Life as we know it
Tim Torkildson: “Subject: The Washing Machine and I.
“Today I did a load of laundry, after stopping by Fresh Market for groceries this morning. I asked the cashier, Evi, who comes from the Philippines, for $3 in quarters. The washer takes $1, and the dryer takes 50 cents, so I have enough change to do two loads. I used to spend an additional quarter on the dryer when I did my towels — but now, with summer at last making a tardy appearance, I hang my wet towels out on my patio chairs and let the sun save me the spare change. I try to bring them back in after an hour, since the limp, disconsolate things make my place look like a trailer park.
“I can’t tell you anything about my mother’s laundry in the basement when I was a child. Like the kitchen, the laundry was OFF LIMITS to any and all small fry. She did it alone, and she did it well. I never lacked for clean underwear or socks, and my shirts were always ironed, while my brown corduroy slacks stayed as crisp as a head of iceberg lettuce in the produce section of the Red Owl. How that woman must have slaved, washing for five others, not counting herself. I didn’t learn to appreciate how good I had it until I left home to join Ringling Brothers Circus at the tender age of 17.
“There was nobody to do my undies for me then, I can tell you that. In company with other penurious First of Mays, I saved up my spare change and asked the local yokels where the nearest laundromat was. Sometimes it was a block away; sometimes, several miles away. Most of the time I walked it, with my laundry sack slung over my shoulder like a sailor’s duffel bag. I learned early on never to pour detergent into the washer, over my clothes, until I had deposited the coins and heard the water actually gurgling into the machine — it’s no fun pulling dirty, gooey clothes out of a washing machine that has decided to go on the fritz.
“Good old Tim Holst, my bestest friend in clown alley, took his laundry economizing to an altogether higher level. He bought bars of Fels-Naptha laundry soap and used a cheese grater to flake a cup into his laundry. He figured he saved a dollar a week doing that, instead of investing in a box of Tide. I was never convinced that the grated soap ever completely dissolved; his clown blouse and pants smelled and looked clean at the end of the cycle, but they seemed a little gummy to the touch.
“When Amy and I bought our first house as a married couple, in Bottineau, North Dakota, there was no washer or dryer in the basement. Instead, it was filled with an ancient rainwater cistern that left little room for anything else except a few wobbly wooden shelves for preserves and a sclerotic oil-burning furnace. We made do with the local laundromat until our first baby, Madelaine, came along. Then there were diapers to wash. Not for us those disposable thingies — way back then, they were outrageously expensive and none too reliable. They came unstuck in the car or in church, creating a smelly hullabaloo. And let me remind you, or inform you if you have never had the privilege of being a parent, that babies fill their diapers, at alarmingly frequent intervals, with substances that would put mustard gas to shame.
“So we scanned the Classifieds for a cheap washer. And I mean CHEAP. We finally settled on a 1925 Maytag for $25. It was a large galvanized tub, with an electric motor underneath that turned a metal paddle inside the tub back and forth at a sluggish rate. Attached to the tub was an automatic mangle, run on a pulley from the same electric motor that powered the lethargic paddle. I had to manually pull each piece of laundry out of the tub and start it into the mangle. Out of the other side came clean clothes flattened into flatbread proportions. I got my fingers nipped a few times by that blasted mangle; that’s when Amy discovered I knew a few choice words I had picked up during my years with the circus.
“I am not a spokesman for Maytag, but I gotta say that that old antique ran forever and never gave us any problems. Which was lucky, since getting dirty diapers clean in a contraption like that took several changes of water — done with a garden hose. We never did get a dryer; we just hung everything out to dry, rain or shine. Defrosting a frozen flannel shirt on a sub-zero North Dakota morning will always separate the men from the boys.
“Nowadays the laundry room in my senior apartment building is but a few steps from my front door. I feel no need to sit on the uncomfortable chairs the management provides to guard my duds. (Why is it laundromats have the most uncomfortable chairs in the world?) I can sit at my ease in my apartment, perusing my Kindle, until I hear the ‘click’ of the washer spinning to a halt or the ‘clang’ of the dryer ending its cycle, then stroll out my door and gather up my laundry. I devote a mere two hours to laundry each week. The rest of my time is taken up with growing chives on my patio and putting out cracked corn for the timid quail that like to come by, single-file, right before the sun splits the mountains in half each morning.”
