Stories of the Week 3/22

In light of worldwide quarantines and mostly bad news from every source, I’m writing a story a day.  Something short and something else to think about.  Here on the blog I’m publishing them once a week.  So here are the first 7…

#1 Ebba

My paternal grandmother was born in 1906, 11 days after the San Francisco Earthquake.  Teddy Roosevelt was the President and became the first President to travel abroad when he went to oversee the Panama Canal project that year.  My great grandparents were Swedish immigrants. They named my grandmother Ebba.  Ebba was Ebba until she was old enough to go to school.  She was 7th of 8 surviving children and her two older sisters, Myrtle and Elsie, took her to school on her first day.  When they signed her in at the office, they had never really liked the name Ebba so they wrote “Evelyn” as her first name and so she was Evelyn (Evie) for the rest of her days even going so far as to legally change it to Evelyn.  At their elementary school, teachers would ask what the children drank at breakfast at home.  They wanted to make sure the children were getting proper nutrition.  Evelyn’s mother instructed her and all the kids in the family to reply “milk” whenever asked even though the real answer was-coffee.  They all drank weak coffee with their breakfasts since it was more economical but they did not want to get into trouble with school officials and so they all lied.

When she was a little girl she lived in a house on Ontario street in Minneapolis.  Very near the site of the current Ronald McDonald House near the University of Minnesota. She lived just steps away from nearly all of her cousins.  Her mother was a brilliant seamstress.  Her father delivered coal for a living via a team of horses.  On census reports his occupation is listed as working in the “fuel industry”. He would get up when it was still dark outside and get his team of horses from the local barn and load up a cart filled with coal.  He would bring the coal from house to house and then go back and load up the cart again only to return the horses back to their stall at the end of the day.   Each day during lunch, my grandmother would walk from school midday to meet him on Ontario street while they ate their lunch and he filled up pails of water for his horses to drink.


 

#2

I recently read an article about how modern teenagers want luxury items that adults have.  (Gucci belts and Louis Vuitton purses and Apple watches) When we (40 somethings) were in high school, we wanted particular things but moderately priced things that would be special and certainly not things boring adults had. And when I think about those things (my beloved periwinkle Walkman, my fuzzy green and red Benetton sweater, my Guess jeans with zippered ankles) one special item stands out so far above ALL the rest.

 

My mother, a fashionista even while camping, always bought me nice things.  I had nice clothes.  I didn’t have a crazy amount of clothes but I had everything I needed and certainly many I wanted.  In high school, spending a lot of time (most of my time) at Minnesota Dance Theater, I definitely did not want to blend in.  I went through an extended phase wearing a karate jacket from goodwill with black pants, black turtleneck and dark burgundy lipstick.  It was a vibe. One time in 1988 (probably dozens of times) I was with my mom shopping at Calhoun Square.  There was a shoe store there many years ago named Josef’s.  Josef’s had expensive shoes, so much so that even the clearance shoes were often too much.  Grown women shopped there.  My mom was shopping and I did what I usually did wandering around looking for interesting shoes having an endless inner dialogue and then suddenly, I fell in love.

 

Black suede.  Kenneth Cole.  Emerald jewel on the top.  They were beauties.  My mom let me try them on in my size.  They were so fabulous.  Jewelry for feet.  And then she said, “I think we should get these.”  I couldn’t.even.believe it.  I flipped one over.  They were $76.  $76 for a pair of shoes for a high school girl in 1988 was just stupid expensive.  I told her-They are $76 DOLLARS.  I literally remember feeling flushed thinking about owning them.  Those delicious suede flats.

 

$76 in 1988 is $166.18 in today’s dollars.  And she bought them for me.  She knew true love when she saw it.  And here is where I get real weird.  I would save them.  I only wore them to school on Fridays.  I wore them on Fridays with my black stirrup pants and my denim shirt OR with my green and black ensemble from UNITS because in my hormone addled teenage brain I thought it made sense to wear my best outfit on Friday, my special outfit,  because it was the impression I would leave on others that would LAST THE WHOLE WEEKEND.  And to that I say what the hell 17 year old narcissism…what.the.hell?  But it was the first time I had something that made me feel a certain way when I wore it.  They were such special shoes.  And a special moment with my mom. And I felt their magic when I wore them.  And…wait for it…I still have them.


