Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.


Fannie and her big blue car

Windmill Cookie

Windmill Cookie

We had just moved into the big house on Van Buren Ave. in St. Paul in 1968. There were only four of us kids then, my two younger sisters were still babies. My mom didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood except Fannie, a rather plump, proper lady who lived straight across the alley from us facing Blair Ave. I’m not quite sure how they met, but I think it was at the laundromat that used to be on the corner of Blair and Dale, the one with the 5¢ Coke machine that dispensed glass bottles.

When Fannie walked, her girdle and underthings swished beneath her dress. She always wore a pastel-colored dress, even in the winter. She had white hair that was cut short and gold-framed glasses. I don’t remember her ever smiling, but her face was friendly and pleasant to look at. It was the face of a calming, comfortable grandma.


Living in the land of plenty

Donut - Land of Plenty

I remember growing up in St. Paul, there was a donut shop on University and Dale that made the best raised donuts in the world. They were big and my favorite was a chocolate with crushed peanuts on top. We would take a special trip there every few months and only get one donut for each of us. The donut would take forever to eat.

We had the same relationship with the Dairy Queen on Rice St. We would visit the DQ on the Sundays our family drove down by the Mississippi to watch the barge traffic. We didn’t go for those drives often and we would always only get a small cone per kid. No matter how hot it was, that ice cream would last for a long time.


It will soon be September

September Leaf

It is mid August and it will soon be September.

I always get a bit nostalgic when September rolls around. It marks the end of summer but it also makes that calendar crease when the new year we were just celebrating tips into the bucket of another year gone by.

I get a bit lonely, but cheer up thinking about the smell of fall, the crackle of leaves, the feel of crisp morning air drawing inside my nostrils, the smell and feel of my favorite leather jacket that is about twenty years old and the holidays which are now right around the corner.


Baying at the moon

Photo of the moon

I grew up in that period of awesome where kids thought walking on the moon was the best things anyone could ever hope to achieve. I was probably not ever going to get to the moon, but I wanted to see it.

I wanted a telescope. I wanted a telescope with enough power to see the flag Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the surface.

That didn’t happen and hasn’t yet. Maybe someday.


How I accidentally learned German and the real meaning of cheating

I was going through an old high school yearbook and came upon this photo above. It reminded me of my typing class a very long time ago.

My dad worked at a heavy equipment dealer that sold bulldozers, backhoes and road-laying equipment. He used to bring home tons of stuff that the company would just throw out anyway (at least that what he said.) Among our valued possessions as kids were typing stands, huge nuts and bolts, big boxes of railroad marking chalk, a large slate chalkboard and lots of manual typewriters the company was getting rid of when electric ones came out.


Cool your jets – a #letsblogoff post

When I was offered a job with Huffy that moved me from Minneapolis to Dayton, I was a young, ambitious, go-getter. Go, go, go. I supposed that is why they wanted me; lots of energy, lots of ideas, gonna change the world.

There was the courtship, the salary dance, the relocation package, the offer letter and then that period of silence. I was eager to get things decided, locked down, set on a to do list, go, go, go and these people were not returning my calls. What the hell was going on? I needed to know!

And then I get a call from Sandy, an older woman in the Human Resources department whom I knew only vaguely. She would later turn out to be a very good friend.

“Cool your jets,” she said.

I learned all I needed to know about salesmanship from those three little words, only I didn’t know it at the time. I learned that there was a natural ebb and flow to persuasion, that people needed time to process and that the timing and candace of information delivery was just as important as what you told them.

I learned how to be patiently calm in the eye of a storm.

I’m using this technique now with you in this blog post. Did you notice?

Does it affect how you feel about me that I told you?

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Toy Story 4; Sallie’s Rescue

Yesterday was trash day. We got halfway around the block and Sallie “rescued” this baby Kermit with no eyes from one of the boxes thrown outside for bulk pickup.

She carried it home gently in her mouth and has been “protecting” it from Charlie ever since.

