Be a Backyard Naturalist

If you’re having a down week…because you can’t go to work, or can’t go anyplace other than work, and it isn’t officially spring, try getting outdoors in any case. Find out what nature is gifting you with this year. Go online and hunt for the plants you can’t identify. If you’re feeling well, fresh air and exercise will keep you that way (fingers crossed), and keep your spirits up. Take a bag to a city or state park, and pick up trash. Take some photos. And observe the natural world in this interim between seasons.

 

Photo of crowns of two oaks

 

Here are the two crowns of my mighty oaks, which is why I’m still bagging up their humongous leaf fall, and finding ways to re-assimilate so much organic material into the environment.

 

Photo of bird feather

 

This feather is likely from a mourning dove. Notice the beautiful downy stuff at the bottom of the shaft.

 

Photo of piece of wood gnawed by squirrel

 

What’s left of an old landscape timber, having long since lost its weatherproofing. See how these curved spaces are cut out? That’s from squirrels (possibly chipmunks) gnawing to hone their teeth.

 

Photo of hole in tree trunk

 

Here the choicest real estate in the animal world of my yard. Last year red-bellied woodpeckers nested here first, then northern flickers, then through the winter, squirrels. The opening has gotten quite a bit bigger than originally. We’ll see who gets the house this spring.

 

Photo of cypress branches used to prevent washing

 

While doing such chores outside as I can, I clipped back the branches of a cypress shrub. Last time, I talked about the “wash” problem, with so much rain as opposed to wintertime snow. This is one way to improve sloped beds in your garden. Evergreen branch-ends are airy and won’t stop perennials from pushing up, but they’ll slow water running downhill.

 

Photo of daffodils in spring

 

Here’s another chore, when the foliage dies back. You can see I’ve got some good-sized stands of non-blooming daffodils, that need dividing and replanting.

 

Photo of tulips caged to protect from deer

 

I love tulips. When I was growing up, Sunday papers had little magazines, and the magazines always had ads at the back for Dutch tulips, showing fields with rows and rows of color. I don’t know, tulips’ optimum blooming life being short, whether that would be practical and affordable, but it was a little dream of mine to plant so many tulips, one day when I had a yard. Right now, I can hardly keep them safe from the deer (maybe strength in numbers would make a difference), but here’s a way to protect your vulnerable bulbs: cage-style hanging baskets turned upside down.

 

Photo of seeds started under lights

 

And here are this year’s seeds, just now started. Mostly, members of the Compositae family (daisies, black-eyed susans), the flowers deer hate most. I do keep my shelves in a bedroom, where the plants are warm and safe from the cats. It’s not that hard to avoid making a mess. Tip: if you spill dirt, leave it until it’s completely dry before you vacuum.

 

Photo of my grandmother in her rose bed

 

And here’s my grandmother (Vera Barker) in her rose garden, probably from the 1970s. This corner at the back of the bungalow was covered in broken concrete slabs, always a thing I liked playing stepping stones on. I suppose it kept the weeds off…I don’t know if concrete is good for roses. She never grew a lot of flowers, but always had opium poppies, salmon-colored. That might sound strange, but old farmstead gardens were planted with medicinal flowers and herbs, and Grandma kept up the tradition by saving the seeds.

 

 

 

My Sister’s House

Tracy and Sam

 

My Sister’s House

 

My parents helped my sister and her husband buy this house in Cincinnati, in 2007 or 2008. The only way I’ve ever seen the house is in pictures my mother has in an album. (It was sold after Tracy died in 2009…a short time to enjoy that dream of home ownership.) I had a sense, by description, of her place being sort of stuffed with furniture and jumble.

