Hating the Whos

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THIS IS THE TALE of the holiday letter and the handgun, with the legend of the discarded tree and the decapitated other tree tossed in. For unimportant reasons, it wasn’t until the morning of Jan. 6 that I sat down by the roaring fireplace to write my annual holiday letter. Let’s call it an early valentine greeting; mine had been a hectic season. Cup of tea steaming on the sofa table and down pillows plumped around me, I was ready to compose a heartwarming note of at least limping genius, when the police arrived. Out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter that I sprang from the sofa to, well, you know. Two officers stood on the corner over a … Read More

Pollster Politics

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THIS WEEK, I was out on the boulevard digging holes for plants and protecting them by chanting the mantra “May no dog pee on your head, may no dog pee on your head” when a political-party-worker-guy strolled up.  He asked me five questions. Would I vote for Obama? Franken? Karen Clark? Keith Ellison? And which issue was most important to me: Health, education, or the economy? While I piled on the mulch, I answered his questions, and then he strolled on, convinced he now knew something about my politics. I was probably supposed to feel that I had just been heard in some sort of meaningful way. To that guy, I’m Obama-Franken-Clark-Possibly Ellison-Health. It’s a quickie statistic, a stats bite … Read More

Killer Plants

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I’VE ALWAYS liked plants, but now they are trying to kill me. I recently contracted poison something-or-other — ivy or oak or Virginia Creeper, which, despite its innocent reputation, can be plenty toxic if you are a sensitive individual, the Internet tells me. Apparently I qualify as an empath. I was not rubbing my face nor my nether regions in the forest undergrowth or scything my way through the jungle. I was weeding my own urban garden on a busy corner in Uptown, minding my own horticultural business. I know my way around a garden, and I know the poison ivy chant (“Leaves of three, Let it be”). But depending on the time of the season and a variety of other … Read More

Crimefighting Mama

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SOME COLUMNS AGO, I wrote about drug deals happening on my nice little corner of Whittier and how tough it is to get the police there in time to catch anyone doing anything. After that column ran, a police officer phoned me at home to suggest that I, a mother of three untrained in the arts of self-defense, “step up” to handle these problems myself. Well, all right then. Now that I know that menopausal women with carpal tunnel and weak eyesight are the city’s last line of defense against the evildoers, I’m on the case. Rest easy, neighbors and fellow citizens. Even with a personal crime-fighting budget that is more severely strapped than the city’s, and without cape, tights … Read More

Music From a Distant Room

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MY 18-YEAR-OLD SON is out in the garden, shaking Preen over the mulch — his job assignment for the day. He’s wearing half a dozen leather bracelets, a 9-pound metal chain attached to his wallet (in case slugs attack, I suppose) and headphones. I don’t know why he bothers with those headphones. It’s summer in the city, and there’s everyone else’s music to overhear. In winter, when frozen drivers keep their car windows rolled tight and neighbors shut and lock their house windows against the cold, we have nary a clue as to the musical taste of the folks who live down the street. But come the heat and cruising season, car windows are cranked and so is the bass. We have … Read More

Gentlemen, Please Keep It Down

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WHY DO young men hoot when they’re drunk? There’s a reason I’m asking. I live on a corner, so I have twice as much pedestrian and automobile traffic as do single street-dwellers. I also live among many young people, who, come the weekend or even the dinner hour on an odd Tuesday, entertain themselves with the grape or hops. Fine with me, as long as they stay in their own living rooms and confine their subsequent ranting to the news reporters on Fox. However, alcohol apparently triggers an intrepid, nomadic nature in men, and some inebriated young fellows burst out of their apartments to stroll about the neighborhood, expressing themselves. As the weather warms, the post-midnight rumpus begins. Rupturing the quiet … Read More

The Life of the Boulevard

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I CONTEMPLATE, from here on my front stoop, the purpose of the city boulevard. Boulevards are the no-man’s land between private and public property, the line where what-is-mine meets what-is-no one’s; strips of green or brown or mottled space running north and south, east and west, laid over the city like a criss-crossed counterpane. Upon boulevards, we leave behind what we no longer value. They are the collecting places for empty things: condoms, beer cans, fast food bags, brilliant glossy bits of paper that once wrapped chocolate and nougat and peanuts. They are the resting places for dead things: a twisted black crow, a hapless squirrel, pocket bottles that once held whisky and rum. They are the amassing places for … Read More

The Knocker Lady of Whittier

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WHEN WE BOUGHT this 90-year-old house in Whittier, we thought the heavy, wide, wooden door needed a knocker. We went to a store that sells metal pulls and knobs and levers and latches. While I was musing over whether we should choose a brushed finish or a shiny one, my husband interrupted me, beaming. “I found it!” he announced, and hefted up an enormous brass lion head chewing on a big ring. It would have been at home on the gates of Buckingham Palace. “You’re a Republican, aren’t you?” I asked him. Eventually, I yielded and agreed that he could hang his king of the beasts only if he also hung up some other, lesser door knockers to prove that we … Read More

Walk This Way

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SO I HAVE this immobilizing boot thing stuck to my foot. Apparently, there are tendons in my feet, and I have annoyed mine. Or, there’s a fracture and I stressed it. Either way, my left foot is now encased in plastic and I drag it around with me wherever I go. I figured out that I can still garden. I stick my leg in a Hefty trash bag and off I go to sit in the mulch and weed. In a pinch, I can even manage to hoe with my toes, more or less. I can still teach. Once I maneuver myself across campus, a lengthy and hopping sort of task that involves cursing in Gaelic (well, it does for me, … Read More

Nettleton to Squirrels: Drop Dead

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TRUE STORY.  I heard a scrabbling noise at the back door a few mornings ago. I figured it was my husband trying to carry his 6-foot-tall string bass into the house after orchestra rehearsal but not having enough hands to hold onto the bass, fish out his house keys, and turn the knob. So I whipped open the door with an “aren’t I a helpful person?” look on my face and discovered … no husband. Instead, eight — not two, not four, but eight, actually eight, really eight — squirrels were on my back step. Now, my back step is a wee little thing, about the size of the swing of a door, and then I’ve gone and complicated matters … Read More