract anyone’s attention, he will do a second quick bark and stop and wait. If that is not enough to attract anyone’s attention, he will do a third quick bark, and then almost immediately start barking continuously until he is allowed into the house. This pattern never varies.

When Andrew is at his parents’ house, the dog always expects Andrew to go outside with him whenever he wants to go outside. This is true no matter what the weather and what the time of day. The only exception is if Andrew tells the dog, in advance, that he will be busy doing something and cannot go outside with him for a while. For example, when Andrew and I were over at his parents’ house, watching the NCAA Mens’ Basketball Tournament, Andrew would tell the dog that he could not go outside with him while the games were on. The dog understood this, because he happily went outside by himself during the games, without fuss.

The dog is always up in someone’s face, and he always seems to know who is the best choice, at a given moment, to give him affection and attention. Through instinct or experience, he always picks the person least occupied in doing something important and he expects that person to give him complete attention. His choice is always the best choice.

The dog dislikes the music of Shostakovich. No other music bothers him at all, but Shostakovich makes him very unsettled. The dog can listen to “The Rite Of Spring” and display no effect, but a few minutes into the Shostakovich Seventh or Eighth or Eleventh Symphonies, and the dog will start to become distraught. Andrew and his father believe that the relentless, primitive pounding rhythms of Shostakovich’s music must somehow disturb him. At Andrew’s parents’ house, music of Shostakovich may only be listened to on headphones. It is the house rule.

The dog expects to get his tummy tickled every night between dinnertime and bedtime. He will lie on his back and wait for someone to get down on the floor with him and tickle his tummy. While he is being tickled, he will move his head back and forth in excitement and glee. When he has had enough tickling, he will leap to his feet and start play-biting the person tickling him. He will wag his tail and rear his hind legs and snap at the tickler, and he likes it when the tickler playfully tries to grab his front paws. This is his favorite game, and he can’t get enough of it.

Another thing he likes to do is to stand on Andrew’s back while Andrew lies on the floor, watching television, in his parents’ downstairs family room. The dog will walk over and stand on Andrew’s back and then, trying to get a rise out of Andrew, will start snapping at his ears. After a few minutes of this, the dog will lie down on Andrew and put his wet nose on the back of Andrew’s neck, which always make Andrew get up and play with him.

When Andrew is done playing with the dog, Andrew will stay on the floor and lean against a sofa, and the dog will sit on his lap and snooze while Andrew resumes watching television. That dog views Andrew as his primary pal.

The dog seems to have no problem staying with us in our apartment. I would think that he would have a hard time staying with us. Going from a large house to a small apartment would make him feel confined, I would think, but he always seems happy to stay with us. This is probably because we give him lots of attention and because we also keep toys for him at our apartment at all times. Chewy toys, squeaky toys, dog bones, toy balls—we keep all of those things on hand for him. We feed him well, too, and he likes that, no doubt.

He is the smartest dog I have ever been around. He understands an incredible amount of speech. He knows the names of everyone. He knows the days of the week. He knows everyone’s sleeping hours. He knows everyone’s routine down to the minutest detail. He knows the sound of everyone’s car. I think he knows the alphabet.

Andrew always jokes that he’s going to teach the dog algebra.

Andrew tells the dog, whenever he misbehaves, that he had better be good or else Andrew will take him to see a performance of the musical “Cats”.

“Now, you don’t want that, do you?” he always asks the dog. And the dog barks, as if to say “No”.

He has good taste in musicals.