Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Bad Must It Be Elsewhere?

I've encountered a couple interesting people lately. They're foreign immigrants who work in our city. Minneapolis has large immigrant populations of Somali, Hmong, Indian, Mexican people and many others. You see them everywhere, but I don't hear a lot of stories from my friends and acquaintances about interacting with them unless one happens to work with another. I had some limited contact with Indian citizens during my time at Target, and for that it was valuable, but outside of that my interaction is fairly insular.

I was at Stella's Fish Cafe in Uptown, drinking with friends, when I had to heed nature's call. One of my friends said there would be a man in there who would want to talk, and I had no idea what this meant. It turned out that there's a gentleman who's workspace is the bathroom: he spritzes your hands with soap, offers you a towel when you're done washing, and has a variety of grooming items for sale. I've seen setups like this in TV shows that happen in large cities, but nothing like this in Minneapolis. Having drunk enough to be curious, I ended up talking to him--he would have been easy enough to ignore, which is what most of the patrons seem to do to him. Myself, I wouldn't work in a bathroom like this unless I were a sociologist composing a dissertation.

I didn't learn the man's name but he's from Gambia (or "The Gambia" as my online research taught me), which is a long noodle of a country just under twice the size of Delaware, and it's almost entirely surrounded (except for some miles of beach) by Senegal, on the north-western coast of Africa. His accent was quite thick and I didn't pick up everything but he told me about his travels, getting a sailor's license in Greece, working in New York, and living in a tiny attic in Dinkytown where he paid $50/month for a patch of floor to hold his mattress while earning $6/hour in a custodial position at a local hotel. He had no utilities and saved money by borrowing his friend's phone whenever he needed to make a call. He also wished to iterate how well one could eat if one bought one's own groceries and knew how to cook. Through a series of job upgrades he earned enough money to bring his family over and now his two daughters are going to college, while also working jobs similar to his. I admired his unrelenting diligence but felt ashamed of the kind of work this intelligent and worldly man had to accept.

As of working in a new area of town, I've been checking out new restaurants and stores and such. I think I've mentioned here how I love the pizza at Downtown Diner, which is listed as "Midnight Pizza" on its credit card receipts. It's a tiny little restaurant at the end of the LRT route, sandwiched between a tobacconist and a strip club. This place stays open late, when the bars are running and when they close, so the owner gets to see Minneapolitans at their most charming. The owner is a terse man, and when rarely he speaks his accent is also thick. But I've gotten to know him and he smiles when I come in and we chat.

I've learned he's from Egypt. I asked him how his weekend was and he reported he's been unable to think about anything but his family: usually he sees them every three months but he hasn't been able to afford (either in money or in time away from his business, I'm unclear) to visit them for 14 months. He described how much he misses his mother and his wife. To myself, I wondered what business was like for him: was he taking a hit in the economy, or is he unable to hire and train someone to watch the restaurant for him while he goes away? I thought about how hard it would be for me to strike out in another country, leaving everyone in my family behind, including the woman I've married, and plugging away at an unsatisfying job where I'm routinely disrespected and occasionally threatened by the customers. I wondered what kind of living conditions would have to be present in my own nation to make this option seem like a better idea.

I want to talk more to these people and others who've come to our country as well as to this bitter cold, unfriendly state of Minnesota. Even for someone fluent in English: Rebecca told me about a nicely dressed Caucasian male, carrying a large, unwieldy parcel, trying to flag the attention of other white folk, Minnesotans all, who were determined to ignore him. Rebecca finally talked to him and he only needed directions. He was from out of town and trying to find a downtown business, but he was amazed at how unwilling anyone was to talk to him and offer any assistance. He had been struggling with his package and trying to ask for help for twenty minutes while the hard-working, beautiful men and women of Minneapolis abjectly ignored him.