The highfalutin bemusements
Or: Our times (It Just Don’t Add Up Division)
Ramblin’ Rose: “Subject: The Asterisk Rules — or: When 2 = 6.
“I recently made a purchase online, which I always try to work to my advantage. A substantial discount on an item and/or free shipping is always my goal. This time, it was a double bonus: 25 percent off plus free, two-day shipping. Woohoo!
“I put the item in my ‘cart’ and proceeded to checkout. The discount appeared. Great! The two-day free shipping stayed. Yes! It was my day. I finalized the purchase.
“Wait — there is an asterisk.
“The free, two-day shipping had a few caveats: Saturday, Sunday, and the Monday holiday did not count as days. Neither did the day I placed the order, Friday. Estimated delivery was the next Thursday, six days later. So, in the alternative universe that is the online world, two days equal six, and that is accepted as fact.
“The Math Nut just rolled his eyes.”
Our birds, ourselves
M.A. from Cottage Grove: “On May 20th, I spotted a very rare visitor at my bird feeder.
“It is a scarlet tanager.
“In all my years of birdwatching, I had never seen one.”
This ‘n’ that
From Al B of Hartland: (1) “I watched an American redstart female gather plant fibers for nesting material along Albert Lea Lake. A little boy told me redstarts were junior orioles.
“A correspondent from Mankato told me about a shopper at Aldi who had bought three cases of grape jelly. The orioles in that person’s neighborhood were eating well.
“I attended an outdoor church service at a state park when a hooded warbler landed on one of the pews. It was the first time I’d gone to church with a hooded warbler. Hallelujah!
“The gnats have been terrible. Vanilla extract or vanilla essential oil seems to repel the little buggers. Some people mix it with water and use it in a spray bottle. The gnats will leave you alone, but people will be attracted to you because they think you’ve been baking.”
(2) “I was walking with a friend at Caswell Park in Mankato. We were talking about important stuff that might have brought peace to the world when a woman’s voice yelled ‘Amber!’
“We both stopped and looked toward the voice. We were two men, neither of whom was named Amber. Why did we stop and look? Because men are listeners.”
BULLETIN BOARD OBSERVES: That may be so — but, as any woman could tell you, not always good listeners!
Our pets, ourselves
The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: The General.
“Dog lovers have a number of them throughout their lives. The Good Wife and I have lived with dogs since shortly after our wedding, 54 years ago. One dog that stood out in our canine adventures was the General.
“He was what you might call a rescue dog, in that he was given to us by a couple being assigned to Guam. He had already been named General because, we were told, he barked his orders.
“General was a big dog — I mean really big, even for a Saint Bernard. When we were in the process of moving from Laramie to Wheatland, Wyoming, General had to ride over in a horse trailer. It seemed odd to residents of Laramie for a horse trailer to bark instead of making equine sounds.
“When we settled into our home on a country road, General and our other dog, Rusty, went out to explore their new surroundings. Doris, who lived about a half-mile down the road, said that when she first eyed General, she thought that someone’s Shetland pony had broken loose. So she grabbed a halter and went out to round it up. It was then that she met General, a loving Saint Bernard.
“Farther down the road lived Don, the Boot Maker. The Good Wife thought it would be nice to have him make General a custom leather collar, a full 32 inches in circumference. A few minutes later, before she arrived home, Don called me on our eight-party telephone to say that surely the Good Wife was mistaken. She could not possibly have meant 32 inches. No dog had a neck that big. I told Don that he’d better make it 34 inches, lest it be too tight. He was a big dog. We still have that collar today, and I can wear it as a belt.
