The Saga of Murray the Rat

March 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

We sing today of Murray the rat, smarter than human, wiser than cat. He entered our lives some weeks ago in our utility room, which is a room attached to the house, but closed off from it; where we keep the washer/dryer, the freezer and those items we intend to fix or throw away someday. Murray actually is a rat, not a Mafia hit man who testified against the mob or a back alley gambler from a Damon Runyon story. I named him Murray, I don’t know why, but at least we know now that he has a specific identity. Evidence of his initial presence was the usual rat pooh-pooh we have become accustomed to after many years of living in Ratville, U.S.A., and also materials that he laid in a line on the utility room floor: a small paint brush, straws from a broom, a plastic candy wrapper, some twigs and a nail. They were placed in a precise pattern, more like elements of a Druid ritual than scattered debris. After a few days of this, we hired Jose One to search through the utility room and close up any entryway that might be utilized by an outdoor rat. He’s called Jose One, by the way, because he has a brother who is also named Jose who is Jose Two. This accomplished, we declared our house to be Murray free and celebrated with a martini. Well, I celebrated with a martini while my wife, the non-drinking Cinelli, had the pleasure of lecturing me on the dangers of alcohol and wondering why I couldn’t be like other no doubt wiser husbands who only sipped a little white wine on celebratory occasions instead of those awful martinis. Reference to such a pleasurable drink in such a hostile manner would have generated a barroom brawl on other occasions but for now I simply accepted the criticism in my usual genial manner and finished off the martini. It wasn’t the end of Murray. The next night he laid out his usual pattern, which indicated he was either still finding a way into the house or was trapped in the utility room. We put our cat Ernie the Assassin in the room one night and all he did was yowl to get out. Either he was terrified of Murray or had searched for him without success. Back in the days when our yard was heavy with ground covering vines we had rattlesnakes, but very few rats, because the snakes ate them. We got rid of the rattlers by chopping off their heads and now the rats were back, led by Murray, whom a rodent expert at UCLA determined was a wood rat, better known as a pack rat, a label often attached to women who buy shoes they never wear, hoarding them in a closet the way Imelda Marcos once did. Since importing dangerous snakes was out of the question, our next effort was to trap the rats but not kill them. We borrowed a metal cage built to trap them alive and move them to a new location, such as near your house. We tantalized Murray with walnuts and peanut butter, put the food near the trap’s trigger and, voila!, the next morning there was a trapped and forlorn Murray, looking every bit like Bernie Madoff in the first days of his prison sentence. We carted Murray down to another location and figure that was the end of our pack rat problem. Not so. Two nights later, there were the same ritual signs of a pack rat on the utility room floor. Either […]