It's a low state of evolution that believes in "Minnesota Nice."
It's a heightened state that interprets this term as ironic and laughs about it.
It's an even higher state of consciousness that has perceived how badly wrong, how darkly, coldly erroneous the concept of "Minnesota Nice" extends.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ice Wine, Lamb, and Substance D

I'm checking out my site's visitor stats, as I do once every couple of months. I don't imagine I get a lot of traffic, but it's a source of tame fun for me to check in and see who's reading me. The stats would suggest I have two particularly active fans in Hudson, Wisconsin, and Bedford, England. I know someone who used to live in Hudson, and I know two people who are on the opposite side of England from Bedford, so I can't guess who they might be. They could also be automated services, too, as I've seen an influx of referral activity coming to me from Netvibes, a Web site that functions much like Google Homepage. It tickles me to believe, however erroneously, that I have a fan in England: generally I consider their humor superior and believe that they hold us, on this side of the pond, largely in contempt. That someone over there might view me with some esteem would certainly be a feather in my cap.

If this is not so, I request that none speak up to disabuse me of this pleasant little notion.

I'm inordinately delighted that Trader Joe's offers ice wine (my delight will, as my wife reminds me, guarantee that they will soon run out of stock and never replenish their supply). This is a delicious treat first introduced to me by my close friend Heidi, a remarkable woman of perspicacity and judgment. I hadn't heard of it before and, after I finished the bottle she gave me, didn't see it anywhere. Now Trader Joe's has three varieties of it and... I suppose I should stock up before they decide no one wants it anymore.

Many of the things I love end or run out: the anime Gunslinger Girl only lasted two seasons, as did Witch Hunter Robin, Last Exile, and Read or Die, while a completely crap anime like Prince of Tennis can run on for a couple hundred shows. The Herkimer used to make an amazingly delicious Darkwinter Ale, spicy and lovely, and that was several years ago. They only made it during the winter, but after I discovered it for myself it never returned at all. (For that matter, Fate begrudged me a scant three months to date Heidi before she departed our nation.) All of this wells up in my subconscious and I've had a couple terrible nightmares where I've lost my wife, in the worst sense, and most days I find myself walking on eggshells in order to avoid tempting Fate any further. I would rather it take the ice wine.

Today was a productive and then useless Saturday. Rebecca went with her sister to attend a conference on Alzheimer's disease, and I cleaned up the house very thoroughly. When she returned we cooked peppered lamb tips for dinner and watched Through a Scanner Darkly, which was technologically interesting but otherwise complete crap. "Oh, my poor drug-using friends," is P.K. Dick's dedication at the end, "please feel sorry for my helpless drug-damaged friends who, despite noble and high aspiration, only fell prey to addiction." Bleh. I experimented with--and rejected--marijuana, never tried coke or heroin or acid. I have a hard time sympathizing with people who retreat into recreational drug use and suddenly find themselves in over their heads. That's like cheering someone on for playing Russian roulette and then lionizing them after the completely unforeseen circumstance in which they blow their fucking brains out. There's no difference, outside legality, between someone dropping acid and going on the Atkins or South Beach diet: they're both people, lacking discipline and imagination, looking for an artificial shortcut to something that could be had with the effort they can't be arsed to expend. Fucking shortcuts, instant-gratification society. I guess I kind of do have to feel sorry for someone born into the society that ultimately victimizes them. It takes an exceptional sort to defeat that system and, by definition, most people are not exceptional.

Wow, where'd that soapbox come from. It's surprising to discover what's lurking around the corner, waiting to present itself at the slightest provocation. Suffice it to say I'm tired of latter-day hipsters soliciting alternately admiration and pity. I'm tired of hipsters in general, come to that...

This isn't going anywhere. It's almost 11:30 PM but I'm unwilling to cash it in and call it a day. I keep checking my e-mail but no one's writing; nothing's happening on Facebook; less than nothing's going on MySpace, of course. I don't feel like playing World of Warcraft or any of the free MMOs I downloaded, nor the Wii or PS2. I guess I could read, this would be a good night for reading, though if I were very responsible I'd be working on my novel. Three chapters are due in about a month and I've got one done and an idea for the second. I've got to crank out the rough drafts to give my instructor enough time to offer her feedback on them. It's times like this that I wonder why I think of myself as a writer at all: no one else has this trouble, no one who's been published. Gaiman, Wolfe, even on their worse days, they wrote something for the sake of writing something. I don't think blathering into this blog counts as creative exercise. It's writing, only technically, but this is just pointless rambling. Nothing good will come of this.

