Daniel Menaker


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maxwell and I were watching “Marcella” on Amazon Fire last night (well, Maxwell was watching if your definition of “watchng” includes “sleeping”)with Nature outside the Farmhouse quiet except for cicadas and their Philip Gla ss-esque single-note trilling. But then it got much less quiet. Amazingly, I heard this–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqClZLE9X5U (wait a few seconds for the loud thing)–before Maxwell did. However loud you played that, in real life, as we refer to the bizarre happenstance of being here, it was, like, ten times louder than that, and it sounded as close as a smoke alarm inside your house. Maxwell registered it a few seconds later and of course started barking his head off. Me not being a rugged outdoorsman–not hiking here and there and always sleeping under covers rather than the stars–and Maxwell not being a rugged outdoorsdog, we both freaked. It kept on going. It sounded much more feline than avian, and at the moment, long before I was able to Google the call, I thought it might be a wildcat (we have them) or a vocally anomalous coyote (we have coyotes).

We devised a plan, the two of us. Well, not really a plan–more like just a thing we would do. We would go outside and frighten whatever it was off. [Anticlimax spoiler alert: we never got so much as a glimpse of this thing, so if you want to stop reading now, I would understand.] Maxwell would usually be champing at the bit–to misappropriate a zoological cliche–to get out there. But not this time. He hesitated when I offered to hitch him up to the leash and held back as we approached the door to the porch. He had stopped barking, so his head was back on and he seemed really spooked. Don’t forget that the eldritch call was continuing, every few seconds.

I turned on the porch lights and the big overhead light that shines down on the lawn and the driveway from the top of the house, and we went outside. The Bengal tiger or whatever it was stopped its awful threats. For a minute. We were about to go back in the house when the cry came again, this time seemingly somehow even closer–just up the hill from the house.

Maxwell found his bark and really let it go. The Thing answered. Maxwell barked–another wild cry. I found myself suddenly shouting, as loud as I could. Max looked up at me. I swear he seemed surprised. I stopped yelling, Max barked. Yell, bark, yell, bark. We were a team! Kind of a first. It was highly unusual for Max, our diffident, independent fellow, to stay so close and act in such a coordinated fashion.

Oh–I forgot. I had also had gotten a big metal collander out of the kitchen and and a big metal spoon and was clanging away among the barks and yells. Whatever this creature was, we were showing HIM, weren’t we? Though he kept up his fearsome call.

We began to move slowly, and I would also say “atavistically,” if it weren’t so bathetic and pretentious, toward the noise. Right near the old apple tree, right at the bottom of the hill behind the house, the caterwauling stopped. And didn’t start again, even when Max and I stopped barking and shouting and clangng.

Victorious, we returned to the house and “Marcella,” with the cicadas trilling away outside. I sat down, and Maxwell (full name William Maxwell) lay down beside me. Before putting his head down to resume his favorite activity, he looked up at me with what you cannot convince me was not camaraderie.

In our yard in Canterbury New Hampshire. Everything is so loud when your trying to be quiet! Loud chickens, dog, whispers and then the freaking door!!
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Tricks and Treats

