Eye Seventy Five

A potted plant with a leggy herb of some sort sitting on a potting bench.

She carefully took the paper out from the bottom of the secret shoebox. She handled it with care because she’d touched it many times. She was worried that it was becoming fragile. Sometimes she simply opened the box, moved aside the things on the top and caressed the parchment with her eyes. Just to make sure it was there. And to remind herself.

Other times, like today, she unfolded it. There were many folds and there was a specific order. She always enjoyed folding it back up. Matching the up grooves in the paper, seeing where the breaks were. Opening and closing when it didn’t line up right, triggering more study. It was a silly puzzle, but one that required just enough concentration to make it seem important.

Unfolding, on the other hand, now that was an exercise in revealing. The first open was like a book, really more like a pamphlet. Then she released it like an accordion, or, maybe, a fan. She used to pretend she was playing an instrument and pull the folds open and closed. She didn’t do that anymore. Mostly because the creases lost their spring over the years, and increasingly because she thought she should be more gentle.

After she spread out the panels, she unfolded it from the bottom, doubling the size in her hands. She could start to see markers appear. She unfurled another layer and it was spread out all in front of her.

She ran her finger along the long red line. There were other red lines that were parallel, others that crossed, but there was only one that followed from the top all the way to the bottom. From the beginning to the end.

She lived near the top of the line, relatively. One time she got very close to the top, crossing over the Mighty Mac for a family trip that began with such hope, as they always did, but ended in a worn down cottage and standard issue disappointment. The bridge was impressive, though. And a little scary.

But the most scary, and the most wondrous, was the endpoint of that long red line. One thousand, six-hundred and twenty-six miles away. But she only knew about 175 miles away, personally. The possibilities of more than a thousand miles away was exhilarating.

She only knew from TV. Palm trees. Alligators. Salt water. Hurricanes. Coconuts. Shrimp. Black beans and rice. Spices!(!) Waves. Rocks. Bright blue water with concrete pylons and a road connecting rocky islands.

She was from the world of cars, of motoring. And yet she took her beat-up green short bed truck only within a sixty-mile radius of her home.

When she took out her map, and opened it up, and laid it out, the entire world was in front of her. At least a world that was near the 1-75 corridor. That road that would take her to paradise.

She opened up the map and imagined her adventure. She swore she would take the road herself, one day. But she had to finish high school. She hoped to make it to the next stop, maybe along that corridor. She wanted to see a bigger world. That kept her in school. Kept her working to make some grades. Kept her from messing with the boys that called her cute, after they called someone else out.

She heard the argument getting louder downstairs. She very very carefully refolded her map. She put her dream back in the box under her bed. But in her head, she was trying to push the accelerator down with her right foot. As hard as she could.

Hand Out

A pile of coins in somebodies hand.

Today I was thinking of the day that I quit my canvassing job. It was my summer job, and I couldn’t do it another day.

The day was sultry, like today. So hot that, when you walked, bugs would touch down on your skin for a salty drink of sweat. So dank that, even early in the evening, the sky flirted heavily with the on dark its wet edges. The breeze, if you could call it that, was more like the exhaling of a dragon. After it ate a bag of nacho cheese Doritos. It’s nothing except nasty.

But when you’re dropped off in tonight’s territory, you ignore that. It doesn’t make sense to be angry with the outside since you’ll be there for the next four or five hours. You have doors to knock on. You have a smile and a riff to give to the person on the other side of that door. Heat madness has no value.

I wasn’t a good canvasser. Not like those well-trained, almost Disney Channel canvassers I see on the streets of D.C.  No. I was an old school canvasser. It was so old school that the goal for a 21 year old woman walking in an unknown neighborhood alone was to get into the house of a stranger to make friends enough that they gave you money. I only got grabbed on my ass once. I was never bit by a dog.

I wasn’t a good canvasser and my wages proved that. You only got salary if you made quota. Quota was the amount of money you were tasked with raising. You needed to make quota all week to make salary. I never did that. I probably should have been fired with my low take. I made quota maybe 4 nights over the summer. But I got paid out a percentage of my take. That was enough to pay for my sublet, utilities, french fries and beer. It was summer.

People with more experience than me always loved the nights when your territory had curvy streets. That meant more income. But to me it was just doors opened by glassy-eyed housewives who would let me prattle on about energy costs, and then when I did my ask they’d say that their husbands weren’t home. And that they didn’t make decisions, not even a $10 or $25 donation, without him. I found myself humming Mother’s Little Helper as I dejectedly stepped off the porch and walked back down their long driveways. It took me a while to realize that their vacant interest was more vacant than interested.

The last week I canvassed we were in Dearborn. The second day of the week I, as usual, wasn’t doing great. People weren’t home, the ones that were weren’t interested, and, honestly, I wasn’t good enough to get their interest. I hated asking for money. This one house, though, had a pair of teachers behind the brick facade. They invited me in. It was the money shot, getting in the house. The idea was if you were in, they’d write a check.

