Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

A Momentary Loss of Good Judgement

In Dogs, Life on June 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

I pick up…

I wrote the following on Saturday, the 15th.

I lost my composure yesterday. Perhaps if I tell the story I will feel better. What is the good of the blog if I can’t use it as an instrument of catharsis?

We are dog sitting. Tim and Candace are out of town. Tim’s dog, Tanks, is one of the sweetest dogs I’ve known, with a big laughing smile of a face and an easy-going disposition. He also happens to be an eighty-pound pit bull.

* * *

Carole walked Tanks five steps behind me and Lucy. We were headed home. Mission accomplished, we each carried a poop bag, full. A man approached us from behind. “You keep that dog away from me,” he said, gesturing to Tanks.

I laughed. “This is the one you should be worried about,” I said, turning and scratching Lucy’s ears.

“Keep that dog away,” he repeated, as he walked closer. “That’s not a pet. That’s a monster.”

I heard no humor in his voice. This was not a joke. Further, he had insulted Tanks–and us, as if we would walk a monster down a street in Portland. This immediately rankled me. But I recovered.

I scratched Tank’s ear. “Naw,” I said, “this guy is just a big lug.”

The man continued his rant as he passed. He tried to get in his car, but the key wouldn’t work. He was maybe forty years old and wore jeans and a nice sport shirt. He had tinted glasses that hid his eyes slightly.

“What is your problem?” I asked. “Beside not being able to get in your car.” I employed a touch of sarcasm. He moved to an adjacent car. “We’re just out walking our dogs. It’s a nice day. Leave us alone.”

He continued in the same vein, ranting. He was relentless. We walked on. I don’t like confrontation. To equal measure I don’t like idiots. (I was beginning to muster a bit of attitude.) In the correct car now, he was pulling away. He rolled the passenger window down, continued to yell, impugning Tanks and us, his walkers. I noticed New York plates. I apologize to my New York friends for the following:

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You’re from New York. No wonder you’re an asshole.” My composure was not yet lost, but had taken a wrong turn. His bizarre haranguing continuing. He pulled up next to us, shouting through the passenger window; verbal vomit on the societal dangers of pit bulls, owners of pits, and so forth.

I suspect, reader, you must think I am leaving something out of this account, an action that provoked him. Yes, I called the man an asshole. That was a step in the wrong direction. But nothing transpired prior to that, nothing to trigger him but our existence.

He rolled past us, window down, frothing. I thought: Do I throw it or lob it? I could throw the poop bag or I could lob the poop bag. Or I could continue to walk away.

I am happy to report that the bag cleared the open window easily–he had pulled less than two feet from us–and landed directly and softly in his lap. That shut him up. I quietly cheered my precision.

“Now why did you do that?” Carole asked. She is an unfailing source of the right question.

“I couldn’t resist.” I grinned, sort of.

The man pointed at me. “You stay right there,” he shouted. “Stay right there.” He rushed to pull his car over. I thought: Doug, you’ve gone and done it now, gone and provoked a madman.

“Hey, look,” I said, leaning to him. “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry. Open your door. I’ll get the bag.”

“I’m calling the police,” he said. I looked at Carole. She looked at me. I think we both felt slightly better about my poop pitch. The dogs watched mutely. (Where they enjoying silly human antics?)

“Okay,” I said. “Do what you want. We’re walking home.” He wagged his finger at us. He told us to stay put and of course we ignored him. He held his phone to his ear. He let his car running at the curb and chased us down Commercial Street. I confess to slowing my gait, as if to taunt. A few blocks later, I turned to wave goodbye. He frowned at me then looked up and down Commercial. He was certainly desperate for the authorities before we made our get-away.

I am a civilized man. But insult my dogs while I’m holding a bag of poop and I cannot guarantee a civilized response.

I feel better now.

Thanks for listening.

Do you hear the whizzing sound?

In Life, Memoir, Writing on June 15, 2012 at 6:00 am

View from my window.

Impoverished–that’s the only way to describe my state this afternoon.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? Whiney. (According to The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language, Third Edition, whiny, without the “e” is also correct. Interesting: the word whine comes from a Middle English word, whinen, meaning, to make a whizzing sound. I sit here at my desk making a whizzing sound. Anyway, it’s come to that: turning to the dictionary for a day’s traction.)

