A Train Full of Optimists

I’m hiding.

The Democratic debates are on the television downstairs. Brian and his Tuesday night baseball buddy are talking back to the candidates who cannot hear them.

“You tell ’em Bernie!”

In 2012 I was in a bar with a ragtag group of organizers. The day before we were to get shovels in the ground, we learned that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was putting the kibosh on the community garden that we had been planning over the previous year. Up to that point, we had been working with City officials who were thrilled to see a neglected patch of land be cleaned up and put to good use. Between monthly meetings, we had scoped out possible locations. We tested the soil. We staked plots. We mulched paths. We brought in compost. We drafted gardener contracts. We advertised. We held a lottery. It might not seem like much, but it was a lot of work to get our initial thirty families that would be eager to grow their own tomatoes.

Then here come the MnDOT lawyers. It turns out the that the City did not have jurisdiction over the right-of-way between Cleveland and Prior Avenue, just north of Gilbert in Saint Paul. This is the frontage road to Interstate 94. And unlike the forward thinking City officials, MnDOT could only think of getting sued. News of their objections took the air out of me. Fortunately my co-organizers had a different response.

Tanner’s approach was simply to accept that getting the garden operational just might take more time than we had planned. His approach was patience. Steadiness. And Jeff said that we would just shame MnDOT into doing the right thing. He was confident about this. He had no doubt that we would have a garden because the objections to it were obviously ridiculous. Watching these two guys was a good lesson for someone who was apt to concede victory to the bureaucrats. I felt pretty hopeless.

It’s how the Democratic debates make me feel. Defeated well before the final buzzer.

When I see that Senator Amy Klobuchar appears to have consulted a stylist – upping her game from her last debate with a new do and better make-up – I want to be happy for her. She looks great. I want to sympathize. I would not survive the kind of scrutiny a candidate has to endure, especially – I’m sorry, but it’s true – a woman. I want to be at peace in a Joseph Campbell kind of way and be in awe of it all, grateful to anyone who would offer themselves for a job like that. Instead, my stomach churns, stirred by a faint recognition of manipulation.

I wasn’t going to last the night with Brian and Fran in the living room flipping between the debate and the ballgame.

Across the street about a block down from my house there is a lawn sign, “2020 – Any Functioning Adult.” On Facebook this gets 80 zillion “likes”. I was amused at first too. But it’s not so funny when I realize that this is the language of the utterly defeated. It’s 2003 all over again. We were punished by George W. Bush. So at the anti-war marches that preceded the invasion of Iraq, among the homemade protest signs you could find “2004 – Anybody but Bush” written on scraps of cardboard with black Sharpies. During that same election year where Senator John Kerry was the Democratic nominee, there was a website called “John Kerry is a douche bag, but I’m voting for him anyway.” (By the way, don’t try to find it. I landed on a site that looked Chinese and quite spammy.) Well, we saw where that kind of big dreaming got us.

Downstairs Brian is going on about the Supreme Court.

When Senator Elizabeth Warren was in town, Tanner the garden organizer went to see her. At least that is what I gathered from a Facebook post where he is standing next to the candidate in front of a huge flag. The big smile on his face makes me feel like so much is possible. Thank goodness our future does not depend on my limitations. In the meantime, Sue is working for Senator Bernie Sanders (That sounds pretentious. He’s just Bernie. Right?) at the State Fair. When Brian and I stopped by to say hello to her, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party booth felt like home and not home, like revisiting the house of my childhood where strangers now live. We met Sue and her family on the the 2004 Minnesota for Kucinich Campaign and I had once spent a lot of time in that booth for the campaign and later as a member of the DFL Progressive Caucus of which I was a founding member. Sue and her husband Greg are still at it. They still believe. Somehow, they still think that showing up matters.

Patient. Steady.

Brian is now swearing at the television.

I wish I was the sort that could carry the day with unshakeable optimism. Somehow I get myself to the train. I’m a good worker bee. I have a spin on the ball. I’m focused. I care. I do good work. I have something to contribute. But apparently it is not a belief that the Bernie Sanders and the Elizabeth Warrens will not be crushed by the talking heads on CNN that are openly pushing for what they would call a moderate Democrat and what I would call a Republican candidate. Five seconds of watching David Axelrod pat us all on the head and warn Democrats not to nominate anyone who can be “framed as a socialist” puts me back at the table at that bar feeling doomed. Except this time I am hiding. This time I am alone with no one to tell me to put my head down and work, to be patient.

