Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grocery Escapades

Dear George,
I wouldn’t say life is unthrilling these days, but when your peak experiences of the week include going to the supermarket it makes you wonder.  I used to just go along with Katja while she did the grocery shopping.  However, now we’ve developed a division of labor, and I go on my own most of the time.  I don’t need to make up a list because I always get the same items: high fiber cereal, a quart of 2% milk, half a dozen bananas, 10 containers of lite yogurt, mozzarella cheese, hard salami, raw carrots, celery hearts, a few bottles of cheap red wine, and canned and dry dog food.  If Lean Cuisines are on sale for $2, I get two dozen of those.  Also some dental floss if we’ve run out.  Katja goes to the elite grocery store near Hyde Park and she buys everything else – about four times as much as I do.  This arrangement works efficiently, the refrigerator is always full, and we are never in want of healthy or tasty things to eat.

I was excited when we recently got a mailing which contained a dozen grocery discount coupons.  The packet included high fiber cereal, 2% milk, lite yogurt, mozzarella cheese, lean cuisine meals, and the specific brand of canned dog food that I buy.  It was astonishing.   How could the supermarket know exactly what I wanted to buy that very week?  Modern technology has truly made life a consumer paradise. 

I set off for the store first thing in the morning.  There was a sale at the deli counter on my favorite brand of hard salami so I stopped there first.  Several people were already in line, and I took a ticket from the machine at the counter.  I got number 91, and I noticed they were currently waiting on customer number 84.  That didn’t seem so bad.  There were three clerks behind the counter, but only two of them were waiting on customers.  One lady had thick glasses, and the other had a large artificial gardenia in her hair.  They didn’t seem in much of a hurry.  They’d chat with one another or with the customers, wander off to the back room to get some more meats or cheeses, and generally do their jobs in slow motion.  I stood there for ten minutes, and they had only gotten up to number 88.  Fortunately a couple of patrons got impatient and left, so nobody responded when they called out numbers 89 and 90.  When they asked for 91, an older lady who had been waiting behind me called out, “I’m number 91.”  I looked again at my ticket.  “I’m 91 also,” I said.  The employee behind the counter looked puzzled.  The other customer repeated, “I’ve got 91.”  “You can’t both have 91,” the clerk said.  I showed the clerk my ticket.  She said, “This man has 91.”  The lady behind me frowned.  She didn’t bother to look at her ticket.  She just said, “I guess I must have 92.” 

Relieved that justice had been served, I ordered a pound and a half of salami.  The clerk put a large pile of salami on the scale but it was only 0.87 pounds.  That was way off the mark.  She added another big pile, bringing it up to 1.35 pounds.  Then to 1.46, 1.49, and finally 1.50.  “Anything else?” she asked.  I hadn’t planned to get anything else, but I’d waited so long in the line that I looked at the sale signs on the back wall.  I decided to order a pound of Athenero Hummus which was on sale for $1.99.  The clerk looked puzzled, then asked her colleague, “Where is that Athenero Hummus?”  The other lady said it was at the cheese counter down the aisle.  Just then a fortysomething male employee walked by, and he volunteered to escort me to the cheese counter.  I gratefully followed along.  We got there and neither he nor I could find any Athenero Hummus.  We checked the front, the back, and both ends of the cheese counter, but there wasn’t even a price sticker on the shelf for Athenero Hummus.  The employee said he would go to the back room to see if he could find it there.  I said not to bother.  I explained I only ordered it because it was on sale.  Actually I’d never bought any kind of hummus before.  I didn’t even know what Athenero Hummus was.

The rest of my shopping trip went more smoothly.  I walked down the main aisle, coupons in hand, and located one bargain after the next.  When I got to the wine aisle I decided to get three bottles of red wine.  The supermarket had previously given me a cloth wine holder that held six bottles, but I had forgotten to bring it, so I settled for three bottles.  I didn’t really need to buy any wine at all.  Several months ago Katja subscribed to an elite connoisseur’s wine club which sends us cases of fine wine for only twenty dollars a bottle.  For free, they also sent us a 14-inch high corkscrew machine which works by pushing a lever back and forth to remove the cork.  I’m probably not doing it correctly, but so far the machine just shoves the cork down inside the wine bottle.  That’s o.k. because if you then stick a shish kabob skewer down inside the bottle to block the cork, the wine pours out perfectly well.  We’ve been taking our time drinking the connoisseur wine though.  I like to save expensive wine for special occasions, and we were only a third of the way through our first case when a second box of twelve bottles arrived last week.  So now we have nineteen bottles of twenty dollar wine on hand.  My personal theory is that, if you close your eyes and take a sip from a glass of red wine, you can’t tell if it cost twenty dollars a bottle or $3.50.  My favorite red wine costs $4.09 and has a screwtop so you don’t have to rely on a corkscrew machine.  Ordinarily the supermarket stocks this brand in Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but this time I could only find the Merlot.  That’s the best anyway so I put three bottles in my cart.  