Love, Animal Style

January 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

It is the year 2030 and the issue of same sex marriage has finally been put to rest with the Supreme Court ruling in its favor by more or less washing its hands of the issue by saying it didn’t care who married whom as long as they shut up about it. Just no kissing in public. We also were able to get past the triangular marriage issue between straights, gays and bisexuals and dismiss as preposterous the idea of trans-species marriage which was proposed by a bloc of reasonably isolated cattle farmers, one of whom fell in love with a cow. The high court ruled that there was no guarantee in the constitution that upheld the right of a human being to marry an animal, although it understood that deep affection existed between some humans and their pets, such as a man and his dog. However, the court ruled in Fido vs Bubba that there was no need to sanctify such an arrangement in marriage, either civil or religious, and urged those supporting the issue to practice whatever phase of it in strict privacy. And now comes word from the Christian Fundamentalist Marriage League that animals should not be allowed to consummate their intimate relationships in public. It is setting a bad example for young, single farm hands who are not only privy to the carnal act but who are forced to assist in the birthings of children that result from the union. The CFML is calling for a ceremony that unites the two mating animals in a union similar to human marriage which scoffing liberals are calling the cowbell rites. “It is enough,” thundered the Rev. Bleeden Goodheart, “to expose our young to human fornication without the sanctity of marriage in movies, on stage and in television, there is no need to further pollute their morals by allowing them to continually witness farm and domestic animals doing it in fields and neighborhoods, thereby giving legitimacy to the very random act of sex on the run.” The whole thing was considered a joke at first because sex is no longer a big issue in 2030. Everyone is doing pretty much what they want to do and we enjoy watching them do it, although there is a good deal of protest when a contest between who was doing it best and with what degree of imagination became a video game. The protest was so loud that sex as competitive entertainment has been removed from the lineup of videos offered by various manufacturers who have since ramped up the violence in war and murder games in order to take the public mind off the ill-considered sex issue. When blood replaces physical intimacy everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But the CFML is continuing its drive for marriage among farm animals, with domesticate animals on the horizon. The issue has expanded to include a new ministry dedicated to conducting marital rites among the beasts and threatens to involve animal activitist who consider forced marriages prior to breeding as cruel and unusual punishment for species that have heretofore been using the rutting seasons pretty much as they wish. It’s beginning to feel that this may be the major issue of the day this summer of 2030 since most of the other matters have been dealt with. I shudder to think what may come next. Already there’s talk of how to prevent cross-breeding on a cosmic scale. I’m not sure how Martians do it but I’m reasonably certain that we’re about to find out.

My First Snow

December 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

When I think about it, which I do this holiday time of year, the images return in a dream like quality, shimmering in a muted sunlight, almost but not quite in focus. If I concentrate, the scene begins to emerge slowly from that corner of the mind where memory is stored, and eventually I see it in a wide screen panorama: my first snow. I had seen snow before only in pictures, and the reality was dazzling. This was more than the simple beauty of the revelation’s purity, the gleaming dusting of white on white, outlining the whole day with its iridescence. This was a remaking of the world from war’s ugliness to the natural beauty of things. I realize that seeing snow for the first time is a child’s delight, but this was something beyond a toddler’s wonder. I was seeing how the simple existence of a snowfall in the night could transform a reality, shifting it into a new perception. I was seeing napalm-burned trees, bomb craters, shrapnel-sliced vegetation, military squad tents and artillery pieces disappear in new outlines beneath the brush of winter’s creation. It was as close as I have ever come to believing in God. The year was 1951. I was a young Marine reservist, called to active duty and shipped off to Korea after a year of combat training in the States. The 7th Regiment had been pulled off the front lines after 90 days of brutal fighting in the northeast section of Korea and placed in reserve just a few days before Christmas. It was to be a melancholy Christmas. I had seen friends die on hills distinguished only by numbers and I had been the hand maiden of death for those I knew only by the generic term “enemy,” round Asian faces that bob like toys in my dreams more than half a century later. There was a kind of numb joy being in reserve, knowing that the likelihood was we wouldn’t be under attack that far back from the main line of resistance—although an occasional mortar shell, flung from beyond our perimeters, and the shadowy presence of an infiltrator caused moments of alarm. I along with others who were witnessing carnage for the first time remained numb to the relief of being out of combat, still discussing among ourselves in reverential tones the friends we had lost in blurred instances of a shattering explosion, or the silence of a sniper’s bullet. We mourned them with disbelief as though the surreal nature of death among the young had never occurred. I awoke early on Christmas morning, the day the world change. There had been no sound to alert me to the alteration outside of the squad tent six of us occupied. Rain had pounded on the canvass of our roof before, and wind had howled through the open flap, but there was only a whisper to the night that had just passed, nature’s restorations offered in silence. I poked my head from the tent and stared. Everything was white. What had existed the day before, the charred reality of war’s existence, was gone. I have tried many times in the past to describe the beauty and the magic of what I saw that morning in Korea, the absolute transformation of worlds in the space of a few hours. The sky was an iron gray and the air was still; no snow was falling. But the whiteness was blinding in its reality, transfixing me in an isolation of oneness that in itself was peculiar, feeling alone in a company of men whose involvements […]

