Saturday, March 24, 2018

Of Boxers And Coffee Tables: A Letter To My Dog

The following is a letter which I should have written to my dog. Being a Boxer, he would have been too stubborn to read it.

Dear Dube,

I believe we recently had a heart-to-heart talk regarding your proclivity for snacking on the corners of the coffee table. I'd like to hear your comments upon your having read this letter.

First, I wish to remind you that Gravy Train and Gains-Burgers are both sufficiently high in fiber. Now, I realize that the hardwood (which is of an unknown wood) provides your teeth and gums with a lovely workout. However, I believe that the beef knuckle, which mom brought home from the butcher, should have  provided such dental hygiene. As a dog of your ninety-five pound stature can express, that was readily apparent by the loud cracking sound which brought certain family members running to investigate the sound's source. Who knew that even a cattle bone can shatter like that?

The fact that you were able to crack the rather heavy bovine bone with such mandibular prowess indicates to me that you knew the risks which you placed upon one of Grand Home Furnishing's finest living room offerings.

And yet, the fact that you chose to go beaver on the living room's centerpiece indicates a suspicious degree of impulsiveness on your part.

Now, to be clear I love you. Any dog who can lip synch opera music, which mom happened to be listening to while grading papers, is certainly one who can attract any heart. (I don't think you were actually yawning, by the way.)  And yes, I love you even though you do steal my dirty clothes from my laundry basket and occasionally stop off at the hallway bathroom for a nightcap. But you have to admit that snacking on the furniture is a poor substitute for being productive.

Which brings us to the immediate issue: when do you intend to find a job so that you can pay for the damage? I realize that you can't drive yourself to work since (a) you don't have your own car, and (b) since you couldn't reach the pedals anyway. Please keep in mind that I'll be happy to drive you to and from work, and even sit with you during your interview. (As a reminder, you'll need to do something about your breath. I can appreciate the importance of good hygiene and manners, but PLEASE do everyone involved a favor and don't lick your butt while at work.) Be advised that if you don't find some source of income, I'll have to dock your allowance until the table has been repaired and refinished.

The Boxer breed is highly mischievous, which I adore. I hope that you won't take that as a green light to continue chewing the wood trim between the window panes in the living room window no matter how many squirrels you see outside, however. It would be better for the entire family, including you, if you were to find a hobby, or at least renew your library card.

One more thing: I love you unconditionally. I think you learned that last Wednesday, when you jumped onto my bed and pushed me out of it. Did I complain? Well, yes, but at least the doctor said that the concussion wasn't a serious one.

Please relay to Bouncer that I love him too, and I forgive him for what he did under the pool table the other day.

Your big brother,


Monday, July 31, 2017

All Keyed Up

Workouts are wonderful experiences.

Among other things, they contribute to the flow of endorphins, lead to lowered blood pressure, and a sense of accomplishment. A good workout can lead to a day of happiness.


Today was a bit of an exception to that long-supported rule. This afternoon, I went to the gym to engage in my usual routine of lifting, stretching, walking, and several other -ings amidst my fellow exercisers, all equally determined to earn that day of happiness if it killed them.

I had bench-pressed proudly, which isn't really a bench press unless you grunt loudly enough to impress the lady over on the abductor machine, who's now walking away very quickly out of concern that one more grunt may signal either a hernia or an alien emerging from a gore fest of matter, blood, and whatever you put on that slice of pizza last night which you know you weren't supposed to eat because of your blood pressure.

Moving on the oblique machine (which is an absolutely wonderful piece of equipment, and due to its singularity often leads to several people racing to see who can get to it first), I set the machine to the familiar seating height and selected the amount of weight suitable for my 56 year old body. Bending forward, I performed my first crunch. Something didn't quite seem right, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. Anyway, crunch two didn't erase that nagging feeling that something was wrong. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Something stabbed me in the right thigh.

I didn't want to take a chance that the machine was out of calibration in some weird way, so I decided that I'd exercise my oh-so-manly biceps. Having adjusted the machine's seat, I once again selected the appropriate amount of weight and had at it like NFL spring training.

The stabbing pain returned, and this time it felt like it was stabbing me down my thigh. "Something is wrong with this place", I mused. "Maybe they need to call an exterminator." With that in mind, I decided that it was time to go do something else for a day or two. As is my custom. I reached into my pockets to make sure I didn't have any paper towels which I always get prior to my workouts. Wiping machines clean after using them is common courtesy, after all.

My car keys were missing.

