It’s a big town. It’s a small town. I knew when I showed up at Returns to go to Janice, the white-haired lady who’d handled my Target returns before. She knew me. But previously I’d taken back small things. This was a TELEVISION SET, in a huge box. Good for me I had a teen daughter with me; that would insulate me against any suspicions, right?

Well, there’s process. Don’t you know.

I had no receipt. The Laws of Target say you have to have a receipt, but I know how this works: here is the magical plastic rectangle I slid through the slot to establish iron-clad links between your computers and my bank’s computers. Surely it’ll come up. It did - but that’s just the start. She slit open the box. I had taped the box shut, because somehow that made it more legit. Oh, she’d asked why I was taking it back.

“Wrong size,” I said.

“Too big? Too small?”

Sweat on the neck. Why does that matter? Officer, I only had two beers.

“Too small. See, the TVs are getting so good the . . . the area around the screen is smaller, so it looked smaller, even though it’s the same size.”

Janet nodded. She got out the box cutter and I deployed a knife from my tiny but totally genuine Swiss Army Knife set on my keychain, and cut the part closest to me. She started taking out parts, and more neck sweat: they’ll see that I opened up the plastic bag that had all the parts. Now, the parts were all there, but you can’t hide a ripped bag. On the other hand, the plastic skin was still over the screen, along with the pointless ENERGY GUIDE sticker that no one ever cares to consult but must adorn the screen by Federal Regs, because 27 years ago a few pols felt mighty purty darn good about mandating that sticker. It would provide the consumer with necessary information. They never thought the consumer would wonder “it get HD?” and leave it at that.

She slid the TV out of the box, put it on the counter, eyeballed the back, and entered some numbers in the terminal. Ahh.

“The serial number’s in the transaction information?” I asked.

She nodded. I got mock-outraged.

“You think I gave you another TV?”

She nodded. Smiled. “Just to make sure you didn’t put your old TV in the box.”

People do that? She nodded.

And what happens when you catch them? I said. I’d love to see how they react.

She pointed a finger up. I didn’t have to look. I knew what she meant. The smoked-plastic ahlf-circle on the ceiling. THEM.

They are watching.

So, just for fun, I ran. I did a Gustave. I faked a panicked exit, just to give THEM a jolt.

Janet enjoyed it. (I did that gif, by the way. Feel free to steal.)

So you must get lots of people trying to return things for a scam, I said.

“You wouldn’t believe.” She looked at Daughter. “Don’t ever try to steal anything.”

Daughter, plussed, said no of course not. Janet pointed up again.

“They should take kids in fifth grade and give them a tour,” she said. “So they know how they see everything.” To daughter: “It’s just not worth it. And then they have to call your parents.” She looked at me. “A lot of it? Cosmetics.”

So I’ve heard. Organized booster rings that try to get gift cards in exchange for stuff they stole here, or elsewhere. The lesson was good, but we walked away feeling as though we were in East Germany.

Bought a few things. Checking out, I saw last week’s Target Anecdote Clerk an aisle over, the guy with whom I had the strange Tetris conversation. Pointed him out to Daughter, who paid keen attention.

Tetris Clerk had the same underwater movements and strange distance he’d had the week before, I picked up one line of dialogue with a customer:

“It seems like we go through a lot of cereal.”

Difficult to describe just how odd his delivery was. When we left we passed another checkout line, where a woman said, and I quote: “No, no double bags. One plastic bag and stuff it with as much as you can.”

When we got outside I exchanged A Look with Daughter, and we both had the same reaction: why would she request an overstuffed plastic bag, since that’s most likely to rip or have the handle tear? The curt barked order not to double-bag may indicate she regarded Plastic as a global scourge, but if so wouldn’t she have her own bags? Was it sarcasm? Was it an attempt to get everything in a few bags so it would be one trip from the car? Because that I understand.

People are sometimes unfathomable, child. Nowt as queer as folk.