Brian is laughing. It sounds like Bernie is letting someone have it.

When Klobuchar scolds the Liberals for giving the Republicans (the ones who are actually running for the Republican nomination) their talking points when they explain how to pay for a health care system that does not treat Senators like royalty and the poor without dignity – she is essentially saying that she is a Republican. Sanders is right. Grow up. It’s going to cost money to ensure that everyone has access to good health care. There will be a tax. Those with the resources to pay more will pay more. Those with less will pay less. A tax will replace premiums. More money will go toward actual health care. Less will go into the pockets of executives. Boo hoo.

“The more this man talks, the less I like him. He’s really an ass hole.” Who is this, Brian? I don’t want to know. I feel agitated and shut the door.

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to admit that I feel depressed when I hear the Republican-Democrats tell me why we cannot have health care for every American. Klobuchar flatly said that universal health care is not possible. She called Medicare-for-all a pipe dream. A pipe dream! I wonder if she’s taking the George Lakoff “strict parent” approach. She might as well have been wagging her finger.

“If it’s worth having, it’s worth paying for. So buck up! Don’t be cheap, you shithead!” How’s that for strict parent?

“She’s in favor of it as long as it doesn’t cost rich people money.” I know this rant well but Brian cannot resist giving me another rendition of it when he comes upstairs. It makes me wonder. What else can’t be done because it costs rich people money? Are the Republican-Democrats conceding bank regulations? What about global warming? What mitigation efforts are no-starters? If Republican-Democrats refuse to do anything that will cost rich people money, forget about affordable pharmaceuticals. Forget about election reform. Forget about anything that will actually make a difference. In the 2016 election Sanders wanted to talk about economic justice while Hillary Clinton wanted to stick to social issues. It’s a tell. Be suspicious of anyone who changes the subject away from the hard conversations about “who will pay for it” to who gets what right. It’s like when Senator Kamala Harris changed the subject to women’s reproductive rights in the middle of a debate about why Americans are loosing their homes because of a dysfunctional health care system. It is so not the point.

My biggest fear is that the Democrats are going to be stupid. Well-meaning people are going to watch too much CNN or MSNBC or whatever and they are going to wrongly conclude that what they really want is not “electable.” Despite what they can see – wild grassroots support for the “extreme left”, as the talking heads would put it – they’ll give us another Hillary Clinton.

And they will lose.

Again.

Because calling what the majority of Americans desperately want a “pipe dream” is another kind of talking point.

Who will they blame this time? Ralph Nader? Those damn Bernie supporters who never got over a sham of an endorsement process? The Russians? The youth who will not be indoctrinated? Anyone who says no thanks to a candidate who can’t even imagine – imagine! – a just health care system in the richest nation in the world let alone ask Jeff Bezos to chip in for it? By the way, he along with a couple of other billionaires are getting into the insurance business.

Brian and Fran are now openly laughing. It could be the playoffs. But it’s probably something Senator Cory Booker said. (Note: It turns out that it was former Vice President Joe Biden. It could have been anyone.)

Somehow we got the garden established. Thanks to a timely article in the newspaper, it went as Jeff said it would. The Department was basically shamed into doing the right thing.

Perhaps our politicians can be shamed into doing the right thing too…

…holding a corrupt and dangerous President accountable… Are there any Republican-Republicans who are sober enough to put aside a hold-power-at-all-cost strategy to understand the gravity of the situation and then take the appropriate action?

…treating health care as a human right… even if it means costing rich people money.

The last time I checked, the garden had around 100 plots. It looks like they built a second shed.

I wish I could be confident about this. I wish I could say that universal health care is a certainty because the objections to it are obviously ridiculous. But until I am there, I will be happy to get on a train full of optimists.

Tips for Comedians

I wanted to see comedy. The Twin Cities can support the big acts in the grand venues. Brian and I have seen our share. Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney, Demetri Martin and Brian Regan at the State. Bill Burr at the Orpheum. For a cool mid-sized place, I loved seeing Mulaney and Hannibal Buress at The Varsity. That was magical. And we saw Tommy Johnagin at Acme. The place was okay. The support columns that interfered with sightlines didn’t help the vibe, but I’ll take it. I probably liked it better than the place at the Mall of America. I just kept thinking, “This could be better.” Put a candle on the table. Something. Feng shui! People! Feng shui! Space matters. Mood matters. This place didn’t have it.

