Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Back from Indiana–Weather Wonders
July 30, 2009, 12:47 pm
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It was unseasonably overcast and cool most of the time in Indiana with just one day of rain, which was nice. I recall many hot, humid summer days and warm nights. While away I avoided some of the worst heat here, but we’ve had 100-105 degrees of dry heat since then. I have avoided using my living room window A/C all summer in this Central Valley climate! In addition to being out of town a lot, when I am here I go to work in the cool of the late morning. I stay at work till 7 or 8, when my rear end can’t take the chair anymore and the sun is less intense. I go home to eat a meal that doesn’t require using the stove. I put fans in the windows and go for a walk. By bedtime the Delta Breeze has done its work and it’s usually cool enough to sleep. By morning it’s even chilly. (Many of my apartment neighbors leave their A/Cs on all night and don’t get to enjoy the breeze. I wish I had a back yard in which I could sleep outside.)

Two nights last week the place stayed hot, and the outside air didn’t cool down fast enough. So I took a shower, lay down on a towel on my bed and fell asleep before the water evaporated.


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July 27, 2009, 4:12 pm
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The Hillbilly Big Chill: Day 4
July 20, 2009, 8:06 pm
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It’s Monday, and I am procrastinating about telling you about the high school reunion.

After I got a rental car from local firm Ace Rent-a-Car [Support the Troops sign is in their strip-mall store window] I swam at the YMCA near Greenwood this morning.  It is the whitest Y I’ve ever been at, but today I saw one black and one brown person.  The outdoor pool is 50 meters long, which makes me feel like a weakling for the first 10 minutes–will I make it to the end (gasp)?  It’s also the most C of the YMCAs I know.   Not only does the big sign above the registration desk affirm their basis in Christian principles, an open Bible sits on a lectern in the lobby.  Above it on the wall is the passage from Matthew’s Gospel:  “Ask and ye shall receive.”   And on the stairwell wall is a framed famous portrait, Werner Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” the most famous of the fair-skinned versions, the non-Jewish Jesus.  The picture is one of the few Protestant icons.   It’s also on the social hall wall of the Protestant church in which I grew up–and those of many others. 

I had lunch with a second cousin of my late mother’s and his wife, both in their 80s.  Reared on a farm, she cooks a big spread.  We had lemon chicken with capers, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, home-grown green beans cooked with sausage, new potatoes cooked in with the beans, hot white rolls, and chocolate pie for dessert–chilled, very fluffy yet dense and sweet.  She told me how to make the pie:  a dense graham-cracker crust with almond slivers, melted Hershey’s chocolate bars, and Cool Whip.   There goes my morning workout!   The tomatoes were not quite ripe enough, she apologizingly noted a few times.  The corn was great, I thought, but could have been better they said.  Her husband said, “It’s not from Johnson County, I know.”  She said, “Well, I bought it here.”  “But it’s not been grown here, I can tell.”  

At these luncheons I can count on hearing of the family deaths that nobody thought to tell me about.   I had learned last week of a first cousin’s death at 66 when my brother mentioned having attended the funeral, as if I had known.  (How would I have known?)  Today I learned of three other deaths in the past year:  one of my mother’s younger first cousins, of cancer at her daughter’s home in another state, and the two old, widowed husbands of three of Mom’s cousins.  (One man married two cousins–his first wife died in a car crash and he quickly picked up with the other one.  Reportedly he never ceased bragging about his sexual conquests till the very end.  The other man used to harangue me as a boy with right-wing conspiracy theories, including ugly ones about Jews controlling the financial system. 

Every time I part from this couple they say, “Don’t wait so long next time.”  “Let us hear from you.”  I could, but we don’t really exchange that much news when we talk, and they don’t like to stay on the phone very long anyway.  Well, now there’s email, which gives them many grandchild fixes.  What I want to say is:  “Let me know if someone dies or if there’s other news in the family.” 

As I drove out of town I passed through the Indiana Masonic Home, a large campus of big old red-brick buildings around a large circle drive.  (My mother’s father built many of them.)  It used to have its own hospital, orphanage, and old folks’ home.  Maybe it still does, but the major development of the past decade or so has been single-family ranch-style houses up and down new streets where cornfields used to be.   Old Masons and their wives live there, and drive electric golf carts around the campus.  Most of the houses have signs out front “The Smiths.”  I was going to stop in and see the mother of a good friend.  She never leaves the house, so I knew she’d be there, but I couldn’t remember which house was hers and didn’t see their name. 

I passed through Greenlawn Cemetery to look at my parents’ graves as well as those of my mother’s parents and her grandparents, among others.  One sweet, small granite stone marks the grave of Tillie Jean, a would-be older sister to my mother.  She used to point it out every time we visited.  The stone says:  “April 11-14, 1916.”

