Revised, never finished

The Indiana State Museum IMAX sometimes shows classic films, in addition to the expected blockbuster new releases and nature documentaries. I’ve been trying to take advantage of that, seeing films in IMAX that I’ve never seen in theaters at all before. This summer, I got to see Jaws and Apocalypse Now on the big screen. They’re both movies I’m rather fond of–you know, they’re classics, most people are fond of them–and so was excited to get to see in this format.

Apocalypse Now was a very interesting example because it was a version of the film that I’d never seen before. At home, I have a copy of Redux, which is of course already an altered, expanded version of the original. This, however, was the Final Cut, a 40th-anniversary re-release and restoration. In one of the promotional trailers for this new version, Francis Ford Coppola states that he wanted to “make a version that I like” that’s “longer than the 1979 version but shorter than Apocalypse Redux.” He says he recommends it as his “favorite” (note: not definitive) version.

I love this movie, and it looked great in this format. It was still wild to see yet another version of the film, one that felt in ways different in tone and pacing (and a little different in story) than the Redux cut that I’d become familiar with. It had actually been a few years since I’d last watched any version of the film, so the whole experience was a little dream-like as I tried to register what was different, what I had simply forgotten, and what I had perhaps misremembered. It was a good experience.

What mostly got me thinking with this new edition was how movies, like books, are never really final products: they’re just eventually published, released to an audience. They might continue to be revised over time; another easy example is the revision to The Hobbit to adapt Gollum to his characterization in The Lord of the Rings. Even published works get revised, growing and changing over time beyond simple corrections of errors.

Yet modern fans often look to “extended cuts” of films as more comprehensive, purer, canonical versions. It’s a tempting impulse: if a film adds in more scenes, then it seems to be more “complete.” I think part of that mindset can also be traced to the existence of deleted scenes as additional features on DVD and Blu-Ray releases, suggesting that a film is simply trimmed down, instead of conveying the reality of multiple scenes, and multiple takes of scenes, being combined, reoriented, re-cut to fit a final vision.

I think it’s also why fans viewed the Star Wars Special Editions so harshly, since those edits were viewed perhaps as more “comprehensive” or “canonical” than the previous versions, “replacing” more favored versions of scenes, never mind the consistent stream of minor edits and adjustments to the films over time (it didn’t help that it became very difficult to locate new releases of anything approaching the original versions after that).

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It’s fun to see Apocalypse Now: Final Cut defiantly offering another take that is, in many ways, less comprehensive than a previous release. And this version is not offered up as canonical–merely the director’s preferred version of the film. It encourages the viewer to observe the film as a constantly growing organism, living even after release not just because of continued developments by the creators but because of an ongoing dialogue between creators and viewers. After all, Final Cut is only presented as another version, a version favored and recommended by the director but not insisted upon as the ultimate or purest version of the film.

Maybe this sort of thing, this announcement and release not just of a longer film but a changed and favored film, happens more often than I realize, but Star Wars and Apocalypse Now remain for now the two most prominent examples (far removed from bizarre and easily parodied fanboy cries for a “Snyder cut” of any given DC film, for instance). I’d like to see more of that, more remixing of classics (old and new) by their creators to further deconstruct the idea of a rigid, “pure,” and ultimately lifeless work of art locked, fossilized, into a moment in time.

Reviews: Ulam / Call Her Ganda

I went a little movie-heavy this week. On Saturday, I watched both Ulam: Main Dish and Call Her Ganda (both available at the Indianapolis Public Library!). Both were documentaries but quite different in subject matter, tone, and style.

Ulam, directed by Alexandra Cuerdo, is a downright excellent documentary about the current state of Fil-Am cuisine. It’s a fascinating collection of spliced-together interviews with a diverse crew of Filipino-American restaurant owners and chefs representative of the burgeoning movement to create and celebrate Filipino (and Filipino-inspired) dishes. And there are plenty of beautiful meals to salivate over throughout! The movie functions as a little bit of a cultural manifesto and a call for Filipino-Americans to celebrate, embrace, and support Filipino cuisine, and for all other Americans to open their eyes and give the food the attention it deserves. The movie came out in 2018 and feels very contemporary, with many of the main figures of this new food scene providing extensive interview time. The interviews provided an intimate perspective for many of the subjects, and it was also clear that this was a true community of culinary creatives, even where divided geographically; they were obviously in communication with each other, explicitly and implicitly referencing this connection and using a shared vocabulary and ethos.

