Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

And the Fan’s Roar

Before sunup. The heat has been offensive this first week of June. My go-to weather app, when I checked it after work hours last evening, said, “feels like 100.” At the moment, the humidity of yesterday has been cleared out by the miracle of Central Air. A fan — a big black fan — blows feet from the edge of my bed. As I fumble with words in literal and figurative darkness, the fan-fashioned wind bends the hair on my arms.

I turn on the fan ostensibly for the reason this and every other fan was created: to move air.

As I think on it, though, I like this fan less because of its feature and more because of its bug: its roar.

This is not one of those gentle, oscillating noise-canceling jobbies. This is a cheap, big-box bought, old box floor-sitter that was never at any point fancy and certainly is not now, these many years after twenty-buck purchase from the hardware store, subtle. I can imagine this fan would annoy many people. Fortunately, those people aren’t here; it’s just me, the little buddy, and this steady roar.

At one point I thought of discarding this fan. A guy who was cleaning my carpet in a previous abode pointed out that the dust-caked fan still had some life. So I hosed it down and got it back into circulation (yes, pun intended). Now, on nights like last night, I pull it out of the closet, plug it in, and let it blow as it will, as I wrap myself in the summer comforter and slip into my slumber.

The constancy of that sound. That is why this morning I sipped my coffee and came back to bed for a few more minutes. For a little more of this music.

Summer is a fan blowing all night long.

Boring Stories Of …

In memory, Springsteen is playing on the radio.

That’s right: “Glory Days.” Sure, it’s possible my imagination has erroneously inserted a soundtrack so quintessential as to be cliché. But I don’t think so. 

I am certain Bruce was on and I can get pretty precise with the timeframe on account of the other reasons I remember the moment at all.

We were in an old Volkswagen bus. Baby blue with white trim. The bus was owned by the father of one of my teammates. Possibly he got it for days like this one, when he had to haul his son, Ben, and Ben’s buddies around to baseball fields. (And hockey arenas. Hockey season was the non-baseball half of every year. Ben was a goalie — so extra equipment to move from one end of the county to the other.) I only played baseball with Ben every other year, as he was a year older than me. That puts us in the summer of 1985. This would have been June (or possibly July) as that is when the 12- and -13-year-old traveling team season ran. I recall this being an early-season tournament, occurring not long after the mugginess of the Minnesota summer began.

Glory Days, one of seven singles on the iconic 10-song album Born in the U.S.A. to crack the Billboard Top 10, peaked in its popularity around this time.

We were at one of those tournaments in which you play something like five games in three days. By the end your uniform could walk home on its own.

We were between games in the middle of the afternoon. The sun was so keen; it was hot even the shade. We were driving from one field to another. I couldn’t believe this at the time, and possibly a lawsuit would be filed by a helicopter parent today, but Ben’s father let us keep the big sliding side door of the bus open as we drove down the road. I recall this door as being on the driver’s side. (Google images suggests it may have been on the passenger side.) It was just wide open. I sat behind Ben’s dad, who didn’t seem worried at all. Another teammate, one of Ben’s best buddies, Chad, had thrown it open as if he owned the van himself. If Ben’s father was worried about anything it was probably the next game’s starting pitcher. There would have been seven or so of us, all told, with Ben riding shotgun and six of us, cheek to cheek on the vinyl sofa seats. Ostensibly, Ben’s Dad allowed the door to remain open while in motion because of the heat. Very possibly also to aerate. The smell of sweat and diamond dust must have been intense.

I do not recall whether we won that day. We generally did well — competed for the league title that year — but, as I recall, we lost that day. Yet these years later, more than the pitches and the plays and the swings and the slides I remember that moment: driving around with a busload of buddies, the Boss jamming his guitar, singing of baseball and girls and the memories we pick up and toss around forever … as the sun weathered our skin … and the wind of life rushed against my face.

Stumping on the Stoop

The first visitor to my porch let himself in.

