Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

On Air

5:39 p.m.
You’re nearly done making dinner. You’re favorite radio talk show is on live in the background.

You check the steak. They go to commercial.

 

5:40 p.m.
You set down the oven mitt and pick up your phone.

In the segment before the commercial break the host of the show[1] had summarized a football game played on January 9, 1988.[2]

You thumb an e-mail to the booth, asking a question about that football game played on January 9, 1988.[3] You know the answer to your question.

 

5:42 p.m.
You put the steak on your plate. The potatoes need another couple minutes.

 

5:44 p.m.

The show comes back from commercial. The host says, “it just shows you how smart our listeners are …” The host then reads, word for word, the question you had e-mailed to the booth.

“The answer,” the host says, “is yes.”

 

5:45 p.m.
The potatoes are now ready. You grab a steak knife.

 

*          *          *

[1] The top-rated talk show in the Twin Cities.

[2] The Minnesota Vikings upset the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game that day. Among the key plays for the victors, Reggie Rutland (who later changed his name to Najee Mustafaa) intercepted a pass thrown by Joe Montana and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.

[3] You recall a story about what took place in the press box the moment Mustafaa intercepted that pass. Specifically, you ask whether this was the moment longtime Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman stood up in an otherwise quiet press box and yelled, “go baby, go baby, go.”

Be the Koala

When I was a kid, my favorite animal was the koala.

I had no actual experience with koalas. I have never been to Australia. Perhaps I saw one at the zoo. I have no memory of seeing one at the zoo.

I had a stuffed animal koala. I have memory of this but it is vague. I recall the stuffed animal koala being small. Maybe as small as a key-chain. Much smaller than an actual koala at any rate.

An average adult koala is about two and three-quarters feet tall. An average adult koala is about thirty-three pounds.

Cuddly and kind. I’m not sure why I was initially drawn to koalas but these are the first two words that come to mind when I think about why maybe I liked koalas as a kid.

I would have called them koala bears back then. A koala is not a bear. This is the case even if in their native Australia they are referred to as “native bears.”

A zoologist would tell you that koalas are completely unrelated to bears.

The koala is a bearlike marsupial.

Marsupials are mammals of an order whose members are born incompletely developed.

Koalas are born blind.

Adult koalas have small eyes. Especially as compared to the size of their heads. Koalas don’t have outstanding vision.

Those proportionally big heads do not house especially big brains. Koalas aren’t brilliant thinkers. You would not call a koala brainy.

On Sunday morning I looked up information about koalas. After all this time I still react when I see one in my mind’s eye.

On Sunday evening I turned to the Travel section of the newspaper and found a photograph of a koala. A reader had submitted the photograph from his travels. Specifically, the photograph was taken from a sanctuary for sick, injured, or orphaned koalas near Brisbane.

The thing that stands out about the koala in this photograph is the fur flaring from its ears. Koalas have bushy ears. These ears serve as insulation, keeping koalas cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They also keep the koala dry.

Koalas spend most of their time in trees. Even when it’s raining.

Koalas have claws suited for climbing trees. These claws also allow them to hold onto branches for long periods of time.

I’m no expert but the koala in the picture seems old.

In the wild, Koalas live an average of 13 to 18 years.

Koalas look wise. They seem calm. They are good listeners.

Koalas are not high-energy animals. They sleep up to 16 hours a day.

Koala energy is energy devoted to helping the ecosystem. Koalas play a critical role in the health of the whole environment.[1] Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves. Browsing eucalyptus leaves has an effect on solar energy levels hitting the earth. The wastes from such feeds have an effect on the terrestrial ecosystem. According to one researcher who has written a natural history of koalas, for millions of years koalas have played a critical role in creating and maintaining the upper eucalypt environment that is distinctively Australia.[2]

Koalas live a solitary life. They mate once a year. They don’t have lifelong partners.

Koalas aren’t going to provoke you. They aren’t going to try to eat you. Even if you are a rodent or a rabbit. If you mess with them, though, koalas can be assholes. Cut you up with those claws.

