Outside the Box

I remember a dear friend once said to me, about her ex (before he was) “You know, he never brings me flowers. Ever. I’d be happy if he’d even bring me so much as a dead daisy.” Bringing her a dead daisy wouldn’t have kept him from becoming her ex, that was a whole other can of worms. But guys, we are happier with live flowers.) This comment from her followed my reciept of flowers from hubby for something, I don’t recall what. Back when we first dated he worked at a car dealership, and they had a guy who would come around once a week or so with roses in a bucket, making it easy for the sales people to pick up a couple of them to bring home so he’d do that once in a while, just because. Now, not so much but it’s ok, he’s replaced flowers with other things. Which really is the point of this story.

How often do we get hung up on what’s supposed to be, instead of being happy about what is? I know I’ve been guilty of it, and sometimes have to have the ‘slap-myself-upside-the-head’ conversations with me about it. They usually go a little something like this:

“OK, what the heck is the matter with you? What are you whining about? Did you really think you needed a pity party for real? You have a great life, remember? Your husband is a really good guy. He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t yell at you, he doesn’t swear, he doesn’t beat his chest, he doesn’t gamble. He washes dishes and does laundry, and takes out garbage. Okay, so he doesn’t put the seat down enough, and doesn’t cook much. But girl, if that’s all you’ve got to whine about, get over your sad-sorry-self.”

I really think that society, television, the internet and the Kardashians all contribute to the problem. (Yeah, I know I said I wasn’t gonna bash ’em again. I lied, get over it.) Information is just too readily available to us on how the other half lives, and we’re inundated with the glossiness and wonder of it all, and how good it all looks. Who wouldn’t want all that lovely money, or live in that lovely house by the beach? We see all that with blinders on, however and forget that the lens we view through is tinted. We’re see only what we’re allowed to see, and when the cameras and papparazzi aren’t around, most of the rich and famous have issues too. Maybe not the same ones, but I guarantee they have them. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many friends that I can afford to have my husband flapping his digital gums all over twitter, ranting about what ticked him off today, alienating them en masse.

I mean, is it really so bad owning only 2 purses instead of 4? Or is it a crisis if your iPhone is 2 generations old, or your tablet is not the shiniest? So what? Will the world end if you don’t upgrade? Or don’t have it at all?

Is it a crisis if your significant other doesn’t wash the dishes? Make you coffee in the mornings? Shop for groceries? Don’t get me wrong, relationships are definitely about give and take and if one does all the taking and the other all the giving, all the time, it’s a problem. But it’s equally important to find balance, which by the way doesn’t necessarily equate to a 50-50 split. Some days balance is 40-60, some days it’s 75-25.  If he doesn’t wash the dishes, or if she doesn’t make the bed, before you do anything that you can’t undo, or say something you can’t unsay, stop and think for a moment. What else do they DO? Does he pick up your laundry off the floor and put a load in the washing machine (sorting correctly by color) without being asked? Does she always make sure your favorite coffee creamer is stocked in the refridgerator and your socks are folded just the way you want? In moments of crisis when you’re crying your eyes out, will he offer to take your snot filled tissue without a word and get you a fresh one?

We forget about all the little things that make up everyday life, and allow ourselves to get hung up on what we think life should be, because we’re so busy comparing ourselves to the proverbial Joneses, instead of seeing what is right there. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box…the big one sitting in your living room with 188+ channels from your cable or satellite provider, the middle size one that you use to access your news and TMZ feeds, and the small one you use to talk to your kids. I’m not saying get rid of them (do I look insane?) but at least put them in their appropriate perspective. Turn the damn things off people. In the northern hemisphere it’s spring, or at least the calendar says so in Minnesota, although you’d never really know it by the temperature. Get off the couch, put on an extra layer and get outside.

I’m chomping at the bit to plant my spring flowers. My husband thinks I’m nuts, that it’s too early, and he may be right, but I can’t take the drab anymore. I picked up some petunias at the nursery the other day, they’re hardy and can take a lot, and will get those in pots probably later today so I can get my patio at least a little color. I adore my patio, speaking of outside the box. It  all but calls my name with a siren song, every day in the summer. When the temperature is just right, the breezes are lightly blowing and the flowers are in bloom, it’s the most beautiful place. It’s a riot of color that calls to my tropical soul right here in a northern climate. I can listen to music, read, talk to friends, write, or do nothing and be fully at peace in it.