There are 11 windows. Twelve if you count the glass in the top half of the door. The floor — and nearly everything else in my porch — is wood. These almost 118 square feet, from where I write these words, are not as old as the house they introduce. The house turns 101 this year. You can tell by the wall behind me that this porch was added sometime, likely decades, after the rest of the bungalow was built. This is where I sit and watch the world go by.

My view is westward.

To my right, my little buddy’s arch rival, a plump squirrel, sits on my neighbor’s fence, enjoying the show with me, at least for a moment. He has a snack. Of course. Always eating that one. I have found an entire piece of bread in the backyard. He munches and keeps an eye on me.

A goldfinch makes a pitstop on the branch of the shrub before us.

Just now two kids pedal by, one talking to the other in the hyper explanatory diction of youth. Serious adult bikers also frequent this avenue. Early last evening, a single masked-up teenager skateboarded down the middle of the street. This porch, this house, is situation in the middle of this urban block. Most travelers have reason to be here. Even if some motorists speed on their way to the adjacent thoroughfare as though they don’t know that kids and cats call this home.

Not uncommonly, speaking of, one cat or another will creep across this street. The ones I have observed seem to know well enough to look both ways.

On the opposite side of the street is the house of a quiet, older man. I do not see him very often. He has a couple of times received mail for me. Our house numbers are one digit off.

Looking above and beyond, to the horizon, multiple large trees, from this vantage point, in which the eyes see both the city sidewalk trees and the oversized oaks and maples of this neighborhood, form an enormous deciduous canopy.

To the left, looking down the block a bit, woman in her front yard greets another neighbor’s puppy for what looks like the very first time. It’s hard to tell whether the black lab is wagging its tail or whether the black lab’s tail is wagging it. One way or another, happiness is observed.

I love that my neighborhood is home to so many mature trees. This includes my own green ash. An arborist that came to my house for reasons other than to assess my trees told me the first winter I was here, in which records were set for snowfall, that I might as well get rid of this new elder aboreal friend. Either that or pay its not-small health care premiums. This wasn’t a hard decision even if the cost is not, to me, minimal. In exchange for biennial vaccines and occasional pruning that big lug provides shade all summer, bags full of red, orange, and yellow leaves (each one a floating reminder of the constancy of change) in the fall, and a year-round, stable presence. I am not always mindful of this but trees love us even when we give them little of our attention.

The ash here in the front yard and the red maple in the back‚ this is the sum total of my personal forest. They are my wardens.

The concept of a porch is believed to come from the ancient Roman empire — from the Latin word “portico.” (Others believe the porch of America life originated in Equatorial Africa.) That is how I address this space: the porch. It is not, to me a stoop, as, to my way of thinking, a stoop is not enclosed like this “three-season” space is. Most certainly, this is not a veranda, which would be found in a place with a higher appraised value.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s a place to sit a spell. I especially like do that in the evening or when it’s raining. During the best of both worlds, an evening shower, when you can smell rain, see puddle pellets in the street, and hear patter on the roof, is an especially pleasant time to be here.

On clear nights, when I lean in a bit and look down the street, I can see the equivalent of one full block way, to halfway into the block to the south. From the front of the house near the edge of this view flickers the light of the man who does my taxes for a very fair price.

I don’t imagine anyone would pay much for the view I have. But I wouldn’t readily give it up. For its not just what I see that makes this space my so-called happy place.

The energy of a space is highly underrated. Maybe it’s the presence of brown wood or the absence of blue-lighted screens — perhaps it’s the visual connection to nature or the fact that I can only enjoy this porch part of each year — I don’t know what, precisely — but I settle down nicely here.

Here, I’m not in a hurry.

Here, after the day is more or less through, I pull out my notebook. I review the day just past. I sneak preview the one to come. Sometimes I open a book. Mostly, I linger.

Here, I do not try to check items off the to-do list.

