Missing Sheets

Some people have driers that eat socks.

Our drier eats bed sheets.

I’ve been going through the linen cabinets trying to find matching sets. We always buy bed sheets in matching sets.

Somehow I’ve ended up with:

  • Two fitted sheets for twin sized beds with matching pillow cases, but no top sheets.
  • Two matching pillow cases with no matching sheets at all.
  • At least 5 other single pillow cases with no matching sheets.
  • A pillow case and full-size top sheet with no second pillow case and no fitted sheet.
  • A pillow case and full-size fitted sheet with no second pillow case and no top sheet.
  • A bedspread for a full-size bed with one sham
  • A sham with no bedspread.

I can’t imagine where the missing items have gone. They have not been made into backdrops for puppet show theaters.

Unless they were packed in a moving box somewhere along the way and they’re still on the moving truck.

Or the drier ate them.

Or the same people who, we’re sure, stole our George Foreman grill but left the rest of the kitchen in tact one night — there’s no other explanation for why it’s missing — also raided the linen cabinet.

Or maybe I’ve encountered spontaneous conversion of stuff to dark matter.

That would be cool. A black hole in the back of the linen closet.

Maybe we could start a junk disposal business. Except that the closet always seems so full already. Apparently the black hole’s gravity only applies to odd parts of bed linens.

Surely, this is one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Funeral Reunion

The last of my grandparents died a couple weeks ago. She was 98.

The memorial service is this Saturday in Vermont. The rest of the family is in Ohio.

My two brothers and my sister are driving here tomorrow. We’ll cross the lake to spend the day there for the service.

I think this will be the first time that all of us will be together in the same house without our parents there since they used to leave me in charge — I’m the oldest — while they went out to the symphony. I was probably 15 then.

There is much ado about getting the house clean for the occasion. Dog hair must be vacuumed. Cat litter must be changed. A path must be cleared through the legos on the floor.

I keep coming back to, “These people were not so neat and clean when I used to live with them.”

Buying Shoes

Reading Bernadette’s post about buying shoes reminded me of my own childhood memories at the shoe store.

There were two shoe stores, actually. One was downtown, Fletcher’s Shoes. The other was at the Belden Village mall, Buster Brown.

Both of them were the same deal. We went in and waited our turn for service. There were a few shoes out on display in the front room. But all the shoes were really in the back room where only the shoe salespeople were allowed. There was none of this picking your own off the shelf.

At both places, you couldn’t buy shoes until you’d been measured for shoe size. You couldn’t tell them what size you were. You had to be measured. Even if you’d just come from the other shoe store and knew your size earlier that morning. You had to be measured.

Then the salesperson would go back into the mysterious room and come out with five or six pairs to try on.

The salesperson would tie them for you. This was pre-velcro. If the salesperson was really good, they’d get them tied snug, but not too tight. The shoe tying would almost always end with a little tap, tap of a finger over the knot.

I don’t know what kind of magic that tap, tap elicited. I do know that nobody tied shoes like the shoe salesperson at the shoe store. It made your feet feel special. Like in these shoes you really could run as fast as The Flash.

Then, after a run down the aisle to see if they would indeed make you run as fast as The Flash, you returned to the salesperson who would press in at the toe to make sure that you had “room to grow on,” but not too much.

Buster Brown went out of business sometime during my teenage years. It seems like that spot at the mall was replaced by a Borders book store. Now that Borders is gone I have no idea what’s there. Next time I get to Belden Village I’ll have to check.

About the same time Buster Brown went away, the Foot Locker appeared at the mall.

The first time I went into the Foot Locker, I just didn’t get it. There were people standing around in black and white referee shirts. One of them asked, “Can I help you?” and I said, “Yes, I need a pair of shoes.” They just pointed to the shelves full of shoeboxes.

I started looking around the piles of boxes. “Do you know what size?” the guy in the referee shirt asked. “No,” I said. He pointed to a couple foot-measuring things lying around on the floor. “You can use those,” he said.

I had an idea how to use the foot measurer from watching the shoe salesperson at Buster Brown doing it all those times. But it didn’t feel right.

I had to bend over, for one thing. Which meant that I wasn’t standing up on it while someone else manipulated the slide-levers. How could I be sure I was getting the right measurement if I wasn’t standing on it properly?

It’s like trying to give yourself a back rub. Sure, you can sorta scratch the itch, but it’s not quite the same.

Then, once I had my size, I had to search through the piles of shoeboxes. How could I ever know whether one particular style of shoe was better than another. None of the people in striped shirts seemed much interested in pointing out which style I might like.

