Goodbye, dear friend – 1999-2013

A dear friend moves on.

These biographical columns run annually, in no particular order, on December 16, and you can see the lot by clicking here.

The one constant of my years in New York (1980-87) was Mayor Ed Koch. Outspoken, candid, always a blast, a real Noo Yawk kind of guy. Most memorably he once had Manhattan paint white lines down its main thoroughfares, intended to designate bike lanes. This costly effort proved totally useless, New York cabbies not being about to respect the rules of the road any more than New York’s famously scofflaw, homicidal bicyclists.

Koch, true to form, came clean, endearing all to him in the process. “When I make a mistake” he candidly admitted “It’s a real Dusie”, the reference being to the gigantic, luxury Dusenberg car of the Roaring Twenties.

And looking back on 1999 when, for some reason still hard to comprehend, I decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina from California, to work for a big dumbass bank, I made a Dusie every bit as big. Indeed, the quickest way to summarize North Carolina is to say that there is nothing to choose between its climate, its people and its food. All truly awful. No, wait. On reflection, it would have to be said that the local cooking is worse even than its cretinous people and miserable weather. Cretinous? A tad harsh you say? Sure, there are nice North Carolinians. Doubtless there are nice North Koreans too. It’s just that I have yet to encounter either.

But one really good thing came of that awful 11 months.

Flashing back to San Diego a year earlier, I had attended the Del Mar dog show, ever interested in the four-legged set. My previous dog had been a Scottish Terrier, a terrorist among dogs who revelled in attacking anything larger than him, which was just about everything. A dour Scot of seemingly permanently disgruntled mien, he left me questioning my love of things Scottish and very much wondering if any terrier would darken my porch again or could, for that matter, ever be gruntled.

The Del Mar Dog Show changed all that.

I had been wandering around and generally steering away from areas of loud barking, mostly occupied by Dachshunds, Alsatians, Dobermans, Weimaraners and Rottweilers. You get the idea. Killers all. Needless to add, all Germans.

So I meandered to a quiet area in the back and there they were. Some seven small yet tall British terriers, not an ill word spoken between them, faces replete with dignity and charm and generally a subset of the canine species you could see spending a lot of time with. It’s not that these Border Terriers did not bark. Rather they chose not to. You don’t argue with a rabid Kraut, you do the only reasonable thing and avoid him. Hence I resolved that a Border Terrier was de rigeur. Border? Yes, they hail from the south side of the border with Scotland, and there’s no questoning their judgment in things geographical.

Bertie as a puppy. Borders are born mostly black, then the coat lightens with age.

And if there was one good thing about North Carolina which makes me excuse the otherwise miserable 11 months I spent in that culturally arid desert, it was that Bertie the Border Terrier came into our family from a local breeder who specialized in Mastiffs (all 180 lbs of them!) …. and Borders. Borders typically come in litters of two and Bertie, unusually, was one of four.

Morning greeting.

Naming him was hardly difficult. As a gentleman of leisure it was obvious that he could only be named after that well-to-do man about town Bertram Wooster, the hero of many a novel from that greatest of English humorists, P. G. Wodehouse. The same Wooster who looked to his manservant Jeeves to get him out of the all too frequent sticky situations which seemed to seek him out, not a few involving various terriers. The nastiest of these involved one Bartholomew who yes, you guessed it, was a Scottish Terrier.

When a well-meaning friend in San Francisco called me one day, knowing of my misery in Charlotte and offering the opportunity to run a hedge fund in the City on the Bay, I was on the next flight out, one way ticket in hand and Bert the Border in a carry-on bag tucked next to me sharing the seat. Before we departed, reflecting the man’s good taste and judgment, he took one last leak on Charlotte’s airport baggage carousel as we left, never to see that blighted city again. It was actually with considerable joy that I signed the check repaying the unvested portion of my joining bonus to the uncouth people in the land of grits. The Border and I were free.

I was glad to be back in California and Bertie every bit as happy to move to a civilized climate and a no less civilized population. From grits and muscle cars to white wine and Porsches in one year.

On guard in Burlingame.

The Border Terrier in his prime, with Elenia.
Beauty and the beast.

A dear friend, a fine painter of animals, did my image justice a few years later:

For the next fourteen and a half years, Bertie would seldom be far from me. He would come to work (small businesses are nice, that way), frolic on the beach during vacation times and keep me warm at night from his favorite vantage point at the foot of the bed. Mornings would commence with a cold nose in the face and a polite reminder that maybe breakfast was called for. Three walks a day saw him charm the neighborhood, be it in Burlingame or later in Atherton, where one of his favorite things was to charge after Lisa in the UPS truck, hop in the cab and refuse to leave until rewarded from the bag of cookies she always had with her. Gone was the debilitating heat and humidity of the Charlotte summer and the awful cold and snow of the winter, replaced with the balmy climate of the Peninsula and strolls down the lanes of that most calming of cities, Atherton. This was happiness for both pup and master.

Watchful in Atherton.

When we later moved to Templeton and a vineyard home, Bert immediately took control of the situation, hopping merrily through the irrigation hoses lining the rows of vines en route to his daily discussion with Jack the Jack Russell which invariably culminated in a race to and fro along the dividing fence. Yes, Jack did all the barking. Those of a quiet disposition should definitely steer well clear of Jack Russell terriers, a breed seemingly constantly ingesting amphetamines. That much was clear when an exhausted Bert would stumble through the doggie door, en route to his water bowl.

An earlier piece captures well the relationship between man and beast at the vineyard estate. Recommended reading as it’s the first and last time I ruminated on the existence of God in this journal and, no, you will not be offended, even if you are from North Carolina.

Sprightly at the Templeton vineyard home.

When our son Winston came on the scene in 2002, no one was happier than Bert. With guaranteed daily provisions of extra food from Winston’s high chair Bert was in doggie heaven, and the two took to one another immediately, forming a life long friendship. A delight to watch.

Then, one day, Bertie was gone.

A last picture with Winnie, just days before Bertie moved on
in October. Bert was three when Winnie was born.

Winnie was traumatized, true. Me? Devastated. All I can remember is the selfless love, the sheer joie de vivre, the generosity of spirit, the endless enthusiasm for life. The man’s sheer decency is not something to which my vocabulary can do justice. And when I think of his spirit, W. H. Auden’s words come to mind:

Goodbye, dear friend.

* * * * *

For Chapter One, my Years in Retail, click here.

For Chapter Two, my Years in Alaska, click here.

For Chapter Three, my Years in New York, click here

For Chapter Four, about my Old Man, click here

One thought on “Goodbye, dear friend – 1999-2013

  1. Thomas, I am so sorry for your loss. Over the years of reading your blog (and the story of your life), I came to love Bert for who he was and for the joy he brought in your life. May he rest in peace, and may the passage of time fill the loss in your and Winston’s heart.

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