Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Sixty-Four Cents

It is one of the best things I have done.

It worked out better than I hoped.

It looks nicer than I thought.

It was, in other words, money well spent. (And I am a stingy dude.)

I speak, of course, of the carpet I put down last month in my otherwise unfinished basement.

Since I first saw my current home, I imagined I would add some sort of floor in the basement so as to make use of an approximately 10-by-25-foot area unoccupied by anything other than a storage shelf. I figured rubber tiling; I imagined the sort of floor you might see at a gym; I saw a video online of how such floors could look; the space could be a great place to get a quick workout in; it was going to be glorious.

Yet the budget … not so much.

This is either a positive attribute or sheer laziness, I’m not sure, but I am pretty good at adjusting to circumstances — with just dealing with what is rather than changing what is when changing what is would mean spending money I don’t have and/or buying something I don’t really want (especially if it means replacing something I do want). Case in point: While cleaning my computer keyboard I dripped liquid into the key crevices and so the 1-2-3-4-etc. at the top no longer works. And they don’t make my preferred keyboard anymore. So I get used to using the numerals on the side pad instead. Let’s keep writing. I have been, then, using a broken keyboard for about six months now. I know: it barely shows!

As the air cooled this fall, I began to have more urgency about the floor, though. Not only for my ability to exercise without taking the car out on snow days, but, more importantly and more pressingly, because the older the little buddy gets the more the winters affect him (makes two of us). Memories of the Polar Vortex, circa February 2019, flashed through my mind. Yep: We needed a warm place to play.

I went back to the rubber floor idea. They do have some cheaper options than those of my dreams. I talked to my handyman and he suggested carpet instead. The dog might not do well on the rubber, he said, as he might get claws stuck in the crevices. Besides, many carpet stores sell remnants. Now he was speaking my language; I could just get something cheap to tide us over. I also went to the RE Store, which always has slices of carpet for sale.

So in my mind I went from beautiful boutique gym floor to duct-taped shards of ratty carpet that would make the space salvageable as a venue for rubber ball toss-and-fetch. OK.

As with many solutions, though, the answer was found in the middle of those extremes. When I couldn’t find a remnant of good value and the right size, I went to Menard’s. Going to Menard’s is not my favorite maneuver; I seldom seem to get good customer service and frequently feel lost in aisles that are bigger than my block. This time my preconception was all wrong. A flooring staffer named Steve Martin — no, he was not a wild and crazy guy, not at all — was terrific. He agreed rubber was not the way to go and for the same reason. (How far we have come with awareness about our companion animals!) Steve showed me some cheap new carpet with the pad already attached. Turns out, he only had Tuscany Gray. Which is perfect because my basement is, even if it doesn’t hearken Tuscany, is at least well-suited for shades of gray. (You can’t make up a metaphor like that!)

I called a few days later to prepay. Turns out, they were, as of that very morning, having a sale. The 75-cent Tuscany Gray was now another 11 cents off per square foot. More than the money it seemed the universe was telling me I was moving in the right direction.

It is beautiful when, after trying out various ideas and options, things then fall into place. Life, it seems, is about figuring things out and it is about allowing the right answers to present themselves. You must attempt and you must allow. Both.

in any event …

… I stayed within the budget.

… The color works.

… The width of roll turned out to perfectly align with the bottom of the stairs.

… This option is perfectly suited for pushups. I got a workout in when it snowed buckets the other day.

… And my little buddy now gets excited every time I make for the stairs, as ballgames on cold nights are already a part of the routine.

It is, as they say, all good.

Grief

A characteristic of grief is that it can keep you from feeling things you want to or need to feel. Not just the so-called good feelings, either — happiness, joy, pleasure. Though, to be sure. Sometimes grief, which I imagine, if one wants to visualize it as an entity all its own, as a sort of fog, a personal fog that circles us, covers us and yet also extends beyond us so as to be possibly felt by others in our presence, gets in the way so that we can’t access fully the feelings we must feel in order to be human. It sucks to not be able to feel sad. To not be able to access empathy. To not be able to allow the full range of human emotions to flow through you. You still have those feelings, of course, and sometimes you glimpse them, feel them, but they are very often caught in the fog — lingering, stealing energy, weighing you down, clouding your vision that much more.

Has Anybody Seen My Words?

They have to around here somewhere. I just had them!

Where did you last see them?

They were right … over … there! … right where I always leave them.

You could retrace your steps.

[Head scratch] Did I? No: I couldn’t have left them at the office. The gym. In the garage. I have seen them since then. Damn! Where did those damn words go?