They are the original Edward Scissorhands.

I never saw that movie. Johnny Depp is a good actor but come on. Scissors as hands?

I recently watched a different type of video, one of those self-help jobs during which the woman on the video told of a trick. When you want to embody yourself, especially, say, at a particular moment when you notice you are not already doing so, think of your animal. That is, think of the animal you are. Immediately, the woman said, people will see a difference in you.

In the past, when asked to think of my spirit animal I have thought about lions. I have wanted to be a lion. Roar.

On my desk at work … I had forgotten this … the Monday after the Sunday in which I looked up facts about koalas and then saw the photograph in the newspaper I looked anew at a valentine I received last year that I kept and which sits near some photographs and knick-knacks. It’s one of those 2 x 2 Valentine’s Day cards. Same ones you would have given and received to all your classmates in grade school, saving only the one from the girl who made you feel warm inside when you talked to her. I kept this particular valentine for a different reason; it was given to me by one of my supervisors, who is one of the reasons why I work where I do. On the front of this valentine is one of those 3D tilt-it pictures, in which you see a different image and color depending from which angle you hold the valentine.

One image is green, one image is yellow, one image is blue. Right, left, up, down. That is four directions but who is counting as you move it this way at that?

One image is of a koala climbing a tree.

Another image is of mother koala with her joey.

The image that shows when the valentine sits still on my desk is of an adult koala staring back at me.

 

*          *          *

[1] Koala numbers are a fraction of what they once were. Many fear the species is slipping away.

[2] “Koalas: A Retrospective,” by Glenna Albrecht, written in the year 2000 for a QLD Koala Conference, posted January 17, 2017 at glennaalbrecht.com.

Practice, Practice

“So it was mostly hard work?” an off-camera journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Company poses this question to Wayne Gretzky. It is 1982.

Gretzky initially answers that, yes, it did take hard work. Then he sort of corrects himself. He says his father used to show him articles, and he would also talk to people, about various training methods some players used. How some lifted weights, others ran long distances, and the like.

“For me,” he adds, “when I was 6 [years old], I would skate eight hours a day and people would say, ‘jeez, he’s working hard’ or ‘look at all the time he puts into it.’ For me, if I would have thought of it that way I wouldn’t have did it. I enjoyed it. What I enjoyed was to skate all afternoon. That’s why I did it. And it wasn’t work. And it wasn’t something I had to do. I just enjoyed it.”

During this interview Gretzky is 20 years old. He is in the midst of a season in which he will score 92 goals, still the single-season record, and also record more assists than all but four other players will record total points. He will win the scoring title by 65 points. He will, that is, produce 30 percent more than the next closest player, further earning his famous nickname, The Great One.

In this interview, which I happened across the other day, Gretzky is being asked about the secret to his success. He is really being asked about practice. Practice: the act of repeatedly or regularly engaging in acts in order to improve your proficiency. Practice: that necessary aspect of getting good at something, anything.

Practice is a word I realize that I resist.[1] For to practice is to state that you are in training — not really doing the thing. Practice is work. And while work has value — I value my job, for example, value, too, having worked to clean the floors or shovel the sidewalk — practice is different than those necessary forms of work. Practice is voluntary work. One must choose to practice and one must make time for practice.

Of course, even the best at their crafts and careers practice. LeBron James practices. Bruce Springsteen, even after all these decades and all those sold-out shows, still practices. Why, then, do I think there is anything in this world I can do, ever will do, that could not benefit from practice?

Why do I resist the notion of practice?

Perhaps it’s because practice seems like work without reward. Or at least the reward is delayed.[2]

Practice: if you need it at all it means you probably need it a lot. Which means you should probably do it every day.

I don’t have time for practice. Certainly not for endless practice.

Also, what am I practicing for? I’m not exactly getting ready for the Stanley Cup playoffs here.