My own house at the time tended to be jumbly, partly because I kept a lot of cats, partly because the house was small and old, and came to me needing a lot of repairs (or renovations) that I didn’t have done. As people in that boat know, when you don’t have places to keep things; when you don’t have closets and shelves and cabinets, or sufficient of these, and when you have a lot you don’t want to get rid of, but aren’t using at the moment…

Things tend to stack up on surfaces. Such as magazines you don’t have time to read. I went through a phase of liking People, Us, In Touch, all the reviews of celebrity gowns at the award shows—around the era of J Lo and Ben Affleck. CDs, DVDs…you’ll remember how much space those could take up, the VCR tapes that preceded the DVDs…

And then I had a lot of shoplights, and burned-out fluorescent bulbs for them, which are hard to get rid of, part of my annual seed-starting. I put a lot into my garden in Chauncey. After years of expansion I was running out of time to keep the yard trimmed and all the beds weeded.

Things accumulate, like new writing projects. That’s one of the difficulties of being at a certain level of income. A rich person with a McMansion probably has, by weight and number, a greater tonnage of possessions than any Appalachian hoarder. But fitting it all in a small space makes appearances more inviting of condemnation than spreading it into dozens of rooms and storage buildings, etc. Income, when your housing, for what it is, doesn’t cost much, and your car is paid for, and you can’t take vacations, because those are outside the budget, and you can’t borrow money to fix things up, because then all your disposable income would go to payments…

And if you work an unhappy job, you need treats. You can buy new clothes, you can buy music and subscribe to magazines. You can take up hobbies and buy the gear for them. So my house was very cluttered. Others in my family had the same habits, and I assumed this of my sister.

But we never saw each other. Our adult lives were spent in a constant enemy state.

I learned from the pictures that Tracy kept houseplants, something our mother started us on in the 70s, when houseplants were big. She (you can see) had a nice backyard with a shed, also a little deck.

So why did we dislike each other?

I did not have friends growing up, which at my present age I don’t mind saying frankly. There are so many people who don’t have friends. They’re under pressure to feel embarrassment, afraid being other than the cultural ideal will lead to bullying. There’s a lot to say on this subject, more than can fit a single post, but think how sad it is so many people enter abusive or miserable relationships, because they would do that to themselves rather than be attacked for living alone. Being bullied is a lifelong experience, middle aged people are bullied in the workplace; even once-powerful people, when they lose control over their lives (as in the nursing home), are bullied.

The dynamic between power and powerlessness is a major driver of bullying. So those who begin life pushed to the margin find themselves stuck there, uncool, disliked for being uncool, shunned for fear of showing friendliness to this ostracized person.

I can’t say what motivated my sister’s early behavior. When we were children, we always played together. When we first came to Athens, my brother and I were pre-school age; my sister about five, and soon enrolled in kindergarten. I remember playing outdoors in the driveway, next door on the sidewalk of Mrs. Chadwick, who babysat for us. One of the great things of my life at that age was the milkman who, delivering to Mrs. Chadwick, gave me a lime-flavored popsicle. Just because…and I think at the age of four I was already somehow indoctrinated into a midwestern peculiarity, which some readers may recognize: the idea that having things—anything at all, I assume, taking into account the jealousies I’ve known—is not fair to people who don’t have them, so any little happiness has to be a source of guilt.

My parents would at times take us to visit friends of theirs who had children, and on those occasions, my sister, who was my friend at home, would go off with the other kids and shut me out. I was left standing around with no place to be in a strange house, where there was nothing I could choose to do, no room I was allowed to occupy, a kind of awfulness I’ve never forgotten.

When we moved to Shannon Avenue, my sister’s best friend was the daughter of a family who lived down the street, a family with four daughters and a son. I was always, for that only period of my life where I had a circle, included. We had campouts in the back yard; this over the side of a hedge from a funeral parlor parking lot, that to kids was place to ride bikes (a time I was daring enough to make curves so sharp they were almost horizontal, and to ride with no hands). We rode bikes in the electric company parking lot across the street. The electric company made an excellent place for kids to visit; it always smelled like fresh-baked cookies, because they had a showroom where electric stoves were demonstrated. And you got Reddy Kilowatt comic books.

Tracy and I talked to each other until our early twenties. She became a non-friend to her little sister as well as, so far as I know, the girl she was once best friends with, at the time she started middle school. In middle school I got pushed out of the group of younger sisters I’d been somewhat friends with, and from that point on, was a labeled person with no possibility of being sought out.

