Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Memoriam, Telephone Version

          K's older brother, C, is a man of sentiment who has put no little effort into cultivating an irascible persona in order to prevent anyone from knowing what a softy he is. He's a gooey caramel center, if you will, wrapped in 40-grit sandpaper.*

          C still misses his parents, who died several years ago. So much so, that he has turned every mundane household item that he and his wife took when K and his brothers cleaned out their parents' house into a memorial. There are memorial dishes, memorial furniture, memorial cocktail glasses, and so on. None of these items are in any way rare or valuable, but for C, they resonate with memories of his parents.

          Perhaps the oddest memorial item C and his long-suffering wife have, though, is the Memorial Telephone Number.

          C transferred his parents' old land-line phone number into his name.

          This is not what I would call completely sensible behavior, frankly. Both my brother- and sister-in-law have cell phones with non-memorial numbers, which are their primary contact phones. Neither of them use the land line that carries the Memorial Telephone Number. No one places calls from the Memorial Telephone Number; no one answers the calls that come to the Memorial Telephone Number. A Memorial Answering Machine answers the Memorial Telephone when a robo-caller punches the sacred digits of the Memorial Telephone Number.

Hello? Is anybody there?

          There is a certain amount existential absurdity in a phone that no human answers taking calls that no human generates, and I pointed this out to my brother-in-law. No no, he told me; that is its exact function.

          It seems that my mother-in-law always told her children that if there were an afterlife, she would find some way to let them know. C is just making it easy for her to get in touch. She has only to dial her very own phone number and leave a message for him.

Assuming, of course, that the afterlife is provided with telephones.

*He also dislikes metaphor, so naturally I worked rather hard to build one for him so he will know I care enough to go out of my way to irritate him.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Magic Needle

          If I want to amaze and mystify my sons, all I have to do is mend an item for them. They can't get over the fact that I can snatch dustbin-bound items out of the waste stream and turn them useful again by the simple expedient of threading a needle and placing some stitches. It is magical to them that an article whose life was finished can be resurrected by someone skilled in the Dark Arts of darning.

Where the magic starts, according to my sons.
          I've been mending since I was old enough to steer a threaded needle through cloth, and this is the first time mending has ever been cool. I've always thought of it as one of those skills that helped make a well-ordered life, and I enjoy it as kind of a guilty pleasure, because frankly, tell someone you find a little hand-sewing of an evening relaxing and meditative, and they will forever after think of you as some sort of undercover Mennonite, and they will avoid you in all social situations, afraid that small talk will only encourage you to share your disturbing proclivities in technicolor detail.

Really, it's just a bit of simple stitching and needle-weaving. I promise I won't proselytize you
about it.
          But thank you growing interest in sustainability, and also thank you urban homesteading (even though I will not cease to mock you, because really—clotheslines?). You have made mending cool for the first time in the history of ever, and there is some very entertaining and thoughtful work (of both the mending and the writing sort) being done on this humble but necessary subject.

          I'm currently loving the blog posts and tweets from one Tom of Holland (AKA Tom van Deijnen), whose Visible Mending Programme is a way to subvert the usual idea of mending, which is patching something as invisibly as possible, and instead to bring the mend front and center, celebrating the act of mending, and turning the mend into something worthy of paying attention to.

A perfectly capable mend. In other days, I would have stopped here.

          I think this is a lovely idea, both in terms of bringing into focus an invisible yet important skill that few people (with the possible exception of my sons) think or care much about, and also because it amuses me deeply to take something necessary and useful and make it function also in a completely decorative manner. Architects, I've noticed, get paid very handsomely to do this.

A plain mend has turned into a cheerful sun, shining on the hem of my dish towel. It looks
a little like the pictographs you see in Native rock art, and this makes me very happy.

          My idea, of course, is that menders will eventually command great respect and a commensurate wage. I may have to wait a while for that to happen, but in the meantime, my mending basket waits.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Where I Went; What I Saw

          K and I were in New York City last week for Book Expo America, the book industry trade show. We went to seminars and learned stuff (I now have an "Essential Graphic Novels" reading list, even though I had previously suspected that the phrase was an oxymoron), walked a zillion miles on the trade show floor, talked to many different vendors, collected some keen freebies, and complained every evening about the sad state of our feet.

          We also learned what the Next Big Thing is going to be:

Food trucks? Meh. Book trucks? Too cool for school.

          We saw perplexing signage:

The sign in the school bus window says, "This vehicle has been checked for sleeping children."
Do crosstown commuters really care whether some child snoozes, forgotten, under the very last
seat of the school bus? Of course not. They're too busy honking at each others' questionable
driving skills.

             We ate exotic foods:

K's Scottish colleague with a plate of haggis (on the right), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes).
Haggis, the Scottish national dish, consists of boiled chopped sheep innards mixed with oatmeal
and doused with scotch. This version was, to my great shock, completely edible.

          We took a ferry to Staten Island:

This is the view of the city you get as you're headed to Staten Island.

          And then we came back again:

And this is the view you get as you're headed back to the city from Staten Island after a lovely
dinner. Ferries are one of the best ways to travel.