Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

An Arrow for the Bullseye

I have come to an important realization. This isn’t easy to say, certainly not publicly. And it’s no doubt going to be an unpopular view. One that in certain circles might, in fact, be seen as controversial. Yet there is no use pretending any longer. I might as well come out and admit it.

I don’t like Target.

I don’t like it — OK? I know everyone loves, loves, loves Target. They go on their Target “runs.” They make it their go-to place, whether they need a 48-roll pack of toilet paper, six kids worth of school supplies, plastic Halloween decorations, or produce.

In these parts Target is seen by the masses as affordable, palatable, convenient and, well, it has everything you need — and more than a few things that you don’t. But, hey, why not, we’re here!

Middle-classers can shop at Target without the tax-bracket shame they feel at Kmart.

Liberals can shop at Target without the political embarrassment they fear at Walmart.

But it’s time we acknowledged the elephant (sporting a red top and tan khakis) in the room.

First of all, the prices at Target are not all that stellar. I do have a Red Card, yep, which saves me 5 percent, and that’s not nothing, to be sure, but it’s not like I can’t get my laundry detergent any cheaper than at the drug store or grocery store.

More importantly, to have everything is to have too much. Unless you are looking for big items like a king-sized comforter or a two-seat couch, to enter Target is to prepare to go on a hunt — and, while on this white-light, sterile cheap-goods safari, if you see one of those red bat phones you might as well pick it right up. Get the 17-year-old kid to start scrolling his handheld inventory now before your mental fatigue sets in.

Let’s be frank: the fare is not of any higher quality at Target than at any other big-box retailer. I bought a lamp there that, I swear, stripped off its base 61 days after purchase and ever since hangs off kilter. The last three non-disposable items I bought there failed for various reasons and with little wear and tear.

Convenience? Puh-leeze. There is little about a store that size that is convenient. Even if you know what you want and you park within fifty yards of the front door, you must wade through the bargain bins and clearance end-caps. That is, after all, the point. I have heard it said you can’t go to Target and not spend a hundred bucks. The person who told me that was smiling. I am not. I don’t know how they do it but I feel certain they must have armies of capitalist masterminds making sure that it is so: you are hypnotized to buy more than you need. Go there now and come back and tell me I am wrong. (By the way, I see those bullseye bags behind your back.)

Of course, you may still bump your red cart into mine at a Target sometime. I still go. But I have been going far less in last couple of years and my last visit cinched it for me that I will only go when I feel I must. I had walked in to make a return. After finishing the return, I checked my home shopping list and thought I might as well finally get that pumice stone. As I was going to the Personal Care area, I stopped to regard the Q-tips. After all, I don’t have any at present. Then there was the hand soap. Only $1.29, you say? Might as well grab some. Meanwhile, I couldn’t find a pumice stone to save my life. I circle. Shampoo, Row 1. Shampoo, Row 2. Pumice stones not in Personal Care, apparently. I looked for a bat phone. A red shirt. A sign. Something. Hell-o!

Finally, I said to myself “I shall not do this any more.” (Perhaps not a verbatim transcript. Point is this: I came to clarity. See, I prefer to shop bricks-mortar than online. I like to see what I am going to buy before I buy it — hold it in my hand if I can. And I like to be loyal to local places — but seems clear I should concern myself here only with places that add value. Last week, I shopped at Dey Distributing, an appliance parts shop in St. Paul, where I bought an air conditioning capacitor. I could easily have saved $10 elsewhere or online. In my view, the extra ten spot was money well spent. For there are adults at Dey — and those adults are available and able to help you. I shop regularly at Ace for the same reason. The men and women who work there know the products and they will help even an idiot like me use them. The store is also smaller than a soccer field. I am, for example, in the market for a weed whacker. When I stop being cheap and I decide to buy one, I will likely get it there. I might spend a little more but I know they will service it and answer any questions I may have.) the bottomline: Skewer me if you, as a Target loyalist, must. But I am not going to hide it any longer. At this point, I’m able to find a pumice store or a guy with a handheld, I did what any responsible adult would do in the same situation: I set my basket down and walked away.