Hug Me, Hug Me Not

December 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

When you reach  50, everyone begins looking familiar, so it is not unusual to accept a hug from a male whom you may or may not know. Liberals who are brimming over with love and peace and other passionate instincts have to hug someone or something, even if it’s a stray dog or the family cat, such is their overwhelming need for compassion. Ergo when I am hugged by a male I’m not sure I know I just figure he’s a liberal friend, since most of my acquaintanes are of that persuasion, or a stranger suddenly stricken by the urge to embrace. But I’m here today to tell you that I would rather shake hands than hug men. Women, OK, God created them to be hugged, but men are made to be warriors or at least NFL line backers, more content to bump bellies or behinds in displays of affection or triumph. I don’t hug back when a friend grabs me in his arms. I stand there as cold and unresponsive as a euthanized anaconda and wait until the hug is done to greet the hugger in a more casual manner. I don’t push him away only because I understand the nature of a liberal to be close to his fellow man; it is an expression of his desire to transfer powerful inner rays of fellowship to the huggee as a way of bringing peace to the world one hug at a time. Sometimes I wonder what became of the simple handshake among men, including warriors and football players, as a means of greeting or friendship. To huggers the extension of an arm to shake hands becomes a rope to pull you into the embrace, a little off balance and wondering fleetingly whether the man also intends to kiss or grope you. It isn’t a question of homophobia. In fact, I feel it is more natural for gay men to hug men than for a straight guy to hold you close. Since most of my gay friends are not only liberal but also, well, motherly, the need to hug another man is probably twice as great. I had a gay proctologist once who after he examined me asked me out for a glass of wine. I declined the invitation and then quit going to him, but couldn’t help wondering whether he came on to all the guys or was it just my behind that attracted him? Either way, I figured that with his job and his sexual orientation he must be in seventh heaven even without me. I began noticing the liberal hug late in life and wondered what started it. I have a hunch that it emerged from Hollywood, since everything nutty has its roots in the activities of young actors and actresses seeking new ways to express their sexuality. It seems to somehow soothe their libidos for movie heroes to declaim their masculine traits for a hug and occasionally even a kiss on the cheek or on certain festive occasions, God help their perverted souls, on the lips. Male liberals adopted it as a way of proclaiming the brotherhood of man, ascending over their own masculinity to declare their oneness with humanity. I understand that certain conservatives, mainly Log Cabin Republicans, secretly hug but they otherwise scorn it as a trait of the perverted left. A friend, Billy Cobalt, a defrocked jesuit, suggests that male hugging has nothing to do with peace or love or even with bonding but is an assertion of one man’s dominance over another. If he has you in an iron grip, patting your […]

The Chandlers Invent and Reinvent L.A.

