Thursday, June 1, 2023

Garage Sale 2

            I’ve written here about garage sales before, and I don’t have a lot to add, but we have been in garage sale mode for the last several weekends, so it might be worth another look. New material is in italics.


            Kim and I have always enjoyed having garage sales. The analogy I use is that it’s like taking a crap and someone else hauls it away – and they pay you for it! (These days, with both of us over 80 and experiencing various health and mobility issues, I use another analogy: We are in a sinking ship, and it’s time to throw stuff overboard.) But there is more to it than that. Garage sales are a way that we connect with people, both neighbors and strangers. 


            As a guy, I don’t make those connections easily. Most of my friendships, except those dating back 55+ years at college, come on the coat tails of Kim’s girlfriends. (This means you, Manny, Ted, Jerry, Rick, etc.) I’m not very good at initiating friendships on my own. These garage sale connections are a lot less than friendships, resembling more what I learned to do as a Starbucks barista, initiating a conversation based on the customer’s clothing (“Is that a University of Wisconsin hat?”), or accent (“Boston?”) or book they might be carrying (“Shades of Gray? Really?”), [Note consecutive punctuation marks.] I’d form a brief 30-second relationship while making change, and then on to the next person. Perfect.


            My garage sale relationships last a bit longer. In fact, most of the time I’m standing out in the driveway talking with the husband while Kim is in the garage explaining some of our weird merchandise to the wife. I figure that the longer I can engage the guy in conversation, the better chance Kim has to sell something – though half the time she is just discussing health or grandkids with the wife. I’ve learned that people are a lot more interested in themselves than they are in me or anyone else, so that is where I take the conversation: “Where are you from?” “What did you do before you retired?” “Have you always been this fat?” (Just kidding with the last one . . ..) Some of our “customers” stay for over an hour. One guy insisted on showing me photos of his dog, and several times Kim has invited couples into our home. A few couples have come back to visit, though they pretend to be looking over our stuff again.


            (Some sale relationships are not so positive. We have experienced shoplifters. And we have customers who expect everything we are selling to be less than $5, including antiques, furniture, and artwork that Kim has spent hours creating. And we have a hostile neighbor who steals our signs and accelerates past our driveway, recently endangering the life of a little girl wandering out to her car.)


            We enjoy making money at our garage sales, but Kim also enjoys trades. She traded one neighbor some kitchen stuff for banana bread and rhubarb sauce, and a stranger returned with an oriole’s nest that she somehow learned that Kim fancied, and Kim gave her a bedspread in exchange. But making money is important. It allows us to pay for trees and flowers without feeling bad. We do not put prices on anything, as Kim prefers to engage in conversation with customers (“How much do you want to pay?”). If anyone asks me a price, I say, “Let me ask my wife,” and they immediately understand.


            I did accidentally come up with one marketing strategy that I have not yet tried. We had a garage sale in Saline where we were selling some tools of Scott’s. I wrote the word “tools” on our sign, and I noticed a lot more cars stopped. Why? Not to stereotype, but usually when couples drive around, the guy is behind the wheel. Guys behind the wheel tend to see Garage Sale signs better when the word Tools occurs on the sign. So, I’m going to try using the magic word, even with no tools, explaining to the guy, while his wife shops with Kim, that I just sold them all 10 minutes ago. We’ll see how that works.


            Another advantage of garage sales involves multitasking. We have yet to advertise our sales, preferring simply to put out our signs when we are doing yard work. We rarely have a lot of traffic – one car every 20 minutes counts as “busy” – so we get a lot of planting, weeding and watering done. I’m not very good at multitasking, but I take pride in my ability to squirt a hose at a tree while glancing at the garage.


            Many of the people who stop at our garage sale ask about the bark siding on our house, and usually we invite them to take a closer look. Some of these folks are or used to be builders, and others are looking for cottage ideas. Occasionally these people neglect to check out the garage sale, but that’s OK. We are proud of our Bark House.


            (I think we could have sold our home several times, which would have escalated our garage sale earnings. It’s a good marketing technique. And we did sell a previous home at our garage sale!)





