Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Band/Artist: Lana Del Rey
Album:Norman Fucking Rockwell
Best song: “Cinnamon Girl” is one of the best songs of 2019.
Worst song: “Doin’ Time” is not good!

This week marks the anniversary of Chloe’s passing and I would feel somewhat foolish if I didn’t note it. The coming week also marks a year of Lulu being in my life, which speaks to what I would consider a cataclysmic mistake in my dog person story.

Chloe was far from the perfect dog; she was odd-looking and had bathroom troubles and she didn’t seem to care about other people. But, she was the perfect dog for me. She was silly and she was extremely affectionate (but only with me) and she was quiet – aside from when she barked at people walking by our fence – and she was lazy. She was so lazy that the boarding place told me that they thought she was always asleep. “Nope,” I told them. That’s just how she is.
Dogs are not people. They do not have intelligence in the way we do; they are dependent beings we’ve engineered from wolves, specifically for the traits we like. The memories we have of dogs are less about the conversations we have with them, but rather the experiences they’ve shared with us. Chloe was not a person, nor was she a particularly smart dog, but she was the perfect dog for me. When Mattie passed after a debilitating illness, Chloe was wrecked like I was, but she and I worked through it together as best as we could. It was not easy, but it felt like a shared mourning whenever Choe would sniff around the dog bed. We eventually were able to handle the proverbial ball in the box when it hit that button. We became, if you’ll excuse the cliché, partners in crime. I took her to softball games and we hung out in the yard. I brought her to DC Bulldog Meetup events and everyone loved her, even if she acted like a movie star who didn’t have enough time for her fans. We went to the HRA walk at the wharf and people begged to take photos of her. She and I loafed around and played in low-impact ways.

And about a year ago, over the course of 12 hours, she was gone. I came home from a softball game to find her unable to move, I brought her to the emergency vet and we found out that she had a massive growth — almost certainly cancerous — in her stomach. I couldn’t stop crying. I said “I’m sorry” a lot. I felt helpless. We had to let her go.

Chloe’s passing was something that I was not able to process in any real way. She was simply too dear to me and her presence in my life was too important; we had been through too much. I’d adopted her as a skinny, timid thing and she had turned into a full and silly weirdo. I was in the vague process of maybe adopting another dog who eventually turned into Lulu’s entrance into my life. I felt the Chloe-sized hole in myself and tried to fill it.

It didn’t work.

It’s impossible for me to write about Chloe without writing about Mattie and Lulu (and Nino, to some stretch; my relationship with dogs is holistic and isn’t solely in one dog, but in the sequence of the four bulldogs who have been in my life. Nino was my first dog and the first dog to be my proverbial partner in crime. He had a big personality and he was part of breakups, loves lost, my own social growth and a dog with whom I shared so much in the 10 years he was part of my life. Mattie was the perfect dog in so many ways, but a tragic girl in her bulldog genetic ridiculousness. She was a ham and a sweetheart and allergic to everything. Lulu is my girl now and she and I are still learning about one another, but she tries so hard to be a good dog that it’s almost a shame that I’ve let her down in so many ways.

But Chloe was it. She was, as I said at the time, my whole heart. That’s a Ross problem, for sure. I hold dogs in a place that I probably should not, but that speaks to the dogs who have been in my life and Chloe solidified that. She was trusting and gentle and loyal; she grew to trust me when she’d likely been mistreated for a lot of her life before me, from her being underweight to her terrible teeth to her wincing too often. She had tno reason to trust me and clearly did. Dogs are truly humans’ greatest invention and Chloe was the best version of this for me. They aren’t all like that.

On Monday of this week, Lulu almost got into a fight with a (much larger) neighborhood dog when it bolted out of its door and approached her. She and I were on a walk, so I made myself into a bit of a tent around her as she thrashed around (and even got a piece of my finger). One of the dog’s people came and grabbed said unleashed dog and we kept walking. But, Lulu kept wanting to go back to the scene of the incident; she attempted to wriggle out of her harness in the process, even a block away. I picked her up and sternly told her to stop as my finger bled. It started to rain as I was holding her like a watermelon and turned a corner, so I put her down and she seemed to worry more about the rain than her previous nemesis/prey.

I was both very lucky that the other dog was not more aggressive and that I was able to think quickly enough to encompass my maniac dog to make sure neither dog got hurt.

Lulu is, in many ways and in contract to Chloe, a great dog. She’s very smart, so she learns commands and words quickly. She’s very good about her housetraining, to the point that she has not had a single accident — even Mattie peed on the bed during the first year of my having her — in the house. She loves people like Mattie did. But, she had been surrendered twice before she came to me. The first time was because of health issues (her stomach is sensitive and she needs to be on a very consistent diet), the second was because the person who had her before me did not know how to handle her aggressive nature.

