Author Archives: Rebekah Smith

Construction Site

It’s hard to pick out the women and even when you do you’re not sure it’s a woman under the hardhat. I’m pretty sure I saw two. The only Black man I saw was servicing the portable toilets, but that is not to say there aren’t other people of color working on the construction site that spans at least two large blocks and goes deep into the Saint Thomas campus. I just don’t see them. The guys on the periphery are white, like the three guys standing on the sidewalk outside of the morning huddle. With that beard the redhead in the middle looks like he could be a member of ZZ Top, except I can’t picture any of them vaping. If anything they would smoke. A photographer with privileges would be in heaven. Everywhere I look there is a picture.

Of course there is old fashioned smoking too, so much that I wonder if there shouldn’t be a quit smoking campaign directed at construction workers (and bartenders and cosmetologists and rock stars). What is it about operating a backhoe that makes a person crave nicotine? Like a mother hen, I wish they wouldn’t. It doesn’t match their strong young bodies. I wish the old timers would give it up too.

I pass a flag man who has a small cooler sitting next to him and think it’s sweet that he didn’t want to be separated from his lunch. On the lid of the cooler there are four empty cup holders molded into the plastic. On the return there is a bottle of water, half full, in of the the holders. Close by three men are having a smoke on a retaining wall in front of an apartment building. I overhear part of a story… “…and then he pulls out in front of me like this…” I imagine that it is a story like the ones my brother-in-law might tell about the guy you should never take on a hunting trip. He’s an idiot and he might kill you.

I imagine living across from the construction site that wakes up by seven o’clock. It’s fun to see whenever I take a walk in that direction. But it would drive me nutty to live with it for an extended period of time. The rest of the summer for sure and maybe into next year?

I stop to watch a man in a bobcat remove part of a sidewalk, while another man on a big hill of recently excavated dirt oversees the operation. A few other men are on the ground watching too. It’s not clear what their roles are, but I assume they will help, point, assist or signal as needed. Before sliding the bucket under a slab of concrete, the machine scrapes the gravel toward itself as if trying to level the ground a bit. Scratching like an animal might. Then it lifts up a piece of cement and if it is too big or awkward to lift, will drop it several times until it breaks. A smart animal, with problem solving skills. And we thought it was just a machine! To be efficient, slabs are neatly stacked before lifted and placed into a larger front end loader that waits there like a hungry chick begging for a worm. At first I am reminded of Edward Scissorhands trying to eat a pea but then come to appreciate that these birds really have the dexterity of a surgeon. Amazing!

Suddenly all of the machinery seems to be animated and it makes me recall how my bicycle feels like a restless horse underneath me. The backhoe is a cat coughing up a hairball. It scoops up the ground in one spot and empties the bucket in another. Because the dirt sticks – like the way the snow sticks to my shovel – it shakes it off with these quick backward jolts that would be unnatural for a person to mimic and hell on the neck. Bam! Bam! Bam! Just like my cat, Ehgh! Ehgh! Ehgh!

And now…

For the next thing on the list!

More work in the kitchen. A few things in the stairway. When Brian comes home, he’ll help me with the ladder so that I can reach up to wipe down the walls.

The To-Do List

Generally, I need to put the thing that must get done first on the list of things to do. It is not this post or making progress on the short story that I am writing or the book in progress that wants to be something other than what I first had in mind. At the moment, it is not even the podcast. The list from yesterday reads:

  • Caulk (stairway)
  • Clean up dining room, kitchen
  • Pick up house
  • Wash walls (stairway)
  • Finish prepping woodwork
  • Take down plastic
  • Clean kitchen walls

I did not get to all of these things and keeping up with a commitment to post here daily (mostly) wasn’t even on the list. By the end of the day, which ended really late last night, I collapsed.

I’ve let the lettuce go to seed, partly because I don’t have enough time to do everything there is to do and partly because I love the way the grassy pods look. It’s full of red headed birds, finches of some kind? I wanted to show the cat the dove that was walking around the upper deck where there is a floor-to-ceiling screen where she likes to sit, but figured that the bird wouldn’t stick around for it.

Our street gets a ridiculous number of delivery trucks every day. Every Amazon truck that pulls up to a house stirs up a low-level anxiety. It doesn’t seem like we can possibly be serious about addressing global warming if we are going to have toilet paper delivered to every individual household. The cheese stands alone as convenience is vehemently defended. Convenience will be the end of us. Whenever I think of convenience, I see the guy in Idiocracy who never had to get up from his chair to shit. In the meantime, try to find a decent choice of fabric or a belt that will last longer than a week or a sturdy rake at a brick-and-mortar shop.

