Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Funny Thing About May....

Every year has one, but very few seem to have managed to leave behind any clear memory traces in my mind.

The main exception seems to have been May, 1975.

May 7, 1975, to be precise.

That was the day the old Tiedtke's department store burned in downtown Toledo.

It was one of the biggest fires in Toledo's history.

The store had closed about three years earlier. Like so many downtown stores, it had been done in by white flight to the suburbs and the construction of malls with acres of free parking. Since my immediate family never owned a car and relied upon the buses to take us downtown to do our shopping, this shift in shopping patterns was something that I was painfully aware of.

The Tiedtke's building that burned down had opened in 1910. It seems to have been given only minor updates between that time and its closing some 63 years later. Although its 6 stories had come to seem small to me after a 1969 trip to the huge Hudson's store in downtown Detroit, it continued to have a certain charm. Well, "charm" is probably far too strong a term. Maybe "ingratiating annoyance" better captures the feelings it generated in me. It lacked the polish of the other big downtown stores (Lasalle's, Lamson's, and the Lion Store), having something of the feel of a bargain sale in a gymnasium about it. Its noisy crowds early on prompted me to start calling it The Madhouse. The best and most memorable part of it as far as I was concerned was its top floor toy department. All the lowered-ceiling panels had been removed (assuming they'd ever been there in the first place), leaving only a gaping blackness punctuated by mysterious ductwork over my head. Shopping for toys there in that poorly-lit space was not unlike shopping for toys in a dream....

I think my mother worked there in the men's department while still a teenager in the 1940s. Her photo may have even been featured in a newspaper ad for the place, though no one seems to have saved a copy.

They had a heavily promoted Giant Sale when I was quite young. I can remember going into the store one cold, dark night, probably in December, and seeing the big Giant Sale signs up everywhere. I was extremely disappointed when no giants could be found no matter how hard I looked for them.

The only time I can recall ever having lunch with my maternal grandmother involved her taking me to the Tiedtke's cafeteria. Like the toy department, it seems to have been unusually dark even on the brightest days. Unlike the toy department, however, it had a long series of windows that faced the Maumee River, so I'm somewhat at a loss to explain its dark feel. I guess the dark paint and Vitrolite panels sucked up the photons like artificial black holes.

Alas, those windows didn't provide a very good view of the river. Immediately behind the store was a dirty gravel parking lot. Then came Water Street, which may as well have been an alley through the warehouse district, and then - what? Low buildings and weeds that blocked the view? Whatever crap may have been in the way, I always thought it most unfortunate. What's the point of having a river if nobody can see it?

I can't recall anything my grandmother might have said to me, nor can I recall anything I might have said to her. "Just give me a damn hot dog and nobody will get hurt!" seems to have been my attitude. "Don't pee on the floor and we'll get along fine" seems to have been hers. The 70+ years that separated us seems to have prevented anything more from being communicated.

I got iced tea. As usual, it was much stronger than what I had at home. I've never understood why restaurants always seem to serve such strong iced tea.

We seem to have been the only people in the place....

The only thing I can remember buying at Tiedtke's was the sound track album to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" - probably in 1970. I still have it. No scratches!

They were in the process of tearing Tiedtke's down when the fire broke out. As luck would have it, I went by the place in a vehicle just a few hours before the fire for the first and only time in my life. A school field trip had taken me to Detroit that day. Our teacher drove me and a few other lucky students right by the dying hulk on our way back to our building. I stared in sad amazement at the former Madhouse. And when someone commented about how awfully long it was taking them to tear the place down, I loudly piped up in my best gangster voice that I knew a faster way to get rid of the place. Less than 6 hours later, the former shopping mecca was engulfed in flames probably sparked by a never-identified arsonist. I'm still surprised my teacher didn't give my name to the police as a possible suspect.

Here's a picture of the fire that I took from one of my south-facing living room windows:

Here are a couple photos taken by unknown others who were much closer to the scene than I was:

Here's what the building looked like shortly before demolition began:

And here's what things looked like when the store was still thriving circa 1960:

A few years ago when I was visiting an antique mall somewhere in northwest Ohio I found and bought the following memento:

It's odd to think that this small bag that I got is just about all that remains of a huge store that stood for decades, and odder still to know that it ended up in my hands in exchange for just a buck or two, but... I suppose it had to end up somewhere.

It could easily have ended up incinerated. Or in a landfill. Lots of bags do.

Maybe someday I'll take it to the mall so it can see for itself how much times have changed.

And maybe I'll fill it up full of coffee beans first, just to be perverse....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ahhh, May...

... the first month for the yellow swallowtail butterflies!