I had no say in the way this porch was built. It long predates me. And I am grateful mosquitoes, Minnesota’s state bird, cannot catch me here. I like, too, that this enclosure makes my house feel that much more secure as I sleep at night. Yet I do admire the porches of some other homeowners in the neighborhood. On walks with the little buddy we sometimes see open-aired porches made of clean concrete, columns that harken those old Roman porticos, and comfortable chairs beneath generous soffits that create a space that must be dreamy during heavy showers. I can see the value of having a porch that is more out than in. But I can always slide open my windows whereas they cannot easily batten down those hatches. You can’t have it all. Love what you do have.

I will not anytime soon renounce central air. Frankly, I can scarcely imagine life for most of human history, and for much of the rest of the world today, sans air-conditioning. I have lived in situations where you cannot break the humidity of a July night without water and, well, no thank you.

Yet it’s undeniable that when people stopped needing open-air porches neighborhoods got a little colder in another sort of way. People on stoops see things. They meet people. They have conversations. They know their neighbors better. They watch television less. Something was lost when temperature become controlled.

This is the first porch I have ever owned. As porches go, this one’s not likely to impress you. It’s not going to show up in a home renovation makeover show. Nothing happens here that would make for a viral video. It doesn’t have an Instagram page.

Yet I can sit here, with or without turning on the cheesy starry lights that line in the inside, and breathe as easily as I ever do.

It’s good to be mindful of your breath and meditate and all that other healthful stuff. Sure. There is also something to be said for being where you should be. When you coexist with a space that offers you what you need. A place where you don’t have to try. You are just in a right place for you. What makes this so I cannot say. I know it when I feel it.

Turn Out the Lights: The Pizza Party’s Over

“I was going to get rid of this toaster anyway.”

What does it mean when you don’t any longer go gaga for pizza?

It’s baked cheese. On a bed of highly refined carbohydrates. Topped with greasy meat. Doused in salt.

It is, in other words, the rare fare that incorporates all four American food groups.

Yet — for some reason — pizza no longer offers much pizzaz.

These days when I think about ordering a pizza I usually talk myself out of it. And if I don’t, I later wish I had.

What in the name of holy pepperoni is going on here?

Pizza has long been the ultimate cheat meal — the choice when I’m ready to eat without regard for human life.

I don’t have occasion to recall many meals of any sort but I do hold memories of pizza parties. One: Waking at my best friend’s house the night after a sleepover and the two of us putting away slice after slice we had taken straight from the fridge because his parents weren’t yet awake to stop us and, well, pizza.

Who among us wasn’t pumped one day every month in elementary school when they served, along with a mini carton of milk and a dollop of corn, that rectangle of pizza? Or the other day of the month they served the same meal only instead of a rectangle of pizza there was an octagon of “Mexican” pizza?

In college, on Wednesday nights, the local Domino’s offered a $5 medium special — including delivery — and I’m not too big a person to recall the side order of celebration that came when I won several freebies off my freshman roommate playing dorm-room basketball.

You circled the date on the school menu when it came out each month.

Later in adulthood, one night I wound up at First Avenue, the famous venue in Minneapolis, for a concert in which appeared Macaulay Culkin — yeah, that’s right: he was not home, he was not alone — and his, band, the Pizza Underground. The band’s conceit: they sang Velvet Underground covers in which all the lyrics to all the songs were changed so as to make them about pizza. (i.e., “Pizza Gal” instead of “Femme Fatale.”) OK, so I didn’t technically eat pizza that night but, as I watched Culkin sing and play the kazoo (take that, Lou Reed), I certainly consumed something that registered gastronomically.

Pizza: It’s all good. Until …

… one day I woke up and realized that ‘za doesn’t add to my life much zing.