Thursday, May 25, 2023


            Years ago, I was in a writing group with Peter Becker, a professor at the University of Michigan who specialized, as I recall, in the language of Burma (as Myanmar was then called). I don’t remember much about what Peter said about the language, except that they did not have pronouns, and I thought it must be interesting and different to experience life through that filter.


            I also remember that he said that a breakfast tradition in the country was to tell what you dreamed about the night before. That sounded great to me – a great way to connect with family, to know one another deeply despite the fact that the language lacked an “I,” a “me” and a “you.”


            Then it occurred to me, what if I came to breakfast having had no dreams – or, at least, none that I could remember? Would there be pressure to come up with something? Probably – as I imagine the scene. Could I invent a plausible dream? What would that sound like? What are the rules for dream narratives? Is “No Rules” the one rule? I suppose I could do some research, read some dream-transcriptions, etc., but it’s more fun to speculate. What do dreams feel like? Here’s one response that I wrote a few years ago:


The Flying Dream


At breakfast you tell me your dream:

You are swimming in the ocean.

It is warm and calm. You move

effortlessly, like a ray.


the way I fly in my dreams


Soft water glides along

your skin in a caress.

You shimmer. Kelp touches

you like a lover’s fingers.


it’s becoming my dream


You have no need to breathe.

Amazing fish, coral, sponges,

anemone all welcome you.

The undersea joins you in dance.


like the music in my dreams


But when you surface you see

only water and sky. No waves

point the way to an invisible

shore. Nobody comes to


where am I?


your rescue. Nobody hears

the calls you don’t make. In

the giant ocean you find yourself

lost, alone, complete, serene.


I’m not sure how much of this is Kim’s dream, and how much is my writing.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Dad Jokes

            When I was teaching high school, I sometimes asked my 10th grade English classes to write a joke they liked, and then to analyze how it “worked” to be funny. My goal was to have them realize that their writing has an audience, readers, other than their English teacher. A joke works, usually, because of an element of surprise, as a result of some misdirection. I’m not at all sure how successful my joke exercise was. On reflection, I should have followed it up with assignments where I specified an intended audience – an apology to one’s parents, an invitation to a prospective date, an obituary to be read by the deceased family and friends, a letter to the editor on a pressing social issue, etc. I don’t remember any of the jokes my students told me some 55 years ago, so I won’t be able to share any of them with you.


            Lately I have heard about a sub-category of jokes known as “dad jokes.” Curious to learn how they differ from jokes in general, I turned to Wikipedia:


A dad joke is a short joke, typically a pun, presented as a one-liner or a question and answer but not a narrative. Generally inoffensive, dad jokes are stereotypically told with sincere humorous intent, or to intentionally provoke negative reaction to their overly-simplistic humor. Many dad jokes are considered anti-jokes, deriving their humor from an intentionally unfunny punchline.


Here are a few examples:

·       Q: What do you call a mermaid on a roof? A: Aerial.

·       Q: What does a highlighter say when it answers the phone? A: Yello!!

·       Q: What's Irish and comes out in the spring? A: Paddy O'Furniture.

·       Q: What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A: A carrot.

·       Q: Where does a sick fish go? A: The dock.

·       Q: What do a tick and the Eiffel Tower have in common? A: They're both Paris sites.

·       Q: What's the difference between a pun and a Dad joke? A: It will become apparent.

·       Q: What did the fish say when he swam into the wall? A: Dam!

·       Q: Whose concert costs only 45 cents? A: 50 Cent featuring Nickelback.

·       Q: What do you call an elephant that doesn't matter? A: An irrelephant.

·       A ham sandwich walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve food here."

            It’s amusing to think of striving for “an intentionally unfunny punchline.” Makes me want to attempt a “dad poem” or “dad essay,” where I explain that I made it bad on purpose – don’t you get it?

            No, I think of a “dad Joke” in a much broader sense – a lot like a plain old joke, a brief story with a surprise ending, often revealing a character’s foolishness or stupidity, which suggests that we, as the tellers of the joke, are not foolish or stupid. (I grew up hearing “moron jokes,” which morphed into “Polack jokes” and then “blond jokes.” I’m sure there are plenty of “guy jokes” out there as well. Oh – that’s right, they are called “dad jokes.”)

            Here’s one:

            A doctor tells his patient, “I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first?”

            “The bad news.”

            “You have cancer, and you only have a week to live.”