And yet I don't stop. I don't change direction and do something I perceive as more useful. I can even look at my own process, floating a few feet above my own head, see all the pieces in play and continue referring to it like a color commentator lost for adjectives. A play-by-play by Hemingway. Awesome. I guess I will find a damned book and take a stab at it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey, There's a Cake on the Bus


On the bus on the way to work today, there was a cake.

A girl got on the bus holding this triple-decker chocolate cake with both hands. It sat in a glass plate and was covered in cellophane. You can see a tiny deer figure on the top, if you look closely. It was extremely cute and quite topical: the guy sitting directly to the girl's left in the photo (behind the girl in the image) had all sorts of questions for her, told her how nice it was to see. I had to ask her about it too.

"It's for a potluck for work," she said. It was a chocolate cake with butter-creme frosting and neon icing, a product she recently discovered. I complimented her on the cake, guessing that other people would probably bring a bag of chips or a generic tub of crudites.

And that was that. She was gracious and withstood being bothered by strangers. I asked permission to get a picture of the cake. Then she got off the bus and I rode it to work and went to work and bused home and got the car and picked up Rebecca and my mom and we drove out to Applebee's in Roseville for dinner and then drove south on Snelling to see our niece Sararosa perform in a Hebrew version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and we just got back just now.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Cleaning! Yet Again!

It's Saturday, sunny and clement, and a little dusty inside. The dust is kicked up from all the crap we're moving around: storage boxes coming up from the basement, books and videos being sorted into smaller boxes for dissemination, larger boxes filled with blankets and pillows for donation; all the tape peeled off the wooden window frames, all the windows being thrown open, all in the name of SPRING CLEANING.

I'm moving these things promptly, too. I e-mailed my sister, asking if she wanted the children's bed sets I dug out (Peanuts, Care Bears, and Boynton dinosaurs); she did and they're set aside to wait for her. I e-mailed Jarrin to see if his odeon could use any large sitting pillows; when he came over to collect them, he also claimed the large box of quilts and blankets I was unloading. That's real progress!

Now a cool breeze blows through the sunroom. I'm pouring little steel cups of caramel Irish creme for myself, Rebecca's watching the latest episode of The Daily Show, and the cats are sniffing the fresh air outside or curling up in pools of sunlight on the living room rug.

Yes, tonight I will write another short story, no idea what it's about, but I haven't forgotten. It will be my third, leaving eleven left to go. This should be no problem--when my two weeks are up, I'll continue writing for as long as I think of it. In fact, I should go to my professional page and set up that list of the 154 best novels since 1923, which I'm slowly chipping away at. I think it's not unhelpful for a writer/editor to have such a demonstration that he's well-read.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If I Wanted Then What I Want Now

My grandfather told me a great story once, a Romeo & Juliet tale about the son of a cattleman and the daughter of a sheep herder. A true story, taking place several decades ago in Idaho. If you go back to your Droopy Dog cartoon archive, you will remember at least one cartoon about a fierce rivalry between a powerful cattle owner and Droopy's ravenous flock of sheep. Yet another cultural document: that was a serious and relevant issue, back in the day.

As I understand it: Cattlemen owned great expanses of land, and their herds could graze and meander for miles, sustaining themselves easily, rotating patches of land and letting them grow. The sheep men came in and their flocks grazed the sparse Idaho brush down to the nubbins. They needed territory, sheep were profitable in their own right, but they were frequently in competition with the cattlemen for land. Sometimes the sheep owners would let their flocks drift over a boundary, sometimes the flocks would wander further than they should have. It was a bloody and emotional war for territory.

So, yeah, imagine how well it could end for a cattleman's son and a sheep owner's daughter to fall in love. History repeats itself all the time, and there was no happy ending this time either.

When my grandpa told me about this story, I didn't have any recording equipment with me, not a tape recorder, not a book and pen, to my deep regret. Now grandpa's not mobile, his condition is declining rapidly, and even if I could muster another round-trip ticket to visit him, he's not in the best shape for me to hassle a long story from him. I've wasted a lot of opportunity: many interests in the past would have been facilitated by advances in technology--most notably, photography--and I had no appreciation for the other resources at my disposal. Now I'm older and filled with regret, a pattern I expect will play itself out for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh So Many Workouts

I woke up roughly--i.e., in a rough manner--to the strains of my wife's displeasure with her wardrobe. There are days like this, despite the improving weather. I finished the coffee she kindly made for me, stumbled into the living room, and fired up the Wii. I selected My Fitness Coach from the main menu and drilled through to my workout file.