#3

 

The summer of 1990 I worked as a server at Jerry’s Restaurant in Eden Prairie.  I was a terrible server.  People would be mad the food took too long or they didn’t like what they ordered.  A smart person would have smiled sweetly and made accommodations.  I said things like, “You know I’m just the one bringing the food to you.”  Needless to say, I figured out I probably was not wired to work in the service or hospitality industry.  I wore a hideous smock thing with an apron over it, tennis shoes and nude pantyhose with my hair in a ponytail.   I didn’t drive so I often walked to work in that ensemble and it wasn’t a terribly long walk but it was hot and pantyhose are an invention of Satan.

 

The same summer, a friend of mine got himself a motorcycle.  He called and said he was coming over to show me and take me for a ride on it.  It was a beautiful day and when he pulled into the driveway I felt like it was a very adult thing to do-own a motorcycle.  He had an extra helmet for me and I climbed onto the back of the bike and off we zipped.  We rode all over the neighborhood.  Winding roads around Anderson Lake Parkway and the up and down hills of Franlo Road and I was hanging on with my spindly arms around his spindly waist as tight as I could.  When we rolled back into my driveway I felt relieved we had lived.  And then I climbed off the back, swinging my leg over.

Wearing shorts.

Some of you may already know what happens when you wear shorts on a motorcycle and are not careful. For those of you who don’t…I burned off a circumference of a baseball sized piece of flesh off of my right calf. It was searing pain because it was searing.  I didn’t want to act like a baby or make my friend feel like it was in any way his fault so I said a quick goodbye and hobbled into my house.

So I didn’t want my parents to know because I felt so dumb and I knew it would probably cost a lot to go to the doctor so I decided I would take care of it myself.  I washed my leg off with cool water, careful not to throw up looking at it and put a giant Band-Aid over it.  I had to work that evening so I put on my pantyhose and limped to work after chugging Tylenol.  Work went poorly, with the limping and slight sweating but somehow I made it home.  Peeling off the pantyhouse was torture and I slept with one leg out of my sheets so nothing would touch the wound.  The next day my dad was home.  So I put on sweatpants.   In July.  I could feel my dad watching me move about the house.  He didn’t say a word.   I kept up light chatter and one sided witty banter until he finally said, “WHAT did you do?”  And then I started crying and said, Irodeonamotorcycleburnedmylegithurtslikehellmylegisfallingoffi’mprobablygonnadiefromit.

My dad stood up and walked toward me, took me by my elbow and pushed me toward the bathroom. He was silent. He slowly, methodically rolled up the hem of my pants to get them up to my knee and could see how I had cooked my leg.  He sighed but still did not say a word.  Made me put my foot on the bathroom counter to get better light.  And then like an Army medic suddenly cleaned, sprayed, dabbed, assessed, put on ointment, sprayed again and put on a larger bandage so it wouldn’t pull at my skin.  He never said a thing.  He was walking out of the bathroom and I said, “Thanks.  Sorry.”

Before he walked down the stairs he said-“When I was your age, Uncle Ronnie had an Indian.  A real motorcycle.  Not like that Japanese thing you were on.  An Indian.  And he let me ride it.  And when I parked it, it tipped over and fell on top of me and I got pinned underneath.”  And then he laughed.

I still have the scar on my leg.


#4

In 1996 I worked at a radio station as an executive assistant.  It was not what I wanted to be doing but it was the best paying job I could get and I owed a big fat college loan.  I worked for a great manager.  It was a really fun atmosphere.  There was a cast of characters that rivaled the show News Radio.  I got tickets to fun things and nice lunches at Ciatti’s with endless breadsticks and occasional gift cards to Macy’s which seemed extravagant.  The station was in Eden Prairie in a tiny shed looking building off of .  They had an FM station.  KMJZ which was smooth jazz.  And an AM station Solid Gold Soul.  The good thing was if the smooth jazz made you want to run your head into a brick wall, you could go downstairs and listen to Motown.

