Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Smell of Dirt

I smelled the dirt today.  I didn't hear the robin yet, but the smell of dirt was reassuring that winter's almost over. Well, it's almost April, let's get with it - the ferns need a little heat.  

When I was at college supposedly studying electrical engineering, I would take a bicycle out to the edge of Madison every chance I got, just to experience the smell of a feed and seed store in spring. I grew up in a small town with strong agricultural roots. Even the people in town would grow huge gardens, so the Rock River Coop and Globe Milling Company were places patronized by both farmers and town people alike. (why yes, there was Midwest Lawn and Garden as well, but this is my history, so let's keep it pleasant).

In the late winter and early spring, the dominant smell inside the seed center would be seed potatoes  and onion sets in burlap sacks. Although both potatoes and onions can be grown from seed, the preferred way in my upbringing was to get some seed potatoes and onion sets from the feed store.  
Seed potatoes are, essentially - just - - potatoes. You'd pick your variety from exotic names such as Katahdin, Kennebec, Yukon, Norland, and many others. You cut the potatoes up, each eye would form a plant,  and sturdy potato plants would grow from the eyes of the potato pieces.  Same with onion sets - they were tiny onions. Both sold by the pound, real cheap.

So, what is Dorm Boy doing out at the LL Olds Seed Company out on the edge of Madison on a Saturday morning? Getting back to his roots, or, tubers, to be perfectly correct. The smell of LL Olds building was a comforting anchor to something constant in a fast-changing world. Breathe deeply the darkness of the potatoes, the pungent onion sets, the smell of burlap and the dirt, and you are ready to get planting!

Planting proved a challenge for me, a college student has little arable land in his dorm room.  I had lots of grow lights, clay flower pots everywhere, and elaborate trough arrangements to handle watering. Building Maintenance would always shake their head when they saw my room. I grew geraniums, tomato plants, and a few cacti. 

The urban gardening experience would serve me well in later life - pausing after college before taking off in the wrong direction, I did a four-year sentence in Midwest Lawn and Garden in Watertown, Wisconsin, another story altogether. But I'd do it again!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Juice of the Cacti

The amazing power of the Juice of the Cacti.  If it's good enough for the Yack'Wee Indians of Paragwah, think of what it could do for you! W.C.Fields, an expert on Miracles of Medical Science gives a 45-second presentation on this miraculous plant:


So, I decided to grow my own Cacti.  Turning to the Amazon, I found, for 18 cents plus shipping charges of 23 cents (41 cents total) I ordered "50 flowering cactus seeds".  Since Last February the lowest postal rate is 49 cents - how can this be?  I really expected to hear nothing back. 

Not really expecting anything, but still hoping that I would someday grow cacti from seed, I read up on growing cactus seeds.  The cactus seed is to be placed ON the soil, not in it.  The brilliant sunlight of Paragwah must be what activates the seed.  Keep the future bed of Cacti evenly moist until germination is complete.  

A small package arrived from Paradise, and the postage had only been 23 cents. (HOW? Does the packet travel through time on its way here?).  And inside the envelope, a small foil packet containing well over 150 grains of cactus seed.  Also, a packet labeled "Safflower" which is going to be an enormous flowering plant in the thistle family. That was too much excitement for one day, so I put that packet aside until such time as I can plant the seeds outside, imagine if the safflowers spring up in the middle of the night -- that might even frighten Syd the fearless wonder cat.

So, I've done all that was asked of me.  On top of the soil, not buried, evenly moist, and in the sun - my bed of cacti.  It's been about four weeks now since I first put the seeds onto an evenly moist pot of Stern's succulent mix.  After about two weeks, I noticed a small spherical object, which was a pale yellow, and never changed color or size.  I didn't want to touch it, not knowing how sensitive the baby cacti are, and there was only one of the little round things.  So there have the seeds sat sown in their consistently moist bed, for over two weeks.

So my question is this:  is this a future juice-filled succulent specimen of cacti?

Or is it a piece of vermiculite swelled up from the even moisture of it all that has popped out of the potting mix?

