Sunday, January 31, 2010


Eighteen degrees. The rolling hills of south central Wisconsin. The ponds and lakes are frozen to a sturdy twenty inches.
Skies so blue they burnt the backs of your eyes. You could feel the crystals form in your lungs as you drew the crisp winter air in through your nose, that delicious air you devour expanding your lungs beyond their normal capacity.
Emmy and I slipped on our old skates. Rick glided around the pond on his leather soled shoes.
Chicken soup, hot chocolate and the ingredients for smores waited near the wood burning stove in the warming house.
They hitched the horses up to the sleigh but the ride was bumpy and cold. The movement of the sleigh created a wind force that burnt your cheeks and set fire to your throat.
This is Rick's friend, Julie's family farm. They have a link to their site. Here it is:

Friday, January 29, 2010


The message on my answering machine said, “Mr. Melahn, you filled out an application for American TV for a full-time sales position. Several positions have opened up and if you are still interested please give me a call. I’ll be in the office until five today. I will be out of the office on Monday and Tuesday but you can reach me on Wednesday.” I was so excited to have just gotten a call I didn’t take the time to really evaluate the situation, but then what difference would it make. I needed a job no matter what the circumstances. I called back and left a message saying I would call back on Wednesday to confirm an appointment. If you remember from a previous blog this was the company that had me fill out forty pages of psychological mind games to see if I’d tow the line or steal them blind.
Wednesday’s phone call led to a Thursday interview with human resources. I was told to ask the greeter for Tammy when I arrived. I spent hours in the closet (this has nothing to do with the wasted years previously spent in there deciding to come out or not to come out) going through what I thought would be the appropriate attire to wear for the interview. I didn’t want to over dress.  I didn’t want to look too Soho chic or too Detroit destitute. I wanted to strike the right balance between a flair for style and the appearance of an ability to hustle a sale. After all, this was the company that once sponsored “Lenny’s Inferno”. A local TV show airing horror flicks every Friday nights at midnight. Mr. Mephisto would intro the films with his sidekick the voice in the box and then “Crazy TV Lenny”, the quintessential huckster, would pop from the screen screaming at you to come on down to American TV. They have since dropped the “Crazy TV Lenny” sales approach and gone to a softer sell but I can still see Lenny in his plaid suits, with a single greasy spit curl hanging from his forehead, arms outstretched and a Cheshire grin, waving his fingers as he barked out the latest deals on TV’s and appliances. Now the company has stores all over the Midwest, thousands of employees, and an online application form with forty pages of psychological torture not even Freud could have dreamt up.
I settled on an outfit based on multiple textures in black, white and grey. I felt I looked stylishly friendly, both approachable and knowledgeable simultaneously. I confidently walked through the front door of the eastside store, a mega structure easily the size of three football fields.  I introduced myself to today’s greeter, a tall handsome guy in his late thirties. I tried to imagine his history. Is he married? Why is he here? With his looks he could be doing better than hawking mid-range furniture for ten bucks an hour. I think he was supposed to smile but my guess is no one enjoys his required stint at the front of the store. He calls Tammy. “If you’ll just hang around, she’ll be out in a few minutes.” I pretended to look at the furniture vignettes as other salespeople hung around looking bored. I ended up trailing a young couple apparently looking for a sofa.  During their unchaperoned search they stumbled on a coffee table that’s top lifted up and transformed to a dining table.  The incident calmed me on two levels: the table was actually ingeniously designed and the fact they were allowed to roam without an escort gave me hope about the sales approach necessary to survive in the new American TV culture.
Tammy came out, hand outstretched, to welcome me. I was unable to read her first impression, which she kept hidden behind an expression that had sparkle and disinterest in equal measures. She ushered me behind closed doors to the administrative offices. For a furniture business the formaldehyde scented paneled walls, synthetic industrial carpeting, and dreary acoustical ceilings all pointed to a corporation more interested in the bottom line than the quality of their image. Tammy offered me a seat and the interrogation began. The disregard of any pretense with the surrounding decoration put me at ease. Knowing I could approach this job as simply a job stripped away any pressure and allowed me to answer all of Tammy’s questions with candor and humor. I started to see Tammy’s expression begin to sway more and more toward the sparkle side, or so I thought. She finally moved into giggle mode and ended the interview with an invitation to the next step in the hiring process. I suppose I could have said, “No thank you” right then and there but by now I realized my options were thin to nil so I had better not cut of my nose to spite my face. I need to become a provider no matter what the cost to my vanity and pride. I left thinking I had pretty good chance at a fifty hour a week gig coaxing the masses into buying things they didn’t want or need.
It was three days, well after store hours, when Tammy's email popped up on computer screen.
"Thank you for your interest in employment opportunities with American TV & Appliance, Inc. Although we found your background and experience of interest, we have offered the position to an individual whom we feel best matches our needs for the position."
I'm hoping this is my karma directing me toward something better, but right now I'm having a rough time trying to stay  positive.