While I admit I’m not an accomplished pizza connoisseur, this is not entirely a class distinction. I could certainly seek and find higher quality pizza but I have revisited the pizzas of my past and they simply are not as good as they used to be. On class, though, I will say this: Be suspicious of any joint with the word “Pizza” in its formal name. Pizza Ranch. Pizza Man. Pizza-Pizza (all right so that is actually a motto of sorts, not a name, but I rest my case.) There is an exception to this rule. Though checking out the old haunt’s website, I see pictures of the pies currently on the menu, I fear a return, lest I spoil my memory of that go-to following Friday night football games in high school and, once, site of dinner before a Sadie Hawkins dance. The point is, upscale or down, when I eat pizza these days, so seldom do I get lost in the wonder of it all. It must be good! The cheese separates as you pull it apart!

Is pizza a simile for this age? Nothing is good enough. Something else might be better. Scroll down the page. Swipe to the next image. Have our senses been dulled by the torrent of everyday sensory stimulation?

The more likely explanation is that I am the weirdo. Long sensitive to unhealthful foods, the down side of pizza has come to outweigh fleeting moments of mozzarella nirvana. To me, pizza doesn’t just cost $16.95 plus tips. There is an energy tax. For I don’t generally want to do much after eating pizza and if I ate pizza late last night I’m likely to wake up groggy this morning. How much are you going to spend, all told, on 15 minutes of face-stuffing? (No, this sort of thinking doesn’t make me fun at parties.)

There is upside here. My body is less often and less intensely craving something that, let’s face it, doesn’t do it much good. Sausage is only something you can enjoy if you suspend all thought about what you are actually eating — what series of steps were taken to manufacture those bits of flesh into a palatable topping.

I have thought about upgrading but how much better can dough, tomato sauce, and cheese get? And how much should the best version of it really cost?

For weeks I sat on a coupon for a fancy pizza joint I have never been to, supposedly a finer establishment, thinking several times I might order up, only to let the coupon expire. Instead, the other night I ordered a veggie supreme from a place I have eaten at half dozen times since I moved into my current home two and a half years ago. I have always only encountered there good people. The place is clean, the prices are fair without being suspicious. The guy who came to my door immediately expressed concern he was late (he was not).

Still, after I ordered I couldn’t help but think of the stories of awful things pizza delivery drivers have done, alone with pizzas, in the backseats of their cars. I also recalled a time as a kid a group of us went to a popular pizza place in town and it was bad — and I don’t meant how the pizza tasted. I was so sick the next morning I had hallucinations. Our whole family was ralphing.

Mexican pizza had more sides.

Of course, I don’t need to deal with pizza joints to eat decent pizza. Among the greatest advancements of the last thirty-five years is how far humans have come in the development of frozen pizza. Where we are today — in what can only be called the golden age of cellophane-contained golden crust — versus where we were not so long ago, circa the time personal computers became common, is hard to qualify.

It would, frankly, shock those who do not know a world in which grocery stores routinely make room for a full aisle of freezer space to house their petrified pizza offerings — where shoppers can get everything from rising dough to thin crust to gluten free, from veggie to pesto to every-meat-known-to-man, all of which come in sun-dried tomato options — as to what used to pass as dinner. Not only are the majority of today’s frozen pizzas tasty, a good number are of superior value to the ones delivered in a box to your door from a guy with a horizontal bag.

Most memorably, back in the primeval pizza days, we held a frozen pizza fund-raiser for our youth hockey program. Looking back on it, it’s a wonder how we lads of the Lake Region hockey association were not left out in the cold. Clearly, the money generated from the sales could not have been consequential. For had someone done a taste test between the frozen pizzas we sold, the cardboard they came on, and the pucks we played with the favored choice of at least some epicures would have been in doubt.

Without question, I’m going to encounter pizza again, voluntarily and involuntarily. This weekend at the grocery store, instinctively, I picked up a frozen cured pepperoni I like but then halfway down the aisle circled my cart and put it back in favor of a veggie option I have not yet tried. Maybe lighter is better. The veggie I had delivered the other night didn’t sit as heavy. We shall see.