Tell ya more when I know.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 21, 2014

lux ex tenebris

For 30 years, I sat at a 1970s modular desk, staring at a fabric-wallpaper wall. A little slit of a window half-buried behind the rack of dot-matrix printers was the only indication of an outside world.  Then, one day, the company went out of business, my desk was sold in a large auction lot, probably used for scrap, because it was so heavy.  I was free to go, and after finding out how willing businesses are to talk to a 60-year-old about employment, (they're not interested - really they're not), it was decided that my lifetime of skills was best put to use as an office temp. 

An entire world opened up to me. The things I had been teaching myself in my windowless void were all job skills that allowed me to fill in as a temporary worker anywhere with minimal training. Telephone, computer, Excel, mail processing, graphic layout, digital imaging, it all came into play. Each assignment presented its own new challenges and opportunities.  It has never paid much, but it's all I can get so far. I love the work, and I love the people I meet along the way.

So, last Thursday I took the bus downtown, a half-hour early so I could sip coffee in the cafeteria for awhile and watch the sun rise over downtown before going up to work. There are dress codes, and everybody looks professional, cogs in the vast urban machine. Then up to my work-station on the 13th floor. This week I'm a digital imager, in a white cubicle right next to an 8-foot high window overlooking Milwaukee's Downtown-East. The glorious sunshine of a Milwaukee Thursday morning bursting through the window, making everything brilliant. 

The office manager stopped by just after I arrived. "Hey, Gary, just so you know, tomorrow is a casual day - you can wear jeans to work. Man, that's so bright - you can lower the blind, you know..."

Derek (not his name) didn't understand my answer. Dress casual after working 30 years in a dark dank hole in West Allis? Shut out the sunshine of a brilliant new day of opportunity?  

What I said was, "No thanks, Derek. I'm livin' the dream!"

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What the....

I still don't believe this really happened.

I was across the street in the apartment, packing a lunch for my wife (When you run a business you can't punch out for lunch.) The phone rang. My wife. "There's a guy with a pickup truck shoveling snow onto our sidewalk" "Onto our sidewalk? From the city?" "No, just a plain pickup truck." "I'm on it." Dropped the knife in mid-butter, and slammed on my coat.

And there it was, right in front of our store. One of those oversize black pickup trucks that's always cutting in front of you on the freeway.  And in the bed, full to the top, snow, half unloaded.  A fairly large dullard in a plaid coat was shoveling snow from the bed onto the sidewalk in front of my wife's store.  I was mad.

"TAKE IT DOWN THE ROAD!" said a voice I had never heard before.

He looked up briefly, stupidly, and got another shovel-full ready to fling on our sidewalk.

"NO! You're not going to unload that in front of my building!"  I was not to be ignored. I stood between him and the sidewalk, so he couldn't unload.

"It's not illegal. It isn't your property out here." he said in a stupefied voice.

Then I did something stupid. I let myself get drawn into a legal discussion with a rutabaga.  I explained to him: "For your information, we pay excessive property taxes for this property. We pay extra property taxes for the business improvement district this property has the misfortune of being located in. If I don't keep this sidewalk clear, I will be fined. This sidewalk is as much my responsibility as the building. For all practical purposes, it is my sidewalk. And you will not be dumping any more snow here. Verstehen?"

"But I don't want it in my truck."  That was about the stupidest goddam thing I had ever heard, and let me tell you, I have been to Home Depot, so I know stupid when I hear it. He didn't want it in his truck. That could be said for a  lot of substances, and at this point I suppose I was fortunate that it was snow that he didn't want in his truck, and not something else. 

He scooped up another shovel full out of the bed, as if nothing had been said.  Hello! is this thing on? I grabbed the other end of the handle just above the scoop, and slammed it down on the truck bed. For a moment I thought he was going to take a swing at me.  At this point I did not care if he did.

"I'll call the cops." Idiot said, in a stupid whiny voice. He pulled out his cell phone and poked at it. He wasn't really calling the cops.  But I ran over to the store entrance, and hollered the license number to my wife. Teamwork.  She phoned 911, because the crime was in progress.  911 said it wasn't a life-threatening emergency, but would send a squad anyway.   "I'll come back when you're not here and unload some more."  Is that it, Buddy? If you can't do something stupid, then let's be saying something stupid. Stupid never sleeps. He got into his stupid truck and drove it about a block down the road.