It wasn’t always that I resisted practice. Later during that year, 1982, after Gretzky had won every individual award a hockey player could, I turned 10. At this time, and for years to come, I loved hockey practice myself. Not only the scheduled practices required to be on the team but also the voluntary practice I engaged in on the frozen pond behind our house. For hours, even in the dark, even after all the other kids went inside, I would stay out on the rectangle of ice carved from snow and skate and shoot and yell back at my mother “five more minutes” when she yelled out the kitchen window to tell me it was time to come in, time for dinner, time for a show to start, time for bed.

I have long loved to read the sorts of articles Gretzky said his father showed him[3] — to read about people who are the best at what they do and specifically about their work habits. It usually fires me up to do my own work.

As an adult, the closest thing I have to what hockey used to be for me is writing. As a boy, I was a hockey player. As a man, I navigate the world foremost as a writer.

Except I have regarded practice for these respective endeavors very differently. Whereas I seldom missed a hockey practice,[4] I have skipped writing practice for any number of reasons.

The dog needs to be walked.

A bill needs to be paid.

I could put in some overtime at work — if I leave now.

And the easiest: I could use a little more time under these warm sheets.

The missing element here is pleasure. Gretzky talks about it in the above clip. Recently, I also listened again to the audiobook version of Stephen King’s On Writing. King talks about the pleasure he gets from writing and reading and it’s not hard to believe him. You hear it even when he’s not speaking of it. And, really, he can’t possibly churn out so many books if he doesn’t derive pleasure from the thing. It’s not like he needs the money at this point.

At some point in my hockey career, which, of course, fell far short of Gretzky’s level, the game started to feel like more work than pleasure. Practice was something you had to do. During stretches of two-a-day practices on my college team, I recall feeling like I had to crawl out of bed some mornings. The games were still fun, usually, but the desire to skate for four hours a day, much less the eight Gretzky describes, was no longer there.

There is a comment to be made here about how our society, which so praises hard work, can sometimes take something pleasurable and turn it into labor. Gretzky, King, many other accomplished persons one could name, never allowed this to happen. They made millions but you believe them when they say they would have done it for free.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely describes the difference in behaviors when people do things for money or they do them for other reasons. We operate under social norms and market norms. Social norms have us help our buddy move a couch. Market norms have us expect a fair wage at work. When these two things are blurred, trouble begins. As soon as market norms enter the picture, social norms are obliterated.[5]

Writers and other artists inevitably reach a similar nexus: once the work is a way to make a living, the work could easily be distorted by market norms. The art can feel like any other job. I don’t know if there is a trick to holding both but it seems clear to me that one must be especially cautious about keeping market norms out of one’s head when it comes to doing art. Or athletics.

“For me,” Gretzky said, “if I would have thought of it that way I wouldn’t have did it.”

We are conditioned to believe that everything done well could be monetized. Perhaps it’s just because I have been a writer most of my life but it seems especially for those of us who want or need to put words together to make any sense of things. You could have that published, people will say. You could have a bestseller. You could have that made into a feature film starring Ben Affleck.

The things people always ask when they learn I wrote a book: Was it published? Who published it? How did you get a publisher? How many copies have been sold? How much money did you make from it? They don’t ask about what is it like to write a page, finish a chapter, unearth an interesting detail. They don’t ask about the pleasure of the process of writing a story.

Takes some work, then, not to see the work as, well, just that, work.

Maybe I resist the word practice for that reason. I’m not sure. I don’t have the answer. There is something in here, though: if you derive pleasure from something it seems imperative to keep going back to that. Call it practice if you like. But whatever you call it, do it for the pleasure of the thing.

Otherwise, as The Great One said, you might not do it at all.

 

*          *          *

[1] At yoga, they always refer to it as “your practice.” Never liked that. Yeah, I can be cranky sometimes.

[2] One difference is that as an athlete or performer you are practicing for something — the next game or gig. There is a clear, time-bound goal.

[3] In fact, I still have a yellowed stack of those articles from my days as a hockey player.

[4] I would even go sick, if I could.