Failure requires you to dig deeper than you ever thought possible in reaffirming your self-worth. Giving up only means more failure and that is not an option.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Last night my mom fell from a single step leaving my sister’s house. As vigilant as everyone has been, it’s impossible to protect her twenty-four seven. On a split second of a diverted eye, down she went. One look and it was evident she had done some real damage. They called an ambulance and took my mom to the hospital. There’s something in the German culture that must be passed genetically engendering a complete paranoia of any kind of medical care. My mom has this gene in spades. Couple this with her dementia and we all knew we were in for a real struggle.
They operated on her earlier in the day. My sister, Sandy had spent the previous night with her. My sister, Ebby, spent the following day. I took the evening shift. Her left wrist was shattered. They told us we had three choices with her wrist: we could just leave it and let it heal on its own, we could have them put a couple of pins in to insure the wrist would heal straight, or they could go in and try to reconstruct the wrist. Her age ruled out the last option and the first option might leave her with a very crooked and useless hand. We opted for option two. They also discovered a fracture to her left hip. At her age a fall can wreak havoc on those brittle bones despite the amount of calcium she has consumed. For her a meal is not complete without a glass of milk. The surgeries went as planned and now we have to deal with recovery.
I am near the end of my shift. I got here at 8:30 and it’s now 7:30 in the morning. Soon, my brother is supposed to show up to relieve me. I’ve never been so thankful for drugs and modern medicine as I’ve been tonight. Mom is a real creature of routine. When you take her out of what’s familiar all bets are off and it can be a daunting battle for what is real and what she fantasizes is happening. The drugs seem to calm her down. She’s sleeping once again. Selfishly I want her to sleep. I don’t want to have to struggle with the defiance and disorientation I know will come when the drugs allow her to wake in a world she won’t recognize.
When she wakes she won’t remember the accident and when I try to reconstruct the memory of the fall she’ll deny it happened only remembering the time she broke her ankle forty years ago. When she’s awake she desperately wants to get up insisting she’s fine and needs to get home, the place where she feels safe. There are times I look in her eyes and it’s as if I can see right through her. It’s then I know she doesn’t see me but has drifted off to another time and place. She tugs at her gown thinking it’s her sweatshirt, she’s hot and wants it off. She thinks she’s at the Light Haus, my brother’s stained glass studio. Then just as quickly she needs to get back to our childhood home to take care of the baby, which one of us she is referring to is something only she is aware of. There are moments when she calls out for one of her sisters not remembering they passed away one by one leaving only one other sister from what were originally five.
“Oh where, oh where can he be?” she sings as her mind rambles through history in search of old memories. It’s the sweet part of how she deals with such a precious loss. There’s no anger then. It’s a childlike naiveté where time is infinite. The search, like a treasure hunt, has a certain joy and irrelevance, the actual outcome not being important. The smile and the laugh accompanying the little dog song are the endearing moments of a journey through dementia. I brace myself for the inevitable, the reawakening, when she crosses over to the scary side of her mental disease where the confusion and inability to sort out her reality turn to anxiety and fear. In some way, I’ve had the lucky shift. For my shift she’s supposed to sleep. The administering of the drugs is a part of the process. When she wakes from this last dose she’ll have to start preparing herself for another day of struggling with where she is and why she’s here, and what she’ll need to do. When she tries to pull out her catheter or ripe the bandages off her arm we’ll have to try to hold her down resisting the desire to ask for additional drugs to knock her out. She’ll, once again, try to tear off her gown exposing her nakedness to my eyes. No son wants to see the bare body of their mother, but I’m forced to look in an attempt to cover her and restore her dignity. Her legs are a jaundiced yellow and her fingers are now turning black and blue. The medicine is turning her tongue and lips black. I’m amazed by the unwrinkled quality of the skin on her legs. Are they this smooth or has the operation made them swell to a taught youthfulness? I pray I am spared her exposing her breasts. I’m no longer worried of the propriety but of the fear they will be repulsive in their octogenarian state.
It’s 8:00am. My brother should be here in another hour. I just met her doctor, the doctor who did the surgery. He came in to check on the dressings on her leg and arm. His name is Doctor Dockter. I worry I may be in a Mel Brooks film. I worry about my mom and I worry about myself.  I selfishly think about what will happen when she wakes and what I will be forced to do. I worry about how she will recover. I worry about what will come next, the therapy, the nursing home, pneumonia.
The TV has been all night. The morning news programs are now beginning their litany of worldly woes. Haiti still dominates the headlines, hundreds of thousands dead, the image of people trapped under rubble still holding onto a hope for a second chance at life. When stacked against the desperation of an entire country, my worry seems petty and moves from big to small.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Let’s just say my dyslexia kicks in at some of the most inopportune times. The January thaw set in yesterday. The next two days are forecast with temperatures up near forty and bright sunny skies.  As I climbed into the once teal colored Escort for another run of chauffeuring duty I couldn’t avoid the neglected build up of salt and sand turning the Escort a chalky brown, an accurate reflection of my own state of wellbeing. I fantasized if I changed the look of my ride, polished and cleaned it up, maybe my self-image might raise a few degrees as well. It was time for a real cleansing of both my car and my self-worth. I had previously attempted to clean the car on my own using a bucket of water, some windex and a sponge resulting in nothing more than a messy white film smeared all over that beautiful teal finish. The car was looking more like Tammy Faye with big white mascara streaks running down the cheeks of my car.