If there was anything I would have liked to see more of, it would have been greater geographic diversity. The focus is on the East and West coasts, particularly LA and NYC, and I get it: that’s where a lot of this is happening, and that’s where larger Filipino communities are. Still, I know (if mostly peripherally) that there are chefs doing things with Filipino food throughout the Midwest, working with pride either with “authentic” Filipino food or Filipino-inspired dishes, doing something more visible and upscale than cheap, hidden-away turo-turo joints. I have to assume that the same is the case in the South, as well. Of course, no documentary can cover everything, and showing Filipino restaurants serving real Filipino food by real Filipino-Americans succeeding in the major food-trend-setting cities is important, but as a Hoosier, I do get tired of the narrative that everything cool related to arts, culture, and dining happens away from fly-over country.

As an aside, I just so happened to watch this documentary shortly after reading the recent NYT article about the revival of interest in the work of Doreen Gamboa Fernandez. They go together nicely, but I’d recommend reading the article whether or not you watch Ulam. And as an aside to an aside, wow, Nicole Ponseca seems to be everywhere! The owner of Maharlika and Jeepney, she is a major figure in Ulam, she’s interviewed for the NYT article, and she’s the author of the not-quite-year-old, well-reviewed I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook. The cookbook’s great, by the way; it’s very inviting with tons of recipes, lots of beautiful photos, cultural tidbits, and a clear argument in favor of the popularizing of Filipino food and culture. It’s truly a great book for someone like my wife, who’s grown up feeling both pride and shame for her heritage, and for someone like me, who just loves good food. (And an aside to the aside to the aside: all the restaurants featured in Ulam look incredible, but at this point I don’t see how I could ever plan a trip to New York that didn’t include a meal in at least one of Ponseca’s restaurants.)

Call Her Ganda, directed by PJ Raval, is a heavy documentary about the tragic killing of a trans woman by an American marine in the Philippines, and the resultant publicity, trial, and international tension that resulted. The subject matter was important, but the execution was lacking. Frankly, this documentary tried to tackle too much. There are too many important subjects and themes that intersect here for something that runs less than two hours. A miniseries, or better yet a book, would have been more impactful. Some of the issues that are raised by this documentary and its central subject matter, in no particular order, include the following:

  • The Visiting Forces Agreement has provisions that are contrary to the sovereign interests of the Philippines and that keep the Philippines subordinate to the United States;
  • The treatment of LGBTQ people and issues in America and in the Philippines is hardly a finished story with a happy ending;
  • The transgender community continues to remain a particularly vulnerable, separate, and discriminated-against group that has not necessarily risen in treatment along with the gay/lesbian/bisexual community;
  • Even those who claim support for LGBTQ people/issues can still be transphobic;
  • Violence against transgender people remains a largely unaddressed problem;
  • There are rampant unresolved concerns with the exploitation of women and transgender individuals, especially revolving around the sex trade, and these concerns are not so easily addressed as siding with or against the legalization of sex work;
  • Transgender individuals in impoverished regions of the world, where they lack support and may face increased discrimination, often feel compelled to turn to sex work to survive;
  • Political movements can make unusual bedfellows for the convenience of shared use of an icon or moment (e.g., the intersection of LGBTQ activists and anti-American activists in relation to the death of Jennifer Laude);
  • The Philippines has a complicated history in relation to the LGBTQ community, with a pre-colonial acceptance of non-conforming gender identities that has been suppressed by centuries under the domain of the Catholic church;
  • The nationalist impulse that led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency has at least some connection to many Filipinos feeling ignored by their leaders, who have kowtowed to American policies that seem exploitative and actively detrimental to the well-being of the average Filipino;
  • Justice is limited to those of little means, and in the extreme poverty present, for instance, in areas of the Philippines, justice can be subverted in many ways with the addition of money; and
  • Justice can often be limited not just by corruption or poor enforcement but by inadequately written laws.

There’s more, but that’s enough to make my point. The movie hops around, hinting at and sometimes exploring these different issues, but without a cohesive focus on one or two concerns, it feels too broad in scope. The movie resultantly feels sort of distant and removed. For such a shocking crime, the human element is faint. The mother of the victim is a compelling character, but she shares the screen with her attorneys and with a transgender Buzzfeed journalist covering the story. The journalist probably gets the most attention, but she seems so quiet and reserved, and too often the story seems caught up in her experience of a moment rather than the underlying story. (It’s actually baffling to me that the focus is on the journalist. This isn’t really a story about an investigation into a mystery; it’s pretty clear, at least as presented in the documentary, who killed Jennifer, why they killed Jennifer, and how they killed Jennifer. The real story is the impact to the family of the victim and how activists respond to and use this incident. One of the most articulate, energized, and engaging figures to appear was a Filipina transgender activist, but she only appears sporadically.) I hope that a more coherent take on this story and its many complicated issues is eventually made available–if you are aware of something like that, let me know.

