Sunday, May 31, 2015

The shortest bucket list ever

Man and dog resting after a run, Nashville

     I am morally opposed to bucket lists of all kinds, those bossy catalogues of experiences that every upper middle class person ought to aspire to. One hundred books, places, restaurants, whatever, that you must—must!— read, visit, eat at before you die. In order to live a full and complete life. According to someone else, to some low-wage assistant editor at a fading magazine or web site who never met you.
     To me, it's as if the martinets of fashion, driven out of the business of dictating our clothing choices by general slovenliness, regrouped around lifestyle for their last ditch stand at ordering people to do something.  We may not be able to ordain your skirt length, anymore, but we sure as hell can demand you go to Prague. You can't die and not see Prague. 
     Really? Just watch me. 
     The world's a big place. You could sit down and start reading books from this moment until you take your last breath, and you would still miss wonderful works of literature. You could stand up, and begin a Conradian wander across the earth and still miss fabulous places. The idea of generating lists of obligations is such a dreary eat-your-peas, fill-in-the-stamp-album notion, I'm astounded anyone has ever done it once, never mind made it a tiresome journalistic cliche.  
     I've been to a number of very nice cities. London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Tokyo, and such. But I'd never suggest that you must go to these places. You should. It's not a bad idea, if you are so inclined. But lots —the vast majority of people in the world—have never been to any particular place, and to suggest that their lives are somehow incomplete because of it is another form of cultural imperialism and intellectual arrogance. Paris is filled with Parisians whose lives are neither charming nor fulfilled despite their being right there. You could read half of Moby-Dick and cast it away, hating the book. There's a lot about whales.
     When I look at my own life, at things I've done that I'm most happy about, most proud about, never show up on anybody's list. I've never seen "Get sober" on a bucket list, but I'm glad I did. Or "Have children," though that's an adventure that beats the hell out of bungee jumping into some gorge, not that I'll ever considering doing that. 
     If I had to compose a list, if you put a gun to my head and made me, I'd recommend people get a dog. , Because I never had a dog, never wanted a dog—in fact, was dead set against them. I didn't even want to touch a dog. My dad was from New York City. We never had dogs.  When my older boy began pressing for one, I replied. "You're not asking for a dog, you're asking me to pick up dog crap twice a day and I'm not going to do it." He was eight or nine. 
     But my younger son also wanted a dog, and asked for it for his bar mitzvah, and that was the loophole that brought us Kitty. I was terrified at the time—I sincerely thought the dog would ruin our lives. She didn't, and now that care for her as devolved to me, as it invariably does, I'm really glad we have her. Walking Kitty is the most normal thing I do, often the highlight of my day, and as we take in the air, morning and night and noon if I'm around, I think, "I'm really glad I got a dog. My life is so much fuller." 
     That said, I be reluctant to put "Get a dog" on my never-to-be-written bucket list, because all that really says is that I like having a dog. You, a completely different person, might not, due to whatever persistent personal flaw makes you immune to a dog's charms. 
     Of course, I didn't want a dog either.
      So maybe I could take a risk and write a very short bucket list, because if you really are the sort of person who'd be unhappy with a dog, well, that's awful, and you should get a dog and endeavor to change yourself while there's still time. So, as much as I thought I'd never do it, here's Neil Steinberg's What You Must Do Before You Die list:
     1. Get a dog.
     At least you won't have trouble remembering it.         

33 comments:

  1. I've always found those lists a bit weird, thinking why would a person ever want to finish one. 1001 things to see, hear, eat, before you die? I'll do 1000 thank you ;). Your list puts a kink in that as I have always had a dog, usually labs, the clown princes of pets. Kitty is a sweet looking dog by the way.

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    1. I like the irony of the name Kitty for a dog.

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  2. You list is perfect. We now have our fourth rescue dog from a shelter. She brings out emotions of peace, love and companionship that balance the insanity of our world. At the end of the day...who rescued who?

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  3. I used to feel the same way, until daughter, spouse and some inlaws pressed on me. Now I love the dog. But a small one is best. It cant reach the table, counter for food stealing or knock furniture over and stink.