I had to wait until the car’s fuel gauge was down to empty. The Citgo station across the street gave you a dollar discount on their automated carwash with a twenty-dollar plus purchase of gas. With an eight-gallon tank I had to make sure the tank was down to the fumes only level to make the sawbuck limit. Only then could I pull into the station. I rolled in and parked the car in front of one of the available self-service pumps. Now I had to decide if I should pay at the pump or pay inside. Too embarrassed to admit I couldn’t figure out the gas plus car wash payment procedure I let the butch part of my personality kick in. I told myself I could figure this out without having to go inside and plead ignorance. I pumped away hoping the machine would let me off the hook and prompt me on how to add the carwash to the gas purchase. Then I hoped the tank wouldn’t top out before I hit twenty-dollars in gas. Total gas: $22.37. Success…and then nothing. Did I screw up? My confidence was waning, but then all of a sudden the LCD said, “CARWASH?” I caught a break and almost smashed the “YES” button. My receipt printed out with my carwash code, “4-0-9-9-9”. Now I had to drive around to the carwash entrance located behind the oil changing bays.
A black BMW already looking as if it had been washed and polished zipped into the queue ahead of me. The driver pushed the automatic release on his faux wood paneled console, stuck his hand out his window as the descending tinted glass slowly revealed his face smiling a sarcastic sneer as he loaded the payment kiosk from a wad of bills. I tried my best to counter with a look of nonchalance and a furrowed brow. The door to the automated wash rose and the BMW disappeared into the whoosh of spraying jets.
It was my turn to drive up to the kiosk and punch in my code, but the BMW had flustered me and I forgot to undo my seatbelt making it almost impossible to get to my wallet where I had stashed the receipt with the code. The car jerked ahead as I fumbled with the seatbelt. Finally free of my auto bondage I was able to dig out my wallet. Now I had allowed the car to overshoot the kiosk so I had to backtrack maneuvering the car to a place where I could reach the keypad and punch in my code. All this fumbling was eating away at the precious time I would need to read the posted instructions. Another car had pulled in behind me so any opportunity of taking my time had been eliminated. I set my wallet in my lap and punched in the code, “4-0-9-9-9”. Then it was a mad dash to memorize the instructions.
  1. Enter code, bills or quarters. Done
  2. Drive slowly into wash bay when green light comes on. Oh shit, where’s the green light
  3. Stop when red light comes on. If I have to memorize more than three steps I’m going to be lost
  4. Put the car in park position. After this point I was gone
  5. When green go light comes on exit slowly. I’m finished
  6. Thank you and come again. I’m shaking now as I try to review each step and cement it in my memory bank
Bang. The garage door to the wash starts to open and the green go light on the outside of the wash comes on. I shift into drive and start heading in. Whoosh. Side sprays spew out a stream of soapy water blinding my view. I turn on the wipers fearing a crash and stomp on the breaks. Now I can see, but the new light panel inside the wash has four signs: red- stop, green – go, yellow – back-up, and white – park. None of them are lit. Here’s where the panic starts to immobilize me. I’m afraid to move and the door I just entered through is starting its slow close. Then the big garage door thuds to a closed position behind me. I’m locked in and still no light telling me what to do. Then everything stops. Now I’m sweating in the stillness as nothing is moving. I haven’t even gotten to three on the instruction list, let alone four, five and six. Not knowing what else to do I throw the car into park thinking if I progress to what I thought was the next step the car would some how tell the carwash what to do, not on your life. Claustrophobia is now getting the best of me. Why won’t a light come on telling me what to do? I decide to shift back into to drive and pull the car up a little further hoping it will trigger something. I pass the unlit light panel and still nothing. Now going against all common sense I back up hoping this will help. As I back up it occurs to me that there is a set of bumps in the floor that I have now crossed going both back-and-forth or forth-and-back. As many times as I maneuver over the bumps the silence continues and I'm still locked in my cell. There’s nothing else I can do but get out and hope I can scare up some help. I did a quick scan for a help button but all I see is that the front half of my car is covered in soap and the back is still caked in sand and smeared with the white streaks from my unsuccessful self-cleaning attempt. Then there it is, the buttons beside the exit door marked open and close. Without any hesitation or forethought I slam my hand on the open button. A very short-lived sigh of relief escapes my mouth a fraction of a second before the blow dryer blasts me from both sides and spins me to the floor. I crawl back to the car, my hair blown into a punk rock doo and my face temporarily stretched into one of those g-force contortions. My car and I limp out into the sun both looking like wounded revelers from some nasty Will Farrell movie. Yet not defeated to the point of submission and thinking there must have been something wrong with the wash I pull over to the oil changing bays to ask the attendant what went wrong. I look for my receipt so I can prove I legitimately had paid for entrance to the wash and surely my appearance and the appearance of the car would indicate the truth of the matter. I slip my hand into my back pocket and oh, oh, I can’t find my wallet. My head jerks back to the closed exit door of the carwash that is now leaking steam from the new wash job going on to the car that was behind me. My wallet, the flashback begins rewinding in my mind in slow motion. I saw myself from above, like in a dream, getting out of the car the wallet in my lap tumbling out onto the wet and soapy floor. OMG!
The attendant walks out from the oil change garage wiping his hands on an already grease coated rag.
“Looks like you had a fight with the carwash.”
“I think the carwash won. It took my wallet, left me with a half-cleaned car and now I look like Gary Busey’s mug shot.” The stereotype of the grease monkey and the city slicker was never more real than in that moment.
With an air of superiority he retrieved my sopping wallet, took me around to the entrance, punched in a new code and explained how you need to pull up to where your front tires rest in the valley between the floor bumps to activate the full wash. He shook his head and grinned the exact way you would expect him to…and I deserved it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The magic of winter in Wisconsin