The wife-teacher offered me lemonade. I joined her and the husband-teacher on their back patio, sitting at a crackled-glass topped table, underneath a sun shading umbrella. I spent thirty or forty-five minutes talking about energy, jobs, cars and education in metro-Detroit. The sun was just starting to sink as they offered me a beer. It was a cold Michelob on a dripping night. I was totally screwing up, I should have been to more houses. But instead I shared progressive political thoughts with my hosts. I was too friendly with them to ask for a check, but he wrote one for $15 anyway. That plus the other $15 I canvassed meant that I wasn’t making quota. Again.

The next night, a Wednesday, we were a little further west. Away from the city. I was doing poorly, as was my way. I was discouraged. I’m sure I was looking sultry. Without any sexy. The house in front of me wasn’t huge, but it looked pricier than yesterday’s neighborhood. There were four late-model cars in the driveway, including a shiny new red Cadillac. I rang the bell. I could see into the house through the screen door. No response. I looked to my right at the thousands and thousands of dollars worth of almost new cars in the driveway and rang the bell again. A woman spilled down from upstairs, her silky kimono-y robe streaming behind her as it was still wrapped around her. She had auburn hair that framed her face in a soft Liz Taylor kind of bouffant. She listened to my pitch with great interest and said, “I’m sorry I can’t help. I was just laid off.” And she looked at me blankly, and I realized that she had been blank the entire time.

Thursday night we were in Dearborn Heights. It was the end of the week because we didn’t knock on doors on Fridays. The streets were laid out in a strict grid. This was not a place for me to make up for my week’s failures. The houses were still brick, but were closer to the sidewalk. The heavy concrete porches were reached by climbing five steps and were fortified by brick and mortar. I half-heartedly knocked on doors and pressed doorbells for the first thirty minutes of my shift. It wasn’t unusual that most people weren’t home yet. I plodded on. The houses were mirrors of each other. One had the door on the right side of the porch, and the next on the left side. I met her at her house which had a right-sided porch.

She seemed like a grandma, the stooped woman who answered the door. She lived with her son who was at work. She had a slight accent, and I am going to say eastern European, but that could be because that was the accent of my own grandmother. But she was much younger than my grandma. Maybe not too much older than my mother, but she had lived hard. But well. And with pride.

I almost didn’t go through my spiel with her. I didn’t think I would get anywhere, but she asked me a set of engaging questions and I realized that I was unfairly dismissing her. Not as a donor, but as a person. She was interested in the energy issues and asked me to explain the regulatory process. I think that she was more curious than interested, and I know that she was more lonely than curious. We sat on the top stoop of her porch. Again, the sun started to set. I needed to move on and thanked her. She asked me why I was there. I told her that I was raising money in the neighborhood. She looked at me in the eyes and held up her finger so that I would wait. She disappeared into her house and returned in a few minutes. She had a pile of coins in her hand.

She took my hand into her small hand and passed the coins. “This was for the paper-boy, but I want you to take it.” I didn’t want to, but I wanted less to insult her, this woman who was so engaged with me, who was so kind, who was so generous. I thanked her with all of my heart and walked back to my rendezvous point. My pickup wasn’t for ninety minutes.

I sat down on the curb and lit a cigarette. I decided right then that I was done. I couldn’t take the paperboy money from the working poor anymore. And I couldn’t extract money from the Cadillac lady.

I saw in that week the generosity of those who have little. People who will share what they have. Because they know what it’s like to do a day’s work. They respect your work as they do their own. They give what they can.

I think about being embraced by that woman on that muggy day and in that oppressive week. I think about her giving from her heart. I think about the woman running down the stairs in her billowy robe.  I remember who I am, and who I wish to be. And I remember to put my hand out, to help when I can.



Here's a patriotic elephant, looking all U.S.A. And his friend, the patriotic donkey, also 'merica'd out.

My dad was a New Deal democrat. He had a spate as shop steward at his factory before me and my sibs were conscious. He filed a grievance after he was fired for taking the day–not the whole day–to bring my mom home from the hospital. She was in the hospital to have a baby. Me. He won. For the other guys, too.

I remember him saying that the union should negotiate for a new dental benefit–of which I begot my straight teeth–rather than incrementally higher wages. He thought he was paid well-enough and that the real value of organized labor was ensuring that his family had access to the tools of good health. He was also for the vision plan.

He worked at the forge plant. In Hamtramck. His toughest days were those days when he had to put out fires. Literally. He’d come home smelling of burning factory with a bit of ash on his cheek as he made his way to the shower. On days his relief didn’t show up, he had to stay at his post. He’d work a double. He couldn’t leave.

He’d get two days off in a row. Each week they would slide one day over so once in a while he’d have a “weekend” off. Weekends weren’t a big part of our family life since the school weekend rarely coincided with his work weekend.