We saw Maria Bamford at the Women’s Club. They should use some of those dues to replace the seating in the theater and they would truly have a sweet place. I guess it’s serviceable. But honestly, I would be happy to see Bamford anywhere. And unlike the casinos, I wouldn’t avoid the Women’s Club. We had to go to a casino to see Kathleen Madigan. The flat seating on banquet chairs was not for me. Again, no mood. The show was a striking contrast to seeing someone like Kathy Griffin. Her act was great. But even better was being in a room full of nuts who adore the woman. It was electric. Whereas in a casino, I get the impression that there are people like us who took a shower and made a point a to see a particular show, but we might be outnumbered by the people who are wandering in the place because they ran out of quarters.

Below all of this, I didn’t know what the scene was. With no aspirations to take the stage as a comedian, it can be hard to remember to go to an open mic on a Tuesday night. But we finally did it. A few weeks ago (on a Friday night!) we got to a ten o’clock show in the basement of the Corner Bar on the West Bank.

My expectations were zero. But more than wanting entertainment, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. So whatever happened, it was going to be great. When Brian read a review that trashed the place because it was a dive, I thought, yep. That’s exactly what I want. It was actually a nice space. Intimate. And I appreciated that my view was not obstructed by a pillar. The place had a nice buzz and a hint of danger. Although we arrived at the bar an hour early, there was a chance that we wouldn’t get into the show. Some guy opens the door to the basement and people funnel in from various directions until they run out of seats. It was our first time there and this was oddly stressful. I’m a middle-aged white lady. Could you please tell me where I can find the line?

We guessed that we might see ten comedians. There were almost twenty! We figured that most of it would be rough. Plenty of it was. At the same time, I was encouraged by much of it too. If we wanted to cultivate a scene in the Twin Cities where we rely more on the local entertainment, you have to ask yourself if we have the chops. I would say I left this experience feeling more encouraged than discouraged. There is still the question of how we actually cultivate talent and create the kinds of scenes that make the Twin Cities a great place to be. For now I’m just a butt in a seat. And for whatever it’s worth, Brian and I made a few observations based on what we saw.

Mainly, I’m just amazed that anyone has the guts to do stand-up. I’m so happy to be living in a place where I can go out and see stuff for my entertainment. Thank you!

Tips for Comedians

Take the stage. Find your spot. Center. Up front. You know, the spot! A few people were trying to hide in the back corner. It might seem like the safest thing to do, but it just compounds the awkwardness.

Be in your body. This can mean a lot of things. It could mean stand up straight. Take a strong stance with both feet planted on the ground. No slouching. A dance class or tai chi might help.

Do not turn on yourself. Resist the temptation to go to self-deprecation or commenting on how you think it’s going. Instead, commit to what you are doing. Pause. Breathe. Do the thing instead of talking about it.

Do not turn on the audience. I’ve seen teasing the audience work. But some things should be left for the more experienced. One guy who was sort of doing okay complained about how bad the audience was whenever he didn’t get the laugh he expected. I thought the audience was rather supportive, so these comments were just confusing.

You’re not as edgy as you think. Along those same lines, I don’t like to be scolded because I can’t take your edginess. I’m not offended. I just didn’t think that was funny.

Bring your friends! You would have thought one law student was a rock star by the way the crowd went crazy for him. On the other hand, I can imagine wanting to try stand-up without the pressure of failing in front of all of your co-workers.

Learn to use the microphone. Don’t scream. Watch how others are using the mic to some good effect or look up a tutorial on YouTube. I’m not talking about doing anything fancy. There were just a few examples where better mic handling would have helped.

Know when to stop. Maybe it drives the organizers crazy if people don’t fill out their allotted time, but I thought it was cool when people did their thing and let the bit end.

Plan your exit. Think about how to get off the stage without apologizing. Never apologize. You’re doing fine! Remind me of your name. Wave. Say thank you.

Be vulnerable. This is probably too much to ask of someone who is new at stand-up, but if you don’t eventually get there, you’ll never be my favorite comedian. Devastating. I know. I just say that because there will always be room for people who have been at it for a while who have mediocre success and a shitload of bitterness. Some of the earlier points address this. Instead of being vulnerable, you hide in the back of the stage. Instead of being vulnerable you lash out at the audience. Make sense? The best example of this type of diversion tactic came from one of the stronger acts. There was something there, but then he went into jokes about… Raunchy is fine. Whatever, floats your boat. But it doesn’t work when it’s a substitute for vulnerability, which was our sense here.

