I’ll write this quickly without much thought while it’s fresh in my mind. Because I’m lazy, and I want to swim with my kids. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon after all.

Take a look at this bench in the water. It’s vital to my point. I don’t know what my point is, but I know it has something to do with this bench and the mean woman at Walmart.

First, the mean woman. Anna got a Huffy mountain bike from Walmart for her 11th birthday. Nothing special, but pretty, and cool, and she loved it, except for one problem. Every time she took it for a ride, the left pedal would fall off. This sounds like the sort of thing that would happen to me, and it was taking all the fun out of Anna’s rides, because, well, have you ever tried to ride a bike with one pedal? She would screw the pedal on, and it would fall off five minutes later. She would come home with a bike, a red face, and a pedal in her hand. Being mechanically inclined, I took one look at the bike and assessed the problem.

“Your pedal came off,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Can you fix it?”

“Can I fix it?”

“Yeah, can you fix it so it won’t come off again?”

“Of course, I can’t fix it.”

I know my limitations. The best way to fix it was to take the bike to Walmart immediately. So we did. Four weeks later, one day before our 30 days to return it expired.

We were waited on by a woman who could have been 70 and was certainly close to it on one side or the other. She was calm, competent, and perfectly willing to help us. She told us she would meet us at the bike racks in a minute. But she never showed up. Something terrible happened to her.

Anna and I found the exact same bike, freed it from its restraints, and wheeled it clumsily to the front of the store as I kept running over Anna who kept talking, as usual, and stepping in my way, as usual. By the time we reached the counter, the woman who had never showed up at the bike racks was under attack, and Anna’s left calf was scraped white with pedal marks from repeatedly getting too close to the bike as I pushed it along and she talked.

At the counter was a hefty woman of about 30 with a son and a shopping cart. The cart was filled with boxes of toys. The woman was returning them. Every now and then the son, a cute blond boy of about seven, would try to speak, and she would shoosh him so angrily that everyone in Walmart from cashiers to customers to pharmacists would immediately cower in silence.

The woman had none of those qualities that we commonly refer to as politeness, or manners, or the ability to sympathize with the Walmart woman across from her, who was quietly scanning the prices of toy after toy into her register with a little gun.

This was taking a very long time. And then something went wrong with the process and the Walmart woman was forced to call her manager. The manager came. She was a woman who didn’t really look like she wanted a fight, but might be willing to engage in one if pressed.

The manager told the woman something about a $50 limit. The son tried to breathe. The woman said, “Shut up.” Then told the Walmart people, “Fine, I’ll play your game.” And she made them scan every toy again to ensure that she returned just the right ones to get back her full fifty. It didn’t matter which toys they were, or the opinion of her son on the toys, all that mattered was getting the fifty bucks.

A line was forming. I had gone into a dangerous state, the one where I have to tell myself, “Jack, stay quiet now. Don’t yell at the lady. It’s not your job to defend Walmart employees against injustice.”

The boss came over, gave a few instructions, worked really hard on keeping a straight face, and began to help me exchange my bike. The woman with the toys continued to abuse the woman she was returning them to, and then, an item didn’t show up in their system. It turned out the woman was trying to return a toy that hadn’t actually been purchased from Walmart.

She became totally indignant. “It’s Legos, for God’s sake.”

“But they’re not our Legos. They’re not in our system.”

“They’re Legos. Everyone has Legos.”

She grabbed the Legos and slammed them back into her cart and pulled out another cheap Chinese toy, and shoved it across the counter to the Walmart lady, as I got out of there with my bike and my daughter. As soon as we got outside, Anna said, “I’m glad that lady’s not my mom.”

I said, “I’m glad she’s not your mom, too.”

“Whew,” Anna said.

“Whew,” I said.

I don’t like Walmart much, but every now and then I end up there. I don’t think anyone in there is particularly happy to be there, the customers, the workers, the magazines with stories of beautiful celebrities cheating on one another, but I really don’t see any point in taking your own misery out on the employees of the store. Whatever game it was the lady returning the toys thought Walmart was playing, I’m sure the 70-year-old woman behind the counter scanning in Legos, Monopoly, and plastic superheroes, didn’t create the rules of the game, I’m sure she had no power to change the rules of the game, I’m sure she didn’t really like her job, and I’m sure she would rather have spent a nice Sunday afternoon with her grandchildren, instead of ringing up the junk purchases of some spoiled woman’s shooshed-up son. Basically, it looked like the kid had a birthday party and the Mom was returning the toys for the cash.