I wasn't able to recall my dreams, though I know I had them. It's been a long time since I removed my mouth guard in the middle of the night, too: it guards against bruxism. My teeth used to be slightly longer and more attractive than the nubbly little things that peek through my smile now. Last night I resolved to set up some steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker but completely overlooked this, just as I forgot to grab the oversize pomelo sitting on the dining room table for the past week.

Maya, my personal trainer, came up on the TV and greeted me briefly before chastising me for missing my workout schedule. I hung my head and took it, then selected a 30-minute cardio workout, in the hope of waking me up. Ten minutes into it I was wide awake, flinging my limbs from exercise to exercise, leaping over the step bench, rolling out the stability ball, straining through narrow pushups, &c. Sweat beaded up in my eyebrows, my sleep-oiled hair sent probes of locks into my eyes, and my skin felt like it was on fire. I'm so out of shape.

I had a long poo, took a quick, hot shower, and threw on Irish-appropriate (or at least Anglo) clothes for the day. I happen to own a green-and-black Guinness-themed rugby shirt: that'll do. The cats milled about as I packed my satchel with books for the day, but they retired to the "kitty Internet" (i.e., front windows) by the time I zipped up my jacket and ran out of the house.

Not trusting the efficiency of my decisions and movements, I ran to the bus stop, wondering if this would be the one day it was on time, in which case it would be a close shave. As it happened, it was on time and I saw it sail past my stop when I was half a block away. I continued running to the end of the block and saw the bus approach a green light, one block north. What happened next would determine whether I sat and sulked for another ten minutes.

The bus pulled to the corner and picked up a passenger as the intersection lights turned yellow. I had just enough time if I hurried: I hoisted my books under my right arm and ran up the block, alternating my breathing every two strides. I'm so not in shape for running, despite my morning cardio workout. At least I'd burn off more calories--balance out my intake from my daily Clif bar, waiting for me in the office.

My bus-catching technique is standard: hug the curb so you're in the driver's rear-view mirror and never stop running. If you stop to walk, you appear arrogant, you look like you didn't need this bus, and the driver has plausible deniability to pull away and leave. But the driver drifted away from the curb, aligning himself more in line with the outside lane of traffic. He must've seen the cross street light turn yellow and was preparing to leave.

Some drivers meet you more than halfway to help you get your ride. If you wave from across the street, they'll wave back and wait for you. If they see you in the mirror, they'll brake and open the doors in anticipation.

This was absolutely not one of those drivers. This was one of the petty, antagonistic drivers who takes delight in frustrating people. Sometimes they barrel through freshly turned red lights, sometimes they brake too hard, too suddenly at every stop along the route. This driver found enjoyment in denying people a ride on the bus. He saw his duties as perfunctory and obeyed only the strictest letter of the law: if you're not at the stop on time, he feels no duty to wait for you. There's another bus in ten minutes, you can catch that one, and maybe tomorrow you'll try harder to overcome whatever it was that made you miss this one. He considers himself blameless and would be shocked to learn that anyone harbored any grudge against him. And he would never confess to the glee he truly does feel, every time he closes his doors and pulls away from another would-be passenger. He would swear that glee is not his motivation. But you know, and he knows, but he thinks he has you fooled and this is what causes his face.

I did catch the bus. I caught up to the rear bumper and shouted, and I have wonderful shouting pipes due to four years as frontman for a local band. I have stopped vehicles with my voice before; I almost knocked a man off his bike with my voice alone. I made a family of four jump, in unison, once. My voice is a handy tool and it did not fail me this time. I shouted, and the bus braked immediately. I ran all the way to the door, thanked him (despite gasping for air), paid my fair, and as I walked away he muttered about how I nearly caused a traffic accident. He complained that I nearly caused the truck behind him to rear-end the bus. He didn't say this to my face, he muttered it in the echo chamber of his little cabin after my back was turned and I was walking toward the back of the bus. He muttered through his expression, the aforementioned face which I will now explain.

