Sunday, November 29, 2009

Buried Treasure

Yesterday we got a call from a friend, an attorney, who recently represented a client in a real-estate transaction. The deal involved a house, just a few blocks from us, that the buyer intends to tear down.

The house itself is a bit of a mess. It's been through a fire and is only partially covered with damaged asphalt siding. There are plywood boards where the windows used to be. The pantry is filled with mouse traps. I always lament the loss of a house, but this one may be easier to say good-bye to than some. If there's such a thing as a house being 'totaled,' where the cost of repair would far outweigh the value of the structure, this may be one of those cases. Plus the buyer, Mr. Morales, seems like an upright guy. He lives next door and knew the occupants of the house for decades. He told us the previous owner is now in a nursing home and doing pretty well.

Demolition plans for the building are imminent, but Mr. Morales seems to hate the idea of all the contents of the house (there were piles and piles left behind) going to waste. He's painstakingly culled all the items of either utilitarian or sentimental value and set them aside. Then he invited in our friend Mike, the attorney, to come and take what he could use. And Mike, naturally, called us to join him.

We spent yesterday morning combing through all three floors of the house, seeking out whatever treasures might be squirreled away. The previous owner was a master seamstress and possibly a quilter, and she had countless shelves filled with fabric, thread, elastic remnants, needles, straight pins, lace, rick-rack, and bobbins. I ended up with this beauty, which will be passed on to my 9-year-old niece, who's expressed interest sewing.

John salvaged a collection of polka records, and we had to reach way back into a storage area to purloin this enamel coffee pot, which we plan to use as an ice bucket. It wasn't this pristine when we found it, but it sure cleaned up nice.

We'll save the amazing bikes until they've had some work and are road-ready.

It felt sort of ghoulish to be going through all that household effluvia, piling up our hearts' desires, especially when John came across a high-school student ID for the owner's son, who likely grew up there. But we also felt we were doing our parts to protect and honor some of the history of that he house and the family who called it home. We will ride and listen and sew and drink a little better because they were here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Good Turns

Early this morning, as I was walking the dog and carrying her little bag of waste, a garbage man stopped me and said, "Ma'am, I'd be happy to throw that away for you." He took the bag right out of my hands and tossed it into the back of his truck, which was mulching up some throwaway doors behind the Oddfellows hall.

It was an incredibly kind gesture, all the kinder for it being unexpected, especially considering the abject terms of exchange. How do you even repay that kind of thing?

A few blocks later I turned the corner toward the house and there was our neighbor Mary Beth -- back since only 3am after taking her kids to the School of the Americas protest in Georgia -- struggling with a dead car battery. We have no jumper cables, and neither did any of the folks she tried to call. But I peeked into the backyard of our great neighbor Caesar, alleyway mechanic, and he was able to walk his charger over and get her on her way. He and Mary Beth live next door to each other but had never officially met. Now they have a point of connection.

It seems to be starting off as that kind of week. Pass it on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spaghetti Western

The Good:
- Our remodeled basement means my entire family will have places
to sleep when they visit for Thanksgiving, rather than our usual
tent city of sleeping bags and sofas.

- Our TV no longer lives in the living room. *We* live in the living room.

- Tonight's graduation ceremony for an ex-offender training program reminded me why I do what I do for a living.

- Overdue lunches with friends, dinners with friends, and beverages with friends.

- It's Brussels sprouts season!

The Bad:
- I don't know what kind of paint the taggers are using these days, but even the strongest solvent leaves a ghost image behind. Makes it sort of impossible to forget that the Latin Kings have claimed the building on the corner.

- Inez's arthritis.

- Can't. stop. cutting. my. hair.

The Ugly:
- Herbalife 'nutritional product' is taking over the world, including this long-abandoned storefront just two blocks away. The company seems to prey on struggling people of color, many of whom were gathered inside this space tonight, listening to the pitch and emptying their wallets. Beware the orange and green curtains, my friends: today's American signifier of empty promises.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


For the first time, our farmers' market has moved indoors for the winter, specifically into the old Congress Theater, which in its heydey was a movie house where locals would dress up fancy for an evening on the town.

More recently, the Congress has survived the way many old theaters survive: by becoming a concert venue for folks our grandparents would have found appallingly underdressed and badly behaved. We saw Fugazi at the Congress once, and many a Mexican wrestling fan has enjoyed a La Lucha Libre match there. Insane Clown Posse played a show there last week, and rabid fans in clown make-up snaked their way around the block.

The farmers' market is a kinder, gentler use of this aging but elegant lobby. I wish I could capture sound here as well as image, though, because while we were browsing the arugula and beets today, a teenage battle-of-the-bands was underway in the auditorium. Our cider sampling got punctuated by driving guitars and shrieks of pubescent masculine angst.

Even the Wisconsin artisanal cheese vendor had to concede: It was fantastic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The voters got it wrong

This morning, after disappointing news from Maine, I salute my favorite men who exercised their right to marry.

Robert and John: parks advocates, public-school graduates,
hand holders, friends to farmers.

By they way, that little orange character they're posing with? It's a special-edition Shawnimal. Robert enlisted creator Shawn Smith to produce just five of them as a fundraiser for our local playlot park. Robert's a Shawnimals collector, and this little orange fellow joins his ever-expanding collection of ninjas, mustaches, and random blobs. John doesn't seem to mind. He joined Robert in line that very night to buy an original Smith woodcut at a local gallery.

Take that, Maine.