Fletcher’s Shoes was one of the downtown stores that went the way of all downtown stores about the same time Buster Brown got replaced by Foot Locker. It had been a family operation for years. It’s where you went for school shoes. Once, I asked the lady at Fletcher’s once if she had any gym shoes. She gave me a look as if to say, “We’d sooner go out of business than sell gym shoes.” And that’s exactly what they did.

On one trip to Fletcher’s, the sales lady (at Fletcher’s it was always the same sales lady) told a story while she was measuring us. She was telling it mostly to my mother, I think. I’m pretty sure she meant it as advice my mother would do well to imitate.

The story was about one day when a mother brought all her children (some huge number, nine, maybe) into the store to get their shoes for school. Before anything else happened, before any measuring or trying on, she lined them all up like the Von Trapp children in the Sound of Music. Then she went right down the line with a switch and gave them all a swat on the backside.

“Of course, they all protested that they hadn’t done anything,” the Fletcher shoe lady said. “To which the mother replied, ‘No, but you’re all going to.'”

That, for the Fletcher shoe lady, was the epitome of good child raising. I wonder whenever I remember it, if my mother remembers that story, too.

I didn’t like the Fletcher shoe lady. But I never said so. Until now.

There is another association I have with Fletcher’s shoes. Jimmy Fletcher. I’m not sure how he was related to the Fletcher shoe family. But I’m sure he must have been.

My junior year in High School I liked this girl, Colleen. I was morbidly afraid to call girls. (You can read about why here.) I finally got up the nerve to call her. She was the one girl I ever called my whole time in high school. I used the upstairs phone. I took it into the closet. With a flashlight. I closed the door.

She said she wasn’t interested in going out with me. She was keeping her options open for Jimmy Fletcher. Shit.

I still miss being fitted for shoes. It’s probably why I never go into shoe stores any more unless I really have to. Most of the time Brooke buys my shoes and brings them home, which is the next best thing. She knows that I’m a 9½ and she has a much better sense of style than I do.

Even though I felt awful about being passed over for Jimmy Fletcher at the time, he saved me from ending up with Colleen. It would have been a mistake for me to end up with someone could fall in love with Jimmy Fletcher.

And I’d never have gotten on the trajectory where I ended up with Brooke, who saves me from having to go into the crappy places that pass as shoe stores nowadays.

The Seed List Is Here!

The garden club at Silas’s school has an annual seed sale.

The seed order forms came yesterday. Joy!

Last year I put in a small raised garden bed. I got it planted late, and the growing season here is only 10 weeks. Not ideal conditions for a bumper crop.

We still got a row of green beans, lots of lettuce, cilantro and basil, a few small tomatoes and a couple cucumbers and baby carrots.

The pumpkins didn’t produce anything. Lots of flowers. No fruit.

The broccoli and the spinach didn’t do anything either. I think they got too much shade from the beans and tomatoes.

This year, I think I’m going to have to double the size of my garden bed.

My picks from the school seed list are:

  • Sugarsnap peas,
  • Green beans,
  • Cucumbers,
  • Spinach,
  • New England Pie pumpkins,
  • Yaya carrots,
  • Lettuce,
  • Broccoli,
  • Basil, and
  • Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes

Makes me happy just thinking about it!

I Need a New Wallet

Last week in New York City, the wallet I’ve had for about 12 years started to fall apart.

It’s been looking shabby for a long while. Parts of it have been on the verge of letting go for a couple years.

Once the first part of the bill-fold started separating the whole thing went to seed within days.

The first wallet I ever had I made myself from a do-it-yourself leather kit. I must have made it when I was 12 or 13. It lasted until I was 15.

That first wallet didn’t wear out. It was lost at sea when, on a trip from Lakeside, OH to Kelly’s Island, a mile or so off the coast of Lake Erie. I was sailing with a friend in a sunfish sailboat. The boat capsized. When we got the boat righted and were back aboard, my wallet was gone to the bottom of the lake. With it my moped operator’s license. There might have been $6 in it, too.

When I turned 16 and applied for my learner’s permit, I had to explain to the guy at the DMV that my previous license was lost. No, I was certain nobody had stolen it. Yes, it was definitely lost. No, nobody else would have picked it up because it was at the bottom of a very deep lake.

My second wallet, bought at the age of 15, lasted me through the rest of high school, college and grad school. About 9 years. My third wallet went with me through another 8 years before it started falling apart.

Between that one and the present one, I went through two that were completely unsatisfactory. They don’t really count. They were trendy cloth things that people had given me over the years for Christmas and the like, and I’d kept them for the time I’d need them. Trendy, but anti-utilitarian.

I bought wallet #4, the one that fell apart last week, at the men’s department of JC Penney in Syracuse, NY. Now that JC Penney is gone, I have no idea where I’ll get my next one.