October 8, 2009 at 9:43 am

They were the golden years at the Los Angeles Times under Otis Chandler. Staff members flew first class to cities across the country and sometimes around the world to gather news and features first hand. Editorial budgets were fat and reporters were eager to go where the stories were, vying for the front page’s favored Column One, set aside for original and innovative work, running down the left hand side of the page. Ambitious and eager for self-aggrandizement, we were equally proud of what we did and what the Times had accomplished in shedding its old reputation of right wing, union-hating, race baiting rag to emerge as one of three great dailies in the country, alongside the New York Times and the Washington Post. It was a time of pride as well as profit, and we all knew that we were a part of something real and meaningful. Like Camelot, magical kingdoms eventually turn to dusty memory, as the Times, now a shadow of what it was in the Otis Chandler era, struggles just to stay afloat, its advertising and circulation down, its staff pared to an almost skeletal size, observing the future of print journalism with concern and trepidation. I was a part of that Golden Era as reporter, feature writer and eventually a columnist until last January when I too was downsized. And so I have a special interest in “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” from Angel City Press, which artfully parallels the growth of Los Angeles and the newspaper under three generations of the Chandlers. Based on the PBS documentary by Peter Jones, complete with more than 200 photos dating back to the 1800s, this is not only an important book but an exceptional book, laced together by ex-Timesman Bill Boyarsky’s faultless prose, the merger of a reporter’s terse observations and a columnist’s insights, jobs he held during 30 years at the Times, leaving as city editor in 2001. The book isn’t just about Otis Chandler. It begins with Civil War veteran Gen. Harrison Gray Otis who joined the newspaper that was to become the Times in 1882, followed shortly thereafter by the first Chandler, Harry, who later became the General’s son in law. They were not only the founders of the Times but pitchmen for the city itself, seeing it grow almost overnight from a sleepy town of 12,000 to a metropolis of 320,000 in the 30 years from 1880 to 1910, and the growth never ended. Virulently anti-union, the Times was bombed into debris and 21 employees killed in 1925 by what the General called “anarchic scum,” one of the many epithets employed in the free-wheeling Times by the man Boyarksy regards as “the old master of vitriol.” Two union men, brothers Jim and John McNamara, went to prison for the bombing, saved from execution by the wit and skill of celebrated defense attorney Clarence Darrow, whose fame would increase five years later in the Scopes “Monkey Trial.” Norman Chandler followed Harry and while less bombastic than his predecessor still lobbied for those elements that would transform a village into a world class city. The Chandlers had gone all out for a deep water harbor, water for the San Fernando Valley and a general development of the urban areas, but their hucksterism included a less appealing side of them, and that was a campaign to sell L.A. to the world as “the White Spot.” Boyarsky points out that the phrase could be translated as a land of sunshine, but more likely was an appeal to those who preferred a city devoid of non-whites, […]

Thunder Over West 44th Street

August 26, 2009 at 12:04 pm

It rained in Manhattan on our 60th wedding anniversary. Lightning, thunder, a relentless downpour, the whole flashing, roaring, drenching package of a storm that pounded over West 44th Street like the drums of eternity.  I took it as God’s recognition of Cinelli’s endurance. In the vast stretch of cosmic time, six decades is not very long. When one thinks in terms of Earth’s wrinkled age and all the growth and creatures that have inhabited it, 60 years is about a quarter click on an atomic clock. But when you’re two fiercely independent, highly emotional people every day is a journey through a dense jungle, a shot into space, a dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, a race without a finish. Nothing is easy in a collusion of spirits. That’s why the storm on that particular Thursday seemed quite appropriate. I will remember for a long time ducking through the calamity heading toward our hotel, umbrellas offering little shelter from the rain that lashed at us in horizontal gusts. We got to our room drenched, and we laughed. It is the power of laughter that has helped prolong the drama of our marriage, the willingness to perceive life as an amusing trek, and the two of us as funny little travelers on an unforgiving orb. A shared sense of humor, with its whimsical blend of irony and inanity, has helped carry us past the point where others have failed, the laughter dead in their throats. So I sing today of the woman Cinelli as the perfect companion, whether it’s getting drenched in the Big Apple or breathing in the perfume of night blooming jasmine on a perfect evening in the Santa Monica Mountains. She loves both locals. Our home in Topanga Canyon with its cool, forestry places to hide is the Eden of her soul, New York  City with its clatter and murmur of human wildlife is the home of her spirit. We see shows in Manhattan, visit a myriad of art and history museums and dine on fussy little foods at multi-starred restaurants tucked away here and there in the quiet shadows of the city’s imposing towers. My tastes are more gourmand than gourmet and I am rattled by the subtle ambience of a restaurant like Daniel, its décor once described as “the lining of a prim octogenarian’s underwear drawer.” In such a rareified atmosphere, Cinelli reminds me of my manners by whispering, “Pretend you’re not from Oakland.” No Oakland guy would pay $513 for a pair of tickets to watch a little boy tip-tapping across the stage in “Billy Elliot.” I wouldn’t pay that much to see Dick Cheney in a tu-tu pirouetting drunk through Grand Central Station. But it was an anniversary so I shelled out the $513 and more to see a revival of “Hair” whose primary contribution to American culture was a celebration of drugs and nudity. What intrigues both Cinelli and I about New York is the endlessness of it. While movement in the city may slow in the hour when old men are asleep, taxis still roam the main streets and lurk up and down the intersecting crossroads like lightning bugs in a neon forest. Garbage trucks muscle down narrow avenues vying for space with delivery vans. Limos slide through darkness toward hotels and mansions in a weary coda to party and pleasure. When we talked about a 60th wedding anniversary trip she said New York and I said Paris, both of which we have visited many times. This time, I gave up the City of Light for another season, but I […]