Both documentaries were worth watching, and while I preferred Ulam, I recognize the importance of the subject matter of Call Her Ganda, especially when the transgender community is often disparaged or invisible to the larger population. It’s great that my library has materials like these in its collection, and I hope people check them out.

A weak week recap

I don’t know that I have much to say this week. We’re still adjusting to Rhodey’s absence in our home. After a week of struggling, we took today to get back to work on getting things unpacked, organized, renovated, etc. Today I tackled some yard work I’d let build up after Rhodey died. The previous owner kept a lovely lawn and garden, but in the months between her death and the home purchase, weeds crept in, and grasses spread like wildfire through the flower beds. So on top of the usual mowing and trimming and pruning, I’m finally getting around to beating back these vegetative invasions. My goal for this evening is to get as many of the books put away as possible. Truly, I don’t know that I’ll get that much done, or that I’ll continue it during the weeknights.

Speaking of books, I’m regaining my appetite for reading–or, really, my focus. I’m still all over the place with partially read books. Last week, I made a concentrated effort to finish A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell. I rather enjoyed it, but my (relatively) increased reading speed was largely motivated by the return date for the library. I racked up a little bit of a late fee there. Plus, it’s in demand, so I’m that jerk delaying someone’s hold. Not the main point: the main point is that Virginia Hall is a fascinating woman, the French Resistance is a fascinating movement within a period of history shrouded by great evil, and there are interesting parallels to today. Not the sort of book I usually talk about on this blog, but given that it helped jump-start my reading again, I figured it was worth a mention. (Thanks, Mom, for the recommendation however long ago that prompted me to place the hold in the first place.)

I still have a pile of books to get through, though. The list:

  • On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, by A’Lelia Perry Bundles (another library loan, and another of those books I don’t normally write here about, but I’m a fan of nonfiction, especially histories and biographies, especially those about Indianapolis and its significant residents, and even more narrowly, the people and culture of Indiana Avenue from its segregationist roots to its thriving status as an African-American arts and business district and its eventual destruction as the result of a complex variety of factors that, in general, don’t cast the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or IUPUI in the greatest light);
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, picked up because a mutual on Twitter was raving about it (and I like it so far, largely due to some really wild world-building, but I haven’t gotten very far in, and this in fact started as an eBook library loan but transformed into an inexpensive purchase when the loan expired);
  • Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray, because (1) Star Wars, (2) Leia, and (3) Claudia Gray; and
  • Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, one of the old Expanded Universe short story anthologies and an impulse buy for nostalgic reasons while at Half Price Books for something completely unrelated.

Oh, also, I haven’t even started it, but Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, recommended by a friend when I admitted to a lack of familiarity with this Daoist text (having only read the Tao Te Ching in college), is another book in my pile and another library loan.

I haven’t played any video games, old or new, familiar or unfamiliar, lately. Haven’t really been in the mood. I haven’t even hooked up the Switch in our new home yet. I’ve kind of been getting into the mood for mucking around in a Grand Theft Auto game. Before the move, I was playing Desert Child on Switch (which had been perfect timing, since I finally watched all of the Cowboy Bebop series), and I’m starting to feel the desire to get back to that. But I just haven’t had much of a drive to play games. Similarly, I haven’t really watched any movies lately, other than going to see a showing of Jaws in IMAX at the Indiana State Museum on Wednesday.

What’s everyone else reading or watching? Any recommendations that might tie into any of the above?

Here’s to a better week than the last one. Hopefully next week’s post, and my general mental state, will be more focused.

Goodbye, Rhodey

Last night, our dog, Rhodey, passed away very suddenly. In hindsight, with his history of heart disease, we suspect that he had a heart attack. We got home from the grocery to find him agitated; he went to his bed, cried out in pain, and flopped over. We tried to comfort him, but he died in minutes. He did not seem scared, and we were with him. But it still hurts, to lose him so suddenly.

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We adopted Rhodey in August 2013. He was four years old at the time. We had originally intended to bring Sam’s family dog, Jade, up from Florida that year, but her mother decided to keep Jade with her in the end. Sam wanted another dog, and I was supportive of that decision. We looked around for dogs needing a second home. We found Rhodey through some pet adoption site. He was not our first choice, or our second, or our third. But he was the first inquiry which resulted in a response from the owners. We had a house visit. He was so friendly and glad to meet us, but he was confused. He also slipped into a bedroom while we chatted with the owners about his history, peeing on the carpet in his moment of free reign. He met our cat, Aizen. Aizen hated him. Aizen had a bad history with dogs. He hissed and swiped and growled at Rhodey. But Rhodey didn’t mind; he was just interested in Aizen. (Over time, Aizen would grow to tolerate Rhodey, but he’d always bully him, swatting at him and setting him up to get in trouble. Rhodey would sometimes snap at Aizen in warning, if he’d been hit around too much, but he never hurt Aizen, and he always seemed to want to be that cat’s friend.)