He had a white shirt and gray knit vest. He wore a peaked black driver's cap crusted with little gold-tone and enamel pins. I haven't studied any of these pins but some of them must represent gratitude for years of service and others denote exemplary service--either he stole the latter or he was a good driver in his day, before something broke him and he learned to delight in causing anguish.

More than all his dozens of little pins, his face is the true badge of his station. Framed by a fringe of wiry salt-and-pepper hair, his skin is pallid and chalky, like that of someone coming out of surgery and who had rarely previously seen the sun. His thin, fuchsia lips are perpetually curled in a sneer of bemusement. He wore sunglasses beneath his shiny black visor, but based on the deep grooves curling from around his nostrils to the corners of his mouth, it's not hard to imagine the lower lids are distended from years of squinting in contempt. This squint is the visual component that accompanies a head-tilt and "oh, give me a break" or bluer words of dismissal, usually in debates about peak oil, immigration law, or gun ownership. The combination of his features make me think he's probably a Libertarian or a Conservative.

To his chagrin I caught my bus. I sat in the back and caught my breath before pulling out a book to read. When his shift is done, he'll complain to coworkers (who either rabidly agree with him or are sick of his kvetching) about the hellish morning he had, how the passengers were just out of control, how one nearly caused an accident...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Who Will Teach the Kids?

This weekend Rebecca and I visited her parents living in Green Bay. We did the usual: went out to dinner, watched a movie, got brunch (or reasonable facsimile), and did some shopping. We went to Target at one point and I picked up a couple nice Hawaiian shirts, much to my surprise. Rebecca's father, Eddie, purchased a new Braun electric razor.

Once we got home and swapped out several bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs, Eddie went up to charge his new razor and gave his old one, still serviceable, to me. He tested the new razor, shaving around his jaw, his chin, and upper lip. To do the latter he pinched his nose and tugged it upward, giving him a clear ground for shaving but also looking like a cartoon character, his face stretching like rubber.

I was suddenly struck with the realization that some of my personal grooming habits come from Warner Brothers cartoons. Other people learned their techniques and the rules of conduct from their fathers, but my parents divorced when I was seven years old. Through incidental observation I picked up my father's routine of always keeping a comb, a nail clipper, a tube of ChapStick, and a packet of Sen-Sen in my pocket, but my shaving technique comes from Bugs Bunny.

The Warner Bros. oeuvre represent a magnificent cultural document: clothing, sociology, marketing, politics, gender roles are all preserved and represented frankly. Elmer Fudd was often going along with them and Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck were foils to them, or they embodied them when it was ironic they should do so, such as being rewarded with a smoking jacket, plush chair, and finest Cuban cigars after a spree of antisocial behavior. We learn that women like to dress up and go shopping, men have short fuses and their fists are made of iron.

We also learn the details of daily life: Bugs Bunny cartoons are full of barbers sharpening their straight razors on leather strops, steaming a man's face with a hot towel, and lathering them up with a mug of shaving soap. When I made the move from shaving gel in aerosol cans to Burt's Bees Bay Rum Shaving Soap, there were no instructions with the soap and (at the time) no online guides to how this was done. I had to dig deep into my Saturday morning cartoon-watching precedent to remember how this ritual was performed, but I did it. It wasn't that complex but there were no other guides available to me and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. As it turns out, the Warner Bros. cartoons were a comprehensive record of the era.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Performing Editing on Those Still Alive

I ranted elsewhere about Mignon "Grammar Girl" Fogarty, "the Rachel Ray of style and usage."  She puts me in a bad mood.  She's of a collective of bloggers offering tips in various areas of life, all of whom end with "guy" or "girl" or in one case "diva."  Being of the old guard, I take words like diva and guru very seriously; I do not glibly apply them to anyone shooting their mouth off.  Further, I feel appending "guy" or "girl" after an interest and claiming this as your unique monicker is the very sea bed of unimagination: "basketballgirl," "gamingboy," but "analdiva" would be permissable.  There's a 50% chance I'd want to meet such a person, and a 50% chance they are forbidden to approach within a 300' radius of my person.