It feels like it is going to rain.

Okay. If I can get the prep done in the kitchen so that I’m ready to paint, then other things can fall into place – the pan rack that I made, the baskets for onions and potatoes… I want to see how my sheep (a print I bought at the farmers market in Boise) will look above the door. I want to see that color. Hopefully it’s right this time.

I want my dining room back. No sooner did I finish it did it become the staging area for other projects.

It is not a short story or a podcast episode. But refinishing the shelves in the dining room built-in cabinets is a form of expression too. All of this is an expression of something. And just like writing a short story, at least for me, it is not easy. Not one bit.

Frances

“What should I write about today?”

“Toenails.”

My mind went to my nephew’s recent wedding in Virginia because it’s the kind of event that forces a woman to consider splurging on a professional pedicure if she isn’t already in the habit of getting them. When did we stop taking care of our own feet?

“I don’t want to write about toenails.”

“How about something from the book I just got for you?”

Pep Talk for Writers? Okay.”

Before I could finish the first chapter, which was three short pages, I regretted that I never emailed Frances. Frannie? Fran? I think she went by Fran. At the same time, I don’t regret anything. Honestly, I’m not just trying to be above my mistakes and I don’t subscribe to the notion that everything is as always as it should be. I’m just okay with it.

I could email her right now. It has been three years since I saw Fran staring up at a tree. So a message from me would be a surprise and possibly confusing.

“What are you looking at?”

Is there any way to say that without the dangling participle and still sound like a normal person?

“I’m trying to figure out what kind of tree that is. We don’t have those in Vermont.”

And this is how the conversation started. We stood on the sidewalk and talked for at least an hour. It might have been two.

Among other things, Fran told me that your life is a work of art. She said it better than that. I sort of understood and since then I’ve had glimpses of what she meant.

We talked about a number of things. Trees. Art. The Senior Olympics. The 82 year old Fran was a contender. She was a thrower. There was a reason she landed in this sport, but I can’t remember what it was. Shot put, discus, javelin, and the hammer throw. She did them all except for one that wasn’t good for her…back? Something like that.

I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t have my recorder with me. I would have liked to have interviewed her and at the same time can appreciate that a microphone can get in the way.

“You’ll remember what you need to remember.” She said.

Your life is a work of art. I remember that.

I remember how she took an interest in the painting project that I was doing. I was having trouble finding the right trim color for a the basement that I had painted a turquoise. She pointed to different houses on the block as examples of the effects of different color combinations. There is a house on Cleveland Avenue that always makes me think of her:

“See how the trim on that house is a dark brown?”

I remember noticing the contrast between talking to her, a stranger, and the difficulties I was having with some other people who were in my life at the time where I should have expected some level of connection but mostly just felt like an alien in their presence. It’s just nice to be got. To be heard. To be important.

“Do you want so see some old people jump? Come back at 10 o’clock.”

I remember sitting on the bleachers in the sun.

I remember that I was on my way home and she was on her way to find something to eat.

Her name was Francesca. When she was in her sixties she moved back to Vermont from Portland; she wanted to live near her aging mother.

I remember asking her for an email address.

Why Paint Jobs are Bigger than you Think

10. Another trip to the hardware store for the rollers that you forgot the first 50 times you were there.

9. Realizing that you picked the wrong color after you’ve finished the job.

8. Caulking the gaps between the wood molding and the wall.

7. Taping the area to be caulked as to get a clean line.

6. Cleaning up the paint spatters left by the previous painter from ten years ago, something you had never noticed until now that you’re looking at the walls up close with a magnifying glass and a headlamp.

