Author Archives: Rebekah Smith

Coffee

I want to remember everything.

If only I had brought a camera.

I have other things to do. For example, today I had wanted to prepare some QuOTeD Podcast episodes for KFAI Radio. I’ll need to remove some cuss words, export it in the right format – what was that again? I’ll have to look it up – then burn a CD, which requires doing some work on the old laptop, the one computer with the CD burner. Brian wants to buy a CD drive for the new laptop, but I am resisting that idea. I want to exhaust my other options. I imagine this annoys him.

I have emails to write. Replies. Good stuff but put off for this reason or that. Do not think me neglectful. Certainly not ungrateful. Just a little stuck. I’ve miscalculated something. I’ll get it back. Just give me a minute.

But for the moment, I just want to remember something.

952-373-1669

This is a telephone number on a red-on-white corrugated plastic sign that is zip-tied to a telephone pole on Vandalia Avenue across the street from the paper recycling plant.

$4 Cash for Diabetic Test Strips

Correction: Ca$h for Diabetic Test Strips

I doubt you would find this sign in Deep Haven, but maybe there are desperate people in the upscale ‘burbs too. I wonder what kind of scam this is. I wonder if it’s legal. Had I come prepared, I could have snapped a picture and sent it to someone in charge. My state legislator?

Up the road, walking past a high-security storage facility, I see maintenance workers. A lane of traffic is closed. Please let the sidewalk be open! I do not want to cross a wide four lanes of traffic without a light in a crisscross of motorists in a race to get to the exit ramp, railroad tracks and semi-trucks that are going in and out of the recycling plant. As I get closer, I can see that the walk is open. But staying the course means going through the cloud of steam or smoke or whatever that is coming from what appears to be asphalt. Can you repair potholes in February? If so, I hope this crew has seen the frontage road just a block away. It’s a good route to the YMCA from my house but – wow! – you could lose a wheel over there.

The north side of University Avenue is warm and sunny, whereas standing on my porch this morning you would have thought it was too cold to brave it. My cheeks burn and my nose is runny, but it feels good. It was good to have left the house. And I was pleased to have thought to take this route as opposed to the usual ones in the opposite direction toward the river. Once you get into the business district or the stretches over the bridge and such that are maintained by the City (or is it the County? Whatever it is, well done!) the sidewalks are more reliably ice-free. It’s a crapshoot in the residential areas. They can be so bad that I have come home angry enough to threaten writing letters of complaint. To whom? The paper? My city councilperson? The offending neighbor? That would be bold. As bold as the person who wrote in perfectly uniform caps in the snow, S-H-O-V-E-L-?

There are no less than four identical lawn signs planted in the snow in front of the Subway.

Dinner tonight!
2 6-inch sandwich
2 bags of chips
2 21-ounce drinks
$14.99

Actually, I can see this sign in an upscale suburb, though it probably comes without the trash.

There is a lot of trash on this stretch. It’s the reason why I’d rather escape the cold city in the spring as opposed to the wintertime. On the sidewalk just outside of Menrard’s, an empty plastic cup is rolling in the breeze, mostly going around in circles, handicapped by its tapered sides. I should pick it up, but I don’t because there is more, too much to carry. On a warmer day, maybe I’ll come over with a grabber and a bag. But today? Not today. I could write a letter! Couldn’t this be a job? A purpose? Somewhere along the way I come across some day-old throw-up. It’s orange. Probably a drunk, I think. I’m grateful that I can’t smell it, that I am not at the fairgrounds on a hot summer day. I’m on some kind of deer trail for alcoholics here, which might explain the market for diabetic test strips.

Nevertheless, this side of the street is still sunny. And when spring comes, the fancy medians that were put in when the light rail was built will burst with foliage. For a second you might think that you were in the heart of Edina where the tree-lined sidewalks are dotted with huge pots of geraniums and petunias that smell like grape Kool-Aid powder, velvet crimson snapdragons and sweet potato vine. Here the shop windows glisten and the public trashcans are used and maintained.