In fact, my car, apartment, mailbox and several other keys were now gone the way of aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle.

Under such circumstances it's my preferred emotional defense mechanism to shift the blame for my loss. Freud calls it projection. I call it convenience, if also immaturity. "some crumb bum stole my keys!" I said in a voice not loud enough to be heard over the in-depth story about the latest Dallas Cowboys player having gotten a speeding ticket or something, splashing across the tv screen courtesy of ESPN. I took a shortcut through the mavens of stationary bike professionals, who have been proudly sculpting muscle mass  on their thighs since 1998, to the service desk. "Can you help me?" I half-shouted to the lady behind the desk while Olivia Newton-John's ghost from 1981 belted out "Let's Get Physical" over the Muzak machine's 400 or so strategically placed speakers. "Has anyone turned in a set of keys?" The lady informed me that since no one had, she'd be willing to help me look for them. We had taken all of four steps back into the workout area when her rather keen hearing directed her attention to cuff of my right legging. "Are you jingling?" she asked me, with no small amount of surprise in her eyes.

In fact, the hole in my right front pocket -barely large enough for a key ring to slip through- had allowed my keys to play evasion and escape game with me, taking several opportunities to impale my leg en route to my cuff and sock.

The next several minutes were filled with apologizing, thanking, and feeling both stupid and ashamed for having assumed that someone had had nothing better to do than reach into my pocket. All of this was bound with a strong sense of guilt. I'm thankful to the lady who detected my keys by being able to hear them rattling around. I left feeling very relived, which was a real blessing for me.

It beats being all keyed up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Clean Sweep

Recently my mother asked me what I'd like for my birthday.

That's a loaded question for a guy who dreams of owning his own machine shop so he can "repurpose" shopping carts into room-for-one vehicles capable of topping one-hundred fifty miles per hour.

Ah, but then reality set in, which sometimes appears more mundane than a Barney Miller rerun. Thinking sacrificially of needs rather than wants, I imparted my need for a new vacuum cleaner (turns out that maturity is painful, and best left to adults). "You got it" was the reply I received over my Motorola Android Razorback Twin-Supercharged Megadata Blaster phone.

Before I get into the result of my mom's generosity, let me describe the vacuum it was replacing. Constructed of bright yellow plastic -apparently the same type used in the manufacture of 1960s Trim-Line phones, it seemed to be impervious to anything, including the dirt which it was designed to pick up. I once dropped it when I was carrying it back to the closet, and tripped over a porcelain dog sculpture in the living room. Anything else of that size and mass would have at least cracked under its own weight.

This thing didn't. It bounced.

It was a vacuum in the academic sense. It had a motor which spun rotors. It made a long, continuous inhaling sound not unlike a room filled with Zen Buddhist monks releasing energy verbally. And it had a container for the dirt it was supposed to sweep but didn't. Whenever I cleaned my home, I'd follow up with trotting out the yellow pretender -not so much to clean the floor but to go through the motions. It was about this time last year that the only way I could clean the carpet along the baseboards was by buying cheap duct tap at the dollar store and sticking it along the corners in a desperate attempt to pick up things that I either can't or won't describe in case you're eating while reading this, even though some of them were still moving. Somehow, housework never seemed complete without at least hearing the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

Enter the new Hoover.

Thrilled with the prospect of seeing what color my carpet originally was, I began pulling the new addition to the family out of its cardboard box, along with all of its extra parts.

And pulling...

...and pulling...

...and pulling. Finally removing the final bag of parts from the container, I opened Roanoke's new Hoover assembly line in anticipation of seeing what my carpet actually looked like under approximately four years' worth of dust. "Seems like it was some neutral color", I missed to myself as I attached some gizmo which looked like a stage prop to Star Wars III. "Too bad I'm a little colorblind. Otherwise, I could fully marvel at the berber under my feet."

I hadn't felt this psyched about anything since that time when I lived in New Mexico and goaded my former landlord into a chase on the interstate. The carpet was at least two shades lighter than I remembered. And the smell! What I had originally thought was a sinus hallucination turned out to be dust-free air. It felt less arid than it had for years. Frankly, I had felt, well, desiccated for want of a better word. Who knew it was humid in Virginia?

Eventually I healed from the first use of the vacuum. I didn't mention that the cord is both retractable and long. As I finished the inaugural sweep, I shut off Hoover's finest and stepped on the pedal which draws the cord back onto its spool.

I forgot to unplug it first.

