Saturday, October 29, 2011

To market, to market

This the grocery store of my heart -- no doubt you've heard me sing its praises before. I have a nearly unnatural love for it, a kind of love that might be illegal in the South.

Sure, they run out of stock from time to time (no couscous today? fine, I'll use grits). And their freezer case has been known to leak. They break out rolls of cheap paper towel rolls and line them up along the bottom to keep the floors dry.

But they're a little-engine-that-could kind of supermarket. An earnest underdog. A beloved cousin with a club foot.

I was recently there for a midweek, early-morning stock-up, and the manager remarked that I wasn't buying so much today. I told him as long as it was still warm, I was getting most of my produce at the farmer's market. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that," he said, smiling."

It's an amazing thing to be in a supermarket where the manager is both the guy who both greets you at the door and the one who worries whether volume is moving. It's not some suit in a corporate office fretting over the bottom line, but an actual guy, who greets you at the door and pitches in to bag your groceries during a rush.

And of course there's my favorite Produce stocker, who always offers a warm smile and a hearty hello -- asks me how I've been, wants to know in broken English if I need any help. It doesn't matter if I'm having the worst day of my life (too frequent these days) or walk in a bedraggled stinking mess after a jog. He makes me feel like my visit to the store matters to him.

Yesterday, when I noticed they were out of the milk I usually buy, I asked him if he expected a delivery later today. Yes, he told me, maybe later in the afternoon. "Ok, I'll come back," I said.

"You better," he said. "It's always a treat to see you."

You too, produce guy. You have no idea.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If this is progress, take me to the wayback machine

Despite a heroic community fight, this unassuming set of storefronts is slated to become an EZ Pawn in early 2012. I didn't agree with all the protesters. Some were in the mix because they don't like what a nearby pawn shop says about their neighborhood. Classic nimbyism. Classic shmucks.

But I did agree with the jewelry shop owner a couple doors down, worried that his business (already displaced once due to land grabs to the east) is now vulnerable. And I agreed that one key piece of the EZ Pawn model -- payday loans -- is a scourge in an area where unemployment and foreclosure are running amok.

But mostly I'm worried about what's happening to my local retail corridor. The longstanding funeral home has already closed. My favorite portrait studio is in the process. We've lost taquerias and Chinese restaurants, independent dollar stores and barber shops. I fear our beloved hardware store is next.

No, this area isn't ripe for the Gaps and Trader Joes of this world, but the T-Mobiles and the Wal-Marts may well be on their way. Before my favorite storefronts are papered over and sanitized, I thought it was worth displaying the good old days of anything goes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


This is the Arts of Life band. It may be a little tough to tell from the photo, but half the members are developmentally disabled. When we went to see them play an outdoor show in the neighborhood some weeks back -- a period it's still tough for me to write about, because it was our earlier and better normal, when Inez was still there to greet us when we came home -- I admit to thinking, "Oh, this will be really sweet," or "Wow, that band leader is doing the work of kings."

On the first count, I was wrong. It was completely badass.

On the second count, also wrong. The guy who assembled this band, who also runs a small gallery one neighborhood over (the same neighborhood where I work, where this guy has taken no small amount of flack for being one of the bellwethers of gentrification) doesn't beam with pride over his singers and drummer. He doesn't slowly say, "1 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . . 3 . . . . ." to make sure they're ready to start. He doesn't demand louder applause for his differently achieving musicians. These are simply his bandmates, and he responds to them as he would any bandmates. By playing the songs.

Those songs may be about a shark attack, a bear eating garbage, or a rap homage to one of the singer's home towns of Brookfield, Illinois. Here's a taste if you can handle the rock.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Inez was here

On Friday we lost our best thing: Our beautiful sweet soul Inez, who showed up on our porch seven years ago and essentially made us a family.

The loss was sudden and unspeakably painful. We had her, and then we didn't. Her absence leaves a terrible emptiness in this house that we're not yet ready to fill with our memories. We know those memories will come. They come already, but they bring with them such piercing heartache that we push them away. Later. Later.

For now we stumble through the hours, challenged to tackle each of those first things: The first morning waking up with her gone, the first step into the kitchen where she took her breakfast, the first entry into the living room where she sneaked onto the sofa strictly forbidden to her. The first time sitting on the family-room couch -- her couch -- and the first time realizing it still smells of her body. The first time clearing away her food bowls and toys. The first sighting of a collection of her hair on the floor, or on a shirt from the last time she slept on our laps. The first time we let ourselves look at her photos. Say her name.

It's a little like stepping into a very cold ocean. You go in to your ankles -- so cold -- so you step back out again. Then you resolutely go back, stand in the icy undulating water for a few moments so your skin can get used to the temperature. When you're ready, you go to the knees, stand, and adapt. Then to the waist -- this may be the hardest stage, when you can start to feel that tingling on your back, and you resist, stretching taller and holding your elbows out, tempted to think this is all I can bear. But you wait, settling in as your skin gets adjusted. Ready to go a little further. Up to the middle back, the shoulders, the neck. And finally, boldly, you duck your head under the water until you're brave enough to open your eyes, then swim.

Right now we're in to our baby toes. Maybe today or tomorrow, we'll wade.

We miss you, little girl. Thank you for finding us.