Out of Gum Friday Round-Up

It’s like old times with the rabid anti-abortion protestors coming to town. This is the week that the well-known national hate group Operation Save America is converging on Milwaukee to scream at passers-by and harass women coming to appointments at local abortion clinics. This time, unlike 20 years ago, there will be trained security at the clinics and no counter-protests, no linking of arms and singing We Shall Overcome. Typing that, I wonder if we really sang We Shall Overcome or we just felt it in our hearts but, in any event, we haven’t yet overcome because abortion is still a right in doubt, a provisional right dangling now by the thinnest thread . Happily, Garbage Fyre Fighters from the Abortion Access Front rallying and making fun of the zealots. We here in Milwaukee are grateful for good organizers and strong humor. Hate groups hate humor.

I found a birthday note for Jilly signed by Gram and Gramps stuck in Best American Short Stories, 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. The book was in a Little Free Library in Milwaukee’s South Shore Park, next to the Best American Short Stories of 2006, 2010, and 2012, all of them ripe for the taking, like peaches in a bowl on the kitchen table. The card is much older than the book and the handwriting is even older, careful and ornate but shaky at the same time. there is this P.S. at the bottom of the card.

I found the poems my first boyfriend wrote me. Please return.

I’m going to keep the note for Jilly, just in case.


I spent part of the week between a rock and a hard place. On the horns of a dilemma, in a fat headache of situational ethics, conflicted and chagrined, all of which I soothed by buying extraordinary amounts of cheese and crackers at Costco along with a forty-pound jug of animal crackers. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof.

Alright. It’s four pounds, not forty. Still.

I won’t say I suffered through the week – there being so much food, wine, and beer laying around – but I sure was consternated. The dilemma came down to dueling principles and I sided on the one that involved having made a personal commitment. I’d explain more but it would be pointless at this point. There are new waves to surf.


Flamethrowers burn out. I’ve seen it dozens of times. A new person appears on the scene from out of nowhere. Maybe a hundred people have been working hard on a problem, parsing it, teasing out solutions, trying to change the world step by painful step. And the new person – always smart and bright and engaging and different – shows up and decides that the process and the people involved in it are all useless. Flamethrowers don’t ask questions, though. They don’t spend time inquiring or gathering data or learning the process by which progress is made, however imperceptible it may seem, they just pour more gasoline on the torch they always carry in their purse and let fly. AOC – as much as I love her fearlessness and her brilliance – is a flamethrower. I hope she stays around long enough to also become a powerhouse legislator. It’s a harder skill to learn and harder still to practice. We’ll see.

I’m out of gum. There isn’t a stick of gum anywhere in this house, on any dresser top, in any drawer, or in any pocket. My house is a gum desert.








I’m recovering from toxic doses of the world is too much with us. You know, like in the William Wordsworth poem –

The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune,
It moves us not. — Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

I remember the snippet, “The world is too much with us,” like I remember “Let not your heart be troubled,” both things my mother would say at various times to comfort me or herself, it was never clear which. She never went into more detail and for a long time I thought those were just standalone sayings until I Googled “Let not your heart be troubled” and found the rest of the verse in the Bible (John 14:1-3) so I could read it at my mother’s funeral which I ended up not doing although I held the Bible in my hand with my finger marking the place in case I thought I could do it but it ended up that I couldn’t.

It was okay though because it was just the first part that had true meaning to me – her telling me not to let my heart be troubled – and then other times saying to herself or the air or to me that there was just too much going on in the world for a person to bear. For her this could have meant anything – she had a deep and intricate internal life that was secret to me, certainly, and probably to everyone. So it didn’t take too much for the world to be too much with my mother. It takes a lot more for the world to be too much with me.

The remedy to all this too-muchness is as it was for Wordsworth. Being outside, being in the natural world. My mother translated this into laying in the blazing sun for hours on end, day after August day. I thought she was nuts at the time, actually for a long time, but now I’m figuring out that the scorching heat of the summer sun was her own private balm. So much of life is about reframing.

I realize that I feel good tonight. The world isn’t too much with me. The long walk along Lake Superior is with me, the sliding of the screen door is with me, the wind from the northwest is with me, and the roadside daisies are with me. My balm.

All is pretty well. All is well enough.

Pass It On

Free is as free does. As they say. Or nobody says. One or the other.

I scored a water-damaged copy of The Handmaid’s Tale the other day. It was sitting in a Little Free Library. It is bloated as water-damaged books are, its pages thick, stained, and curly, but someone thought it was worth passing on so I took it.

You’d think I would have already read this book, given who I think I am, all feminist and all. But nope, I never have. There are a lot of books I should have read that I haven’t and I sometimes worry, not often, that time is running out to right this terrible shortcoming of mine. I will go to heaven not having completed all my homework. So unlike me.