Today the barren branches of winter decided to grow feathers and take flight

Saturday, January 16, 2010


It stood there gleaming in the reflection of the Christmas lights in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a silver Beamer. Right there, in the middle of the mall with a big sign promoting “Win this Car”. A stand with a black plexiglass box stood next to the car with a pad of entry forms attached at the top. I had a pen in my breast pocket so, what the heck, I filled out a form, crumpled it up and dropped in the box. I had once been told to bend or scrumch up an entry giving it a better chance to rise to the top. I totally forgot about it until I received a call from the nicest tell-a-marketer letting me know my name had been drawn from the pool of entries and although I hadn’t won yet I was still in the running. He told me how lucky I was I was one of two people they had drawn that week and put into the pool of finalists for the car. The contest still had another eighteen months to run before the winner of the car would be selected but in the meantime I was eligible for four three day two night stays at any of six hundred hotels around the country for two adults and two kids plus a fifty dollar gift card and a thirty dollar voucher for dinner at Olive Garden for each of the four trips. Wow! All of this would be mine if I agreed to tour one of their Wyndham resorts. Okay, I saw the hook and I bought it, hook, line and sinker. We set a day and time for my tour. I figured I didn’t have a whole lot to lose as long as I could remain strong enough to just say no to whatever they intended to sell me, and then I would have access to some very needed mini-getaways.