You knew they can’t talk back, right? Besides, don’t think about it and it will come to you.

Yeah, I suppose you are right. It’s just I am lost without those things.

They will turn up. You know they will. They always do.

Bing Bing

Why do I dislike Bing? I do not know why I dislike Bing, exactly (perhaps because so much about Microsoft seems so much less useful than it could be; also the name, Bing — which rhymes with Ding and that’s as dumb as a Dong) but I do not deny it: I do dislike Bing. Even less than I like Bing do I dislike the way Bing seems to be able to encroach upon and even override my search engine preferences. Most recently, Bing showed up on a search initiated in Google from the browser Safari! Safari is, of course, Apple’s browser. It’s like doing a search in Amazon and being directed to an a selection of Target products. I ask you: What is going on in this world?

Play Ball (Again)

I have been invited to be a guest on “Baseball By The Book,” a podcast hosted by Justin McGuire, former Major League Baseball editor at The Sporting News. McGuire will interview me about my book, Chief Bender’s Burden, in December. I will share additional details as they become available.

Adventures Capital

Getting in a buggy and heading into the Northwest Territories before the advent of refrigeration is one. Sure.

Going to the Mall of America, circa 2019, is not.

Swimming with sharks counts. Certainly.

Going to Orlando (yes, even if you fly coach) … not so much.

Adventure. It seems everyone in 2019 likes adventure. Everyone wants adventure. Everyone likes to say the word adventure. Adventure is hot. Go ahead, ask people what they like to do — let’s face it, especially if those people happen to be “not men” — and they will tell you they like to go on adventures. They will mention adventure in their dating app profiles, on their Instagram pages, where’re they publicly express the specialness of their lives. Except driving on the interstate to Duluth with a case of Cliff bars is not an adventure.

Here is Merriam-Webster on adventure:

1a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.
b : the encountering of risks.
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience.
3 : an enterprise involving financial risk.

A key word jumps right out here: risk. Yes, of course, there is risk in any human activity and, in fact, we know there is risk with much inactivity. Standing still, you can, of course, in theory, get hit by that bus everyone always mentions.

Yet to say everything is an adventure is to say that nothing is. We all know that going to a new farmer’s market might create a happy, hand-holding half hour for you and your honey but, no, not even if they do unexpectedly sell baby arugula, have you gone on an adventure.

Unless you are falling from the sky, corded or cordless, let’s keep the word to a minimum, please. OK?

Yes, I will now go back to being a guy who is definitely not invited to your party.

Big Days

The heat hums. Then fades.

It is early morning.

Our breaths, yours and your little buddy’s, inhale, exhale. Air in, air out.

You are in your morning spot.

On days that you suspect might be bigger than other days the tendency is toward control. You tighten your grip on the smallest silver of this life that you have direct influence over. You will your way through the hours.

You watch the clock.

You order your world.

Arrange your thoughts. Or try to.

You tighten the leash — and not just the dog’s.

You engage in the illusion that if you do everything right you will be ready. You will be good enough.

That is when you know it is time to let go.

That is exactly when you know to unclench the fist you have around your small world.

Silly boy. Trying to switch into robot mode or something. Humans are not the way you are trying to be. Stop.

Release.

Life is flow. People are fluid.

You can’t be something you were not created to be. To try is to say that what you are is not adequate, not sufficient.

Yet what you have is enough. More than enough.

More importantly, what you are is enough.

The heat comes back on. The heat fades again.

Your breaths are in rhythm now. In, out. Our bellies go up, down.

Your whole life has built you to be ready for this moment.

Might as well let go and enjoy it.

Strangers in the Night

Have you ever been drawn to a person before you saw that person?

I don’t mean that you saw a picture only of that person — as in a dating app or on social media. No. I mean that you did not know what they looked like at all, had not seen their face or their hair or even their backside, not any conscious awareness of the person, and yet some part of you was compelled in their direction.

It was my last night in Nashville. (There are worse opening lines to a story.)

I had gone to the Grand Ole Opry because Nashville. And I had had an adult refreshment or two on Broadway because same. And I was heading for the basement.

Literally, the basement. Not the kind you are thinking.

The basement of a hotel.

I was heading for the basement of a hotel in the middle of the night.

I was heading to the basement of a hotel in the middle of the night to look at art.

Yes, I will explain.

