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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sometimes We Look Down to Look Up

On an introspective note, I’ve spent some time this week looking down.  Perhaps it's the wan, pale light of winter, but the urge to crawl into my head and stay there (perhaps that's where my missing socks have gone?) has come upon me.

It’s another world, looking down.  A world of discarded snacks; of lost hair ties and ravaged candy wrappers; a house-cleaner’s nightmare of discarded cigarette butts and bus transfers.

I pick these things up, you know, throw them away.
Absolutely free of charge.

I was doing that this morning, absent-mindedly tidying up my part of the city, when there, on the ground, right where the bus will open its doors when it arrives, right where I will be standing when it pulls up, I see a cigarette.

A whole, clean cigarette.

And one penny. Heads up.

They are side by side, as if placed there purposefully.

I look around.  Perhaps I look too deeply sometimes - I once saw implied threats in the tiny mouse head deposited on my front steps by a feline admirer - but I saw in those two things a sort of hope. There are those for whom a found cigarette is comfort, for whom a found, heads-up penny brings luck.

I step back.  I look up.

The bus comes, and I step over the cigarette and the penny, hoping that the person who needs them, finds them.

The doors open.  “Beautiful day,” the bus driver says.

I smile.  He may be on to something.

Friday, January 23, 2015

I'll Be Over Here, Eating Over a Sink

We need to do something about lunch, people.

I sat in the Skyroom on the top floor of Macy’s the other day in a rare out-for-lunch moment with friends. We sat kittycorner from a mother and son. The woman appeared to be in her early 30s, the boy maybe 9, 10.

He was eating quite enthusiastically.

“Slow down,” his mother admonished, “no one's going to take it from you.”

He tried to slow down, taking a couple of careful bites, but moments later he was back at his previous pace. Quickly, efficiently, he smiled between bites at his mother as he made short work of his sandwich. She smiled at him, love in her eyes; and he covered his mouth as they laughed good-naturedly.

That kid was what we call “a good little eater”.

Watching the exchange made me smile, too; but it also got me thinking about the casual nature with which we treat our midday meal.

Let me ask you: Where did you go to school? Did they allow you to eat with utensils? If memory serves me correctly – and I think it does – I’m pretty sure we were forced to eat whilst in line, plastic-kerchiefed women plopping ice-cream scoops of mashed-potato-lime-gelatin-surprise into our outstretched hands.

As an aside, my father swore that, when he was young, lime Jello containing free-floating shredded carrot and celery, the whole thing topped with Miracle Whip – yes, Miracle Whip – was considered a dessert.

It changed how I looked at him.

And how was your lunch hour in your 20s? Did they pay you for that time? I continually managed to find jobs where you had to punch out for lunch.

Hmm. Would I like to clock-out to eat or would I like to have another seven dollars a day on my paycheck?

Even now, I have a hard time stepping away from my desk and often eat my lunch while setting up meetings and prank-calling my friends.

I hear, by the way, that lunch in Europe is different, that it is sometimes accompanied with wine and naps. I refuse to believe that, however, as it interferes with my ability to continue to work in the United States.

Anyway, that couldn’t possibly be true – could it?

And if it is, how do we institute that in Minnesota?

Let me know if you know who I should contact. I’m willing to get the ball rolling on this one.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

That Reminds Me: Pick Up Chicken Wings for Dinner

Wait long enough, and there she is.  You see that?  Twelve o’clock, as my dad likes to say, right there in front of you.  It’s 28 degrees outside – four degrees cooler than required to, say, generate your own, artisanal ice – and she’s got short sleeves.

At this time of year, you know, you don’t see many short sleeves on the bus. 

And that’s because they are under layers upon layers of rich, satisfying fabric.

Fabric!  Nature’s way of saying, You, over there!  I shall award your foresight in covering yourself with one more day of life.

She boards the bus, tight jeans, leather boots, a short-sleeved tee and a fashionably slouch-y wool cap.  Practically embryonic with youth, her pink face flush with color – perhaps fever related – she and a friend search for a seat while those of us of a more practical bent view her with hooded, content eyes.

We are warm, and she is not.

Take that, adorably shivering female.

Somewhere in my head, of course, in a corner I reserve for random, spiteful thoughts, I am hoping that the bus will break down and that, partially frozen and struggling toward an awaiting bus blocks and blocks away – perhaps to be warmed and presented with complimentary firefighters and squirming, squealing puppies – she will fall, her smooth-soled footwear failing her, to come up dripping with salt-laden slush.  Tearfully, she will proclaim, “I’ve been so foolish!  I will never, ever dress without regard to weather conditions again!”