Conveniently enough, I had plugged it into a wall outlet in the kitchen -right behind three bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Let me say right here, and emphatically so, that a vacuum cleaner like this one really comes in handy for such situations even if it doesn't come with a first aid kit. The plug shot around the corner, missing a portrait and raking me across the cheek. The welt took longer to heal than the broken glass, which I cleaned with a broom and a piece of cardboard. The ramen noodles, which I had left on the counter in anticipation of a snack, were whisked onto the floor where they suffered one of the most devastating explosions since the crash test dummies were hired by Chrysler to test the interior safety of the Cordoba.   

In all, the vacuum has contributed to my health, welt notwithstanding. My home is clean. Olive oil and vinegar were replaced. The cord was wrapped more tightly than I was during midterms.

I was swept off my feet.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Living Simply

I don't understand marketing.

I'll qualify that. I don't know whether or not I understand why certain brand names sell and others don't. I'm certain that no one would buy a laxative called "At Least It's Laundry Day".

Names for products and services are trendy because their originators are intent on capturing the most up-to-date fads and styles in an effort to appeal to a specific market. Really savvy businesses not only conduct surveys, they also invite potential customers to take part in "focus groups", which seem to me to be a fancy way of saying "representative sample of a desired population". Put another way, focus groups appear to be created by business people as a means to tell a given group of people, "you should eat Bongo-Bongo Peanut Butter And Vodka Corn Flakes because two guys and a gal from Boxers Or Briefs Idaho seem to like them.

This bothers me for multiple reasons. First, I feel left out. I have never received an email, phone call, or postcard inviting me to determine the future success of some up-and-coming company. I think it would be pleasant to be ushered into some corporate setting, invited to sit on a corporate chrome-and-fabric office chair, and asked, on a scale of one to ten, how much I enjoy taunting fish with neoprene rubber swim fins.

Secondly, the names of some products and services are so transient that one wonders what their originators were thinking. I can tell you that I literally had to swallow my Bongo-Bongo Corn Flakes the other day when I came across yet another long-hackneyed "Creative Concepts" business logo. That was uber hip in the nineties. Not so much now.

I'm also bothered by overused motifs for business products. The other day while en route to a supermarket I passed a beauty salon called "Simply Coiffed". Perhaps the salon owner decided to take a minimalist approach to advertising his or her services. (I noted that there was no "Simply Lipstick" sign on the shop next door.) Normally, this wouldn't have registered in my memory. But I began to notice a trend when I opted to buy my favorite brand of citrus drink. I began musing about this as I placed three bottles of "Simply Lemonade" in my basket. I can appreciate the desire to "get back to basics". Maybe the word "simply" in a logo is meant to convey the message that the economy is weak, so we're cutting back to less-involved kinds of product names. I'll worry when I see "Simply Defibrillators" on sale at medical supply houses. I know that it would be a real letdown to see "Doesn't Smell Like An Old Fireplace" laundry detergent retailing at a lower cost than the good stuff with the teddy bear and Febreeze on the label.

Why can't we drop the nonsense and give names to goods which encourage consumers to buy them? I'd much rather head to the checkout with a bag of "Cookie Addiction" than with "These Almost Have Flavor". While we're on the subject, every shampoo I've ever used promises to make my hair "manageable", "silky soft", "radiant", and "luxurious" -practically to be nominated for an Oscar due to my gorgeous tresses and their "swingy, vibrant" qualities. (And I thought power words were for resumes. Silly, radiant me.)

The whole issue has me feeling tired of the pretense, including the disingenuous appearance to "harken back to a simpler time" with pseudo-honest branding. As far as I can tell, no one seems to be interested in either grandiose product names or Spartan ones. My favorite brand of lemonade might as well be called "Here's Your Drink, Pal. Try Not To Spill It On The Rug This Time." Living simply doesn't necessitate depriving ourselves of interesting brand names.

I simply wanted to make a point.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Dube Memoirs

The other night I was reminiscing about Dube.

If only you had known him. Dube (pronounced "Doo Bee", as in the Romper Room Doo Bee) bounded into our lives Christmas Eve 1974. My parents said they had some "last minute" Christmas shopping but would be home in a couple of hours.

To this day I'm unclear why his former owners gave him that name, especially considering the spelling. My memory is clear, however, of how we met.

At age thirteen, I was going through a tough time at school. The eighth grade isn't easy for anyone. For me that included the onset of a Bipolar disorder (which to this day I swear that dog somehow incorporated into his own psyche). I was in the living room with my grandmother playing Chinese Checkers. I was sitting on the floor, half-engaged with the game which was on the coffee table. My back was to the front door.