[5] Ariely uses an example that I’m not sure is the best but it serves: consider a man who has invited a woman to dinner then, at the end of the date, asks her to split the check. The social norm is that, in this case, the man pays. The market norm is that, hey, we both ate, we both drank, so we should both pay. Let’s see how far that courtship goes.

Phone, Home

Yesterday morning I walked out the door to start the day thinking my phone was in my jacket pocket when in fact it was sitting back, at home, on my desk.

I didn’t realize this dissonance until I drove to work, closed the car door, and headed across the parking lot. It was at that point too late to do anything about the hole in my holster.

During early pauses and breaks in my day, I reflexively reached for the phone that wasn’t there.

Imagine you’re at the end of your life and you realize how much time you wasted on the specific task of thumbing through your phone …

Of course, everything can be used as an advantage if you look for it. Our smartphones can be used to connect to others, stay on track with tasks, and to learn about the world. Some amount of time spent with them can be useful, worthwhile, and sometimes you need escape for its own sake. Smartphones can help with that.

Our smartphones are also uniquely designed to grab and keep our attention. I look down at my phone on lunch breaks, look back up, and, poof, there went a half hour. Without question, when you are on your phone, your mind is not in the room with you.

The first half of the day yesterday I reached for the phone without thinking about it. I reached for the dopamine hit I couldn’t take.

Eventually, sans the phone, specifically during my lunch break, I noticed I had casually observed people walking and talking in the cafeteria. I engaged a group of colleagues who had dined together and were walking by me. And I wrote — using old-fashioned pen on paper. I even had a lucid thought or two.

At some point I noticed I was having a really good day.

I noticed I felt more or less calm.

I felt more present.

I was in less of a hurry to do everything.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

Hey, it’s not like I am going to toss my phone into the snowbank. It will no doubt accompany me to work today.

But I do know I don’t want to be addicted to a device.

Me & ‘Me in Honey’

You know how sometimes you get a song stuck in your head? That actually never happens to me. What does happen to me is that sometimes I voluntarily choose to listen to the same song over and over. I don’t mean necessarily that I sit in a dark room and put the song on autoloop, though wouldn’t that be fun. No. What I mean is that a song I like will pair with an action I enjoy — lifting weights, for one, or driving in my car on my way to lift weights, for two — and for days in a row I listen to this one song many, many times.

Why I do this at all I’m not sure and that is not the important question right now. The important question right now is why “Me in Honey” by R.E.M. has been that song for me more than once. More than twice, if you must know the truth. Why, especially, it’s been that song for me of late.

There is a lot of honey in the world.
Baby, this honey’s for me
.

The song is the 11th in the order of the album of R.E.M.’s 1991 hit Out of Time. I know this because I don’t really listen to the other 10 on the CD that plays in my car.[1] “Me and Honey” was written by R.E.M. lead man Michael Stipe. It is what he has described as a response song. In this case he was responding to Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs fame, with whom he shared a friendship, and apparently, for a time, a bed. The Merchant song Stipe is responding to is “Eat for Two,” which, not surprisingly with a name like that, is about a pregnant woman, a young pregnant woman to be precise, who may not have necessarily planned to be with child at this time.

“It’s a male perspective on pregnancy, which I don’t think has been dealt with,” Stipe is quoted as saying in It Crawled from the South, a book about the band by Marcus Gray. “There’s a real push-me-pull-me issue, saying, ‘I had nothing to do with it,’ yet on the other hand saying, ‘Wait I have feelings about this.’”

Kate Pierson, perhaps best known as a founding member of The B-52s, receives duet credit for her vocals. She mostly moans in the background. And I love it. I don’t know where this song would be without her but very likely not playing in my car three times a day.

The single sweetest moments of the song come between verses when Pierson has the floor.

Ahhhh-uhhhhh-Ahhh. Ahhhh-uhhhhh-Ahhh.