At the northwest corner of Fairview and University, right next to the light rail station, there is a huge – huge – sculpture of a rooster that is made out of salvaged parts. I recognize a keg that has been cut in half lengthwise. A fender. A part of a front car door that had one of those triangular vents on the windows. You don’t see those anymore. A round taillight. That was an eye, appropriately amber. There were other parts. But I have forgotten them or never could have told you what they were. I wanted to remember everything, but even as I stood there studying this creature, I knew that I would forget. Unlike the sign – the one about the diabetic strips – I did not want to take a picture of the rooster, which would have been more worthy of the attention. I suppose a snapshot could have helped me remember the parts – like the way a layering of what appeared to be tiles from an old tin ceiling – created the effect of feathers on the animal’s neck. I could have shown you an unidentifiable white piece on the bottom of which was a warning: This is not a step! But it could not have captured how I felt standing there in the sun underneath the bird. So why bother? Sometimes it feels good to do something that actually requires your presence, to do something that cannot be captured in pixels. It matters that I’m here. The bird is standing on a structure that has been tagged with graffiti and it looks like some of the bricks have been damaged. A plastic bag dances at its feet, lest great art make you forget where you are.

I almost miss the front entrance of the YMCA because when Brian and I come in the evenings, we park in the back. But I can see Snelling Avenue up ahead and Snelling is too far. So I pause to look to see where I am and there I am at the door of the place. I have little hope that coffee is still available at this hour. But I check in and go straight to the back to the lounge and am delighted to see people there with paper cups of so-so coffee. It’s hot. It’s fine. I take a high-top and do something I’ve never done, take my coffee at the Y and pretend that I am at a hotel on vacation, waiting for Brian to come down from the room before we head out to explore.

From here I can see the aquatics room on the other side of a glass wall. Old men are in the vortex pool walking in circles. A woman in a bathing suit that I like for its modesty wheels away a cart full of foam dumbbells and other water activity stuff. I get the impression that a class just got over. I can’t help but hear the conversation next to me, two friends catching up. It seems that everyone is pregnant. We’re not getting any younger! You’ve got that right, lady! You’ve got that right. An old guy rolls in with a walker. A plastic grocery bag hangs from one of the handles. He stops a staff person. He complains about the riffraff that he had to pass on his way into the place. They come in here and take up all of these tables! They don’t even have memberships! The staff person says something to mollify him. She’ll mention it to her supervisor. He seems like a crank. But before I can reach for my coat to dodge him completely, he catches my eye. Hello! Of course, I must answer. But I can’t just answer. I must undo what I had been thinking.

He invites himself to sit with me. What else was there to say? I don’t like these tall tables. I glance around at the empty regular tables in the room. But we don’t know each other well enough for a joke. So, I let it go as he fusses. I’m too short for these things!

I had been thinking a lot about isolation and loneliness and now it seems that I have conjured up this guy who is going to show me a version of something I have been imagining.

Evidently, you can just walk into a place, the Y or a coffee shop or wherever, and invite yourself to join a stranger. But in reality, I’m not so sure that I like this. I was happy to sit there with my thoughts, watching the old men go around and around and catching a word here and there. And now I have to make conversation. Answer random questions. I’m not too put out. Don’t get me wrong. I essentially made this happen, didn’t I?

His walker is plastered with bumper stickers. Semper Fi! I’ve watched enough NCIS to know that this is a military thing, Latin for “always faithful”, according to Wikipedia. There’s a baseball hat. Pins. The works. This guy wants you to know that he was a Marine and will always be one. I should ask him about it. But he beats me to an icebreaker. Where you from? This has never been an easy answer for me, because just like this guy, my dad had a career in the military. What does that mean? In the second grade I went to three different schools. That’s what that means. Where you were born – in my case, at a now decommissioned Air Force base in Michigan – might not mean much. However, in my case, there are relatives there. At least there is that. There is the house on Main Street in Harrisville Michigan that will always be my grandmother’s house, regardless of who holds the title. So, you can see why I would stick with the simple answer. I live here. This is when he tells me that he is from Saint Paul. All my life. Saint Paulites are weirdly proud people.

