three-legged puppies

My friend T, who also happens to be recently divorced, talks to me fairly regularly about her escapades as a newly single person on the dating scene. She happened to observe recently that she is recognizing a pattern in her attractions- namely, that she seems to have a proclivity for what she’s termed “three-legged puppies”. You know… guys who are in need of some sort of rescuing, special care, etc. I laughed at her creative descriptor, but it made me reflect on my own past relationships and the motivations therein. I’ve been known to fall victim to the charms of three-legged puppies… I think we all have at some point (if you don’t know who yours are, let me know and I can probably point them out.) They’re cute in their needy, damaged way, they give you a sense of useful purpose, and make you feel like just maybe you have your shit together by comparison, even if you really don’t.

Particularly, the three-legged puppy comment brought to mind O, a guy I used to hang out with a decade or so ago. O and I were never really dating, but we were what you might call special friends. I can’t even say we were friends with benefits because the relationship was pretty nonsexual… this was mostly due to him being a total weirdo and only able to handle the tiniest amounts of intimacy. I don’t know what exactly his diagnosis would have been, had he actually gotten help, but he wasn’t able to exist even remotely comfortably in the world as we know it. Something about him was too precious or sensitive for this life. His coping mechanism of choice, sadly, was heroin. He used to claim that it was the only way he could handle the bullshitty interactions of everyday life (like his job in retail, for instance) and I believe him.

The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass
The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass

He didn’t really do it to party or get fucked up; it was more just to get by and blunt the sharp edges of life. And I knew him in the earliest days of his use, so it wasn’t like this was a years-old maintenance habit. I used to imagine that he had emotional sensors that were amped up way more than the average person could conceive of, and the drugs just helped bring everything to a manageable level. (I think this must be fairly common; another friend who has struggled with some mental health issues and who used to do heroin told me that the first time she tried it, she thought, “This must be what normal people feel like.” Like O, she would do it and go to work, except in her case it was at a law firm.) Not that I condone his drug use at all- I always wished he’d gotten psychiatric help, and I think his malaise could have been managed with far less harmful substances and/or talk therapy. But, he was a wannabe musician who idolized and romanticized drug users, and that was the path he chose.

Anyway, during this time I was writing songs as my short-lived solo project, Little Hammer, and I wrote the song below about O and the other three-legged puppies of this world. I still have a soft spot for them, but I know better than to get caught up, much as I wish I could save them all. Incidentally, I wrote another song about him during this time that never got recorded, with the not-so-subtle lyric “Prince Charming/ on a white horse/ or the hookers on Temple & Cass, well I don’t know which is worse”. The song was an ode to that summer, breezy but bittersweet, with lyrics about bare feet on concrete and big cars on the boulevard… “summer in the city of nowhere to go but up”. Back then, it was probably a lot more accurate, but that’s a topic for another post.

I’m not sure whatever happened to O; he moved back to his parents’ in Cali at the end of that summer, and we lost touch. I regret to say that I don’t have a very optimistic outlook on where he might be right now, but I wish him the best. Even if you’re cute or charming, it’s not easy going through life with only three legs.

traveling companions: the significant other

I know a few free-spirited folks who favor solo travel–setting off to parts unknown completely untethered, able to go where you please and when you please, and meet new people along the way. Personally, I usually prefer companionship, but it’s crucial to know who makes a good traveling companion. I’ve been fortunate to have had more good ones than bad, but the bad ones have unnecessarily ruined some trips that could have otherwise been outstanding, and wasted a ton of my money and time. In a series of posts, I plan to review the most common categories of traveling companion and evaluate the merits and demerits of each, as an excuse to revisit some old travels and lovers and friends.

Let’s start with the most common, the significant other. The significant other can make a great traveling companion if the relationship is on solid ground AND if you both have similar travel styles. I had wonderful trips to Montréal & Québec, New Orleans and Washington, DC with J, a pretty easygoing but adventurous guy who enjoyed a healthy mix of seeing the sights and spending time lounging in bars or cafés, with appropriate amounts of napping and sex thrown in. Long car rides were no big deal with this good-natured and fun-loving companion; we’d listen to music and sing harmonies and occasionally pull off onto a country road for a quickie. Oh, to be young and in love.

I went up north and down through Wisconsin and Chicago with a different J; that trip worked also, mostly because he let me dictate everything. Not as exciting or sexy, but a pleasant way to spend a week out of town. At the time, he was very much a homebody and this was pretty much the only trip we ever took in 5+ years of dating. Ironically, he now spends most of the year on the road, touring in a rock band. How times change.  We stayed in cheap up north motels and watched the leaves change color and stumbled on the “cool” part of Milwaukee by accident and went to Shedd Aquarium and had a generally lovely week.

M, however, was a different story. To start with, we had very different ideals of the perfect vacation… his involved being near-catatonic on a beach somewhere, preferably with a huge spliff in one hand and an icy pastel-hued libation in the other. I am much more on-the-go, preferring to rise fairly early to take in some sights, followed by a leisurely lunch, nap, a little more sightseeing and then dinner, drinks, etc. I feel that it’s also important to know how someone will react when outside their element. M hadn’t traveled much prior to dating me, and everything always seemed to present some kind of problem or issue. How much of this was innate vs. him just wanting to be cranky with me personally is a matter of debate; he subsequently traveled to some borderline third world areas and had a grand old time. My hunch is that his filters were set not to complain on that trip since he was with a business associate and not his romantic partner. But that just goes to show that those things are subjective and you CAN choose to overlook minor inconveniences rather than complain and spread misery. I will never understand that… I always feel so fortunate to get to go places and do things that a little discomfort is no big deal.

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a dark turn of mind

Take me and love me if you want me
Don’t ever treat me unkind
‘Cause I had that trouble already
And it left me with a dark turn of mind
Now I see the bones in the river
And I feel the wind through the pine
And I hear the shadows a-calling
To a girl with a dark turn of mind
But oh ain’t the nighttime so lovely to see?
Don’t all the nightbirds sing sweetly?
You’ll never know how happy I’ll be
When the sun’s going down
And leave me if I’m feeling too lonely
Full as the fruit on the vine
You know some girls are bright as the morning
And some have a dark turn of mind
You know some girls are bright as the morning
And some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind
-Gillian Welch

Been listening to this song a bunch lately and wishing I was of the bright-as-the-morning variety but alas, alack. Perhaps I just need to learn to embrace my dark side. Incidentally, I saw Gillian Welch give a great performance with David Rawlings at the Wheatland Music Festival in ’95 or ’96, that was such an incredible weekend with friends. The man I was there with broke my heart once (to be fair, I broke his first) but I’m happy to say we are good friends now, so perhaps there is hope yet.