At the coffee shop, waiting for my daughter to finish hi-YAAAing her way through karate class. Neither the brusque old poet or the lady who fell asleep with her finger up her nose is here. Now I’m worried. I hope they’re okay.

This is an odd little strip mall. It has a small parking lot that’s crammed every single hour of every single day, thanks to the diversity of the stores. The karate school ensures that 25 cars attempt to park or leave every 40 minutes. A Papa John’s means the delivery drivers - always running out with an armload of pies, a smoke jammed in their mugs - are jockeying for spots that don’t exist right up until the magic moment when they do. The video store went out of business, of course. The Snyder Drug store, hammered by Walgreens in these parts, closed its big store and moved into the video store, where it limped along for a year or two before gasping out; its big store became the Dollar Tree dreck emporium, and the excess space was turned into . . . a weightlifting studio, so the staff at the Dollar Tree has to put up with whumpa-thumpa rupture soundtracks, punctuated by earthshaking jolts when the brutes drop the barbells. Then there’s an old Pepito’s Mexican joint, which gets some take-out traffic but not as much as they'd like, I think. A Subway, which generates more take-out traffic, a Great Clips, where there's always two stylists and three customers, and you never see the same stylists twice. At the Subway next door, it's always the Somali guy with the please-kill-me-now expression, and always the very small lady who speaks almost no English.

Then it's a TOBACCO store that’s been around for a long time, and has bongs and big ugly window signs for cheap off-brand smokes. Everyone who leaves the store gets into a pickup with tools in the back. Every one. Next door, a Check Cashing store, either a remnant of the old demographic or a sign of the new one; hard to tell sometimes. An Asian take-out joint, which not only requires parking but spots for the delivery staff; since it's next to the Karate school, the drop-off / pick-up traffic is as dense as Midtown Manhattan.

Without the horns, that is. No one honks.

Finally, a boutiquey bakery shop that serves only muffins. AND NOTHING ELSE.


And, of course, this coffee shop. So getting in the lot’s a problem, because it's on a busy corner with one of those traffic lights whose timing was exquisitely calculated by a professional sadist. Getting out is hard, if someone has the suicidal idea of turning left on a busy street a block from a light-controlled intersection. They’ll sit there and let traffic in the lot back up ten cars long rather than do the sensible thing, which is turn right, go a block, then either turn left or right once they have a lane and a light. If you’re waiting for a spot, you sit in the lot with a blinker on, indicating possession of the spot that’s just about to open because someone got in their car, and will leave any hour now, after they make a few phone calls and play some chess and maybe Monopoly, and read some Moby Dick.

It’s interesting slice of the town. The difference in the demographics in a ten-blocks stretch is something: decaying stock to 1920s apartments to million-dollar homes.

The 1920s apartments, by the way, are the staple of cities. You need houses of all sizes, but you don’t need massive high-rise apartments in a city like this. Obviously they work for the pre-alienated or those who don’t mind being stacked up high in the sky with a thousand strangers. The 1920s apartments, though: the building blocks. They’re always the same - two stories or three, with a few basement apartments. Room enough for one. I lived in a few - one was the Birchwoods, by the U of M. Back then they were falling apart, creaky drafty ancient places where the pipes clanked all night as though there elves hammering away at rheingelt in the basement. Old tile from a desultory modernization in the Kennedy years. Clawfooted tubes. Everything painted over sixteen times, from the tub to the woodwork. You’re surprised they didn’t paint over the mirrors.

They’re often built in twos or threes, so you can look out your window and see the people in the next building. One night I saw neighbors juggling bowling pins. Throwing them to each other in perfect synchronized action. Well then.

The other was 718, a block up the street - built in the 30s or early 40s, with some 50s flats next to 1900s apartments. I loved that neighborhood. No one planned it. It followed no theories about how people should live. It just happened, and it felt right for everyone.