Yum

You can feel it on the edges of the day; the air is shifting, the sun is lessening, the heat is breaking.

It was my turn to work the late shift yesterday. I do not mind being at work after the usual hours — there is calm and lightness in being part of the skeleton, post-5 o’clock crew. Yet it makes for a short night.

Last night I was grateful for the interruption in the usual routine. The air was — I know no other word — simply delicious. Just cool enough for a thin hoodie. While sometimes of late I will get weary on the late-day walk, last night it was me, not the little buddy, who wanted to go the extra blocks — who wanted to further explore new paths, who wanted to walk by the old theater a second time. What else might we see? Who else might we run into? In hindsight I can’t believe how light were my feet.

When we returned from this anything-but-hurry stroll, with the sun newly down there was still light enough to see, if barely. I turned on the string lights and took out his ball. Under this glow we kicked the ball, one of us with his snout. I am not sure either of us didn’t play for any reason except for the fact that we could.

I also took out the trash/recycling because the next is our day for that. I found myself pleased for that easy but necessary chore — for the excuse to sip additional minutes from day. You wish you could bottle up nights like that one but that’s why it’s special and you know it’s special while you have it — know it in the moment — because you cannot.

Though, I suppose, this post is my way of trying to.

Tour de Farce

At what point did it become the case that nearly every weekend road warrior who bicycles now wears attire as if they were coming over the Pyrenees in the Tour de France?

Used to be that people who enjoyed bicycling would, you know, put their butt cheeks on their bicycle seats and start peddling. Not any more. First, it seems they must change into form-fitted, aerodynamic attire. This would, of course, include shorts tight enough to reveal one’s religion and jerseys peppered with sponsorship-suggesting insignia. And then there are the helmets. Some sporting minute rear-view mirrors, all are decal-laden.

This Saturday morning ride down the River Parkway is brought to you by Cervélo.

That trip to the light rail station was made possible by Trek Bicycle Corporation.

In America, circa 2019, brand names are our tribe markings in far more than just bicycling. Certainly. You see brand ID on gym bags, on sneakers, the front of T-shirts, and the back of those ever-ubiquitous leggings. That’s just for starters. Yet it seems there is a special form of tribal pride practiced by bicyclists. They seem to seek something more than merely to pledge allegiance to Cannondale. Few people who play weekend softball wear full uniforms, stirrups and all. No one I know shows for pickup basketball by first pulling off tear-away pants to reveal full-on tank-top and shorts combos. Breezers are simply not worn for shinny hockey.

By contrast, the impression one gets while dodging the waves of cyclers on the way to the grocery store, the gym, the pet supply, is that most bicyclists are dressed as though they are doing nothing less than going after another article of clothing: a yellow jersey.

‘This Is the Face of Hell, Lou’

November 14, 1985 was a school night, a Thursday, and so I probably was not awake when David Letterman less introduced Sam Kinison as issued a public service warning. Yet a recent viewing of this, Kinison’s network television debut — aroused as I was to find these few minutes following encounters with multiple recent cultural references to the gone-too-soon comedian — feels like a memory. The home video quality of the footage fuels the nostalgia. We didn’t have plasma screens then, of course, but we had moments you could not see the next day and laughter you can still hear decades later. That is, if you listen close and pretend you are in front of a wood-paneled television set, no doubt sprawled next to your brother, waiting to see what could possibly come on next. Will Dave throw a truckload of watermelons off a four-story building? Will some guy stop a dizzy-spinning pinwheel with his tongue? Might a dude’s dog bark every note to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? Or — or — will a former Pentecostal preacher in an oversized overcoat — a guy who would not get forty years on the planet — strut onto the screen, promptly wander off camera, and scream at the top of his lungs in the face of an unsuspecting man in a football jersey? To me, the bit is funnier today than it would have been then — I actually get the adult-themed lines today. Though when I watched this the other day while sitting at the kitchen table on a summer night — we always stayed up for Letterman on summer nights — I laughed a lot like I did when I was a kid.

