Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well, unless they were saving it for "Antiques Roadshow," I guess...

One sign that folks might've been slacking on the cleaning front at the office since long before my time:

One sign that folks might've been slacking on the cleaning front at the Law Factory since long before my time.

Behold--a pile of mailing supplies dating back to the 1996 Olympiad. And beyond. Because see all that FedEx stuff there? It's stamped 1987.

No bar codes, no websites. It's like an unintentional time capsule, left behind by lazy generations of glorified secretaries/"legal assistants," just waiting for me to uncover its splendor (aka, clean the top of that one really tall bookcase in the photocopier room that I can't reach without standing on a chair).

She was put out to pasture years ago, whoever she is.
By now, this guy's had two hip replacements.

By now, both of these gymnasts have undergone multiple hip replacements.

Like Sam the Eagle, but on your mail.

This eagle choked to death on a ham sandwich in 1991.

His moustache has a timeless quality, don't you think?

This is dated October 1987, and see that little Olympics logo at the top? It's because FedEx was sponsoring the Olympics in South Korea...in 1988. But hey, radio guy's mustache does have a timeless quality, don't you think?

Makes the PC/Mac debate look positively space-aged.

Makes the PC/Mac debate look positively space-aged.

It's...THE FUTURE!  (circa 1987)

THE FUTURE! (circa 1987)

This stuff has been lying there since I was in the third grade. UNBELIEVABLE.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scenes from a mall.

Parked outside of the Miller Hill Mall yesterday:

Head scratcher at the Miller Hill Mall.

Kind of a head-scratcher.

Further head-scratching was to be done inside of the mall--more particularly, in the lone dollar store left amongst the name-brand stores.

This looked like a doozy.

This looked like a doozy. And yet, not enough of a doozy to convince me to part with $1.99.


Um, ew. Probably because it reminds me a little too much of this.

"Here's a quarte, call someone who cares."

If they'd had these in adult sizes, my Christmas shopping soooo would've been done for the year.

Last but not least: this fine piece of cat festoonery didn't come from the dollar store, but let's be honest--that's about how much it's worth.

Even his head is too big for conventional cat costumes.

Even his head's too big for conventional cat costumes. Hmm, I guess we'll have to see what we can do about that...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Police blotter.

Monday, 10:21 A.M.: Caller reports he is sitting in his truck to escape being harassed by a deer who was running at him and snorting.

Monday, 7:44 P.M.: Report of lingerie lying on road and hanging in trees.

Tuesday, 3:12 P.M.: Caller reports that his chair was on fire and he has inhaled smoke.

Wednesday, 9:25 P.M.: Caller reports seeing a strange "ship" (states it is not a boat) and would like an officer to see it; officer reports that it was a Coast Guard boat parked for the night.

Wednesday, 10:33 P.M.: Caller reports individuals fighting in her front yard; turns out it was a misunderstanding, and the two were just having a friendly wrestling match.

Saturday, 12:34 P.M.: Report of person lying on highway--officer said subject was just taking a nap.

Saturday, 4:40 P.M.: Report of large bird, possibly a heron, walking on highway and refusing to move for traffic; update, bird had flown the coop and was no longer at the scene.

What's that, up in the sky?

Spotted at Hawk Ridge last Saturday:

What's that, up in the sky?
What's that, up in the sky?

Numbers don't lie, people. Be careful out there.

Raptor count, revised.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


There's this little hiccup of time between when I graduated from college and when I moved to Montana that's really hard for me to remember. Part of me wonders if that's because it was really hectic--I moved house four times between May and August of '01--or if it's because I was really, really bored. It seems like there were a lot of peaks & valleys right about then--streaks of total inertia closely followed by these massive seismic blasts of change that completely altered the entire landscape of where I thought I was heading next. Maybe that's normal when you're getting out of college, though.

When I wasn't packing up to move, what
was I doing?

1. In early May, I graduated from college. I wanted nothing to do with the commencement ceremony, and my parents didn't care if I walked, either, so I didn't. Some people told me I'd regret it later on, but so far, so good!

The weekend I graduated from college and Laura's dad bashed my head through a window.
(The weekend I graduated from college and my roommate Laura's dad bashed my head through a window.)

2. The lease on my room at the house on Dunedin was up at the end of the month, so I started searching for a new place to live. I scoured the classifieds every day, went out and looked at about twenty places--there was almost nothing in my price range, and what little there were got snatched up almost as soon as they were listed. On two occasions, I almost signed one-year leases, but both times the person who'd toured the place before me changed their mind and swept the apartment out from underneath me. Highly sucktacular at the time, but in retrospect, thank goodness it fell apart like that or I would've been stuck breaking a lease or finding a sub-letter. Ish.