The day before my tour the Wyndham people sent me a confirmation letter with directions to the resort and a list of things I needed to bring along including a valid driver’s license and a major credit card or checkbook. The confirmation was sent as a text document to my email. When it arrived the definition of fine print became very clear, or unclear, since the type was so small I had to hit the enlarge button four times before I could make out what it said. Tucked into all this fine type was the information telling me I would have to agree to a two-hour session explaining the wonderful Wyndham time-share plan. I could have bailed right then and there but since I had time on my hands I decided to go ahead with their offer.
The day of the tour I drove from Madison to Wisconsin Dells, about fifty-five miles. I needed to be at the Wyndham at Glacier Canyon Resort at nine-thirty am. It was one of those beautiful Midwest winter mornings with clear skies. The tree branches remained coated with a thin layer of ice and with the early morning sun shimmered like crystal spires out of a bed of blue marshmallow fluff. The parking lot at Glacier Canyon was plowed into a rat’s maze and littered with salt and sand encrusted cars all looking very abandoned. When I walked inside my cynicism heightened with all the timeshare signage that cluttered the otherwise rustic cabin appeal of the lodge. I was immediately directed to a bland yellow stairwell and told to take the elevator to the third floor. The reception area for the timeshare tour was as bland as the stairwell had been. I was the first one there. I think I even arrived before the director, but promptly at nine thirty the director entered and the elevator opened for a second time depositing a half dozen additional responders, each one looking like an easy mark for the persuasive marketers. I felt the bond of a group of people enticed by a set of free vacations all in need of our lucky to change.
Once I had shown my driver’s license and credit card, DJ, a muscular pug of a guy with face covered in stubble, a big bright smile and a bone crushing handshake came out with his hand extended to greet me . His exuberance was the kind seen by football players making their entrance onto the field as thousands of fans screamed him on.

“Come on Lee, let’s get out of here and find out some stuff about YOU!" Make me a star. I was becoming putty in his hands.
DJ’s first set of questions covered the basics: age, occupation (I lied, well I only half lied – the occupation was true I’m just not practicing at the moment) children, wife (no, I have a partner), address,  like I said – the basics. Then things got a bit more interesting. It turned into this free association game. Quick!
“Name your favorite vacation spot.” “Tuscany” “Which state is that in?”
“If you could go anywhere for a vacation that you haven’t been to before what would be your top four?choices?”
“Prague, Budapest, New Zealand, and Scotland” I’ve never been to Eastern Europe and if DJ was going to give me free rein I was going to go for it.
I had just moved myself into a VIP prospect in DJ’s eyes. I could see the dollar signs swimming behind his baby blues. With the questions ended, It was time to look at the rooms. Now he thought he really had me hooked, sumptuously overdone rooms in a mishmosh of styles all with that overdone and oversized look, the kind of design that would have mass appeal. I gave him a fake, "Aww". Then it was back to the inquisition table and explanation of the plan.
DJ did it justice: no one week a year at the same location, no black-out dates, when it’s paid for you own it and can will it your kids and they can will it to theirs, the list of benefits went on and on. VIP membership…a mere sixty thousand dollar entry fee paid out at $642 a month for the next ten years.
“Let me get my manager,”and in came Bob. Where DJ was your jeams and tight polo shirt kind of guy, Bob was the suit, but not in a good way. The suit was off, his shirt wasn’t pressed and when he smiled it was with the yellow teeth of a long-time smoker all before the age of twenty-eight.
“I know the intro fee might feel a bit high so here’s what I’m prepared to do today. We’ll give you the same amount of points so you can have the VIP membership but we’ll knock the price down to forty-five thousand if you sign up today. I can tell you do a lot of high-end traveling. DJ can get the paperwork going right now.”
The pressure was on and my knees were getting weak. The guilt of having to tell them “no” was weighing on my resolve.
Snap out of it Lee!
After I graciously said, “Thank you, but no”, Bob swallowed his smile, whipped out his black marker and signed off on my form.
“You need to hand this to the lady at the table over there to get your release.”, no good-bye, no handshake, only the back of his ill-fitting suit as he moved on to his next potential timeshare conquest.
“Hi, let me see your form. You were shown the rooms? I need to ask you some questions about your tour today. How would you rate DJ on a scale of one to five, five being high and one being low.”
“He was a four.” He really was a four. When we weren’t talking about the resort and timeshares we talked about the cost of living in New York as opposed to the costs in Wisconsin. He kept shaking his head over that one.
“I see you weren’t interested in the VIP offer. Did they explain our trial offer. You can try out the plan for a very reduced price and then if you find you like it you can apply the cost to a real membership.”
“No, I really don’t think this is the way we travel but thanks for all of your gracious offers.”
Please take this to the receptionist for your free vacation package.
I made it out with my vacation certificate in hand. I did it. I said, “NO” to every offer and I got my freebie. Well I though I did, until I read the fine print: Fill in the form below and mailing to the above address within the next seven days with your good faith deposit of $100 in certified check or money order. Your vacations must be taken at least thirty days apart and completed within the next twelve months if any of these requirements are not met you will lose your deposit and be fined at the rate of….