Things Get Cleaner With Coke

July 21, 2009 at 2:45 pm

You say you have a dirty toilet? A rusty bumper? An unwanted T-bone steak? Not to worry. Coke has solutions to your problems. It’s not only the drink that refreshes but a beverage that can do anything but double as embalming fluid. While I lack the bombastic charm of the late huckster Billy Mays, I am on a mission to spread the word that Coca Cola is America’s multifunctional beverage. What other cool summer libation can melt the corrosion on automobile battery terminals? I come by this information through an anonymous mass Internet mailing that explores some little known traits of America’s two favorite drinks, namely water and the aforementioned Coke. I would have included martinis, but I wasn’t a part of the project. Most interesting about water is that a 2% decrease in one’s body can cause a dip in short term memory, trouble with basic math and difficulty focusing. I know the first to be true because I don’t drink a lot of water and often find myself lost. I drive along day-dreaming and suddenly realize I have no idea where I am, where I started out to go or where I’ll be when I get there. When it comes to a choice between day-dreaming and destination, I choose the former at the risk of the latter. I am a Walter Mitty of the road. The email on Coca Cola’s beneficial uses begins with the notation that in many states highway patrol officers carry two gallons of Coke in the trunk to remove blood stains from the road after an accident. While it can’t reanimate the dead, it does keep the freeways clean. You might notice that I am being somewhat circumspect on how I write about one of the world’s most powerful companies because I have seen enough movies dramatizing the methods employed by giant corporations in dealing with their enemies. The very idea of being tortured by water boarding in a tub full of Coke is, if not horrifying, not very pleasant either. I offered the Coca Cola Company an opportunity to refute any of the Internet claims, but no one replied to my email. Can’t be bothered with some nut in L.A., I guess. I even told them I liked Coke and drink it even though it supposedly is powerful enough to clean a toilet. My wise and knowledgeable Cinelli tried to wean me off the stuff but then concluded that if a lifetime of martinis hadn’t rotted my liver an occasional Coke probably wouldn’t either. According to the Internet mailing, a can of America’s Drink can also remove rust from chrome bumpers, loosen rusted bolts, remove grease from clothes, clean windshields, dissolve T-bone steaks or clean truck engines. I expected them to add that it doubles as a nasal spray, but they didn’t. Multi-functional it may be, but not that multi. I have no idea if any of this is true. I handed a Coke to our housekeeper to use in the toilet but she looked at me as though I were muy loco, put the can aside and drank it later. I didn’t have a T-bone steak but I did have a bone-in rib eye which I put in a bowl of Coke to see if it would dissolve in two days as claimed. However, Cinelli saw it and said I was not going to ruin a perfectly good piece of meat by soaking it in what she called chemicals, so she rescued it from the bowl, washed it off and prepared it that night for my dinner. I thought it tasted fizzy. I […]

