Category Archives: Because I Left the House

See You Around

I took a different way home.

Standing on a corner just east of the Mississippi River in a neighborhood with money, a bird lets out a sound. An unfamiliar beautiful sound. A foreign sound. Something from the jungle. I watch. In the oak tree across the street, I see something big compared to a lot of birds around here save the crows and predators of various sorts. As best as I can tell, it was a pileated woodpecker that I spied. It was only this summer when a descent of them caught my attention. That’s when I realized that woodpeckers can get rather big. They were foraging in a stand of dead trees just off the bike path farther down the river.

I keep watching. The bird looks oddly human as he backs down the tree in a clumsy fashion as if navigating a doorway with a large box in his beak. Then I hear the sound again and realize that it’s coming from elsewhere. Another woodpecker? Are there chicks in that nest? Isn’t that a squirrel’s nest? Nothing is clear. I keep watching, somewhat aware that I might be agitating anyone who might be peering out from behind the curtains of any one of those lovely houses.

Parked across the street I see a car that looks familiar. Is it the car that I sometimes see idling in front of my house for several minutes at a time? A white sedan missing its hubcaps. So familiar. I will have to ask Brian about this.

A man unloads something from a van. Someone is having some work done. A second man approaches him. He’s holding two black garbage bags. Each is less than half full. He wants to know the time. The first man with the van disappears into a house. It’s hard to say whether he just didn’t hear the question or was doing that thing where you pretend you don’t see someone because you sense drama and you just don’t want to deal with it. So the guy with the garbage bags turns to me.

“I don’t have a watch.” I tell him. I hold up my wrists.

“It must be about nine.” He says. “’cause I left at about eight-thirty.”

“Sometimes you can tell by looking at your shadow.” We look at our shadows and I make a guess. “It’s a little after nine.” This gives him plenty of time to get to his job. At eleven o’clock he’s going to clean out a friend’s basement.

His name is George. The first thing I notice about him is his eyes. They seem cloudy and a little googly, like a broken doll where they’re never quite looking forward, but always rolling upwards a little bit. I suspect he is homeless. I suspect he has a drinking problem.

He used to have a bike with a cart that he could use to haul scrap metal and cans to a place that buys the stuff on Snelling Avenue. But he loaned it to someone who never brought it back. So now he’s on foot.

“Why would someone steal your stuff?” He says. “Why would anyone do that?”

In my garage I have a bike that gets little use. The Huffy is a souvenir from when I taught English classes for a summer to mostly Japanese college students. One day right before they headed home, one of the students brought his bike to my office. He wanted to give it to me. The next thing I knew, I had a dozen bikes in my office. After redistributing them to friends, decades later I still have one. When the repair shop said that it wasn’t worth fixing, I paid to have it fixed anyway.

Thirty or forty years ago George’s wife was murdered in what sounded like a drug deal that went sideways.

“I told her to stay out of them crack houses, but she wouldn’t listen.”

The man who cut her throat is in jail.

George is still hurt by the way his wife’s family had her cremated without telling him. After all, he was her husband, right? Shouldn’t he have a say? He would have had her buried. I was curious about his objection to cremation, but it didn’t seem right to ask about it. Instead I ask an equally inappropriate question. Does he ever think about getting sober? Am I some kind of missionary? No. Don’t worry, George. I’m not going to whip out a Bible.

He would actually welcome it. He’s been known to go to a church on Franklin Avenue.

“The preacher there is real good. He’s White but he’s good. He preaches like a Black preacher.”

What’s the difference? I wanted more and got nothing.

“His father used to preach, but when he died the son took over.”

Pinning George down on the facts wasn’t easy. He would say things like “thirty or forty years ago” and “six or seven sisters.” He also referred to his cousin’s widow as his mother-in-law. She helps him pay the rent at the wet house where he stays. She’s a fine person. Really helpful. She has that “disease where you have to take those insulin shots.”

George wants to know if I am married. Coming from anyone else, I might have been annoyed by such a ham-handed question. Besides, there I was, asking a stranger about whether he thought his drinking impacts the quality of his life. He admits that it probably does, but retracts his confession when he says that he only drinks beer and not that much beer, really. Then he pats his front pocket, indicating a flask inside. I imagine it’s whiskey.