I suppose one could read into the combination of woman and man — the song begins with a short groan from Stipe, then then Pierson does her thing — which could be taken as a baby crying, or maybe the ecstasy of sex, I don’t know. I will say in my first four hundred listens, give or take, I didn’t gather that pregnancy was the subject here. I am not sure I even picked up that there was a subject. I’m drawn to song’s energy, which begins with that open, and some clever lyrics that easily rattle off the tongue, even for someone who can’t sign a note.[2]

Knocked silly
Knocked flat
Sideways down
These things they pick you up
And they turn you around
Say your piece
Say you’re sweet for me

The year 1991 is significant to me, the year I graduated high school. It’s also a number that works backward and forwards. What else? I’m not sure I have much else. It is a pop song after all.

Pregnancy in the usual use of the term is not applicable in my life. Perhaps there is something metaphorically pregnant in me. It has felt that way. A change in the way I express in the world, you might say. A subtle yet useful shift. Perhaps. Maybe that is why my subconscious has been so drawn to “Me in Honey,” I don’t know. In the end, maybe I just like how the song has made me feel.

In any event, the loop will end.[3] I will move into more usual patterns of musical consumption. For now, let Pierson stretch her chords and the lyrics rattle around my car once more …

Left me to love
What it’s doing to me

 

*          *          *

[1] Yes, I still have a CD player. You want to make something of it?

[2] Except in the shower.

[3] Likely very soon. Likely by the time you read this, in fact. I have a breaking point. I mean, my shirts do have arms.

The Old Man and the Smile

The beauty of living near a movie theater is that you can decide minutes before a show starts to walk down the road, hand over a few bills, and have a seat in the calm dark, popcorn-stench that Netflix could never duplicate.[1] In recent years, I have watched far fewer movies than I did when I was a younger adult. But you drive by the marquee and you see Robert Redford is in town and you cannot not like Robert Redford. Just let me put these groceries down. I will be right there.

I don’t have a lot to say about The Old Man and the Gun. I want to dwell on just one point, really. Greater cinema minds than mine could add more weight and context to this point but here goes: this old-time-looking film, set not just in another era (mostly the early years of the 1980s) but with music, film stock, and cinematic language that make it feel as though it were shot in another era, too, is a perfect coda to Redford’s career.[2]

I was not, frankly, enthralled while watching Old Man but that is one thing I am savoring about having seen it: how without ever straying from the story of this feature film, Old Man also serves as a cleverly contrived retrospective.[3] For me this overlap is amplified by two scenes, both for the same reason.

The first: early in the film, Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek sit in a diner talking.[4] They play infamous bank robber Forrest Tucker and Jewel, a rancher, respectively, but for me they are playing themselves. The characters have just met yet they interact as if with the easy moves of old lovers savoring final sips at a party they didn’t pay for.

The second: late in the film Redford approaches John Hunt, played by Casey Affleck, the one officer of the law who has figured out Tucker is responsible for a robbery spree that has stretched across the country in the days before such events could be easily tracked. By the time of their meeting Hunt has been chasing Tucker, to no avail, over months and suddenly Tucker shows himself in a men’s room on a chance crossing of paths.[5] Tucker approaches Hunt before Hunt really knows what Tucker looks like. But in seconds he knows.

The reason: Tucker’s calling card was his charm. What people always recalled after he had robbed their bank, was that he always treated them as a gentleman. He dressed nicely. He talked kindly. He had a gun but he didn’t feel the need to pull it out and wave it around. No need to scare anyone unnecessarily. He could flash that twinkle-eyed smile and the world swooned. Over and over. For years and years, since he was a young man.

In response to Tucker, in response to Redford, Spacek’s Jewel sort of air laughs, smitten on some level she knows she shouldn’t be, but can’t help herself, and doesn’t want to. She’s living the fantasy nearly every woman of a certain age once had (and might still): being pursued by Robert Redford. Hunt, too, has his man but on some level doesn’t want to catch him. Hunt’s come to see that Tucker is doing what he needs in order to feel alive. He’s come to admire him. Affleck sort of winks through his character. He’s in a trance. I am here with Robert Redford and, sure, buddy, you can do what you want.