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  4. I don't understand why the care falls to you. Your younger son is probably still at home, he wanted the dog, don't give him a pass.

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  5. Thanks. My "bucket" list is almost entirely food related. Although I'm only in my mid-50's, the kids are grown and successful and doing a wonderful job of raising my grandchildren, one who just finished her Air Force training and is beginning a journey of her own.
    I think "Bucket Lists" are really regrets in the making, and I try my best not to have regrets. They have very little, if any, usefulness.
    To quote a Pearl Jam song: "I'm a lucky man/to count on both hands/the ones I love."
    Might not be a lot for some, but for me, it's close to being enough.

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  6. This is just another example of how Neil can take a popular but mundane idea and, through observation, wring from it something impressive, witty, even wise (want an adventure -- have children). Sure, a bucket list is silly. But when I grow up I want to be able to write like Neil.

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  7. A lot of wisdom in both your bucket list critique and the advice on getting a dog. We took in a stray dog years ago, a golden retriever mix, and never regretted it, as he enriched our lives in so many ways. Since he passed away we've had three cats (long story, they were strays or giveaways), but I regret not having had another dog.

    The photo of Kitty atop the page is gorgeous.

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    1. Thanks. In the Book Bin in Northbrook. A lovely, dog-friendly store, I take her in browsing with me, and they asked for a picture to use in the their newsletter. Not sure if they ever used it, so I figured I would.

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    2. Thanks. In the Book Bin in Northbrook. A lovely, dog-friendly store, I take her in browsing with me, and they asked for a picture to use in the their newsletter. Not sure if they ever used it, so I figured I would.

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    4. You could also use the man and dog photo on a Saturday.

      By the way, what happened to the audio book blog? It reminded me of a David Foster Wallace essay, namely the one discussing "woodmen" among other little known facts about a very popular industry.

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    5. What audio book blog? You mean my post on Audible? It's there. Plug "Audible" into the search bar.

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  8. We couldn't have pets as children, so I couldn't wait to get dogs after we purchased our home. I've always had a pair so they could keep each other company while we were at work and school. There was Rex and Mickey, Erik and Michelle, then Luke and Toby. I miss them all.

    My habit of adopting strays did not extend to cats, as I thought they were unfeeling, selfish parasites. Yet one day a lost kitten ran into my yard after my last two dogs passed away. A few years later some kids found a handicapped kitten. She was deaf and didn't have a center of balance. I never imagined cats could be so social and affectionate. Tom and Tansy complete my day when I return home from work.

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  9. Sandy? What's stopping you? Don't let cats keep you from getting a dog.

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    1. I've thought about it, but now isn't the best time, since our cat might have a hard time adjusting to another family member -- she seems to hate other cats, and so even a dog might upset her. If she were a kitten I would consider it, but she's 8 years old now, and seems to enjoy being the queen of her domain.

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  10. Cats can give bad allergies. They scratch and ruin more things too. A friend of mine had a serious infection from the bite of her own cat. Had to have intravenous antibio's in a hosp. I think dogs are much more affectionate and useful.

    Agree about NS's clever writing style.

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  11. After my first Shelty died, I spent 8 years thinking I didn't want to go through the heartbreak again. Then my adult daughter forwarded a facebook blurb about a litter of Sheltie puppies. Bailey is 4 now, and pretty much the center of my world. Dogs are amazing, loving creatures.

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  12. Well, y'all can imagine how I hate to rain on this friendly parade of comments, but...

    Nobody else finds it somewhat disingenuous that the whole post is premised on the idea that NS is annoyed by folks making "their last ditch stand at ordering people to do something", when the actual point is to insist that, indeed, people ought to do something -- get a dog?

    I agree with the premise. I find people telling other strangers what they ought to do pretty annoying. Even saying "You should" visit "London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Tokyo, and such" is a bit much for me, based on the very rationale then laid out by our host. There's a lot to be said for visiting those cities and others, or National Parks, or wherever -- whether any individual "should", or which they "should" choose, is difficult to generalize about.