“I also have a little of this sometimes, but that’s it, really. Not too much at all.”

George aspires to get a place of his own because he’s tired of living with the men at the group home where they aren’t allowed to have any women. He has his own room, so that’s good. But the men are pigs, always leaving trash everywhere. They have a tent where they drink and George is always picking up after them.

“There’s a trashcan right there! Why can’t they use it? But they don’t. They just throw bottles everywhere and it’s my job to keep the place clean.”

In my garage there is scrap metal that we have been meaning to recycle. I want to give it to George, but the logistics of that are more than I want to contemplate.

George is a drummer. His brother taught him how to play. He can also play the guitar and used to have an amplifier until it was lost in… I’m not sure what the story was. Something about an eviction, I think. George used to play in a band in Memphis. But they had too many drummers and when the group did not heed his ultimatum, George quit. That’s when he moved to Minneapolis where he had family. Nine brothers and sisters minus two sisters who are dead, one from a heart attack. There are numerous cousins and nephews and nieces. He doesn’t see them too often, though he would like to see them more. He imagines that they probably worry about him, but doesn’t elaborate on why they would. Unlike some families, they do not fight because family is family. He mentions a brother who just got out of jail. Again, I’m curious but let it go. Like the guy with the van who fled into a house, there is some drama that I’d rather avoid for now.

George wants to be friends. I say sure. I tell him that if I see him around that I will say hello. He likes this, almost as if we had made plans for coffee next Tuesday.

George knows when people throw away their junk. Last month was a good month. He got some baskets, by which I think he means shopping carts. There were some bikes and a lawnmower. He told me this the way I imagined he might brag to the other scrappers. Indeed I am a scrapper, if you count garage sales. And it’s true that the painting of poppies that hangs on the wall behind my bed came directly out of the neighbor’s trash.

What do I do? I never have a good answer for this. George offers encouragement. As long as you have something going on, some useful endeavors, well that’s all that matters, right? George and I have this in common. We both have useful endeavors.

George wants a hug.

If he could cop a feel, I imagine that he would. But it’s hard to say if he is a straight up lech or just a person who longs for the human touch. A long time ago, I learned how to maintain a comfortable distance in these situations. So I shake his hand, lean in just enough and give him a rap on the back. We finally go our separate ways, George over the bridge from where I had just come and me up the hill. I am relieved that he doesn’t alter his plans to continue to walk in my direction, as I hadn’t yet formed a polite but foolproof reason to part otherwise.

In my garage there is a wagon, a sort of garden cart that I never use. It was a Christmas gift from Brian back when I could imagine using it for grocery shopping. It doesn’t really work for that. So it sits by the access door and collects odds and ends until I work up the nerve to sort through it all and put things in their proper place. When I think of Brian assembling this wagon late into the night on Christmas Eve, I feel loved.

See you around.

Youth, drunks and stupid tourists

How they are still in business? Keeping the bar afloat is a mix of undiscerning college students, a few hard-drinker regulars from the neighborhood and tourists like us, people who wanted something new and took a flyer on this dump… people who were hungry on the West Bank.

Why did we stay? I watched myself do it.

Ignore the floor, light tan epoxy with a smattering of varied brownish flecks that mimic coarse sand. It looks fine but every step reveals something sticky.

Ignore the windows that had not been touched in a decade. The sun struggles to penetrate the dirt. Except for a brief moment when the potential of the room could be seen in its warmth, the sunshine was no match for hideous rusty reds that clashed with cranberry crushed velvet chairs, a touch of faux sophistication that looked out of place in the grime. Ignore that too. The grime.

Four inches of dust has collected on the exposed ductwork. So if for some reason you got passed the entryway where a mop is occasionally slung to clear a path of white hexagon tile, only accentuating the dirt on either side of it, you could not miss the crud over your head. It would have raised questions. What about the kitchen?

Before you got to the bar to place your order, you would have left.