            “Ouch! And the good news?”

            “I finally slept with my nurse.”

            The dad joke is me, telling the joke. I’m a joke.





Thursday, May 11, 2023

Great Lies


            Years ago, I heard a joke about The Three Great Lies:


1.     “The check is in the mail.”

2.     “The government will take care of that.”

3.     “I love you.” (Ha-Ha – cynical punch line)


To these, I have added a fourth:

4.     “I have read these Terms and Conditions.”

I have told this lie a lot, and I bet you have, too. Someday, probably soon, I will learn what I lied about having read.


            And lately, a fifth:

5.     “Your call is important to us.”

Yes, yes, I know – it’s hard to hire people to actually answer the phone, and the call may actually be important to the business you are calling. But it’s still annoying that somehow the technology has not found a solution. Sometimes you get a robot instead of a real person, and sometimes that leads to a solution. At least a robot is better than some of the music that’s inflicted while I am moving up the “important to us” ladder. But still, it reminds me of: “Suicide Prevention Hotline – will you hold please, or leave a voice mail?”


            All of which makes me wonder: What are the other Great Lies? The easy one has to do with the 2020 election, and I won’t comment further on that, except to say that it’s worth exploring why it is that we fall for so many lies.


            “I feel your pain.” This is never true. Nobody can feel the individualized experience of pain of another person. The sentence is not really a lie, for a lie implies an intention to deceive, and “I feel your pain” is, in most cases, a sincere expression of sympathy – unless, of course, it’s said for selfish reasons.


            Then there’s “Your Lyin’ Eyes,” a song by Eagles about a woman who cheats on her “rich old man.” The chorus goes:


You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes

And your smile is a thin disguise

I thought by now you’d realize

There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes.


But I first came across “your lyin’ eyes” in a different context: A woman comes home and finds her husband in bed with another woman. He declares he is innocent, and asks, “Who are you going to believe – me or your lyin’ eyes?” I’m not sure how any of this fits with my theme of Great Lies, but I like the phrase and it’s my blog, so I’m including it.


            What about white lies? They can be convenient, and I believe we have all told them as a way to protect someone’s feelings. In my case, they are a way to avoid a difficult conversation, and they are lies nonetheless. They protect how I feel.


            I’m enjoying being playful about lying, but Kim has made it clear how she learned from her father that lying indicates a major flaw in character. Honorable people don’t lie. With that in mind, I have made an effort to cut back on my lies. Really.


Thursday, May 4, 2023

The 10 Minute Rule

            We continue to watch a lot of movies on television. It’s been a long winter and cold spring, and only recently have we gotten outside. We have had a number of hits and a number of misses. We practice “The 10 Minute Rule”: If we are not grabbed in the first 10 minutes, we go on to something else. Usually this involves that lack of characters we can like.


            We dump some movies well before 10 minutes. This includes:


·      Movies that start with young people crowded together, jumping up and down to loud music. How much of that can we stand to watch, and who cares about people who enjoy doing that?

·      Movies that start with a couple having sex. It’s only going to go downhill from there.

·      Movies that start in a submarine or crowded elevator. Kim has claustrophobia.


            On to the good stuff:


The Chimp Empire (Netflix) This is not your typical National Geographic documentary. The four hour-long episodes tell a compelling story, with characters who have personalities, and the result is close to tragedy. And we could not help but wonder at what it took to film the whole thing.


Woman in Gold (Netflix) A woman works with a young lawyer to reclaim artwork stolen from her family by the Nazis. It stars Helen Mirren – what else do you need to know?


 Nobody Knows I’m Here (Netflix) A number of our favorites have to do with a recluse who gets found and finds a kind of justice. This one involves a child singer who got screwed out of his career – until he is discovered.


Keeping the Bees (Netflix) Turkish film about a woman who struggles to fulfill her mother’s dying wish: to care for her beloved bee farm. This film has no car chases or people dancing to loud industrial rock.


Faraway (Netflix) Kim really loved this one. A woman inherits a home on a Croatian island, flees Germany and her unappreciative family, and starts a new life for herself. It has some very funny scenes.


Saving Lisa (Amazon) A substitute teacher, realizing that Lisa is a victim of abuse at home, takes her away to attempt to begin a new life as mother-daughter. The series explores the idea of family in some fascinating contexts.


