Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On the conch: Kurt

I'm in the air, so here's big bro Kurt with a flashback.

Oh Brother, there art Thou!

I had the joy of hosting Ted, as many of you have had, during his epic trip across the states, and the poor boy followed me in and out of the lighter and darker recesses of my life. On Ted's first night in Iowa City I dragged him into the deep haze of the local watering hole, Dave's Foxhead, showing him how writers drink --� not unlike expats I gather --with some sort of competitive edge, trying to evaporate all sense of fear and regret, skirting around the inherent emptiness of language, and Ted right there with us, bantering, playing coyote with the words reveling in the novelty of it all.

In the span of a week we managed to drink a truck load of beer, talk about the wonders, beauties, complexities, and overall surreal quality of the feminine mystique, and load and drive a Penske truck through that laconic sojourn of corn we call Nebraska. Along the way we drank rich Costa Rican coffee with Teresa and Jorge, ate some of that Midwest corn with Sherri and John, tubed the St. Vrain river with Ethan in the morning, watched Alison Krause from his cliffside at night, and did our best to keep it all real.

But the most defining moment came three days after we'd arrived at Boulder. We drove up Boulder Canyon to Clark Warren's house for dinner. It was a long, sinuous drive up Magnolia road, the switchbacks coming on as suddenly as acid flashbacks. Over beers and wine at eight thousand feet, amidst a discussion about the general lackadaisical nature of the modern college student, Clark turned to Ted and I and asked, "So, how'd you two become brothers?"�

Being step-brothers, there are hundreds of ways to tell that story. How my father met his mother, or how at their wedding I flirted with his neighbors as I bartended, or the time I brought a van-load of hippies to our parents' house in New Mexico, or the first time we got drunk together. I know we didn't refer to any of those moments, but I don't recall how we answered the question. There was probably some cool in it, some humor, a touch of affection. I don't think either one of us referred to the dead dog that we left in our wake as we drove out from Iowa City to Boulder, but to me, the answers are in there somewhere.

At five o'clock in the afternoon on July 29th, the day before we were to leave Iowa City, Ted and I took Mason to the Creature Comfort Animal Clinic to have him put down. Before we left for the clinic Mason and I sat in the front yard watching Cardinals flit amongst the black walnut trees. I'd just cut the grass the day before and the clean green scent of it was everywhere. That spring, a chickadee family had taken up residence in the eaves of my house, just above my bedroom, and as we sat there the mother and father brought worms and bugs to the nest. The small pastel-orange triangles of the baby bird's beaks emerged, inhaled the food, and disappeared. The traffic moved with a constant rhythm, motorcycles playing talk radio, pick-ups with young kids driving far too fast. The heat wave that had engulfed Iowa City for two weeks had passed and the afternoon was breezy but warm, the sky as soft as a child's blue blanket.

Ted came up the sidewalk and instead of joining us right away he moved around us, a comfortable kind of ghost, taking pictures I only later learned about, giving Mason and I space. I know he joined us. I also know that he rode to the vet with me, moved with me through that odd, sad, efficient space the decisions about death engenders, but I wasn't fully present. I was dissembling the choice, putting it back together again, trying to understand how I'd found my way to a vet's office to say goodbye to my dog of fifteen years. I know I talked to Ted, both about things of a practical nature and about the things Mason had done in his life--living in Prague chief among them. I was impatient for the vet, upset that the office was busy.� Ted listened, agreeing in that quiet right kind way he has.

When Mason went, after the anaesthia, after we both had said our goodbyes, after he fought Mr. Death, growling his own fuck-you at him, after we both cried, trying to find the tissues in that room adorned with dog breed posters and anti-tick ads, we left out the back door and Ted knew not to let me drive. At home, the first thing we did was grab some beers, dark rich ales, and we drank on the porch, watching the traffic slide by. The blue blanket of sky gave way to smoky turquoise. We lifted the beers, as we did for the rest of the time we were together, and toasted my dog. And that quiet, tactful company is how we continually become the brothers that we are.

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