No, I’m not giving up on pizza altogether. But I am going to stop thinking that I might anytime soon eat a memorable pizza.

Presence


Look down, fair moon, and bathe this scene;

Pour softly down night’s nimbus floods, on faces ghastly, swollen, purple;

On the dead, on their backs, with their arms tossed wide,

Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.

-Walt Whitman, “Look Down, Fair Moon,” Drum Taps: The Complete Civil War Poems (reprint, 2015)

First Impressions

“At Eternity’s Gate” • Vincent Van Gogh (1890)


The exercise was to look at the painting and observe your impressions. Despair is the first word that comes to mind. Even without knowing the title, you initially think of a man nearing the end of his life. Maybe he has regret. Maybe he suffers from dementia. Maybe he misses his beloved, who died too soon.

But because you cannot see what is outside this tight frame, you might consider another possibility: this man may be frickin’ hilarious. Possibly he just told his grandchildren, or his best buddy he’s know since grade school, when that sat next to each other in class can caused call kinds of mischief for that poor teacher, a whopper of a funny story. Remember that time? Possibly the room is full and it’s roaring. Possibly the man is about to summon tears, all right, tears of joy.

Of course, when you learn the name of the painting, and it’s creator, and see when it was fashioned from that creator’s expansive yet tortured soul, not long before he volunteered to immediately meet his maker, the impression of a jovial scene becomes harder to fathom.

Yet even with the fire … the hunch … the tightfisted hands over hidden eyes … you still don’t know … not for certain … no.

Just Be

Close your eyes. Listen to the birds chirp. The dog bark in the distance. There is a woodpecker on the top of that telephone pole. Hear him whack away. There is a ladybug crawling along the walkway beneath you. The silent bug spreads her wings then closes them again and heads for the grass and slips between two brown blades. There is nothing you need to think about, worry about, do, right now. Just close your eyes and listen to the creation of which you are a part.

Time

Do not lament what opportunities are closed but embrace the ones before you.

And give a bear hug to the beautiful ones all around you.

There are moments when the experience of Time feels palpable.

Snapshots from an emotional day:

Your dog squinting into the wind, his sniffer vibrating — an old man soaking in the sun, as you hold him up, head-high, to check him over, the clouds passing through the forever blue above you.

A few minutes before. Your dog sauntering in an old haunt, that unmistakable jaunt, his tail dialed to 12 and 2, 2 and 12, 12 and 2, back and forth with each step, the canine metronome, as he sips the world through his senses, absorbed and free.

Why Are We Here?

No matter what you think of that dude flexing in the mirror at your gym, or the beauty on the red carpet, compared to the physical prowess of the other species, the human body is not especially impressive.

An eagle can see more keenly.

A dog can smell better.

An elephant is stronger.

A giraffe is taller.

A cheetah can run faster.

A dolphin can jump higher.

A kangaroo bounds further.

We can’t fly. We must be taught to swim. We can only run so far. We do not have night vision. We do require much rest.

About the only physical attribute a human has over every other earthly species is this: we can throw pretty good. (Anthony Fauci excepted.)

Throwing is great for game-playing and maybe hunting big game but otherwise not a skill that makes one slap one’s head and say, “oh yes, that is why we are here!”

What humans bring foremost to the terrestrial smorgasbord are the products of our internal organs: thought (reason) and feeling (love).

Using the flawed Western dualism for short: we are more mind than body.

Of course, other animals have powers in these areas — we know animals think and feel, love and connect — but none in the known world have the same level of depth of connection and inspiration and communication and deduction as that of we two-legged up-righters.

This understanding should help focus your aims in two regards:

1. To frame your physical as an important support of your mental/emotional. It is a means not an end.

2. To remember the mental/emotional is what the greater whole needs from you. Bring your A game. And help others do the same.

Dumb Phone

One way to look at your level of happiness is in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent on your phone.