Nothing in life is free

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Rick did the footwork. Neither of us was sure we should go ahead with this but we couldn’t continue without any insurance for Emmy. I was convinced we wouldn’t qualify but apparently we did. In Wisconsin, insurance and food assistance come as a package deal. The food plan is called Quest. I’m not sure what it means but it feels so much better than poverty assistance or community bloodsucking. The enrollment process was totally painless, a series of forms mailed in and a follow-up phone call with a case worker ending in “you’re approved”. The case worker even issued an emergency card so we could use our stipend immediately. The best part is the vehicle for making transactions is a pseudo credit card that is refilled electronically every month. No more embarrassing moments of having to count out food vouchers that look like monopoly money, the kind of incidents that made those using them feel like irresponsible children feeding off the rest of society. All I have to do is swipe a card and I can do this at an automated checkout counter so I don’t even have to endure the glare of a superior minded gum smacking cashier. The situation of being reduced to public assistance is humiliation enough.

The only person-to-person interaction I had happened when I picked up the emergency card. On another snowy Wisconsin morning I weaved my way through the slick white streets of northeastern Madison to the Dane County Job Center, across the railroad tracks from the Oscar Mayer plant. I have no idea if there was intended irony in this or not. I had been here earlier to drop off my original application on a sunnier day. Then the place was packed with screaming kids and people named Tanisha and Jermichael. I shoved my application in the drop box and exited as fast as I had entered. On this trip the scene was very different. Snowy streets have a way of affecting us poor more than those with better financial standing. In my impoverished state I’m required to load the back of the Ford Escort with boxes of books for traction in the hopes of keeping the “Sorency” mobile on the road and out of the ditch. Hummers, four wheel drive or even tires with treads are still dreams from a former life. I pulled into the parking lot as a pick-up truck with an attached plow started carving out paths in the etch-a-sketch canvas of the center’s parking lot. Once in the center my competition for a prominent place in line had dwindled to a handful of hopefuls. I walked up to the counter and asked the attendant for the special form my case worker said she would leave for me. She had specifically asked that I come in early since she was giving me an extra day to get it to her. I had in typical "Lee" fashion missed the original deadline.
“Hi, Ms. Swanson told me she would leave a form at the front desk for me to fill out so I can get an emergency Quest card.”
The attendant's eyes did a quick dart to a shelf outside my field of vision and then zipped back to stare at me. “I’m sorry but there isn’t anything here for you. We don’t get deliveries at the desk until 12:30.” As much as this had looked like a slam dunk I was now worrying I might not get out in time to pick-up Emmy once school let out in the late afternoon.
“Can I get a message to Ms. Swanson to see if we can get the form a little sooner?”
“I can email her and you can wait over there to see if she responds” If she was booked for the entire day I didn’t hold out a lot of hope I’d be walking out of here with a card in my hand. I shuffled off to the waiting area and took a seat across from the security guard‘s cubicle. I hadn’t brought a newspaper or a crossword puzzle with me. I looked around for anything to sooth my anxiety, the only things I could find were the posters plastered on the walls of the security guard’s cubicle.
“No children allowed in the Security Guard’s area”
“Children left unattended will be tied an eaten”
“Don’t ask me, I only work here”
“If you don’t see a clock, don’t ask for the time”
“Lee” I was jolted back to my purpose in being here. I walked back to the front desk where the form had been found. I only had to sign the form and then they would print out a card while I waited. Back to the waiting area and the written wisdom of the security guard’s walls.
“Mr. Mel-uh-han” A large black woman with a gap-toothed smile beckoned me to her glass partitioned desk where she held my card in her hands. First she handed back my signed form. I had just enough time to notice the back had a list of acceptable food groups you could purchase. The restrictions were printed in broad strokes. You could use if for breads and cereals, meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, the basics. The list was specific enough to make me question what I could do yet general enough to make me unsure what might be included.
“Any questions hon?”
“I’m not sure what all I can get with this. Is peanut butter okay?”
“Oh ya, you can get just about anything you can eat. You can even get yourself some steak, or shrimp or chips. You just can’t get yourself any toilet paper or plastic utensils. They don’t check on what you buy honey. Go out and get yourself a big box of chocolate chip cookies” She handed over the card with a sweetness that said it’s okay, you don’t need to be ashamed, you needed help and that’s all that this is.