Redford has been making money hand-over-fist, at a rate only a bank robber could appreciate, by playing himself, sitting in diners having conversations, entertaining us during adventures, most of them in days gone by. He has flashed that twinkle-eyed smile and the world has swooned, in small theaters, like the one I was in, in towns all over America, since he was a young man. We chased him, we loved him, but in the end we could not catch him or keep and now he is gone.

Art and life overlapped by art again.

 

*          *          *

[1] Bonus that that theater doesn’t play thirty minutes of previews before each show.

[2] I did not know this before I saw Old Man, but Redford has said this will be his final film.

[3] At one point Tucker tells Jewel he’s never ridden a horse before. A funny the line coming from the Sundance Kid.

[4] Others might apply the observation to several scenes in which these two interact.

[5] Reminded me of the one scene in Heat that I can remember, in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, playing the chaser and the chased, share a similarly impromptu and honest moment — their only one shared on scene.

Let Me Get Up to Greet You

This time of the year in Minnesota you do not expect to encounter creatures who are not on the move. Squirrels scurry. Dogs follow their leaders.[1] The few birds who stick for the season do not often sit on the sidewalk as you pass. During this morning’s stroll through the neighborhood, however, it was me, not the little buddy, who stopped us our tracks.[2] There, on the ground against the back step of a detached garage, sat a husky. Torso on the pavement, she sat surveying the world, regarding us but otherwise still. I squeezed my frozen fingers beneath my mittens; this dog was as comfortable as a girl on the beach on an eighty-degree day. I greeted her with the high-pitched voice that comes out for canines.[3] She wagged her tail, she perked her nose a bit, but otherwise did not move. After I had kept us for a long moment, she eventually ambled her thick, deliberate body over, to where we stood on the other side of a chain link. This was not a young dog. Neither is my little buddy. I offered my hand for her to sniff. The two dogs touched noses between the fence. Overhead a squirrel squawked from the top end of a telephone pole.

 

*          *          *

[1] Usually, it is the other way around; he almost always knows exactly where he’s sniffing next, regardless of the pace I have in mind.

[2] A half block back I had thought about how great it will be in the spring, in the summer, when we can lie outside. Even at night, then, life will be so delicious, I imagined.

[3] My dog must think when I talk to him that I am pretending to impersonate Mickey Mouse.

Gone But Not Forgotten

“Hockey Coach Dies After Fall on Ice.”

I clipped the article under this headline from the December 18, 2018 Star Tribune. It has been sitting on my nightstand these past weeks.

I appreciate when major newspapers write feature obituaries of non-famous people. A friend remarked the other day that he had read an obit the New York Times had published recently about a man who frequently responded to provocative articles in that newspaper entirely through limericks.

I’m not sure why I saved this obit. I’m not sure why I did not recycle it along with the rest of that day’s newspaper.

The hockey coach who died was named Harv Graczyk. Graczyk, 67, the article says, had coached youth hockey in the west metro for more than 30 years. He had initially taken a job at the Osseo ice arena, which led him into coaching. He coached players ages 11 to 14.

I played hockey as a kid growing up in the north suburbs. I have many fond memories from when I was 11 to 14 years old, playing and watching the game. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that he and I crossed paths at some arena or another. Though I have no direct evidence that this happened. When I opened my newspaper that day it was the first time I read his name. I am certain I do not know how to pronounce it.

Communities exist because people give of their time, because they care about others, not just their own kids. “Grandpa Harv,” as he was known, was said to show up in arenas around the state to see his former players play. One of his neighbors ran a taxi company and when she was short of drivers, Graczyk would get behind the wheel. Says a longtime friend: “He would help people out.”[1]

I didn’t know Harv Graczyk. I can’t attest to anything about him. Maybe I saved his obit because it speaks to some part of me that is also gone.

I do know I am grateful I grew up in a community, surrounded by other communities, in which people like him cared about kids like me.

 

*          *          *

[1] Graczyk suffered some in his last days. The fall mentioned in the headline caused a traumatic brain injury. A GoFundMe page was set up to help with his medical and funeral expenses.