Once (Amazon) Charming film that explores the relationship between a street musician and a young mother. Interesting take on the rom-com formula. You have to like the music – therre’s a lot of it.


Digging to China (Amazon) A touching look at the warm but difficult relationship between a young girl and a “mentally disabled” (right term?) young man – played by Kevin Bacon.


Change in the Air (Amazon) A secretive young woman named Wren moves into a quiet neighborhood, arousing curiosity. The movie explores a web of relationships with gentle humor


Johnny (Netflix) Almost didn’t make it past our “10 Minute Rule,” but we kept watching because our friend Sandy recommend it.  A priest opens a hospice ward, changing the life of a thief doing community service. Better than it sounds.


            Actually, most of these movies are better than I’m making them sound. What makes them work for us is the way they explore relationships – friendships, family, neighborhood, romantic, political (that’s the chimps).


            Another type of movie we often dump is the kind where characters are talking too fast for us to follow, even with subtitles, and the plot is too complex. (I feel lost and confused enough in my real life, so I don’t need more in my movies.) That being said, Kim and I got hooked on The Diplomat (Netflix), which has smart people talking fast about matters I cannot understand. But we enjoyed it, until we reached the end of Season 1: a major cliffhanger and no assurance there would be a season 2. Come on!!! We are already waiting for more Yellowstone and 1923, and we’ll probably be moving characters from one series to the next as we struggle to remember what had us grabbed months ago!


This Just In: Saw and loved The Mustang (Netflix) A prison inmate works in a rehab program involving horses. Powerfully filmed and acted.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

That Sucks

            Last week we took a drive down to Ann Arbor so I could be surprised by a birthday party. Driving through the city where I have not driven for about six years was rather strange. I could not remember the names of the streets, and I was not at all sure where they went. Our “new” used car does not have GPS, so we were on our own. Traffic was heavy and there were a number of detours, making the adventure all the more fun. The fact that my birthday had the number 80 attached to it made navigation even better. I felt like I’d awakened at night in a totally dark room, and I was trying to find the bathroom – not that this has ever happened to me.


            While all of this was going on, we were continuing our online search for housing. We found a house that was totally charming. It was in Gainesville, in an old neighborhood called the Duckpond, and it was made of chert – a kind of quartz made up of shells and skeletons that had spent a long time on the ocean floor. We studied the photos in the listing, figured out renovations that would be required, had a realtor do a video walkthrough, and asked an architect friend to take a good look at how he could make the kitchen workable and the bedroom large enough to fit a bed. It all looked pretty good, so we made an offer.


            The offer included a stipulation that the Seller had one day to respond, or our offer would be withdrawn, a few hours later we got a request to extend the deadline, as the Seller had other people who were going to look at the home. Foolishly, perhaps, I said yes. A little bit later our realtor passed along a request that we participate in “escalation,” where we offered to overbid offers higher than ours, with a maximum high dollar amount that we were willing to pay. Competing bidders were doing the same thing. Again, foolishly, I agreed, giving our cap about $40,000 above our initial offer, though still under the asking price. This was all done on the phone, some of it during my birthday party. I felt like I was pretty much on my own here, driving in heavy traffic with no GPS and a few detours thrown in. Somewhere in all the phone calls our architect told us that the house needed a new roof, and that there was no way to access the back yard without going through the house, which would make roofing difficult.


            We did not get a call back at night after the 6 p.m. deadline, so the next day I called our realtor – or rather, his assistant, as he was busy for a few days. He told us we did not get the house. We expressed our unhappiness with the process, and he said he understood.


            On the following day our original realtor called, and I explained my displeasure to him. When I mentioned the roof problems, he noted that because of changes in Florida’s insurance laws, the age of the roof meant that the house could not be insured. In terms of my driving analogy, this would have been a major pothole had we “won” the house. So it goes.


            As we reflect on the entire process, we see how the current “Seller’s Market” is making it tough on a lot of people, driving up the price of houses, and in so doing, raising the “comps” that realtors and mortgage companies use to determine the right value/price of a house, which is going up fast. Yes, the Seller’s realtor does what he or she can to get the most money for the client, but a consequence is that lots of people simply cannot afford a place to live. That sucks (to use a term I learned years ago in Economics 21).