About the fourth grade, homework began, and that was the end of my easy A’s. I could read above my age group; I used to especially love science. I had a little collection, with a bird skeleton (I stuck this to a piece of cardboard, and marked it Exhibit A, a thing I got from watching Perry Mason), a tumbleweed, a hornet’s nest, and a box of rocks and minerals…gneiss, schist, petrified wood, quartz, a little chunk of bright yellow sulphur…

But I couldn’t take homework. I found it unfair, an encroachment on my free time. I didn’t know how to organize the doing of a task…why my room, and later my house, was so messy.

So I fell behind, and from being a smarty, became a C student. My pride then was that I could get C’s doing absolutely nothing. I quit studying for tests, rarely handed in homework.

I graduated from high school on this system.

Athens is an academic town. My sister was the honor student. I was so far outside that milieu, I still don’t really know what it entails. That might have been part of the exacerbation, some sense of embarrassment that I was “dumb”.

I got my college degree after I’d taught myself the discipline I needed to write papers. But to be fair, I still think college in the 80s would have been miserable work. Kudos to the pre-computer students who struggled with carbons and footnotes.

So, a time came when my sister and I never spoke at all; it came when we were adults away from home, and first I, then Tracy, moved back to Athens. I worked at Gold Circle, as I mentioned in another post, and eventually felt very gloomy about it. It seemed hateful to have spent my twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second years at a job where I was made fun of for productivity—for working while the office furniture was shifted around, on one occasion. Everyone else standing around. And the reason I worked was for having no socialization. I couldn’t stand around and talk, I had no one to talk to.

I moved back in with my parents. Tracy had what I’d thought was a great job, working (clerical) at the veterinary teaching hospital at Ohio State University. I don’t know what troubles she had. She came back, and we sort of jostled, because I was already lodged in my parent’s house, and felt proprietary about my space. I didn’t trust her. (Some history of stealing from each other.) It ought to be said that her lifelong issue was alcohol. My idea of Tracy as an adult was formed from my parents’ accounts of her, since we weren’t friends.

I can’t say what fairer view I could have taken, because I never had her own side of things. We didn’t speak, we played that game of taking shots at each other by saying pointed things to Mom and Dad. To me her way of behaving was artificial. I said to myself for years that there was no way to communicate with someone who wasn’t real.

Now I would say I could have allowed one-sidedness. I’ve learned not to care about the improvement of other people, since looking out for your own improvement is enough…you won’t run out of opportunities for it in your lifetime. Meanwhile, if no progress is made, you can count yourself as having tried.

Probably all this is a puzzle to outsiders. It seems extreme that sisters with no event, no fight, no ideological clash, no big principles debated…not even little things discussed, could end up so at odds as to be strangers. I’ve always had self-esteem (I think Tracy had very little). When people pushed me aside, I wanted nothing to do with them. I don’t think my family managed things very forgivingly, in general. We were sort of pitted against each other as kids, so if someone won, the other had to lose. We had an odd dynamic of Things, like favorite colors, hobbies, TV actors, being “owned”…

An example would be birthstones. Tracy’s was turquoise, mine opal. The dynamic required I not be allowed to like turquoise jewelry, because it wasn’t “my” stone. But I do like it…I think everyone does. And I give permission to the world to buy all the opals you want.

(They can be a little disappointing.)

Tracy wrote poetry…I’ve never seen one. I write poetry…I started in 2014, so she never saw one of mine. She aspired to be a writer of novels, I don’t know whether any of her fiction is kept by anyone who knew her. I’ve never, either, seen any of her stories. I write stories and novels. She aspired at one time to be a filmmaker…though I interpret this. She followed a crowd in high school who made films. I make little videos…truthfully only images to attach my music to, though if someone invents the 36-hour day…

But, because I don’t do musical notation, so that’s my means of preserving my work.

All this should mean we’d have had a lot in common, and leaves the question hanging, of whether the competitiveness, the rivalry instilled in our childhood, the skewed implication that liking what someone else liked was somehow aggressing on their territory, made our enemy state unavoidable.

