Ten minutes before the coffee shop closes. Sometimes I’ve come here in the summer and looked at the fireplace and the big leather chairs and the lodge-in-the-woods atmosphere and thought nice thoughts about winter. The pleasures of the warm hearth, hot chocolate, festiveness, et cetera. All those things that make you feel as if you’re inhabiting not just a place but a time, a season, something unique to this part of the world. And then you come in here after months of winter and it seems as if it’s been March 5th forever and will ever be thus; the opposite of all of this is unimaginable.
Needed to get out of the house tonight. Bust the routine. Had to pick up daughter at school after the play, at nine; go out in the world and Meet People and Do Things, anything but sit in the studio and tweak and scribble. Went to the Mall to see if there were any markdowns on things I would want to wear. Clothing prices are preposterous and I refuse to pay $89.99 for a thing that cost forty-seven cents to make. Pawed through the S rack at GAP, S being my size; hey, here’s a great deal on seersucker-corduroy-plaid pink slacks. Nope. Eddie Bauer: woody shirts for that lumberjack lifestyle I’ve thus far avoided. Nope. Ring: phone.
“Hello. This is AT&T. You have a hundred dollar credit! To redeem, just go to -“
Hung up. The other day I got the same call, and they offered a three-hundred dollar credit. Since I was right by the AT&T store at the mall, I went in and asked if they knew about this scam. Nope.
“Well, be on the lookout,” I said, feeling impossibly stupid. Mr. Public Service. Went over to the glasses store, since I’m considering new frames, or was until I was reminded that you get 18 inches of wire for $286.
“Nice outside,” said the clerk. I paused. It was seventeen above. But you know, relatively speaking, it was.
He didn’t offer to help me with anything, which I appreciated. He didn’t tell me they had a special offer where I would get the left lens for half price and the right lens for free, which I appreciated. I put on some frames and looked at myself in the mirror, but of course, I couldn’t see anything. Trying on frames that don’t have your correction is like using your feet to try on gloves.
I walked to JCPenneys, being the last stop before I exited, and took a look at the seasonal aisle, the place of Hope, the place where garments of summer would be displayed. They had flip-flops on the wall and the racks nearby had winter coats for 60% off. The incompetence of the store is remarkable. You imagine the top management sitting alone in their offices, staring out the window, the phone ringing unanswered. Finally he hits the button.
Mister Henderson? The seasonal manager is on the line, and wants to know how you think things should be arranged in the store!
Tell him do what he wants, Miss Peterson. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
Off to the grocery store to get, believe it or not, colored plastic lunch bags. We ran out and they make for a nice touch on daughter’s lunch, not that she cares a whit. Also, we didn’t run out, but we will.
At the self-checkout I’m finishing up and as I wait for a receipt a woman comes over, smiling, and starts to put her items on the belt.
“Don’t rush me,” I snarled. “Back off and get out of my space.”
She laughed. “That’s such an American thing, get out of my space.”
Yes it is, and thank God it is. This isn’t just a cultural distinction but a reflection of how people would order themselves if given the chance. Who doesn’t want space? Who wants to be squished in a confined space with strange creatures who have regrettable scent profiles? I’m not saying that I want a six-yard perimeter, but if you don’t have to be close - i.e., in the grocery store line - then don’t be.
I can’t imagine this person saying “That’s such an American thing” about anything, and mean it as a compliment.
Then the other grocery store, with the coffee shop. (Where I was kicked out; writing this now in the parking lot of Daughter’s school.) I had more time to kill, but I needed no groceries. This doesn’t mean you can’t find something, but the more I wandered around with an empty basket the more suspicious I felt. Already I was the guy who burned four minutes at the Redbox looking at movies and didn’t rent anything. I’d turned around every 30 seconds or so to see if there was someone who actually did want to rent something, which made me feel more suspicious.
Ah: CROUTONS. I need CROUTONS. Threw them in the basket with gratitude. We have a purpose. Anything else? You can’t go to the cash register at 8:37 PM with just a bag of croutons, for God’s sake. Checked frozen; good deal on Lean Cuisine. Bought one. Remembered: Daughter has play on Friday, wife won’t be home for dinner, so no pizza. So, buy favorite small pizza. There.
