My Observations, While Walking Around The Neighborhood


Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.

Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.

So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.

Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.

Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.

Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.

You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.

A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.

OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.

Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.

Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?

Another One Of Those Little Scenes That Lets You Know Exactly Who I Am


This would be me, getting my hair cut, and finally feeling comfortable about it when the barber mentions having these nice wireless razors and other electric hair-trimming appliances. I agree how it’s great that he can have all this stuff and not have those dense clouds of tangled wires that could themselves use some kind of wire combing device. I express curiosity what’s happened that barber-shop equipment manufacturers can make these devices now, when they would surely have been at least as popular ten years ago. He doesn’t know. I agree I don’t know. We retire from the field, tied. I tip $4 on a $16 bill and am glad the base charge wasn’t, like, $17 or $18 that would make a fair tip awkward.

Tomorrow, I project applying forty times the amount of shampoo which my hair could use.

What’s Not Here Anymore


There’s a little block of doomed buildings in my neighborhood of Lansing. It’s not doomed for the good reasons, like we’re facing a small meteor strike, or there’s a rampaging horde of attack jerboas headed this way, or they found it was actually a giant kid’s play set and she’s outgrown it and giving it away to a less fortunate giant, maybe in Big Rapids or somewhere. It’s for the usual reason. The local developer noticed this was a thing that wasn’t torn down already, and it is so much fun tearing stuff down. I understand. What would be the fun in tearing down the empty lot one block east for their new construction? All you get to do there is tear up a gravel lot, and when you tear up a gravel lot you just have a gravel lot at the end of it.

The local alternative-weekly included a piece describing some of the things that had been in the doomed buildings. Mostly they name things. Some of the buildings have been there since the 1910s, so there’s a lot of things to name, even if an awful lot of them seem to have just been barber shops. I’m not disparaging barber shops, it’s just there’s a limit to how much story any of them have. There’s the part of the shop where a guy is cutting hair, there’s the chair that doesn’t work right, there’s the signed sports jersey, and there’s a bunch of colorful slips of plastic that turn out to be the money of foreign lands.

But there’s wonder and mystery here. For example, between 1995 and 2008 one of the storefronts was the United Nations Association. My love remembers it. It sold all kinds of United Nations-themed merchandise. And why the United Nations? In Lansing, Michigan? A United Nations-themed store makes sense in a city more associated with international diplomacy. You know, Geneva or Paris or New York or the Frelinghuysen Estate in Raritan Township, New Jersey. And don’t go thinking I’m overlooking Portsmouth, New Hampshire, either. I know exactly where they are and I have my agents sending me reports.

Maybe it did start out the logical way. Someone sold the original proprietor a fake ticket for Vienna. Then he found himself in the mid-Michigan area and figured, why not? Still, they must have been on to something for a United Nations merchandise store to carry on for thirteen years. I would have thought a store for that market in that location would last about four hours. But then I also thought Home Improvement was a cute show that would last maybe eight weeks. Instead here we are decades later remembering that it’s not still being made, is it? It seems like it couldn’t still be on, right? Somebody check and tell them to stop if they haven’t already. But the point is, the wonder is that the store lasted only thirteen years. Maybe it moved to an even more promising United Nations-mad city, like Muskegon or Rochester, Minnesota.

Still, there’s other businesses that used to be there. One that delights me ran from 1951 to 1972 and began as Merry-Go-Round Toys, then became Quarmby’s Merry-Go-Round Toys, then Quarmby’s Art Supplies, and finally Quarmby’s Picture Frames. I was all set for them to cycle back around to Quarmby’s Picture Frame Toys, or maybe a Merry-Go-Round Quarmby, but they demolished the building instead. The spoilsports. And with blotches like that on the record people have the nerve to call capitalism efficient.

Another building spent 1914 through 1916 as Sanders & Fizzell Hardware. Sometime in 1916 I guess Sanders’s eye was turned by another merchant-proprietor. From 1917 to 1920 it was Sanders & Newsom Hardware, Tinshop, Furnace, & Heating. Perhaps Sanders and Fizzell broke up peacefully. It could be Fizzell was less sure about the market for tin-shoppery in Lansing. Maybe Fizzell just didn’t see the need to advertise their providing both furnace and heating services. “Goodness, Mister Sanders,” Mr Fizzell might say, because those were more formal days. “What sensible warmth-lover in this metropolis would not know to come here for furnace and heating work already? Why `puff’ oneself `up’ so?”

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. Possibly Fizzell wanted to encourage all hardware stores to emphasize their tinshop and furnace and heating sides. Once Fizzell found a decent partner in Newsom he could leave Sanders to his devices and move on to another hardware shop in need of his magic touch. I just don’t have the evidence to say. Sanders & Newsom things and other things wasn’t on the block after 1920 anyway, so you’ve missed that.

Then there’s the building that spent 1965 through 1975 as Dental Art Laboratories. I can’t imagine it was for, like, painting molars, yours or someone else’s. That seems too early for the paint-your-own-ceramic-stuff-while-drinking kind of store you get in malls these days. But then I wouldn’t have expected a United Nations store just a couple blocks from my house either, and see what happened? It’s all a wonder, that’s what it is.

One-Stop Jabbing


I’ve been reading Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm Fairy Tales, and that’s been compellingly odd because so many of the stories just are. One I just finished was about three brothers who apprenticed themselves to various masters and came back to compete for their father’s affection and his house by showing what they could do.

The one who’d gone with a barber showed how he could lather up and shave the beard of a hare while it kept running, which I have to admit is pretty good. The blacksmith showed how he could re-shoe a galloping horse without breaking its stride, which is awfully impressive although it seems needlessly hard. The one who went with the fencing master showed how he could strike drops of rain so swiftly and so alertly that he could stay perfectly dry in the middle of a downpour, which I didn’t even know was something fencing masters trained for.

Anyway, the brothers stayed together, sharing their father’s house and prospering together their whole lives, and now I’m stuck on what was that? I understand the logic of a one-stop place for barbering and blacksmithing. That just makes good sense. But fencing? I would imagine most of the work for fencing masters involves jabbing people with swords and you can’t just arrange for most people who need jabbing to come by the old barber-blacksmithing shop, not most of the time.

Although maybe I’m just not understanding the partnership. Maybe the fencing brother gets a contract to jab someone, and his brothers send out offers of free haircuts or metalworking until the contracted victim accepts, and comes over, and that’s how it works.

No, wait, that won’t work, because advertising wasn’t invented until 1918, when John R Brinkley needed to sell the idea of implanting goat testicles into human bodies. (You can see why that idea needed some promotional push to get going, especially among the goats.) There must be something that I’m not understanding. That would be foreign exchange markets: when a bank says it’s buying, say, euros with dollars, doesn’t that just mean it’s switching its own database entry that says “dollars” on their account to “euros”? How is this even doing anything, much less affecting the world economy?