Diversity and Random Encounters

Those of you that read this blog regularly know what a fan I am of randomness – random people, random facts, random language, random encounters.  Friday night, I was out with some friends at my local dive bar, and went outside to have a smoke.  While I stood in front of a row parked cars, I was approached by a 20-something kid, who apologetically asked,

“Would it be OK if I purchased a cigarette from you?”

“Sure, no problem.  You don’t need to pay me,” I said.  “You can just have one.”

“Oh, but I just hate it when people walk up to me and ask for one,” he replied.

“It’s really no problem,” I assured him.  “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” he said in a soft voice, then turned and walked back in the direction he’d come from.

He got about 20 feet away, then stopped, paused, turned around, and came back.

“You know that laundromat down there?” he pointed towards the huge, generic Coin Laundry at the end of the strip mall.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I know it.”

“I work there every night,” he said.  “When you have to do your laundry, if you come at night, I’ll be there.”  He seemed excited to share his schedule with me.

“I was just there two days ago,” I replied.  “But I was there during the day.”

“Really?  Oh.  I only work at night.”  He went from puzzled that he didn’t recognize me to understanding why not.

“I had the worst time getting that damn money card machine to work!” I told him.

Seems the Coin Laundry doesn’t take coins any longer – you have to pump single dollar bills into a machine with a plastic money card in it, then you stick that money card into a slot on the washer or dryer you want to use.  When I first tried to use the machine, I couldn’t get it to spit out a new card.  A helpful woman intervened when she saw my idiocy, then tried to explain in Spanish that the machine wasn’t working if you chose the English language menu.  I couldn’t follow her, so she finally just took the money from my hand, punched some buttons to get to the Spanish menu, fed it a couple of my singles, and there my card was.

“Oh, you’re not the first,” my young laundromat friend laughed.  “I’ll help you out next time,” he said, seeming satisfied with this offer of help in exchange for the cigarette I’d given him.  With that, he was on his way back to work.

Later that evening, I went outside again.  A group of four people stood chattering together near the door.  I joined them so I wouldn’t be that one random person standing alone pretending to be oblivious to the little crowd a few feet away.  I recognized one of the four – he’s a guy my friends and I call Axl Rose because he has stringy, long, blond hair, wears rock band T-shirts, and always sings things like Def Leppard when it’s his turn at the karaoke mic.  The other three, one woman, two men, were unfamiliar faces.  I was introduced to each, though I couldn’t understand the names of the two men.  The group was in good spirits.  The woman struck me as the sort that was excited by the prospect of playing games, even the made up sort you drum up in the car on a long road trip.  Happy that the thought had come to her, she asked each of us where we were from.

“Wisconsin,” I said.

“Norway,” said Axl Rose.

“Japan,” said man #2.

“Tibet,” said man #3.

“I’m from good old Oakland,” said the woman who’d started us talking about our childhood homes.

The conversation went on for a couple of minutes as we all marveled at the diversity among us, and the distances everyone traveled at some point to end up at the same dive bar in a strip mall in a residential suburb of San Francisco.  In our moment of solidarity, linked together through drinking, smoking, and generally horrible singing at a bar with velvet wallpaper, I realized, in Bokononist terms, we were a granfalloon, and I sent a quick mental thanks to Kurt Vonnegut.

Pictionary Woes

My other half and I had dinner at Grass-Phobia Girl’s new place this past weekend.  It was a great time – good food, good cocktails, and some fiercely competitive Pictionary.  We busted out the dry erase boards – no skimpy little notepads for us – split into two teams of 4, and were off to the races.  Well, the other team was off to the races.  My team languished near the starting spot for way too long.  We just couldn’t catch a break.  To give you an example of our Pictionary woes, I had to draw “Blink.”  No big deal, I thought.  I expected to have it sealed in seconds – but, my team thought otherwise.

I quickly drew an almond-shaped eye, added the iris and retina.  My team began to yell.

“Eye!”

“Eyes!”

“Eyeball!”

“Look!”

“See!”

“Stare!”

Next I added a lid, half-closed, and dashed some eyelashes onto it.  Then they hollered.

“Eyelash!”

“Lash!”

“Lashes!”

“Mascara!”