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There might be prettier gardens, or professional outdoor designer Jamie Durie might look at this and say I’ve done it all wrong and completely reorganize it and make it look amazing, but guess what? None of that matters…because it’s mine, and I’m happy with what I have. I’m content in it. That’s the point.

 

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As American As…

I was reading a news article on CNN.com this morning about our political allies in Europe, and whether or not our allies should contribute more to subsidizing the defense we provide to them. (Yes, I know, it’s a deep subject, try not to faint. And I’m not going into commentary on it anyway, so you can breathe again now.) Something in the article caught my attention, however, and it’s something that has bothered me for quite a while. It’s the casual use of the word “American”.

How many of you really think of what that means? I was really curious about this, because after all, isn’t the news supposed to be in the business of reporting accurately? So I did a little research. According to Wikipedia, America is the same as the United States of America. Hmm, that seemed too easy to me, as it’s not how I remember it from grade school geography, and anyway, everyone knows you never trust only one source, so I pressed on.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition is:

  • 1
    either continent (North America or S. America) of the western hemisphere
  • 2
    or the Amer·i·cas play
    \-kəz\
    the lands of the western hemisphere including North, Central, & S. America & the W. Indies
  • 3
    United States of America

Now definition #2 is a whole lot closer to what I learned in grade school, which as I recall also included Canada.  I  also consulted my nephew’s girlfriend who is also a journalism major, and asked her to provide me with the correct useage according the AP guidelines which she tells me is what reporters live by. According to her( my new favorite guru!) the correct breakdown is the Caribbean, Central America, Latin America, North America, South America, and West Indies, and when speaking of the United States, then that’s what should be used. CNN, are you (and all of the media outlets, really) paying attention? Or perhaps I should ‘speak’ in the current vernacular of @CNN, or include their hashtag, #CNN. In any case,  what gives us the right to such casual appropriation of the word “America”? I will admit, I’ve been guilty of it as well when I say “I’m an American”, although that is true, in the larger context. However when the fourth estate uses the word America interchangeably with United States, that IS incorrect, and I might argue even somewhat arrogant.

Isn’t it possible – even likely – that residents of South America, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or Canada would like to be able to say they are American? (Feel free to weigh in, my Canadian friend!) And by definition, they can, because after all, Brazil is part of South America, Canada a part of North America. And doesn’t the media have an obligation to not only use words correctly, but also to educate?  Incorrect use of the word is misleading and uninformed, as well as showing an egocentric cultural bias. Even a very popular television program running on FX has appropriated the label and uses it to refer to the people of the United States.web_largecoverart_series_the-americans_270x398 The Americans is about Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Soviet intelligence agents posing as a married couple to spy on the American government during the cold war. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great show, I love tripping back to the 80’s, the chemistry between real life couple Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is palpable, and the writing is fantastic, but again, using the phrase to describe people of the US is correct only by the default definition that’s become accepted over time. 

I realize that our language changes with the passage of years, and the generally accepted definition of a word can change as well. “Gay” is a great example. There was a time when it  meant happy, now the most common definition refers to sexual orientation. (Not passing judgment here, it was just the quickest example that came to mind.) However, altering the definition of a word to suit our cultural bias implies an elitism that is inappropriate.

There’s one final point to be made here. If you agree that there is some truth to this, that those who live not only in North America, but South America, the Carribbean, the West Indies, Latin America and Central America also have the right to call themselves Americans, then perhaps you’ll see the absurdity and irony in the recent rhetoric around “building a wall” and “making America great again”. Think about it for a moment, it’ll come to you.

 

The Deep End

As in, I’ve gone off of it…again. Yep, done something odd. Hubby would say, “woman, you done lost your mind”. I can’t help it, though. I’m a firm believer in “If you don’t ask, the answer is already ‘no’ so I might as well ask”. I feel like I’m Paul Harvey…and now, the rest of the story…

So  hubby and I were following our annual tradition of going to the Minneapolis auto show, and had gotten to downtown Minneapolis early. With time to kill we went walking and happened to go past a building where he used to work at the corner of 10th and Hennepin, in the old National Camera Exchange building. Now for those of you that aren’t familiar with the area, Hennepin Avenue is the main thoroughfare through downtown Minneapolis and the streets take a cut at an angle there. This building is an odd shape because of that, almost a trapezoid, and is rather small. Anyway it’s now abandoned, and we peeked into the lobby windows a bit.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

                    National Camera Exchange Building (Formerly M.L. Novak Diamonds)                                          930 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis  

All I could see were some stairs, and a huge chandelier still hanging. As we walked, he told me he remembered that on the lower and upper floors there were quite a few very small rooms (think maybe 6 feet by 8 feet at the most) with only a light and incredibly tacky wallpaper. His description was “like you’d find in a cathouse”.) and he thought that perhaps they had been used once as a brothel.

