Category Archives: dogs

Original Sin

I’m a very bad Catholic. I’m very lackadaisical about going to Mass and figure The Great Muhawumba must understand that lounging around drinking two cups of very strong coffee while devouring the entire Sunday paper is a form of religious ritual. I am pro-choice and a major fag-hag. I distrust hierarchies and if the Church isn’t the Grandaddy of those, I don’t know what is.

But still. I like being a Catholic. I appreciate that the Church is adamantly anti-death penalty and constantly agitates on behalf of the poor, voiceless, imprisoned, and weak (unless they’re gay. Kidding.) I’m a classic ‘cafeteria Catholic’ and am happy to belly up to the bar and order all the frankincense, holy water, and Hail Marys (though I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get the Rosary down) I can get.

There are a few days in the ecclesiastical calendar that I try not to miss, and yesterday, Ash Wednesday, was one of them. It’s the first day of Lent and a day of repentance and atonement (not unlike the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur), when one is encouraged to leave one’s past and sins ‘in the ashes’ and prepare one’s heart for Easter. One is reminded that ‘from dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,’ reminding us (in a very Buddhist-like way) that our existence is transient, our troubles similarly ephemeral.

So I was, you know, a little pensive. I expected some dry, uptight priest to emerge for the Mass, but instead got this great, deep-voiced brother whom, even on this solemn day, exuded joy. As he made the cross of ashes on my forehead he said, ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.’ When I sat back down to meditate upon that, I arrived at this: the greatest sin is that which you commit against yourself; the lies you tell yourself, the addictions you allow to enslave you, the way you sometimes have to harden your heart just to get through the day.

Later that day I stumbled across the story of Pogo, a little three-legged pit bull puppy that had been dumped at the pound, had a vet donate surgery to remove his bum leg, was flourishing in a foster home and was expected to make a great recovery and live and long and fulfilling life. Last July, on a night when I was packing up and preparing to leave the City after 18 years, Pogo was taken for a walk with his foster guardian on Ocean Beach, a block from my house. He ran behind a sand dune and was not seen again until ten days later, when his stabbed corpse was found miles away in the Bayview District.

Reading that, I felt like I had been punched in the face. What does it take, I wonder, what darkness of the human heart has to exist to take a wiggly, three-legged puppy who obviously already had the odds stacked again him and stick a knife into his flesh, again and again and again, while he yelped and struggled and screamed? What kind of person does it take to do that? It’s the same thing I had when I first heard about the Michael Vick case. There are few things in this world that make me feel truly violent, but sick people who hurt weak animals are one of them.

In my tenderhearted moments, in those hours when my body feels like one raw, exposed nerve, I sometimes wonder how one can stand to go on living in a world where puppies are stabbed, where children are abandoned and hit and worse, where fathers grind down their sons and women are commodified and pimped, where wounded deer lie by the side of the freeway dying and none of the thousands of motorists driving by at 75 MPH can be bothered to pick up their cell phone so someone can come put it out of its pain.

If there is such a thing as Original Sin, it is this: we are born with a selfishness beyond that inherent in our simple animal biology; a selfishness and a cruelty that surpasses that of any other species, one so ugly and dark and irredeemable and impossible to beat, breed, or perhaps even love out of us, that at times I believe we really are lost, that we really are ‘The Virus,’ that the sooner we die out – and that means our beauty as well as our bottomless ugliness – the better.

Christmas Tree Story

Christmas 1996 and my housemates Hippie Princess, Snow Hostess, and I (Moody Poet) pile into Snow Hostess’ minivan with Zags The Dog and drive down to the shabby discount grocery outlet Canned Foods, where we’ve sussed out that they have the best tree prices in town – all of ’em $16, no matter the size.

Driving down Division Street, beneath the stump of the Central Freeway, the DJ on Live 105 says, ‘And now a blast from the past, a golden oldie, a classic from Jane’s Addiction, Jane Says,’ and the three of us scream in horror (golden oldie?! a classic?!) at the notion of Jane’s Addiction as an oldie and dissolve into tears of laughter over the opening bassline.

We get to Canned Foods, pile out of the van, and start performing a tree search with almost military precision. Hippie Princess is easy to please and soon tires of Snow Hostess and I, in full Christmas-Nazi mode, examining and rejecting tree after tree after tree. She soon retires to a concrete curb with Zags, who takes off and starts frolicking with a 10-year-old boy who’s rolled in with his parents.

Snow Hostess sees her dog and looks at me and says, ‘Zags needs a boy,’ so matter-of-factly it imprints on my memory forever. She and I continue to mow through trees, standing them up, fluffing them, spinning them around and checking each side for gaps, dorky branches, or other flaws, unable to find The Tree worthy of our classy monochromatic palette. This goes on for an hour until Hippie Princess dissolves into a puddle of resignation over on the curb and Snow Hostess and I eventually stop, sweaty and grouchy with frustration, and pick a random tree on its side, still all bound up, branches unviewable, and say screw it, we’ll take our chances, completely exhausted by our unquenchable thirst for The Perfect Christmas Tree and ready to deal with whatever retarded specimen we get.

We fork over our sixteen bucks, load the tied up tree into the van, and drive home. We drag it up the stairs, set it upright in the living room, and snip the twine that binds it. The tree, as if in in a movie, magically opens and unfurls its green branches and the three of us are left standing there looking at the most picture-perfect, ideal Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. ‘My God,’ one of us said, ‘it looks like a Macy’s tree,’ and we all stood there, breathless, elated, completely under its spell.