Love, Political Style

July 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm

If I hear one more tearful apology from a politician caught humping like a dog in a cornfield with some beguiling pretty while his wife was home trying to keep the tuna casserole warm I think I’m going to be sick. The image of a cheating bastard standing at a podium with the brave little woman at his side looking very much like Grant Wood’s solemn farmer in “American Gothic” is more iconic than anything even Norman Rockwell ever produced and it’s becoming tiresome. What Mark Sanford, a God-lovin’ Republican, did was take off and get himself laid and he did it with his eyes and his fly wide open. He’s sorry because no one but me believed he was on a hike in Tyrolean shorts, yodeling his way over some of the roughest terrain in the Western Hemisphere and through deserts that kill camels. When he was found out it was tears, forgiveness and move on. Sanford left the statehouse one bright South Carolina morning on what turned out to be one hell of a long hike that took him through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, down the eastern coast of Mexico through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and along the Peruvian coast into Argentine. I suspect that he might have hitched a ride here and there but even so it gave him plenty of time to think until he suddenly and inexplicably found himself in a motel bed with Chiquita Banana. Only then did we learn it had been a long-term affair linked by emails dripping with sex and sugar that further ramped up the vomit quotient. To then drag his humbled wife to the podium while he sobbed an apology was the moral equivalent of wanting his cake and eating it too. Sanford wasn’t the first American pol to get caught with his pants down. Almost equally as dumb as the Louisiana Gov was former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart who, in 1987, was considered the Democratic front runner for the presidency until he was caught romancing a good friend named Donna Rice. He might have gotten away with it but then he challenged reporters who, tipped to his marital infidelities, were tailing him. “Follow me around,” he dared them, “I don’t care if anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” They followed him, photographed him with Donna on his lap aboard a yacht appropriately named “Monkey Business” and that was the end of his presidential dreams. Even the noisiest Republicans do it. Newt Gingrich was having an affair as he was leading the impeachment movement of Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but I’ll bet that if Clinton were to run for president again the women of America would reelect him and possibly arrange to meet him in a motel somewhere, lining up outside from Kansas to New York City just to see if all they heard about him was true. Locally, we had our own wildly grinning Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who got himself a little nookie from TV reporter Mirthala Salinas. Turned out he was covering her while she was covering him. When their affair was exposed, they parted, she got canned, he wept and now he’s said to have another female TV reporter, but I don’t care. Finally, the most pathetic of the mea culpas came from peanut farmer Jimmy Carter who wanted to be a part of the fun but all he could come up with was telling a reporter that he’d lusted in his heart. Huh? He was talking about the erotic fantasies […]

A Requiem for My Traveling Pants

June 16, 2009 at 10:01 am

We calculate time by different methods, beyond the persistent ticking of a clock. Some measure it by seasons, when autumn leaves turn to rainbows and fall from the trees; some by the growth of their children with height marks that rise steadily up a kitchen wall; and some by the longevity of their favorite jeans. I see time’s relentless passage in the dying of my Levis 540, whose condition of disrepair has surpassed even the studied rips of designer jeans that lure the rich to downward chic wearing $22,000 diamond encrusted watches and walking around in $800 shoes. I do not pretend that the condition of my Levis represents a designer’s skill. They are simply, as I am, tattered beyond repair, weary of the life that has taken them across the continent and to places in the world that few jeans ever see, even those that cover some of the cutest behinds in Hollywood. They were my traveling pants. Stone-washed and softened by time, the denims were molded to my body with the warm tenderness of a woman’s embrace. They do not squeeze, they do not sag, but perfectly conform to the physiology that is me, for better or for worse. I feel good in them. But the time has come, as my observant Cinelli has pointed out, for me to bury my pants. They are a decade old and beyond repair. “Look at you,” she said the last time I wore them, “rips in your knees, rips in your thighs rips in your butt and a potential rip very near your…” “You can patch them for me!” I cried. “They’re beyond patching, stitching, gluing or any other form of adherence,” she replied. “They are dead. Bury them, Elmer.” She calls me that because I often mumble, leading telephone callers to believe that I am saying my name is Elmer Teenez. She thinks it amusing. “I don’t have the heart to dispose of them,” I said. “Will you do it for me?” “I’ll throw them in the garbage,” she said, “but I’m not digging a burial hole.” “The garbage? Must you?” ” Take ‘em off, Elmer, I’ll get rid of them in a respectful manner.” She smiled impishly. I slipped them off and handed them to her, attempting to look solemn in my baggy Boxer shorts. “Even your underwear is ragged,” she said. “What have you been up to?” “Nothing very interesting, but I’m not removing them in any case.” She winked and went off with the Levis. I felt like David Caruso in an episode of “CSI Miami,” trying not to cry while watching them carry off a dead partner, taking my sun glasses off and on, and then off again in an acting class gesture of quiet despair. I didn’t attend the disposal of my 540s, but trusted Cinelli to say a few last words over their inert and ragged remains. Dead jeans, like dead shoes, require solemn rituals of departure from those who loved them, or at least tolerated them. As far as I could determine, they don’t make 540s anymore. I couldn’t find them at Sears, where they carry a large supply of Levis, and couldn’t reach anyone at Levis Strauss world headquarters in San Francisco who knew anything. When I told the person who answered the phone what I wanted in precise and simple terms, she replied, “Could you be more specific?” I ended up buying two pairs of Levis 510 for $40 each. They’re white with buttoned flies. Or flys. I don’t know which is correct when it comes to the plural of the […]