5. Painting the thing next to the thing you just painted because it now looks dingy next to a fresh paint job.

4. Preventing a mess by putting down drop cloths, sealing off areas to be sanded…

3. Cleaning up the mess!

2. Painting.

1. Beer!

I’m plugging away at a few projects. Every day I think, today is the day! Time to paint! Nope! This morning I was taping plastic around and area to be sanded. I figured out this trick when I painted the dining room. You’re supposed to do things in the right order and that will save you some headaches. I tried to do that. But inevitably there would be a step backwards either because I just had to learn something the hard way or because I messed up something. There would be some repair I missed. So I would have to fill in a hole… now I have to do a little sanding… now I have to wipe things down… again. So I finally figured out that I could form a bag around the small area on the wall to be sanded. There’s a little more to it than that, but it essentially contains the mess. Anyway, this morning I was taping a bag to the wall for this purpose. Brian gets up. He needs to get passed me, as I am in the middle of the stairway. He tells me that I’ll be glad to know that while I’ve been industrious this morning, Senator Amy Klobuchar is “speaking truth to power.” We both had a laugh. Someone needs to tell her that she is the power. Has she ever been at a rally where people are shouting stuff like that? Those people aren’t going to vote for her. Not now. Not in 2020.

What will you remember about today?

What will I remember about the July 4, 2019?

I always think I will remember.

You mention a book I should read. Oh, I’ll remember that!

The name of your dog.

Your name!

A joke.

I always think I will remember.

What will I remember about today?

Without my notes?

I’ll need my notes:

1. I woke up before Brian and this essentially makes every day like Christmas Day where you can’t wait for everyone to wake up. Except instead of opening presents, there is breakfast, or a walk or something I have to tell him the minute he opens his eyes. But I don’t. I want to. But I try to give the man a minute.

2. So at 6 a.m. or so, I put another coat of paint on the radiator in the kitchen and listened to a podcast called 1001 Short Stories. This paint job required a lot of preparation. You can learn a lot about life by working on your house like this. I’ll return to this later.

3. Eventually Brian gets up and we go out for breakfast after the usual routine of feeding the cat, cleaning her box, etc.

4. We go for a ride. The Prius compliments Brian for not using the AC. The breeze feels good. I feel happy.

5. I wait in the car while Brian gets a few grocery items. Doing this same thing a little while ago, I got an idea for a movie that would be filmed from the POV of the passenger seat looking into the side mirror. When I went to Boston with Mary Jane last month, I waited in the valet area while she checked into the Westin Hotel. Again, looking into the side mirror at the action behind me… there is a movie here.

6. Brian notes that the yard needs some attention and wants to do some weeding before it rains. I like to imagine that he enjoys tapping into his inner farmer but he doesn’t admit it. He’s just doing what needs to be done.

7. I need to make a chalk line so that I can eventually install a handrail for the stairs. Brian helps me by holding one end of the line. It takes us a few tries, but eventually, we get it. I drill holes where the brackets will go. I think I found the studs. It seems like it. I hope so. It can be hard to tell with these plaster walls.

8. I continue to prepare the stairway for painting.

9. The back door where I am working upstairs is open. I can smell food cooking on grills around the neighborhood. I am reminded of my first night at the dormitory at the U of M – Morris. My dad who drove me there has left. My roommate – a person I have yet to meet – has not arrived yet. Outside I can hear people laughing, roving around campus is groups.

10. Brian is in and out. It starts to rain. It stops. He weeds in between.

11. Brian comes in from the yard covered in dirt. To the shower!

12. Brian lays on the bed. I sit in the chair by the window. The cat is passed out on her new favorite spot on the floor facing the door. Life is good.

13. Brian starts the grill. I wish that you could be here to join us.

14. I figured I better not fall off the wagon on day two…

15. Brian asks me how much corn on the cob I want to eat. He brings the package upstairs to show me how big they are. One.

16. Let’s eat.

17. Post.

18. Edit.

19. Brian watches the Red Sox lose.

20. I work on my short story.

Because I Left the House

Because I Left the House was an idea for a series of blog posts where I would note something that I experienced… well… because I left the house. Whenever I mentioned the idea, people responded positively and so I figured that it must be a good idea. It never went anywhere. In fact, this, my personal blog, has idled for quite some time. Although it remains in my project book, which is my way of tracking… projects. I will tell you more about the project book later.

What inspires me to log into Two People & a Cat now? I need to write. Just write. Indeed I am writing. I’ve been working on a book and a short story. Last night I was reading about how to write a short story and woke up this morning feeling like someone had just told me that Lego’s are only intended to go together in certain ways. Get to the point! Dispense with backstories and descriptions. In other words, everything I’ve written so far (okay, maybe an exaggeration) needs to be cut. Ugh.