Don’t be too vulnerable. On the other hand, it’s always useful to ask if the stage is the best place for your vulnerable state. The formula is Tragedy + Time = Comedy. Some acts seemed like they might have needed a little more time. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re taking care of yourself in other ways too. Cultivate friends. Learn how to fly a kite. Build a tree-house. Join a book club. Take a class. Find a therapist. Whatever feeds your soul.

Avoid insider jokes. It’s cool to see that there appears to be a community of comedians that support each other. But don’t expect the good will you have there to carry you.

Skip the pleasantries. After the fifth comedian in a long lineup, you can skip the “How’s everyone doing tonight?” Look at comedians who just start and do that. I could also do without the “Let’s keep it going for Ralph, everyone! Give it up for Ralph!” In the meantime, Ralph has left. Ralph is throwing up in the bathroom. Leave Ralph out of this.

Write better material.

End strong or as strong as you can. A good example of this was the guy who ended with cell phone impressions.

Connect. It’s scary to connect with the audience, but it’s a requirement of the job. Imagine reading a story to a little kid. That’s what I mean by connect. I’m not talking about the crowd work where you’re giving people the business. That’s fine. But what I mean by connect is not aggressive. It’s just a way to let me know that it matters that I am there. I thought the guy who told the story about his dad who has Alzheimer did a nice job with this. Again, there were others too.

Acknowledge your celebrity double. Steve Buscemi and Maria Bamford, you know who you are.

Never be bitter. Never tell the audience that they don’t know what’s funny. Never tell the audience that they do not matter. Do not verbalize, “I’m doing this joke for me. I don’t care if you think. It’s funny.”

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.

Reassuring Kitty Ears

The chair in my bedroom squeaks.

It sits by the window that overlooks the street.

I can see part of my flower garden from it.

Purple coneflowers. Native plants that spread.

It’s summer. Wood expands.

The door on the buffet sticks.

It never did that in South Dakota.

The chair in my bedroom squeaks.

Sometimes my mother can hear it when we’re talking on the phone.

“Is that the door? Is someone there?”

“It’s the glider gliding.” I say.

Try wax.

Isolate the sound.

Will I miss it?

The chair in my bedroom squeaks.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

It gives the cat away.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

Here she comes again.

To the stool. To the chair. Its wide flat wooden arms.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

To the perch again.

Nineteen. She might need the help.

Don’t move the chair.

Don’t fix the squeak.

Wake up! Wake up! Squeak!

She follows cars I cannot see.

She follows giant bugs that rumble.

Spies a rabbit.

Hears the doors.

Keys. A breeze. The rustling of leaves.

Birds and occasionally a siren.

A screen. Twilight and reassuring kitty years.

Blow a kiss from my bed.

Get up and kiss her on the head!

Tasty pie.

My little goat.

I hope she knows that I love her.

The chair in my bedroom squeaks.

Everything is Fine

Judging by the size of the elm tree that I tried to remove, it has been a year since I did any work in my backyard.

But we have winter in Minnesota. It couldn’t have been a year.

It has been too long.

My neglect is a critter’s paradise. Once I found a toad under the overgrown rhubarb. Ever since then, I take a more surgical approach to trimming it back. Who knows what’s under there taking cover in the shade in what might otherwise be an inhospitably hot patch of grass? There was also the time when Brian and I were sitting on the front stoop. We watched a robin collect worms near the hydrangea. She was feeding two fledglings – one hopping in and out from underneath the rhubarb, and the other hiding in the Joe-pye that is finally starting to show signs of flowering. A million birds. A million bees. They don’t seem to mind a few weeds. Chipmunks that sound like birds. Tiny bunnies. Squirrels. Plenty of those. They could not care less.

But of course there are the neighbors to consider.

When you put off weeding your garden for as long as I have – whatever the reasons might be – it can be a challenge to work up the courage to face it. For all I know a gaze of raccoons have set up shop in last year’s sunflower stalks that are leaning against the chain link fence next to the compost bin. In fact, here’s a picture of exactly what I fear. But once I’m out there, the task doesn’t seem so impossible. Big. But not impossible. I enjoy spotting the Queen Anne’s lace that’s trying to blend in with the raspberries. And it’s satisfying to catch a thistle before its seeds have spread. Sometimes the scariest looking weed doesn’t take much to remove. The ragweed that was as tall as me came up pretty easily. And while it was too late by the time I had read about the hazards of touching it, I haven’t suffered any rashes. I enjoy tidying up the place. Sometimes I like to pretend that I am a cow, but I’d be just as happy to be a goat. That way I feel less conflicted about deciding what is to stay and what is to go. The Department of Agriculture has a list of invasive plants and that should be enough. You’re out! On the other hand, I am an empath even when it comes to dandelions. Besides, it can be tricky to make the distinction between a beneficial thistle and a noxious plant.