Check out all available services in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from any group or agency willing to give it. You can find insurance, medical assistance, even food . Then remember to give back. So many organizations need volunteers. (This part of the story to be continued later.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The holiday rush seems to have come to an end. The parking lots at the local malls are no longer filled to capacity. All that remains are the sky-high piles of snow turned a dirty grey.  Rick has been asked to stay on as a part-time associate at the Boston Store so I have retained my job as chauffer in our one car family. On occasion, I’ll arrive a little early and stroll through the mall’s halls, its then I have the time to contemplate the state of what is.
During the holiday season, Santa sat on his throne with a line of parents holding eager little believers waiting to tell Santa their most dreamed of present for under their tree. Shoppers jostled the corridors with bags from the Gap and Sears. Gene Autry’s Christmas songs floated continuously over the heads of shoppers out walking the mall. Things felt good. Retailers were wearing smiling masks.
Last night, when I went to pick Rick up, a little before closing, I pulled the Ford Escort into a spot close to the door. The temperature had dropped to the single digits. I was glad the lot wasn’t full. By the time I got inside I was chilled to the bone even though the walk had been short. Inside the mall Gene Autry’s songs of Christmas had been replaced with the innocuous sounds of muzac as workers disinterestedly dismantled Santa’s village in the middle of the mall. The bustle of before had dissipated into a trickle of shoppers and a few groups of teenagers hanging out looking bored as they aimlessly traversed the mall from one end to the other and back again. It was then I noticed the smiley masks had come off the retailers. The gates had come down on some of the establishments you’d expect to have faded away; the Christmas specific stores and kiosks were the first to fold for the season, but there were many more unexpected gates now down and padlocked for a final time. Zales Jewelry had emptied its cases of all its gems and watches. The signs outside its doors had been ripped off leaving big pockmarks on the mall walls. As I stood in Claire’s while Emmy contemplated how to spend her gift card I heard the manager of Buddy Squirrel tell her friend at Claire’s that they would be closing the following day and transferring her to the Hilldale store. It seemed the more I looked around the more “For Rent” signs were being posted where stores selling menswear and eyeglasses and things for the home had been only a few days before.
Rick and I had been discussing goals and both of us were leaning toward opening a store of our own, a small store with an office for our design business in the back. To succeed in Madison you need a brick and mortar presence. It’s always important to have a goal no matter what stage of life you are at or what your present state of affairs might be, even when that goal seems so far in the distance. So now I’m taking inspiration from a republican candidate for the soon to be vacant democratic senatorial seat from Connecticut, Linda McMahon. The inspiration is in the process, not the results. I have yet to metamorphosize from a democrat to a republican. However, this woman and her family went from bankruptcy and watching her home and belongs being auctioned off to becoming the CEO of the World Wrestling Entertainment organization. When someone can turn smoke and mirrors into millions it paves the way for us to dream our dreams and to dream big when we may have very little.