Meanwhile the police stopped by, Officer D'Amato (not his name), got the details, told us we were completely in the right.  Finding out that the truck was still in the neighborhood, the officer went down to witness this record-setting stupid for himself.  

Officer D'Amato called us back and told us he had spoken with the guy, and yes, this was truly an idiot of monumental proportions, and from Mukwonago, no less. (for those of you not from Wisconsin, that's pronounced "muh KWUH nuh guh".)

Officer D'Amato told the idiot three things.

1) Putting snow from your pickup truck on somebody else's sidewalk is LITTERING - $175.00 fine
2) Threatening a store owner to come back and litter his prooperty is DISORDERLY CONDUCT. - another $175.00 fine.
3) If anything should happen to our store during non-business hours, guess who would be suspect  #1, and get a ticket? That would be YOU, Mr. Mukwonago.

And that's how we do it in Milwaukee.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

John Denver Christmas

Gary, 29,  (that was me) was running a roadside diner called the Candle Glow, out on the edge of Watertown, Wisconsin. 1979.  I  had started the business in August, and as expected with a new business, it didn't do too well at first.  The food was great, according to the customers, but I guess they just didn't eat enough, because by November I had run out of money, and in December I was really getting desperate.

Lily (not her name) worked for me, as waitress and kitchen help. We were about the same age, and she could find something to make you laugh in just about any situation.  I was in love with her, but that wasn't really going anywhere.  It was almost Christmas time, the Friday before Christmas, and hardly anybody had come that night for a fish fry. Lily's younger sister Karen (not her name) stopped by, just to keep us company. Karen got bored, and pitched in to help us clean up. Karen was the opposite of Lily, the same sense of humor but in such a deadpan and soft-spoken way that escaped you if you weren't listening closely.

"Hey, let's all go to the Out-A-Towner after you're closed,"  Karen suggested.  We thought it sounded like a good plan.  It sure beat not waiting on customers that weren't there.  Then, the door opened, and Lily's parents came in with her brother, Mike (not his name).  Watertown isn't that big.  We all sat around drinking coffee, and talking about Christmas shopping.  Eventually the parents wanted to leave.  Mike wanted to ride along with his sister, Karen.

After the parents had gone, Karen sat down at the counter, staring straight ahead at nobody.  "Change of plans. Mikey's not old enough to go out drinking."   Mike felt bad for screwing up the plans, suggested maybe they could drop him off at home on the way out.  "My place," Karen said "We could all have some Christmas Cheer."   Mike loved that idea, because at his sister's house, he could get some Cheer, too.

We closed up the diner and all drove over to Karen's place, a part of Sixth street that I'd never been to. Upper floor of an old house -- had to play with the lock to get the door to open.   Karen wouldn't let us turn on the lights, because the apartment was a mess.  She lit a candle, and we went to her living room, where she lit other candles. We could see some Christmas decorations, and a small artificial tree. She plugged in the tree lights. In the soft glow, I still couldn't see the walls or extent of the apartment.  A sixties-era phonograph.  Karen picked out a record, and put it on.  "You've all got to hear this".  The music started, the sound was warm and fuzzy, worn from much use.  "Yeah, it's John  Denver. But listen. Don't say anything until you hear it". Familiar, and unfamiliar Christmas-themed tunes, in John Denver's distinctive stentorian twang.   There weren't enough chairs.  Mike and I sat on milk crates. Nobody spoke much.  Karen brought us all some wine. It was warm in the room, all of us huddled in the soft glow of candles and Christmas tree. And John Denver singing "Silver Bells".

"This one I just love - it's real."  We listened as John sang "Please, Daddy Don't Get Drunk This  Christmas. I don't want to see Momma cry".   "He sings it so cheery, but it's so sad". Karen once explained to us what was real.  Working at a job, hanging around in dark bars, and such, that was NOT real.  True reality is after spending a night out celebrating, stepping into the harsh antiseptic fluorescent glare of a George Webb restaurant (Milwaukee chain of diners) and having coffee and chili. That's reality spelled right out for you.