I wasn't sure whether my imagination was playing tricks or not. It turns out that it was the sound of a one year old, galloping ninety-five pound Boxer -a sound which lasted for perhaps half of a second before impact. What felt like the entire defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly on my back was followed quickly by a forced faceplant into the carpet and a cold, wet nose in my ear. As quickly as I had been tackled, I was on my feet and marveling at the rapidly disappearing hind quarters of my soon-to-be best friend. We let him roam the house, investigating all of the rooms (and stealing clothes from my clothes hamper).  In less than one second, our lives were forever changed by someone who would engage in no end of antics, including eating (and I do mean eating, not merely chewing) all four corners of the coffee table when his palate didn't fancy a window pane, linebackering my poor dad, eating apples from an apple tree in the back yard -leaving the cores still hanging on the trees (!), joyfully dragging bags of trash through the house when we were all at work or school, leaving all of mom's shoes on the stairs with various degrees of chew marks, sleeping on the sofa and/or using it as his personal napkin, constantly egging me on to an infinite number of wrestling matches, and putting an exclamation mark on all of this by charging across the basement at full speed and headfirst through the patio door.

That was the first time I discovered that mom took valium.

My closest friends all knew and loved him. And what wasn't to love, from that docked tail to those pointy ears and permanent mischevious facial expression which was a spot-on match for the earliest Marmaduke comics. He loved all of my friends and treated each one of them differently. His intelligence level constantly made me rethink everything I did at home. Leave food on the counter? He reached it no matter how far back one pushed it. A bowl of cereal errantly left for a moment at the kitchen table was a near-certain casualty. He couldn't reach the top of the table, but that didn't stop him. On more than one occasion I returned to find him sitting at the table eating my breakfast! This was a real feat since the chairs swiveled. One morning I thought I'd get even by spinning the chair, effectively chasing him out of it. In true Boxer spirit, he hunkered down a little and gave me a very mischevious "make it go faster. I dare you" look.

They say that the first year of development in a dog's life is equivalent to fourteen years in a human's. That might explain why in our household I had to compete with him for pack status. I'm sure that in his mind, anyone who can learn to open doors and gates, get even with the Beagle who lived down the street, and keep everyone within four blocks in any direction on their toes must be worthy of some serious Boxer street cred.

I miss him to this day. I'm convinced that he's in Heaven, waiting for the rest of the family and friends to catch up. Not that I'm in a hurry to die, but seeing him again will bring closure to the loneliness I've felt without him over the years. On the other hand, I'm happy for him. He's in Heaven, he's surely a delight to God, and he's with my dad.

I just hope he hasn't linebackered dad again.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Worst of The Best

Life was turmoil.

I was the least coordinated and least athletic kid who ever played Little League baseball. I made the team, I suspect, because some other kid's dad was offered a raise and a promotion which necessitated moving to another state. Being one left-handed kid short, whatever rightie got stuck with the unenviable task of playing first base while being right handed would likely have to think his way through the play whenever he had to throw to third base.

I empathize. I had to play third. Playing third while under the influence of Southpaw should be a crime in all fifty states. That extra half-turn meant Albert had just time to get to first. Worse, having to think one's way through throwing a ball usually had the consequence of throwing it so wildly that parents would occasionally duck and umpires would give me very stern looks.

My teammates all seemed self-confident, if not ready for tryouts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I envied them. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only kid who felt outnumbered when at bat. Don't get me wrong. I loved playing the game. But there were times when I'd be at bat, noticing teammates on base with two outs and feeling the butterflies. in my stomach. That's usually when the pitcher would go into his windup and the entire world would disappear except for the baseball. And in that one magnificent moment, with the ball hanging in the air for a compartmented eternity I swear I could count every stitch on that baseball. 

That reverie would then be broken by a cracking sound -I was usually completely unaware that I had swung and made contact with the ball. The moment was sometimes capped off with a good friend admonishing me from the dugout to "RUN, stupid!!" and me jogging my mounds of baby fat around two-hundred forty feet of baseline lovingly donated by some company looking for a tax write off.