My first job was as a babysitter. I was twelve going on thirteen and earned a dollar an hour for watching my niece. I eventually moved on to the neighbor’s kids and then families who placed classified ads. Then there was a newspaper route. I inherited that from my brother. I eventually followed him to Happy Joe’s Pizza. I think he followed my older sister. The three of us worked at Happy Joe’s together for a stretch of time. I often rode to work with my sister. She wore Tabu. The smell of it puts me in her dark green Ford Pinto on Highway 44 between our house in Rapid Valley and Campbell Street.

At closing time I would wipe down the red plastic booster chairs that little kids use to sit at the table at a proper height. Every night. Needed or not. I remember this whenever I’m out and I reach for the Tabasco where the sauce has caked around the cap and threads of the bottle. I’m afraid that something gross will fall into my eggs. I wipe off the bottle with a napkin. And then I tell Brian about the boosters. Who’s managing this place? Not my brother. Not my sister. They cared. Nobody here does.

Why did we stay?

Thrift shop curtains on cheap wire shower hooks can have a certain funky appeal, but in this case it fails. For one thing, the drapes are too long, too heavy, too dark and awkwardly hang jammed behind a row of seating. Likewise, the colonial vintage chairs might have been a nice touch had they been coordinated with anything. Had anyone bothered to polish their spindles and dusty rungs, they could have been charming. Instead these treasures are forced to be out there in the world in their neglected state. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them.

Where is the pride?

The only sign that suggested that anyone cares about anything in this place was literally a sign. A chalkboard advertised music on the weekends and an open mic on a slower day. Indeed, as we sat at a high top with our beers, a guy with a guitar was getting ready for a gig. Forgetting about where I was for a second, I thought we could come back after the show down the street and give him a listen.

We did not.

The food was okay, but does not make this place a destination. Actually, that’s being generous. Why can’t I be honest about cold french fries and a grilled vegetable sandwich that shouldn’t have given anyone the confidence to open a restaurant?

I see the musician talk to a woman whom I take to be an employee. Was she the manager? The booker? Unlike the guy who emerged from the kitchen with our food, she appears to have washed her hair recently. Her personal tidiness makes me suspect apathy toward the joint, cynicism versus ignorance or poorly executed ambitions. Their exchange reminds me of Diane? Was that her name? She managed Paddy O’Neil’s Pub in the Alex Johnson. It was a piano bar before my time. When I was there working as a cocktail waitress they had a stage for live music where mainly solo acts did covers:

You can’t hide those lyn’ eyes…

and…

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out

and…

Set out running but I’ll take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight

It’s nothing like it used to be. The last time I was there, video lottery machines took up the space and the swanky lounge on the other side of the hotel lobby had been replaced with a sterilized coffee shop. I think it was part of a chain, but I don’t remember for sure.

I don’t know why we stayed.

I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to do your best.

Why are there places like this?

Is it like so many other things where the market will determine the minimum requirement to capture an audience? Why spend the money to spiff up the HVAC system when it doesn’t change how many beers you can sell? Why make it nice for kids who have confused cool with borderline health code violations? And those guys at the bar drinking domestic tallboys and slurring their words at 4 o’clock? They will be back tomorrow. So there’s no need to wash the plastic dome cover to the display of monster chocolate chip cookies that sits next to the cash register as if it’s supposed to tempt annyone. They don’t care. You could scrape off a pound of grease from it with your fingernail and they wouldn’t care.

How do they stay in business?

I don’t know why we stayed.

We shouldn’t have made it passed the front door.

Still unfinished…

My ears perked up when my coffee date mentioned a book called “How to get things done.” My painting projects remain as they were. Unfinished. I did buy some fresh rollers. And I do have somewhat of a system that helps me manage multiple projects. I call it a project journal and I will share more about it later. To really sell the idea, I imagine I should finish a few things first. Proof of concept… though it has already been proved as you will see…

ahem…

Brian and I will be volunteering this week at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. After having produced a podcast about it last year (The Minnesota FringeCast), he wanted to see it from a volunteer angle. So we’re going to play store for a few nights. I’m weirdly nervous about it. When technology fails – the thing you use to swipe a credit card, for example – a cuss word might fly out of my mouth. But the thing is, you’re not supposed to say @#!8(! when you’re wearing the official volunteer shirt. These are my challenges. We went to a show last night where someone at the box office was having this very problem. He didn’t cuss once. He was a real inspiration.