We talked a little about our plans, Lily looking forward to another semester at college, Karen changing to a new job, I was concerned about staying in business at the diner, trying to meet all the expenses and satisfy all the demands of a business, the crazy landlady, the grim creditors, and the inadequate customer traffic.

It was one of the most memorable Christmas memories of my life.

Within the next year, I went out of business.  Lily graduated from college and moved away. Mike eventually got old enough to have his own car and social life. And Karen moved off to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  But that night, as the Earth was spinning through a now-distant corner of the universe, we were all together, and feeling better just for being together.  God Bless Us, Every One!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There Are Still A Few Out There

The life of an office temp can sometimes include "down time" - those blessed little un-paid vacations that allow you to do what you've been thinking of for weeks.  You look out the window of the bus, your World Headquarters passing into the distance, and think "Oh, man I haven't washed those windows for over a month.  Wish I had the time for that".  

The assignment ends, and suddenly you have the time.  Working frantically to "Git 'er done" before the phone rings again, "Hi, it's Emily with your next assignment!"  So I was painting, spackling, carrying dropcloths and buckets across the street.  Mid-block. (Don't judge me - It is my God-given right to jay-walk between my properties on my street.  I don't need the government's interference with my street-crossing - I know that the big things on wheels should be avoided, or I begin life as a Street Pizza). 

Looking across the street, I saw the Number 15 bus, my home away from home.  The bus was pulling to a stop across the street.  I looked in the driver's window - it was Al's bus.  And I realized - that bus has stopped for me.  Al thought I was running late catching the bus, and he had stopped to let me on.  Realizing what had just happened, I shook my head and waved him on.  Al grinned and zoomed off toward downtown to take the less fortunate to work.

Did you think that such people as Al still walked the earth?  Al isn't just collecting a paycheck from the transit authority,  Al is taking people where they want to go.  It's his job, and he's proud of the way he does it.  God bless such people.  

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Never Can Say "Good Buy"

....being part of Gary's perpetual love/hate rant with the Idiot Box.
Winter - It's Real

Television stations are costly to run.  Equipment, staff, licensing. They are not run by philanthropists trying to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  They are run by businessmen who are trying to make a profit by selling more than they buy.  This is how businesses run.  The only thing that brings money into a television statement is advertising revenue. Car salesmen, prescription drug peddlers, insurance salesmen, crooked lawyers, fast food chains, and the manufacturers of Ginzu Knives all vie for air time to promote the products they bring into this world.  

On the other hand, once the hucksters have all paid their invoices, there is, in between the advertising, Program Content.  You want to teach the world to sing?  Here's the Sing-Off, the American Idol, the Voice, and a host of others. You want to eat?  They've got competitions for that, too - Chef Ramsey will curse at simple-minded would-be chefs, a panel of judges will taste food, and spit it out on the table if they don't like it, and on and on.  There are competitions for everything.

Home improvement is a contest.  Dancing is a contest.  Even marriage is a contest on TV. And, now for the holidays, even the Little Christmas Angel in the front yard is part of a competition - a Light Fight, to be exact.  Fa la #$%# LA!

What was my point - oh yes - the third element.  The most dependable and free money-maker that a station manager can tap into - the Weather!  Weather is free, it's everywhere, and the weather that sells the most Priusssses is the scary weather.  All weather can be scary with the right writeup.  Winter in the Midwest gives us an extra bonanza - Snow and Cold.  What a surprise, Winter is cold, and precipitation in Winter falls down in frozen flakes.  With the aid of Triple Doppler graphics, the terrible Monster Storm occurs roughly every two weeks.  If the audience can only be distracted from looking out their windows and thinking for themselves.  The Monster Storms - the Deadly Cold Blast - has people huddled in their hovels, cowering in fear.

I see a conflict, though.  If people are huddled in their houses, afraid to face the deadly elements outside their door, how can they possibly go out and shop for all the lovely products that the advertisers - the sole providers of TV station income - how can they afford continue to advertise, when television stations are constantly warning people to stay home?

"Come to Boston Store" sounds less appealing when the crawl at the bottom of the screen is warning that anyone who ventures outside will be annihilated - crushed in the jaws of the Monster Storm, which is always about to arrive?  Which should we take seriously?  The appeal of the merchant's marketplace, or the staged warnings of the weather "experts"?