So this is… I’m not sure. It’s a place to write some stuff without trying to fit it into any particular form. It’s a place to have some fun. Maybe it will end up being my best writing, although I doubt it. It won’t be so crafted… Not the blog posts. It will be more of a journal. That’s tricky. Because there are things that need to be processed over time. This isn’t a spill your guts kind of thing. And at the same time it does need to be open enough to be human. Honestly, we’ll just have to see. Mainly, it’s just a place to write, especially when I look at my other writing projects and feel stuck.

Okay, so because I left my house today… A moving van takes a turn in front of me. The top of the truck brushes past tree branches and I wonder if they might break. I walked to the end of my block – two blocks actually, over to Cleveland Avenue, and something exploded. Without knowing anything about it, my first thought was that it was a transformer. It was a loud crack that I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It scared me. There is someone sitting in a city truck not too far from me. No response. Another truck pulls up to the stop sign. The driver is texting, unconcerned. No signs of anyone investigating the noise. No curtains pulled. Nobody poking a head out or standing on the porch to see what’s what. It occurs to me that it’s the day before the Fourth of July and that firecrackers might explain the boom. But I quickly dismiss this. I know what I heard. While I am not seriously concerned for my safety, I opt to turn back and take a slightly different route to the coffee shop. This brings me past the moving truck. It appears that my neighbors are moving, but even though I see men loading boxes onto two moving trucks, I don’t quite believe it. The family is something of an institution. The hub of block parties. Organizers of rain garden workshops. They have chickens. They just put up a fence. They’re moving? If I followed the neighborhood email group more closely, I would know the scoop. But I took a break from the alerts and complaints and yes, block party invitations. So now I’m in the dark.

So there you have it. A little bit of a free write. I just need a spot where I can get something on the page without working it too hard. There is the question of why this is a blog versus a notebook stashed away in my closet. This is a good question, but one I’ll have to take up later. Thinking about that too hard right now would just take the fun out of it.

It’s 11:30 a.m. and the neighbor’s lawn service has just kicked in. I wasn’t expecting them today. This summer they’ve been coming on Thursday afternoons. It is quite an ordeal for such a small yard. It’s very noisy and gets on my nerves though I do try to be all zen about it. Suddenly, the noise stops. Is this for real? Will it start again? That was weird. It’s hard to relax when I’m wondering how long the quiet is going to last.

Reach Out and Read Videos that Were Never Made

I’ve been working on this blog post on and off for a few months now. Not this post, another one. Something more serious. It has been taking more time than I would have expected. Maybe it’s too serious. What was once just a passing observation about election meddling had become a point I wanted to make, which could have been done in a sentence or two. But it kept demanding more until it went from being almost finished to a pile of Christmas tree lights that needed to be untangled. It’s a jumbled mess and not so fun to face at the moment. But that’s probably less because of its disorderly state and more because of the subject. Current affairs can certainly be a downer. It’s also possible that this piece is never going to be any good and I know it. It could be that too.

In the meantime, Two People and a Cat stagnates as it has done many other times. So I thought I would dive in without too much fuss. I’ve been meaning to share a video that has given us a laugh here at the house. Perhaps all will be lost in the translation and you will not see the humor in it. Funny is a tricky thing.

Here’s some background. A while ago I produced a video for Reach Out and Read Minnesota (ROR – I still think it’s unfortunate that they didn’t go with the obvious ROAR acronym that would have lent itself to the cutest mascot ever!). This is a program where pediatricians promote reading to kids at an early age by distributing free books. It’s a cool deal and it was a fun project to do. However, I never did make the video I wanted to make. I made what I called the “straight” version. Before I tried anything too crazy, I thought it best to at least deliver something that didn’t wildly deviate from the expected. I sensed, perhaps wrongly, that there wasn’t an appetite for anything but the straight version. There definitely wasn’t time to discuss alternatives. In the end, the finished product was received well at an annual fundraiser. The board was appropriately appreciative. As for those other ideas I wanted to try once the real project was done? I never got around to them.

Text: Read to your Children Every Day with red flowers in the background.

However, I did sketch out some of the ideas. Brian and I also shot part of an idea. This is the video that I am sharing here. I wanted to see how certain things would look. Again, these are test shots. They are rough and incomplete. But of course that’s what makes the video so funny to me.

As for the ideas for additional videos, my memory will have to serve here as those notes are long gone by now. But first, I should explain a couple of things about ROR-MN.