The store was pretty busy, and there was only one checkout lane that appeared to have no customers.  When I pulled my cart in, however, the conveyor belt was filled up with groceries.  The cashier, clearly irked, said that her customer thought she had finished shopping, but then she had decided to go shopping again.  The cashier cleared away a foot or two of space near the cash register, saying she’d take me, and I started unpiling my items.  She asked if I’d found everything o.k.  I explained I hadn’t been able to find the Athenero Hummus.  The cashier seemed taken aback.  All the chasiers ask first thing if you’ve found everything o.k., and probably no one in history had ever told this particular cashier that they hadn’t.  In any case, she seemed rather stunned.  Then she said she’d never heard of Athenero Hummus before.  She volunteered to call her supervisor.  I explained that I didn’t really want the Athenero Hummus anyway.  I’d only been interested because it was $1.99 and I’d waited so long in line.  I added that these were wonderful coupons they’d sent me in the mail, and the cashier agreed.  She said that she was very sad that she couldn’t get any because  she worked for the supermarket. 

As I started to pay with my credit card, I commented to the cashier that the other customer whose items were on the checkout belt was really taking her time.  “Here she comes now,” the clerk said.  The other customer was a quite elderly, very obese, poorly dressed, unattractive African American woman in a motorized wheelchair.  She’d returned with a tube of Crest toothpaste.  When you think about victims of prejudice in our society, this woman had the deck stacked against her on practically every dimension one could think of.  She probably felt entitled to a few breaks in life.  I agreed.  I was glad I‘d finished in time so she wouldn’t have to wait. 

The clerk gave me the receipt.  She said that I had 84 gasoline fuel points and that I had saved $7.72.  The 84 fuel points meant that if I just spend $16 more at the supermarket, I can get a gasoline discount of ten cents per gallon.  The $7.72 in savings, which included my special coupons plus the sale price on 1.5 pounds of salami, may not seem like that much, but, if you’re an elderly person who subsists solely on his monthly social security checks, $7.72 is nothing to sneeze at.  It will probably be another six months before the supermarket chain sends us our next batch of personalized coupons.  I am ready and waiting.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lame-Brained Poetry

Dear George,
Since September we’ve been doing a Poetry Writing Workshop offered by the OLLI “lifelong learning” program at the university, and it’s been fun and challenging.  There are about a dozen people in the class, most of them more experienced poetry-writers than I.  Carrie writes profound soliloquies about the meaning of life and death.  Roger reflects upon intellectual and scientific matters, e.g., “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  Sandra creates nostalgic poems about growing up in the Ozarks.  My poems aren’t as elegant or poetically expressive.  I get inspired by Dr. Seuss, though I know it’s impossible to come anywhere close to his off the wall style.   I don’t know if there is actually a category called “lame-brained poetry,” but, if there is, that’s the specialty I seem to be aiming for.  Here are a couple of my efforts from class.

Colors.  One of our assignments was to write a poem about a color or colors, using repetition of a strong word or phrase.  For some reason, I immediately thought about a blue kitten.  Here is how my poem wound up.

Blue is for Kitty

If my cat could change color
I think she would want to be blue
Blue as the sky on the Fourth of July
Though green is a good color too

Green makes me think of cabbage and peas
I could add these to Kitty’s stew
A cat dyed green would stand out in the crowd
Yet pink is a hip color too

Pink is the tint of an infant’s skin
For a cat, that’s radically new
Kitty already has a pinkish tongue
Though red is a smart color too

Red is the color of rubies
I’d love to buy Kitty a few
Rubies would make her neck sparkle
But purple would more than make do

Purple reminds me of vampires
At my throat evil Kitty would chew
She’d be another of Dracula’s brides
That’s why orange is a much better hue

Orange is a favorite color for cats
I know you have seen quite a few
Kitty, in fact, was orange at birth
That’s why I was thinking of blue

Yes, blue would be best for my Kitty
I could show her off at the zoo
But in fact I don’t really own a cat
So some of my poem is untrue

The Senses.  Another task was to describe a specific setting, incorporating most or all of the human senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste).  I guess pets are on my mind since it occurred to me that our sheepdogs provide us with daily experiences through most of the senses.

