Here is my life, in two acts.
Act I. The telephone messages:
"Hi, I'm home. Did anybody call?" I ask my daughter, who is lying on the couch, watching MTV with her face so close to the set that if Britney Spears's new augmented breasts explode, she will be toweling off silicone.
"Yeah. One call. I took a message," she says.
I see scribble on a piece of paper.
It looks like "Bleev Gazdluzky."
"Sweetheart," I say, "this looks like 'Bleev Gazdluzky.' "
"What kind of a name is Bleev?" I ask.
There is no answer from my daughter. She is entranced by some rap group on TV. I think they are exhorting her to commit first-degree felonies.
"What do you want?" she says in exasperation. "You've been in the house for two minutes, and you've already asked me a million questions."
"Who is Bleev Gazdluzky?"
She throws her hands in the air. "How should I know? They called for you," she says.
I ponder this for a second, and seek to ask a follow-up question, but my daughter has stormed out of the room and into the den, where she immediately throws herself on another couch and turns on MTV. She is done with this conversation. I have driven her from the room. It must have been something I said--perhaps "Hi, I'm home."
The fact is I am lucky to get the message that "Bleev Gazdluzky" called, whoever they are. Most of the time neither of my teenage children writes down any message at all. Not that they don't care about phone messages. They care avidly about phone messages. The first thing they do coming in the door is replay the message tape, deleting all the nuisance messages--the ones that aren't for them.
What do your kids care if someone from the IRS called. The IRS--is that, like, the surviving members of INXS?
My aunt called three times in one day last week with news about my father, who had broken his hip, then called me at work to find out why I hadn't responded.
"Don't you care that your father is in the hospital?" she scolded me.
"Did Aunt Shirley call yesterday?" I asked kids.
My son Michael shrugged. "Yesterday" is a tough concept for him. He has the attention span of goat cheese; sometimes at breakfast he'll ask, "What meal is this?" Anything that happened more than 10 minutes ago is prehistoric, like the Fonz.
"Yeah. She did," my daughter said. "She called a few times, actually."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded.
Her response was classic sixteen: "Why are you always picking on me?"
Sometimes, they'll manage to relay an actual name, "Mark," then half a phone number, "96685."
"Mark who? Was Mark a first name or a last name?" I'll ask.
"I don't know."
"And what is this number? A phone number has more digits than this. This is a Zip code. There's no way I can call this Mark back."
"That's too bad," the kids say. "He said it was urgent."
Act II. The dog:
Have you noticed that it gets light now at 5:03 a.m.? Of course you haven't. You're sound asleep at 5:03, like you should be. That's because you don't have a satanic dog who wakes you at the first sign of light by sitting at the edge of your bed, her wet nose a mere three inches from yours, whimpering and whining in a pitch only you can hear. Not your spouse. Not your kids. Not anyone in the world but you. She's like a cell phone vibrating in your pocket--only you can't throw her against the wall. (And that new legislation makes it a little late to sell her to the Burlington Coat Factory.)
That's amazing, isn't it, how a dog can home in on one person's frequency, and the rest of the people in your house wouldn't hear the Mir space station if it crashed through the upstairs bathroom?
In her Tony-whistle whine she is saying to me: "Take me out now, stupid. Take me out so early, they're still serving drinks downtown. Take me out now so that when we come home I can fall asleep on the cool tile floor, because I'm a dog and I can sleep anywhere, whenever I want--and you're totally screwed for the rest of the day. You're up at 5:03 a.m. You're meat. I own you."
It's not enough for me to simply open the door and let the dog go outside by herself, like every other dog in America. Oh, no, not Ms. Maggie the Queen Mum. She won't go! She stands by the door whimpering for me to leash her up and take her on a walk--so she can do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Nothing comes out of her body but dog laughter.
Because it's too early!
It's barely dawn. Why would she have to tinkle now? It's not like she's a 60-year-old with a prostate problem. She's a dog!
She walks briskly for a few blocks, barely deigning to sniff the ground, then she sashays home. Now it is 5:12 a.m., and the little rodent bounds up the stairs, jumps on my bed, lays her head on my pillow and falls blissfully asleep, laughing to herself about the tale she can tell the other dogs when they play poker, like in the velvet paintings.
"You know Tony? That fat bald dope I live with? I gave him such shpilkes when I yanked his chain this morning . . . " (sounds of slobbering dog guffaws)
And hopelessly wide awake, I stare at the ceiling, obsessed with a single thought. Who the heck is Bleev?