I only have one criteria. It has to last forever, or at least a decade. Leather preferred.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Rid of Your Baggage

This morning I’m filling in at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George, NY. Here’s the sermon:

“Give to everyone who begs from you.”
— Matthew 5:42

Last week, after I left here, I went home and packed my bags and headed off for New York City.

Our family has taken a three day trip to New York every Presidents Day for seven years. My wife, Brooke, takes a group of teenagers from churches across the state to the UN.

They meet at the Church Center and learn what life is like for kids in other parts of the world.

They’ve learned about child soldiers in Uganda. They’ve learned about children being bought and sold as slaves to work on Cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast for Hershey and Nestle. They’ve learned about education for girls in Afghanistan.

While Brooke and the teenagers are holed up at the UN, Silas and I go touring around the city.

Grand Central Station is three blocks from the hotel, so we can go anywhere. We have a good time.

SashaDichterThis year, every time we went through Grand Central, I thought of Sasha Dichter.

You’ve probably never heard of Sasha Dichter.

Sasha Dichter is this guy. The first thing you probably noticed about him is he’s bald. He’s Michael Jordan bald. Only he’s a white guy.

What you can’t tell from the picture is that Sasha’s the Michael Jordan of the Non-Profit Charitable Fundraising world. He raises money the way Michael played basketball. He raises hundreds of millions of dollars every year for the Acumen Fund.

The Acumen Fund is a charitable fund that invests its money in third world business projects.

There’s a guy in India who figured out how to use empty soda bottles as solar light bulbs for those shanties you see all over the Indian hillsides. Acumen invests in his business installing soda-bottle light bulbs. He becomes a wild success. People in the shanties have light in their homes and their lives are exponentially improved. (Imagine having to live in a house with no windows and no light bulbs.)

Last year in Kenya, they used $600,000 to start a hospital. It’s the only hospital around that offers diagnostic care. Most people can’t pay the cost of hospital treatment. It’s Kenya. They offer low-cost treatment in the same location. You can’t even get that in the states.

Sasha raises millions of dollars for projects like this. He’s a great success. He could probably afford to live on Park Avenue and take a limo to work.

Instead, every day he takes the subway to Grand Central. Then he gets on a Citibike, one of those bicycles you can rent just outside the west balcony, and pedals to his office.

As Silas and I were jostling our way through the crowd on Tuesday morning, I found myself on the alert. Maybe I’d see him. Maybe I’d get the chance to tell him what a huge fan I am of his work.

But you’d be surprised how many bald men are walking through Grand Central during the Tuesday morning rush. I guess I missed him.

Last February, Sasha did a little experiment. Every day, several times on his way to and from work, there would be someone, some homeless guy, some wino, whoever. These people would be panhandling on the street somewhere. Or they’d get on the subway at one stop and hit up everyone in the car for spare change before getting off at the next stop.

Sasha was raising millions of dollars. Every time someone asked him for change, he’d say no. Because that’s what you do when you’re on the subway. You just say no. Like Nancy Reagan.

Saying no was wearing him down. He spent a lot of time thinking about giving away money. If anyone knew all the arguments why you say no to people asking for change on the subway, he knew them all.

“You’re just enabling them to buy more booze.”

“Your spare change isn’t going to get them what they really need, which is mental health care, treatment for addiction, and a roof over their heads.”

“If you give one bum a quarter, you’ll have a reputation among all of them for being an easy target.”

The list goes on. You know how it goes. Sasha knows that list better than anyone.

“I knew I was supposed to say no,” he wrote. “But constantly saying no started making me feel less human.”

So one day last February, he decided that he was going to try for a month just saying yes.

Whenever someone asked him for change, or even for a couple bucks, he just gave it to them. No questions asked. If he had whatever they were asking for on him at that moment, he gave it to them.

One day, as I recall the story, someone in the subway asked him for $30. He gave it to him.

At the end of his month long experiment, he reported that he felt much better. Not because he was gloating about having done something altruistic. It was because saying yes to another human being you’re face to face with is more life-affirming than saying no.

That’s the story. He didn’t do it because Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you.” He did it because he said he felt more human.

He didn’t do it because of what Jesus said. But what he did confirms the truth of what Jesus said.

Over and over again, Jesus says, “Don’t the Gentiles do this?” Which is his way of asking, why would you settle for being just another cog in their machine when you can be human?

Why do you always have to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Don’t you already have enough? Why do you have to get something out of it?

Popular psychology has a lot to say about how we all carry baggage.

We carry the baggage of our parents mistakes. We carry the baggage of failed relationships. We carry baggage from the disappointments of life’s unfulfilled promises.

All around us, advertisements claim that we can fill the void with stuff. Work hard, get ahead, get rich. Every man for himself.

