Sing the Sorrow

Band: AFI
Album: Sing the Sorrow
Best song: “The Leaving Song Pt. II” is a great shout-along song.
Worst song: “Dancing Through Sunday” isn’t very good.

I would say that 2003 was a great year to graduate college, but, ultimately, I don’t know any other year to graduate college. By happenstance of my birth and my upbringing, 2003 was the year I graduated college.

It was, however, the year that I entered the workforce for good. It definitely is in the running for most important year of my life. So much happened that year for me. I went to India. I got my first full-time job. I got a part-time job at my dream location, thanks to a helping hand from a celebrity. I moved, officially, out of my mom’s house. I moved out to the DC area that year. It was a big deal year.

As mentioned, I spent most of the youth desperately yearning for the next step, whatever that step would be. Upon my graduation from college in 2003, I was finally at the next step.

Indeed, being an adult is the final step. There are life cycle events that are, in most ways, slated to happen, but I’m not sure I want any of those particular things. I don’t yearn for marriage, children or to own property. I imagine that could change, but the life map that many — including most of those close to me — never entered my mind.

“My dad left home when I was eight. You know what he said to me? ‘Have fun, stay single.’ I was eight.”

That line, from the movie Singles, is one of the film’s great moments, but I had a somewhat similar experience as a kid. Years before my dad left, he gave me somewhat similar advice. It was after one of my parents’ arguments and we were in his car. I was in the seventh grade, so I was 12 or 13. My dad looked at me and said “Don’t ever get married, Ross. Get a dog and an apartment.”

I have, of course, heeded his advice. Not because it’s great advice — it isn’t — or because my dad is a particularly wise man — he’s not. I heeded his advice because I met the love of my life in 2003.

The story of Nino and I starts, actually, months before I adopted him from a family in Capitol Heights, MD in the fall of 2003. During my senior year of college, my college girlfriend — referenced several times within this site — was studying abroad in India. She finished her studies abroad a few weeks before my graduation day. In lieu of staying with her family in St. Louis, she stayed with me — and, I guess, my roommates — in Columbia.

It’s worth noting that our relationship was pretty serious. We talked very intently about the future and how we could find a way to live our lives together. It was kind of adorable, on some level. The puppy love aspect of it, the naïvete of it all. We were 22, in love and intent on keeping that going.

So, we did things like joke that we’d change our last names to something ethnically unrelated to either of us — say, Rodriguez — when we got married (no, we weren’t engaged). We joked about baby names (I hate the name Caleb).

But, mostly, we had to figure out where to move. My college girlfriend had a pretty ingenious idea. We’d each write down 10 cities — independently — in which we could see living, post-college, then find the similarities. After finding the similar five cities, we then ranked them independently.

I don’t remember the exact list, but, the list included San Francisco and D.C. It was at this time that she was doing the usual job search, though she still had a semester left of school. She eventually found an internship at the Feminist Majority Foundation in the D.C. area. D.C. seemed to be a place we could both settle — at least for the short term — and I pointed my job search that way.

That summer, while interviewing for jobs, I stayed with her in Arlington for a few weeks at a time. Eventually, I found a job (actually, two) and an apartment and started to begin my life in the area. She grew up with dogs (as I did, of course) and we talked about getting a dog when we settled. We were both pretty open to any breed of dog, but we both professed an interest in bulldogs, as bulldogs are good apartment dogs due to their generally docile disposition and their lack of a need for exercise (greyhounds in the city are bad).

For those unaware, bulldogs should not be. All domestic dog breeds are genetically manipulated wolves, but bulldogs especially have human fingerprints all over their genetic makeup. They are genetic freaks created by humans to look cute and, therefore, cannot be birthed naturally. Their heads are so large — even as puppies — that they have to be birthed by caesarean section. Which is to say the litters are small and, of course, the puppies are very expensive to purchase.


So, the normal route toward bulldog puppies are not within the price range of someone just out of college, working at a local newspaper that pays barely above minimum wage. My college girlfriend and I were resigned to my simply being dogless until she graduated, then we could maybe reconsider it.

That was, of course, until I found the ad that changed my life.

At the time, I was working part time for the Washington Post on the sports desk. Trying to be a good employee, I subscribed to the paper (remember, it was 2003, so the paper copy of the newspaper wasn’t completely obsolete just yet) and would skim the classified ads for dogs for sale. On a Monday morning, I found an ad that promised a bulldog puppy for a small adoption fee.

There was a typo — or it was misleading, whatever, I don’t care — that somehow indicated to me that the puppy was, indeed, a little guy; I seem to remember thinking the ad said the dog was under six months old. It turns out that the dog was, rather, 18 months old, which is not really puppy age. That’s the downside. The upside? No housebreaking.

