Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

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.

Shattered Glass

They killed pregnant women at Wounded Knee.

Four of the women — four of the 150 to three hundred (estimated) people slaughtered by the United States on December 29, 1890 in southwestern South Dakota — were women with child.

Driving to the All My Relations Gallery yesterday afternoon, with the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon, I thought about how narrow can be one’s view of things. How days can go by, weeks, months, years, even, I suppose, while stuck entirely within one’s own sphere of concern. This is not to trivialize the day-to-day care-taking and self-sustaining endeavors that consume our days. Those are necessary. Those acts give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet it is not either/or. We sometimes are able or are forced to see a layer beyond our own, and usually one of the first things we realize is how rare it is to do so.

In “Kiksuyapi 1890 (Remember, Don’t Forget)” Angela Babby depicts four women who died that December day, thirteen decades ago. Wounded Knee remains the largest massacre in United States history.

Babby said she was inspired while studying old black-and-white photographs of the scene. She had looked long at one of the photos before realizing what she was seeing: what at first appeared as a pile of blankets were, in fact, these women.

The colors Babby’ uses to convey the women are bold and beautiful — greens and oranges — and ornate in detail, such as of the moccasins Babby finds on the women’s feet. Babby’s colors are also haunting: the purple dark skin of death.

Babby used color in “Kiksuyapi” to “show the culture laying in a heap on the ground and to give the sense of being there.” I love old black-and-white photographs for how they allow us to focus on what is important. They convey sincerity and importance. Yet, in this current, image-frenzied world, in which we Instagram our dinners and our kids’ second-grade graduations and nearly every other happy occasion, black-and-white photographs from another century sometimes obscure reality. They can make it too easy to think we are far removed from what we are seeing.

The scene in “Kiksuyapi,” the aftermath of the slaughter, captured by Babby in iridized glass, shows the face of a mustached white man looking back toward the women from some distance. He looks Stalinesque. At once I also read into his face new awareness; it’s as if he’s now realizing what has been done. What he has done. What we all did. It’s a moment after the heat has been lowered when he must face what is beyond him. He no longer sees only what is before him.

Near the man lies a dead horse. I look long at that horse. What we put the animals through. What we do not often see about them. (Minutes before I walked into the gallery, while looking for a parking spot, I saw a dog, a pit-bull, perhaps, chained to the front of a house. He was alone. He looked at me. A sign on the front of the house said “beware of the dog.” We should also have warning signs for people who put their dogs in positions where their fear overcomes them. But I digress.)

Scattered about the prairie are other men. They linger. Some carry on conversations but most seem, to my eyes, to be standing in attention. They are products of the world we had created to that point. Those of us who are white, who have benefited from the raised consciousness that has followed Wounded Knee (it is clearly there even if unevenly exhibited), might assume that had we been there we would have acted differently. About this almost certainly we are wrong.

The view of personal responsibility, of pure autonomy, goes only so far. We are responsible not just for ourselves but for the world we shape. We are, in turn, shaped by that world. We don’t make it all up. We are shown what is right and what is wrong. Inside is both love and hate. We know what prevailed that December day. Which will we encourage more of at this moment?

Usually when we are in our own spheres others are impediments to us, not opportunities. Art reminds us there is more. Art shows us new possibilities. I spent nearly all my time at the All My Relations Gallery standing before Babby’s portrait.

The massacre, which some historians have said began over a misunderstanding between an American soldier and an American Indian who may have been deaf, took less than an hour. Of the dozens killed in that sixty-odd minutes, some sixty women and children were gunned down. Their lives abruptly ended. Their pain unleashed into the world in which we all live.

Blankets were placed over their bodies.