Ten spectacles ~


What you see is what you get. iPhone photograph taken at the Fick Fossil Museum (Oakley, Kansas), which has as many local-history exhibits as it does fossil exhibits. I like to imagine that the townsfolk call it the Frickin’ Fick, but probably not.

The Coffee Seeker ~

Having made coffee for someone the other day for the first time in quite a while, I subsequently learned that (1) the coffee was past its expiration date, (2) I was incorrectly storing it in the freezer instead of the fridge, and (3) the filters I had were the wrong kind (cone-shaped instead of dish-shaped).

The latter seemed particularly absurd, as it didn’t take an engineer to see that what I had didn’t fit the shape of the coffee basket at all. Why I bought these particular filters (five years ago!), and why no one else had ever noted that they were the wrong kind, are mysteries.

At any rate, as I was perusing the coffee selection at the grocery store today, a voice just behind and beside me boomed, “Do you know what kind of coffee is good?” I jumped so hard that I heard myself say something like “Oh! Whoa! Oh!” and stumbled into the very tall man who’d spoken. When I caught my balance I said, “Not really. I’m buying this for someone else.”

The man, whom I now think of as the Coffee Seeker, waved a bag of Eight O’ Clock coffee in my general direction and said, “Is this any good?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t drink coffee myself.”

The Coffee Seeker said he didn’t drink coffee either and was buying it for his mother. He picked up another bag and held it out in front of him. “Is this ground?” he asked.

I reached over cautiously and squeezed the bag, which featured a large background photo of coffee beans. “I don’t think so,” I said. I was starting to feel sympathy pangs for his mother, whom I imagined as bedridden and longing only for an acceptable cup of coffee to help her bear her many burdens.

The Coffee Seeker continued standing there. At a loss, I said, “I’ve heard that Seattle’s Best is pretty good.” As I was saying this, I was scanning the shelves. No Seattle’s Best.

“I know that some people like Dunkin’ Donuts coffee,” I added, thus exhausting the last scrap of coffee-related knowledge in my possession. I pointed to the bottom shelf, but he didn’t move.

There was a long pause. He seemed to be harboring the suspicion that I secretly knew something else about coffee that I hadn’t divulged.

As he picked up a different bag, I panicked. “I’m afraid I’m probably the worst possible person to ask about coffee,” I said, with what I hoped was polite but emphatic finality.

The Coffee Seeker weighed this a moment. Then, without a goodbye (I felt we’d forged a sort of bond, but apparently his troubles were too all-consuming for that), he moved several feet down the aisle, to the section with boxes of coffee. (What is that all about, anyway? Does instant coffee now come in tea-type packets instead of jars, and if so, when did that happen?)

“Do you know what boxes of coffee are good?” I heard him ask a male shopper.

“I don’t know,” I heard the man begin. It sounded hopeless. Fearing the Coffee Seeker’s return, I picked up the bag I wanted, found the correct filters immediately (yes!), and decamped.

For all I know, the Coffee Seeker may still be standing in that aisle trying to figure out what to buy.

As for me, I thought I was doing well until I got home and remembered: creamer. Oh crumb. I can just see myself back at the grocery store, scrutinizing the multitudinous types of creamers, dazed and confused, when a voice will boom out at my shoulder, “Do you know what kind of creamer is good?”

I haven’t a clue. Didn’t you ask your mother?

Fallen camellias ~

Camellias and Coins

This was taken at the small pool in the Linnean House at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Linnean House used to be an almost magical place. There’s a slightly winding, brick-lined walkway down the middle, and both sides used to be lined with tall camellia trees. When these were all in bloom, the effect was stunning. In “renovating” the Linnean House, MoBOT removed all of the camellia trees from the south side of the greenhouse, replacing them with potted cactuses and fruit trees. The camellia trees on the other side have been lopped off and many, it seems, removed. No longer is the Linnean House enchanting.

God in the checkout lane ~

In case anyone’s interested in making a pilgrimage, God is currently working as a checker at Schnucks grocery store in Carbondale.

I don’t know his full schedule, but he definitely works Tuesday afternoons. He is older, tall, and African-American, which is germane because he has a rich baritone (or bass?) voice with a timbre I’ve only heard in black men’s voices.

This man sounds more like God than Morgan Freeman does. The first time I met him I didn’t realize he was God. I asked him if he was a singer. Naturally, he is.

Yesterday I met him again. As I was taking my receipt he said, “Now don’t mess up that hair.” I thought he was being sarcastic. My hair was dirty. I was tired and sweating. Even my hair was sweating. “It’s already messed up,” I said. “Naw, it looks good,” he said. “Now don’t mess it up, hear.”

If I could have leaned across the checkout counter I might have kissed him. People simply don’t say this kind of thing to me. Ever. It made my day. Absurdly, I heard myself say, “I’ll try not to.”