Next year I would like to try hosting artists, but so far Brian is not sold on it. I think he’s afraid that it will be the beginning of my fantasy to run a Zimmer Frei where travelers hear about a cheap bed by word-of-mouth and they do things like weed the garden in exchange for lunch. After a day of sightseeing, our guests will come home and play the piano and pound on the drums. Some will become friends. After a while, postcards documenting their travels will outnumber the bills and random junk in our mailbox.

At first, we seemed to strike out where it came to finding a good Fringe show. At one show, I saw an audience member slip out rather early. She knew. So did I. The signs were there. Then there were the Fringe shows that really pissed us off – one because it was bad and one because it was very good.

As for the bad show, it is tempting to fire off a reply to the five-star reviews that must have been left by sympathetic friends. After all, shouldn’t people be warned? Brian suggested a title: The joke’s on you! But we let it go. It was an insulting waste of time and I would have been horrified had I used this show to introduce a friend to the Fringe. Was it an experiment in which the producers were trying to see what a Minnesota Nice audience would tolerate? Brian said that it was Yes Men (Try “Reburger” on YouTube). It’s the best you can say about this utterly non-theatrical piece. I wondered whether the whole thing was being streamed for the pleasure of the real audience somewhere else. But after thinking about it, I do not regret having stayed when we should have bolted after the first twelve minutes. As “adventurous audience members”, we walked in with an open mind, though I admit that in protest I eventually resorted to staring at the floor and writing the next part of my short story in my head. But still, we stayed with the idea of giving the artist a chance to complete a thought. This took trust. Our trust was betrayed.

The show we saw last night, You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear also made Brian mad, but in a different way. You see that show and you wonder where the heck our priorities are. What would be possible if more people saw shows like this? On a regular basis? Where the price of tickets did not exclude anyone and where artists could make a decent living? It would be a kinder, gentler place, for one thing. Funner too. The show was so beautiful. So packed with talent and curiosity and infectious passion for stories and history and just being a person on the planet. You can read more extensive reviews on the website. The show sold out last night and will again, I’m sure. Maybe at some point I can get Brian to write more extensively about his frustration with our priorities. I hear about it whenever we see inspiring art, be it at the Fringe, the State Fair or a museum or whenever we encounter anyone who just has deep knowledge about anything, like the guy who sold us a rug.

We haven’t seen too many shows yet, but there are a couple of others that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Quiet Riot – by Broken Box Mime Theater out of New York
The Zoo Story – By Jackdonkey Productions

What great work!

As for some of the shows that didn’t quite work, I imagine they are much like my painting projects in that they are still unfinished. The script might need work. The actors have yet to master their craft… if they ever do. For it can be easy to rest in mediocrity, kind of like the way I dink around with the piano, which is why I want house guests who can play for real. You can tell the difference. At the same time, I do like the idea of the unpolished being invited to participate in a show. Within certain guided parameters, I’d like to think that anyone can play a part. Of course, I’d rather only see great shows than anything else. But it’s also okay to see a range of things and some would argue that seeing the truly bad is actually part of the Fringe experience. But bad can mean a lot of things. It can mean lazy. That’s a little hard to take. It can mean cynical. No thanks. It can also mean beginner, taking risks, trying something new or being ambitious beyond one’s talents. Not bad things at all.

Keep trying. Get better. Finish something.

Unexpected Host

Our time together was bookended by torrential rains, lightening and thunder that shook the house.

Drenched in sweat, Brian and I sat on the front step waiting for my sister Ginger to pull up to the curb. Not that car. Not that one. That one? No. It was there that I had finally decided to go to the funeral. I could imagine the car pulling away from the house the next day, leaving me waving good-bye on the sidewalk only to realize my mistake too late. I would change my mind several times again. I imagine this was irritating to anyone who had to witness this almost paralyzing indecision until finally putting a haphazardly packed suitcase into the trunk.