Here, drive around for yourself. The utterly nondescript white block is the old apartment; the Birchwoods are down to the left. Kitty-corner is Ralph and Jerry's, or was Ralph & Jerry's - it's the spot where the final murder in "Autumn Seranade" takes place.



The vacant lot was an immense church, once; it went down in 2002 when a wall collapsed, and the entire structure was too unstable to save. The new church is going up in the same spot, but it looks as unchurchy as they get. But these things change. On the BBC today I heard an interview with a mosque architect, who said her clients want a traditional mosque, meaning minarets and a dome, but the minarets came from Persian architecture, and the dome was Byzantine. Roman, really. The "Traditional" mosque is a cube.

So this is the new church to replace the classic old glowering godly pile:


Nearer my God to Mies, as I say on another site.


Would have written more novel last night but I was beat, and just wanted to sit in front of the TV and watch “Hoarders.” It’s fascinating. Can’t get enough. And it’s always the same, too. There’s always two stories, they alternate between them, and something is always about to happen, usually eviction. Last night was one of those really cheerful episodes where both stories end in failure. The fascinating part? Not the junk they keep, not the reasons they give, not the delusions they construct, but the immense disconnect between their rational, intelligent conversations, and their insanity.

You have someone cheerfully chatting away about the mess, how bad it’s gotten, gosh it just got out of hand, and ten minutes later she’s having a panic attack over throwing away an empty shampoo bottle from 1987, and then OKAY IT’S OVER EVERYONE GO HOME and the person goes to her room to sit in the dark and drink a gallon of chocolate syrup. Wow. And I say this as someone who understands the difficulty of getting rid of things, because A) they might be worth something, B) someone might use it, or C) it has sentimental value.

The thing is, the stuff I get rid of might be worth something, and some other collector might use it. As for sentimental value, I go through stuff every few years and toss most of it out. Best to do that while the memories are still attached, and feel fairly fresh. But I’ll admit I have saved, and do save, things that have no intrinsic value whatsoever, and I’ve saved them for just that reason. The ephemeral stuff is the epidermis of an era, and when it’s gone and we’re left with the bones - books and movies and music - then it’s difficult to get a full appreciation of what an era looked like. I mean, I’d love to see a french-fry bag from Crown Drive-in in Fargo, but they’re all gone, and gone forever.

So I feel some regret at the wholesale pitchfork sessions, but I’m sorry. I’ve only so much room, and I think if I confine the ephemeral archives to plastic bags tagged by year and stored chronologically in crates under the basement stairs, I’ve done my part. And the bushels of matchbooks. So. Many. Matchbooks. But that’s the thing: in these Hoarder episodes, they never come across anything worth a damn. You never see anyone spade up a layer in a back room and come across a stratum of 1940s comic books or Grandpa’s complete collection of interwar German script or even something as humble and interesting as a hundred pieces of 1960s motel stationery. It’s just junk. Plus teddy bears. So. Many. Teddy bears.

It’s the bears that make you wonder how deep the damage goes. Friendly little symbols of childhood, a little totem of affection, the safety of recollected innocence. In the episode I watched last night one of the women had a mother who was a hoarder; the other had a mother who kept the house tidy and squared away. In both cases you got women with weight issues who had filthy crowded houses whose impenetrable spaces were regarded with the dead black eyes of infantile objects.

Another thing: everyone in the show tires after two hours. (“Didn’t get my 12 hours last night,” one says.) This is not a mystery. The strain involved in pushing everything away all the time - it’s absolutely exhausting.

Anyway. I ama computer-file hoarder, but at least they're all sorted and tagged. Today's dump o'stuff is more Film Daily ads from 1926, the vanished world of pre-sound movie publicity. Get ready to meet Rex, the Devil Horse! It starts HERE. Have a grand day, and I'll see you around.

(Note: if the link above doesn't do anything - and it didn't on my preview, because the internet hates me - try the link in the sidebar menu.)











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