I wound up in a tiny two-room flat in Superior (well, 2.5 if you count the bathroom, which was about the size of a refrigerator), overlooking the volleyball court at the Anchor Bar. The building wasn't a total dump--at least, I didn't think so. Plus, the price was right, and there wasn't a lease. My parents sure gave it the stinkeye, though.

My rinkydink little apartment for the one month I lived in Superior after college, June 2001.
My rinkydink little apartment for the one month I lived in Superior after college, June 2001.

3. I got a job, after the weirdest job interview I've had to date. It was for this standardized test-grading outfit over in Duluth--they needed readers to assess the writing skills of most of the 8th graders in Tennessee, if memory serves right. I went into the interview thoroughly prepared to talk about all the relevant skills I had from my English and composition studies in college...but here's how the it went down:
Interviewer Dude (trucked in from out-of-state): So, I see you're from Ashland.

Me: Oh, yes, I grew up over there and went to college here in Duluth.

Interviewer Dude: Have you ever seen Starman?

Me: Um (*lying*)...yes, I think I did, back in the day.

Interviewer Dude: I LOVE that movie! When the spaceship falls into that lake, the one over by Ashland...

Me: ...Oh, yeah, Lake Superior?

Interviewer Dude: Yeah, that one! (Bear in mind he's interviewing me in Duluth, and Lake Superior is right outside his window.) Right into She-mogg-wahn Bay!

Me: Yeah, Chequamegon (Shih-WAH-muh-gone) Bay!

Interviewer Dude:
Jeff Bridges is so awesome in that movie. So, when can you start?
I may be the only person in history hired for a job on the basis of being born in the town that the opening scenes of Starman were set in.

4. The same day I had that job interview, Emily and Kevin were visiting from Montana, holed up back at my teensy-tiny apartment in Superior, waiting for me to finish so we could head over to Ashland. I returned victorious from the interview only to receive a phone call from...Montana. The AmeriCorps project I'd submitted an application to three months earlier wanted to schedule a phone interview with me for later that week.

At Bayview Beach, June 2001.
(Me and Emily at Bayview Beach, paying tribute to Starman, and, apparently, Hans and Franz.)

Lightning struck twice within a week--the Montana folks wanted me, too. It didn't take much soul-searching to figure out which job I wanted more. It did, however, take some strategery to figure out how I was going to break this to my parents, neither of whom had been out of the tri-state area for nearly thirty years.

I was a resident of Superior just long enough to get a phone number that started with a 394, but not long enough to get listed in the phone book. Which, all things considered, was probably for the best.

5. I started saying my goodbyes, which was sometimes easy and sometimes hard. Easy, because I was ready to make a break for it. And hard, for all the obvious reasons.

The night we threw a giant strawberry candle at the William A. Irvin.

Laura and I met up in Duluth and threw a giant strawberry-shaped candle (Super Mario Bros. 2-style) at the William A. Irvin that we'd found on our dumpster diving expedition earlier that spring. And somehow, she talked me into this.

6. Y'know, come to think of it, I had cable at the apartment. I'm thinking I put a lot of time into that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A study in juxtaposition, pt. 2.

First message in my inbox: "Delivery Status Notification (Delay)"

Next message in my inbox: "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)"

Last message in my inbox: "Coming soon--faster, better Hotmail!"

We're on a hayride to hell.

Back in the day, somebody--the Moquah Homemakers, maybe? Or was it the 4-H club?--organized an annual Christmas party at the Moquah Town Hall a few weeks before the big day. There were cookies and cakes, Christmas carols, and sometimes a little Christmas pageant featuring assorted people I was related to one way or another. An old guy (or was it a top-secret cadre of old guys who took turns from year to year?) dressed up as Santa and sat on a little stage in a corner of the hall, and one by one each kid got called up to retrieve a present from the right jolly old elf that their parents had snuck in earlier (or in the case of mine, maybe not too sneakily*--"Mary, you're getting a My Little Pony this year, but act surprised)". Oh, and every kid got a popcorn ball, too.

It was kind of adorable.

Christmas Party at the Moquah Town Hall, 1985.
(Also adorable: Whitey, about 2 1/2 years old, getting his present & popcorn ball, 1985.)