  1. During regular checkups – well child visits – pediatricians give books to the kids and encourage parents to read to their children. Doing this helps with brain development at a critical time in the child’s life.
  2. The barriers to entry are low. All pre-school patients of a participating clinic get books. No one has to qualify, fill out an application or otherwise prove neediness. Everyone is equal.
  3. It’s convenient for families because the program is attached to existing routines.
  4. The pediatrician is not only a trusted authority, but the right one to deliver an important message about reading to your kids starting at an early age.

The videos would be 30 seconds or less, making them ideal to share on social media. Each would illustrate a feature of ROR as mentioned above. Videos would start with a situation and finish with a voiceover and then cut to the logo/website followed by footage from a doctor’s visit then fade to black.

ROR Video Idea #1: Delivering Books like Candy at A Parade

Scene: Nice day. Neighborhood. Kids playing soccer. Sprinkler. Dog. A few doors down a man is mowing the lawn. From the distance we can hear someone yelling something. A man driving a car slowly rolls by as he is yelling over a megaphone, “Read to your kids! Read…” He is throwing books out the car window, as if throwing candy from a parade float. Close-up: Book lands in a puddle. A kid’s feet are in the shot. Pan from feet to face that looks confused. Close-up: A curtain moves from within a house as if an adult is checking to see what the commotion is. Close-up: Dog. Wide: Kids stop playing to face car. They’re confused. Voiceover: There are better ways to distribute free books and encourage parents to read to their kids every day. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: Pediatrician prescribed books for preschoolers.

So here are some of those test shots:

I love this clip. On the one hand, I have this guy who’s up for anything. What? You want me to drive around the neighborhood screaming like an idiot? Sure. No problem. On the other hand, instead of backing up a few feet so I could do another take, he drives around the block. Every time. Come on, buddy! I love this clip because we had a lot of fun making this. How lucky am I to have somebody who’s that game? At one point a neighbor gave Brian a thumbs-up as if to agree with the message while politely ignoring the tactics of the messenger. For some reason, the fact that Brian is driving a loaner from the repair shop is also funny to us. What I remember about that car is that on the passenger side in the front, it didn’t have a full armrest on the left. It seemed like a weird corner to cut.

ROR Video Idea #2: Signing up for Programs can be a Hassle

Scene: Elementary school playground. Mother with baby strapped to her is running through an obstacle course/playground equipment. Or maybe she has a toddler or both. She has her hands full. Close-Up: Clock to suggest time is running out. Various shots: Woman slides down the slide with child. At the bottom of the slide there is a woman in a suit sitting at an office desk. The desk has a sign on it that says “Register for Reading Program Here”. Timer goes off. The mother is too late to sign up. Voiceover: It shouldn’t be hard to give your child a fair chance to succeed. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: No signing up required.

ROR Video Idea #3: Parenting Advice from Biker Dude

Scene: Bike path. A father is jogging in the park with a small child in a stroller, one of those big ones people use when jogging. The child is engrossed in an iPad or similar device. A biker dude who passes the two notices that the child is looking at the device. He stops the father and shares some information about the benefits of reading books over using electronic devices. He also warns of the hazards of too much screen time. Father is clearly annoyed. Various Close-ups: park, birds, other kids, dogs, flowers… Child is oblivious as he continues to watch a video. Voiceover: Nobody wants parenting advice from biker dude. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: Pediatrician prescribed books for preschoolers and real help for their parents.

ROR Video Idea #4: Boot Camp for Parents

This was one of my favorite ones, but I can’t remember exactly how it went. There was a rhythm to it that I’ve lost in my attempt here to get it on the page. But I don’t want to take the time to work it. So as with all of these, it’s just the general idea I’m trying to convey.

Scene: Something that resembles a military boot camp. Parents are lined up. They’re all holding the same children’s book open in front of them. Staring forward. A drill sergeant approaches one of them and screams: “What does a cow say?” Parent replies in boot camp fashion, “Moo!” Sergeant: “What does a cow say?” Parent: “Moo!” Sergeant: “What color is that dog, Smith?” Smith: “Brown!” Sergeant: “What color is the sky?” Smith: “Blue.” Sergeant: “How many birds do you see?” Smith: “Three.” Sergeant: “Count ‘em!” All parents: “One! Two! Three!” Voiceover: There has to be a better way. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child in exam room. Voiceover: We help parents get the most out of reading time with their kids.