    I love dogs. Have spent a lot of time with dogs, lived with them and cared for them. Yet, I don't want a dog now, and will not graciously acquiesce to being told "you should get a dog and endeavor to change yourself", even though the advice is largely tongue-in-cheek. I realize that this will be seen as being ridiculous, "too PC" by certain, if not all, commenters, but what do you suppose the carbon footprint associated with the ownership and maintenance of 150 million cats and dogs in this country would turn out to be? Easy to deride the folks driving passenger-less SUVs to the nail salon, e.g., -- how about when the SUVs are driven to Petco to load up on stuff for the family's best friend?

    It's not an either/or proposition, of course -- lots of pet owners are on the front lines in doing wonderful things for their fellow human beings. But I don't find it preposterous to speculate about whether the world might be a better place if all the time and money spent on pets were spent on helping other people. Yes, yes, I'm taking this fun post too seriously and should get a life... To that, I reply: Harrumph, and get off my lawn! ; ) Despite my ornery response, it is a swell photo, though!

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    1. I'm tardy to the party - this got posted a little later than usual I think.

      Didn't Pope Francis say something recently about people putting their pets ahead of humanity? It's a hard place to draw the line: I don't think we should all be taking a vow of poverty and not having our "entertainment" (broadly speaking) budgets that would permit pets. So I'm going to cut NS a break and interpret this post to mean "if you can afford it, budget your discretionary income so you can get a dog" or somesuch rather than the high-horse tone of the end of the post.

      Of course, I'm not going to let him off the hook so easy :-) A lot of people who don't think they should get a dog know themselves better than NS did. This is evidenced by all the mistreated and abandoned dogs out there. I like dogs and sometimes wish I had one (I've even read a couple of those "getting a dog changed my life" books out there), but I don't think I have the time/energy in me to be a good owner. I will say that I was a FANTASTIC goldfish owner. Seriously - I kept them far past their life expectancy, and when one got sick and the pet store had no advice, I did internet research, went out in the snow for a cure (a small pea), and saved its life -twice!

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  13. Disingenuos? You are starting to sound like anon not anon. Lighten up.

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    1. add u after o

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    2. Oh, why don't you lighten up. Who the hell made you the Vocabulary Judge?

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  14. I agree with you about other people. I know one person who thinks nothing of having an abortion in the past, but worries more about a hungry dog than a hungry child in the present. Or some people think caring of their pets is same as raising a child.

    I went off on one person in the emerg. room once, when my then young child needed stitches from a fall and she's telling me she knows how I feel because her dog was hurt once. These are usually people with no kids saying that. Even the other med. assts told this nurse to shut up.

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  15. I'm all for kindness to animals but some get too fanatical. And they overspend on buying stuff the dog doesn't need. The vets too often overcharge and keep people in guilt by having them pay for costly and useless operations on the pet or meds, when the dog should be humanely put to sleep. I'm a dog owner and when an earlier dog we had needed thousands in liver surge, she was put to sleep. I'm not going to elongate the pet's suffering and make the vet rich. It's called common sense and things in perspective.

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  16. I used to laugh at tiny dogs--called them "mop dogs." Then my stepdaughter got a Japanese Chin. Cutest little guy you ever saw.

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    1. those are good dogs

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    2. @Bitter -- I used to think chihuahuas were annoying, until one of my good friends got one about 3 years ago, a black female chihuahua who they named "Delilah". She is just the sweetest thing ever.

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  17. Great stuff, as usual, Neil. Ideas and goals change throughout life.

    Don't know how long the phrase "Bucket List" has been around but putting one foot in front of the other each day works fine.

    If I had a bucket list, I'd ask: When did the comments section of websites become chat rooms? I remember when comment sections were only comments about the story. Readers would give their view and get the hell out. I think the era lasted about 72 hours but it was wonderful.

    Doug D.

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  18. I don't think this is like a chat room. Nothing wrong with some back and forth discussion.

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  19. Some chihuahuas can be nasty nippers. It's the Naploeonic complex.

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  20. Glad I softened ANA up just a bit for ya, and outed what his intentions were. Sometimes, it takes an Italian to get 'er done, wink.

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