Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

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

 

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[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.

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

When I look back the word that comes up is forward.

This year I moved forward better. That may sound like a small thing and perhaps for many people it is. For me, moving forward has never been easy and often it’s difficult.

For one thing, I have not always been good at knowing what forward means. Or I have thought I have known but found out that I had allowed the way forward to be defined by someone else. The worst is the nether world  in which I am fiercely unsure, able to see more than one way forward, and having the rationale for more than one these alternative avenues, but not clarity about which one would be best.

Let’s get specific: early this year I was offered a promotion at work. A promotion is clearly forward, right? I thought so. I took it. Couldn’t not. Why would I want to stay in my current job when the chance to move ahead was right before me? There seemed to be no downside.

Except the job wasn’t right for me. It was a good job. A useful job. I was fortunate to have been offered the job. But it wasn’t the right job for me.

About four months after taking it, I walked into my boss’s office and announced that I didn’t want it anymore.

I wanted my old position.

I wanted to go back.

In other words, not only had I decided I didn’t want to move forward, at least in terms of occupational hierarchy, in that moment I took a step in the opposite direction. Except, forward can be defined in different ways, as I learned anew. The act of admitting that this wasn’t the right fit, at least in this case, at least for me, coming to the conclusion in a short but reasonable time-frame that the common notion of forward for many wasn’t forward for me, seems to have been a seminal moment.

It soon followed from that action that, after wrestling for more than a year about where I should next live, I quickly found a new place to call home; after contemplating for months leaving a community that, after more than four years, was no longer serving me, I took that step; and a longtime project I had at various times thought I might abandon, or be forced to … I finally found a path to complete. Coincidence? Perhaps. I wonder.

What I think is clear is that forward means taking steps in directions that your own compass determines, not that of others.

Too, sometimes moving forward is less about grasping for something additional and more about letting go of something you already carry.

So many aspects of life are related, connected, even if we don’t have the wherewithal to see.

More than anything, moving forward means honoring the energy inside. This is much easier said than done in my experience. Certainly, I am far from perfect at it. But I do believe I am better than I used to be. For that reason, more than any other, this seems to have been a good year.

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.

 

*          *          *

[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.

I’m Good, Thanks

This morning at the gym I looked up to see the manager of a liquor store I had visited for the first time the other day.

“Max,” I said. I was reasonably sure my memory of his name was correct. I was certain the man before me had helped me pick out a Pinot Grigio.

He nodded.

Max was honest; he did not readily recall my name. I told him. “You answered my questions about Bailey’s [Irish Cream],” I added. I am not a great alcohol mind.

“Yes!” Max smiled.

Meanwhile, Max had also stuck out his hand. The same way he had the other night. The other night, I shook his hand. This morning, I feigned not noticing. It was easy enough in this case. I was already on the move, we were no longer face to face, and he held low. I decided I would rather be rude than take his hand just then. It’s nothing against Max. Of late, I have been avoiding handshakes. They are, after all, if you consider the unwitting transfer of germs that occurs during them, rather disgusting. (I have no doubt, by the way, that I give out as much or more as I am getting in these exchanges. A University of Colorado at Boulder study found that a typical hand has roughly 150 different species of bacteria living on it and that seldom does our particular batch of bacteria match that of the person we’re shaking hands with. [1])

Thus far, my efforts to avoid the various hands extended to me have been mixed. Sometimes I have a built-in-excuse, such as cuts on my fingers from lifting weights. Other times, I make one up, saying something about fighting a cold is usually what comes out of my mouth. This morning, after passing Max, I decided I need to become more elegant in my handling of hands. That is, a need to find a way not to lie and yet still be respectful. You can tell me I am being ridiculous — dude, just shake the guy’s hand — and I’m OK with that. I got sick last February, sicker than I ever have been as an adult, maybe sicker than in my entire life. Sure, I could again this winter pick up the flu and/or bronchitis combo platter another way. But I’m not going to go around asking for it, either.

To be sure, I do not believe we should attempt to sterilize all aspects of our lives. We are going to be exposed to germs and bacteria and a host of microbes. We are, after all, an accumulation of such creatures. Our homes do not need to be hospitals. Just as it’s not healthy to eat healthfully 100 percent of the time, it’s not possible or even desirable to avoid all contact with bacteria that is not your own. The woman at my financial institution who helped me the other day … I wanted to take her hand when she extended it. This is different than saying I want to shake hands with everyone I meet anymore than I want to kiss everyone I meet.

So: what shall I do instead of shaking hands?

In Tibet, they stick tongues out. Perhaps I could see how that goes over. The Japanese bow. They do in Thailand, too — with hands in the prayer position. I like that. Hmmm, though not sure. In several cultures people put their noses together. I like Max but probably not touching his schnoz anytime soon.

Like many such dilemmas, I thought about it then quickly punted. Perhaps I’ll come up with something later. Then, sure enough, later was fifteen odd minutes later, as I was in the basement warming up for my back-squats. That’s when I struck up a conversation with a guy about the Romanian deadlifts he was finishing. He set his bar down and headed right for me. He was done with his sets and his way upstairs. “My name is Dave, by way,” he said. He led with an extended hand.

If I knew Romanian it would be fun to have greet my new friend the way we would greet each other if we lived in that country: Buna dimineata! “I’m going to fist bump you,” I said instead.

Dave smiled. And for a second I did, too. A solid pressing of knuckles. That works. At least in the land of dumbbells.

 

*          *          *

[1] “Women Have More Diverse Hand Bacteria Than Men,” citing a study by Micah Hamady, Christian Lauber, and Rob Knight, CU Boulder Today, November 3, 2008.

We Interrupt this Program …

We are switching gears. The intent is to move toward a more traditional blog from this point forward. We’ll see how long that lasts. Thank you for reading.

Security

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

-Oliver Herford, ” I Heard a Bird Sing,” Welcome Christmas! A Garland of Poems (1955)