Watch what you say, the kids are listening

Several months back, my daughter (who is now 19) and I had a quick text message exchange. I can’t remember what it was about, but I’m sure it is archived somewhere in the bowels of the AT&T servers if I ever run for some government office. As she is prone to do, she asks: “Do you need anything?”

Apparently feeling rather frisky, I typed back:
I don’t need anything. Well, serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee. 😉

On Christmas Eve, she gave me a series of presents that had me a bit confused, until she showed me the text message she had saved for months. The presents are below.

serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee

The book is to help me find serenity in the nuthouse I find myself in daily, the glass jar was filled with shiny bits of blue and silver tinsel, the candle scent is ‘morning mist,’ the dog wags his tail and lifts his head when you press his back and the coffee mug is always waiting to be filled.

Thank you! Not only did she give me a present, but she gave me a story which is worth more than any present she could have wrapped. I have the best puppies in the world.

Merry Christmas everyone. And remember the kids are always listening, especially when you’re babbling.


Optimism is having faith in youth — a blogoff

I spent about ten solid minutes this afternoon just staring outside my office window yesterday afternoon. The wind had kicked up fiercely, the sky had gone gray and the yellow leaves were blowing off the roof, falling all around like snow. I had no particular thoughts other than how beautiful this little scene was, that a scant few weeks ago these leaves were green and alive and that they would fall to the ground, decay and turn into rich soil for the next crop of leaves in the spring. It was at once a very sad mourning and a moment of hope and optimism for a new season.

I have no doubt there will be another spring, but I have no reason to believe that other than there was one earlier this year and the year before that and the year before that. I suppose there will be one autumn where I will be wrong, but I hope that is a long time off, despite the best efforts humans have undertaken to destroy each other over the past decade. And the decade prior to that. And so on.


Bastille Day 2010: I speak French for the first time

Today is Bastille Day. I realized this morning that I have a ton of short stories from my childhood just collecting dust. So, I thought I’d share one a year until I run out or die, whichever comes first. For those of you who know me, I am half French, descended from the mighty Pelletiers and Boutots. A brief search discovers that half of them stayed drunk long enough to wake up late on the wrong side of the river bank after the Treaty of Paris. Being French, they simply did not care all that much about a river between them. Still don’t.

2010 story: I speak French for the first time
When I was a pup of about ten years old, my grandmother — who was almost sixty years old — boarded an airplane for the very first time in her life in Bangor, Maine and flew to visit our litter of five halfway around the world in St. Paul, MN. My grandfather chickened out at the last minute and stayed home. It must have been terrifying for her, but she insisted on seeing her grandkids before she died.*

She had lived her entire life in the very small town of Fort Kent, Maine, just a skip across the St. John River. She spoke no English and we spoke no French. My parents were adamant about us assimilating.

To prepare us for our grandmother’s visit, my mom taught us only one phrase in French:
Je ne parle pas français

When my grand-mère spoke to us kids, we were supposed to say that. As pretty as the French language was, we ended up making it ugly by saying it like a sing-song-y rhyme that Sesame Street would be proud to own the rights to. It would have embarrassed even the French soccer team.

On the first day of the visit, my dad went to pick up his mother-in-law from the airport while we all waited anxiously at home practicing our “French.” When his car came back, this very short, very round, very stern-looking women in a flowery dress steps out, clasping her beige handbag in front of her.

She spoke. And my sisters froze up. And I piped up, “Je ne parle pas français.”

There was a short silence as this old woman welled up in tears, dropped her handbag and rushed toward me with her arms outstretched. She hugged me tight, her round, ample body enveloping me like a huge down pillow. When she finally let me go, she went and wet-kissed all us kids on the foreheads and cheeks, blurting out a string of non-stop French that I had only heard previously from my mom when one of us kids had done something that warranted a very large wooden spoon made of virgin-growth forest oak and a chase around the house.

I learned later that she was so happy that my mom had finally taught us some French and kept the tradition alive. Apparently the language thing was a big deal between mother and daughter. For the next ten days, I heard my mother speak nothing but French.

She seemed happier.

Happy Bastille Day. Drink too much, eat too well, sing too loud and hold a kiss too long.