The view out my window–the corner of Fore and Moulton–affords me a bit of water, if I crane my neck. Before getting to the water, though, I have to peer around a large brick wall with a nicely painted sign reading, C.H. Robinson Co. Paper. I don’t know anything about the Robinson company and don’t believe it is still, indeed, a company. I am now curious and will have to ask around. Nevertheless, someone is taking care to keep the paint on the brick crisp. I’ve been looking out this window the three years I’ve had this office and have never seen the sign painted or touched up. It’s been there all along, though, looking nice. I’ll have to keep my eye on it.

The other widow, across the office, looks over the alley below. (It’s called Wharf Street and there is a history to Wharf I am not going to bore you with. Really, it’s just a nice cobblestone alley.) In the summer, when the weather is pleasant, people sit at picnic tables outside Gritty’s and eat and drink. Their voices drift up to my open windows and it’s as if I have company, only I can ignore them. Directly across the way is a new building, also brick. Our four floors line up directly and I can see the people sitting at desks working. There are four or five workers. They are not impoverished.

There is a woman who has her back to the window and is always on her computer. I’ve never seen her face. Once, last winter, she taped blank sheets of paper to her window blocking my view of her and, more specifically, her computer screen. This made me very self-conscious. Either she was working on something top secret or I had become a nuisance. This is possible–the nuisance part. I guess the top secret part is also possible, I don’t know. I have been told that I can be a nuisance. Usually I’m told this when I am least expecting it–again, making me self conscious, which is the opposite of impoverished.

Regardless, the sheets of paper have come down and I try to be a good neighbor and not stare.

An attempt to strangle-hold summer.

In Dogs, Nature, The Examined Life on July 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Boats come and go under my balcony all day long. Sometimes, late at night, after I’ve gone to bed I, hear them plying the calm night water, slowly going up and down the slip out to the Fore River and the bay. It is a pleasant sound and one that comforts me, as the sound of the fog horn in the winter comforts me.

It is summer in Maine and the water-ways are full of traffic. I sometimes envy the boaters, power or sail there is no discrimination to my envy. I don’t have a boat, nor will I get one, but I envy the ready access to the water a boat affords. The best I can do, is get in the water directly. I tried to swim off the East End yesterday. Usually I can get in a mile or even two mile swim and be better for it. But yesterday it was choppy and windy and the bay was teaming with white caps and I turned back after only a half mile. As I walked out of the water a boater launching his craft from a trailer said he was going to get wet in the chop, that I had chosen to get wet but he wanted to avoid it. I’m sure he got soaked.

A boat is a thing and I’m trying to avoid the accumulation of things now. I’ve had my run at “things” and now am attempting to shed them. Eventually you come to understand that the things you own end up owning you. “Simplify, simplify, simplify,” repeated Thoreau. I grew up with that phrase but forgot to practice it somewhere along the way. Now I attempt to make amends. I have a tattoo on my left arm, Om mani padme hum–the Tibetian mantra. Perhaps I should consider Thoreau’s admonition on the other arm, as I tend to forget it.

Regardless of all that, summer is the time to be out of doors. And even more so here, where summer has a short–but intense–life span. Last week I was in the Moose River region, near Jackman, a dozen miles or so from the Canadian boarder. It is a remote area. And the weather can be challenging, even this time of year. I had to put on a heavy fleece when I got out of my tent in the morning. And in a cold downpour poor Lucy, soaked and obviously not happy, looked at me as if to question this strangle-hold I seem to exercise on the summer experience. Like youth, summer is gone before you know it.  I recognize this. It is a singular wisdom that I now grasp. Soon enough you realize that sleeping on the ground and scrounging for firewood was easier before hip replacement. This truism I realized a couple of years ago, but am too stubborn to accept. It is my nature to nurture this stubbornness as long as I can.