A day in the garden should burn up one’s ration of decision-making power. But somehow it doesn’t.

Lately I’ve been reading about writing, which can be a sort of procrastination technique if you’re not careful. But I have found it to be useful. I’ve seen several references to the idea that inspiration is something that comes once you start writing. It is not something that you need to write. I have found this to be true. Anyone who exercises knows this as well. You’re sunk if you wait to be in the mood to do it and you’ll feel great if you do it. Pulling weeds. Same thing.

But it can be hard to face these things after so much neglect.

In the case of my yard, there might be raccoons, right?

Instead, I found that the kale I planted when the garden seemed manageable earlier this year was ready to harvest. I had some for lunch. Chopped. Sauteed in a little olive oil and a sliced onion. You can add other veggies but simple is good. Drizzled with lemon juice. On rice. Topped with nuts. Walnuts are good. And raisins. Seriously good.

Instead, the weeds had time to work the soil that fell easily from their roots. Black. Crumbly. Moist. They were there because nothing else was. They were there because that’s what the soil conditions supported. They were there working, accessing nutrients that were unavailable to other plants. Pulling them up to the top. They were there to help in my absence and all I can say is “Thank you!”

Instead the compost has broken down. The bin that was filled over the wintertime is now just half full. Slide open the access door on the side of it and you will see that the worms have arrived.

Everything is fine.

No need to worry.

Get back to it.

Try again tomorrow.

Just do the next thing and see what inspiration has to say next.

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.

Is this a coincidence?

This post contains spoilers for the movie Once upon a time in Hollywood. I strongly recommend that you see the movie first.

A friend of mine makes more of a coincidence than I usually do. And yet lately I’ve been struck by how there have been themes. Self-compassion seems to be one of them. It wasn’t long after noticing that a friend could use a dose of it when I read an article about procrastination. According to the article, self-compassion is one way to break the cycle of unwanted behavior. It’s how I can show up here now. For I had really intended to post something daily. As I like to say, “Try again tomorrow.”

It was hard to find the time to write while I had company. I’m not sure why that is, but routines just don’t work the same for me when I’m thinking from one meal to the next. Everything is different. Lovely. Needed. Appreciated. Fun. But different.

My mother is a DiCaprio fan so a group went to see the Sharon Tate movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A couple days later, after the last shuttle to the airport, Brian and I took a walk around Como Lake and talked about it. He liked it. The fact that he did not doze off is an endorsement. But he ultimately didn’t see the point. However, by the time we got around the lake, we came up with something that was mostly satisfying.

Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler

If you haven’t seen the movie, skip this post. See the movie first.

Brian’s main beef seemed to be the rewriting of history. I liked it. But defending it would take some effort.

When I was a kid, I remember the book Helter Skelter laying around the house. It was thick like a dictionary. Black with red lettering. The pages smelled weird, which I attributed to the contents as opposed to any likely factors such as a bookshelf in a musty basement or the smell of a previous reader’s cologne. I knew who Charles Manson was. I had heard of Squeaky Fromme. I knew that Sharon Tate was pregnant. I knew what happened. I didn’t need to know any of this. I was just a kid. But my older siblings probably told me about it, for I certainly didn’t read the book. And for some reason this horrific story is part of the American psyche.

Let me just call bullshit on myself.

I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it sounds right. And it’s for that reason that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was able to do what it did. We watched this movie, knowing what I knew since I was a kid. And during the entire movie I dreaded the inevitable. My plan was to leave early and to let Brian tell me how it ended.

Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler

If you haven’t seen the movie, skip this post. See the movie first.

Except the inevitable didn’t happen.

A critic made the comment that the movie was forty-five minutes too long. As a movie goer and not as an editor who has to justify every frame, I can’t say that I was bothered by the length. Furthermore, given the necessity of the slow build to the last scene that made every previous second worthwhile, I thought the pace was about right. And again, Brian did not doze. That says a lot.