 

 

 

Squirrelliness Again

Squirrel and Mourning Doves Zoom

I saw my trees had what looked like several large birds roosting in the branches…but when I used my camera, they turned out to be just an unexciting bunch of squirrels and mourning doves. Earlier this week a neighborhood cat who comes to eat leftovers at my back door—and who’d just eaten both leftovers from my indoor cats’ food, and a handful of treats, started gathering himself while perched on my patio storage box. I thought he couldn’t do it, but the squirrel he was eyeing got behind a large flower pot. The cat made one huge leap, and landed in position to outmaneuver his prey. I saw him walking off with the squirrel in his mouth, and read the signs by the marks of his feet where he’d landed in the mud. So, some unhappiness in the squirrel community this week.

 

Squirrel Zoom

Mid-Winter

Broken Up Hawk Nest

Here are the remains of the hawk’s nest from last spring. It sat on its branch intact through the late fall, and then I saw a bird up inside, picking it apart. I don’t know what the purpose would be, unless because hawks feed meat to their young, the nest has edible bits that other birds seek after they’ve eaten a lot of their other food.

 

 

What Is It

This is something unknown. It may be a canker, it may be the remains of some animal killed by the hawks. I made the photo as close-up as I could, and I can’t tell.

 

Tree Surfing Squirrel

Here’s a picture from earlier in the year. A while back, 2012, there was a huge storm in Ohio called a derecho, and when I was driving home from work that day, I was stuck in traffic at an intersection, a few blocks from my street. A whirlwind came up right by the roadside. (I was thinking, “Let’s not have a tornado now, I’m almost home.”) Out my backdoor, while the sky was not quite dark as night, but dark, I saw squirrels on the side of the oak “tree-surfing”. At that time, I didn’t get a picture of this behavior, but last summer, during a heavy thunderstorm, I did.

 

Picture 014

This picture is even older, showing the house (on the right, with chimney) I lived in in Chauncey, Ohio. The little dog was my smart border collie mix, and her name was O’Keefe.

 

 

 

Harness Cat and Owl Pellets

Ed in His Harness

Ed cat gets his daily walk, which amounts mostly to him sitting on the back stoop and sniffing the air, listening to the birds and squirrels. The daily routine is to take him out and afterwards fill the feeder, so when Ed appears, a lot of activity starts up among the birds, giving him a good show. 

 

Owl Pellets

This is the ground feeder. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels too, like feeders that are placed to give them shelter, and many, cardinals and sparrows among them, have a strong preference for feeding on the ground. What the owls catch at night, I don’t know. Only some mice and flying squirrels are nocturnal among small rodent prey that I know of, but some days I find numbers of owl pellets like these. 

 

Shannon Ave 1968 Athens Oh flood

In 1968 the Hocking River flooded in the city of Athens, Ohio. This is my mother paddling at the back of the canoe, me, my brother Tim, and my sister Tracy with the other paddle. We are not far outside our front door, a bit of one of two blue spruce trees that marked our house can be seen at the left.

 

The House I Grew Up In on Shannon Ave Athens Oh

This is the house I grew up in on South Shannon Avenue. In later years, when decks got to be fashionable, my Dad put one on the back, so there was a little more character. The house was pretty much just a box all round. By the way, this is an ordinary photo taken in the 70s, that as you can see has faded this badly. So, remember, if you have a box of old pictures, you should digitalize them as soon as possible.

 

 

 

What Is a Habitat?

Some observations on householder-sized efforts against the climate crisis.

 

Photo of yard with various plants sprouting

Above, a natural patch of lawn, lightly raked, at the base of one of my ninety-or-so-year-old oak trees. Everything not lawn grass that grows here is by definition a habitat plant, as they were all delivered by birds and other animals. Under the deer droppings near the center can be seen a small juniper bush; the bright red leaves are callery pear and barberry. My yard also gets mulberry, privet, American Holly, English Ivy, Amur Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, millet grass, and quite a bit more. Some of these are listed as invasive plants, but obviously wherever they came from they were playing a role to support wildlife.

This is a current question in the natural sciences, whether the decline of species, birds notably, will allow us to fuss like we once did, over the strict “nativeness” of a plant, when clearly the plant is an important food source for birds.