By then I was frantically switching back and forth between stabbing the dry erase board, literally in the eye, and slashing in blue marker in a down-then-back-up motion.  I thought for sure I had it when they began to scream

“Close your eye!”

“Close your eye!”

“Close your eye!”

But, time was called before they ever thought “Blink.”

More blog spam

I’ve been sparing you the details of most of the blog spam that comes my way – in fact, in the first quarter of this year alone, Akismet has blocked ~850 spam comments for me – thank you, Akismet!).  That said, I am still astonished by some of the comments and can’t help but share them with you.  To another round!

“Most heavy duty trailer hitches are developed employing cutting edge computer aided models and fatigue stress testing to ensure optimal strength. Share new discoveries along with your child and maintain your child safe by purchasing the correct style for your lifestyle by following the Perfect Stroller Buyers Guideline.”

OK.  Who can tell me what heavy duty trailer hitches and baby strollers have in common?

“I to assuredly thrilled to trick payment across your totality trap dividing and look presumptuous to pot-pourri of more without tantamount times reading here. Thanks in days gone on again special seeking all the details.”

I’m perplexed.  “…thrilled to trick payment across your totality trap…”  I consider myself fairly good at untangling warped language, especially the sort that is created by those who do not hold English as their first language, but I’m just plain lost on this one.

“oh happy day, the end times are upon us”

I only hope that when my time comes, I can look upon the “end times” with such optimistic abandon.

Follow the links

Who can resist reading about the history of the manwich?  I couldn’t, but was doubly rewarded when I saw a mention of my home-town and the odd misnomer we use there for the sloppy joe…

As always, I have to include a link to something I found quite funny.  I’m grateful for the people in the world that will share their neuroses so openly and with such self-deprecation.  They are among the best teachers because they remind us we’re all a little crazy and we should never take ourselves too seriously…

Graham’s post about opening lines gave me a little shot in the arm.  I’ve been reading like a fiend lately, and I like to go back and read first lines after I’ve put a book away for awhile.  Perhaps it’s time to do that again soon…

This post about kids fighting over and retrieving a boomerang is great.  It reminds me of the crazy things my father let me do as a kid – things that no other person with even a semblance of concern about safety would have sanctioned.  Things like climb to the roof of the barn using the grounding wire from the lightning rod as climbing rope, then sled down the other side, to fly off into banks of snow.

I enjoyed this pensive post about the state of waiting we often find our lives or our selves in.  It’s a gentle thought-provoker…

A care package, of sorts – part two

For part one of this story, go here.

The thing about getting a package from Grandma was that I never had a clue what would turn up inside, but I knew it would be odd – something neither I nor any other person on the planet would buy.  Clothes were never her strong suit, but on the off chance she sent me something I might wear, I could count on a note safety-pinned to the garment if she hadn’t yet washed it.  And not just any note, mind you.  Sometimes she ran the sticky note through her typewriter instead of writing on it by hand.  When I called to  thank her for a crazy T-shirt that hung down below my knees (I think maybe it was meant to be a sleep shirt), that came with no note, she explained on the phone that she’d already washed it, but she assumed I knew that since she didn’t pin a type-written sticky note on the front.

As a small kid, 4 or 5 years old, I went with my mom to bars now and then.  I entertained myself by playing dice with the bartender.  Family legend has it I was pretty good.  A couple of years ago, my grandma sent me an antique dice cup, to commemorate my young passion for playing Liars’ Dice and her passion for antiques.  The hand-made cup is dark brown leather, slightly misshapen, a bit weak at the seam stitched up the side.  The leather, though smooth, is hard as tack, but a simple wavy pattern circles the center of the cup where the maker likely used a sewing machine to punch a bit of decoration into it.  An old yellowed newspaper clipping is curled up inside that tells the story of the demise of the bar from which the cup apparently came.  The clipping was from a 1981 newspaper – one of those ’50 Years Ago Today’ bits.  It reads:

50 YEARS AGO TODAY – FEB. 12, 1931

With the interests of the old people at the Reiss Home for the Aged and the future expansion of St. Nicholas Hospital in mind, Hospital Sisters of St. Francis have acquired the Acker property at the southeast corner of the intersection of N. Tenth Street and Superior Avenue.  The Acker site is 120 feet square. On it is a double two-story building occupied by the Joe Acker saloon and boarding house, and a barn (ausspannung). Part of the main building was formerly occupied by the Bruder Radio Company. … With the purchase of the Acker real estate, the Hospital Sisters now own all the land in the block in which the hospital is located except a small house and lot in the southwest corner.