I Wish I Could Sleep Like a Sheepdog

I haven’t slept well for a dozen years
The reasons are vague and mysterious
Bad sleep taps into my deepest fears
I’m scared that I’ll soon be delirious

I used to think it was due to the noise
The sirens whiz by on our street
But noise doesn’t seem to bother the boys           
Their sleep is so deep it’s a treat

The sheepdogs retire at nine o’clock         
Twelve years old, they’re both getting creaky           
I hoist each one up like an eighty-pound rock
I hope they don’t think that I’m geeky

In bed the dogs are a wonderful sight
They’re such a jubilant pack
Mike’s handsome head is snowy white
While Duffy’s right ear is jet black

Mike’s forty inches from nose to tail
And Duffy’s exactly the same             
The bed’s seventy-eight from rail to rail
Small space for big dogs is a shame

The humans climb in with a sense of dread
Katja lies on her side on a slant
I scrunch up my knees with my feet off the bed
The dogs would make room but they can’t
Duffy then rests his head on my calf
While Mike leans on top of my back
So heavy and warm I’m prompted to laugh
Though I feel like I’m pinned to the rack

The dogs begin dreaming at two a.m.
They’re chasing squirrels on the lawn
Their legs are twitching at a high r.p.m.
These dreams keep on going till dawn

Our room often smells like dog perfume
Especially if fur’s wet from rain          
Sometimes a dog makes a gaseous fume
We stop breathing and pray it will wane

At least the dogs don’t bark through the night           
Instead they make whimpers and moans
It’s hard tell if it’s sadness or fright
With dogs there are many unknowns

In closing, insomnia’s a mystery
The sheepdogs sleep perfectly fine
We share the same bed, the same history
I guess I’ll start drinking more wine

Similes.  A third homework assignment was to write a poem using one or more similes.  A simile is a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between different kinds of things, usually using “like” or “as”, e.g., “as cool as a cucumber.”  I started thinking about “life”, which of course can be represented by a zillion similes. 

What Is Life Like Exactly?

Life is a lot like a movie
A beginning, a middle, an end
The beginning can often be groovy
But I think that the end’s where you mend

Childhood was like a Three Stooges short           
Curly bopping Moe on the bean           
Our parents tried to give us support
But for children it’s fun to be mean

My teen years were more like those Beach Party flicks
Frankie A. and Annette Funicello
Crew-cutted guys and bikini-clad chicks
I’m sad I was such a shy fellow

My college years were pure John Belushi
All-night poker and free-flowing beer           
We ate cold pizza and vegetable sushi
It’s amazing I found a career

My thirties became a comic horror story
The zombies lived right down the hall           
Conflicts at work could border on gory
I tried to stay out of the brawl

Middle age was a black and white mystery
Charlie Chan or maybe Sam Spade
I struggled to unravel my history
And hoped that my dreams wouldn’t fade

My sixties were like a slow British pic           
The scenes were offbeat and quirky                       
I went to work and did my shtick
I was lucky my spouse was so perky

Retirement’s been a song and dance show
Ginger Rogers and vintage Astaire
Their dancing trick was to go with the flow
And treat life like a glorious affair

This year seems most like a travelogue
We go on adventures through OLLI
We learn everything about Paris or Prague
But the poems are what keep us jolly

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Vic L., Lieutenant JG, U.S. Navy

Dear George,
Our family’s connection to Veterans’ Day goes back to the 1940’s.  My dad, Vic L., was 34 when the U.S. entered World War II, and my mother, Doris, was 32.  Their age cohort right in the thick of the World War II generation, and that profoundly affected their lives; our family, friends, and community; and, of course, the nation and the entire world.  The scope and disastrous consequences of World War II are beyond imagination.  It’s estimated that 50,000,000 people died in World War II.  That included 405,399 U.S. military personnel -- over four times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined.

Vic on leave with my brother Steve at our family river property, ca. 1944

My dad underwent officer training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station on Lake Michigan just north of Chicago in the early 1940’s.  Earning the rank of Lieutenant JG, he was stationed on a communication ship in the Pacific Theater and spent months in occupied Japan at the end of the war.  He later described his wartime navy experiences as the most powerful and meaningful of his life.  

Vic (center) with two navy colleagues. 

In a rickshaw in Tokyo at the end of the war. 