 

But I Don’t Wanna Eat My Peas

I have been YouTubing Trump news during dinners with my dog of late and I have questions.

What if the White House press corps showed up but didn’t talk?

What if instead of calling out the president’s lies political pundits didn’t report them in the first place?

What if Congressional leaders met with the president when asked, or when obligated to, but largely remained silent during such meetings?

I am not talking about these persons acting like children. I am wondering what would happen if they acted like adults. Specifically, I am wondering what would happen if they behaved like adults dealing with a child throwing a tantrum.

I do not have children of my own but I have read the Internet.[1] I have also observed skillful parents deal with children during difficult moments, such as public displays in restaurants, the sorts of outbursts children inevitably throw from time to time.

They throw food on the floor.

They use foul language. Or talk in gibberish.

They lie about how much and what food they have eaten.

The skillful parent responds to these deeds by speaking calmly and minimally. If necessary, the parent removes the child from the situation temporarily or, in extreme situations, permanently.

You can sit with us again when you are ready, they say.

While they may lower their vocabulary so as to use words the child understands these parents do not engage in a conversation as though throwing food, yelling, or pounding hands on the table is one of several legitimate ways to communicate. There is a basic level of behavior that must be met otherwise conversation isn’t happening at all.

In fact, you can see it in the parents’ countenance: this is not acceptable and I am not going to litigate the ways in which it is not. Usually in seconds, the child intuits that the current tactics for getting attention aren’t going to work. The situation is diffused. Riblets are again consumed.

What you don’t see is these parents responding to their children’s behavior with a full-throated critique of the ways in which the child has misbehaved and misspoken that the parents then package and broadcast via bandwidth carried to all fifty states and U.S. territories including Puerto Rico.

Of course, you may say, but Trump is, like it or not, the president and the president’s words and actions have greater consequences than do Johnny’s or Suzie’s in a suburban Applebee’s. Of course, you are right. I am not a strategist. This is not a fully formed plan. I have not figured out the best way to deal with the current president so that neither the absurd is amplified nor the dangerous remains unchecked.

Yet something doesn’t seem right about the current collective response. I watch these hyper-articulate, angry commentaries about the ways in which the president has or may have engaged in boorish, deceitful, uneducated, and/or criminal behavior and something makes me cringe.[2]

I had a conversation with friends about this recently and they pointed out that is OK to be angry. We should be angry, they said. Of course. I do not mean to suggest anger should be denied. I don’t know for sure but I bet if you asked that outwardly calm parent, the one who just sat down to one of few meals he or she doesn’t have to prepare this week only to find his or her child painting their hair with garlic mashed potatoes — I bet that mom or dad is angry. Maybe even seething. It’s just that they channel that anger in ways that square with reality: you can only do so much to reason with a person who cannot answer in kind.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were widely praised for their handling of the highly publicized White House meeting in December during which the president said he would own the federal government shutdown over his desire for a border wall. I wonder what would have happened if soon-to-be Speaker of the House Pelosi had said something akin to this: “I am here today and I will meet with you again as the duty of my office calls for. But I must tell you that given what you have been heard on camera to say with respect to your having sexually violated persons of my gender, given your relationship with the truth, and the ways in which you have related to other government officials, I will require that all our meetings be conducted with reporters in the room. In terms of the wall, you have said repeatedly and for years that Mexico will pay for this wall. Please let us know when that check arrives. In the meantime, the nation spoke loudly in November. We have a great amount of work to do on their behalf and we need all available resources to do it. Please let us know when you are ready to help.” Schumer should have sat back on that couch, legs crossed, not with his elbows on his knees, as he did, looking like he could hardly sit still. He should have spoken without uttering words.[3]

Have you ever observed parents who are not skilled at dealing with children in a fit? For me, this always seems to involve a car. I have witnessed this sort of scene at least twice in recent memory: the parent, upon entering or exiting the car, yells at a crying child, strapped in the backseat. Instinctively, you just know this is wrong. Not just because it feels like mild violence; but also as a tactic.[4] The child simply doesn’t understand his or her emotions in these moments and yelling at them for having them serves only to intensify the emotions and the confusion they cause. The child always cries more, and more loudly.

