This is a shot from my office window, tweaked. Another gorgeous day in this civilized place. Another day on Earth, which cares not for the commotion of the ants or the arguments in the migratory flocks.

I had some fascinating conversations with colleagues at the office about the election; text convos with Daughter about things that were obviously floating around the lunch room, and more over dinner, and more when we went grocery shopping. The kids are worried that the government is now going to force them to do things and impose ideas on people who do not agree. The kids think the President can make the Supreme Court pass a bill. (Wonder where they got THAT idea.) I hoped I helped with lunchroom chat. My daughter knows I can’t stand the man, so I’m not defending him. I’m explaining the Whys and hoping for the Maybes.

Well, there’s an old Chinese curse, right? “May you live in 2016.” Or something like that. I keep reminding Daughter: when you follow all the Hot Issues of the Day Everyone Is Furious About, you’re looking the scorpion in the eye, thinking you can glare him down with your indignation. Big mistake. Watch the claw. Beware the tail.


We have engaged a college counselor.

She has a nice office in a storefront - a building from the teens or twenties. In those days they had the store up front and lived in the back, or downstairs. The ceiling is painted white, original pressed-tin squares up above. I look up and see one or two are loose. It’s anomoly; the lights, the walls, the bookcases, the chairs - everything is showroom perfect.

At one point in the interview the counselor apologizes for the beeping. I hadn’t heard it but now I do. Two beeps in the back room. We talk; we look at a big map of colleges across the country. (two beeps) I play to Daughter’s expectations that I want her to go to University of Iowa, and say “let me fix this” and I fold the map so just a few Midwestern states are showing. Eye roll. (two beeps) The counselor is talking about PSAT and SAT and many other things, the importance of doing great things in the summer so you have experiences to put on your application. (two beeps) How different it was in our time! she says. She went to the U. She got right in. She always wanted to go there; it was great, and it’s so much better now.

Thank you I think but I know that's not how Daughter's hearing it.

She suggests we tour local colleges to get a frame of reference for other colleges - big public, small private. (two beeps) There’s a clear-plastic square with pencils; they’re all the same length, and they’re all sharp. I take one out, just to have something to hold. Daughter talks about her writing, and what she wants to do, and how she’s just interested in exploring all the options. The map is spread wide open (two beeps)

“It’s the alarm,” the counselor says. “The landlord comes and fixes it sometimes. He said last time it was spiders in the basement.”

“It could be a low battery warning,” I say. “Is there a control panel? A big box in the back?”

“I don’t know - yes.”

“I can take a look.”

“Oh, I appreciate that! It’s back this way.” (two beeps)

She leads me back to the box and returns to the office to talk to wife and daughter. I look at the box: it’s old. There’s a thick electrical conduit pipe going into the floor. No indication of a backup battery unit. I look at the controls: there is one flashing bulb.


I look around for anything else, and only see an Apple router, flashing yellow. Which might indicate an internet connection, but this unit is too old.

Back to the office. I see a motion detector in the corner, and think, it might be broken. It might be sending an error message. Perhaps if I wave at it, no red light will show, because as far as it's concerned I'm not really here.

We continue with the interview. The counselor is talking about her own post-college life, based on my questions about degrees that combine Art and Creativity with Actual Earning, and she looks at me and says she worked at the StarTribune, in the other building.

We reminisce briefly about this old building, now demolished. (two beeps)

When it’s all done we agree that this will be great and helpful and the best way to help her find the next place. We step outside into the unusually warm November night; the park is across the street. The park with the swings and the pool and the community center, where she rode her flag-festooned trike to the 4th of July celebrations.

Eighteen years. Half a block.

How did this survive? Who had it? Who kept it?

"Only dependable quality pays." Not the most persuasive slogan. Pays what? Why, it PAYS A DELICIOUS FOOD.

You don't think of butter as food. Part of food, but not food itself. What's for dinner? Butter. Anything else? Just butter.

A brilliant piece of 20s style design:

It cleans the slogan. THE SLOGAN CLEANS THE SLOGAN.

Finally, something that gave me the creeps when I was a kid. I did not want this. I liked robots and machies but this guy had a touch of the graveyard about him.


"You can take him apart" and put him back together.

Technically true, but good luck, kids.





Perfect-sized town for this feature - as usual, no more than 6000 souls. There was mining; then there was the train; then there were ranchers and more mining. Then terror and bloodshed: "Gunnison County is the setting of the science fiction film Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem."

Of course, they shot it elsewhere. So what do we have? Perfectly restored, or never ruined:

Someone spent a lot on that one when it went up. They would have been surprised to come back in a hundred years and see trees, though. What are trees doing on the main street?

By contrast . . .

The Benevolence of the Elks does not extend to architecture.

It's the little roof that really makes the building. OKAY, okay, we're sorry. Here's a traditional element. Happy? No? Whatever.

The jumble-tumble of letters was a signage favorite, once upon a time.

From here it's Pi Za. I wonder if the Z just fell off one night, and some took it before the owners could put it back up. It hung in someone's bedroom for a while. No really Mom he gave it to us

The other view is more complete, and would have answered any questions raised by the broken side. Yes. Yes, they have pizza.

Long low building, no name - perhaps a speculative venture. Stores downstairs, apartments upstairs.

Again, that regrettable remodeling: people don't want too much window. You give them a lot of window, they just spend time looking out and getting lost in unhelpful thoughts. Tom Edison, there's a man who didn't need much window.

A classic sign that wouldn't be out of place in California . . .

. . . and one you wouldn't see in California, probably; long-ago swapped out for something more up-to-date.

But this will always be up-to-date.


I'm sure it was another bank before it was Bank of the West, and it's nice they put in that corner window so people inside could check the time without having to look at their wrists.

Interesting ghost:

You don't see many downtown signs advertising automobile services, especially quotidian ones like Tuneups.

Unless this was a clothing store run by a Dutchman named Tuneup.

If I had to guess: height-of-post-war-downtown-shopping 50s building, absolutely unadorned; sign is original.

Then it needed updating, because it was plain. I'd say early 80s.

If it flapped those things hard enough, it might lift off.

We end this visit to an ordinary little downtown with a tall tower:

There's a time in every small town's life when someone builds higher than two stories, and it's always a source of local pride. Looks as if they might have considered building another one next to it, but there was a Panic.

Looking at those amazing clouds, it's not so bad that the sky has pride of place in Gunnison.



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