We’ve gone beyond the mere retaliation of Jesus’ time. Back then it was “an eye for an eye.” Now we have pre-emptive strikes and stand your ground.

We’ve collected not just psychological baggage, but plenty of real, physical baggage as well. So much stuff, we pay extra to rent self-storage units. Instead of owning our stuff, now our stuff owns us. Instead of sharing our blessing, we’re told to hoard it and defend it.

With all our stuff, all our saying no, like Sasha we’ve become less human. We need to start giving our stuff away.

Jesus offers us the ultimate guide to getting rid of our baggage.

“If anyone wants your coat, give them your cloak as well.” We should not shoot people who want to take our stuff. We should say, “Thank you for helping me get rid of all this stuff.”

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go the second mile also.” Instead of cursing the inconvenience, we should be thankful because we need the exercise.

“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Because the value of a person is not measured by her credit rating. Of course, she’s not going to pay you back. She just needs to feed her kids tonight.

Oh, and just one more thing about that last line: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

A lot of people think this means we’re supposed to be like God. It doesn’t.

“Be perfect,” means “be perfectly you.” Be as perfectly the human being you’re supposed to be, the way God is perfectly as God is supposed to be. If you’re trying to be God, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t carry God’s baggage. If you’re trying to carry God’s load, you have Jesus’ permission to put it down now.

Have You Read This Book?

The publisher says it’s a great book.

It got a full page ad on the back of the New Yorker last month. Lots of reviews on the back of the book jacket saying what a compelling story.

It got top billing on the Barnes and Noble website and a prominent place on the Bestseller table right inside the door at the Barnes and Noble store. It’s ranked #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list for hardcover fiction this week.

I’ve read the first 25 pages of it. So far, it sucks. The story is slow out of the gate. It’s written in the 1st person, but the language doesn’t match the way you tell a story in the first person. It reads like it was written, not told. If it was written better, maybe it would move along. Maybe it would be half the size.

I’m conflicted. I know some books take a while to get started. Some take a couple chapters to hit their stride. But some never do. It’s a huge book. How many more pages do I give it before cutting my losses and throwing it in the recycle bin?

Is there anyone not associated with the publisher who’s read The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, who can recommend sticking with it?

Update: I just read Stephen King’s review of it in the Oct 10, 2013 NYT Book Review. He says it’s great. Compares it to Dickens. Except for this: “‘The Goldfinch’ is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade.” In other words, there’s a book this good slightly more often than every other year.

Update (2/23): Based on Stephen King’s review, I decided to keep with it. The story starts clicking on page 28. Now I’m hooked.

Typography Advice

Just a little sample of irony here.

When I’m not reading or writing or doing the dad thing, I’m coding websites.

Someone sent me a link to an article on “2014 web design trends.” The website shall remain nameless. Here’s a screenshot, actual size:

Typography Advice

Buried in the third paragraph: “Does your website have small, crammed print?”

(Sunday Epidemic‘s main font is Oxygen, 16 pixel.)

Indispensable

Things go slowly. Sometimes nothing happens for weeks.

When I go away for three days, that’s when everyone decides they have a lights and sirens emergency.

Or, maybe things just don’t go as slowly as they seem while I’m here. Maybe there are just that many lights and sirens emergencies happening all the time. Maybe they only become noticeable because when I’m away for just three days they all pile up.

Either way, it’s kinda nice knowing you were missed.

How I Used the Word “Screwed” at a Church Meeting

I’m the church’s bookkeeper. I don’t sign checks. I just track everything.

I probably shouldn’t be the church’s bookkeeper. But nobody else in this little church we’re going to would do it.

It’s one of those cases where there really isn’t anyone else who’s really capable of it.

Sure, most of them have their own checking accounts. And yes, it’s pretty basic double entry accounting. But tracking 175 account lines in four separately designated funds and payroll for five employees, one of which is clergy, is more than any of them want to handle.

As the bookkeeper I attend the council meetings to tell them about their money. I keep telling them that someone else needs to learn to do this stuff. They have no interest in learning it. They just don’t.

Last month, I said that the Treasurer (the guy who actually signs the checks) ought to be able to present the information.

He said, “No thank you. You’re doing just fine.”

That’s when I said, “You know, if I ever get hit by a bus, you all are going to be totally screwed.”

They all nodded. “Don’t go near any busses,” they said.

As I left the meeting, they said, “Don’t worry. If you get hit by a bus, we’ll come and do CPR.”

“Thanks,” I said.

The next day, Brooke said, “Did that really happen? Did you really use the word screwed in a church meeting?”

“Yes,” I said. “It really happened. I really did.”

“You probably shouldn’t say things like that at church meetings,” she said.

“Maybe not,” I said. “But I only said it because it’s true. They really will be screwed.”

“I know,” she said. “And they know.”