Midwestern Robot

Taking Ownership

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holding a new bag of Peets coffee
Do we have the right?

This morning I couldn’t face another cup of non-Peets coffee. Not when we have two bags of freshly ground and delivered Peets waiting. But while we were waiting for the delivery we ran out of old stuff and our friend Chris generously brought us a bag of Julius Meinl which is perfectly fine coffee. At least, it’s great when they brew it. But when we brew it, Dave says it tastes like Folgers.

And this morning I wanted a cup of really, really good coffee, not just coffee that you have to drink fast before it gets bitter. So I snuck downstairs without hitting snooze, and opened the Peets while there was still Julius Meinl in the canister. God, we’re spoiled. We’re bombing Libya and I’m worried about the order in which we consume various packages of premium coffee? I can’t stand us sometimes.


Midwestern Robot

Two Goodbyes

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Empty billboard structure
Ready for the next thing.

Yesterday I said goodbye to the play I’ve been working on since February. For days I’d been telling myself I was close to finishing because I had more than 70 pages, but I admitted that what I actually have are a cool idea, a couple of good scenes, and a bunch of what I’d call bridges — scenes without conflict, without action, that just get us from place to another. Some bridge scenes are okay, even necessary, but somehow I’d boxed myself in with them and felt incapable of freely imagining different characters, locations, or situations that could make the place stay alive.

I felt so discouraged, and yet so unwilling to give up. Dave came in on a break from his work and I said, “Tell me it’s okay for me to give up on my play.”

He said, “Maybe you just need a break.”

“No,” I said dramatically, “it’s awful, it’s terrible. I’ve worked and worked on it and I have nothing to show for it.”

“Well, it’s one hundred percent your choice,” he observed. “If you’re not enjoying it, it’s probably not worth it.”

“True,” I said, not really believing him. It seemed so important. My Play. The one I bragged about when people asked what I was up to, the one I worried would upset the family when it hit Broadway and suddenly everyone knew our fictionalized business, the one I’d poured my heart and soul into. Or maybe I hadn’t, if here I was trying to figure out how much crappy dialog I could cut from a scene and still have enough to get my characters from the living room to the bus depot.

Dave added, “Maybe you’ll re-purpose it for something else later.”

“Maybe.” I closed the file and we took the dog for a walk.

Yesterday we also went to a wake. It was for a cousin of my late dad’s, Fred. Fred was a tall, handsome sweetheart of a guy who’d worked for Sears, had fought in World War II and been captured by the Nazis but escaped after 18 days (for which, I learned from a scrapbook near the coffin, he received one dollar per day from the US Government; I’m not sure if that was instead of or in addition to his regular army pay), and was an avid Sox fan.

After 92 years, he went very suddenly. Joking on the phone at 7pm, a stroke an hour later, a night in the hospital surrounded by his tall, handsome family, and gone by morning. Fred’s last words to his kids were, “How did the Sox do tonight?” This was funny in one way to all the baseball fans at the funeral home, and in a different way to people like me, who know little and care nothing about sports. I can’t imagine being on my deathbed and worrying about some guys who don’t even know I exist. It just doesn’t seem real that sports fans care as seriously and intensely as they seem to.

Which reminds me of my brother, who doesn’t understand why anyone would watch a play, much less write one. To him, it’s all just a bunch of pretend reality that has no point when you’ve got real reality all around you. He, incidentally, is a huge hockey fan. And that makes me feel better about abandoning my play. Not because I think plays are less important than sports, but because if his obsession seems as dismissible to me as mine does to him, it’s possible that we could both be right.

Midwestern Robot

I Hope X Doesn’t Lose His Job

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cabinet door
Not an exit.

This morning I went down to get my juice and coffee, and X (not his real name) and Dave had already finished jacking up the floor. Dave was showing X how to use his somewhat complicated travel mug, which must be 10 years old by now. X hugged me as I came in, and started dancing me around. I was self-conscious about my morning breath and overplayed my sleepy incoordination. X told me to work on my dancing.

I got out my OJ and my glass and offered him some, which he accepted, grabbing a big water glass. As I poured it he said, “That raspberry vodka with OJ was fantastic,” referring to the other night when we served it to him and some other friends. “I should have some now,” he joked.

I joked back, “You should.” X was on his way to a meeting with a prospective client, and then a stint at a nonprofit where he freelances. X repeated his comment about the fantastic cocktail and Dave, who hadn’t heard the earlier exchange, joked, “Want some now?”

“I should,” said X, “They’re all doing it. My boss is always wasted, you can smell it on him.” Ha ha ha, Dave prepped coffee and I got out Django’s food bowl. “Maybe I’ll take a little,” X added.


“Just to see how it feels.” X stood in the dining room staring at the buffet where the raspberry vodka used to be. Dave got the bottle out of the cabinet and handed it to him, still thinking he wasn’t serious. “Just a little,” said X, unscrewing the top.

But X hardly ever drinks, and he doesn’t know what a little is. He poured in more than a little and I said, “That’s enough!”

He said, “Is it?” and tasted it. Dave said, “Vodka is the liquor of choice if you’re going to be a daytime drinker. It’s virtually odorless.”

I snapped, “I can smell it.”

X’s face grew concerned and he stopped chugging for a second. “Really?”

I felt sorry for him and backpedalled. “I think I smell the raspberry.”

“What if people smell it on me?”

“Tell them you had orange-raspberry juice.”

“Yeah, I can say I had orange-cranberry juice.”

Jesus, he’s high already. “It doesn’t smell like cranberry!”

“Just eat a banana,” said Dave, handing him one from the bowl.

“Thanks,” said X, “I better go.” And he opened a kitchen cabinet and pretended to walk through it. “Oops,” he said as we cracked up. Then he closed the back door and tried to exit through the hinge side. “Oh, I’ll just go…”

I handed him a granola bar. “Mm, chew bar,” he said.

“Chewbarka,” I noted, which was acceptable because I still hadn’t had my coffee.

“Maybe you better go out the front door,” said Dave.

“Ah,” said X, “close to train,” and he wavered his way out of the kitchen, making sure to bump his forehead into the dining room doorway.

“’Bye, X,” I said, still laughing, and continued prepping Django’s food as Dave led him out. It will be really funny until someone smells it on him and doesn’t get the joke.

Midwestern Robot

A Sudden Display of Patriotism

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empty flagpole
"We just sure like looking out the window and seein' it."

Yesterday I met the neighbor on the other side, Ralph. He was passing through his yard from the garage while I was standing outside. For some reason I found myself behaving like a Stepford wife. He said, “We were just wonderin’ if you were going to put the flag back up,” and instead of saying, Yeah, we’ll get to it at some point, I was like, “Oh yes! We’ve purchased a new one. The old flag was so torn and faded we didn’t feel it was right to fly it.”

“Was it?” He scrunched up his eyes. “We never noticed. We just sure like looking out the window and seein’ it.”

“Oh, yes!” I said. “It’s terribly torn up. We’ve wrapped it up and have it sitting on a shelf. We’re not sure of the proper thing to do with it.”

“I guess maybe they burn them,” offered Ralph, “but we’re sure glad you’re putting the flag back up.”

“Oh, yes,” I said again, like I couldn’t imagine a yard without a flag.