 

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[1] Parenting Magazine and RaisingChildren.net were especially useful.

[2] Rachel Maddow: the emotion, the sarcasm … I can’t.

[3] You could say that this response would set a precedent; opposing party leaders don’t talk to each other enough, as it is, and this will make things worse. First, I believe if enough adults act like adults conversation is always possible. Second, too bad. No choice here. You can’t accept the unacceptable.

[4] Make no mistake: I can’t fathom a strategy that changes Trump and I do not purport to espouse one here. There is no inner Lincoln to channel. He is who he is. I wonder, though, in the collective response whether we are not legitimizing behavior that does not meet minimum standards. The other day Morning Joe Scarborough talked simply and succinctly, saying that this man is not fit for the office. The resignation in his voice moved more than a mountain of anger.

Further Proof

The other night I watched the 2018 version of “A Star is Born.” At the end, I cried only for the dog. [1]

The other day I saw a post on my Twitter feed in which a man was shown, via a security camera, to abandon his dog by the side of the road.

Last night I read a syndicated news story about a boy named Jordan and a dog named Fred. [2]

Jordon, a 12-year-old, has alopecia; he has no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. In elementary school, Jordan had friends and sleepovers and played sports. By the time he got to middle school, all that stopped. Bullied on account of his condition, he withdrew from the world, refusing to leave his bedroom.

Fred, a 4-year-old Australian shepherd/lab mix, had been neglected by his original owner. Crated 24 hours a day, he had a skin condition and other medical problems. His nails were at one point so overgrown they were curled under.

“I can tell you from the minute Jordan got out of the car and he saw Fred,” said Jordan’s mother, Cheri, in the article, “it was love at first sight.”

Jordan nursed Fred, including helping with exercises for his previously little-used legs.

Fred then nursed Jordan, in that the dog prompted the boy to run outside so the pair could play fetch.

Cheri said on account of his furry friend, Jordan may soon be ready to have human friends again. He is even thinking about joining a golf league.

After reading the article I scribbled on the newspaper: “further proof that dogs are the best.” Such an easy tweet. When I think on it further, when I think of the bullying boys — or the man who abandoned the dog — or whatever person or persons it was who had no regard for Fred’s well-being — it’s not hard to wonder if maybe dogs are better than us humans. The word that comes to mind is innocent. There is something innocent about their love. You see that in the video of the abandoned dog (which I did not watch beyond seeing the dog’s unaware but slightly anxious demeanor the moment before the owner did the deed). You see it in so many dogs you encounter, whether on the street corner or on the screen.

No doubt, there are human heroes in Jordan and Fred’s love story. Cheri said it was a doctor who recommended an animal. So many physicians today would have simply taken out a notepad and written a prescription for anti-depressants. And it was a local organization called Paws for Life Rescue who made Fred that animal. Perhaps these encounters with dogs, or those with the longtime little buddy who lies at my feet as I write these words, have me reaching for the simple solutions. If only human life could be so easy as eat, sleep, play, love. Of course, it is not, and cannot be. Ultimately, we would not wish it so, either. But if only for a moment …

Alas, I have no difficulty believing the tale presented in my newspaper. Fred had been physically confined to his cage. Jordan had been emotionally trapped in his room. The two now sleep together and go everywhere possible together.

What a love story.

 

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[1] I say that to be clever. There is much to like in the first half of the film and Lady Gaga is great. The second half, well, at some point — maybe it is the forced tears at the rehab facility or possibly the fact the final chord for a man so seemingly in touch with the depths of his artistic soul is cut by a curt conversation with a one-dimensional character, the “sinister popstar manager” flown in from Central Casting — the love story’s spell, once tangible, believable, and steeped in atmosphere, is, for me, broken.

[2] By Christina Hall, “Neglected Dog Rescues Bullied Waterford Boy, Now Bond is Unbreakable,” originally published in the Detroit Free Press, December 3, 2018.