The Hillbilly Big Chill: Hour 2

Food and Family

My 60-year-old brother took an early retirement buyout this year but never is without a work project.  He spent the last two weeks painting and repairing an inexpensive rental house he owns in nearby Greenwood.  We had to stop at the hardware store for him to exchange a small brass pipe for one in the proper size so he could install a new dishwasher.  The opportunity costs of my living in California include all the money I would have saved if I had stayed close to the family handyman, car mechanic, and small-engine repair man, not to mention his wife, a smart nurse practicioner with prescription-writing privileges.  He found the brass pipe quickly but we waited in the front of the store a long time; a man called out, “But up to help you in a minute.”  By the time the guy got there a less-patient, less-Midwestern customer would have either stormed out in frustration or lifted a number of items.  

We stopped at a farm stand for big red tomatoes and a dozen ears of corn–the best thing about living in or visiting Indiana in the humid summer.  The peaches came from South Carolina.  My brother said they’d ripen more and  smell great in a day or so.  They were yellow and hard but looked as if they had cellulite.   To be fair, there’s a local farmers’ market on Saturdays, but my weekly, year-round visits to “certified” California farmers’ markets made me critical.  Just last week back home the peaches were as much as a dollar cheaper.  

The man at the counter looked to be about 60.  He added up our purchases in the corner of a spiral notebook.  My brother asked if he had any cantaloupe from down in Vincennes (at Indiana’s southern border).  “All out.”  Too much rain has made it a small crop.  “Blackberries?”  “All gone.”  I saw a box of green beans with “home grown $1.50/lb” handwritten on the cardboard flap.  This is the third great thing about Indiana summers.  Mmm.  I asked, as I do at most market stalls, “Do you use any spays on your green beans…pesticides?”  He stared at me blankly for a long moment.  “I have no idea.  They just bring them up to me.  But I don’t think you’d get very many if you didn’t spray them with something, with bugs and animals eating them.”  I wanted to say, “Well, it doesn’t seem to be a problem back in California.”  

At home my brother shucked the corn out on the patio deck and set it to boil. “For 15 minutes?” I said.   “Really?  It only takes me 4 minutes in the microwave, with the husks on.”  His wife called at nearly 7 PM and said she was still at the clinic and wasn’t able to leave yet.  He got out a ziplock bag of cold rotisserie chicken pieces to heat up, but he said he wasn’t putting it in the microwave until he saw “the whites of her eyes.”  My nephew sliced tomatoes, bathed them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and sprinkled them with basil.  My brother told the story of a late uncle whose wife sent him out to her garden with scissors to cut some basil as she cooked, and he came in with a handful of petunia leaves.  

My sister in law came in, hugged me and went back out to the car.  She returned with two enormous southern Indiana cantaloupes, holding them in both arms in front of her short, small body.  She asked:  “What do you think of my melons?”

The Hillbilly Big Chill: Day 3

Sunday Driving

Nephew Mark has brought me to the Monon Coffee Company, in the trendy and still funky Broad Ripple on the north east side of the Indianapolis. (When I was growing up in Franklin, a small town 28 miles south, we called it The City, the way Bay Area people refer to San Francisco.)

 Monon [mow-non] is an Indian name and the name of a rail road whose tracks came through this area.  Now there’s a bike and walking trail here.  They have five kinds of brewed coffee, including Choo Choo Brew (regular and decaf), but I’m having a Peruvian free-trade organic blend, which is the favorite of the young blond man behind the counter.  

The nice thing about Midwestern accents (the twangy or the nasally) is that you can hear someone talking from far away.  (Maybe this is why Mark is reading right now with a blue foam plug in is one good ear.)  I just learned from across the room that the grandson of Bobby Plump, the young basketball player from Milan High School who made the winning shot in the 1954 state basketball final game, as depicted in the movie “Hoosiers,” owns a tavern a block away.  It’s called Plump’s Last Shot.  “You’ll find drunks asleep in the middle of the day in there, even though it’s against the law to sleep in a bar.”  

A woman is reading, curled up in the large overstuffed chair beside Mark’s chair, with her leg lying on the arm of the chair and her bare foot two feet from his face.  He mumbled his displeasure and later asked her if she’d mind moving it a way.  Now her foot is propped on the coffee table.

Mark’s mom and dad took their boat down to a lake late this morning to fish.  Anticipating no luck in this unseasonably chilly, overcast weather, this morning she took several bags of frozen bass and bluegill fillets, the last of the 2008 catch they had in the deep freezer, for a fish fry tonight.  At my request we’re also having free-range venison, from a deer downed with a shotgun by my brother last fall.  He  says we’re having surf-N-turf.