You know.  Like I did. 

Every day, of course, I am proven wrong in one form or another, and today is yet another example of this winning streak.  Tiny, frozen female does not actually freeze, and there are no complimentary firefighters waiting at the end of the line offering to throw me over a thick, uniformed shoulder.

Perhaps I am riding the wrong bus?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mary; or When You're Rich Beyond Dollar Signs

“I just want you to know,” she says, “that you are free to write about us as you see fit. I mean, I know what we look like to some people, and I don’t want you to stifle anything because you feel it presents us in an unflattering light.”

She pauses to take a drag from her cigarette.

“Heck,” she says. “I know what we look like.”

I am sitting on the couch in her living room. T-Bone, a Labrador of Great Sincerity, has his head on my knees and is gazing upward with the expression of one who believes I may have greasy, cat-flavored treats in my coat pockets.

I do not.

I light my own cigarette and blow the smoke toward the candle.

It is 24 degrees Fahrenheit outside (4.4 below Celsius); and inside, we are wearing our boots, coats, and hats. We are not wearing our gloves.

That would be silly.

“Tell me again why today is the day to replace the front door?”

Mary sighs. “Well the new one’s been in the living room for over a month now. It seemed like it was time.”

We gaze out the front door. It is 7:00, her abnormally dark street flanked by mounds of uncooperative snow.  She takes a drag off her cigarette. “Check out the headlight.”

The David Mann mural on the wall nearest the front door has been desecrated by the creation of the new frame, the headlight on the friendly trucker’s vehicle now a shattered spattering of Drywall on the floor.

I shook my head sadly. “The chick on the bike still seems pretty happy.”

“Yeah,” Mary shivered. “Well, she’s been painted that way, if ya ask me.”

Eventually, of course, Jon and Justin have the frame square and the inner and outer doors attached to the frame.

It is beautiful.

The two holes in the doors, however, the lonely and unfulfilled spaces that will house the lockset and knob tomorrow whistle aggressively with a driving Arctic wind fresh out of North Dakota.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” asks Jon. He runs a thoughtful hand through the thatch of hair on his head. “Yep, this is going to be one beautiful –”

“JON!” Mary can hardly control herself. “There are HOLES! Ya hear that whistling? Ya feel the cold? Ya smell what I’m cookin’ here, Jon?”

Jon’s eyes alight on mine, and we grin silently. She yells because she cares.

He bursts into laughter. “I’m gonna cover the holes! Don’t you worry!”

Mary pulls back a bit. “OK. So how are the doors going to stay shut all night with that wind?”

Jon winks at me. “Ahhh. See, I got that covered, too.” He pulls the belt off his pants.

“Hey! Hey!” Mary shouts good-naturedly. “This is a family show!”

Jon frowns at her. “Hey, we don’t talk like that.”

Now it’s Mary’s turn to wink at me.

Jon’s already at the door. “Ya see this,” he says, opening both doors, “I’m going to run the belt through the screen door, then through the inner door, and now I’m going to shut them so the belt is caught between the house and the door.”

He straightens up, arching his back. “See that? Minneapolis Security System.”

Mary turns to me. “When you speak of this,” she says, “and I can see by the look on your face that you will, just remember who loves ya.”

She calls the dog over, who jumps into her lap and knocks her backward.

Mary talks baby talk into his neck. “Iddin tha’ right, T-Bone? Iddin tha’ right? Who loves our lives more than we do?”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Didn't Ask for My Advice, But Here It Is

I’ve got an uncle who warns me to never fall asleep on the concrete in the cold.

“The sidewalk’s a killer,” he warns. “Did you know that bums die every year just by falling asleep? The ground never warms up in the winter, and that concrete will leach the heat right out of you. Take my word for it: never fall asleep on the concrete.”

I am torn between being thankful for this information and concern that he thinks it may come to pass that I will find myself using a sidewalk as a bed.

But perhaps he’s on to something. Perhaps we should be handed a laminated sheet of truisms upon, say, high school graduation, something you could frame, something you could refer to often.

Never fall asleep on the concrete would be on there.