Plodding toward the inevitable is a political theme too. We are living it. How many times have I heard that our democracy is in peril? Power is being concentrated? There are human rights violations all over the place. Crimes go unpunished. Then there is also the decimation of the environment. Another shooting. Weak leadership. Saber rattling. On Facebook I saw an article where – if I am to believe it – South Dakota, my home state, is requiring schools to prominently post “In God we trust” in the schools. This makes me feel a little sick, because I suspect that it isn’t one’s religious convictions that would compel such a rule, but a sort of bullying. Is that what we really need? Anyway, the list goes on and it feels like there is a certain inevitable fate that will play out. If I were to believe the conspiracy theorist who was my supervisor at Spuds ‘N Stuff at the mall when I was in high school, we are all headed for the concentration camps. That’s pretty bleak.

There is another narrative.

We just have to write it.

There were things about the movie that will take another viewing for me. For example, what was the purpose of making Brad Pitt’s character a Vietnam Veteran and wife killer, assuming he really did kill his wife? Does it matter what I choose to believe? Would it change the story? Was it about help from unlikely places? Redemption? Healing? After all, in his last scene he is shuttled away in an ambulance. He’s going to be okay. Incidentally, Pitt is in a couple of scenes that also play on our expectations, such as the time the camera scans the car when he pulls into Manson’s hippie camp. This scene would not work without a suspicious past. Something tells me that scenes like that were all over the place and I just missed them. I would also have to look at the scenes where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is on a movie set. Something tells me that I didn’t fully appreciate how they fit. I’m also mildly interested in the woman he marries. It seems like she’s just a plot device, but maybe there’s more to her.

Typically my movie ratings go something like this. I either like a movie right away or I don’t. If I walk out without a feeling one way or the other, I might wake up mad the next day, which means the movie tricked me into sticking with it, but it wasn’t worth it. Or I will like it more and more. I liked this movie. Have to see it again. That’s a new rating for me.

Don’t Be in a Hurry

It’s hot.

The polyurethane on the door frame will have to dry before I can do the next thing.

Except there is always something to clean, like the walls in the hallway where I want to paint. I am resistant today. I’ll do it later. There are weeds. Windows to clean. I just don’t feel like it. Later.

“What’s the hurry?” my mom says. She doesn’t like to see me stressed out.

The cat is circling. She wants me to brush her but for some reason she is being coy. She is hoping for the double brush. If I don’t pick up a brush soon enough, she will try to brush herself, but can’t get the leverage required for satisfaction.

I made some progress on my short story. The pieces don’t quite fit, but I’ve turned over a few more puzzle pieces. I’m still far away from the original idea. I’m stuck in setup. Well, not stuck. It’s just that there’s a lot of work to do before getting to the thing. It’s like my house projects. I don’t really know how that color is going to look on the kitchen wall. I just know that I’m curious and I am anxious for the tah-dah! But there is all of this preparation that is required.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Crystal clear. I can hear my dad telling me this.

Don’t be in a hurry.

There is something really delicious about taking your time in a world full of people who are hell bent on getting there first.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Brian thought we had time to cross the street.

“I’d rather wait.” I said, knowing that he would not like it.

The king of patience thinks I’m a nut, but he concedes and we wait. To be fair, I can’t walk as fast as he can. Shorter stride, right? In the meantime, a woman makes it across with no problem.

“It’s a beautiful night to stand on the corner!” She says before heading for the gas station behind us.

I don’t care. Maybe it’s decision fatigue. Just do what the sign says. I’m fine with that. Sure, there are exceptions. But on one of the busiest corners in the city? This isn’t one of them.

Don’t be in a hurry.

On the one hand, I’m a square following the rules. On the other hand, waiting for the crosswalk sign is a sort of quiet rebellion in a hurry-up world.

I’ll just pretend that I’m Japanese. My friend who has been to Japan told me that they never jaywalk there. A person could be standing at a deserted intersection at three in the morning in a remote town with a population of fifty and wouldn’t cross against the light.

Don’t be in a hurry.

My aunt is moving to hospice care after a traumatic experience at the memory care facility. It has been a while since she would have recognized me. The last time I saw her was at a reunion she hosted several years ago. We rented cabins on a lake in Michigan. She rented tents and roasted meat at the house that used to be my grandmother’s house. Some cousins were doing shots of Jagermeister. I will sip mine.

Don’t be in a hurry.

She cries a lot, something some Alzheimer’s patients apparently do. They give her medicine for this.

Don’t be in a hurry.