I like that the paper tossed in just a single German word in that little article.  Weirdly, though, the translation seems to be ‘relaxation.’  It’s unclear whether one would seek relaxation in the boarding house or in the barn.

Check out the dice – I love that they are stamped like playing cards, not the boring old pips I expected to see when I tossed them out of the cup.  There’s no way to know if this cup actually came from the Joe Acker saloon, but Grandma is convinced, and old objects always seem cooler when they come with a story, so I’ll stick with it.

A care package, of sorts – part one

I recently got a package in the mail from my grandmother.  It was actually just an envelope, but it was stuffed with so many things I feel justified in calling it a package.  The contents aren’t what you might expect when you think “care package” and “grandma” in the same sentence, though.  I tore into the envelope as soon as I saw it because there is no mail I like getting better than mail from my grandma.  When I was younger, she sent me things a bit more frequently, but she doesn’t get out as much these days, so there are fewer opportunities for her to find the oddities she used to.

I’ve lived in California since 1995, and even after just a year here, I can say with conviction that I did not feel like a tourist.  For some reason that isn’t totally clear to me, my grandmother began to send me anything that had anything to do with California after I moved here.  I have probably received a dozen cookbooks that had some kind of California theme – the best are those from the 60s and 70s, complete with handwritten notes in the margins from whomever tried to tweak that recipe for Peach Waldorf Salad.

If it said San Francisco, there was no chance she would pass it up.  My grandma is a thrift store shopper.  If there were thrift store shopper jobs, she’d have made a very successful career of it.  Before she retired, she worked in Downtown Sheboygan, within walking distance of three different thrift stores.  She visited each one weekly during her lunch hour – St. Vincent’s on Monday, Goodwill on Tuesday, and so on.  Between the downtown stores and a couple she’d hit on her way home after work, she went to one thrift store a day, every day of every week.  When I was a kid, we occasionally donated clothes to Goodwill.  We soon realized we needed to tell Grandma ahead of time, though, or she would buy back the things we’d just donated and they’d be waiting for us the next time we visited her.

I had a small ceramic planter in the shape of a cable car, a book or two about Alcatraz (in fact, if I remember right, even an Alcatraz cookbook), a set of coasters with pictures of famous San Francisco scenes – Lombard Street, The Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge.  She sent small wooden cable car Christmas ornaments painted garish shades of red and green, a copy of Tales of the City, and the occasional San Francisco or Yosemite calendar, and a cribbage board with a picture of the Golden Gate.

In the past few years, I’ve also started to receive obituaries – a zillion of them.  The genealogy bug bit me a couple of years ago, and Grandma is the biggest fan of my detective work.  I have traced her ancestors that emigrated from Germany to Wisconsin, and found her 3rd great-grandfather living in an insane asylum in the 1910 census.  She is always eager to hear any random tidbit of news I find, and I just wish I had more time to spend on research now that I know how much she enjoys it.

The latest package, which prompted this post, was all about my genealogy research – well, almost.  First was an article about an upcoming PBS series about genealogy, then came two horrific stories from the local paper about a relative that attacked his wife because she wouldn’t give him cigarettes and the garage door remote control.  As I said, not your typical care package from Grandma, but since I started all the genealogy work – the family dirty laundry is no longer left hidden…  Finally, there were four obituaries, each with a hand-written sticky note attached.

Any key points of interest in the obits are highlighted in yellow to aid me in following who these people might be.  The note attached to one obituary for a woman whose last name I didn’t recognize, read “Louis is brother to Grandma Emma.”  It took me a second to find Louis highlighted in the newspaper clipping and then I recognized his last name as the maiden name of my grandma’s maternal grandmother.  Another obituary was for someone who was related by marriage, and the note read, “Robert – Married to cousin of Grandpa – Jake & Clara daughter.”  Another was for the wife of a cousin to my great-grandmother.  The one I like the best, though, is for a woman whose married name appears heavily in our ancestry.  The note reads “Don’t know if Walter is family.”

Oh, I almost forgot – she also slipped in a recipe for crab-stuffed portobello mushrooms.