Two days after Thanksgiving, our son-in-law left our home to go out for a run and, upon his return, rang our doorbell.
This is not his habit when he stays with us.
“Why is Matt ringing the doorbell?” my husband said as we all made our way to the front of the house. You would think no one ever visits us the way we all rush for the door whenever someone does, which is often.
I wish I’d captured Matt’s face with my camera after we opened the door and beheld the sight of him and the small, quivering dog in his arms.
As Matt explained later, he had rescued the dog from a busy street and, on their half-hour walk back, pondered what to do. He rang because he wasn’t sure how we’d greet his new companion.
He needn’t have worried. The only one in our family who even hesitated to extend a hearty welcome was our rescue mutt, Franklin. But after two quick, rude sniffs, he was as excited as the rest of us. This included two squealing grandchildren under the age of 5 and Matt’s wife, Emily, the eldest daughter of our family, whose face telegraphed surrender even as she said, “Who is this?”
The dog was collarless and emaciated and covered in mats. She was also ravenous. Franklin found the sound of his kibble clinking into the pie tin a bit unsettling, but he powered through it without pooping in the sunroom in protest. “Good boy,” we yelled with more enthusiasm than he deserved, considering his recent history.
We all sat down on the floor to surround the pup as she ate and mused about her fate. She was sweet and friendly, quick to wag her tail and offer kisses with her tiny tongue.
“Oh-h-h,” my husband cooed, over and over. He has long insisted that we cannot handle a second dog. That rescued pup wasn’t in our house for 10 minutes before he turned to me and said, in what he thinks passes for a whisper, “If they don’t want her, we have to take her.”
“Who are you?” I said, nodding in agreement.
Why am I going on about this little dog?
In the past few months, many readers have confessed a weariness that threatens to overtake them. This tough political year in America is taking a personal toll on so many. Increasingly, my advice is to take a break, if they must. Take care of yourself for a while, I tell them. Do what you love, and immerse yourself in whatever will restore you. We’ll be here when you get back.
It wasn’t until our family got caught up in the fate of that frightened little dog that I realized I needed to take my own advice. Sometimes the best way to take on the world is to let it churn for a while without you.
Our family is a bit intense. Every get-together involves lots of home-cooked food and endless rounds of debate over where our country is headed. I warn guests who are brave enough to join us: “We get a little boisterous.” Obnoxious is probably a better word, but I’m loyal.
For a brief, magical moment, we were all about that little dog.
For days after her rescue, Matt scoured shelter websites for signs of someone looking for her. For more than a week, we drove around the neighborhood, searching for posters.
Matt and Emily took her to the vet—yes, she went home with them—and we all celebrated the news that except for being too thin and in need of spaying, she is otherwise OK. She may be as old as 4, but we’ve all agreed she’s 3 because our 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter wants to be older than somebody in her house.
“Do we have a name?” my husband texted, day after day.
“Might we have a name?” I asked during every FaceTime call.
“Does she have a name yet?” our daughter asked from Rhode Island.
What a glorious, ever-so-brief break from the angst of daily life.
The puppy with the tangled coat and a gift for dodging cars is freshly groomed and has settled into her new life. Her name is Biscuit.
Recently, Emily sent a photo of our 4-year-old grandson holding the leash as he walked side by side with his new buddy. I had to share it, right then and there. I turned to the woman standing in line behind me at the grocery and held up my phone.
“I can barely stand it,” I said.
She leaned in and smiled. “I know,” she said, wiping her eye. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Regarding calls for the removal of the cross of Jacques Marquette in Ludington, Michigan, if a person finds the cross offensive and distracting, then do not look at it. Maybe the person should concentrate on backing the boat in the water or use another ramp or different lake. Has the person ever driven through Illinois and seen those ugly fields in the winter? I find that offensive and ugly, but I am not trying to change it. Maybe the township should draw a circle around the cross and deed it to a local church or make it a cemetery. We have seen this locally in Wisconsin. Also, a cross does not make it religious, either.
Somewhere in Michigan, somebody is complaining too many government websites are inaccessible for people with hearing and vision disabilities.
Closer to home, in Milton, a school district administration has latched onto this Michigan situation as justification for ending the live streaming of board meetings. The district is concerned the service, which lacks closed captioning for the hearing impaired, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But the district’s solution simply creates a new problem. It seeks to appease one group of people at the expense of everyone else. Ending live video in itself does nothing to help the hearing impaired, though it hurts people whose physical disabilities prevent them from attending meetings. It also hurts people crunched for time or otherwise unable to get to meetings.