On that first visit, I had my first walk with Rhodey. His previous owners used a halter, which didn’t do much to restrain his tugging. He didn’t like it very much, and I’d soon abandon it after adoption. But our first walk went rather well. He enjoyed smelling the walking paths of our apartment complex. I quickly fell in love with him.

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The one visit was enough. Sam and I agreed to adopt him. We knew about his medical history, that he’d had some history of seizures. We knew he’d had some trouble adjusting to his owners’ new baby. We soon came to suspect, given the scanty size of the medical records and the animal hospital diagnosis with no ongoing treatment, that they had also decided he was just too expensive. They hadn’t had him very long; they got him when he was maybe one or two, and they gave him up when he was four (they claimed that he had  originally been seized from the property of a drug dealer before they got him from a shelter). But they did love him; I remember the wife weeping and kissing him goodbye many, many times. (Almost ten years later, I’d see my own wife weeping and kissing him goodbye many, many times as he lay still, curled up in his bed in the back of the car, looking for all the world like he was sleeping.)

We of course wanted to get him established with a vet quickly, to establish a regular care-provider, to get his shots updated, and to figure out what was going on with his seizure incidents. The vet performed tests and ruled out seizures. I remembered asking him if he could be having “pseudo-seizure” incidents, like in humans, because of how anxious he was. He said it was possible. He also detected a murmur and an enlarged heart, so we learned that Rhodey had heart disease. Over the years, we’d increase doses, switch medications, and get another medication added on to try to halt the spread of the disease. We had been warned that he was at risk of, or was in the early stages of, congestive heart failure in the past year, but he seemed healthy most of the time. He would sometimes cough. He vomited sometimes as well, not more than other dogs it seemed, but still something we tracked for a while until we felt assured of the relative infrequence of the events. His occasional cough and the occasional vomiting didn’t ever seem to get any worse; I might even have said it seemed better over the past couple years. He was always a lazy dog and enjoyed sleeping, but he also loved to play and walk with us and explore. He still had “seizure” episodes, a few times a year or less, but they weren’t increasing in frequency and the vet had already ruled out a larger concern. Since they were so short, lasting minutes, and his shaking was calmed by our soothing words and pets, it was better to wait them out, at least to us, than to go to an animal hospital for an issue that would be resolved by arrival. Those episodes also seemed decreased over the past couple years; I can’t even remember the last one. His death resembled one of those episodes, at first. In hindsight, we wonder if those “seizures” had actually been mini heart attacks.

Rhodey loved to do anything with us. I used to run with him, at our first place with him. Sam would sometimes join in, trailing a block behind. Rhodey and I would open up. He’d gallop alongside me, pull ahead, push me on. I tried to make sure he could go as fast as he wanted, leash lax enough to keep him sprinting. Over time, I ran less, and so did he. Our second place on the Near West side had a little backyard, and the sidewalks through the neighborhood weren’t as connected, and cars raced down the streets. We didn’t walk him as much there, relying more on the yard. But we have a lot of memories still of walking him around the block of a neighborhood church, or taking him on long walks along the White River in the spring and summer and fall. Our last move to Beech Grove, just three weeks ago, was into the first home that we owned. He hadn’t quite adjusted to it yet, but he was finally coming around to our new off-the-furniture policy, however loosely enforced it was, and accepting the concession of beds for him wherever we’d be and a big area rug for him to mix things up on. (We had previously bought him a new bed to replace his old, ratty one. He hated the new bed by itself, so we piled it on the old bed for extra cushioning. I think enough of his smell was on it that he liked it rather a lot when we set it apart as its own resting place in the living room at Beech Grove. It was probably his favorite resting place. Sometimes he’d even get up in the middle of the night, leaving the bed at our side to go to the living room bed. This new bed, the bed he once hated, was the bed he retreated to, to die in.) He was still a little tentative about the stairs; it’s always taken him time to get adjusted to staircases, and his long, spindly legs would often trip whenever he’d try to race up or down the Near West duplex to greet us in a hurry from a bedroom nap or (more often) to scream his social anxiety away at any passersby.