Fresh Air

Cool air is coming from my vents. The figure on the thermometer just got smaller.

And I just got lighter.

You take for granted the magic of air conditioning until the morning you wake up and realize it got warmer in your home while you slept.

Of course, air conditioning breakdowns happen on the hottest days. After all, you don’t run the A/C in December. Not in Minnesota anyway. Not yet anyway.

This presented me with the obvious problem, fixing the A/C, which came with at least two cascade problems that I was aware of. First, I am cheap and service calls are not. Second, I am not especially savvy about fixing such devices but have shame that I am not.

In this case it seemed likely to me that the issue was minor. The thermostat was charged, air still came from my vents — everything inside sounded right. Outside, at the unit, which is a fun word, the fan did not spin. That is, unless I flicked it with a stick. Then it would spin, but not with the necessary force. Most telling: the hum. The unit sounded as though she wanted to start.

Through the magic of YouTube the diagnosis I arrived at was a blown capacitor. This is, apparently, among the most common reasons an air conditioner fails. Fortunately, capacitors are cheap and they are not hard to replace. Not hard for the average person, that is. In mechanical situations, I am below average. In fact, if average is the thigh, I am down there in the shadow made by the ball of the ankle.

Several days passed while I figured all this out and looked for someone who might assist. For one thing, the fix, even if I was right on the diagnosis, involved wires. For another, there was no guarantee I was right about the diagnosis. I have a habit of looking for evidence to back up my theories. Often, this involves the use of blinders. I might well have talked myself into this one, hoping I was right. When I could not find anyone to confirm and oversee, I set up a service call.

The day before the tech was going to come out and charge me $99 to shake his hand (before he charged me additional to do the rest), I found myself in a discussion group in which members of the group had the opportunity to share a dream. “I want to fix my air conditioner and I don’t want to pay a lot to do it,” I said. (Some people see white, Sandy beaches, others strolls down red carpets. The Dog just wants to be happy at home, I guess.)

One person who heard my dream happened to be a contractor. He agreed with my diagnosis. He said he could get me a name of someone who would either talk me through it on the phone or do the work at cost. Something about the affirmation and the support changed my view. Whereas the dilemma had started to weigh on me, on the way home from the group I felt an ounce lighter. I popped into my ACE and asked for Mitchell, my go-to guy, to see if he had a capacitor I could buy. No, Mitchell said, but he knew a place.

I bought a capacitor from Mitchell’s preferred appliance parts store. I could have found one online cheaper, no doubt, but there is something about human interaction. The guy behind the counter calmed me down and made sure I had the right one for my unit. The guy behind me in line had professional experience he freely offered. I walked out of the appliance parts store not just with the capacitor but also with a bit more confidence. Let’s do this.

Kind neighbors are golden and when I asked to borrow a socket wrench from one of my kind neighbors he pulled out his large box with every size wrench you could think of and just walked over. We pulled off the panel, pulled off the wires, and put those wires on the shiny knew capacitor. Some minutes later, the unit fired outside. Inside blew cold air.

I paid $31.22 to fix my air conditioner. I didn’t do it entirely myself. But I am grateful for the way I got it done — and especially for the people I encountered in the process. A capacitor is an electrical component that stores energy so that it may release that energy when the energy is needed. Metaphors make the Dog happy, too.

Critters

One sign of the warm weather that has finally arrived for us is the increasing presence of bugs. Mostly a nuisance and never courted, summer would not be summer without some critters crawling and flying in your space — critters not present (at least visible) the rest of the year. The uninvited summer guests.