 

  Landscape disturbance and transformation, extinction, globalization, and climate change are proceeding at unprecedented rates and scales and have yet to climax. We argue that the Anthropocene will call for a conceptual overhaul of what it means for a species to “belong” to a given environment.

Frontiers in Earth Science “Rethinking ‘Native’ in the Anthropocene”, Avery P. Hill, Elizabeth A. Hadly

 

The article quoted above makes the point that wildlife and plantlife stresses are so accelerated these days, the questions of preservation may be basic. To identify a plant as non-native, and remove it from a wild site, in the assumption this makes room for “good” plants to take over, is to assume that food sources remain abundant and time itself remains abundant. It may be a more practical standard to say, if birds can survive eating the fruits of barberry and autumn olive, let them have barberry and autumn olive.

Fires have become severe, in the U.S. this year, in Australia, Russia, Greece, Brazil, France, Spain, and other nations; and while plants can recultivate burned lands quickly, animals can’t. We may have no choice but to appreciate nature’s strong competitors, even if humans consider these species the lowly and commonplace.

 

Troubled Azalea

This is the azalea bush in front of my house. It suffered a leaf-killing attack of thrips last summer, and as you can see, all its “evergreen” is brown and tissue-papery. At the base of each leaf cluster, new green ones are starting. The azalea will probably survive, but if it doesn’t, I’ll either let the weeping arborvitae take over the spot, or buy a new shrub that isn’t bothered by thrips. What I won’t do is put anything in the environment, even allegedly safe sprays, to kill the infestation. We can’t worry about perfect appearance in our gardens; we have so many plants to choose from, we can find the pretty thing that will thrive without chemical treatments at all.

(Marigolds, incidentally, will draw thrips…and look terrible themselves…but possibly save other of your garden specimens, if you’d like a wholly organic answer.)

 

 

 

Radioactive Rocks

Pink granite rock in garden
Pink Granite

I’ve been reading archived newspapers from 1979, a time in my life when I didn’t pay too much attention to world events. Now that I’m doing my bit for recorded history, I enjoy reminding myself, or educating myself, on vaguely remembered moments from the years I actually lived through. I came across a piece in the New York Times, that had Senator John Glenn being shown the facade of a Washington building, and told by his guide that there was more radiation emanated by the granite than was detectable in the air around Three Mile Island (the accident occurred March 28, 1979). 

That made me curious about my favorite garden rock, above. I learned, doing a little research, that pink and red granites give off more than greys and blacks—a combination of radon gas and gamma rays, chiefly. Unfortunately, a Geiger counter won’t detect levels in granite reliably, if at all, due to ordinary background radiation in the environment. And the other machines, for non-professionals, are too expensive to buy. So I guess I’ll never know how powerful my pink rock is.

(If you have granite countertops, don’t worry. Here is a PDF from the Health Physics Society explaining more.)

Photo of a hawk print
Hawk’s Print

Above, a thing you don’t see often, since birds of prey don’t walk on the ground. But they do rocket down from the treetops onto passing squirrels and rabbits. At night, I seem to have a lot of owl activity around my ground feeder as well, to judge by the number of pellets I find. I don’t know what comes out, whether it’s mice or flying squirrels…but whatever they are, they aren’t very wary. The owls seem to be picking them off constantly. 

Brilliant Sunset
Brilliant Sunset

And finally, a super sunset from November 13.

 

Mini Almanac, November 2019

19th century color print of fall trees and hay stacks
“Harvest”, 1869, public domain, LOC.

 

THE LAND OF ‘PRETTY SOON’

 

I know of a land where the streets are paved

With the things which we meant to achieve;

It is walled with the money we meant to have saved

And the pleasures for which we grieve.

The kind words unspoken, the promises broken,

And many a coveted boon,

Are stowed away there in that land somewhere—

The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’

 

There are uncut jewels of possible fame

Lying about in the dust,

And many a noble and lofty aim

Covered with mould and rust.

And oh this place, while it seems so near,

Is farther away than the moon;

Though our purpose is fair, yet we never get there—

To the ‘Land of ‘Pretty Soon.’