Every fifth or sixth week–I don’t exactly remember but I had it down pat when I was negotiating hard to schedule a trip to Cedar Point–he’d have three consecutive days off. He worked every Christmas Day that I can remember, except one. The calendar dice didn’t roll that way. He did get double time for our troubles. Oh, and he was the only man at ballet class. Again, literally. The only. He took me every week. Sometimes twice a week.

My dad lied to get into the Navy. He said he was older. He was as much looking to sow oats, of the wild variety thank you very much, as he was to serve. He did both. With distinction. His tats displayed ports in Panama, Honolulu, Manila, Cairo and Cyprus. I never asked him if he sailed through the Suez Canal. I’m thinking about that scene when Lawrence of Arabia looks up from his dusty desert journey to see a ship floating out of the sand. I bet Dad rolled through those sandy straits on a U.S.N. boat. I betcha.

He didn’t talk about his service. I know he did a small stint on a sub, which he hated, and once, offhandedly, he said something that made me know that he knew what embalming fluid smelled like.

After the Big War and a stint stateside after he married and after his discharge, he joined the union.

My dad was also a Reagan Democrat. He had no love for a naval officer nor for a peanut farmer. He was frustrated by an awful economy. The auto companies were on life support. There was a steady exodus to the south for jobs. Jobs with less pay, no benefits and no security. He felt betrayed by his union, was adrift from their agenda. He was offered  a buyout deal to get rid of the guys with seniority. To replace them with lower-waged grunts without the same protections.

He took his decent pension. He took his terrific health benefits. He asked me to look at the agreement because he thought my mid-college educated opinion had value. Any value from that request accrued to me. I didn’t add anything to his thinking, since I agreed with him, but he catapulted me into a new part of my life that was grown and independent and validated. Because my Dad believed in me enough to ask my opinion on something important to his life. Jeez.

But, I digress.

Reagan spoke of resolve, of strength and of the promise that is America. My dad didn’t care about taxes. He did care about the U.S.S.R. He was susceptible to the racist dog whistles of busing and welfare queens with big TVs. He cared most about our future. He saw the solutions for that future through the lens of the past.

I railed against his wrong choice of candidate and party with the fervor of a young idealist at the beginning of life’s trail. He respected my disagreement, and we were never disagreeable.

He voted as Dad (R-MI) for Reagan and Bush 41. Then things got a little murky. I don’t know for sure when he started voting D again, but I know that he voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush. He was cagey about his vote for Al Gore, but based on his disgust over the hanging chads and the results, we think he pulled the D lever. And I know without any doubt at all that he thought that George W. Bush was an idiot. I have no doubt because he told me. More than once. Frequently using colorful language that would crack me up.

I would call home and he’d pick up the phone. We’d exchange a few pleasantries and then he would go full tilt into current events. Not conspiracy crap. Not anybody’s party line. Nope. He would read the newspaper (I don’t know how given he was mostly blind) and listen to the radio and watch multiple newscasts, including the Sunday morning public affairs shows. So he was always well informed. And he had a definite point of view.

I loved how he’d get riled up, and we’d get a good exchange going. Then, in the background, I’d hear my mother shouting, “SPOUSE! SPOUSE! What are you talking about? NOBODY cares about what you think.”

She was wrong. I cared very much. He kept me plugged in to where I was from and provided an analysis that I could agree or disagree with, but was an articulation of one American’s legit point of view.

She’d grab the phone away sometimes, just giving me and Dad enough time to share our I-love-yous as the receiver left his hands. But I’d get to talk with him next time, likely the next week, and we would continue. I would just say George Bush to him sometimes. It was my trigger to get him going. I was never disappointed.

My father never had the experience of watching Barack Obama run against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election. My last discussion of national polictics with him was in early June of 2007. I don’t know if he would have cast a vote for our first African-American president, but I really believe that he would. Because of how I know, I mean knew, him.

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot during this presidential campaign dirge. Mostly, I’m thinking WWDD? What would Dad do?

Would he be enraged and engaged with Trump? I don’t really see any of the other Rs inflaming his fancy, but there are some parts of Trump that might appeal to him. Would he settle on Hillary as a solid, but flawed, answer for the next four years? I can see him eyeballing Sanders, especially his fervor over Wall Street largesse, but it’s hard to project him as a Bernie Bro.

I use my Dad as a lens to understand good people that I may disagree with. It’s not really right, though, because I can’t stop seeing his depth of field colored by my own focus through my memories of him. My view of him limits how I can use his view. It’s like a hologram of Tupac singing with Snoop, you can literally see through the facade. Or maybe it was just all a dream, an interpretation.

I’ve been thinking about this for months. I’ve created scenarios and opinions that may not be supported by the historical evidence. Maybe me using him, how I contort him to be my representative of a smart, white, working class man, may be simply ridiculous.

And, if I’m perfectly honest, I just might have to say that I don’t actually know WWDD. But I bet it’d be interesting to find out. Damn. I wish I could find out.