It was a great outing - it had started at Panera, which she wanted to experience, and since Mom wasn’t going to be home for dinner, I obliged. It was really good. There was a fake Modigliani on the wall, and I said it was a painting in the style of Modigliani. How do you know. C’mon. Called up the artist on my phone and showed her pictures of people with long necks and constipated expressions.

“I was an art history minor,” I explained. “But it’s one of those things. Long neck, Modigliani.

“I didn’t know that,” she said. About the art history minor. “I just thought you knew everything about everything.”

“Hardly. The older you get the more you’ll figure out what I don’t know. I’m saying that now so you don’t think I think I know everything.”

“You think there’s anything I know more about that you don’t?”


“Hah. No, not pop-culture stuff.”

“You’re taking Physics this year? I guarantee you know more about that. And science. Cell mytosis.”

“There are FOUR STEPS.”

“Of course. Initial mytosis, medium mytosis, penultimate mytosis, final.”

You want to soften the blow, the inevitable blow. Personally I never had that moment where my dad was revealed to be just a man; I always knew I knew more than he did in the book-learnin’ sense but I always knew he did more than most men, and that’s what shaped my opinion then, and to this very day.

But I can’t help showing off, and so at Target when we saw some new products I named the fonts on the package and called them up on my phone to show I WAS RIGHT. She was actually impressed, and I had to admit it wasn’t that hard. I mean. Seriously. Pupcat and Deftone Stylus in 2015? I thought they were played out ten years ago.

Times like that make think that “had visceral reactions to typefaces” will be a quote that recurs so often in interviews with my survivors that it will make the first paragraph of my obituary. Assuming, of course, I’ll be worth of more than one.


And now . . .

This movie came out in 1942 - but apparently it lingered so long in the public imagination it could be used as a pop-culture reference in the early 50s. If so, people may have forgotten the details, as the various descriptions of the plot say very little about cabbage.

Were there boxes that contained mincing units to convert cabbage into slaw?




Somtimes you can't help but imagine an old man returned to his home town, standing by a building, looking up at its tattered cornice, looking down the tracks to see if a passenger train is coming - 'course not, they stopped running long ago - and then recalling when the platform was full of grown-ups in smart clothes, waiting to head off into the world Sunbury, just as he had done when he turned 18. A single tear starts down his cheek, and then he thinks - oh, no, the depot was down there. I think this was the frieght office.

The occupants of the smaller building would no doubt have been pleased to see how their humble hamlet would grow - why look at that fine church that rose on the lot where once a modest chapel stood. At least I hope they'd be proud, and not castigatin the denomintion for errancy.

The whitewash on the tower is a mystery.

Well, that's the goofiest gomer of a modernization i've seen n a long time, but it has a certain loopy charm

Intact, too. That's got to be the original everything, except the awning.

I hate those awnings.

The Bittner does better on the upper floors than the lower ones. It's just a miracle the upper floors haven't been boarded.

It was something else before it was a Dollar; that modernized storefront has to be around 60 years old. According to this page there was another Bittner in town, and it needed work.

20th century Bank Architecture in one picture:

The modern portion wraps around like a hand. The stone has nothing to do with the stone of the old bank, but it seems they thought that didn't matter.

It should have.

Another case where modernization did an old building proud, right up until things started to rust, and styles changed:

They could have made Apparel and Shoes bigger, but perhaps there was a bigger sign above.


It was something else, then it was something else again:

You know that the city fathers of the time would have considered trees downtown to be a ridiculous idea. You couldn't see the storefronts. What's the point?

Festival of mismatched boards, plus a special entrance for the small and hunched:

The sort of thing you almost never see anymore, and goes unnoticed by most because they don't know how rare it is:

A post-war grocery store, its exterior more or less untouched. I'd rather see one of those than one of these . . .


Can you imagine that anything pleasant would go on inside? Anything?


Have a stroll; see for yourself.


Just two pages of Fargo, as we move through the banks. Today it's a Modernist skyscraper! Eight stories, I believe. See you around.


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