ROR Video Idea #5: Police Officer Distributing Books

Scene: Cars on interstate. Family in a car is pulled over by a police officer who noticed a “baby on board” sign. Officer questions them about their children’s reading routines: Do you read to your children every day? How about at bedtime? Parents are confused but answer questions. Officers goes back to his squad car as if he is going to write a ticket. Instead he comes back with some books for the kids. The parents are completely confused but relieved they didn’t get a ticket. Voiceover: The best ideas can be poorly executed. Cut: ROR logo. Voiceover: Reach Out and Read Minnesota. Medium: Doctor giving book to child. Voiceover: Doctors providing age-appropriate books to pre-school kids and giving trusted advice to parents.

[Note: The idea here was to highlight one of the strengths of ROR: information is given to parents by a trusted authority, as opposed to the biker dude in the above scenario. However, any authority will not do. This is not intended to be a negative comment about the police. Instead, it’s about the right authority in this situation. As for the authority of the elementary school teacher, ROR is able to reach children before they’re old enough for kindergarten, during a critical time for brain development. A different video could be made to emphasize that point. ]

ROR Video Idea #6: Helping Kids Prepare for Kindergarten

See note above.

ROR Video Idea #7: The grocery store

This is similar to the biker dude above, except it happens in a grocery store. A stranger gives unsolicited advice to parent and the parent is either annoyed or hurt by it. There’s probably a fine line between poking fun at this type of advice and discouraging people/strangers from lending a helpful hand when they can see that it’s needed.

Why is America? A, B, C…

I’m writing another piece that has gotten a out of hand. It started as a simple observation, but then it led me down the Internet rabbit hole. I got there by looking for thoughts about why America is divided. I used those exact terms in a Google search. Before I could finish my query, Google’s autocomplete function generated this:

Hmmm. I tried a and then b and c. This would take just a second.

You know where this is going, right? I couldn’t stop.

Are we obsessed with being better than everyone else or what? Sure, we’re fat. But dammit, tell me why we’re better than shithole Canada!

Since these Google search suggestions are partly based on the keywords that other people have used, capturing them feels a bit like taking snapshots of strangers. It’s historically interesting. What would I find a year from now?

Again, greatness contrasted with failure.

It’s depressing to think that we are fascinated with serial killers (which goes to a question asked under d). We are certainly fascinated with crime. I cringe whenever another true crime podcast is flung out into the universe. Stop. Just stop.

If you want to know more about how the Google autocomplete function works, read this.

Of course these suggested keywords are based on the input of millions of people. Millions? I think so, right? Anyway, a lot of people. But it’s funny to imagine that one person searched for all of these random things. What’s going on with North Korea? And oh by the way, why the heck is Howard Stern working as a talent show judge?

It appears that we are worried about our debt. In the meantime let’s cut taxes and raise spending. Thanks Congress. Thanks a lot.

Al Jazeera has not been in front of me for a long time. I appreciate this random reminder, Google. After reading why their American branch shut down two years after the fact, I popped over to Twitter to follow them there. What? There’s more to care about than recycled Trump scandals? Quick! Somebody tell Wolf Blizer!

Well that’s nice.

A student could use this exercise to come up with research topics. In fact, some of these search queries definitely give me the sense that a student – sometimes a very young student – is at the other end.

The polarization that I was seeking to understand when I first began my search is evident here. We wonder why we are liberal but more conservative than Europe. We are not religious but we are religious. We are great. We are not great. Buried in the noise are more serious and focused questions. Why is the middle class shrinking? Why are we losing small farms? Why are we in debt?

These serious questions are obvious to me, but you might not agree. Or we might agree on what questions are worth consideration but cling stubbornly to third-party talking points as we try to address them. How do we get past being right at the expense of facts and critical thinking?

To be fair, what else starts with the letter o?

Exactly. Why?

Yeah, there isn’t much here.

Better. Richer. I like to imagine the people who are posing these questions. It could be the basis of a humorous video project. Did an eight year old boy say this or a grown man or an old man a man who used to be a boy?

Search engines must have caught up with our keywords that are full of articles and prepositions. Remember Ask Jeeves?

Who’s more patriotic? Someone who wants to know why America is the greatest or why it’s the best?