 

The road that leads to that mystic land

Is strewn with pitiful wrecks,

And the ships that have sailed for its shining strand

Bear skeletons on their decks.

It is farther at noon than it was at dawn,

And farther at night than at noon;

Oh let us beware of that land down there—

The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’

 

1899, ELLA WHEELER WILCOX

 

To ask why evil exists here below is to ask why a contingent being is not an absolute being, why man is not God.

Gottfried Liebniz

 

From History of Jefferson County

Perrin 1883

 

Brain Tanning 

A great deal of clothing was made of deerskin before the raising of cotton and flax. The first efforts to tan the hides were almost a failure. A new effort, however, was introduced, which was much better. This was, after removing the hair, the skins were thoroughly rubbed and dressed with brains. They were then stretched on stakes driven into the ground around a large hole, and the hole was filled with light and rotten wood, which was set on fire. The warmth caused the brains and oil to permeate the skins and the smoke gave them a beautiful color. Tanned in this way, they were said to be very soft and pliant, and were handsome.

 


 

An anecdote of Judge G. W. Wall, born in Chillicothe, Ohio, April 22, 1839, moved in infancy to Perry County, Illinois.

 

He was attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad, and while thus acting, a good story is told of him. He was called upon to attend a case at Effingham for the railroad, which had been sued by a citizen for the value of stock killed by defendants’ train. The venerable and every-ready O. B. Ficklin was prosecuting the company, together with some other attorney whose name is not now remembered. The evidence was heard, and counsel went to the jury. The plaintiff’s case was opened by Ficklin’s associate, who indulged in considerable bunkum and bombast about giant corporations, etc. After he closed, Wall replied for the defense, and during the course of his remarks compared the gentleman who had preceded him to Dickens’s famous character of “Sergeant Buzfuz”, and, as he thought, completely annihilated the gentleman, and left nothing to be done but for the jury to return a verdict for the defendant, and thus closed his case.

It was now time for Ficklin to make the closing argument for the plaintiff, and after speaking to the testimony and the law, he concluded in the following vein of pathetic and injured innocence:

“And now, gentlemen of the jury, it becomes my painful duty to reply to the malignant and uncalled for attack upon one of the best men this country ever produced; a man who has long since slept with his fathers, and upon whose character no man, until today, has dared to cast the shadow of suspicion. I allude, gentlemen of the jury, to the attack of my young friend Wall, upon the memory of that good and kind man, Sergeant Buzfuz. Gentlemen, it was not, perhaps, your privilege, as it was mine, to have known him personally. I remember him well, in the early and trying times of this country. He first assisted to cut out the roads through this county. He was the early pioneer, who was ever ready and willing, with honest heart, and active hand, to aid a friend or brother in distress. In fact, gentlemen of the jury, there are few men, living or dead, that this country owes more to than it does to my old friend Sergeant Buzfuz. It is true, gentlemen, that he was somewhat uncouth and blunt in his way, but his every action, I assure you, was prompted by a noble and honest motive. He was not blessed with the brilliant and accomplished education of my young friend. He, gentlemen of the jury, wore no starched shirt or fine neckties; he was humble and retired. In his leather leggings and hunting shirt he went about the country, not as a rich representative of a railroad monopoly, but as an humble citizen doing good to his fellow-man. His bones have long since moldered into dust; the sod grows green over his grave; his work is done, and he is gone from among us to return no more forever; and I was surprised to hear his just and amiable character attacked in the manner it has been on this occasion; and it is impossible for me, his last remaining friend, to permit it to go by unnoticed. And to you, sir [turning to Wall, who was by this time completely dumbfounded], I say no better man ever lived than he whom you have so unjustly abused. Youth, sir, should have more respect for the men who have made life pleasant for those who come after them, than to assail their character in the manner you have done”; and thus he continued until his close, with great earnestness, and the utmost apparent sincerity. At its close, the jury could hardly wait until they could write their verdict for the full amount of damages claimed by the plaintiff, and, it is said, so worked up were they that Wall had difficulty in escaping personal violence.