Anyway, a few days later, I drove down to Capitol Heights to pick the dog up. When I got out of my car to approach the house, a dog was chained to the tree outside and was, needless to say, insane. He was pulling on the chain and going beserk at me when I approached. When I finally pet him, he didn’t bite, but, boy, did he jump.

The woman at the house mentioned that she and her family were moving and were not able to take the dog, named Nino, with them. It was kind of a sad story, but an opporunity for me. I gladly handed over the adoption fee and loaded this guy into my car for the hourlong drive to my place:

(This is Nino the first night I took him home)

Nino was quiet on the ride home. It was quite the relief that he did not possess the same energy that he’d had while chained to that tree; he simply slept in the backseat. Even when I got him to my apartment, he was pretty calm, doing the usual “dog inspection” stuff. He sniffed around.

When it became time to go to sleep, I assumed he’d sleep on the floor as the dogs I’d grown up with had done. Or maybe he’d sleep on the floor in the other room. Nope.

I went down into bed, got under the covers and threw my head on the pillow. I looked over and sitting next to the bed was Nino, calming still.

Then, he started barking. And he did not stop barking all night. I slept about 30 minutes that first night with him. And I promptly bought a dog crate after work the next day.

Things have changed, of course. He sleeps in the bed with me now. I’ve driven him to Chicago and back. He’s gotten surgeries, vaccines. We’ve moved twice since I got him. My college girlfriend and I broke up. I’ve dated girls. I’ve had guests stay at my place, usurping his routine. He chased away a burgular (though, he slept through the beginning of said burgulary). He’s chased away cats, ignored mice and eaten a multitude of things he shouldn’t have eaten (including the time he stole a cheesecake the size of his head, making me laugh more than I’ve ever laughed). He’s shed enough to create a brand new dog. I almost killed him by giving him the incorrect medication the night my favorite team won the World Series.

We now live in a place with a backyard that he adores in a neighborhood that’s very dog-friendly.

Nino and I have been together for eight years. He’s mellowed out such that he doesn’t freak out at every noise nor does he lunge at the people passing us when I walk him. He doesn’t bark as much. He’s getting older and he wants to sleep more and relax. Nine years old is ancient for a bulldog, after all. He’s spoiled and he’s fat and he’s old and I love him.

I don’t really like AFI much, to be honest. I had only head of the band before “The Leaving Song Pt. II” was on the soundtrack to a Madden game right after I left college. I bought the album around the time of that game, but didn’t listen to it a ton. AFI isn’t the world’s greatest band.

But, AFI is something to me and that’s mostly loneliness. The band’s isolation really runs through the music, however contrived the perception may be to the band. On some level, it reminds me of Suicidegirls (if I remember correctly, a lot of models on that site really like AFI), a site I frequented during this time in my life.

Like SG, AFI is an earnest art form unappealing to many. It seems very overdone and extreme, lacking any metaphorical colors outside of black and white (everything is the best or the worst). They both use a certain imagery to market themselves as possibly something outside the mainstream, but, ultimately utilize mainstream methods to produce decidedly accessible products (singles in the case of “Girl’s Not Grey” and “The Leaving Song Pt. II” for AFI, excellent pornography in the case of SuicideGirls).

It’s worth noting — hence the AFI choice and the connection to alt-porn and video games — that I was extremely lonely/emotional/angsty that first fall I was here. I worked two jobs and had, essentially, no friends. My girlfriend was still in college and I’d moved here with no social group.

Moreover, I was pretty miscast in my first full-time job out of college. I had a lot of trouble the first few months and was not happy about it. Having a history of depression, it was not a great time (Though, admittedly, not near my worst moments). I had a long drive home every night.

Maybe this goes without saying, but bringing Nino into my life was the greatest thing I have ever done for my mental health. I would have terrible days at work or have an argument (over the phone, of course) with my girlfriend. I would have a terrible time in traffic — I hate driving. But, whatever mood I was in changed when I walked through the door and saw this:

(He doesn’t wear that shirt all the time. My ex-girlfriend loved to put shirts on him and take photographs. But that smile remains.)

It’s been eight years and no matter his age, he still does his best to greet me as soon as I get in the door. He rushes to the door as quickly as his arthritic joints can carry him. That look says the same thing as it did eight years ago: “I’ve been waiting all day for you! I’m so glad you’re here!”

The love of my life. Unconditionally.

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  • By Here I Am | Albums That I Own on November 21, 2011 at 8:19 am

    […] referenced the great — probably sarcastic, at the time — advice my dad gave me (“Don’t ever get married, Ross. Get a dog and an apartment.“), but the fact is that I’m living that advice. I have a decent group of friends. I […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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