And the clematis!

And the delphinium!

And the peonies and rhododendrons and roses and turtles!

And no Osama bin Laden!

All of this surprised me, but that last thing especially. I just thought he'd eventually die in secret and we'd never know exactly when or why or if.

I thought that again as recently as the week before he was killed. I mean, the guy had a $25 million bounty on his head for years and years. If someone offered to pay that much money to anyone who could lead them to YOU, how long do you think your friends and family might keep YOUR location secret?

Once you've somehow made it beyond the 5 year mark, why would someone suddenly give in? The need to cough up their next child support payment?

Anyway.... I just thought Osama would slowly fade away and become one more ghost in the back of our minds like Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and Bob Dole.

Now what?

Well, once I got beyond my surprise I ended up feeling... old. Maybe others felt relief or joy that justice had finally been done, but... I didn't. As I said in an entry almost 10 years ago now, those responsible for the 9/11 attacks perished in those attacks. Shifting the blame to Osama seems to me to unfairly remove the moral burden on those who actually flew the planes and furthers the discredited "I was only following orders" defense associated with the Nazis. Feeling relief at this point would seem to distract from the fact that we have yet to come up with a good way of dealing with those suicide bombers and others who are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve their murderous goals. The threat of punishment just doesn't work as a means to discourage future attacks - and discouraging future attacks interests me far more than exacting vengeance for old ones.

Forces far bigger than Osama remain alive and at large - religious fanaticism first and foremost. And no elite group of Pentagon warriors will ever be able to swoop in and change that. But maybe an elite team of psychiatrists armed with fast-acting psychotropic medications might? I wish I knew....

The bottom line is that I'm left feeling old - just like the end of MASH left me feeling old, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War, and the end of W's presidency. In each case, something that seemed destined to be around forever and ever suddenly wasn't around anymore at all, yet I still was, and... that invariably ended up making me feel ancient.

It's like still being around after the Rocky Mountains have eroded all away.

Or the Cleveland Indians have won the World Series.

And being old isn't a victimless crime.

I've never had a friend or relative killed by a terrorist - ever - but I've lost plenty of friends and relatives to old age.

An old age that has often inflicted slow, terrible torture on its victims.

And not one of those victims has ever escaped or been rescued.

So, yeah... I suppose the world is a better place without Osama in it, but... we Americans have such a silly way of thinking an individual is the Devil - the embodiment of all evil - and that if we only get rid of that person, happy days will be here again. We forget or repress the fact that evil is the result of forces largely beyond our control and not the invention of a Hitler or a Stalin or a Castro or a Noreiga or an Ayatollah Khomeini or a Saddam Hussein.

A cynic might even say that the world itself is evil and the best we can do is to somehow learn to live with that fact rather than constantly going off on crusades against the small pieces of it that we mistake for the whole.

All I know is that old age has been responsible for far more pain and suffering in my life than Osama ever was - and political leaders like Paul Ryan seem to want to throw the responsibility for fighting it entirely onto the backs of its individual victims.

It's as if the 9/11 attacks just happened and the response from Washington is to give every American a voucher that partially covers the cost of a handgun.

Thanks goodness I have all those butterflies and flowers of May to help me forget that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do We Have A Moral Obligation . . .

. . . to protect our guests from being gang raped?

This is not merely a rhetorical question.

As I detailed in a recent entry, I've been having a couple of ducks visit my yard again after a break of a year or two.

Let's call them Matilda and Herschel.

Well, the day after I posted that entry, Matilda was in the yard again, enjoying the early evening breeze and minding her own business:

Suddenly, two rogue males swooped in from the southwest and proceeded to chase her around my raised garden beds and into my neighbor's yard where they had their way with her:

Herschel soon showed up but seemed utterly perplexed by what was going on. He certainly did nothing to intervene.

Just 6 minutes after I'd taken that first shot of Matilda it was all over and everyone was going their separate ways.

It all happened so fast that I didn't know what to do except collect photographic evidence of these quite uncalled for goings-on.

I thought about intervening but I didn't want to risk startling Matilda and Herschel and possibly causing them to fly wildly into a fence or tree in their panic to escape.

I also thought about calling the cops, but I really wasn't in the mood to be laughed at.

Plus I felt that it would reveal something terrible about me if I called the cops on rogue male ducks when I spent 8 years not calling the cops on a certain recent rogue male president.

I've thought about calling the Ohio Department of Wildlife and asking them if what I saw is considered proper and acceptable dating behavior among ducks but the very idea of uttering the words into the phone that I would need to makes me feel nasty and unclean.

And given all the recent state budget cuts, I have to wonder if there is anyone left in the Ohio Department of Wildlife who even knows what a duck is anymore.