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In Beech Grove, Sam was taking him on regular walks in the evenings again, and we had a fenced-in driveway and backyard so he could come out with us anytime we were doing anything. And Rhodey was my constant companion as I took care of yard work or unloaded groceries or worked on a project in the garage or carried tools back and forth. He seemed to like this yard, and the long stretch of driveway, a lot. I always imagined him getting back to his racing dog roots, running up and down the concrete, once we’d gotten enough cleared away from the garage to park a car in it, once we could have enough space for him to truly be uninhibited on that long flat surface. We’d made good progress to that goal in the week just prior to his death.

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This is just Day One for us in a post-Rhodey world. But I can anticipate that it will take a while to adjust to the silence. No more clitter-clatter of nails on hardwood. No more barking out the window, or whining to go outside or to get a special meat treat, or huffing and groaning as he settled down to bed at night. Walking into the kitchen is the worst for me; he’d always trail me in, just behind, and rub up against my leg to hope for a little taste of whatever I had. (His favorite snack was carrots, but he loved bits of my lunch meats too.)

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He loved to be with us, always. He loved to cuddle with us. He loved to stand by our side. He loved to hustle under our feet whenever we were carrying anything at all, of course. It was always sort of annoying and sort of amusing; he just wanted to help, but he couldn’t. When we were sad, or mad, he just wanted to help too, but as usual, he couldn’t. He’d cry and hop up on his, digging into our arms or torsos with his claws, and that was sort of annoying and sort of amusing, too. He was very empathetic but didn’t know what to do; his concern for us was often enough to defuse things a little. If we were hugging or dancing in the kitchen, Rhodey would want to hop up and dance or hug too. And even though he hated car rides, crying and whining in fear for most of any trip, if I ever went to get something from my car with him by my side, he’d wait for the door to open and would hop inside as soon as he could, just because he wanted to be with us if we were going somewhere.

He used to cry whenever we had a gate up to keep him out of a room at the first place. We gave that up pretty quickly, only using a barrier to keep him out of the kitchen when we had food out. (This later barrier wasn’t secured to the door frame, but he was very rules-based and saw any barrier as a rule Not to Pass; eventually, in our last year together, he learned that he could nudge it out of the way to get to the food, resulting in some messy antics.)

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He’d cry when we left and when we came home, too. He got better over time, eventually shifting to barking, and gradually calming more and more over time. But he still had a very special cry for when Sam came home. I sadly don’t have a recording of it, but he’d cry, “MwaMAMAMAMAMWAMA.” We joked that Sam was his mother and I was just That Guy.

There are lots of fond memories that I have of our time with Rhodey, far more than the above, far more than I could share here, but I’ll still share a few more.

One time, he was so excited about me getting home that he tried to do a back-flip and landed on his back. I was worried for the moment it took him to groan, roll over, and hop up. He was fine! And still glad to see me! But he didn’t try any back-flips after that.

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One time early on, as Sam and I walked him, Rhodey tugged so hard that he pulled free from my grip, and we were terrified as he dashed in front of a car, narrowly avoiding being hit, to chase down and tree a squirrel. He thought we were playing when we came after him, but he eventually returned to us.

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One time, in the dead of winter, maybe in the first or second year together, I was walking him on an icy sidewalk, and I slipped and fell. Rhodey could have run off, free from his leash, and he always loved to tug and dash. But he immediately trotted back to me, trying to lick me and make sure that I was okay. (He never, ever ran away. Sometimes he’d dart out the door, but not to run off somewhere–he just didn’t want to get shut in when we were heading out. He always wanted to be with us.)

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One time, at the Near West place, I left a side gate open while mowing. Rhodey was out with me and pushed through to go out. He walked around the sidewalk, a normal walking route (if there was a path, his impulse was to follow it). When I looked up to see Rhodey a fenced-in yard away on the sidewalk, I couldn’t tell who was more surprised: me or him. It seemed like he’d thought he was supposed to go out there, had no idea we weren’t coming with him, and couldn’t remember exactly in that moment how to get back! Sam cried out in worry, but I cheerily called, “Hey, Rhodey, come here!” And I started gesturing and walking toward the side gate; he immediately started mirroring my movement. We met around the corner, and he was so excited to see how to get to me, he started galloping toward me, and I gave him a big hug and walked him back into the yard.

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On a couple occasions, we bought him plush squeaking toys. He would tear them up so quickly, removing each squeaker device with almost surgical precision before ripping the fluffy stuffing out. Because of this, we mostly played catch with a couple balls, or played tug of war. We found that a local butcher sold dried liver dog snacks just in the past week, and he’d been enjoying the leisurely experience of chewing on them. Sam meant to get him a chew bone from that butcher next week.

