Tuesday, April 16, 2013


There are partners in crime, partners in business, and often partners in enviable romantic relationships.  There are partnerships in law firms, where the list of partners begins to sound more like the contents list on a package of processed food.

Acts from the days of vaudeville had partnerships, memorable among them Burns and Allen, followed in the early days of TV entertainment with Sonny and Cher. Abbot had Costello, Martin had the bad luck of Lewis, but in mitigation, Laurel had Oliver Hardy.  Thanks to the mischievous playwright, Tom Stoppard, we have a modern reprise of a great Shakespearean partnership, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.

Look anywhere, your memory banks included, and before long, you'll find a partnership that resonates for you with some kind of splash on the emotional scale, Nixon and Agnew, for instance, representing the equivalent of a long, sour grimace.  Come to think of it, a number of U.S. Presidential combinations provoke similar tummy rumblings.

Fred Astaire, ne Austerlitz, had three remarkable dance partnerships, his sister, Adele, then Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth before ending his career with the lithe and stunning Barrie Chase.

Procter had Gamble.  For a while, Sears had Roebuck, Chase had Sanborn, and if you spent any time in New York City, you'd recall that Horn had Hardart for the automat.  If you grew up in Los Angeles, you knew that some fortunate Pig was partnered with a Whistle.

There were and, to be sure, are loners, spiky, crinkly men and women who set great store by their ability to go things alone, to give, sometimes even graciously, but, as biblical language would have it, receiveth not.  These individuals often made a mini-religion of self-sufficiency to the point of sounding like those in many formal religions who begin renouncing so-called worldly things.  These individuals seemed to ignore the potentials for partnership rather than espouse any overt and cranky eschewal.

Much as you like to consider yourself a traveler along the path of sufficiency, you have to report a lengthy stream of partners of one sort or another.  The first was with a lad named Pierre in Miami Beach, Florida, where your business model involved repairing radios, for which you both had some limited abilities, repairing vacuum cleaners, for which you had only Pierre's word that he knew the insides of a Hoover the way you knew the back of your hand.  Your goal was to be able to rent a small vacant space next to a tailor, but the available financial resources seemed always to be spent of Peter Paul Mounds bars.

The first partner in the sense of which you speak here was a tiger-striped cat named Sam, who was voted partnership after having moved his things from your next door neighbor, Ray, when you lived in the Hollywood Hills.  The attraction between you was immediate.  Even though you both had active social lives, you reckon the draw was a subtext sense of loneliness, which might explain why Sam, who had no use for many of the activities you associate with cats--scratch pads, indoor gyms, catnip toys--enjoyed time hunkered down on your chest while you read, slouching in a large, overstuffed club chair given you by your father.  For your part, you discovered the greater joys of reading in that chair with Sam on your chest than your ordinary reading venues of bed, at your work desk, or Coffee Dan's restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.
The partnership seemed to come after a longish discussion in which you both appeared to acknowledge the need the other fulfilled.  The bargain was sealed by an exchange of tokens, a carton of Kitty Queen kidney as a gift from you and what Sam believed to be a dead lizard.

In subsequent years of your partnership, cat fanciers assured you no normal cat would do, or perhaps the words were "put up with" the expectations you had of Sam, simply because they seemed appropriate.  For instance, coming with you in your car when you ran errands, taking walks around the neighborhood at night, traveling to Virginia City and attending cocktail parties, sharing hamburgers, browsing used book stores, and seeming to take an interest in your work by settling down nearby when you were composing.

Another partner, Edward, was a blue-tick hound, meaning in operational terms that he was often away, sniffing things or pursuing them.  Although able to find his way home, he often arrived at a destination too tired from running and tracking to move, thus he had to be picked up.  Sometimes his pick-up points were remote, giving you an even greater knowledge of the outer Los Angeles perimeter.

Molly became a partner after showing her interest in accompanying you on your five- and often ten-mile daily running, but you had to learn to put up with her ability to sneak out of rooms or places you'd thought you left her.

And of course, Sally, who was known during writing conferences to become outraged if marauding coyotes drew too close, and who frequently saw the need to herd stray cats into the living room.

Your partners thus had differing, outstanding traits and quirks.  They came to grudging acceptance of yours, just as you were able to pretend to be outraged by Sally's breaking up of bridge parties and social gatherings at the next door Cudahy estate while giving her sotto voce praise for her sense of social justice.

When you collaborated with Wolfe, you had to balance your interest in getting subsequent drafts done in a rush before taking on the words one-at-a-time with Wolfe's frequent returns to places you'd long thought to have been settled and/or cured.

The thrust here is how and what you learned from your partners.  You for instance preach the virtues of rushing to get a draft done with as little thought as possible, but Wolfe still drags you back to an inept word or, worse, a phrase, causing you to replay it again and again until you can almost hear him, asking you, That sounds better, don't you think?  That gets it done and done funny, don't you think?

Sometimes, when you are having a dialogue or, more to the point, a monologue with yourself, you're drawn back to discussions in which you explained things to Sam, then became captivated by his behavior that seemed to suggest he understood your intent.

When the Dean elevated Sally to Department mascot, then found and posted a picture of her on the department website, you wasted no time enlarging the scope and length of your conversations with her to include a complete transparency of disclosure.

How fanciful is it to have lengthy times of conversation with an animal?  Who better than a partner to discuss strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and, most entrancing, the sharing of secrets ?  Sophistry, right?  Extended anthropomorphizing of animals, no?  Except that such conversations opened the door to discussions with humans and with the self who notes things down on paper or types them for inclusion here.

This kind of partner is the partner who knows you, your oratory self and your curmudgeonly self as well as your secret self, the self you are comfortable revealing only to a partner.  You are so used to your partner that you take for granted the soaring enthusiasms and comfortable stature you have achieved merely from taking things through and hanging out with someone who not only gets you but who has seen you, unshaven, unedited, unguarded.

After a time, it is difficult if not downright impossible to tell the partner anything but the truth. Is it any wonder you get the notion of having come as far as you have because of your partners?  Now, you've reached the point of saving the bacon from your breakfasts, splitting tuna melts, offering strands of spaghetti bolognese, checking your partner's preferences, finding picnic sites where your partner can get some interesting scents, and discovering through studied experimentation your partner's absolute favorite, the brisket sandwich at Art's Deli on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.

How many things of taste and preference are, in fact, influenced by your partner's taste?

These vagrant lines would not be approaching a true essay if you were not to pose the added rhetorical question, If you'd extend the same concerns and attentions to human partner potentials as you have with animal partners, wouldn't you have more close human friends?
You've thought that, in your sixteen years with Sally, you've more than once brought it up in her presence.  The answer you take back from her is typical, you believe, of her judgment:  If you give what you get from animals to yourself, you're better able to give proper substance to humans.  If you give what you get from your animal partners to your work as a writer, an editor, and a teacher, you may find yourself chasing the occasional ball or car, but in the long run, your sentences and paragraphs will stand on their own, some dogs, some cats, and some people will trust you, and the occasional dog or cat or human will love you.


Unknown said...

Sally certainly was the devoted companion. I don't know how she put up, so calmly, with the Luna-tics writers group. I'm sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you.


Lady Boomer said...

My beloved son with paws, Shadrach, passed in 2008. Even though I have 2 daughters with paw now who I adore, I still talk to Shad often. Keep talking Sally. She is close-by always.

Nancy Siris-Rawls