Tears in the 100 Aker Wood

May 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm

It is 5 o’clock in the morning and there is a deep stillness over the mountains of Topanga. No coyotes wail or owls hoot. The small animals that own the night, the ones that scurry in the bushes beyond sight, have gone to their lairs. Soon we will begin to hear the low hum of commute traffic building on the boulevard in the canyon below, the early risers who will lead a parade of cars and trucks into the Westside or downtown or north toward the Valley. But for now I am pretty much alone with my thoughts, and I am thinking of Peter Dennis, a good friend for 22 years who, during the course of our friendship, showed me how to laugh, how to remember and, at the end, how to die. I have thought often of him from the first time we met, glowing with life and excitement, to the last time I saw him near the end of his three-year fight against cancer, his hair gone, his complexion ashen, his voice a weakened whisper. Here was a gentle and loving man slowly disappearing from the life he loved so much, lost to us not by the diminishment of his soul but by the vulnerability of his body at age 75. For more than 30 years Peter had been the stage voice of A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie the Pooh and the other whimsical creatures of the “100 Aker Wood,” not just relating their adventures but creating their lives through the voices he gave them: the squeaking of little Roo to the snorting of Piglet to the dour, baleful observations of the donkey Eeyore. Sitting alone on stage, looking a bit like everyone’s favorite uncle, he was the gentle guide of a child’s imagination, taking us back to a sweeter time in our lives when we too walked the trails of the woods with Christopher Robin, past the trap for the heffalumps and the place where the woozle wasn’t. Pooh wasn’t just for kids. Peter read from Milne’s works at gatherings of friends that celebrated the little bear’s “birthday” and once read for the 90th birthday party of my mother-in-law, Betty Lello, who sat with tears in her eyes listening to him re-create the stories she had once read to school children during years as a teacher. Winnie the Pooh was for everyone. Peter never gave up on life. Just a few days from death, he could still smile and even laugh softly as he listened to friends and relatives tell stories of his triumphs and antics, his goodness and his caring at a living memorial given by his wife of 30 years, Diane Mercer, in their Shadow Hills home. I see him wrapped in a white robe that concealed a mid-section bloated by a rare form of cancer that defeated his best efforts to survive. When he accepted his fate, a new tranquility seemed to settle in, allowing him at the end to slip gracefully into his dreams. We met in 1987 when I attended the performance of his one-man show “Bother!” at the Coronet Theater in West Hollywood. I learned later that he and Diane lived in the Canyon. I was both touched and intrigued by his passion for Milne’s stories, which he had discovered in 1976 as a drama student in his native England. He became Pooh’s voice in Britain and then in the U.S. 10 years later, performing in theaters, festivals and universities on two continents, reminding us all that there is still a place for us in the enchanted forests of our imagination. […]