            I mentioned before that we are flakey clients, difficult for realtors as we jump from commitment to commitment. For example, just three days ago we called a realtor in Gainesville to make an offer on a condo, then called her back a couple of hours later, changing our mind. She seemed happy to have us as potential clients.


            Meanwhile, Kim came up with a solution: We are signing a lease to rent an apartment in Gainesville, where we will spend our winters. This will cost a lot less than purchasing a house, with all the taxes, closing costs, insurance, etc. And we will be near Genne’ and her big heart. What’s more, if we change our mind, or if we find a really cool house, we are only renting for a year. This way we are avoiding the That Sucks bidding war, and we can continue to be flakey. Kim has started to organize and decorate our future, based on the floor plan we found online. 


            Yes, when we get around to selling our Bark House, we will want to get as much for it as we can. Perhaps. But we might want to sell to someone who will respect what we’ve done here, loves what we love. We are fortunate that we do not need to be greedy. Who does? The apartment, which we have not seen, is not our “dream home,” but we already have one.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Our Last Address?

            Last week’s account of our housing decision struggles (which are, by the way, continuing) led to some interesting responses from my readers. Angie warned of the risks of buying without a contingency of a contractor’s inspection. Tony warned of HOA dues that rise “faster than inflation.” Our friend Alice, who is also a realtor, offered this wise advice:


Why not get reborn among your friends, doctors, businesses right here in northern Michigan? Having new digs alone will be a challenge to make them fit your needs and be to your liking. Wouldn’t that be enough? Please take a whatever time you need and then some. This will most likely be your last address. We are all living in what might be our last addresses. Make sure you’re living where you’ll want to be in the years to come surrounded by those you love and love you. 



And a writer friend of mine, Rand Richards Cooper, told this story:


This kind of real estate thing can be, in my experience, shockingly strenuous and emotional.  


I recall very well going through the real-estate wringer about fifteen years ago, when we were still living in that multifamily, had a toddler, and wanted to move. At one point we decided to buy a home in West Hartford, the suburb just west of here. It was a nice place and Molly really loved it. I was ambivalent – partly because the money was absolutely the max we could afford, partly because the street was almost as busy as our old street (and we definitely had prioritized reducing traffic), and partly because I was loathe to leave our funky/fun/semi-urban neighborhood. 


Molly didn’t have any of those reservations. Anyway, we put an offer down, and the realtor told us that there was one competing offer. So I decided to use my writing talents to provide a personal dimension to our offer, in the form of a note to the sellers. I have no idea what I said, but presumably it was some combination of endearment/ personal narrative/ wit/ thinly veiled begging.  At any rate, the realtor got back to us and said, “I don’t know what you did, but they took your offer – even though the other offer was $10,000 higher!”


As you can imagine, I felt pretty fucking proud of myself. 


In the next few days, however, I found myself beset by surging doubts. It became a borderline-physical thing. Finally Molly said, “Hey, lets pull the plug; wherever and whenever we do move, we both have to be fully on board.”


Enormous relief. We pulled the plug and, with another dollop of begging, got our downpayment back. 


There was a highly enjoyable coda to the whole shebang. A few weeks later, I had Larkin at the playground, and fell into conversation with a young mom who had her little kid there. Somehow we got around to talking about real estate, and she said, “An amazing thing happened to my husband and me. We wanted this house on South Highland, and we put in a bid. I fancy myself a pretty good writer, so I told my husband, ‘I’m going to add a personal note with our bid, and make us irresistible to the sellers.’  So I wrote the note – and we didn’t get it. I was completely devastated – we wanted that place so bad. I basically cried for three days. And then do you know what happened?”


“I dunno,” I said. “The other people withdrew?”


“Yes! Exactly! And now we got it!”


I smiled.  “That’s a really awesome story,” I said. “Congratulations to you.”  


Funny thing is, I’m still kind of proud at what I accomplished as a writer with that whole real estate deal. I’d never had a $10,000 assignment before….  RRC



            In Alice’s words, “Make sure you’re living where you’ll want to be in the years to come surrounded by those you love and love you.” Easier said than done. Maybe it’s best just to look for small victories, and try to enjoy the process.