When Rex learns that I was a military dependent, he asks me questions that a civilian wouldn’t ask exactly as he does. Where did he retire out of? Ellsworth, Air Force Base in Rapid City. Is that where you graduated from high school? Yes. So no, not a Saint Paulite born and bred like him. But I live here nonetheless. What do you do? Or are you a housewife. Are you married? I was married 39 years ago. I thought you were going to say, “I was married 39 times.” We laugh. Finally, a joke.

So, this is how it’s done. Invite yourself to sit down. When you say your name, imagine how James Bond would do it then offer a fist bump. Don’t worry. Unless the person you’re talking to is a lump, they will respond appropriately. Yep. That’s me. Doing fist bumps at the Y. If you have a package of cookies, pull those out. Maybe you have some stashed in a plastic grocery bag, a permanent fixture on that walker of yours. Want any? No thank you, I’m good. They’re sugarless. I realize, here now as I type, that I missed an opportunity. Never refuse a cookie. Never. Then you might mention what brings you there. Rex is considering becoming a member and he’s there for a tour. Except he’s not on a tour. He’s talking to me. He announces that so far he’s not impressed. Of course, I heard about the riffraff out on the steps already. I don’t ask about it because I can imagine him saying something vaguely racist (and loud) that he would not consider to be offensive so much as factual. It’s just hard to know what’s going to come out of his mouth. Instead I become an ambassador for the Y. I extol the virtues of the vortex pool where we can see those old men exercising. There’s a sauna and a hot tub. It’s really nice in the winter.

Rex is eighty-three. He served in the Korean War. He doesn’t drink or smoke. This last point is what I would classify as an “announcement.” I’m pretty sure that everyone resorts to them on occasion. It’s that thing that you tell a stranger within five minutes of meeting. It’s that thing that you cannot resist working into a conversation. It’s that story that your spouse knows by heart, but is too sweet to stop you from telling it again. But it’s not that Rex wants me to know that he doesn’t drink. He wants me to know that he quit drinking 39 years ago. He quit after losing his family and business because of alcoholism, though he never uses that word. Rex says he has too much time on his hands, which is why he is here. He walks a lot because he “wants to stay sharp” even though he feels useless. We share complaints about icy sidewalks. Arby’s doesn’t shovel their walks. Maybe he should write a letter. At some point he is “retrieved” by someone whom I suspect works at the retirement home where he lives. Fist bumps all around. They leave and, now free, I put on my coat to head back home.

The guy pushing a shopping cart across the parking lot of the Goodwill looks like he’s on a mission. He’s coming toward me, toward the sidewalk, as if he is just going to keep going, keep going with that cart well past the boundaries of the store. It might be tricky to get past a mound of snow and whatever structural barrier there is (I did not pause to examine this). It occurs to me that I should help, right? Snap out of it! You’re not going to help someone make off with a shopping cart! So, I walk. Without looking back, I walk.

The pothole crew has moved on to another street.

By “secure” I imagine that the storage place means that it is a building without windows.

A crew is up in some kind of mechanical lift melting ice off of the gutters of Vandalia Tower. What is that thing? I note the words on the equipment, clearly marked a rental. I will look it up when I get home. But I have forgotten.

I try to commit that phone number to memory.

952-373-1669

I want to dial it. It must be a scam. Maybe I’ll write a letter. But to whom should I send it? What could they possibly do?

Remember this. Remember that. All the way home, remember this, remember that.

I am afraid that I will forget.

DIY Plant Stand for a Rescue Case

We were going to a show. So, after he came home from work, it wasn’t surprising to see Brian parking on the street in front of the house instead of in the garage. But something was up. He unlocks the front door. Then back to the car. What’s he doing? He probably stopped for groceries. I should help bring them in, but I don’t feel like it. I am a terrible wife.

Then I see it. He finally brought it home after weeks of preparing me for the possibility. There was this plant that Brian adopted after it had been abandoned during the most recent reorganization at work. It wasn’t doing so well. It used to be by a window, but because of the construction now it isn’t and now it’s sadly in decline. It needs sun. Brian is fine. Don’t worry about him. He can get up and take a walk. He assured me of this. But that plant! It’s just stuck there in this artificial light. Maybe he’ll bring it home. He never does.