If you're going to call yourself "Grammar Girl," in particular, you'd better give better advice than "oh, just do what you wanna."

What got me started on this was the purchase of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origin.  Some jagoff got it into his head he'd compile a bunch of strange words with stories behind them.  I'm an etymology enthusiast, I'm attracted to linguistics, but what separates this sad assortment from any number of other books, like, The Superior Person's Guide to Words?  Hell, Weird Word Origin clearly cribs from it, as well as a couple obvious Web sites I looked up.  And the selection is desultory: "from soup to nuts" is a fairly common expression but is not mentioned, while the author has seen fit to explain "bluestocking" which has scarcely haunted a mind of my acquaintance.  As for the word "bug," as in technical error, the author starts in with "the popular story is that it started this way," then decries this notion and explains it actually was in use several decades prior... and then neglects to explore its true origins.  He claims Stephen Colbert invented the word "truthiness," though the OED shows it in coinage around 1824 (J.J. Gurney's Memoirs).

And when under namby-pamby I found he'd written something like "...has come to mean all things week or effeminate," I lost my temper.  I was at work so my red pen was already in hand, and I edited the misspelt weak right on the page.  I tore through the book, pointing out factual and grammatical errors left and right.  After a couple minutes of this it occurred to me that I could have just returned the book to the store and gotten my money back, but this was far too late for that.  It's been suggested to me I could mail this book back to Paul McFedries, the author and self-styled president of Logophilia Limited, belatedly providing the editorial services he should have sought prior to publish.

So I'm on a word streak, and I'm also very discouraged about my judgment as pertains to whimsy purchases.  I've made a couple lousy decisions on the fly about things I thought I needed, things that seemed really appealing to me.  I seem to have lost the intuitive touch as to what I'll truly enjoy and what's a piece of crap, a scam.

And I've also realized that, as hard as I've fought against the rising tide of anti-intellectualism, I have still succumbed to the stigma of being good with words.  Rebecca brought me to a work-related function where her coworkers gathered at a bar, and with them I was quite chatty and fluid, despite never having met any of them before.  But in my own workplace it is quite another story: I'm proofreader/editor there, I've been contracted for my skill with the language, and with that skill comes a sense of shame for having that skill.  Decades of being called "bookworm," "know-it-all," "grammar Nazi," being made to feel like a freak for having a broad active vocabulary, have built up quite a residue on my psyche, and in a room full of laid-back creative types, I feel disarmed, stodgy, and entirely awkward.  I dress casually but I feel like I'm wearing a starched shirt and tie beneath robes and a mortarboard.  I feel like the laity's perception of my role must affect how actual people perceive me, and rather than behaving to rise above this, I hold myself down within the preconceived identity and feebly struggle within it.  It's going to take a long time to hit my stride, and who knows if I'll even be with the company long enough for that to happen: I'm so grateful for and enamored of this position, the universal balance can only swing the other way and take it away from me.  Most of my favorite anime end after one or two seasons, my favorite flavor of ice cream is discontinued, my favorite shampoo and hair conditioner have been taken off the market, so surely I cannot be permitted to retain this dream job.

The only thing that's made me feel good in recent past was my discovery:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Working With What One Has

It was one of those good, long weekends where not a lot happens, but enough things happen to make it seem full when you recall it at the end.

It was Friday that saw Rebecca and I walk up to Calhoun Square, to shop for a burr grinder.  My Braun grinder had served faithfully for several years but by design it really was just a chopper and lately its blade had dulled considerably.  I could have it sharpened but then I'd have a sharp chopper, not a coffee grinder at all.  I'll clean it up and donate it and some lucky college student will explore the thrill of the French press, as I did.  (A thrill second only to the sudden realization that one can make all the stuffing or bacon one desires, at any time of day.)

We were breezily chatting about a range of subjects when, as we entered the Square, a homeless man lurched toward us, not to confront but to solicit.  In Minneapolis, the aware observer has ample opportunity to study and categorize the non-verbals of panhandlers, for they are legion.  They range from maimed veterans who can't work to indolent crusty punks who choose not to, from arrogant and hostile high school students to obsequious and booze-steeped transients (who either walked up from New Orleans or just got off the Greyhound from Atlanta, by wide percentage, though this may be seasonal).  I will not comment on ethnic heritage because, although there is a strong correlation, one quality does not link to or necessitate the other.