I’m obsessed with Little Free Libraries and want to jam on the brakes every time I see one. They are filled with books people love but not that much because the books they really love are on their bookshelves inside their house. Just generalizing here, I don’t actually know since I have no data. Still, each little library is packed with books for the taking and so I take.

And sometimes I take books back which is only fair.

I think people are reticent about peering into a Little Free Library. They think it’s something for poor people and that you shouldn’t ‘shop’ in a Little Free Library if you can afford to buy books which I can and I did for a long time until I realized I’d developed a crack-like addiction to downloading books one after the other to my Kindle. The credit card bills were ridiculous but I won’t go into detail. Trust that I have a shit ton of books with great looking covers on my Kindle.

I do sometimes feel conspicuous pulling up to a Little Free Library in my Thunderbird or our F-150 and imagine that the curtains are parting in the Little Free Library’s owner’s house. Who is that rummaging through my books? They should buy their own books! But they aren’t saying that. They want me to come take their books and bring other books back. That is the whole point. It’s a great kindness. I love the Little Free Librarians.

Photo by Teresa Pinho on Unsplash

Long Neck

In conversations today about our financial future, my husband used the term “black swan” twice.

The second definition of “black swan” offered by Google is thus: “an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically with extreme consequences.”

We have had such events but I never recognized them as fowl. Just bad luck. Goes to show what I know about the artful use of animal metaphors. Black swan. Such an elegant way to describe catastrophic miscalculations, misjudgements, overreaches, and thunderous regrets. Not that there were so many but what there were were significant, memorable, substantial, worthy of their own special recognition.

I am hoping we have met our quota but suspect more is in store. A group of black swans, not a flock, no, such a gathering would be called a bevy or a wedge in flight, those are the correct terms for what is to come if we aren’t very careful.

Ominous and beautiful at the same time.

The Puzzler

This afternoon we went to pick up our vacuum cleaner from Mr. Vak. We have been taking our broken vacuum cleaners of which there have been plenty because of our dogs to Mr. Vak for thirty-five years. Not the same Mr. Vak, they change periodically but they are all Russian causing my husband to write Meester Vak on our Saturday to-do list. He does this because this is what he hears when he takes our broken machinery into the store: “Meester Vak will feex.”

We pulled up behind a car being loaded on to the back of a flatbed truck. A white guy in a white t-shirt and cargo shorts was pacing up and down the sidewalk. Across the street, a black woman and a couple of kids were standing outside a car talking to police. We didn’t make the connection.

While my husband was hanging with Meester Vak, I was in the car with our dog, the window rolled down because it was a beautiful day, and the guy in the white t-shirt came over and started sharing his distress. He had just bought the car moments before, from someone just two blocks away, and he was trying to cross from a side street on to a bigger street when the woman whose car was across the street broadsided him and wrecked his car.

“It was a birthday present for my son. He’s going to be heartbroken.”

I felt bad for him. It’s awful coming up short for your kid’s birthday. I should know, I’ve done it plenty of times.

“I don’t know how to get home.” The flatbed truck had just pulled away with his new car loaded up. My husband came back with our repaired vacuum cleaner pushing it down the sidewalk like he was cleaning up for his mother-in-law.

The t-shirt guy quickly said, “I wasn’t trying to bother your wife. I was just talking to her.” And my husband nodded and put the vacuum cleaner in the back of the truck. He got in the driver’s seat and I asked him right away if we should drive the guy home. He surprised me by not saying no right away. We don’t do a lot of stranger pick-ups.

We talked about where t-shirt guy lived – it was an hour from Milwaukee – and what plans he had to get home. None. He didn’t know anyone where he lived, having just moved there, and had only one number in his phone which was someone he had only just met whom he doubted would come to rescue him. But he might because he left a message. He didn’t know. So he didn’t want to leave where he was even though he didn’t want to be there in the worst way.

“I don’t know Milwaukee or this area. Is it safe here?” We told him it was safe enough but then we travel here all the time, our vacuum cleaner issues and all, but we knew what he was seeing was a black neighborhood. We offered to drive him downtown, maybe to catch a bus, or find better transportation but he declined worried that his acquaintance might come to the address he’d left on his voicemail.

There was nothing more for us to do. He thanked us for listening to him and we pulled away.

“Wait a minute,” I said to my husband. “How did he get there?”

We talked about turning around to ask but we didn’t. How did t-shirt man get from his town an hour away to Mr. Vak’s neighborhood in the first place? Who brought him? And why couldn’t they come back? Or did the seller of the car go out to t-shirt man’s town, sell him the car, and get a ride back to the neighborhood (this alternative just occurred to me this very minute). Why couldn’t he go back the way he came?

It is today’s mystery.