Storm

In Life, Nature on June 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I sat outside under the canvas covering our balcony this evening as a storm rolled through. It came easily enough, the storm, though we had been told to expect it all day. And finally it came. It began with a rumbling and with the rumbling Lucy darted inside, but I stayed and read on; then the rain grew heavier and the canvas became saturated and began to leak and I took inside my phone and returned to my seat. And the rain grew heavier and as it beat on the canvas overhead I closed my eyes and occasionally the canvas leaked above me so I took my book and tucked it up under my fleece, as it was cool enough to wear a light fleece still, and as I sat with my eyes closed the rain beat on and when I opened my eyes I saw a single gull in the dark sky soaring, it’s wings not flapping, and I had to image what it must be like to be in the air, suspended, while pelted by the rain. The other gulls, of which there are normally many, were nowhere to be seen, but for this one, defying the rain and the storm and the stories’ high clouds and the rumble of thunder. And when I lifted my eyes, even though it was still raining heavily, there was a patch of blue sky to the west and through it the sun shown and a rainbow appeared, arcing from Peaks to South Portland, across the river Fore and Casco Bay, a full arc, firmly planted there and here.  I was being splattered by rain and the waterway in front of me was dimpled and corrugated and I cannot remember being so alive and so close to the elements; even when out on the trail and in my tent, or in a canoe, I cannot remember being so close to heaven and earth. The rain fell heavy and thick and each drop seemed intent on rushing faster than gravity could pull it, as if each drop had a mind of its own and was thinking, I’ll show you. There is a cruise ship in town and I thought of the passengers rushing to their comfort and their dinners and their cabins, thinking that perhaps the day had ended badly. But for the day had ended with an exclamation, a statement that nature cannot be ignored forgotten or even, for that matter, desired otherwise. It was not good nor was it bad. It simply was. Rain and the gull and the rainbow and feeling as if: This is the stuff of life, heavy and real and not to be ignored.

Casco Bay, 5:00 am.

In Mythology, Nature on April 12, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I was awakened at 5:00 am this morning by a screeching, a sound akin to what I think a baby seal must make when its ice flow drifts away from mother, or at least in my interrupted slumber that is what it sounded like. But it was nothing so troublesome or romantic. The Wendameen, an historic Maine schooner, built in 1912 and used to sail tourists around Casco Bay, is tied up on the dock below my bedroom window. In the winter it is stripped and shrink wrapped and left to struggle against the Maine winter alone. Soon, however, it will come out of hibernation and move four wharfs away where it will impress upon its visitors a singular beauty. But now, this morning, it was rocking against the dock, the protective bumper squeaking as the tide rose, plaintive like the abandoned seal.

I got up and boiled water and let the coffee seep four minutes before pressing, as I do every morning. Always the same. Grind, pour, wait, drink. Sigh. This morning I looked, again as I always do, at the thermometer. It was fifty-five degrees outside and I opened the porch door and stepped out. The balcony faces east and the light was low and the color of honey. I looked up to the river and bobbing there in the golden coins of surface water must have been fifty common eiders, black on white, chirping, like a congregation before the service begins, low and personal, amongst themselves. They are collecting themselves, getting ready to head north for the summer. And below me, directly, was the loon I’d been watching recently. Molted. Black and white and the neck ringed. Also, getting ready to leave.

I am saddened to see them leave, these birds who have succeeded against winter so spectacularly. And tonight, so unusual, the tremolo call of the loon. My neighbor who has lived here twenty years tells me she’s never heard the loon call from the wharf. Magic, that call. Listen. They say the loon is amongst the oldest of the birds. Fifty million years or so. Good bye friends, safe travels. Welcome back, Persephone. It is good to see you again.

Moleskine notes

In Books, Creativity, Happiness, Literature, Philosophy, Writers on April 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I was approached by a panhandler this morning as I walked across town. He hit me up for a $5 spot. He was sober. Yesterday on Exchange, late in the afternoon, he hit me up for two bucks. He was drunk. To me the economics are simple: It takes five bucks to get drunk, two bucks to stay drunk. (I gave him a dollar.)

From a recent NY Times piece, Julian Schnabel: “Art is [my] religion.”

A note I made from an article in the The Wilson Quarterly: In the beginning of the 21st century social scientists showed that Americans have a third fewer non-family confidantes than two decades earlier. A quarter have no confidantes at all.

Not sure where this idea came from (but think/worry it is original): There are two types of men. Those who want to show you their penis; and those who want to be geniuses.*

According to Camus, Sisyphus found happiness in meaningful work. [I made this note in two different places. It strikes a chord. The first, older, entry reads as follows.] Was Sisyphus, according to Camus, happy because he knew the secret to happiness to be meaningful work?

On a similar note, Melville wrote that we should “lower the conceit of attainable felicity.”

Joyce on love: “Love (understood as the desire of good for another)…”

From the diary of Anna Magdelena Bach: “Johann Sebastian said, ‘How simple music is, you just press the right key at the right time.”

Though not properly a note in my moleskine, this is worth sharing. My reader’s copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King arrived yesterday. The first sentence is poetry:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”

______________________

*Lest there be any doubt, I’m the type of guy who wants to be a genius. Here’s hoping the distinction is mutually exclusive.