My uncle Kent L. in uniform

My father always described his younger brother Kent L. as the family’s war hero.  To the best of my recollection, Kent earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star among other honors for his army combat service in major battles in the European theater.  He corralled a German Shepard Nazi war dog in the trenches in France, named him ARCO, and brought him back to Menominee where he became our playmate.  After the war Kent was elected commander of the Menominee American Legion post and later became the state commander of the American Legion in Michigan.  

Veterans (+ Steve and Dave) at a flag-raising at our house in 1946

My dad and his friends, most notably Pat Steffke and Michael O’Hara, shared strong bonds from their World War II experience.  From the left, Vic in his navy uniform, Pat Steffke in his army uniform, and Michael O’Hara in his marines uniform.  Mike O’Hara led a platoon of 16 African-American Marines in battle at Okinawa.

Some seventy years later it’s hard to even imagine the courage and fortitude required of our parents and family friends during this prolonged world crisis.  It calls for a lot of respect and gratitude from succeeding generations.  I’m glad that Veteran’s Day comes around each year as a reminder.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Archive: Vic's Photos (#9)

Doris, Steve, and Dave at our house on the river

Dear George,
Every week I put one of my dad Vic L.’s photos of our family, friends, and hometown in this blog’s righthand column.  Because the individual photos get deleted at week’s end, I’ve brought them back here in a series of archives.  My brother Peter made most of these images available by creating a series of postcards from Vic’s photos, and a few have also come from family albums.  Earlier archives on this blog can be visited by clicking on “Archives” in the “Labels” section of the right-hand column.  There will be more to come in the future.

My maternal grandfather, Guy Cramer, was an insurance executive in Omaha and a veteran of the Spanish-American war.  He moved to Menominee in 1938 several years after my grandmother died and lived down the street from us at 9143 Ogden Avenue.  He built the house on the Menominee River as a summer cottage, and shortly after World War II it became our family home for the next two decades.  Guy died in 1942. 

My grandfather, V.A. Sr., emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden in his youth, worked for a short time as a logger in the U.P. woods, then went to pharmacy school and eventually became a successful druggist and businessman in the twin cities.  V.A. was a quiet, patient, loving man, a father of four, and a good grandpa.  By the time I worked at his Marinette drugstore he was retired, though he would occasionally fill in as the substitute pharmacist. 

This is my mom and myself shortly after my birth in summer 1937.  I know just about nothing about my infancy.  I should have asked my parents more.  My mother looks very happy in pictures like this one, though I always imagine that my parents were more nervous with their firstborn child than with my three siblings who were to follow. 

This is my early childhood best friend Sally F. and I engaged in a challenging project for two-year-olds in our living room.  Sally’s dressed up, though our activity looks messy, and it looks like she knows more than I about what we’re doing.  When my family moved from Ogden Avenue to Sheridan Road after my kindergarten year, Sally and I lost touch for the rest of our grade school years, but then we became close friends again in high school. Sometimes I see her at high school reunions, and it’s always a happy get-together. 

Here’s my sweet grandfather, V.A. Sr., and myself, probably when I was about four.  V.A. lived with us for a while at river house, building a cabin on the lot next door, and he was a regular visitor to our home after he moved to Pine Beach to live with his daughter Martha and son-in-law Ralph Buscher.  V.A. was a gentle, kind man, devoted to his family, loving to his grandchildren. 

This is Steve and I at our family Xmas tree (circa 1944), probably at our Sheridan Road house in Menominee during World War II.  My dad went through Naval officer training at the Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago, then was stationed in the Pacific.  I would guess that he was home for the holidays to capture this shot of his two kids.  

This is my dad and my younger brother Steven, probably at our house on the Menominee River.  We spent a lot of our childhood playing outside in the yard, the river, and the woods, whether summer or winter.  

Menominee has serious Michigan winters, and sledding was one of our many outdoor activities.  The best sledding hill in town was at the Tourist Information Lodge next to the Interstate Bridge.  Living out on the river, though, we’d build our own sled ramp off the river bank and belly-flop onto it to slide dozens of yards out onto the ice.  Then we’d tow one another on our sleds across the river to Pig Island or downstream to Brewery Park. 

I’m going to guess this photo was taken in the late 1940’s which would place the participants in their 40’s, a peak time for socializing and fun for this group.  From the left, Doris L., Jean O’Hara, and Florence Caley.  In talking with childhood friends over the years, nobody has ever managed to create the camaraderie of this Menominee group of our parents and their friends. 