The Hillbilly Big Chill: My 30-Year High School Reunion Visit, Day 1

Cars N Stuff

My Hoosier twang sprang back before I even got out of the airplane at the Indianapolis International Airport.

My older brother called my cell phone to let me know he was in his car on site.  I should call after the long walk down the new, brushed metal terminal when I would get “to the top of the stairway.” “Okay,” I said. “Bah-bah.” He replied, “Bah-bah.”

This airport was built last year just west of where the old one sits vacant, awaiting a decision on its fate and a close-out sale of fixtures.  He pulled up in his red Jeep SUV and told me the cell-phone waiting lot was overflowing: “I’ve never seen this place so crowded.”

On the interstate ride to the southern suburbs, I became aware of a two-year-old State legislative advancement:  Most of the SUVs and half of the other cars bore specialty license plates with “In God We Trust.”  Printed on the left side of the plate, the motto is printed larger than the name of the state.  An American flag makes a faint background for the license number, on the right.  An Indiana Civil Liberties Union lawsuit failed in the court.  The suit had said that by not charging drivers the $15 administrative fee that organization-related specialty plates carry, the State was violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  On the contrary, the court said, waiving the fee made the God plate just one of three alternative at the basic fee.  The other choices are the tasteful dark-blue State flag, with white stars in a circle around a stylized torch, and one that says “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home,” of which I have seen none.  (Like me, Abraham Lincoln spent his formative years in Indiana, before heading west to the bigger and flatter Land of Lincoln.)  

A Unitarian Universalist friend and classmate told me about going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicle window for his new plate.  The woman at the window said, “Do you want a regular one or an ‘in God We Trust’ one?  No extra charge!”  “Just give me a regular one,” he said.  

In the 1980s the State tourism slogan was “Wander Indiana First,” meaning “Don’t Say Yes to Michigan,” among other nearby states.  The license plates had the word Wander in red at the top and Indiana in black at the bottom.  After I moved to Illinois a new acquaintance said, “Are you from Wander?”  Another one said, “Where is Wander?  There’s a lot of Indiana cars from there.”

Some years earlier the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles was Ralph VanAtta.  His name and title appeared on every driver’s license, just above your picture and to the left of your name, DOB, and address.  The Indianapolis Star reported that a disproportionate number of traffic tickets written by the Indiana State Police–for every kind of violation–were made out to Ralph VanAtta.  On subsequent license designs his name was less prominent and his driving record improved.

“But it’s a Dry Heat”– Distraction in Sacramento

I was dropped at the church’s Fresh Choice dinner last night, in a complex barter arrangement in which I would lend a family my car for a few days in exchange for airport transportation, which means one of them has to pick me up at 4:30 AM.  We had fewer than 10 come to dinner–no doubt 105 degrees is too hot to go out.  The weather’s effect on us reminds me of 10-below weather in Minnesota last year… I think it was May.  

Many intruders (a big family and a women’s group whose unifying theme I was unable to figure out) crowded around us in our usual dining room.  It’s usually is freezing but last night was barely cool, unlike the rest of the place, which was warm.  Sometimes our table neighbors leave their used plates on one of the tables I was trying to reserve.  It dawned on me that I had forgotten to schedule this month’s family-friendly outing/fundraiser with  the restaurant!  Then I would have known that this was not a good night.  (I will book the one for Aug. 19, I promise).

After all but one of my Fresh Choice flock departed, I went out with Don for a ride back to church.  Habitually I felt for my keys, to get into the office as well as my apartment.  I didn’t have them on me.  They were attached to my car key, and all were on a journey half an hour away, about to enjoy a girls’ soccer game with the whole family.

 The church was open for the Singing in the Summer activity.  In the cool of the library I left messages on two cell phones and one machine, then sat and considered my options.  Fortuitously Barbara offered to drive me home to see if my apartment manager was home.  Her number wasn’t in my new cell phone yet; I don’t know her last name; the apartment building is not listed in the online white pages.  Barbara offered to take me 30 miles east if necessary.  But my manager was home, willing to give me a key for as long as I needed it (till my pre-dawn driver arrives tomorrow).  

This morning Capital Public Radio said today and tomorrow are Spare the Air Days, and public transit is free.  What luck!  I needed to take the train and bus to work. (When I lived in the SF Bay Area I enjoyed taking a day trip to the City for free if I had the time on a Spare the Air Day.)

After coffee I had to sprint like mad to get on the 8:58 train.  When I changed to the bus the bus driver told me that Sacramento Regional Transit “is too cheap” to give free rides for Spare the Air.  I paid and rode, thinking of sending an annoyed-listener email to tell the newscaster that they had misspoken.  As with most citizen letters I compose in my head, I didn’t actually send one.