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7/23/06
He called to Angie who was happily snuggled in her kennel under the stairs. She did not want to come out.

Dear Kim:

I have been thinking about Rod, the man for whom I was house and dog sitting the past few weeks. How the external glamour of his life doesn't convey how empty his life really is.

This is a man who lives in Venice Beach, in a beautiful and affordable home that he bought twenty years ago. Before movies stars like Julia Roberts, Mira Sorvino and Owen Wilson—to name but a few—moved into the area.

He used to direct rock videos and now travels on a regular basis to places like Tahiti, Cancun and Indonesia to shoot for international scuba magazines and leads photo classes and expeditions.

My sister was in love with him on paper. Well, the idea of him.

The reality of some essential aspects of his life showed a very different kind of guy. And one who is hardly appealing for friendship or romance.

The signs were all there. They always are, if we pay attention.

There are no spices in his kitchen.

No books.

No personal mail.

And a single personal call in five weeks.

He knows and trusts none of his neighbors and could only think of two people who live two hours away to help with his dog in an emergency: a couple he met scuba diving who live in San Clemente.

I have puzzled over this. How could his life be so emotionally barren in the midst of such riches? I got my answer when he came home on Sunday.

I got to the airport early to meet his plane and brought the dog as a surprise. Airport security made me use paid parking. We waited for an hour and a half. He was thrilled to see the dog, gave me a perfunctory hello and chastised me for not waiting with the car in some place he had loosely mentioned so that I would not have to pay to park. I said I hadn't been clear about where that was and that I was happy to pay for the parking.

He yelled at the ticket attendants on the way out because several were standing around, probably during a shift change or break. He criticized my driving on the way home. Although he had told me not to give Angie a bath in his absence, he said she was dirty. I agreed and added that she had had a very good time at the dog park the day before, running and playing with the other dogs. That it had been a special treat.

When we got to his place, he found some lint or something along the edge of the wall and clearly was inspecting my handiwork. I offered to make dinner out of what I had in the refrigerator. He accepted and then said the pasta I made was too dry.

I was determined not to lose my cool so I went for a walk to get coffee. When I got back, he asked if I wanted to see the slide show of some of the images he had just shot in Indonesia. This seemed like an improvement over our previous interactions so I said, yes. He watched over my shoulder.

Then he went back to working in his office, so I watched some television while sorting through papers. As he was walking through the room, he said, why do you have the lights on if you are watching TV.

And on and on and on. The only commentary he had was negative or critical. It was unnerving.

The most telling moment that night was when he said he was tired and ready to go to bed. He called to Angie who was happily snuggled in her kennel under the stairs. She did not want to come out. He got down on the floor and tried to cajole her but she seemed content where she was. So he pulled her by the ears against her will and made her come and sleep with him in the study.

(Kim: I know a woman who loves any stray dog much more than she loves her husband of 50+ years. That must feel pretty cruddy for him.)

The next morning, after I got back from my morning walk, I found him scrubbing the kitchen counters. The same counters I had scrubbed the day before. And this, despite the fact that he had a professional housekeeping team coming in a few days. He said, “I gotta tell you, Joan, this is not my idea of clean.”

I apologized and said that I guessed that people had different styles of doing things and that while I may not be the world's best housekeeper, I had taken excellent care of his dog.

On the way to the airport, we somehow found up talking about women. I know he thinks women aren't interested in him because he is short and middle aged and not rich. But that is so clearly not the reason. And though I tend to be a fixer, I resisted my tendency to want to help him solve the mess of his life and the unhappiness in which he lives.

I reminded myself that no matter what human element I tried to infuse into our interactions, it had been a business arrangement. He had lent me the house in which I could write, in exchange for care of his dog and tending to the mail. It had been a mutually beneficial arrangement and it had also been substantial work on my end.

But of course, there is no reason for business transactions to be without soul. As he dropped me off at the airport, I felt sad that he was so narrow and that his narrowness translated into mean. I also felt sad that thank you did not seem to be in his literal or emotional vocabulary.

Intuitive that I am, I have had to work hard the past few days not to absorb his negativity and to somatize it somewhere in my body.

(Kim: What a sad story. Some people are so good at making friends, and others are so good at losing them. I'd love to hear his take on his return (that's the dean talking).)

Later.

Joan

Wed Feb 22, 2006

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