01.02.12 There and Back





Sunday afternoon I took down the tree. It didn't see it coming. I braced myself, got off the blocks with surprising speed, and WHAM! Took. It. Down. Did a little victory dance, Tebowed, then spiked an ornament.

Actually, no. Took two hours to denude the house of every manifestation of Joy and Peace and all the rest. Some people wait a while, and I can understand that. I can understand crafting small homey rituals around the 12 Days, keeping the merryment flowing, dragging the moaning body through the streets of January, but I wanted it out and gone.

As for last week, last Friday: well.

Things burn, things fall, but they still remain. I passed the ruins of a farmhouse and a barn, the beams singed, the roof in a heap, and I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen it standing. Or if it had been this way for years. That’s why I take Highway Ten, something my dad just doesn’t get. But there are stoplights. You take the freeway, you make good time.

Well, there’s good time, and there’s good time.

It had been a while, and I’m sure I missed a few changes. A new store opened in a small town, an old store shuttered for good. Staples, the town that suffered a bypass and downtown road construction, twin death-blows to any small downtown, has a new police building, a new civic building, and a freshly-paved main drag, but it seems more empty than ever. The grocery store closed, which must have been depressing for all. Nothing in town ever smells like a grocery store. It’s one thing for storefronts to be empty, but it’s something else when the occupied buildings are closed; then you get that “Stand” vibe that makes you think the owner is in the backroom, abuzz with flies. There was a store that sold musical instruments and oddments, the windows stuffed with jumble goods looked dead and sealed as a Pharoah’s tomb. The Laundromat:





I don’t know how long it’s been closed. I’m trying to imagine how that worked, or didn't: surely some people needed a laundromat. Surely the rent wasn’t too high. A sign on the wall gives you a brackish taste of local culture:


That would make sense in a town populated entirely by amputees.

Stopped at Verndale to stretch my legs, as always. Not a soul to be seen. If one of these items had been singular, I'd think this is where the Staples Laundromat patrons shopped . . .



Pull off by the park, take a break. Look at the names on the war memorial. Look across the tracks to the house on the other side of the highway, and wonder: how long has it been like this?


And do the Lions meet anymore? How many Lions are left?



The third stop: the antique mall in Detroit Lakes, which pays off less and less every trip. The amount of Grandma-era ceramic kitsch is overwhelming, and you can’t help but think a kind man who had untold millions would simply take it off their hands and put it in the landfill and call it done, because the market for this stuff - along with late 1980s beer mugs and VHS tapes and broken dolls and bags of shells from a trip to Florida Mom took in 1976 - is probably smaller than anyone can possibly imagine, and seeing all this stuff is somehow indecent, like you’ve broken into someone’s basement in a small town and gone through the boxes in the back room. It’s only here because someone couldn’t throw it away, and then someone died, and the kids gave it to someone who’d just take it off their hands. There are days I find these places incredibly depressing, as if the only thing someone left behind that strangers might note is this:



But here and there, some old items from a farm barn, examples of commercial design you'll never find in a museum, pieces of art that deserve a moment on the internet.

A few too many vowels in this product:



Interesting: nothing on the front of the tin tells you what the devil it is.

The name of this product is "Whiz."



Imagine a public dispenser aimed at servicing people who've been smoking and drinking:



Right-thinking people would complain that it was corrupting everyone by suggesting that such things could be discussed without warnings or condemnations. Children will get the wrong idea.


I wanted this, but it would just sit in the shelf in the Closet of Mysteries.



I left without buying anything, just like the last time. I'll be back, of course. Wouldn't think of not stopping. I just wonder: if this place closed, where would all this stuff go?

Drove past the site of the Erie Jr. restaurant, which has left almost no trace on the web - the top hits are obits for the cook, a waitress, and something I wrote. I have to find a picture of the place, and perhaps this upcoming book will have something. I' sure it's less than I remember, but I believe that my love of mid-century modernism in its exhuberent vernacular form can be traced to that place. The pointy roof! The broad glass windows, the vaulted ceiling, the banquettes sheathed with sparkly plastic, the holder for the KEL-BOWL-PAC boxes behind the counter. Back from the lake, a burger before we hit the road. Perhaps everyone when they Pass Over finds himself walking through a beloved building from childhood, not as it was, but as they remember. The Erie Jr. would be my Pearly Gates. Probably smells like cigarettes.


The time in Fargo was good. Drove in at five, the magic hour: the city's neon popped on as I walked around downtown.




Nine o'clock brought snow. It lead the local news: trace amounts would be visible, and of course it would be preceded by freezing rain, so let’s be careful out there. The next morn I met my dad for breakfast, along with Auntie Bootsie; they do the two-mile walk in the mall, and meet for coffee before the stores open. So it was McDonald’s. Had an Egg McMuffin, which seemed to be made mostly out of wool. Looked outside to see the snow falling, and thought: best get ahead of this. It was obvious that it was ahead of me. Highway Ten was down to one lane, and it shone with that unnerving glint that could mean ice, could mean wet pavement; the left lane was all snow. Not to say it was unusable: immortal beings in 4X4s roared past, and the occasional semi took the lane, throwing a sheet of snow and water in my path that reduced visibility down to GAAAAHHHH!, to use the technical term.

Pulled off in Staples. Welcome to winter.




After 120 miles the torrid, southern climate of the lower half of the state had boiled off the snow. And then by the time I reached the cities: nothing at all.


The New Year was rung in without ceremony, as usual. My least favorite holiday, although at least it serves the purpose of letting you know that the festivities are done, the gluttony can cease, the bunting can be stored and the tree denuded, the house stripped of its decorations and stored with the slight nervous hope that everything’s okay the next time you see them. Stern January awaits, arms crossed, glaring, and it did not disappoint: not only did the snow fall wet and heavy, but the sidewalks turned to ice, and the wind blew all day as if the previous year was a candle that refused to go out. The dog took his walk as usual and seemed to enjoy this new harsh world, sitting outside with his nose tuned to the wind, detecting the hints and whispers of things to come. For about four minutes, anyway, and then he was at the back door with the front paw raised and his ears back: okay that was stupid. In now please.


Today: the last batch of Motel matches, and some Joe. See you around, and Happy New Year! Fingers crossed.

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