…until he does. Another branch shriveled? Did too many needles fall? Did they pile up on January and refuse to be casually brushed aside? And now Charlie Brown over there is unloading this thing that is cramped in the back of his car, because while a grown man could sit relatively comfortably in the back of a Prius, this giant plant with its sprawling limbs is too big.

I’m always trying to stop things from coming into the house. I enjoy a good estate sale and am always imagining my own. When homes are disassembled and stripped of life, a whimsical collection of birds taken out of context and arranged on rented banquet tables, or a certain type of glass or enough pencils to last a hundred years can seem more like a window into the mind of a crazy person than anything beautiful or useful. It’s hard to win this battle – keeping our heads above the stuff – when you’re fighting against someone who has bonded with a tree. But I honestly cannot imagine where we are going to put this thing. A spare corner eases my mind and I was just beginning the enjoy the fruits of my labor. But what are the options? I fear the plant is going to bring the room’s energy down, like so many of those plants we saw in the photos of those houses for sale when we were in the market. Searching real estate sites, Brian and I used to laugh about how sometimes we weren’t really looking at a house so much as we were looking at people’s stuff. Sometimes, there might be a pet in the picture. A pet! Like I’m going to get a free dog if I buy this house? If the idea is to give me the impression that this is a good place for a family, why not stick grandma in there too? In any case, I wanted a fern. There is an empty pot on top of the built-in bookshelf that awaits its arrival. But this? This is too much. Too much.

The next day, Saturday, we spent some time rummaging for something that could elevate the new plant. A column, probably out of a church, from Architectural Antiques was not an option at north of eight hundred dollars. At one furniture store where we did not expect to find anything except for maybe an idea, a salesperson offered us mimosas. Furniture is art. Light fixtures and lamps are art. Rugs. Art. It makes sense that we would causally wander the gallery with our cocktails enjoying the “movement” of a particularly sleek sectional, knowing that it would never fit into our living room. I really just wanted to look at junk, parts with which to do something. I say this as if I were handy, as if I know how to weld stuff, as if I had the tools to make uniform cuts to make uniform slabs of wood. This is a dream. But we can dream. I still like to scrounge and imagine what could be done, if only…. if only.

We fail to find anything. We run out of ideas about where to look. I had just been to the Goodwill. I doubt there’s anything there. I’m kind of tired, but I want to “party on”, as I like to say to Brian whenever I’m feeling restless. I suggest we go to The Lab, a brewery near our house. There you can pour your own beer and pay for it by the ounce, which is perfect because I just want a taste.

As we walk into the place, a pair of queens are running a game of Bingo. A woman, part of a foursome at the next table, tells me that it’s free to play. She must have been disappointed when I did not leap up to fetch a card and a plastic cup full of Bingo chips. At one point between games, the queens start to lip sync, each taking her turn. People are holding up bills. The second act is racy. After a high kick it isn’t long before she sheds the 50’s-ish sheer red polka-dotted dress that sparkles to expose a bodysuit that looks as if it had been splattered with paint. The crowd howls. She does the splits. The cheering defies the time of day, a lazy afternoon, though it is different from the canned excitement of daytime television, which I loathe. Shouldn’t we be at a night club? A man on the other side of the room from where we are sitting is waving money. But he fails to get the dancer’s attention because there’s apparently too much money to track. I am mildly stressed by this, worried that the man feels rejected and wondering if Marilyn Monroe will ever get her five dollars. The dancer approaches the foursome next to us. They are eating up this odd mix of Bingo and bachelor party where at one point, the dancer pretends to spit into her hand and briefly simulates something that I will not directly say here, but it suffices to say that it made a grown man blush in front of his friends who were roaring with laughter.

And just like that it’s back to B-12 followed by whatever joke, story, fact or memory is triggered by the number. The dirtier the better. Of course, some numbers are obvious.

Someone comes around with a free sample of some kind of “super food” that has been juiced, some kind of berry. I didn’t catch the name of it, though it was repeated a couple of times. It’s an antioxidant. What else is there to know? It’s good for you. This particular sample has been mixed with alcohol. Try it! Later I will be mad for a few minutes thinking of the ridiculousness of it, but not as mad as I was about the show we saw the night that Brian brought that plant home and the utterly pretentious discussion that followed it.

