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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Burying Chopper

My friend's dog died. He was a good dog named Chopper who died way too soon. But that is Cindy's story. This is my story of burying Chopper and I'll tell it my own way. You don't need to know that all Cindy's dogs are named after motorcycles, just that the shed she keeps her tools along with her wine making equipment has a plaque like you'd find on some summer cottages, that says Cindy and Harley.

I'm in my office on a Saturday, considering the piles, and scrolling through Facebook. Cindy is looking for company when she buries Chopper, in a hole that is already dug, in a coffin that is like a foot locker only fuchsia colored. I see it on Facebook in the back of the truck her latest girlfriend gave her to get her to leave.

Cindy hasn't left yet, though. She plans the burial for 5 PM. "Sorry, can't make it," I type. Giants game, I am thinking. The husband. Dinner.

"Come where?" The directions to her ex's house in Sonoma have me envisioning woods, dirt roads, streets with no signs.

"You can google it."

"OK." I close the computer, leave the paper piles for another day and set out.

After just over a half hour on paved, well marked roads, I pull up to what looks like just another tract house at the end of the street.

Cindy is coming out the door, her phone in her hand, long hair whipping around her face and shoulders. "See it wasn't so hard to find."

When I met Cindy we were in Law School, the now defunct New College of San Francisco. Then housed in old Navy hospital on Fell. We bonded over dogs you might say when I learned her then girlfriend had the littermate to my Grover, a dog born under a house in Paradise Valley.

As an aside, these were two very dissimilar looking dogs. Each of that litter was different one from the next, Grover was the only one who was the spitting image of her father, Hitch, a large wolf-like beast, who was the progeny of a delicate Australian Shepard named Honey Bear and a large imposing full blooded Borzoi named Bagel. Grover was 90 pounds of blue merle  Her sister a delicate honey colored golden Labrador dog.

Cindy was a rogue, even then. It must have been her idea to sit with the seasoned lawyers in the jury boxes, where, hearts pounding, we watched the morning arraignments. How it worked in those days was if there was a conflict with the public defender, the judge would look to the jury boxes and pick out a lawyer to represent one of the defendants. This would be in multiple defendant trials. Soon Cindy and I were getting a fair share of the cases. Mostly drug sales and sometimes an assault from the Canal area, a densely packed part of the County peopled mostly with Latinos. This is not a racist remark. only a true statement.

Cindy took over the office next to mine in Larkspur over the Brown Realty.  She had big ideas, and plans for a booming practice in personal injury. She started in painting her walls, even though we'd already gotten notice that the space was being vacated by the main tenant and the landlady was seriously considering converting it into apartments.

When she finally did, I took other space and Cindy moved on I don't know where.

Naturally it was Facebook that reconnected us years later. And now here she was summoning me to witness the burial of Chopper.

I was halfway down Arnold Road before I went "Whoa, I think I am plying Ethel to her Lucy."

When I pulled up, she was texting in the driveway. "Is anyone else coming?" I ask.

Walter is coming, she said. Good, there will be a Fred. Then, "there's Chopper," pointing into the back of her truck, where a plastic wrapped container lies. Chopper was not a small dog. But this box diminishes him. I guess all coffins diminish those within. As does death itself.

"Worms and things are already eating him." Cindy is very matter of fact about such matters. She takes me out to the shed, to get the shovel, not the right kind of course, then back into the house, very un-tractlike inside. With fancy woodworking, stained glass and bright blue porcelain stand-alone bowl for a sink.

"There's no champagne, nothing to toast him with," she comes up empty. "We can go to a bar," I offer.

"Ok, let's go, Walter will be waiting. He's in the middle of a trial, and can't stay long."
Walter is nowhere to be seen. "He's lost in a vineyard," she grins. "He'll be here." She texts some more, then a car appears out of the dust of the dirt road we have taken into Cindy's ex's landscaping yard. We are parked beside a large hole, much bigger than any dog. Cindy got them to use the back hoe to dig out. Them I take it means the workers at the yard. A small vineyard is opposite the gravesite, some rose bushes at the end of it. We have brought roses from the yard back at the house., three for chopper and three for us to remember him by. I brought my camera; I knew it would be alright.

Walter gets out of his car, his shoes soft golden leather; he barely musses his crisp black and white striped shirt when he hugs Cindy. "I have to stay in contact with my investigator," he explains, punching buttons on his phone.

Cindy opens the tailgate. "let's slide him out," says Cindy; we each pull an end of the cardboard under the plastic wrapped coffin. It is wet and I think maybe some of what is inside leaked out, but there is no odor, and I figure it is just water.

The sky is broken in places, but not raining yet. Walter says, "let's do this," and we slide Chopper out, grappling with the box, first Walter on one end, Cindy and me on the other, then Cindy climbing into the hole, says, "Hand him to me."

I should tell you I am also wearing semi-good clothes, as burying a dog was not what I started out to do this morning. I started out at Democratic headquarters to photograph the GOTV crowd. But there wasn't much of a crowd, so I ate a half a sugar donut and photographed Ruth assembling walk-kits and Mike McGuire, the energizer bunny Senate candidate, doling out hugs.

Then to the office to straighten up a bit.

So I wasn't excited about climbing into a muddy hole. "It's not heavy," she insists demonstrating the lightness of her burden. Chopper was not a small dog. Is he really in there?

That he is surely in there is confirmed when Cindy leads Vincent, her "Fox Hound" who looks like a pit bull with a small rear end, over to say goodbye "And to let him know what happened to Chopper," she says, taking him right down into the hole.

"Cindy, I don't think he wants to be in there," I say. They both climb out. She puts Vincent back in the cab of the truck and returns with the roses. "Toss one in and keep one," she instructs. "And say something about Chopper. She starts. "Chopper was a good dog, a loyal dog, a warm dog, a good hunter."

Chopper tucked in his grave, we all take up shovels. Walter gives out first. "My back," he explains, going back to to his phone, "my trial."

Cindy is determined, her face wet with sweat mingling with the now serious drizzle that accompanies our efforts. I slow down. shoveling is hard work; I keep finding rocks or clumps of very hard dirt. This is not potting soil we are digging in.

"It's from the road crews," says Cindy. "When they're repairing the roads, or digging out a new one, or whatever they do, they bring the stuff here." Ugh.

"We better cover him well, or critters might, you know," I suggest.

"Do you think they might dig him up?"

"Well, let's not take any chances." Cindy throws in a few more shovels full. The skies crowd together above us. Walter says, "I really should go."

"Dotty thinks we should get a drink in honor of Chopper."


There happens to be a hotel with a western themed bar around the corner, named Saddles and appropriately so, because what you sit on are, you guessed it, saddles.

Well, they are not all saddles. We sit at a normal table, and order appetizers, white wine for me and Walter, something called a Lemon Brulee for Cindy, which some kind of vodka sugar lemon drink in a martini glass.

"Why are we in a western themed bar?" I wonder, as we toast Chopper and eat sausage stuffed mushrooms and quesadillas.

"Take home the extras," says Cindy, when I finally get up to leave, the skies having broken completely open by now.

Back at home, Frida helps herself to the rest of the quesadillas I foolishly leave on the counter when I go to hang up my soaken-wet jacket.

Very zen, very dog.

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