(Thankfully, the district plans to continue recording board meetings and uploading the videos to YouTube, which automatically generates captions.)
Ending the live stream might make more sense if a local resident—or at least someone from Wisconsin—had complained about the caption issue. But the hullabaloo stems from a Michigan resident who hasn’t even made a complaint against the Milton School District. Milton officials are reacting to what-if scenarios.
One irony of Milton’s decision is the district doesn’t have a sign-language interpreter at board meetings, and so it’s not like attending a meeting in person somehow overcomes the deficiencies of live streaming. Indeed, few government bodies can afford interpreters, much in the same way Milton cannot afford to hire a stenographer to create real-time closed captioning.
Imagine if the Milton School Board were to close all meetings to the public on grounds that some people for whatever reason couldn’t attend or understand the proceedings. It’s an absurd proposition, of course. Such a policy would violate open meeting laws, for one thing. So why is ending live streaming under the same rationale any less absurd?
Yes, a school district should be aware of ADA issues and take steps to improve access to its facilities, whether physical or virtual. The disabilities crusader in Michigan filing dozens of complaints is doing good by holding government accountable.
But at the same time, it’s impractical to make every nook and cranny of the landscape—including on the internet—ADA compliant. If every aspect of government had to be ADA compliant, governments would have to, for example, close parts of many parks because making every part handicapped accessible would be cost prohibitive.
The Milton School District should take seriously complaints of alleged ADA violations, but a complaint hasn’t been filed against this district, at least not yet.
In the meantime, it should find a more practical approach to the live-streaming problem, if it’s even a problem. Should the district receive a complaint, it should work with that individual and see whether a solution exits that doesn’t involve cutting off access for everyone.
Teens of the 1980s may recall shiny new shopping malls as the hot place for hanging out, their food courts the cafe society of adolescence. These chain-store palaces knocked off local mom and pop retailers one by one, turning their downtown habitat into drab places for the poor and dysfunctional.
Now online commerce is knocking off the malls, but guess what. Not only is downtown retail coming back, but also the stores are proving themselves to be among the fittest of the bricks-and-mortar survivors.
Wausau, Wisconsin, for example, has not one vacant storefront in the entire downtown shopping area. The Wall Street Journal singled out Wausau as an important case study because it is America’s most middle-class city. People there spend 30 percent more than the national average. Sales tax collections in the county are up 20 percent since 2011.
So wallets in Wausau are definitely open. But stores are fleeing the Wausau Center, a local mall at the city’s edge. The mall’s owner walked away as his tenants—Sears, JCPenney, Payless ShoeSource and such—closed their doors. (Dying malls are especially numerous in the rural Midwest, where distances to them make the trips even less appealing.)
What’s happening? Like consumers everywhere, the people of Wausau now do a lot of their shopping online. And they will make pilgrimages to warehouse stores—Costco and Sam’s Club—for their two dozen rolls of paper towels. But they also are likelier to patronize smaller stores offering unusual items, personal attention and proximity to other downtown excitement.
The venerable Janke Book Store in Wausau is apparently doing very well, as are other independent bookstores. The number of independent bookstores nationally has jumped by over 30 percent since 2009, according to the American Booksellers Association.
Books are the easiest thing to buy online, but these intimate stores provide the added value of local authors, games, greeting cards and recommendations. And however speedily Amazon can whisk a book to my front door, only the bookstore offers instant gratification.
Successful bookstores make the most of their reputations as “third places,” places to go other than home or work. They provide community in the form of book readings, and the ones for children are often jammed.
I prefer real stores for my clothes, and not because I haven’t tried buying them online. What happens online is that the item idealized in the photo doesn’t resemble what comes in the box. What size to order is anybody’s guess.
I know, I know. Things can be returned, but that requires taking additional steps. So when an item arrives that’s just a bit off, I keep it, figuring a return is not worth the hassle. In the end, I’m stuck with something that I would not have bought at a store.
Downtown retailers know to display merchandise you can’t get clicking on Amazon. And there’s another category—things you never knew existed but that, once eyed, become absolute, positive must-haves.
What will the retailing future bring? Drones dropping sets of barbecue utensils on the back deck? Three-D gadgets taking your measurement? Robots programmed to assess one’s mood and have access to a databank of past purchases? Not exactly “The Shop Around the Corner.”
I recall watching one of the “Home Alone” movies years ago at a multiplex in some cavernous mall. There’s this scene where little Kevin McAllister finds magic in the window of an old-fashioned toy store nested in a downtown streetscape. Here was a dream version of Main Street America, not unlike the real one that stood largely abandoned a few miles away.
They’ve tried to kill Main Street, but no luck yet.