We went to a wedding reception at Windows On The River last night in Cleveland. Windows On The River is a former power plant that has been turned into an event venue, and anyone who went to last night’s great reception will attest that it is well suited to that task.
It was a beautiful evening, and with a rib-cook off, a live concert, boat tours, and our wedding reception, the Cuyahoga reverfront was hopping. It’s a great view, too.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really. Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket. TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows. They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch. Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.
The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle. The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families. The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.
But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too. Where did the plot line leave off? I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now? Is The Lone Gunman still around? What about Skinner? I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago. I need a refresher course.
I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?
The Neal side of our family, unfortunately, has a history of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that has been growing lately. Mom and Grandma Neal had dementia, Uncle Gilbert had Alzheimer’s, and my great-aunt, who another relative described as “crazy as a bedbug” when I was a kid, had mental problems so debilitating that she was put into a care facility at about the time she reached retirement age.
When you’ve got such a history in the family, and seen what these terrible degenerative brain diseases can do to bright, kind, loving people, you can’t help but wonder if there is a gene lurking somewhere in your DNA mix that will ultimately turn you down that same dark street. And, you also pause at every instance of forgetfulness and ask yourself whether it is a sign that the dreaded downhill slide has begun.
The existence of such tests raises an interesting question. Aging Americans are routinely poked, prodded, and scanned for heart disease, cancers and other bodily ailments. Even though, for many of us, the prospect of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is as dreaded as any finding of a debilitating physical disease, there seems to be less of a focus on early detection and treatment of degenerative mental diseases. With recent studies showing that significant percentages of older Americans are afflicted with dementia, shouldn’t that approach change? Why shouldn’t a short cognitive screening test be as much a part of the annual physical as the rubber-gloved prostate probe?
We’re still in the adjustment period, of course, but we’re already getting a sense of what life will be like in our house post-Penny.
There’s been a noticeable change in Kasey. In the Penny era, Kasey had to eat her food immediately, because if she left anything in her bowl Penny would promptly chomp it down; now the dainty Kasey is happy to let her food sit for a while, aging like a fine wine, and might eat only a bit and leave the rest for later. The dog anxiety level in the house seems to have dropped, too. Penny always followed Kish around and would suddenly get to her feet and trot off as soon as Kish left the room, causing Kasey to bolt after her. Now, without the Penny impetus, Kasey doesn’t seem to mind one bit if Kish is not in her line of sight.
The rhythms of the house have changed, too. Penny was our canine alarm clock, whose voracious appetite ensured that no one in the house slept in past 5:30, and the official household greeter who wanted to get a scratch and pat on the head from everyone who came through the door. I also thought of Penny this morning, when I noticed a stray crumb of bread on the kitchen floor from last night’s sandwich prep; Penny’s constant patrolling for any consumable item kept the kitchen floor spotless and free of all food debris. And there are fewer scratches on the floor and dog hairs on the furniture.
It just shows that, when dogs are part of your family and household, they touch your lives in many ways, and you might not really notice all of them until the dogs are gone.
We’ve put two new pieces of art in our kitchen, and they are really brightening the room.
The piece above is some of Russell’s work. Entitled Turtle, it’s a minimalist depiction of three young women looking at something. We love the colors and the scene. I think the piece shows Russell’s special talent for capturing the human form in everyday settings.
The piece below is called Portrait of Rico by one of Russell’s fellow Cranbrook MFA graduates, a gifted artist and nice guy named Billy Kang. I saw it at the Cranbrook Open Studios event and bought it on the spot because the colors, and the placid expression on the subject’s face, just make me smile.
It’s serendipity that both pieces feature the same yellow hue, which we think looks terrific against the red brick walls of our kitchen.
I’m saddened to report that we lost Penny today. Her departure leaves a hole in the family and a gap at the top of the stairs where she liked to plop down and survey her domain.
Ultimately, a rapidly growing liver tumor got Penny, but she was a dog that always seemed bedeviled by physical problems. She had arthritis in her legs, battled inflamed intestines, and was prone to ear infections. We knew we had reached the point of no return when Penny’s primary raison d’etre — eating as much as possible as quickly as possible — stopped working for her. At the end, she couldn’t keep food down at all, and when that happens to a Lab you know their time has come.
We got Penny when she was just a puppy. Richard chose the name Penny because as a young dog Penny was copper-colored. Her family nicknames were Pen Pal and Lug Nut. She always had a quizzical expression on her face that made me chuckle, and she was a loving and affectionate creature. For Penny, life was like The Simpsons song: a stranger was just a friend Penny hadn’t met. She never let her ailments get her down.
Penny was not an active dog; unlike our prior dog Dusty Penny didn’t like to run, or play fetch, or swim. No, Penny’s interests lay more in just being a part of the family. Next to eating, Penny liked nothing more than sitting on the couch to watch some TV and getting a hug from Kish now and then. She followed Kish around the house like the children followed the Pied Piper and grew anxious if Kish was out of sight, even if only for a minute or two. When Kish came back it was like Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one.
Penny was well-trained until her illness caused her training to fail her, and she was dutiful and faithful to the very end. That makes her a good dog in my book, and we’ll miss her.
The downfall, many problems, and staggering challenges of Detroit have been abundantly chronicled, here and elsewhere. During our visits to Cranbrook, in the Motor City’s metropolitan area, Kish and I have been awed by the magnitude of Detroit’s predicament. With entire neighborhoods falling apart, acres of rubble where once there were productive, tax-paying employers, and burned out and abandoned houses and derelict commercial buildings and former factories around every corner, where do you start?
It seems clear that local government can’t lead the recovery process. The task is too overwhelming, and the city of Detroit simply doesn’t have the money or the manpower. If there is going to be a renaissance of sorts, it will be led by by individuals who are willing to commit, invest their own money and sweat equity, and take the personal and financial risks that inevitably come with being the first in on the urban renewal effort.
Russell has decided to become part of this risk-taking process. He’s leased studio space in a gritty building in Highland Park, one of the Detroit neighborhoods that is struggling to recover. His studio is in what was a manager’s office of a formerly abandoned industrial building that once was home to squatters. The factory was purchased by a sculptor from New Zealand named Robert Onnes, who saw artistic opportunity in the building’s high ceilings, open spaces, and many windows. Onnes will be using some of the vast interior space as his metal-working studio, and now Russell and some of his Cranbrook classmates are also part of the vanguard.
The building is very much a work in progress, with lots of work to be done in improved weatherproofing and power supply among many other issues, but a look at what it was when it was first acquired shows that it has made progress already. When we moved some of Russell’s materials in to his space over the weekend, the owner was there supervising work on the building. Russell and the other can-do artists no doubt will be supplying some elbow grease to improve their studio spaces, too.
It’s just one building in a vast and deeply troubled urban area — but perhaps it’s a start.