Living in a new home I am seeing bugs anew for the first time since perhaps I was a child. For I am regularly encountering new-to me insects at unexpected moments. At first these sightings give me a start: do I need to worry about this one? It’s not the case the answer is always no. Carpenter ants, for example. Yet I write these words to make something of the small fears that arise in these moment and — I hope — to better acknowledge what is real: the circle of life, the whole of all living things, the wonder that can be had when you look, really look, at another living thing. The more foreign the creature, the more you might see.

The minute green guy that makes it onto the fleshy part of your hand while you sit in the sun, for example; you almost kill him with the usual movements, such as the wiping the sweat off your brow. The black beetle that scurries over the same grass on which you play ball with your dog: that is my black beetle, you think. And it’s not yours. And it is — you own nothing, really, and yet it is also the case you are the little thing’s most direct overlord. So there is that. And it’s a cheap and easy example but I don’t care: the monarch butterflies that have turned up of late. Growth personified — beauty embodied — to watch the slow-winged monarch air dance across one’s immediate view is surely better for the soul than anything you can see on Netflix.

Inside the house or out — the wonder factor is different, to be sure. And those little slivery buggers that seem to like water almost as much as you …. well, it’s hard to summon affection for them. But the bits that have arisen in my consciousness of late I shall put like this: even if I have few specific memories of particular bugs at particular times, collectively, these critters carry inside my home and through my lawn mirrors of memory, to a time when summer was all-day baseball and late nights of card games and noisy fans blowing and juicy tomato sandwiches and cold milk shakes and the pervasive sense that anything could happen.

In these reimagined scenes the screen door is always closed, keeping the bugs out. But they are there. A moth and some friends are probably pressed up against the door. We don’t let them in, not intentionally, of course, but how different life would be if they were not right there with us.

Open

I am neither a night owl nor a big spender. But I love joints that are open forever. Hopper’s “Nighthawks” is a favorite painting. Yet when I think of the all-night diner I do not see straight faces — I see smiles. I do not see a city — I see a glow in the middle of a prairie. Open your nostrils and you will be there, too: a grit-and-grease cook slings a joke to his old friend at the counter. “You ever heard about the time Betsy here …” The side of the friend’s fork clanks against a thick plate. A tongue-full of Crème de menthe is lifted, then suspended. Yes, he’s heard this one before. Heck, he’s heard this story a thousand times. But he laughs as if for the first time. Betsy, who has waited tables here since high school, gives it back to the cook one better. He can do nothing but snort. Shared laughter. That is what I hear when I see the Open sign after hourslaughter of shared histories that play out under yellow light that pushes against big glass windows wrapped by the safety blanket of night.

Good

This, to the extent I am aware of such dynamics, is my experience of — my view on — grief.

Grief is sneaky. Stealthy is perhaps the better word. In any event, you often do not see or feel grief until it is already on you, in you, surrounding you. Even then, even when, you do not always know that grief is in your midst.

You can live in a cloud of grief and not even know it.

Grief is pervasive. Grief seeps and spreads. Grief attaches itself to thoughts and things that are unrelated to the grief itself.

Grief is not logical.

You can experience grief about the future. You can feel grief for a loss you have not yet experienced. The body knows.

Grief disguises itself. As fury. As sadness. As more things than be counted here.

Grief is a combo-platter emotion and yet also distinct. That might not make sense but then I do not purport to make sense of grief.

Grief is decidedly uncomfortable. We do so much to avoid grief. We try to outrun grief. We try to bury grief. We look away from grief. We pick up our phones and our drinks and our potato chips. We do almost anything if it means not dealing with grief.

It is understandable that we do not want to deal with grief. Grief is hard. And not nearly as fun as a video game.

Grief is seldom speedy and usually grief is slow. It puts its feet up and stays a while. You might think you set grief aside but grief remains in the guest room. Grief lingers under the covers.

Grief is cyclical. And its orbit is impossible to discern. What you know for sure is that grief will be back. Without question grief will return.