What else would be listed?
  • Never squeeze lemons with a hand full of papercuts.
  • You’re going to want change to a lighter weight of motor oil in the winter.
  • Unless she’s requested it, buy a woman an appliance for Christmas at your own peril.
  • Don’t tattoo your neck.
  • Never trust a man named “Shifty”.
  • The guy on the street who begs for “just another dollar so I can get home, man” is not really going to go home after you give it to him.
  • Discounted sushi is not a bargain.
This is just off the top of my head, but it’s a start. Words to live by, people. Go forth and change your oil.

And no more sleeping on the sidewalks.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rolls of Fat and Other Surprises

I was sitting at my desk the other day, casually taking inventory of my faults (inclined to eat large amounts of chocolate in one sitting without regard to caloric intake; development of new roll around mid-section – perhaps related to uncontrolled chocolate fetish; failure to take up boxing like I had planned; failure to win the lottery; failure to develop long, elegant legs like I’ve always wanted…) when I noticed that I can be hard on myself.

When did this start?

It wasn’t always that way. Me and myself, we used to be pretty tight (please note use of only partially out-dated slang!). I liked me, thought I was funny, thought I had a nice head of hair, knew I could rely on me for those weird Trivia Pursuit-style questions.

But in the last year, I’ve started to question me, my taste in things, people. You know how that goes, right? One minute you’re absolutely sure of who your people are and how you feel about things, and the next minute you’re saying things like “But I’ve always spelled it that way! Are you telling me I’ve been spelling that wrong for all these years?!”

Yes, it’s possible that you’ve/I’ve been spelling it wrong. All these years.

I’ve decided that that’s okay, that there’s still plenty of time to turn this all around.

I don’t normally make New Year’s Resolutions, but I ain’t never had a year like last year, either, so why not just continue on this path of self-discovery? Join me, won’t you, in my quest to figure out the answer to that age-old question:

Where You At?

1. My physical health: As adorable as a little pudge can be, I think my usefulness to the tribe will continue for a while longer before they put me out on an ice floe. No point in storing up just yet.
2. My mental health: Yep. Still there, thanks to dear friends (both on and off line) and yoga. I shall continue to pursue both mental and physical flexibility, which brings me to…
3. Drinking. I shall continue to do that as well, but will try to cut down on the number of people I demand to arm wrestle once properly soused.
4. Writing. Yes. Continue.
5. As a side-note to the writing and in deference to paying more attention to my physical health, I shall endeavor to no longer continue to write once I realize I should run to the bathroom. I know I’m not alone out there! Show of hands: how many people continue to work on the computer well after having been informed by their body that they need a break?!

Anyway, that’s my plan for the year.

I’m going to be way nicer to me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I've Heard I Can Pass for Canadian

Can we just come clean here and talk about “Fargo”?

“Fargo” is a movie put out by Minnesota’s favorite son, Joel Coen.

Have you seen this movie? The accent in “Fargo” is meant to be representative of a Minnesotan accent but it is not, my friends, how Minnesotans sound.

I don't, anyway.

No, really.

Oh, ja, ya know, we got dem guys up dere on de Range, huntin’ dem tirty-point bucks, but dose guys, dey’re not troooly representative of de folk down here in de Cities.

Being a Minnesotan comes in handy, though, when traveling, particularly in the 90s, when I passed myself off as Canadian.

Look at ‘em. All friendly and cuddly up there, the little non-gun-toting, law-abiding Canucks. You could just eat them up they’re so cute.

Everybody loves the Canadians.

A number of years ago, I went with my son and my parents to Mexico for what in the U.S. is a long vacation: two weeks.

Two weeks! It’s like being retired.

If you ever get to Puerto Vallarta, which is where we went, one thing you’ll notice is that no one there is overweight; and if you do happen to see someone who is overweight, they’re either Americans or Germans.

I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.

We were getting into a cab, the four of us, to go to dinner one night when another family of tourists got into the cab next to us.

Our driver called out to the other driver. The other nodded sorrowfully and our driver laughed.

Four years of high school French are of no help when you’re eavesdropping in Spanish; and being the nosy sort, I asked our driver what he said.

He blushed just a bit and then said, “I tell him, ha ha! You get the fat ones!”

By this time, the other taxi had pulled in front of us; and we all watched as the back end sagged perilously close to the tar…

You could tell by the way he looked into the mirror that it had suddenly occurred to him that perhaps we were Americans. We aren’t overweight, but we do have a suspiciously U.S. look to us…

My father, the king of nuance, noticed him notice us.

“No worries, eh,” my dad said. “We’re Canadian.”