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On many, many occasions, I remember him hitting his snout against the swinging trash can lid to get at the trash inside. No matter how many times we shooed him away, he’d come back. And when we weren’t looking, he’d pull out a tasty used napkin or old bone or some other junk, and he’d scatter plenty of other trash on the floor before dashing to a bed to gnaw on his illicit booty.

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And almost every morning and night, Sam made sure to give him his medications. She was more consistent with him than with her own meds. She would give him the meds first with peanut butter, until the doctor told us that the salt content was dangerous and that we should try something like marshmallows. Marshmallows worked well until he had to take an even bigger pill. He’d spit it out, no matter what Sam did with it. So over the past few months, he got the treat of a marshmallow and a glob of peanut butter to lick off her finger. (It was a compromise that she always regretted, but it was the only solution we found to get him to consistently take his medication without spitting it out.)

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He was always phobic of a potty accident in the house and would hold it as long as he had to, even though we never scolded him on the rare event of an accident. One time, he pooped in the house and was so ashamed that he tried to hide the evidence under his bed. On the other hand, when we moved to Beech Grove, he was happy to relieve his anxiety bowel movements in the basement.

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One time, he bit Sam’s brother when he tried to take back a napkin from the dog. Lee was just trying to help–it had cleaner on it and could have poisoned Rhodey. But that was the only time he ever bit anyone. And despite his previous owners’ concern about their child, he loved kids. We used to tell people not to pet him, but that changed to “be careful and let him come to you,” to “sure, you can pet him.” Other dogs sometimes came up to him off the leash, and he tolerated them as well as he could, snapping if they got too aggressive or spent too much time trying to sniff his butt (a nervous, socially awkward dog, he typically kept tail down, presumably to avoid dog-identification). But if he could approach dogs on the same terms, he could become friends. He was friendly with other dogs when he was boarded. He was friends with my mom’s dog when we visited. He was friends with some dogs of our friends when we visited them. As anxious as he was, and quick to bark through the window, he genuinely enjoyed other people and other dogs. He just didn’t know the right way to communicate that, I guess! (In his last month of life, Sam insisted that we get a ThunderShirt. He never seemed to mind thunder or fireworks, interestingly, so I thought it would be pointless. But it seemed to have worked well at soothing his anxiety. He seemed a lot calmer and barked a lot less after he started wearing it.)

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Rhodey was dumb. That was a recurrent comment of mine. He wasn’t a smart dog. He wasn’t exceptional in any way. But he was sweet and loyal. He loved us, and all he wanted in return was to be loved (and to get the occasional carrot). He had such sweet, sympathetic brown eyes. And his trim, long-legged body paired with those soulful eyes and his striking blond-and-white fur led many, many people to tell us over the years that we had a pretty dog, a beautiful dog. Many wanted to know what he was. We always said a Whippet mix; we’re not sure what the mix was, though, but his eyes (not at all Whippet dog eyes) and his coat were peculiar for the breed. Sam eventually settled on Whippet and Border Collie. Presumably because of his coat alone, his previous owners claimed he was a Corgi/Whippet mix, but the vet found it rather unlikely (the vet, in fact, was rather surprised to find our long-legged buddy on the first visit when the vet tech had noted him, based on our phone conversation, as a Corgi mix).

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Like I said, Rhodey was dumb, but he was sweet and loyal and caring and funny. He had a mischievous personality. He adored us. He wasn’t very grateful for treats and other concessions like furniture time (who can blame him on the latter when he had free roam for most of his life with us), but he more than made up for it by his joyousness in being with us. He liked to play, he liked to sleep, and he especially loved to cuddle with us. He loved to rub between my legs as I patted him down and scratched at his sides. I’d drum my palms over his flanks and he’d do a little step-step-step-step dance with his back legs, tapping away on the floor. I gradually shifted Sam away from the habit of letting Rhodey sleep on our bed, but he always had a bed next to us. Even though his bed was on Sam’s side, almost every night, he would come stand by my side of the bed and wait for me to give him pets. We performed that ritual for the last time the night before his death.

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We had roles with Rhodey. Sam was his best friend; I was his protector. He would most often choose play or cuddling with Sam. But if he was afraid or nervous, he would come to me to be soothed. I don’t know when I’ll get over the guilt I feel for failing him, for not being able to protect him at the end. He didn’t seem scared when he died, and he had us with him, but I couldn’t do anything to help him. Maybe I could have. Maybe if we’d started CPR sooner. Maybe if we’d realized something was different. I don’t know if anything would have changed the outcome, but it hurts me so much that I couldn’t help him when he needed me. Just as bad, when we thought it was a normal episode, Sam stayed by his side to comfort him while I went back to bring in the groceries. I didn’t get very far into that, though. He worsened so rapidly in just a few minutes; he responded briefly to me, tracking me with his eyes, when I came back to him, but he was lost so quickly after that. I wish so, so much that I had been by his side for the whole time. He deserved that. But at least his best friend was there.