When I go to a new city I make it a point to visit at least one art gallery, usually the most prominent one. In downtown Nashville, that is the Frist Art Museum. While at the Frist Art Museum — again, this is a few nights before the connection I am about to describe — I met a woman who I could have written this post about but didn’t. While in the exhibit hall at the Frist this woman and I fell into conversation the moment we realized we were the only two people looking at a row of bright and ornate cloth statues. A university art history teacher passing through Nashville on her way back to Texas, the woman later told me that the best art I could see in Nashville was found in, of all places, a downtown hotel. Viewing is free, she said, as I recall, and, well, it is free, and you can go whenever you want. There is 24/7 art at the 21c Hotel.

Some people just know how to find the party, I guess.

Fast forward. Less than 12 hours before I am to get on a plane, I decided to find the hotel with the art buffet. Once I found 21c my first stop was the basement and this is for two reasons: One, because that was the first floor of the art and, two, because I was looking for a bathroom.

We passed each on the well of the stairs. While this was not the most crowded square foot of real estate in downtown Nashville, I can assure you, I did not see her at all. At least not until after we passed. Yet at some point after we passed each other I instinctively whirled around to regard her. And she did the same in my direction.

I have experienced no moments exactly like this one: we just started talking. We talked so easily. Immediately, our conversation flowed as if we were old friends. I was meeting my sister for the first time.

Her name was Audrey. She had the most famous Audrey’s hair color. She had attended the U2 concert. Her significant other had returned to Chicago to work. She was slim and fit. She looked much younger than her years. I say this not because it’s a cliche but because it proved true: she disclosed that she had recently turned 60. I would have believed her had she said she was 40. I don’t think anyone anywhere would look at her and with a straight face say 50. This was not a person who looked young because of a surgeon or well-placed Botox injections. She had a way about her. The phrase earned grace comes to mind.

We looked at all the art in the hotel basement and all the art in the two floors above the basement. Audrey shared her story. I shared my story. Art showed us our lives, expressed our art.

But before we walked around the gallery, right after I had returned from the bathroom, Audrey and I sat in a small room in which there was a video exhibit, one of those looped installments that change subtly over time. There were two chairs in this room that moved in funky ways. We sat on the funky chairs. Light flashed against our faces. That is the single image, if I had to choose one, that I carry with me eighteen months later: the way the light flickered against her her face, against her hair as we sat on the funky chairs and talked and talked. For hours, we talked.

Concentration is Crucial

I don’t like that of late it’s been harder to focus than it used to be.

Specifically, I do not like I’ve noticed it’s become more difficult to concentrate on a book.

I don’t like that I reach for my phone instinctively. Even if I do not have a reason to reach for my phone.

If you want to get better at writing you have to do two things: write a lot and read a lot. This is no secret.

A well-read mind is a calm mind.

When I read a lot I sleep well.

When I spend time with my phone before bed I do not.

Patience is a virtue. To struggle to concentrate is to be impatient.

I have written of late about distraction. Some amount of distraction is good, needed even. What amount is too much seems an important question. We have control here. But it takes effort. More than a little, I might add.

Some people go on technology fasts.

There are forces, economic and political, that thrive when large masses of people cannot concentrate. Their aims are not necessarily to do us only good.

The ability to learn and the ability to concentrate … these two things, it seems, go hand-in-hand.

I don’t want to ever stop learning.

Ergo.

Thanks, Giving

The word of the weekend is Gratitude.

I realize Thanksgiving is not quite yet upon us. Call this a primer.

Anyway, this is not about one day. It’s about 365.

We all know that grateful people are happier people, don’t we? We have all experienced this for ourselves, too, seen what it does for us to be thankful — have we not? Seen how when we seek the good in things outside we feel more good inside? The science is clear here. Google Scholar if you must.

So why do we not choose to make a gratitude practice part of our every day? Why would we not stop for even a single moment each day and make a point to be thankful for someone or something?

The point of emphasis here is meant to be placed more on the obviousness of the benefit and less on the shame of not having made use of it.

Like many healthful behaviors, we have a lot of forces — environment, stress, biology, upbringing, yada, yada — going against us. Why we choose the chocolate cake over the carrots, that whole thing.

I am also not in a position to lecture anyone. I keep a Gratitude Journal here. Yet I frequently miss days. As you can see, I recently missed a full week. In fact, truth be told, sometimes, when I have been lax, I will do several days of journaling at once. That is, I will catch up by recalling and recording the past number of days in a single sitting. Some is better than nothing. Late is better than never. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Pic your favorite bumper sticker.

Yet I would like to do better. So I can be better.

I am going to aim to record at least one thing every day — and record that thing on the very day — from now until one of my favorite days of the year, the Winter Solstice. If you want to check, you will, of course, be able to see if I have failed to follow through on this aim.

Public accountability: One more thing I am grateful for today.