If only he’d given me my marching orders when my hair was clean, I could have tried to comply. Really, I could have.  But…I had to wash my hair eventually. Right? So I did. Now it resembles one of the Monkees’ hairstyles, only not cute. Kind of smooth and spherical.

The next time I go to Schnuck’s I’m going to have to avoid God’s checkout lane. I can’t bear to hear a reprimand in a voice more authoritative than Morgan Freeman’s.

What is all this stuff? ~

In giving my nightstand and bathroom cabinets a thorough clean-out tonight, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. For example, I’m relieved to know that I need not fear death by a thousand cuts—at least not if I’m at home—because I own more boxes of Band-Aids than a small hospital, or even a pre-school. I have them in all sizes and shapes, too. Why I own so many Band-Aids is a mystery. I just now opened one whose wrapper was so old it was virtually transparent, and guess what? The adhesive still works.

My Band-Aids will outlive me. What a legacy.

Upon reading the fine print on a never-used bottle of lemon eucalyptus mosquito repellent, I discovered that this benign-sounding concoction is only slightly less alarming than nuclear waste. Warnings abound. Do not so much as wave the box containing the bottle of repellent anywhere in the vicinity of a small child. (I’m paraphrasing.) Wash your hands before, during, and after use; wipe all of the repellent off your arms and legs after you come inside; dispose of any unused repellent at a hazardous waste collection site. (The same place I’ll have to ditch the mercury thermometer I was unaware I still owned.) Could the warnings on a can of Deep-Woods Off be any more dire? Lemon eucalyptus sounds so harmless, but can you say “volatile organic compounds”? No, plants are not always our friends. They gave us aspirin, but they also gave us hemlock. Remember that.

I’ve been picking at this Band-Aid for the last several minutes while I’ve been typing and the damn thing won’t come off. Ouch. There. Do some adhesives actually get stronger with age?

(Regarding mercury thermometers: Really, you don’t want to mess with these. When I was in college, I broke one while trying to shake it down. Hundreds of tiny mercury globules buried themselves amongst my blankets and rolled across the floor. I was aghast. After much labor I corralled them all in a dustpan or something and then disposed of them. But how? I DON’T REMEMBER. There were no hazardous waste collection days back then. Heaven help me, I may have committed water pollution by mercury. Surpassing my astonishment that so many droplets could come out of one thermometer was my fear that I’d die within the week from mercury poisoning. I was an accomplished hypochondriac in those days.)

Beyond the usual collection of expired stuff, I’ve found other oddities. There is, for example, a single condom, which seems to reflect a lack of ambition on my part. It looks lonely; perhaps it’s longing for its natural habitat, a teenage boy’s ratty wallet. It’s hard to tell how old this condom might be, since its packet bears no expiration date. It certainly is nowhere near its prime, but then neither am I. Both of us have outlived our original raisons d’être, I suspect.

I did find an expiration date on my bottle of Chigger-Rid, but I’m not falling for it. Chigger-Rid can’t possibly lose its potency. I mean, it’s basically nail polish sans the truly toxic ingredients, like toluene. No way am I getting rid of Chigger-Rid. It’s worth its weight in gold, and you can’t count on finding it in stock when you’re itching so badly you’d knock over a child on crutches to procure a bottle. You’ve got to have this stuff ready to go as soon as the misery of a chigger bite begins to dig its way into your consciousness. If you wait, you’re courting insanity. (For more on chiggers, see Calvin Trillin’s many anti-chigger screeds, but also this article with a superb double lead I wish I’d written.)

In going through my travel bag I rediscovered a little plastic digital travel clock/alarm that I’ve owned for at least 30 years and that I used on many, many vacations. The display is still working, and working accurately. Yet I know for a fact that I’ve never replaced the battery, which is a Sharp. From what I can tell online, Sharp doesn’t make AAA batteries any more, but if I ever see any, I’m stocking up. (Although my diligent little alarm will never be famous, it puts me in mind of the famous Livermore Light Bulb, the world’s longest-lasting, which has been burning for 113 years and has its own guestbook, website, and webcam.)

Speaking of light bulbs, I found in my nightstand drawer something that I cannot fathom. It’s a cardboard rectangle with a little blister pack containing two tiny things. Each of the tiny things resembles four minuscule beads stacked atop a metal prong. Apparently they’re the world’s tiniest light bulbs, for the cardboard says “2 Bonus Lamps.” It seems quite confident about this. The packaging, which bears only the logo of the American Red Cross, assures me “Belt Holster Included” and “Emergency Preparedness Checklist Enclosed.” Naturally, I found neither a belt holster, nor an emergency preparedness checklist, nor anything into which one would conceivably insert such tiny bulbs (including a belt; indeed, the promise of a belt holster would seem to presume the existence of a belt, but for what?). If anyone can shed some light—a very, very small bit of light will do—on what these bulbs might be for, please let me know. They’re haunting me, and I feel terribly unprepared.