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Rhodey was about four when we got him in August 2013. He died a little before 9:10 PM on July 27, 2019. We always said that his birthday was July 4, so by our estimate, he was just over ten years old.

Rhodey didn’t have to be exceptional. He was his own dog. He loved us very much, and I hope that he knew how much we loved him in turn. Despite his anxiety, despite his mischief, he did seem to want to be a good boy, and there were many times where he did something clever or obeyed a command that made me very proud of him. He didn’t have to be exceptional to be beloved; he just had to be himself.

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I love my dumb, sweet, loyal, caring, good boy. And I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop missing him.

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Goodbye, Rhodey.

What I’d like Stranger Things to do next

Reader, I assure you that I have no intention of turning this into a blog about first-time homeowner anecdotes and DIY stories. That said, it’s where a lot of my head space is, as we cross projects off the lists, entertain new project ideas, and work to organize and put away all of our stuff. The weekends see most of the work because we have the time and energy for it. I say that like it’s been a while, but we’ve just been homeowners for two weeks and two days! I’m still very much so enjoying the process, and (knock on wood) there have been no nasty surprises, but even so, the sheer amount of things to do can be exhausting at times.

That said, I did make time to finish Stranger Things 3 over the week. I found that I continue to greatly enjoy the characters and relationships on the show, and I am glad that the show still manages to throw surprises and emotional punches that pay off. I actually found the arc of the season to be a little mundane; besides the gross monster-growing body horror, the whole trajectory of the Mind Flayer using a human host(s) to accelerate its domination of our dimension felt a little like a repeat of Season 2 (keeping in mind, again, that the characters continued to grow and evolve, and to process the tragedies and traumas of the previous seasons, in interesting ways).

Major spoilers follow.


 

The ending was still rewarding. The final couple episodes were action-packed, exciting, and brought everything together rather nicely. Poor Joyce, yet again witnessing the death of a romantic companion–and this time a direct agent in his demise (even though she truly had no other option). I was in disbelief at first. I was sure there would be no way that they’d kill Hopper. The absence of an on-screen death or body set off my bullshit detectors. I kept waiting for him to pop up at any time, even in the parking lot as Joyce broke down realizing she’d have to tell Eleven that her dad was never coming back. When we saw the newspaper headline following the time jump, I finally accepted that he was really dead, and I started to feel a little cheated by it all. He was just gone! And then Eleven gets his letter, and we hear the heartfelt addition he added at the end, and I was crying. Of course, the roller coaster continues, when in the final scene we learn that the Russians are keeping an American  alive at their Kamchatka facility.

It doesn’t have to be Hopper. But I certainly believe it is! Like Agent Mulder (in a completely different dark and weird Americana sci-fi series), I want to believe. (Eleven being powerless leaves a convenient explanation as to why she couldn’t just take a psychic look for him.) What I hope is that Season 4 does something really different, building on the lore in divergent new ways in the manner of Season 2’s expansion of the threat from the Upside Down and the addition of the sort of X-Force street gang. I’d love to see Hopper’s escape or rescue and the shutdown of the Kamchatka facility be a major plot point. And I think that the shift to espionage or military black ops could be a refreshing change of pace and style for the series. I’m sure that Joyce, Steve, and the whole gang of kids will be implicated at some point, if only because I doubt that Netflix would just let the cast go, but it would be fun to see the show move to a whole different locale and type of threat (and narrative), at least for a little while.

Home Secured

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for me. I’ve now been a homeowner for a little over a week and two days. Sam and I have finished moving in. The rental’s been cleaned out and the keys handed over. We’ve already had a variety of new home projects, including the removal of carpeting (and tiles plus linoleum in the foyer) to expose original hardwoods, the DIY installation of home security, and the very-much-so-left-to-the-professionals needed electrical work to update our panel and breakers and outlets. In the midst of this, we also had to have a cable technician come out to complete cable setup–turns out, the cable company didn’t have a cable line running to our house, and instead it was another company’s coaxial cable that ran in through the exterior of the house (the customer service rep I spoke with on the phone tried to offer me a credit for the inconvenience of having to have a technician come out anyway after I tried to self-install, but the cable company’s system literally would not allow him to give me more than two bucks in credit, which is just some extraordinary corporate bureaucracy).