Fast-forward to 1990. Folks, it was a topsy-turvy time. Sure, it was the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the Hubble got launched into space, and the first Ninja Turtles movie came out...but it was also the year that we lost The Skipper, Jim Henson, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Oh, and there was that pesky business about Iraq invading Kuwait.
And it was only a year since our nation was forced to confront the fact that Germans are nuts for Hasselhoff. The world was reeling.

Also, I was eleven, and caught in the throes of a
serious eye-rolling phase that I wouldn't snap out of for another two years.

At the Christmas party that year, after all the kids had finished opening their presents, one of the local farmers (well, he was an accountant by day, but by the late 80s/early 90s nearly all the farmers in Moquah had a day job or two) rolled one of his hay wagons up to the front of the Town Hall and hollered for all the kids to hop on for a hay ride. It was really cold that day, so a lot of the kids opted out.

My mom made me go. While she and Whitey stayed behind at the warm, cozy, cookie-filled Town Hall, I might add. Judas!!!

We're on a hayride to hell.

It wasn't until about ten minutes into the ride that I saw one of the mothers pull out the tape player. "Who here wants to learn some...sign language?"

On came the tape player, out came "From a Distance," and up came my lunch.

It's not that I hated Bette Midler or anything like that. But it would be a few years until I was introduced to the hilarity of "Otto Titsling" (well, it's hilarious to thirteen year-old girls at a slumber party, at least) and her other, brassier works, so at the time all I knew of the Divine Ms. M's repertoire was this sappy piece of
blech--and this one was about as earnest and overplayed as they came. My tastes ran more toward Weird Al and Da Yoopers, so anything that tiptoed too far into schmaltz territory was destined to set off my "ew" sensors in a big way. And this didn't just tiptoe over that line--it whirled and twirled and pirouetted and tossed confetti and did a ribbon dance on its way.

I sat on my bale at the back of the wagon and wondered (A.) if I would survive the fall if I leapt off, and (B.) how far back the walk would be to the Town Hall if I did nail the landing. I didn't like the odds.

Years later, when I saw Napoleon Dynamite for the first time, this part floored me. It's not the same Bette Midler song, but it's about as close as it gets.

*It should be said that my parents were generally
great present-hiders and that they almost always managed to surprise us...but I think by the time the Christmas party rolled around every year, they were so damn sick of hearing our constant speculation and questions that they cracked. That, or they were hoping that by throwing us a bone, they'd distract us from the bigger surprises tucked away for Christmas morning...it depends on how cunning I want to think they were, I guess.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm sorry, but the hats are mandatory.

Throwing a 9th birthday party for my Ewok named Neesa, March 1984.

1. I think Dewey looks particularly crestfallen because he was turning 9 later that year, and I was totally stealing his thunder.

2. I love that my mother indulged this to the point where she made an actual cake for the Ewok birthday party. With candles.

3. Presumably, my father was the one taking the picture. That, or he'd been banished for refusing to wear a hat.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lies, all LIES!!

They said when we got the TV converter box, our channels would come in better.

They said once we hooked it up, we might suddenly get channels we'd never gotten before.

Lies, all lies!


Monday, September 08, 2008

Paper or plastic?

I worked at a grocery store one summer when I was in high school. It was an awful job, and it probably didn't help that I was a terrible cashier, but the one part I liked about it was peeping at what other people were buying.

There was this one couple that walked over from the neighboring trailer park every day, and all they'd ever buy were cartons of chocolate milk, a dozen donuts, and Tums. Even as a fairly naive sixteen year-old, I remember wondering if this was part of their morning wake-up routine, or their morning we've-been-drinking-all-night-and-will-pass-out-soon routine.

There were also a lot of little old ladies who'd pick up a bottle of liquor every week and would subsequently try to sneak it onto the conveyor belt undetected by their fellow shoppers. Scandalous! Some would go the camouflage route--stack it in amongst some bottles of vegetable oil and maple syrup and A-1 steak sauce and turn the labels away from everyone's prying eyes. Some were more ambitious and would build fortresses around their hooch--great walls of cereal boxes, cartons of instant mashed potato flakes, and bags of frozen peas hiding their shame. Of course, all their efforts were ultimately for naught, since I was under eighteen and had to call an of-age cashier over to watch me scan their booze in anyway--so any attempts at being discreet were shot, really. Which is why my favorite one was the lady who just plunked her bottles out for all to see on the belt and winked at me. Right on, sister! Life's too short for all those shenanigans and damn it, you've earned it.

My favorite orders to get, though, were the people who'd come through with like, three carts of groceries all at once--people shopping for day camps, or Little League playoffs, or family reunions. You'd expect those people to be the crankiest shoppers of all since they had to cart so much around the store, but they were almost universally the jolliest. Were the impending parties buoying their spirits? Or the prospect of massive amounts of hot dogs & S'mores? Or was it that they were often spending someone else's money?