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Maxwell does the following tricks on command: sits, lies down, crosses one paw over the other (“Cross your paws”) (this is my own genius idea, though I’m sure millions of other masters–that is, servants–have had same idea), goes around you in a circle to the right, goes around you in a circle to the left, shakes hands wth his right paw, jumps the gun and offers his left paw unbidden unless you caution him not to, which he obeys in an obviously exasperated or forbearing way, rolls over, puts his front paws up on an arm held parallel to the floor and gets a treat over the arm and then gets one under it when you say “over” and “under” in that order and will even do it in reverse order, goes through between your legs and comes back through them and turns in place 360 degrees, stands on his hind legs and pirouettes 360 degrees.
He could learn more tricks, I’m sure, but I figure that as I am who I am if not past it at 75, Maxwell is who he is at 7X7=49 and deserves the respect of his maturity and shoud not be sent back to circus school. I do wish he would come whenever he is told to instead of just as a velleity. We have bought gourmet “training treats” as an inducement to obey the command “Maxwell, come!” every time. But if there is some vile, dead animal in the woods that he feels required to roll and get stinky in, or a UPS guy whom he sees as an intruder to be deafened with barking, forget it, Zuke’s Roasted Pork Recipe Mini Naturals and Cloud Star’s Tricky Trainer Chewy Liver Flavor Wheat- and Corn-Free Training Treats notwithstanding. Zuke is evidently a paradigm of obedience in Durango, Colorado–who, according to the packaging, “sits, stays, and focuses–ready to learn or just enjoy a healthy treat for being such a good boy.”
Well, you go, Zuke. Maxwell will be too busy dirt-swimming with his two front paws after a mole who just scooted under the stone bench in our yard.
For all these complaints and even though I am foregoing most further trick tutelage, I am–as you might guess from this and other efforts at literary Maxwelliana–hoping that he will do one more thing I find myself silently asking him to do. And that is to let me Lie Down for good before he does
Stay, Max!

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Maxwell of course knows when only one of us is here in the Farmhouse at night. Usually but not always me, because my wife usually goes down to NYC to keep an eye on this renovation we are enduring–yes, yes; I know we are very lucky people–and an ear on her intense and growingly important involvement in the hearing-loss community. I want nothing to do with the renovation besides living in it when it is completely done, with not a $400 closet shelf absent. $400–no joke, except for the fact that it is a joke.

Anyway, in the middle of any given mono-spousal night, at, say 2 AM, Maxwell, seizing the main chance and open bed territory, like Putin with Crimea, jumps up on the bed and commences an exhaustive self-grooming. Half an hour, at least. Not only licking his paws and his parts, such as they are, poor guy, but scratching every aspect of his body he can reach, rubbing his snout and elongating himself against the cover as if he were a submarine trying but failing to submerge, snuffling and sneezing like a fat Victorian gentleman after a healthy pinch of snuff. The ear scratching is seismic, because his elbow, if that’s what it it is, does a Hawaiian hula-drummer beat on the bed.

Then suddenly he is barking like mad. For thirty-six pounds, he has the most decibelistic bark you can imagine. In between barking fits, I can hear outside the hoo-hoo-hoos of coyotes in the hills behind our house. Is Maxwell alerting me or does he maybe harbor a yearning to join them? This goes on for ten minutes, Maxwell jumping off the bed, barking and waiting by the bedroom door as if I really might open it, let him go downstairs, open the porch door, and attack or join the coyotes. (Have you been reading about the environmental conflict over coyotes, the one side extolling their intelligence and remarkable adaptability to our ecosystem incursions, the other decrying their merciless predations on flocks and herds and other assemblies of livestock. I’m with the coyotes. Easy for me–herdless as we are–to say.)

He settles down–if you can call his Simone Biles sleeping maneuvers settling down. Until 5:15, when I experience his trampolinesque jump down from the bed and hear his plaintive whimpering at the door. OK, OK. This is unusual and decidedly un-feral and tells me that he needs to go out, if you know what I mean.

Downstairs we go, me in my boxers and T-shirt that says “Clinton Gore 96,” Maxwell much more comely in his handsome and hypo-allergenic fur. Completing my outit, I put on the black rubber high-top boots–with yellow toes (why?)–that I wear to walk him at around 10 every night, the grass on our lawn as wet with dew as it would be from rain, and put Maxwell on his leash. The moon is out. It is just barely getting light in the East–over Boston, I imagine. Maxwell courteously leads me over to his preferred download zone, as far from the house as his shock collar would allow if he were wearing it, as he now all Pavlovianly believes he always is, and takes care of what needs to be taken care of.

It’s tempting to go right back in the house and back to bed, but the light is so eerie and the time of night so unusual, and the time of year–the end of August–so poignant, in its reminder of summer’s end, that I take Max back to the main part of the lawn and just stand there, pondering the imponderables and the *lachrymae rerum*–the tears of things. Maxwell sits down at my side. He has no imponderables, I bet. Unlucky lucky dog.

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