Either choice would have been fine.

The last time there was a family reunion in Michigan, I was sick and didn’t go. I don’t get back there too much, though my Aunt Goldie made an effort to maintain something of a hub after my maternal Grandmother died in 1992. In fact, after she retired she lived in Grandma’s old house on Main Street in Harrisville. Now that she’s gone too, it’s hard to say what will happen although there is still family there. For one thing, there is Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Butch’s “cabin”, apparently now more of a four season house than what I knew as a kid who spent some time there washing my hair in the lake with my sisters and watching my cousins do grown up things like drive speed boats and water ski. I have no idea where this place is. I assume the lake has a name. But I don’t know what it is. Not far from Harrisville? Flint? Go down some winding wooded roads. Take a left. Then a right. That’s all I know.

As the three of us stood in the entryway of my house, sweat rolling down my back, I worried that the fans that we had distributed in the sleeping quarters would not be sufficient. Anyone else would have turned on the air conditioning by now, but we don’t have it.

The next morning Brian and I went a few blocks to pick up some pastries from the grocery store. By the time we got half way home, it started to rain so hard that I thought we ought to pull over. I worried about my parents and my sister Amy who would be arriving by plane. By the time we got home, Ginger had gone around the house closing all of the windows. She says it got pretty wild.

Our first day of driving was marked by rain. From Saint Paul to the Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula to Escanaba where my Aunt Virginia helped open a bank – for most of the trip it rained. We stayed in the UP somewhere (maybe it was Escanaba?) at a Comfort Inn, my two sisters and I in one room and my parents in the adjoining one. Across the highway from where we stayed was a boardwalk on Lake Michigan, but there wasn’t time to enjoy it. Mom ordered perch at the cafe where we had dinner, something we all should have done as it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The vegetarian omelet, not so much. Amy abandoned hers pretty quickly and I worried about whether she was getting enough to eat for the rest of the trip. I briefly joined my mom in the fitness room where she was keeping to her treadmill routine. That night she showed me some exercises that keep your back in shape, especially needed on a long road trip. I should have taken notes. I could use them right now!

It’s weird to go to Harrisville without stopping at Grandma’s house. But when my Aunt Goldie moved to be closer to her daughter in Atlanta, they sold the house. I got a glimpse of it from the car. But that was it.

There was a wake.

There were relatives I recognized and some that I didn’t.

When my parents came up to stay with Aunt Goldie to give her a little more time in the house that she did not want to leave, they used to go for drives, have dinner out every night, shop and go down to the harbor. It was there that they saw “One Leg”, the name my aunt gave to a seagull that was sadly missing a leg. He did alright, given the circumstances. But my aunt worried about him. Would he get enough to eat or would he be crowded out by the other birds? Some of them seemed so rude. I was touched by this. She could not remember her sister’s name. But still compassion shown through a thickening fog. She was still in there.

We saw such a bird – a seagull that was missing a foot – at a rest stop on our way to the funeral. Knowing this touched my cousins who had just lost their mother.

I learned that my cousin Jimmy’s son Karl is retiring and starting a flower farm in Michigan with his wife. I was delighted by this! I learned that my cousin Dickie goes by Richard now. His fiance is lovely. I learned that the twins aren’t babies anymore. I learned that Aunt Goldie enjoyed vodkas with lemon.

There was a toast.

There was a nice spread at the banquet hall at Wiltse’s restaurant in Oscoda. “Take a right at the Big Boy.” I never saw a Big Boy restaurant, but we got there just the same.

Where did we stay that night? Escanaba? No. It was Manistique! I remember now because there was some discussion about how to pronounce it. I asked the receptionist at the hotel. I also asked her about the tunnel. “What does ‘We support the tunnel’ mean? We’ve seen some lawn signs.” She didn’t know. In the car this sparked a discussion about the Chunnel. Who would use it? Who would be unsettled by the notion of traveling underneath the English Channel? Who would be unsettled but use it anyway?

It costs four dollars to take the Merrimack Bridge from the UP to the mitten. My dad insisted on paying for this.