This man was a tall, shambling man in multiple layers of clothing--reasonable for the weather--and his right hand pulled out of his pocket to display a small, pathos-evoking cardboard sign.  Rebecca was in the process of politely declining to donate and I was in the middle of another sentence when something inside me snapped.

I remembered that card.  It was a smaller model of the one I'd seen before, which stated in shaky Sharpie that the bearer is deaf, please donate, God bless.  (The poor know to use God as a leveraging tool just as well as clean and well-fed religious leaders do; but whereas the powerful implement the threat of damnation, the weak appeal to charity and compassion.)  In less than a moment I assessed the rest of the man: the visored cap seeming to melt down the sides of his head; the wide, hapless eyes and thick, hapless lips pushing out to haltingly frame an unspoken question; the gentle shoving gesture to push the little cardboard sign at us, to press its message into us.

Interrupting myself, I stepped up and yelled--yelled, in a public shopping center--"No, not you!  I remember you!  Stay the fuck away and do not say one fucking word!"  It was no good: he pretended to be deaf right up until the point I walked past and, as per his style, he leaned down to my ear and whispered, "Fuck you, you piece of shit."

That's what he does.  He's done it to me three other times, his script only slightly varied.  He looks so helpless and offers God's blessing for your assistance, then whispers something insulting and obscene in your ear.  He called one of my friends a "fat cow."  When not panhandling in this pathetic manner, he has been seen hanging out at the SuperAmerica gas station on 22nd St. and Lyndale Ave, chatting with his friends.  He's not deaf at all, but he doesn't drop the act no matter how many times you run into him, even when you loudly announce, as I did, that you know who he is and what he does.

Prior to this, I'd seethed on and off about our previous interactions.  The first time, I didn't know who he was at all and his finishing message really surprised me.  The second time, I didn't recognize him and was shocked to receive the full treatment again.  I definitely recognized him the third time--in all these years, he has not changed his clothes--and tried to shout him down but he pretended to be hearing impaired and helpless right up to the point he whispered in my ear.  These encounters would flash in my mind at random points and my body would seize up with rage and upset.  I was quite primed for the next incident and it's a small miracle I didn't assault him right there.  My wife was stunned to hear me lash out at anyone like I did, and further surprised to hear his characteristic parting shot.

But in the hours that followed, I didn't seethe with rage over the encounter.  It took me a long time to cool down from that abrupt explosion of emotion, but the rest of the day made me feel ridiculous.  We went to a pricey home furnishing store to shop for a fancy-dancy burr grinder which would marginally change the flavor of the coffee we brew for ourselves each morning.  Who knows what this shambling, offensive guy had to eat each morning.  We walked home and I changed out of my street clothes and into an outfit more appropriate for working out, and calmed down with an hour of yoga led by Maya, the virtual instructor in My Fitness Coach for the Nintendo Wii.  But this guy, he apparently had no other change of clothes, probably knew nothing of yoga, and likely did not have a Wii or a large TV to go with it.

All he had was his convenient little homemade sign and the sting of whispering something foul into someone's ear.  It's a lot like when a cat expresses its contempt for you by pointing its pink little butthole at you: they're both working with what little they have.  That's the best they can do and they have no alternative technique.  I found it difficult to stoke a lasting righteous indignation when I had so many measurable advantages over him: a beautiful and clever wife, a job I love, an attractive home in a nice neighborhood, and many other things.  All he had was panhandling and an economy of expletives.

I'm not about to give him a couple bucks next time I see him, and it'll be all I can do to refrain from punching him in the throat, but I don't have the long, slow burn of animosity anymore.

Also, I saw Watchmen and liked it a lot, then helped my wife clean up the house for the "Tea & See" she hosted for my sister's newborn boy.  During the latter, I took out my brother-in-law to check out the spoon bridge in the Sculpture Garden, now that the cherry's been removed for touching up, then to a nice fusion restaurant, and rounded out the afternoon with whimsy shopping at my favorite Vietnamese market, Duc Loi.  Other things happened this weekend, but they're largely overshadowed by this other thing on my mind.