The bottom line is that I now find myself in a situation that Disney's True-Life Adventures did absolutely *nothing* to prepare me for.

I shall never ever look at Donald and Daffy in quite the same way again....

Of course the behavior I witnessed wasn't entirely unprecedented.

Several years ago something similar unfolded right outside my kitchen window, but... I guess I shrugged it off as being nothing more than a bizarre, one-time occurrence that may have been prompted by the over-consumption of fermented berries or some such thing.

This recent attack has been far more troubling.

Maybe this is what happens when one doesn't act immediately to nip things in the bud?

Or am I quite inappropriately imposing human standards of behavior on wild animals?

A brief Google search reveals that gang rape among mallards is far more common than I ever would have imagined.

What else might be going on out there without my knowledge??

Might deer as innocent-looking as Bambi be engaging in prostitution?

Might birds as endearing as Woody Woodpecker actually be paying chipmunks like Alvin and Theodore to eat the eggs of their rivals?

Am I going to go to my window someday soon and overhear the female squirrels gossiping about each other as viciously as the women on ABC's "The Bachelor"?

Maybe earmuffs aren't just for winter and political conventions anymore....


Monday, May 23, 2011


So, I'm back home again.

Heaven's a nice place to visit, but... I prefer to not have to share a toothbrush.

Or to spend eternity in a place decorated with gold chintz pillows and green shag carpet.

And who knew that Katharine Hepburn utterly lacks the ability to keep her hands to herself??

The main reason I came back, though, was to take care of my garden.

Because if I don't, who will?

And it happens to be a very nice garden this year - much too good to allow it to go to ruin without a fight.


Those are sugar snap peas on the left.

The light green leaves towards the center is lettuce.

The darker leaves with a hint of red is Swiss chard.

The remnants of my crocuses are on the right.

Tomato plants can be seen in the distance.

I planted the lettuce on April 7. It was up just 8 days later - pretty fast work for seeds barely bigger than the flakes out of a pepper shaker.

I first thinned them on May 12. I ate what I thinned. It turned out to be enough for a whole bowl of spring goodness made even better by Ken's blue cheese dressing. (Ken's is a brand name. I have no idea who Ken might be but I hope he's not in heaven now. I'm going to need more of his dressing this year!)

I'm rather amazed that things are doing as well as they are. It's been a *very* wet few months here. More than 7" of rain fell in April - a new record. May has been only marginally better - we got nearly another 1.5" of rain just this morning. And more storms are now approaching.

If you look out your window and see something small and green running by, it just might be my lettuce plants desperately searching for a somewhat dryer climate.

Of course rain does have its benefits.

Here's one that I harvested (in two parts) last evening:

FYI: Rainbows look pretty silly from heaven.

But not as silly as gold chintz pillows on green shag carpeting.

And as for the welcome cakes topped with sardines, the less said the better!

Suffice it to say that it's good to be home.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go bring my bird feeders in before the rampaging hordes of raccoons arrive.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Heaven sure is a lonely place without you guys to keep me company.

In fact, if Vonnegut and Sagan weren't letting me beat them at chess, I think I'd be inconsolable....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Good Year For The Lilac Bush

Not that you'd know it now.

Now it just looks like one more big green bush - I'm sure you know the type.

But here's what it looked like a couple weeks ago:

It towers over my head now but of course that wasn't the case when I first planted it 9 years ago.

Back then, it barely came up to my waist:

Ah, they grow up so fast.

Thank goodness I don't have to think about sending it to college. I don't think I could stand suddenly being separated from it after all the time we've been together.

I *know* I couldn't stand the constant long distance calls for more water and fertilizer....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Out Of Town Visitors

I think the same couple stopped by two and three years ago - but not last year. (I didn't see a single duck in the yard last year - probably because of the two German Shepherds to my north. Both dogs have now moved away.)

They seemed to know their way around my yard awfully well to be newcomers.

I wonder where they spent 2010.

Maybe somewhere far, far away from Ohio's nasty gubernatorial campaign?

Hmmmm.... If they were really my friends, they would have taken me with them.

*Wondering how much cracked corn I might have to give them before they'll agree to whisk me far, far away from the nasty campaigns of 2012*

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Time Rolls On . . .

... like a river too wide to cross

... too deep to probe

... and too fast to resist . . . .

A river that just happens to be spiced with intermittent dachshunds.

Things could be worse.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Three Dog Week

There have been times in my life when I've gone weeks - maybe even months - without experiencing a single Close Encounter Of The Canine Type.

Last week was not one of those times.