See “not on the metric system” above. Our measurement system has been a question ever since I was a kid. (Correction: Since the 18th Century!). There was talk but no action. It’s a case study in what happens when Congress passes voluntary laws, which you can read about here. I imagine there were lobbyists involved. Truthfully, I’m glad we didn’t join the modern world on this one. Even at the age of nine, I felt adverse to change and threatened as an American. I mainly didn’t want the hassle of learning a new system, not that I had exactly mastered a ruler or could have estimated how far it was to Bob’s house. But I do know what 80°f feels like. Please don’t mess with the temp.

Okay. This has been a big distraction. Damn you Google!

Superheroes and wars. That’s what jumping out at me. America. Superheroes. Wars.

As my president would say, sad.

It’s kind of like q. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I include it as to present a complete idea. I can’t imagine that z is going to be much better.

And I was right. Screw you New Zealand!

Of course it didn’t end here. I tried a few examples starting with “Why is Trump…” I was surprised. At first glance his killing net neutrality appeared to be a more prominent concern than the more obvious headlines: Russians. Porn stars. Tweets. The letter j gave me a chuckle.

Drawing the Line at Amazon’s Creepy Tracking System

Brian has his eye on a book. He says I might want to read it too. I don’t remember what it is.

His irritation with the suggestion that he doesn’t buy this book from Amazon was visible. Who can blame him? With me it’s always something.

In the Star Tribune there was an article about how Amazon has a patent for a device that tracks its warehouse employees. Where are they? Where are their hands? What? He can’t find the dildo bin? Give that dumbass a zap. Nudge him three feet to the left. Literally. Efficiently. Ship it stat!

This device can track bathroom breaks. The article didn’t say whether it also scheduled doctor’s appointments based on how loose or solid a poop was or how long it took to evacuate or whether there was blood or the wrong kind of bacteria in it. But wouldn’t that be a good idea? I might get on board if we could tie apocalyptic surveillance to a better healthcare system.

Instead, I’m bugging Brian. Poor guy.

Warehouse employees, huh? What about corporate? Don’t be stupid. Executives do not need to be monitored like a Level III sex offender. They’re naturally productive. Everybody knows this. Suits do not waste time. And no one is going to cheat the system from a private office.

I read:

“Max Crawford, a former Amazon warehouse worker in Britain, said in a phone interview, ‘After a year working on the floor, I felt like I had become a version of the robots I was working with.’” (Yeginsu)

“Repulsive”, I think. I put the paper down and then warm up my coffee for the tenth time.

But we’re sort of trapped aren’t we? I looked all over this town and couldn’t find litmus paper anywhere. Nobody had it and most retail employees didn’t even know what it was (if only I could have administered a shock – low-level of course – that would have prompted 8th grade science memories). I was desperate and resorted to Amazon. Yes. A person can be desperate for litmus paper. It was a paint job. There were chemicals. That’s all you need to know. In any case, I do hope that nobody was zapped in the nuts over filling my stupid order.

Tracking devices aside, in 2013 Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian documented the utterly depressing life in an Amazon warehouse. What more is there to know? And yet complete disengagement seems impossible. Why?

People have done harder things on principle.

In their 70s, my parents became vegetarians. While driving to San Antonio they saw a feedlot. That was it. “We’re vegetarians now,” my dad said. “I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Brian will tell you that boycotts don’t work. I’m not sure. Either way Amazon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and neither is beef. And yet organic and humanely raised meat is a growing market. In part I credit a “quiet turning away” not unlike what my parents did in the face of something they could not stomach. I’d be stunned if they ever chained themselves to anything or otherwise got themselves arrested just to make a point. They’re not professionals. And that’s the beauty of it. Because these fairly conservative Midwesterners are not alone. So while this turning away might have been understated, it is potentially massive, reaching far beyond the usual suspects.

Industry notices. Industry responds. Whether this response is born out of real listening and concern or a strategic quelling of a rumbling from beneath is another issue. But it is some measurement of the impact of our choices. Any time we see a corporation appeal to our better nature – whether it be a concern for the environment (“Clean Coal!”), our health (“No saturated fats in these fries!”), the critters (“Free range, baby!”) or each other (“Buy this petroleum jelly and we’ll help some poor people!”) – we are indeed seeing a reflection of our own power. We did that. Not them.

If only all moral lines could be as viscerally shocking as an animal in distress.