Barkley, near the river in March.

Which brings me to Barkley and the bench in the waterfall. Somehow. I hope. Technically, Barkley isn’t that old a dog. He’s a rescue dog. In other words, we got him from Tails of Hope, the organization that rescued him from the Howard County Animal Shelter. He had a terrible personality when first we got him, terrible as in he couldn’t control his penchant for insane barking. But somehow, slowly, but surely, we cured him, and he became a nice fellow whose loud barking at strangers now is of a different sort and means, “Hey, I’m so glad to see you. I really like you. Will you rub my stomach?”

It’s loud. It’s obnoxious, but it’s just a high-pitched whine of affection. Barkley means you no harm, and he would never try to return Legos and yell at you if you didn’t accept them.

But Barkley is old for his age. Something went wrong and he stopped being able to get up. It took awhile, but we found the cure. Steroids. Barkley is now a dog on steroids. Steroids are not good for him, but lower the dose, you lower Barkley to the point where he can’t function. Raise the dose, raise the dog. He still has trouble getting his butt off the floor, but now he barks, he walks, he begs for pizza.

He’s restored.

Which is why I’ve begun to take his steroids, too, or would, if Andrea would stop hiding them from me. (Note: That was a joke. Steroids are dangerous, and they make you bark.)

Barkley at Warfield in March

Anyway, I like to get him his exercise by walking the path around the little fishing hole over at Warfield. There’s a tiny waterfall over there and sometimes Barkley drinks out of it, but not often, because he’s a bit of a wimp and doesn’t like getting his feet wet.

But Sunday, not long after the Walmart encounter lowered my opinion of humanity another notch, I took Barkley over there and down to the water, and that’s when we discovered the bench just sitting there in the water.

And I thought. “Wow.” And started taking pictures and wondering, as I often do, “Why the heck is that bench in the middle of that waterfall?”

And what does it mean? Believe me, it wasn’t swept out of someone’s yard in a storm and magically deposited there. This was no act of nature. This was a human act. But of what sort?

At first, I thought it had to be a good thing, but then I started thinking about that woman at Walmart and well, maybe…maybe someone stole it and put it there so the person they stole it from could never find it.

It seemed brand new. Also, it had to be heavy and awkward. Someone probably loaded it on a truck and drove across the grass, got out of the truck, and waded it out there.

But why? Did they think it was funny? Well, yeah, it is kind of, as long as it’s not your bench, as long as someone didn’t just pluck it off your lawn where you set it up under a shade tree and imagined having nice conversations on it, or drinking beer till you fell off. Or was someone angry with Home Depot or Walmart? Did the mean lady with the kid and the toys steal it and put it there for revenge after some other bad encounter with customer service? Maybe she bought a dozen donuts at Dunkin Donuts and they wouldn’t let her return them to Walmart after she ate half.

Or did someone leave it there as a gift? Maybe they came down, set it up, sat and looked at the water, posed for pictures, and decided to leave it behind for anyone else who cared to wade out into the slick summer water and sit at the edge of the waterfall and watch the fish swirl around, watch the moss and the water rush by cold under their feet.

The waterfall, from a different angle, in March, and sans bench

Maybe they’re coming back for it later today. Maybe a man and his daughter sat there fishing. Maybe they forgot it. Not likely, but a nice thought.

“Oh my God, Daddy, we forgot the bench.”

“Let someone else have it.”

“But it’s your favorite bench.”

“So, I’ll share it.”

Was it an act of vandalism or an act of kindness? An act of cruelty or an act of humor? Was it a gift or a theft?

If it was a theft, then, hey, I found your bench.

If it was a gift, then thanks. It made me happy, and I just might bike ride out there with my wife and my daughters and persuade them to wade out and sit on the bench in the water with me. (As long as Anna’s pedal doesn’t fall off.)

What do you think? Stolen or given? Cruel or kind? Pathetic or funny?

I’m hoping it’s a gift. And I’m hoping they’ll let it stay. Let the deer wade past it. Let the fish swim through it. Let the hikers sit on it and teenagers kiss on it. Let the sun bleach it. Let the water soak it. Let the birds foul it and the rain clean it. Let time take it. Let it stay till nature slowly breaks it down or some great raging wall of water washes it away many years from now along with a thousand fond memories of the mystery bench at Warfield.

Check it out. Sit on it. Get your feet wet. And keep your Legos in perspective.

Have a Happy Monday.

Another view of the bench on the water