 

From the 1980s, an early job

Figurines
A few collected items.

 

 

Differences between the past and the present.

 

In the early 1980s I was able to afford, on less than five dollars an hour, a two-bedroom townhouse apartment, off Route 161 in Columbus, Ohio. My weekly food budget was twenty dollars, and I had about fifty dollars a week for disposable income—which I spent on clothes, decorating, houseplants, fish tanks, LPs. I was a Pier One shopper, buying those peacock feathers 80s people displayed in floor baskets; giant floor pillows, too, with a folkish loose-woven fabric, and straw mats I used for wall hangings. One purchase I carried from house to house for several years before it fell apart was a twenty-five dollar rattan chair, bought with Christmas money from my grandparents (typically a check for twenty-five dollars).

I used to hurry home on my lunch break in those days to watch videos on MTV (and at Gold Circle we didn’t have to clock in and out, so I pushed the time). I was crushing on the band Split Enz, loved Elvis Costello, bought an album by Squeeze on the strength of a Rolling Stone review. (Agreed with…however, reviewers in those days had the power to snuff out a lot of good music. The internet’s democratic openness is an improvement.)

I had the Steve Miller Band for “Fly Like an Eagle”… I had a couple of Styx albums (when I was a teenager I thought “Come Sail Away” was the most beautiful song), but I started to go off them in the 80s. Of course, “Mr. Roboto” is immortal. 

Check out this Tommy Shaw solo number from the 80s. A truly great song that wasn’t the hit it should have been.

 

 

The job I had was general clerking in what I think was called the Merchandise Information Office (I’m not sure about the “I”) at the chain’s central office in Worthington (next to the Jack Maxton car dealership). People from the region—but also from California, where a string of stores sat detached from the others—will recall GC as Kmart-like.

They had (the one on Morse Road, the one I shopped at) just before I quit my job started stocking a little section of higher-end brands, as a marketing experiment…

So, in that last month or two, with the employee discount, I drove off in my Chevy Chevette (I think it was a stick, light metallic blue, only AM radio) to shop for a brand I liked, Outlander. One purchase was a silk-angora blend collared sweater in off-white, that I paired with a turquoise pinwale circle skirt. The waist on this was too tight; I had to fix it with a safety pin…so not the most successful look. I liked the turquoise and white combo, though. One of my 80s outfits was a pair of huge parachute pants I wore with a white eyelet-collared blouse. I still have an Outlander red lambswool blend with three-quarter sleeves and v-neck, now somewhat moth-eaten, that I wore with a long midwale corduroy dirndl, dark brown (bought during a Myrtle Beach vacation), and some Nine West boots, dressy in cinnamon with a stacked heel.

Why so much detail? Just to paint the picture for you, if you remember those fashions. And because a lot of things in life are measured in clothes. (If you don’t remember, you’ll have to Google parachute pants to get the full sense of them.)

There was a sort of dynamic I didn’t understand, coming into the work world as a poorly socialized eighteen-year-old. Once, for example, some of the supervisors were throwing a party for the office staff at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I didn’t want to go. It was an after work-hours affair, so I understood it to be voluntary. I got the impression my opting out was being held against me, in a background gossipy way.

There are voluntary things on the job that are not voluntary, such as overtime. (But I’ve steadfastly refused overtime whenever I could.) 

And I still think a lifetime of never setting foot in a Chuck E. Cheese has done me only good.

 


 

Favorite Foods of the Day

Lender’s Garlic bagels, that they stopped making. Toasted, with peanut butter.

Granny Smith Apples. (There are lots of great, crispy apples these days, but back then, you could have Granny Smiths or mushy, bland golden and red delicious.)

Honey Nut Cheerios

Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese (This always had to be made in the oven to brown the cheese topping and bake the filling to a custardy quality. Microwaving wouldn’t do. But, last time I bought any, they’d changed it weirdly and it tasted like it sat open in the refrigerator for a week.)

There was a candy, a type of M & Ms called Mint Royales, that I loved.

And once, you could get really good Dolly Madison Danish. I think they’ve gone by the wayside.