Well! That got me curious, so I started to do a little digging into the history of the area. I’m embarrassed at what I didn’t know, although the digging produced a treasure of other information (see my previous post on Fancy Pillows) and if you’re curious about the history of Minneapolis, just Google things like “The Gateway District” or “Mill City Museum”. It’s incredible what’s out there. I was specifically trying to find something on the history of that particular building however, and had a lot of trouble. It’s really too far down to have been a part of the Gateway District, so I think it was more part of the entrance to the Theater District. So then I approached it from the perspective of, could it have been rooms for let as part of the theaters? Or perhaps a flophouse? Still nothing. Short of going down to the Minneapolis Public Library, or City Hall, I was coming up a bust.

Now we come to crazy. The deep end. At one point that building was for sale and the listing info helped me to figure out the year built was 1919, which also helped with thinking it was likely more a part of the theater district, although it has since been taken off the market. So using a little internet savvy I decided to try to contact Larry Millett, who is the author of a number of books including “Lost Twin Cities” and “Twin Cities Then and Now”, and his books are full of wonderful old photographs and history of the Twin Cities, buildings long gone, architecture and incredible facts. He’s responsible for my learning much of what I have about the Gateway District of Minneapolis, as a matter of fact. Well, while he didn’t have the answer himself, he was both kind enough to reply, and to suggest I post my question on the Facebook page titled Old Minneapolis. It’s a user page frequented liked by over 67,000 folks, one of which is Mike Evangelist who is also an author and is considered an expert on downtown Minneapolis. My hope was that he might see my post and have the answer, but I had no idea that I was going to tap into a gold mine.

One of the respondents to my question ended up being the son of the owner of the diamond business which was the first business there. He had the entire history of the building as his father had owned it since it was built, along with a number of others who had frequented it and knew the history as well. Between the diamond business and National Camera, the place actually had become a massage parlor, which of course “back in the day” was code for – you guessed it – massage parlor/brothel. That would explain the wallpaper, which someone was kind enough to post a sample of on Facebook. Yep, cheap and cheesy about covers it!

There is other fantastic information in the post about the building, including information about the vault, how the windows and glass doors were bullet proof because the area had been full of gangsters back in the day, how you had to be buzzed in through security doors, how they had installed state-of-the-art security cameras for the diamond business, and then those same security cameras were used to keep them alerted when it was a massage parlor that the police were coming!

I had a lot of fun trying to find out this information, and while I’m glad that I did, I’m kind of sad that it’s coming to an end. I’ve stumbled across some amazing old photographs of Minneapolis, and it’s reignited my interest in photography which has been waning a bit over the past few years. I’ve also learned about things like ghost signs on buildings. I don’t know if those were popular in other parts of the country but they certainly were in the twin cities. They were advertisements on the sides of buildings, almost like early billboards.

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 Back of Nat’l Cam bldg, ghost sign, Minneapolis

Here is an example of one, on the backside of the National Camera Exchange building. In their case, it was so you knew you were at their location when arriving from a different direction. On other buildings, you might have seen information about cigars, flour, seeds or a number of other things. Over time, of course weather and UV have degraded those that remain and are visible, so they are slowly disappearing from view and there are web pages popping up with photos of them, but you can also find photos in books of our city’s history like Larry Millett’s.

A side benefit of all this has been that it also has spurred my thinking about other old stories, which helped to feed the Fancy Pillows post I recently did, and has made me write down more memories of my parents and grandparents, asking questions of my relatives to clarify memories. It’s a journey I’m just starting down, and one that I hope will be fun as I uncover more and more tidbits that I’d thought were forgotten but instead were just tucked away. I hope that perhaps it will do the same for some of you, and start some conversations with your family and friends, maybe today, or at your next family gathering. Who knows what interesting story you’ll hear revealed?