Once the service had concluded at the funeral home, something that was announced by a woman whom I took to be working there, I found the door. Outside I stood in the shade with my sister-in-law who drove up from Virginia with my brother. Patti is a special education teacher and we talked shop. At one point, her attention shifted. Late to pick up on the cue, I turned around to see what was distracting her. Suddenly my own talking seemed loud and inappropriate. For facing us on the other side of the sidewalk was the entire family. We’re doing a group photo? That’s what I thought. It was as if I had been dropped into the scene without any context. I just saw a group that had been roughly positioned by a photographer and everyone was waiting on us to join them so that they could snap a picture. “What’s happening?” I said. Patti explained that they were bringing out the casket. It was only then that I saw the hearse parked in front of us.

The last time I was at that cemetery (Drive down a winding wooded road. Take a right. Then a left…), we buried my grandmother. The service was held at the Presbyterian church. My mother let out a cry from the front pew. My dad put his arm around her shoulders. As we left the graveside service, we passed a couple of guys sitting in the back of a white truck. They had shovels.

Aunt Goldie was buried next to her second husband, Walt, not far from her mother. But it was her first husband, my Uncle Wayne who had given us a croquet set from his hardware store when we were kids, who said a prayer with her right before she died.

The minister didn’t appear to know Aunt Goldie. She was a Lutheran and dressed rather causally. She wore mandles. I liked her. She reminded me of my friend Paul’s wife, Berta. Down to earth.

“We recommend our sister Goldie to God…”

In addition to just being there as a show of support for Aunt Goldie’s immediate family, including my mother, I was glad to be there for this:

“We recommend our sister Goldie…”

There’s something sweet about that. Humbling.

I’d like to think that One Leg would recommend her too and that his commendations would carry more weight than mine.

At the reception I sat at a table in the back with my siblings, Matt, Amy and Ginger and my sister-in-law Patti. Afterwards, there were long good-byes. Then our family went to an ice cream shop. The portions were huge. The prices were crazy cheap. The ice cream was really good. We sat on the picnic tables outside of the shop next to a couple that had a dog. Afterwards, we walked the docks at the harbor, wishing that we could hitch a ride on a boat. Then we went back to the fishing cabins where we stayed (“Please do not put fish in the refrigerator! We have a freezer you can use!” And “Please do your dishes!”) and played a few hands of cards at a picnic table by Lake Huron. Matt and Patti were heading back to Virginia at 3 o’clock in the morning, so it wasn’t a late night. Of course they weren’t staying at these cabins where the bathroom door in our room didn’t completely shut, at least not without some effort. Those lucky dogs were at a bed and breakfast where there was a hot tub, complimentary cake and towels tied up like Christmas packages.

On the way out of town somewhere north of Alpena, we stopped at the cleanest McDonald’s I had ever seen. It appeared to be a hang out for some of the old timers in the area. Tables of old ladies. Tables of old men. It was quite lovely. The employees were lovely. Everything was lovely.

Outside of Wausau, Wisconsin a guy working at a gas station teased us about trying to find a vegetarian meal in the roast beef capitol of the world. Or was it meatloaf?

Amy and Dad playing cards in the back seat. They found a game that didn’t take up too much space.

Mom’s socks. So colorful. So fashionable. So fun!

The rain.

The sun.

The lake.

Ginger’s excellent driving.

My job was to get us out of the airport.

Talking to a motorcyclist outside of the Manistique Comfort Inn and imagining a different life.

My other job was to help watch for deer.

Ginger’s only rule: No driving at night.

The server at the Wausau Green Mill restaurant who looked like she could be Sarah’s daughter.

Breaking Ginger’s only rule.

The last few miles of the trip home were challenging. Dark. Glaring roads. Construction. Pylons. Reflective barrels. Closed exit ramps. Detours into the burbs. Confusion just minutes from my house. What the hell is happening on I94? We should have listened to Maxine.

Apparently I had met Barb long before the funeral. It would have been at one of Aunt Goldie’s infamous parties. She had been Aunt Goldie’s friend for a long time. They met back when my aunt ran a gift shop, post retirement. Barb was a customer.

She did not wear black.