The first time I ever played baseball, I noticed that all of the right-handed batters who didn't get called out went to first base. Being a rationally thinking kid, or so I thought, being left-handed must mean that I needed to run to third. I was perhaps halfway there before I heard my teammates and the line coach frantically telling me to go to first. I can still see, in my mind's eye, the look of absolute confusion on the opposing pitcher's face as I short-cutted across the pitcher's mound en route to being called out by an umpire who looked for all the world like he wanted to retire and escape this type of nonsense.

One learns a lot about baseball simply by playing it. For instance, I learned that daydreaming and playing first base is incompatible. One lovely June Saturday afternoon I was feeling on top of the world; school was out, I was playing baseball, and the only concerns I had in the world were cleaning my room, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. Granted, to a kid that's probably the adult equivalent of writing contracts for a major corporation or selling the company's product to a major wholesaler. For me, life couldn't get any better. I hadn't missed Scooby Doo that morning, I got the lawn mowed and out of the way, and I was already thinking of ways to blow my allowance (that '55 Chevy drag race car model kit is molded in yellow, so I should probably buy that one. Then the money I save on spray paint could go toward three or even four bottles of black paint for the chassis, and...) While I was ruminating about those kinds of things, in addition to worrying about whether or not I'd have enough money left over for candy bars and Coca-Cola, my left foot was resting comfortably on the first base bag. Staring slack jawed into my glove and marveling about how the day couldn't possibly get any better, my reverie was again broken by the crack of an opposing player at bat. The ball appeared in my glove before I could shake the self-debate between "Which is better: Hershey's or Nestle's?" from my mind. As if to put an exclamation mark on the moment, the ump standing near me yelled "YOU'RE OUT! at a very disgusted batter.

To this day, I have no idea how that ball found my glove. I was probably from a supportive teammate who wanted to win in spite of my cognitive magic carpet ride, but I occasionally wonder if it was a million-to-one short fly ball which happened to find just the right trajectory.

My apologies to all of my former teammates. I hope adult life has found you well and vice-versa. And if your church or business needs a substitute first baseman, you know where to find me.

I'll be at the concession stand where it's safe.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Clean Sweep

Holy cow.

My mother bought me an early birthday present -one which was badly needed, in fact. A vacuum cleaner with every bell and whistle sans headlight, this thing picks up so much dirt and dust in its self-contained plastic "tornado box" that it's a miracle I was able to breathe these past seven years.

Don't get me wrong. My old vacuum was a vacuum in the academic sense. It was an upright. It had a handle. It had a brush rotor which I believe actually spun until sometime in the late nineties. For some odd reason, it never seemed to pick dirt up from the floor although it always found a way to clog itself like a bus in a roundabout. The only good thing I can say about it (and I'm being kind here) is that it was a blinding solar yellow, so misplacing it was sure never to happen, assuming misplacing vacuum cleaners are common occurrences among American homes.

The Hoover MegaHemiTurbo II Upright Vacuum entered my home, ready for duty and its first "sweep and destroy" mission, some assembly required. An unassuming light green, this Clark Kent color belies the machine's true character; once the power button is clicked, I have to engage in hand to hand combat techniques imparted to me some three decades ago in security specialist training at Lackland Air Force Base. This is to protect my new coffee table, my television, and my bookcase, all of which my new vacuum apparently seems to want to devour in an all-out manic charge. If you've ever had the opportunity to block, trap, and redirect an upright vacuum cleaner, you'll know where I'm coming from. I may be developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I may have the cleanest carpet in the neighborhood.

Uncrating the new arrival was a bit of an ordeal; I immediately recognized the man body of the vacuum, but was at once both immediately horrified and fascinated by a tiny micro attachment which is reminiscent of the monster which pops out of the abdomen in "Alien". I still haven't used it.

Another feature which is nice -and scary- is the retractable cord. It's nice not to have to wrap the cord around and around as though I'm weaving a basket. On the other hand, after I stepped on the cord release pedal and the cord whipped from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room, I'm pleased to say I was able to pick the toaster off of the floor and put it back on the counter. And my cheek will make a full recovery.

I can't help thinking, as cruel as it may seem, what it's going to be like the day I'm vacuuming and the vacuum picks up some insect. I mean. the whole middle of the vacuum is clear plastic, so you're looking right at all of the dirt you're picking up. Poor insect. It's going to be a Hoofer F5 tornado. I bet I can make it spin fifty miles per hour.

Actually, I hope that never happens. All I want is a clean home. This vacuum is a Godsend. Thank you, mom. The air in my home is immeasurably better. My lungs no longer feel as though they have a restrictor plate on them due to the dust.

Now if I can find some mag wheels for this baby...