I actually ended up with 2.5 Close Encounters (which I've rounded up to three just because it gives me a feeling of power).

My first Close Encounter occurred on Easter Sunday when I puppysat for a friend. I've done this before, but it's been quite awhile - maybe more than a year. Had my puppysitting skills grown rusty in the interim? I'm happy to say that they had not!

Here's what my little visitor looked like:

She's a teacup Yorkie (just in case you couldn't tell). Not much bigger than a guinea pig, but a whole lot furrier. (Unless your particular guinea pig happens to be *very* furry.)

VERY easy to take care of (unlike, say, a hungry St. Bernard or a rabid Rottweiler), but... surprisingly needy.

Which is to say, almost as needy as a child being left at school for the first time or a politician in desperate need of corporate campaign donations.

Which doesn't bother me at all, but... it does raise certain questions in my mind.

Like, WTF?

Why would nature create such a needy beast?

But of course nature didn't - human breeders have. So... why? Was it intentional? Or did breeding for miniature cuteness inadvertently allow certain pack-herd genes to go wild?

All I know is that I would have had to smear food all over my body before the cats in my life would have ever paid me half as much attention.

Maybe someday they'll create a species of miniature elephants with the same intense desire to snuggle down on one's lap?

The mind reels....

My second Close Encounter of the week occurred on Tuesday. I was out in my yard about to refill a bird feeder with seed when all of a sudden a cold, wet nose was exploring my dangling left hand.

I looked down and found myself next to a fairly large Husky-German Shepherd mix.

This is not the sort of thing I look forward to discovering unless I'm in need of a cure for severe constipation.

Fortunately, the beast that appeared to be approximately a zillion times bigger and heavier than a teacup Yorkie seemed friendly - or at least non-hostile. A bit hyper, though - and I soon discovered why when I heard a man calling for her. Obviously she was an escapee enjoying her first taste of freedom ever. Or maybe she just had a bad case of doggie ADD. Maybe both had a role in prompting her to quickly leave my hand behind and run off to explore this plant, and that stick, and everything else within a one-block radius before she was captured. You would have thought she was a kid in her first candy shop. Or maybe a Republican at his first gun show. (Feel free to go with whatever analogy best explains why my limbs didn't end up being pierced by teeth meant to kill small prey.)

I think the guy who was calling her called her Rhoda. Which is such a rare name these days that I didn't realize what it was until I came in and wrote it down for the historical record. I first wrote "Roda" and did an online search, thinking it might be some famous anime character I'd been lucky enough to never have heard of before.

My S.O. thinks the guy might actually have been calling "Yoda" but I don't think so - partly because it didn't sound like Yoda, but mainly because it's the law in Ohio that after you've been with an S.O. for more than 10 years you MUST disagree with all their suggestions and opinions. (And if you're together in a restaurant Ohio law says that you MUST voice your disagreement as loudly as possible. Just go to any Ohio restaurant and see for yourself.)

Here's a fleeting glimpse of the beast I'm talking about:

And not that it matters, but... this is the second time in 10 years that I've been surprised by a big dog in my own yard. I don't much like it. If it happens one more time in the next 10 years, I'm gonna seriously consider getting myself a fence. Or maybe body armor.

And just for future reference: How much would I have to pay you to refill my bird feeders for me?

My third Close Encounter of the week came on Wednesday and - truth be told - wasn't really very close at all. It involved a red pick-up truck with a big dog in it going by while I sat in my office looking for excuses not to do what I felt I had to. I'm not sure what kind of truck or dog I'm talking about, but the truck has a cover over the back - one of those covers (cabs?) with windows. I think the dog was under the cover, but I can't be sure. The windows were dark. I know there was a dog behind them somewhere, though, because I could hear a dog barking from inside the truck for a block in both directions.

This has been going on with some regularity for years now. Not so much in recent months, but I bet this truck and this dog have gone by at least 50 times in the last 5 years.

And it always goes back the other way in an hour or two.


I've thought about jumping up and chasing it down the street in hopes of finally seeing exactly what kind of dog is making this distinctive racket, but... that's not the sort of thing mature Americans do, is it?

So instead I'm left to wonder who in the hell drives around with a loud, barking dog in their pick-up all the time.

As loud as the beast's bark is from where I'm at, it must be positively deafening inside a closed up truck.

Exactly whose idea of fun is this?

My S.O. has suggested that maybe it's just a tape playing. And maybe it is, since the barking NEVER changes in pitch or rhythm or speed - but of course I have to disagree. It's the law.

Is it possible that it's actually the driver doing a helluva good dog impersonation??

I guess there are some things I'll probably never know for sure.

That just might be a good thing.