This year the artist, Robert Indiana, changed his signature message of sixties “Love” to a new message for twenty-ten “Hope”. With so many obstacles yet to overcome, we’re committed to staying on the horse and turning our misfortune into opportunity under the guiding wing of hope.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Okay, I’m going to confess a big secret. I’ve got a guilty pleasure. It's football. I’m addicted to it. It’s such a Wisconsin thing. Back in New York I could ignore it. My beloved Packers and Badgers weren’t constantly available. They weren’t the headlines in the local papers, you could only see them on TV if they were playing a New York team or were featured on Monday Night Football and they weren’t ever discussed on the radio which I rarely listened to in New York anyway. But now I’m like a kid in a candy shop devouring every Wisconsin sports page, glued to the TV on Saturdays for the Badgers and Sundays for the Packers. I even joined a football pool with fifty other friends of my brother-in-law who now had me following the entire NFL and AFC outcomes. And worst of all I got sucked into ESPN radio which blares out of my mother’s Ford Escort speakers both front and back during my constant driving in a city where it’s impossible to get anywhere by foot. So as I cart Emmy to school, Rick to work and my mom to elder daycare I subject them all to “Mike and Mike in the Morning” and “The Herd”. I love Mike and Mike. They’re forever discussing the defensive moves of Atari Bigby, A.J. Hawk, and Clay Matthews or the receiving acrobatics of Nick Toon, players whose names gave them no other option than becoming football athletes. Then there’s Colin Cowherd, the ultra-conservative, deranged host of the nine to one ESPN time slot, “The Herd”. This guy knows how to push all my buttons. Dissin’ the Big Ten, telling me the Packers won’t get beyond round one of the play-offs, and then going off on tangents about how all conservatives die happy and liberals depress themselves into early graves. WHAT!!! That’s when I have to go back to my old standby, Wisconsin Public Radio, and listen to scintillating conversations on backyard bird counting and how to choose a wood fired boiler. WPA will get me through a good two to four minutes before boredom forces me to go back to Mr. Cowherd. Yesterday’s off-track train wreck derailed me completely. His triad went on about the correlation between serial killers and the name “Lee”. Piss me off, Cowherd!
“Ya know some people are fascinated with hot cars, and some are into the whole Vegas thing, keep that putter in your golf bag Tiger. Well, I can’t help it but I’m really all over this serial killer thing. Did you ever know how many of them are named “Lee”, It’s just weird, don’t ya think?”
This just pushed my buttons to the point I almost had to pull off the road and start punching the steering wheel.
“Come on, Lee Harvey Oswald goes and shots JFK. That Zodiac Killer, what was his name? Oh ya, Arthur “LEE” Allen. Ooh, ooh then there’s Robert Lee Yates, that one up in Spokane and Lee Boyd Malvo, the DC sniper.” He was giddy by this point. What the heck any of this had to do with sports was beyond me until he started attributing stats to these guys.
“Did you know that the first female serial killer was named Aileen “Lee” Wuornos and Ted Bundy hid out in Lee County and the biggest killer of them all was Henry Lee Lucas. I’m just saying…If you’re thinking of naming your kid “Lee” you might want to think again”. Now I’m thinking the whole world is going start jumping to the other side of street every time I walk by. I should be thankful I’m in Wisconsin where walking the streets happens only rarely and not back in New York where I walked everywhere. 
“Now let me ask you this, all you employers. Say you’re out there hiring a secretary and all things being equal, your two candidates are Nancy Lee and Betty Sue, which one are you gonna hire? I’m going with Betty Sue if ya know what I mean”. As if finding a job hasn’t been hard enough, it now looks like I’m going to have to introduce myself by my real name.
“Hi, I’m LeRoy.”
Will the harassment ever end.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It was a late start to winter this year. The leaves didn’t begin to turn until well into October, way beyond the normal fleeing time of mid-September when they lose their hold and float to the ground. The smell of apples and pumpkins saturated the country air long after the turkey had been carved into leftover sandwiches. And when the leaves finally did fall they left a tableau of unpicked golden globes suspended from silhouetted dark gnarly branches against a snowy landscape like Christmas ornaments on Halloween trees. With no available budget to decorate the house during the Christmas season, Rick’s ingenuity had us collect the apples and turn them into beautiful wreathes and centerpieces for the dining table. As the holiday waned and the needles began to fall from the tree, the apples started their shriveling decline. In an attempt to be green, both environmentally and economically, I decided not to throw them out but to use them to make applesauce. We may be poor but we can still eat well. Here's my recipe for apples on the verge of  collapse.

Making anything, especially in the kitchen, will take longer than you think if you’re like me and need to consult “Cooking for Dummies” when it comes to boiling water. So if you cook like me plan on about an hour and a half from start to finish.

Approximately 4 lbs of apples just on the verge of going bad
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
1/4 cup of pure cane sugar
Several cinnamon sticks (the Mexican kind are the best)
A small handful of cloves
One cup of water
The peel of one lemon stripped with a vegetable peeler
The juice from that same lemon
A dash of salt

First quarter and core all of your apples. Leave the skins on (its were you’ll find most of the flavor). Then cut them into smaller pieces and dump them into a pot.

Peel the skin off your lemon and add that to the pot, then squeeze in the lemon juice.

Now dump all of the remaining ingredients into the pot and give it a couple of stirs.

Place the pot on the stove, cover it, and bring the whole thing to a boil.

After the contents come to a boil turn the heat down to simmer and leave for 25 minutes stirring a few times.

When the apples start to look like mush, take the pot off the stove and pick out the cloves, lemon rind and cinnamon sticks, they were there for flavor not for consumption.

Take a potato masher and beat the heck out of the remaining mixture.

You can serve it hot or cold. I prefer mine warm with a big scoop of vanilla yogurt. If you live on the wild side you can spike your sauce with some brandy. Store what you don't eat in the fridge or if you aren't going to devour it in next thirty days put the whole thing in your freezer. It’ll last in there for up to a year. Bon Appetit!

When life presents you with shriveled apples, make the best of it.