Croutons. Lean Cuisine. Single-serv pizza.
Going to a public place to chat with clerks.
Driving around to kill time.
Sitting in a coffee shop to write and kill more time before going home to write.
It was as if I was a single guy again. This is what it felt like. How I hated it.
When I picked up daughter I resisted the temptation to give her a kiss on the forehead because SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HEY but we chatted merrily about the play and riffed on the songs on the radio, and when I got home I gave my wife a hug that may have rearranged a vertebrae or two.
Speaking of space. Checking the address of a bygone Chinese restaurant for the usual reasons, and got lost clicking around here and there on the East side. The usual scenes of construction, beautiful old structures, gimcrack new ones, blocks and blocks of prole-holes stacked up in the sky. I’ve been altering them in Photoshop, fixing the perspective, adding Mood:
You look at some of the old folks crossing the street with a shopping bag and you suspect they’ve lived there forever, and known nothing else but New York, never lived on a street with trees and quiet nights without sirens. It’s a marvelous city once you get a few floors up or inside a beautiful room whose existence you’d never guess from the exterior. In other words, New Yorkers built New York to get away from New York.
I’m in a parking lot now, waiting for daughter, because that’s one of the thankless obligations.
Kids never know. You almost want to take video of every minute you wait in a car in a lot and string it all together and then when they do something really, really bad, sit them down and make them watch it all.
Looking for the basics: the columned bank, the Ghost Sign, the movie theater, the Moderne building from the 30s. Today: let's go to Ellensburg, Washington!
Why? Well, I was searching for the origin of an old seasick remedy, which led to a Google-scanned newspaper ad, which led to poking around the 1944 archives of the Ellensburg WA fishwrap. An ad:
Well, Wippel's is gone. There were a lot of Wippels in town; Mose was this fellow; "Do" was Dorothy, his sister.
Looking around on Google View, I was impressed with the downtown. It doesn't have the sad post-doom gloom of the East Coast small towns, or the empty ache of some plains hamlets. The buildings look good, there aren't too many pulled-tooth gaps, and the diversity of the styles is marvelous.
Who, might we ask, was Mr. Davidson? (NOTE: if the embeds are a bit fuzzy, just click and they should snap into focus.)
From the city's website, we learn he was an attorney - and later, a judge. Also:
The Davidson Building was under construction at the time of the Great Fire and shares architect J. B. Randall and builder William Ames. Its most distinctive feature is a three-foot Phoenix atop the pediment on the south facade. The Phoenix symbolizes downtown Ellensburg's rebirth from the ashes of the 1889 Great Fire.
Everyone had a fire.
A severely severe bank in the Federal Moderne Style:
It wasn't built like that. It was stripped in the forties. The local historical site says it was "Ben Stipe's Bank," which is a damned odd name for a financial institution. Zoom in to see the details, such as they are.
A fine old Ghost Sign:
More Moderne? Can do:
You can see it in the background of this photo; the sign says CITY HALL but it's obviously a temporary sign.
This could be a little less grim; between the EBT sign and the bound-and-gagged top floor, it's a bit shabby. The glass seems to have fallen off. But you get a great sense of 30s/ 40s modern design:
Oh, about that search for a theater? research turned up three. two are extant. One is unremarkable. The facade of another:
Nice Emerald-City design. But then there's this.
Don't turn the picture around. Just imagine you're heading in on a warm May night on a high school date, wondering where you'll go afterwards, looking forward to the summer ahead. The neon buzzes above; cars drift by, music unfurling from a rolled down window. It's about the best time to be alive in the best place in the world right there. Or so you might think. Unless you'd had an argument on the way over and things were uncomfortable and for the first time you had the sudden fear that true love could be sundered in an instant and there was no way back. In which case you may have wanted to run. Far away. Shake this dull burg's dust off your cuffs.
Decades later you went back for a funeral and the theater was still there, and you remembered that night and wished you were 18 again. You drove by at night to see if tthey turned the lights on but the mast was dark.
It all depends. Nothing's ever perfect.
Usual usual here and there; see you around.