I learned more than I ever wanted to know about identifying produce that summer. The videos I had to watch during my orientation day proved pretty useless, though, since they must've come from the West Coast and had all kinds of stuff we never seemed to have in stock. I did, however, encounter a few Santa Claus melons (p.s., I don't think it counts as a "recipe" if you just wash it and cut it up), some Ugli fruit, and my favorite, the horned melon. Not a big seller, but I had a sticker from one stuck in my wallet for the better part of a decade. If nothing else, that summer gave me a newfound appreciation for fruit that came pre-labeled.

In addition to the many other things I hated about the job (the stupid smock/cardigan things we had to wear, the bad country radio I had to listen to all day, the sticky splotches of blood constantly dripping onto the conveyor belt from the meat packages, the 1st & 15th days of the month when all the public assistance checks came out, my till always being off by like, $20 for no obvious reason) were the WIC checks. The food stamps, those were easy--yeah, you had to stand there and wait for people to rip them out of their voucher booklets, but at least they functioned the same as cash and didn't have a ton of restrictions on them. But those damn WIC checks...they were so specific. If a box of cereal was bigger than the size listed on their voucher, someone had to run back and swap it out. If a block of cheese weighed too many ounces, back it went. My worst day on that job was the result of a raging witch trying to sneak a box of Cocoa Puffs past me (FORBIDDEN!)...honey, if I could I.D. a horned melon, there was no way I was gonna miss those Cocoa Puffs.

Two weeks before school was going to start, I gave my notice. My boss was mad--"We don't just hire kids as summer help!"--but I remember thinking to myself, damn, she should be glad she's getting rid of me. Sure, I was dependable and always showed up for my shifts--but my till was always off, due to sheer ineptitude on my part, and seeing as how I'd never really gotten the hang of things, they were definitely better off without me. Hell, I know I was definitely better off without them.

It does make me wonder, though, if chocolate-milk-and-donut people are still hard at it. Maybe they'll surprise me and pop up the Discovery Health channel one of these days...either as two of those 700 lb. people who can't get off their couch, or as medical marvels whose bodies have managed to survive on sprinkles for that long. Mystery diagnosis, indeed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why the "pitbull in lipstick" can kiss my butt.

I have a bone to pick with Sarah Palin. Well, actually, it's one of several in an ever-expanding heap of bones, but it's late and this is the one that's jabbing most irritatingly at my craw right now, so this is the one that I'm going to address.

From her speech at the RNC the other night (and in at least one recycled stump speech since then):
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

I know that her speech was designed to show her as the "pitbull in lipstick" that she desperately wants to paint herself as, and that it's not worth getting too hot under the collar over half-assed political rhetoric and lame one-liners--sticks & stones breaking bones and all that--but this really bothered me. A lot. Because it's condescending, insulting and, most irritating of all, it's bullshit.

When I graduated from college, I joined AmeriCorps and served as a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) in Helena, Montana for two years. And I've got news for you, Sarah Palin: I had "actual responsibilities."

A little history: VISTA was a precursor to AmeriCorps, founded in 1965 specifically to fight poverty in the United States and in a lot of ways, it functions like a domestic version of the Peace Corps. Over the past 43 years, over 170,000 Americans have served as VISTAs throughout the U.S. (plus Guam & Puerto Rico!) and VISTAs have played key roles in establishing programs like Head Start, Upward Bound, the credit union system and many others, big & small. One key ideal at the core of the VISTA ethos is sustainability: while some AmeriCorps programs focus on giving members an opportunity to volunteer with direct-service activities (tutoring a child, digging a ditch), VISTAs act as change agents--what they call "indirect service." They're people who create networks and coalitions within communities, and who help those communities find the solutions that best fit their community needs. It's the whole "you can give a man a fish or you can teach him to fish" mentality, and it works.

Without going into great detail, my VISTA experiences were out-of-the-norm because my two positions were based in state government offices and were largely designed as support mechanisms for other VISTAs scattered out across the state. My job was to recruit VISTAs, to cheer them on, to help them problem-solve through issues at their host sites, and to act as an advocate for members, their supervisors and their programs at the state level. I was a guidance counselor, a grantwriter, a PR person, a trainer, a leader, and a cheerleader. In some ways, I've always been a little sad that I missed out on the experience my peers had--I didn't get to build something in the community I was living in, outside of organizing some special events for kids throughout the year with the other Helena VISTAs (National Youth Service Week, MLK Day, etc.)--but in other ways, sometimes I think I was extraordinarily lucky because through the people I worked with, I got to witness good things growing all
over the state. Talk about seeing the bigger picture!