*Never underestimate a stubborn Frenchwoman. They are all stubborn.

You can go home again; how social media takes us back

Image of Jeff Pulver
Jeff Pulver as he appears on twitter

Every morning, Jeff Pulver shouts out random “Good Morning” tweets. Maybe they are not random. Maybe he has a rotating plan or maybe he shouts out to people who are on twitter when he is. I don’t know.

But I do know that I watch for these good morning shout outs and each day, they take me back to my days as a puppy, growing up in St. Paul, MN and listening to the Boone and Erickson show on ‘CCO. Every day, at 6:00am, these guys would pick several communities to shout out to and then sign “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain as sung by Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor. I woke up to them every morning as a puppy.

A really short excerpted clip is below, but you can find all sorts of archived WCCO stuff here.

It’s a really small thing. No matter how complicated and new-fangled all this technology gets, ultimately it is about the human — or canine — experience. And the really cool side benefit for Jeff is he pretty much “owns” good morning on twitter.

What little thing on twitter takes you back?

Regardless of how large the world is, at some point you being here will matter

Mother bird feeding her young

How many birds are there at any one time on the planet? There must be billions. It is not an idle question, though frequent readers here are probably starting to doubt I will get to the point any time soon. Patience.

Last year, a family of birds made a nest in a little crevice between the siding and the roof over the garage of the doghouse. I didn’t have the heart to forcibly evict them, so I let nature take its course and eventually all the small birds grew up, learned to fly and they were out. I then went up there with a can of foam and sealed that crack up tight.

Or so I thought.


Steve Jobs is just making silver-painted Styrofoam police badges

The iPad has been out for a day now, so that should have been enough time for all the pundits and Apple-know-it-alls to gripe about what is missing from the iPad, what should have been done differently, etc, etc, etc. And they are all very wrong because Steve Jobs really doesn’t care what you think or want. I know that has also been said before but before you dismiss me as another me-too thinker, let me share a short story with you.

When I was a puppy, we used to play a lot of games like cops and robbers. My parents were good Catholics, so that meant there was a rather large litter of us, all pretty close in age. My dad didn’t make much money and my mom was a stay-at-home, always in the kitchen, don’t bother me kind of mom, so there wasn’t a lot of money for toys. We made a lot of necessary accessories like pistols and billy clubs out of tree branches and whatnots. (It was a long time ago; guns were ok toys back then, even pretend ones made out of twigs.)

When I was about nine or ten years old, we got a catalog in the mail that had a whole section of cop badges you could order. Suddenly, without question, our cops needed badges. I started making badges using the Styrofoam trays meat was packed in. Turns out, if you traced the outline of the badge from the catalog, cut it out and then traced the inside detail lightly with a dull pencil, it would make an embossed badge. Paint that with silver paint used for model cars, tape a safety pin on the back and you had yourself a slick looking police badge.

Then I got to thinking that if I thought this was a good idea, other people would to. I made a few more and sold them to other kids who played the cops in our games for I think $.25 or something like that. Nobody really needed the badges to play a cop in cops and robbers, but it sure made the game more fun. After a bit, nobody wanted to play a cop unless they had a badge.

But here’s the thing: I made the badges because I wanted to create a game where the police characters sported really cool badges. I didn’t much care if they had all the features that others wanted (like a multi-color seal or gold eagle and silver base) or even if they were necessary for the game. In my mind, a world that had cops without badges was just not going to be a world I wanted to be in, pretend cops or not. If other kids thought it was a cool idea and wanted to buy a badge, that was ok, but it wasn’t necessary for me to have a market for silver-painted styrofoam badges for me to make the badges.*

And that ultimately is how I think Steve Jobs sees his world. He created the Apple computer because he wanted a world where small, personal computer existed. He created the iPod because he wanted a small, portable music device that worked in a non-technical way. Same kind of thing for the iPhone and iPad. The fact that lots of other people want these kinds of things too is incidental.

Steve Jobs is just making silver-painted Styrofoam police badges.

*The product line branched out to cop hats (made out of blue construction paper, kinda cool really) and belts before I grew up, discovered girls and that was that.