Some of the rooms are coming into shape, but there’s still a lot of stuff to be put away. Thankfully, the projects we’ve been tackling have been mostly fun and, in general, rewarding. And it will of course be rewarding to get the house tidied up. I like the energy spent on these projects, and we already have several more projects planned for the near-, mid-, and long-term. Homeownership is pretty fun, and I’m glad that we’ve had the privilege of this opportunity!

It’s not so fun to actually move, though, or to clean out a rental, or to re-paint said rental. And there’s the pressure of the move-out deadline. We got a reasonable amount done, and it looked nice enough, and now we can put that part of the process out of sight, out of mind. Which means, while the projects will continue apace, we can have some room to breathe.

Maybe that means I can finally get through the rest of Stranger Things 3

“It is to be commended. What is its number?”

Despite some delays, we’re still holding out hope for a closing at the end of this week on our first home. While a delay of a few days or a week wouldn’t be a big deal, it would be especially nice to close and take possession this week because it’s also the week that my work site has a summer shutdown. Regardless of whether we can actually start moving this week, we’ll at least be getting ready for it, packing and removing some of the stuff we won’t be taking with us.

It’s also a good week for catching up on other things I’ve been putting off. One of those things has just been keeping up with the Clone Wars rewatch, so last night I was binging several episodes, and tonight will get me back on pace with the once-a-week recaps on the official Star Wars website. In the rush of episodes, one small detail stuck with me.

In the episode “R2 Come Home,” R2-D2 must rescue Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker from a lethal trap by escaping pursuing bounty hunters and contacting the Jedi Order. In the beginning of the episode, R2 is briefly partnered with Mace’s droid, R8-B7, before the latter unit is destroyed. But wait. R8? It looks like an identical model to R2. Why the different designation?

It’s a silly thing to get hung up on, but droid designations have long been really confusing to me. In the films alone, it’s easy enough to decide that the designations might be partial serial numbers or something to that effect. But at least in the old Expanded Universe, droid designations came to represent both the model and unit. For instance, there was a whole R-series of astromech droids that included R2 models, R4 models, R8 models, and so on. (Higher the number, newer the model release.)

Again, there’s nothing in the films, at least that I can think of, that would dictate this interpretation. I think it’s an artifact of the Expanded Universe’s impulse to extrapolate general characteristics from very limited anecdotal film details–like that all Hutts are gangsters, all Rodians are bounty hunters, all Twi’lek women are dancers, and so on. (Thankfully the EU moved more and more away from that, and the new canon doesn’t seem too guilty of that outside of casting the Hutts once more as a Space Mafia race.) And I’m sure that a lot of those generalizations are a result of the need to gamify elements of Star Wars; so much of the broader lore originated with West End Games and was spread in supplements created by WEG and the publishers who filled the tabletop publishing niche in the following years.

The idea that a droid’s name always starts with its model number doesn’t even really make a lot of sense, unless one assumes that there are a lot of droids designated R2-D2, or that owners are picking random elements of a much longer serial number to supplement the droids’ names. It feels more right to imagine a generic droid series, the “R-series,” for instance, with many models and unique designations under that. (Still, I bet there are other so-called R2-D2s rolling around in that galaxy far, far away.)

I got hung up on R8 in particular because that would have been a model released much later in the old EU, but also because the designation seemed to have no practical effect on the droid’s appearance. As usual, I seem to be late to the party. Wookieepedia’s Legends page for R8-B7 has a behind-the-scenes section referencing an old Star Wars Insider issue (58) that apparently explained that droid names are fragments of longer designations. (Without a copy of that issue, I’m just going to have to trust the accuracy of the source. For my purposes, seeing the existence of the proposed theory is sufficient, even if the source is incorrect.) That was before the unified canon reboot, but that seems like a very plausible explanation.

I still want to put too much emphasis on those model numbers, though. I remember as a kid reading about them in Star Wars Gamer issue 3 (“DROIDS”!) and the “Droids” chapter of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised Core Rulebook during the publishing reign of Wizards of the Coast. Something about that was formative enough to lock it in as a thing I “knew” about droids. It’s a hard thing for me to unlearn–even though nothing says that those model numbers aren’t still canon. It’s easy enough to reconcile model number designations with inconsistent droid names under the serial number theory. Searching keywords related to this subject, I stumbled on a Reddit thread that points out that the personal designation of a droid could be pulled from anywhere in its serial number. So even the apparent rule-breaker R8 could really be R2-B17998R8-B7743, or something like that. Still, if that’s true, why even grab random numbers at all? Why not just name your droid “Frank” or “Scruffy” or just call it “Astromech”?

It’s really not something that needs more explanation, because there’s not something truly broken here. It’s just silly, is all.