The friendly – possibly drunk by now – free-bingo-cards! woman who had first spoken to us when we arrived leans over to me with a comment every now and then. She points out the entertainment value in watching people walk through the door to find the place in stitches, helpless against a Barbara Streisand perm, clear stilettos, and a pink rectangle-of-a dress that can barely cover a snatch. She’s right! Just look at those faces. Some unsuspecting dude walks in and confusion shifts to surprise and then delight. “Web cam!” I said. I could watch that all day.

That evening at the YMCA, Brian and I are talking as we walk the track, dodging teens who are playing basketball. I had regretted that we frittered away the day looking for a lousy plant stand that probably doesn’t exist. I am certain that he would have preferred to stay home to read. But he says that life isn’t supposed to be efficient. It’s probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

When we get home from the gym, Brian goes upstairs to start a new book. I grab the iPad and do a search for DIY plant stands. I tried something with the idea of getting a sense of how high the plant should be, what kind of footprint would work, etc. You know, a test. It turns out that I liked my prototype better than I would have expected.

Here’s the big plant that Brian brought home. It’s supported by the feet of a tomato cage that are tucked under the rim of the pot.
I found some things that fit perfectly on each tomato cage ring. Bottom: floor. Next Up: Flat basket. Then: An aluminum platter with roses. I also tried a cutting board here and that worked too. Next: Clear glass bowl with a candle and a few rocks inside. Above that is hardware cloth (that still needs to be hemmed or treated to address the rough edges) and a plate. Top: Plant.
The aluminum tray is at a good height to put a drink, assuming there is a chair nearby.
Looking down. The pot isn’t actually sitting on the plate below it. It is suspended above it.

I wish the pictures did this justice. It’s pretty sweet and didn’t cost anything on the current budget. I just used stuff I had around the place. If I stick with this idea, I’ll reinforce the connections between the tomato cage rings and legs with some lashing. Maybe I’ll paint it. Maybe I won’t. I’ll cover the bottom ring that rests on the floor with something to make it easier to slide without scratching the floor. I was thinking of using some old socks that have been cut into loops. (I could probably write a post titled “100 things to do with socks that have been cut up into loops.” Of course, first on the list would be to make a potholder using one of those potholder looms you might have had when you were a kid.)

Or maybe I will start over. Maybe this is a prototype. I’ve seen plant stands and little tables framed with copper pipes. I do have a saw and some sandpaper… stain to use up…

It’s a good thing that efficiency is overrated.

Kitchen Storage Solutions

I can’t believe I’m going to share a picture of my kitchen drawer with you, but whenever I come across an organizing tip that actually works, it’s hard to resist sharing the news. My sister gave me the idea, which she got from a book about organizing your stuff. I think it might have been The life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondō.

Downsizing and organizing seem to be popular themes these days. For the past month, I’ve been watching my recently retired neighbor hall things from her basement to either the trash or a pile destined for Goodwill. On the other side of me a neighbor unloaded some tomato cages, two of which I gladly took. There are entire podcasts devoted to convincing you to get rid of stuff.

Generally, the rule here is “Don’t let it in the house.” But swept up in the celebration of the team’s new logo, I caved and took a free Timberwolves t-shirt that was shoved into my hands on the way out of the arena. It wasn’t a good color for me. I didn’t like the cut. Was it supposed to be a souvenir? Fortunately I have some neighbors who are Wolves fans and they were happy to take the shirt and some other souvenirs. Basically we’re just trading stuff over here.

Another trick is to “Use things up.” When you get that candle on Christmas Day, get the matches out. Light it. Enjoy it every day until it’s gone. If you save it, pretty soon you’ll have two candles and then three. People will get the idea that you collect candles. Then you’ll get even more until you won’t live long enough to burn them all. So use the lotion. Eat the candy. Drink the wine. If it’s not for you, give it away right away. I mean, nobody wants a box of half eaten candies or a candle that was lit once and then stored where it collected dust until it came time for your estate sale.