Radio booths are pretty small.  Or at least the ones in that little building were.  The different radio hosts would rotate in and out of there during their shows using a playlist printed off of a dot matrix printer.  In 1996.  The AM station had the most delightful radio host.  He had a small staff and an intern.  The intern was young, eager, attractive, bright…and never showered.  This became a problem since 3 people had to sit in a 5 ft by 5ft space for 3 hours a day.

The manager and the host called me in for a meeting one day.  At the time, I got called into many high level meetings about ordering lunch in or to go on reconnaissance missions to find out who was wasting printer toner.  I sat down and they both looked at each other nervously.  Then I thought I was going to be fired and did a mental scan of what I might have done.  I had not been wasting printer toner.  They explained to me that the young, eager, attractive, bright intern smelled so badly that there were multiple complaints FROM THE BASEMENT LEVEL OF THE BUILDING and they wanted me to do something about it.  And the conversation went a little like this.

Me?

Yes.  We think you are the best person for the job.

I’m the best person to tell her she smells bad?

We think that given the nature of the issue…it would best coming from you.

Because I’m blunt?

Well…

Because I’m younger?

No.

Because I’m a girl?

Yes.

You think it’s better that I tell her.

We think it might come across the wrong way if we tell her.

And so I found myself having to tell her.  It was the most awkward conversation as you can imagine but not for the reasons I expected.  I told her that because we all work in such close quarters we all need to be aware of our personal hygiene and our personal space and I made a joke about how we all don’t need to know ‘so and so’ had onions for lunch.  I was so embarrassed.  But here is why it was terrible…truly.  I had never really spent much time with her.  So when we sat down in the conference room-My eyes were WATERING because the stench was that powerful.

And so three cheers for HR departments everywhere in this world.  I had no idea.


#5

In 1995 my husband and I took a road trip to Chicago.  We were in a red Sebring convertible and it was nothing but sun and blue sky and loud music all the way to the windy city.  I have no clue what hotel we stayed in but we went to Shedd Aquarium and bought sketchy lemonade from a street vendor and went shopping on the Magnificent Mile and drove around exploring different corners of the city.

1996 was back when my husband drove the car and occasionally asked me to look at a map to find a location.  This was irritating for both of us because he has a very good sense of direction and I play the character of Joey on Friends needing to ‘step into the map’ if I really need to find something. And so it went.  Him asking.  Me peering onto the map and rotating it and rotating again and looking around for a landmark that would help me and mostly him giving me look that conveys-I love you but I also want to kill you sometimes.

And so we drove around downtown Chicago and got turned around in our cute red convertible and found ourselves down an alley that we could not exit from.  We were surrounded by tall buildings. Buildings so densely packed it blocked the sunlight.   It was eerily quiet.  A few kids out kicking a ball on a concrete slab.  Not a scrap of nature in sight.  Just walls of windows, many broken and boarded up and a seemingly dead end street.  A few people were outside and looked our way.  And then we finally saw another car.  Two.  Both police cars.  A police officer got out of one of them and held his hand up to stop us from driving further and walked toward the car.

My husband told him that we were lost.  The officer laughed and said-“I would say so. Do you know where you are?”  We both said-No…we were just driving around and we are stuck here.

He said-“You are in the heart of Cabrini Green.  And you should go.  It’s not safe for you here and certainly not in that car.”

And that is the story of how my husband and I got a full police escort out of Cabrini Green.  They have been since demolished.


#6

In 2003 my dad died in February.  I found out the day after his memorial service that I was pregnant with my second child.  I didn’t tell my husband for two more days because my mind was reeling.  In April of that year, my husband won a company trip.  We didn’t know if we should go or not given my mental state and my physical state.  The trip was to Key Biscayne Florida and the hotel they had booked was the Ritz.

We decided to go.  People in our lives told us it would be a ‘good change of scenery’ and it would ‘cheer me up’ and we better go because after having a second baby, travelling would be difficult.  So we went.  I was pretty miserable.  Grief stricken.  Nauseous.  And missing my 20 month old like crazy.  We decided to make the most of it but I was not playing the role of the charismatic corporate wife, a part I was piss poor at playing even under good circumstances.

To make matters worse, many of my favorites were not there.  The company had just handed down a round of layoffs and some friends and their spouses who I had looked forward to seeing again no longer had jobs.