In a Sun Magazine newsletter that was touting Sy Safransky book, it warned Many Alarm Clocks won’t be easy to find in most bookstores, nor will it be available from Amazon, because we all have to draw a line somewhere.“ This was three years ago and it stuck with me; standing for something matters. Still, while it gave me pause to consider the oddity of a writer who dared to eschew a bookselling giant, I did not feel compelled to put my foot down where Amazon was concerned. It’s kind of like putting off a colonoscopy. I’m afraid to look too closely. It’s going to be unpleasant. What if it’s bad news? I don’t want to hear something that requires further action.

So where do I draw the line?

Where do you draw the line?

When do we quietly (or not so quietly) turn away from that which isn’t good for people and toward something that is?

Are we really so trapped?

Even if we can’t orchestrate an effective boycott, let’s keep these questions in front of us. Of course we secretly hope never to have cause to take a stand. That’s just a pain in the butt and by contrast Amazon is so damn convenient.

I suspect if ever the downfall of our society is examined, “convenience” is going to be found at the heart of it.

When searching for an article about the horrible working conditions in an Amazon warehouse, an ad for how great it is to work there popped up.

Yeginsu, Ceylan. “If Workers Slack Off, the Wristband Will Know. (And Amazon Has a Patent for It.)” New York Times, 1 February 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/technology/amazon-wristband-tracking-privacy.html.

My week as an Amazon insider
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/01/week-amazon-insider-feature-treatment-employees-work

The Yes Men

Beyond the Golden Parachute

Wallpapering a Kitchen Door

The original mission was to replace the dishwasher. This presented the question of whether it was time to address the tile countertops. Albeit out-of-date, they looked decent enough. But there was nothing practical about having grout on working surfaces.

What did that tile ever do to me? Why should it be cast out where it would spend the rest of eternity in a landfill next to a diaper full of shit? If I ever wondered whether a partial kitchen remodel could be justified, the black spots found underneath the wood trim by the sink eased some of the guilt I feel whenever there is waste. It was time.

Months after the demolition began, it was about a year ago on New Year’s Eve when Margo packed up her tools for the last time and drove off in her red pickup truck. But things were not done-done. The new Formica countertops and the white subway tile backsplash made the brass cabinet pulls look out of place. And next to a freshly painted wall that went from a sickly bisque to a dramatic blue (honestly, it mostly looks green to me, but either way it is dramatic), the dinginess of the back door bugged me. For the longest time I had a large swatch of white taped to it. It seemed better, but I wasn’t convinced that it was right.

Then I remembered hearing about how my niece had used wrapping paper on the walls of her apartment. So I taped a sample of Christmas paper to the door. Stunning! Then I taped an old cover of an art magazine to the door. I liked that too. It turns out that while our color choice might have been “dramatic” it was also neutral. A lot of things worked. Newspaper? That did not work. I settled on some remnant wallpaper that I rescued from a garage sale maybe 10 years ago. After making a template with some recycled office paper, I cut out half of the pattern. But when I tried to hang it up, I discovered that there was no tape in the world that was going to stick to the back of this wallpaper. I tried rubber cement. So much for that. There was always the wrapping paper, right? Tape will stick to that.

When I first got the idea to use magnets to hold the wallpaper to the metal door, I wasn’t convinced that it would be practical. The one magnet that I had that was strong enough for the job came from a gift shop at the Honolulu airport. It was a flower with a touch of bling in the center. It was perfect, but certainly too expensive; I thought I might need 50 of them.

Enter Axeman Surplus. They had some black disc magnets for 25 cents that were rated to hold a pound. In addition, they had loads of stuff I could use to dress up these generic magnets.

Unfortunately for Brian, the magnets worked great! He’s not a fan of this project. But so what? It’s not permanent. In fact, I have another wallpaper remnant that I can use whenever I want to change things up. And maybe after awhile, the door as it is won’t seem so horrible to me. Or I’ll find the right color and paint it. In the meantime, this is just fun.


[After painting the kitchen, this door needed something.]


[Here the door is half covered with some old wallpaper.]


[Magnets hold up the wallpaper on the metal door. I decorated a couple of cheap generic magnets with bike reflectors @ 30-something cents each. You can actually turn the lights on.]


[The white on the other side of the wallpaper is a template in the making. I used recycled office paper, a paper cutter and scotch tape.]


[Progress on the template.]


[Done! I didn’t have enough wallpaper to match up the pattern. Or maybe I should have worked from left to right? In any case, there wasn’t enough paper to avoid an extra seam in there. However, it doesn’t bother me.]