“There were some Scottish Highland cattle with long horns in the pasture across the road. When General would walk up to the fence, the cattle would run away — even without this huge European-bred Saint in pursuit. One afternoon, the owner of this herd of Highlanders motored up our driveway and rolled the window down, presumably to complain about the General. He had no sooner finished saying his cattle were frightened by the dog when General lumbered up to the driver’s door and stood up, placing his front paws on the window sill of that four-wheel-drive pickup. The dog’s nose was not more than a few inches from the cowboy’s face, who then finished his statement with ‘. . . but that’s OK.’ He drove off and never came back.
“This was back before smartphones and Facebook. People would turn on the local radio station to know what was going on, even in the community. One cold winter day, General didn’t come home. Well, we called the radio station, which broadcast the report of a missing Saint Bernard. It didn’t take long before we got a phone call saying a big Saint Bernard was lying on the couch of their front porch. It was only a few miles away, and on this blustery day I drove over to bring General home. He did not want to get off the couch. We struggled and pushed and pulled and finally were able to load him onto the back of my pickup truck. When we got home, the General would not get out of the pickup. Something was wrong, so we went straight to the vet. That was another struggle, and I understand that the vet assistant immediately went to the medical clinic to have his back checked. It turned out that the General had frostbitten testicles and did not want to walk at all. Oh my!”
And now Norton’s mom of Eau Claire, Wisconsin: “Subject: I’m still alive and working on kicking.
“Beagle Norton, senior cat Maynard G. (the G stands for Walter [Bulletin Board notes: just as it did for Maynard G. Krebs!]), junior cat Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Brunswick (call me Gracie), Norton’s dad and I lived through the winter (I really hope it’s over now) and celebrated Norton’s birthday last week with a cake topped with his favorite things to bark at and/or chase: a miniature riding lawn mower, a miniature garbage truck and a squirrel figurine.
“We were really happy to celebrate something positive after the fall/winter we survived. And it wasn’t just the weather.
“Last fall, our 18-pound (now down to about 13 pounds) cat Maynard went into remission from the diabetes he’d had for years, but was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis. He was put on a special diet of $2-a-can cat food into which we had to (and still do) mix a crushed-pork pancreatic enzyme pill and let it set for 15 minutes to allow the food to bind with the pill particles. He can’t tolerate any other food without upchucking, so our attempts (at the vet’s suggestion) to gradually introduce other foods were stopped after we realized that waking up at 3 in the morning to the sounds of a cat throwing up was not our favorite kind of alarm clock. He is still in remission from the diabetes, but remains on his rather expensive diet.
“At the end of December, beagle Norton was diagnosed with a torn ACL, but did heal without surgery, simply (?) by being kept quiet (no running or jumping) for about three months. Other than a slight setback when he tried wrestling with cat Maynard, his playmate from his puppy years, he recovered nicely, and we have resumed our trips to the dog park, where he sniffs everything and once in a while joins in a run with other dogs.
“Our cat Gracie is young, healthy, causes no problems, and because of that is sometimes overlooked . . . and this is why that happens:
“Maynard tolerates his special food, but spends his whole life, when he isn’t sleeping, trying to outsmart us humans and get a taste of either dog food or Gracie’s cat food (or even leaves/dried grass that we bring in from outside on our shoes). We have to watch Norton while he eats, or Maynard will just go right up to the food dish and Norton will back up and let him eat his food, or we have to hold Maynard. Putting him in another room with the door shut doesn’t work, as he can open all the doors. We thought we’d found a place to put Gracie’s food where Maynard couldn’t get at it, but he found that by climbing onto his bar stool, placed by the front window specifically to give the cats a place to see the world (birds) and then jumping from there to the top of my recliner, and then to the tabletop where we put Gracie’s food (because we thought Maynard couldn’t jump that high), he can quickly gobble up some of Gracie’s food. Now, every time we leave the house, or even the room, we have to take Gracie’s food dishes and put them in the sink where we are sure (sort of) that Maynard won’t get to them. And Norton’s dish has to be either empty or on top of the fridge. And we have to remember to do that — the hard part. We found out that everyone can eat the pork-enzyme-treated food, so we can leave Maynard’s food out so that he can eat small amounts at a time, which is the way he eats; doesn’t eat it all at once.