You can’t defeat grief. You can’t control grief. To try is also to increase grief’s strength.

We are not, however, despite these views, helpless to grief. We can lessen grief and sometimes even resolve grief.

Grief loses its power when we see it, feel it, let it be. Look grief in the eye; you are stronger than grief. Really, you are.

Yet, to be sure, you do not want to identify too closely with grief. There is no shame in grief but you do not want to make grief your friend. Grief is no badge of honor. Grief can teach you things but grief is not a buddy. Don’t put grief on any flag you fly.

Respect grief. Accept grief. Allow it to do what it must. Allow it, too, to be its best good — allow it to remind you of the love that is lost so that you can be present to the love that exists and be open to the love that may come.

Wires Crossed

Do you ever feel as though you have energy for a thousand things and for nothing at the same time?

As if your emotional currents are so crossed that sparks form and fly — zap-zap — but the whole of you does not know where it wants to move?

That you burn through your allotted supply of juice while stationary?

You are highly motivated now — and prostrate at the same time. Flying and grounded. Inspired and despaired. You are a walking contradiction. Or a sitting one, as it were.

I mean, tell me, does this ever happen to you?

No?

Me neither.

Mood (De-)Enhancer

There are places in America that are downright depressing. You might be perfectly content. You may otherwise be in a pleasing part of town. It could well be a beautiful day. Then you step in the door and your mood immediately sinks.

I think we can all agree that Applebee’s is one of these places.

Look: I had gift certificate — OK? The thing’s been burning a hole in my wallet for months. Heck, to think of it, I am pretty sure I have had that plastic card for a year or more. I can’t recall, frankly, which Christmas the gratis riblets appeared in my proverbial stocking. Finally in the “neighborhood” yesterday and ready for a free meal — shuddup — I whipped it out and walked in.

I sat down at one of the faux wood tables in the bar area. Before me, a women’s World Cup game was on two large screens (which sounds cool, except the game, England versus the United States, had been played two days before). Elsewhere within easy view, on three, maybe four other screens, I could watch what I gathered was a sort of East-West all-star football exhibition — high school or college, I could not tell (it is July; I do not know who plays football in July) — in which both teams wore the color black. I believe theMinnesota Twins were live on another small screen in the corner. The sound was not on any of these televisions.

I picked up the plastic menus. I say menus, plural, because there were like eight of them, each unique. Some had pictures of fajita platters (cedar lime cilantro chicken — sing it with me, people) and others advertising cool liquid concoctions (there was a blue one, a yellow one, and at least a couple that were various shades of green). I had a dessert menu. Of course. There was a specials menu. I also had the combo-platter menu in which I could order either two salads or one appetizer and two full entrees for $22. (Which makes you wonder which is more real — the food or the wood.) I had a full length biography on my person that had fewer words to decipher.

The staff, save for the guy behind the bar, were college-age. They hung out in the corner, sipping from glasses and laughing amongst themselves. It was not busy in the “neighborhood” bar and grill, at least not at that time.

I wanted much to order just enough food to use up my certificate. It was my own personal game of Price Is Right. In my mind, I could not go over the $25 price on my gift card or I would have surely lost.

Well, I did not go over and yet it cannot be said that I did not still fail. I ordered a steak salad that came well short of the $25 and yet was so much food it fell over all the sides of my plate with the first forkful. I mean it was big. And I even found a few strips of steak in there among the sea of tortilla strips and black-bean-corn. I can put away me some food. But I could not justify ordering a burger or a basket or a “USDA real” steak also when I could not finish the salad.

When I stood up to leave I left a ring of blue cheese and lettuce on the table. I half apologized to Libby, my undergrad server with a necklace tattoo, who assured me this display was perfectly OK — it happens here in the neighborhood bar and grill.

I walked out still in possession of the card. I have $10.05 left to use the next time I find that I am feeling entirely too happy.