My grandfather, V.A. Sr., founded Rexall drugstores in downtown Menominee and Marinette, and my uncle Kent came to own and manage the Menominee store when V.A. retired.  Because it was just a half block away from our grade school, Steve and I ate lunch there daily and got to read all the new comic books.  

My sister Vicki was born in 1947, a year after our family moved out to our house on the Menominee River.  Here she is on the living room window seat with our Irish Setter family dog, Mike. 

These are my uncles Kent and Karl, identical twins, and Kent’s oldest son, Thor.  Kent was a pharmacist, and Karl was a sales rep for Kimberly Clark in Neenah-Menasha.  Despite their near-identical looks, Karl and Kent were very different in temperament: Karl, more jovial and outgoing; Kent, more serious and sometimes stern.  Kent was married with kids, and Karl was a bachelor (until he married when I was in college).  Our extended family would gather each Xmas at our house on the river (where this photo was taken), and it was a festive occasion. 

My aunt Martha was my father’s younger sister.  She was married to Ralph Buscher who helped run my grandfather’s Marinette drugstore. Martha and Ralph had two kids, Ann and John, who we still visit when we travel to the twin cities.  Martha was a librarian at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette as well as the family genealogist.

My Uncle Ralph helped run our family’s Marinette Rexall drugstore where we all worked in our youth.  He had a big heart and a good sense of humor, sang in a barber shop quartet, and, was a good father and family man.  Ralph always brought a lot of good spirit and fun to our family gatherings, and it was shocking when he passed away in his 40’s.   

I can’t make out the woman at the left, but the others are Jean O’Hara, Florence Caley, and my mom Doris L, apparently on an outing on Green Bay on either an O’Hara or a Caley boat. 

I got braces in about the fifth grade.  My orthodontist, Dr. Gilling, was located in Green Bay, 45 miles away, but he made trips to Menominee every few months and set up for the day at Dr. Mead’s office, our family dentist.  Two things that Dr. Gilling always said to me was that my mouth was like an artesian well and that I was very brave.  Having braces was unpleasant, especially when the dentist tightened them and when he attached strong rubber bands to pull them in various directions.  In this photo I look a little self-conscious, trying not to smile and hiding my teeth and their apparatus.  

From the left: Steve (b. 1941), Vicki (1947), Peter (1945), and me (1937), taken in our front yard at river house.  Because of our age distribution, Steve and I formed one cohort pair in our family, and Peter and Vicki were another.  We all got along reasonably well, though I bullied Steve too much, and Peter and Vicki regularly fought it out for dominance.  Nonetheless, we were close and loving friends and siblings, perhaps moreso in adulthood than as children.   

Here are my sister Vicki (about age 5) and my brother Peter (about age 7) at the front door of Menominee’s Washington Grade School about 1952.  Steve would have been in sixth grade then, and I was in high school.  All the kids in our family went to Washington Grade School, and we came away with a firm footing in the 3 R’s and a lot of memorable playground experiences.  When I go back to high school reunions, it’s my Washington grade school classmates with whom I tend to have the firmest bonds.   

When I was in ninth grade my father and another adult leader founded a troop of Air Scouts in Menominee.  It was a brand new advanced branch of the Boy Scouts, designed to be cutting edge and to provide an option to the Explorers and the Sea Scouts.  Our big event of the year was a trip to the O’Hare military air base in Chicago, where we camped out in our tents off the end of a runway.  Air scouts pictured from the left are Alan Pickl, Frank St. Peter, leader Vic L. (sitting), Jim Hazel, and perhaps Earl Malcolm at the right.  Because I’m the only participant not in the photo, I suspect I took the picture.  We had a fun time on our trip, and we enjoyed the Maxwell St. Flea Market in Chicago most of all.  A prostitute there made an offer to my father to do the whole troop for fifty dollars, but it was a violation of the Air Scout code of ethics and too expensive.   

Here’s my brother Steve, maybe 16 or 17, wrapping an Xmas present in our living room at our house on the Menominee River (circa 1957).  That’s our Hammond Chord Organ in the background which our parents purchased to enhance our musical skills and interest.  I still have the chord organ sitting in the room on which I’m currently typing on the computer, but it’s holding so much flea market stuff that it’s not accessible at the moment for playing.  

Here are my parents, Doris and Vic, and my brother Steve and sister-in-law Margie at their wedding on June 20, 1964, in Elmhurst, Illinois, Margie’s hometown.  We were all thrilled about the event.