For the stuff you do keep. Put it away. Even if it’s ultimately a contained mess like my kitchen drawer with the food storage containers, having a place to put things is a start. Until recently, I saw no reason to improve this isolated chaos. It was easy to toss things in willy-nilly and not such a big deal to fish things out as needed.

But when my sister mentioned this storage method where you store things vertically, I wondered if would work for this drawer. I arranged things and it worked great. The real test would be whether the system could more or less maintain itself. After having used this organizing tip for several months now, I’m hooked. It works for socks. It works for t-shirts (should you collect too many freebies). Towels. It works great. It also indicates when it’s time to recycle deli containers I might save. If it doesn’t fit, it’s out. Not wedged in. Not off into an auxiliary storage area. Out.

So here you have it folks.

My kitchen drawer.

Kitchen Storage

My kitchen drawer. The container lids are stacked vertically in a shoe box.

What I Like About Him

Breakfast Setting

I’m going to try making some lists, adding to them as I get ideas. I could start with a list of lists:

  • What I Like about Him – inspired by my cup of coffee and the sound of the stairs creaking under his weight
  • Titles for Letters to the Editor that I’ll Never Write – inspired by an Environment Minnesota canvasser who rolled his eyes at me as he left without my signature or any money – the first thing on the list would be “Do politicians ever do the right thing just because it’s the right thing? Or are we really doomed unless I pony up to counter the pressure you’re getting from corporations? An open letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar”.
  • On the Run – How corporations let you know that you’re making a difference – inspired by Monsanto ads on television
  • Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter – inspired by a similar list my friend Lucie and I made to cheer ourselves up. She has since moved to Phoenix. It appears that “wool sweaters” moved from “Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter” to “Things I don’t miss about Minnesota.”
  • Apps I Might Use if I Had a Smart Phone – inspired by the dead rabbit I saw in the road on the way back from the community garden this morning – I imagined that a city worker would eventually take it away if another animal didn’t get to it first – I thought a person could use a smart phone to identify the location of roadkill, hence creating a map to make such clean-up more efficient
  • Podcast Notes – inspired by my plans to produce a podcast – it would have subject and format ideas as well as things I like and don’t like about other podcasts – on the top of “don’t like” would be the inability of many hosts to let a guest (the reason I’m listening to your stupid podcast) finish a sentence.

Why lists? I just like the idea of them. Maybe having a place to put stuff will calm my mind or be a place to go whenever I feel empty and in need of a creative spark. George Carlin was a list maker, wasn’t he? I’m not thinking about The Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television. I’m thinking more about routines like the “Advertising Lullaby“. Unlike Carlin, I’m not collecting lists for the purpose of writing comedy. Oh, I’d love to be a comedian, but I’d settle for being able to hold your attention long enough to tell you something without you checking your text messages or looking up a fact with your smart phone because I mentioned that the corn chowder has chorizo in it and you want to know – right now – exactly what spices are in it.

So this list is “What I Like about Him.” I’ll add to it over time. Look at it as another form of journal writing (this calls for dating my entries, right?).

What I Like about Him

September 3, 2015
Typically when I get up, I have a nice breakfast before I do much of anything else, with the exception of putting the dishes away while the coffee brews. On a rare occasion I’ll be sucked into my computer before breakfast and even before the coffee is done. For example, today I’m trying to wrap up a website for a client and I wanted to get some tasks out of my head and onto a…list. Is it clear that I’m a list maker? …in any case… On those days, Brian might notice that the coffee is done. It’s hard to miss because the coffeemaker beeps no less than seven times when it’s ready, which reminds me of another list I need to make: “Shit that we don’t need!”, to which I will add, “Cars that honk when you lock the doors using a remote”.

…so he notices the coffee is done. In the meantime, I’ve gotten lost in whatever project I’m doing. What does he do? He brings a cup of coffee to me in my office. No matter how many times he has done this, it always surprises me and it’s always a little strange to see him – not a coffee drinker – standing there bare-chested with a cup of coffee in his hands. It’s no stranger than if he had been smoking a cigarette or had served me a McCafe from a drive-thru window. Has he taken note of the official coffee cup order of preference? Knowing him, it’s possible. And typical of me, I can’t say for sure.