During the day, my husband went to pat-on-the-back seminars and I sat by the pool in a maternity swimsuit, black sunglasses and a giant hat to discourage people from talking to me.  We had spa treatments included.  We had lovely gifts on our bed each night.  Each evening there were cocktail hours, lavish dinners with wine parings, entertainment with after dinner drinks, presentations and tequila shots.  Having never been a huge drinker, it never bothered me that everyone around me could drink me under the table and still get up at 6 the next day.  To each their own.  But as I was sad, pregnant and stone cold sober, everyone looked particularly ridiculous.  Poolside one evening a large humidor was butler passed and then cigar smoke hung in the air.  Then people started ordering bottles of Cristal.  Not two bottles.  8 bottles.  I don’t know exactly what the mark up on a bottle of Cristal is at the Ritz-Carleton but I imagine it somewhere in the neighborhood of FREAKING EXPENSIVE.  Then people ordered more things.  Port. Aged whiskey.  Top shelf drinks I’d never heard of.  My husband was trying to figure out the frenzy when someone explained.  They had a minimum to meet no matter what and it was going to be tough since half the people they expected to attend had just been laid off. They had tens of thousands of dollars to burn.  So they were going to attempt to drink the money.

Cue the nausea.  I was so mad. I thought it was one of the more disgusting things I had witnessed and now I was part of it as I had just inhaled shrimp cocktail like it was my last meal on earth. And I still think about corporate greed whenever I see the city Key Biscayne.  No offense Florida.

But damn that was a beautiful hotel.


#7

In the early 80’s my dad was an attorney and worked for a small law firm.  The two partners, who I will call Mr. A and Mr. B, seemed to be quite the odd couple.  Mr. B was the elder of the two.  He looked ancient to me (as I was in middle school), thinning hair, old man beer gut, glasses but always seemed nice and my dad seemed to if not like him, respect him.  Mr. A was a different story.  Mr. A was a younger, wiry man with the face of a weasel.  My dad thought he was an imbecile except he did not use such a gentle moniker.

Mr. A hosted a party once in his large Victorian house in a small town in Minnesota.  All families were invited.  I had never been in a house quite like theirs.  It had a foyer with a long woven rug and a table in the middle with a vase of flowers.  A Victorian house like I had only seen in movies.  In the backyard they had a large tent set with a buffet complete with large glass jars filled with dill pickles.  There was a maypole and the adults were dancing around the maypole holding glasses of wine.

As it was an all family event, the kids were lumped together to ‘play’.  Mr. A had a daughter about 5 years older than I was at the time, and so I loped off with her since drunk maypole dancing was not an option for us.  I will call her Flap since nobody is named Flap.  First we went to Flap’s room.  She had posters of bands covering the walls.  A stack of tapes next to her boom box.  She went into her closet and dragged out a ton of magazines and tossed them to me on the floor at my feet.  They were Playgirl Magazines.  She said-You can look at these if you want.  Based on the cover, I was pretty sure I did not want to look at them.  Then she suggested we go to the “secret passageway” in her house.  Now that I was interested in.

We went back downstairs, past the round table in the foyer into a den.  It was filled with random things left behind, as dens often are, and she moved furniture around to reveal a small door built into the wall.  I had a real Narnia moment and thought maybe there would be a lion on the other side of the door.  We crawled in through the door and then could stand straight and there was a tiny corridor no bigger than 18 inches wide in between the walls of the house.  The entire house.  The walls were white and light from the rooms on either side lit the corridor.

I followed Flap and she said-“Let’s go spy on people.”   We walked for a bit and made a turn and she stopped and pointed to a crevice in the wall.  “Look.”

We stood side by side on tiptoe and my eyes adjusted until I realized we were looking at the floor in a bathroom.  My eyes were even with the tile.  I could see the sink. I could see the toilet.  And I could see 2/3 of the door. And then someone walked in and Flap put a finger to her lips and I held my breath.  A man walked in and dropped his pants and started peeing.  Flap started silent giggling, I continued to hold my breath.  When he was done he zipped up, flushed and washed his hands.  And when he went out the bathroom door I realized it was Mr. B.

Outside on the lawn the party continued.  I could never look Mr.B in the eyes ever again.  It was the first time I had ever seen a man’s penis.  I was not impressed.

 

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