And, honestly? There are a lot of times when I don’t know that I know how to handle her, either. She and I have come to something of an understanding, where she doesn’t constantly shove a ball into my face and, in return, I will play ball with her sometimes and, more importantly, she shuts up when I give her a trachea or bully stick when I have to record our podcasts at home. She wants to be a good dog and she really wants me to play with her. She wants me to love her so much and… I just don’t know what to do with her.

I love her because she is a dog and dogs are perfect creatures. There is much to love because she is a bulldog and she is very silly. She makes dinosaur noises. She listens when I tell her to do things. She is very pushy and she has a lot of personality. Her petfinder ad said she was a “sasshole” and it was not incorrect. She knows what she wants and will ask for it, whether that’s sitting by the treat jar and crying when she wants a treat or when she shoves a ball into my face and whines.

But, I have adjusted a lot of my life to her. She has more energy than any bulldog I’ve ever seen, including Nino (who was a maniac himself), so she requires daily walks. Those walks are harrowing, as evidence by this week’s near-miss or the many times she’s tried to get at dogs across the street. She cries and she barks and she wants attention all the time. I have to figure out ways to placate her if I want to get things done. I’ve lost all the dog-centric social things I do, between softball and the bulldog groups and dog parks. It’s us against the world and it’s really lonely.

I love her so much because she’s a dog and, like I said, there is so much to love. But, we don’t fit like Chloe did.. I don’t know that we ever will.

The last year has been awful for most of us. The pandemic, a rapidly deteriorating political situation, social unrest and a constant reminder of the need for this country to get its proverbial shit together. It’s terrible. I’ve been stuck inside with Lulu and am reminded constantly that I made the mistake I did in adopting her. I didn’t think enough about how much I would resent her for not being Chloe. I didn’t think about how I would punish her, emotionally, for not being Chloe. I didn’t think about how I would punish myself for making the mistake, even a full year later.

But, I’m working on trying not to resent her so much for not being Chloe and, one year out, I’ve been doing it less. But, this year has been terrible and my mental state is deteriorating. Monday’s incident sent me down a spiral of remembering her non-Chloe-ness and resenting her for it. It was a bad day and she doesn’t deserve this.

There is a certain type of person who either isn’t self-aware enough or is too optimistic or too cocky to acknowledge regrets. I am not that person. I am many bad things, I am not a “My Way” type of dude, nor am I an “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” dude. I make bad decisions and I worry about them and I disappoint people and, in most normative ways, I am a disappointment. But, I often tell myself, at least I know and acknowledge that.

I miss Chloe. She made me feel like I wasn’t a normative disappointment. Lulu makes me feel like a failure because she isn’t as easy a fit as Chloe is. We’re making it work and we’re both doing our best, but it’s hard not to feel like a failure. Every day, I miss Chloe and evey day I tell Lulu I love her, finding emptiness in the comparison.

Norman Fucking Rockwell is probably not an album that should resonate with me. I didn’t come to it immediately, as I was dealing with all the stuff above. But, I never connected with Lana Del Rey’s visual aesthetic, which was a mistake. Book, cover, judge, etc.

NFR is a ridiculously good album that has a single skip (a passable cover of an awful Sublime song) and a slew of atmospheric songs about regret, absurdity and ennui. The title track centers around absurdity of the America in which we now stand, focusing on the melancholic nature of the color blue, while “Venice Bitch” is a languid 10-minute fall into storytelling, LDR’s layered vocals and, as much as it pains me to say, Jack Antonoff’s superb production.

“Cinnamon Girl” is the album’s highlight, though. The soft piano-to-string orchestraation atmospheric compliments LDR’s poetic lyrics about a relationship that goes around and around, despite the participants’ flaws. THe beauty in the destruction of “Kerosene in my hands/You make me mad, on fire again “ to the detachment of “All the pills that you take/Violet, blue, green, red to keep me at arm’s length don’t work” flow into the admission of brokenness in the chorus.

There’s things I wanna say to you, but I’ll just let you live Like if you hold me without hurting me You’ll be the first who ever did There’s things I wanna talk about, but better not to give But if you hold me without hurting me You’ll be the first who ever did.
I’m sure there are people out there who are not broken completely, but we are all works in progress. Finding those words to be the “first who ever did” with one another is hard than even LDR examines, but her emotice layered vocals find the perfect spot between complacent and certain. She’s broken, she has a fondness for that state of being; it’s just who she is.

I don’t know how to square that with the vast tapestry of humanity, but it is how these things go. One minutes, there’s a want for improvement and another, it’s a comfort in oneself.

In an old episode of Community, the main character brings up this sort of conundrum at the end of show’s first season. It speaks to all of our personal journeys and I don’t know how to balance the two sides; past and present, inertia and progress, comfort and challenge.

“[One woman] makes me feel like I do when I write my New Year’s resolutions. She makes me feel like the guy I want to be. And [the other] makes me feel like the guy I am three weeks after New Year’s, when I’m back to hitting my snooze button and screening Mom’s phone calls, back to who I really am. So do you try to evolve, or do you try to know what you are?”
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