Wednesday, February 23, 2011


One thing that you need to understand from the start is that Leopold and I now live in a state with a bottle bill. This means that, when you return a bottle, you get back the additional 10 or 15 cents you paid so that you didn't have to figure out a way to carry a liter or two of wine back in your cupped hands.

When I was a kid we used to collect returnables with a vengeance. The walk from our camp to the general store usually brought in enough money to buy two or three comic books (1).

Back then, when you got to the store, you took your cans and bottles to the back storeroom where someone sorted and counted everything. At the grocery store the process was pretty much the same, someone would sort and count what you brought in and then give you a slip for the cashier.

Now, however, in another one of those "you can't go home again moments" we have Clynk. You're given a roll of special green bags to put your bottles and cans into, a roll of labels to use to mark your bags and a little keychain card to activate the door where you drop your returnables off.

And through it all, you don't have to interact with anyone.

What's funny is that I'm learning to use this system in a place where the self checkout lines are always empty. During our first trip to the grocery store I insisted on using one, Leopold occupying his time by ducking away every time a manager had to trip the machine back on or okay one of my purchases. She laughed every time, in a friendly, good-natured way, noting that she'd be back because: "You'll need me again soon enough." I go for full service now.

This is not a place where people bowl alone. At the Home Goods, when I got a little carried away picking up sheets and blankets and topped the heaping mess off with a new dog bed for Finkelstein, the woman behind me offered to give me her cart. I didn't take her up on her offer but thanked her and said, "I just came in for some socks...I just needed one thing."

"Well," she replied, laughing, "You didn't do a very good job now did you?"

This is how things go here. The teenagers behind store counters are friendly. Gas stations are staffed with attendants who fill your tank and wash your windshield. The salespeople at the Best Buy actually come up and ask if they can help you with anything. A woman I had never met before and I ended up having a 25-minute conversation in the middle of the street about good places to get ethnic food and why restaurants don't stay open long around our new rural city home.

Another woman asked politely if she could pet Finkelstein and then told me that her dog is staying with someone else right now and that she was worried she wouldn't get him back. "I've been real sad about that so thank you. That made me feel a lot better."

The plumber who fixed our frozen pipes told me all about where he had been that morning and where he was headed next. The locksmith chatted about the weather and what a hard winter it had been. A local editor traded e-mails with me, responding to a blind inquiry faster than some members of my family would return a phone call.

All of which makes the presence of that Clynk machine so baffling...though it will be nice to have my comics money back again.

1. This is not so much a comment on how inexpensive comics were as the amount of public drinking that took place on those few miles of dirt road.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Watch this space.

So, they don't have a cover posted yet and there's not a lot of information to be had but there's a book coming out that we're going to go ahead and say deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Do I really need a book about tea and tea stories and tea memories and the writings of famous people that have to do with tea?"

To quote the philosopher, "You might rabbit, you might..."

But, more to the point, are you going to miss the opportunity to buy a book that, when Amazombie produces the titles of "Active discussions in related forums", has a list which includes: The Mysterious Nazi or Why Bigotry and Race Hate Thrive in America as well as Temple of the 8th Day Twinkiests (Chocolatey Ho-Hoers also are welcome)?

I just have two words for you.

Marketing. Genius.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


You might never have heard of photographer Michele Iversen...but she might know about you.

She might know that, when you think no one is looking, you're fond of padding around the house in a ratty pink bathrobe eating Saltines right out of the box.

She might know that you always fall asleep just after the start of Masterpiece Mystery, even though you tell people it's your favorite show.

She might know that you only nibble around the outsides of a piece of toast, feeding the remains to the moody parrot that you keep in a cage just to the left of your breakfast table.

You see, Michele Iversen takes what some refer to as surveillance photographs and others would consider stalker-butt crazy. And, while points could be given for both answers, the grainy, crouching textures of her Night Surveillance Series images makes me lean a bit to the latter rather than the former.

I thought of Iversen's photographs the other night when Finklestein and I were taking our last walk of the night. For the most part, the houses in the blocks surrounding our new neighborhood were dark. After all the years that I've spent living in cities the quiet and emptiness of the streets at night is striking.

As we turned the corner and began to pass one of the many giant Victorians that still serve as single family homes in this area I was struck by the image of a man standing in the window of what seemed to be his library. He was wearing a tweedy sweater and was standing back to the window, his hands cupped into one another behind his back. It was his complete lack of motion that drew my attention, that and the fact that his was the only light on on the block.

As he stepped away and toward the light switch I realized that he had been bent over an enormous book that laid open on a table by the window. The kind of book that, in other place and setting, might be wheeled about on a library trolley.

I don't know what it was about that moment with the man in the window, who could have been looking up anything from a word for his crossword puzzle or reading an evening prayer, but it's stuck with me. In my mind it's gone very soft focus...not blurred and covert like Iversen...but gentle, like a Dutch old master painting.

Rest assured, this does not mean that I'm going to start cruising the streets with a camera and a pair of night vision goggles, but it does mean that I'm going to start paying attention when Leopold reminds me to close the curtains.