“In addition to the pet-related challenges, Norton’s dad and I both had head colds that lasted six weeks, and backs that hurt from snow relocation and from sopping up water from the basement floor.
“I think you all can understand why I haven’t had time to write to BBOnward, or even to have any interesting adventures to write about. But now summer is here and hopefully will stick around, and maybe my brain will get some fresh air and be able to work on something more than trying to outsmart the animals. Or not. We’ll see.
“Until then, I will keep reading BBOnward, enjoying what everyone else is writing about and the beautiful photos that are posted.
“Don’t give up on me. I haven’t (yet!).”
Donald: “Subject: See, he knew what he wasn’t doing.
“From the ‘SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE’ in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated: ‘Benched by the Mets after twice not running out ground balls, Robinson Cano had to leave a game two days later when he injured his quad running out a ground ball.’”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: That’s funny, and we know it’s not your fault, Donald, but . . . why in the world is that featured under “SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE”?
There’s nothing remotely apocalyptic about it!
Everyone’s a copy editor
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: And . . . the score was?
“This was the headline for the story at the top of Page 5B in the Sports section of last Wednesday’s Pioneer Press: ‘Boston’s speed leaves St. Louis in dust in opener.’
“The subhead read: ‘Bruins take command after falling behind 2-0.’
“Beneath the headlines was a picture from the game, along with 11 paragraphs of description and analysis. The missing piece? The final score. I had to turn to ‘Scorecard’ on Page 4B to find out that Boston defeated St. Louis 4-2.”
Life as we know it
Kathy S. of St. Paul writes: “Subject: (Literal) Roads Not Taken.
“The PBS series ‘Amanpour & Company’ airs some thought-provoking programs. One of them includes an interview with Emilio Estevez, who is both a movie star and a director. Emilio discussed his acting and his film ‘The Way,’ in which he directed his father, Martin Sheen. I immediately placed a hold on it, with my library.
“‘The Way’ is about a father walking Camino de Santiago to continue the pilgrimage his son had started before dying there. The Camino was a pilgrimage route in medieval times, revived after World War II for hiking and spiritual treks.
“A few years back, I met a nice guy when I helped package food for a charity. At a restaurant where my group gathered after our shift ended, he said he planned to walk the entire Camino and camp along the way. His eyes glowed when he said it.
“Which left me in a quandary. If I had said I would love to trek the Camino, I might have developed a relationship with him. Instead, I said I would go along on such a trip, but stay in the towns. Which wasn’t a good enough answer, to him.
“This was one of the pivotal moments I’ve described before. Like the time when three people interviewed me for a library/computer job. The ones on either side were nodding and smiling as I spoke. The guy in the middle was not nodding and smiling — and he would have been my boss. Unfortunately for the library, I later heard that the woman who was hired was a lousy choice.
“Though I never saw the nice guy again, I think of him whenever I hear about the Camino. And wonder if he ever took that trip.”
Till death us do part
An item in the Permanent Spousal Record at the home of Rusty of St. Paul: “For supper last night, we had fajitas with soy-based fake-meat crumbles, lettuce, bell peppers and onions, and a side of black beans.
“Around first light this morning, I started tooting in bed: Toot. Toot! TOOT! That last one elevated the covers off the bed. Heck, it may have elevated me off the mattress.
“The now-awakened wife said: ‘Stop it.’
“‘Get up and take care of that!’
“‘It’s foggy out,’ I replied.
“‘It’s foggy out, and you are hearing the foghorn.’
“We live part-time at Lake Superior. There is an automated foghorn at the breakwater to the harbor. When it gets foggy out, it Toots. Many of us are old enough to recall when foghorns went EEEEE-YOAR!
“‘It’s foggy out,’ I said.
“I’m looking forward to tonight’s meal of split-pea soup with potatoes and soy-based fake sausage, butter bean salad and cabbage cole slaw.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Sounds dangerous. No need to send reports (of your reports)!
Band Name of the Day: The Frostbitten Testicles
Website of the Day: Maynard G. Krebs