Like Aunt Goldie did, Barb has style. I remember white and pink and a bright green. Flowers. Shoes. A purse. A Scarf. Earrings. Fabulous earrings. A real statement.

Walking to the car, I introduced myself to Barb the way I introduced myself to a lot of people that day. “I am Margie’s daughter, Goldie’s niece.”

“You’re father put in some flower boxes for me! I still use them!” I was impressed with how quick she made this connection, where I can be slow to process such things. She was sharp.

Before leaving the graveside, a number of people approached the casket to touch it. Barb did too. She walked up to it and gave it a good rap with her fist.

“Goldie told me to do that just to make sure.” she said. We laughed. Then tears welled up in her eyes. I don’t know Barb. I’m told that she cusses like a sailor and can be out of step with the changing times, to put it nicely. But in that moment, I just loved her. I loved that my aunt had a good friend – and a loving family of course – into her old age. I can see why they would have been friends.

The plan was to take my mother to see Jeff Lynn’s Electric Light Orchestra. I would finish my painting projects – mainly the stairway and the kitchen. I would clean the house from top to bottom. Plan meals. Prep them. Spiff up the yard. Those chairs need to be scrubbed down. The windows needed to be washed. I could use a haircut. The porch was stuffed with tarps and various painting supplies that would need to be moved.

The news came by text.

There were phone calls.

Thank goodness for Brian.

The storm came.

He attended to a lot in my place.

And I didn’t want to be left behind waving good-bye on the sidewalk.

Who am I trying to impress anyway?

It’s probably a good thing that I did not get around to putting up the handrail before my company arrived. My measurements were wrong and there was a stud that turned out to be very tricky to find. After we got back from Michigan, my dad helped me install it. This is how I learned that if you want a particular screw, go to Ace Hardware. Forget about Menard’s. Ginger and Amy left the next day to pick up Dale in Cedar Rapids. They returned via the airport with a surprise. My niece Kathleen would be joining us for the ELO concert.

Brian said that the absolute best part about the concert was watching my mother watch it. True. Very true.

We went on some shopping excursions and some quick brewery tours for Dale’s benefit. There should have been more time for cards, but it didn’t seem like we played too much. The time went by too fast.

On Sunday, Ginger and Dale and my parents drove back to Rapid City. When Amy said good-bye to my mother who was sitting in the backseat, she put the blanket she crocheted during the trip on her lap. The colors were beautiful, a mix of “green grass” and “lettuce”. When she was a kid, Amy got the waffle pattern from Aunt Marion, Uncle Norman’s wife. Amy worked on the blanket sitting between my parents in the backseat of the car on the way to Aunt Goldie’s funeral. At one point the afghan would be on my mother’s lap, keeping her comfortable with the air conditioning. Then Amy would have to flip the blanket around to continue with another row. This made for comical “Where did my blanket go!” moments.

Anticipating a three-hour flight back to Boise, Amy and I took a walk. We went down to the Mississippi River via the University of Saint Thomas Campus. We thought we had landed in the middle of a movie set. There was some kind of religious youth convention, with various groups identified with matching t-shirts. Lots of crosses. Images of Christ. Nuns where stationed throughout the campus mall greeting people. Clusters gathered in circles on the grass with plates of french toast and sausage and glasses of orange juice. On the way back, a fledgling along the golf course couldn’t quite get out of our path. We had to give him some room else lead him into the street. He worried me the way loose cats do. I’m afraid I’ll get home to find that I have a new cat.

A few hours later, as Amy and her daughter Kathleen and Brian and I sat on the porch, it started to rain so hard that we wondered whether their flight home would be delayed. It was not.

Brian and I and the cat cannot fill up the house so good.

We won’t need the card table for a little while. Put it away. Wash the sheets. Finish painting. Clean the dust out of the bathroom vent.

I miss everyone.

Can we pick up a pizza?

Kathleen’s taco casserole

French toast.

A bagel sandwich.

Coffee by the cup.

Mueller’s testimony.

Leonardo.

Another hole in the wall.

A sturdy rail.

We recommend our sister Goldie to God.

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.

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.