The VISTAs I knew worked hard. And they were liberals, conservatives, and everything in-between. They worked long hours (evenings, weekends, on-call 24/7), often with little in the way of resources at their host sites, and for very little in the way of monetary compensation. Many of them were located in very small,
very rural towns--some far smaller & far more rural than where Palin hailed from prior to her becoming governor of Alaska--and being in such small towns, they became fixtures in their communities. They built afterschool programs, they wrote grants, they organized fundraisers. They built up networks of volunteers for tutoring programs, they made deals with local & national businesses to get materials for their projects, and they reported to school boards, nonprofit boards, city councils and state authorities on their progress and benchmarks.

In a nutshell? They had "actual responsibilities."

A lot of the programs that VISTAs worked with during my years in AmeriCorps (2001-2003) still exist today--maybe not exactly as they existed then, as several have folded into other nonprofits & afterschool programs/etc.--but I think the fact that so many of them grew and mutated to meet their communities' changing needs over time says a lot for the solid groundwork that was laid during their formative years.

Barack Obama was not a VISTA, but from what I've read of his work in Chicago, he functioned a lot like one. His job was to listen, to help the people in those neighborhoods form strategies and come up with plans of action to improve their community--to build something that fit the communities he was working with, something that the local people had ownership in and that could keep rolling onward with homegrown community leadership.

I also think that it's worth noting that around the age Obama was working as a community organizer (24-26), Palin was working as a TV sportscaster. Yeah, I'm sure the "actual responsibilities" of reporting the local hockey scores were a huge pressure, lady, compared to helping poor people figure out how to get the asbestos in their apartment buildings removed.

But this all goes way beyond Obama and VISTA, doesn't it? I think the Center for Community Change said it better than I can:
"When Sarah Palin demeaned community organizing, she didn't attack another candidate. She attacked an American tradition--one that has helped everyday Americans engage with the political process and make a difference in their lives and the lives of their neighbors.

...The values that community organizers and grassroots leaders represent are not Washington values or Wall Street values but American values--that we care for each other and look out for each other and know we're all interconnected and have a valuable role to play in making our country work for all of us. Candidates should be courting these community values, not condemning them."
I think it's also worth noting that people in Palin's hometown are starting to speak out about what kind of leader she was as mayor of little Wasilla, and shock of shocks, it looks like she had a city administrator there who handled much of the nitty-gritty of city management...funny, most of the community organizers I know have to deal with their
own nitty-gritty without staff running around cleaning up after them. It also appears that she's "not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise," took her tiny town from zero debt to a $22 million deficit during her time at the helm, increased the tax burden on citizens while decreasing it on corporations, AND put all the town's money into a sports complex (which is running firmly in the red) instead of infrastructure improvements like a sewage treatment plant.

Ms. Palin, if this is your definition of successfully handling "actual responsibilities," well, honey, I daresay you could learn a LOT from a community organizer.

Friday, August 30th, 2002:

*phone rings*

Me: Prevention Resource Center, this is Mary.

Josh: You have to go drive down Custer. Right now.

Me: Oh, hi, Josh.

Josh: Seriously. Drop whatever you're doing and go.

Me: I'm at work!

Josh: I know--but take your lunch break or something and go drive down Benton and take a right on Custer. You won't regret it.

In front of an impromptu Princess Diana memorial spotted along the street in Helena, 2002.

Whattaya know--he was right.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

When bad names happen to good chickens.

Evidence of a clandestine chicken escort service in the Marengo area.

Evidence of a clandestine chicken escort service in the Marengo area.

I think somebody's been watching too many dog shows on Animal Planet. And too much Lord of the Rings, too.

(May I present the Archduke Fatty McSheddypants, the Portly and Lady Freakout, the Skittish...?)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


It was hotter than hell here yesterday. Fortunately, we have a giant lake at our disposal for rare occasions such as this.


Also fortunate: the lower extremities of the body go numb pretty quickly when submerged in ice water.

Of course, before that pleasant numbness can happen, there's the unpleasant business of convincing your feet to keep walking further out into the lake.

Walking out into the freakin' freezing water.
Happy because she's gone numb.

Once you get up to what Liz lovingly refers to as the "garzongas," the worst is over. Hurry up and have fun before the hypothermia sets in!

Labor Day at Bayview Beach.

(Thanks for taking pictures, Sarah!)