|ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
An exerpt from a story detailing
a visit to the Midwest made by Jan
and his daughter Lydia.
15 July 95, 6:02 A.M.
Heading east on I-94 for Milwaukee, then south on I-90 to Kenosha.
LIFE AMONG THE TWENTYSOMETHINGS
Location: East-side, Madison, WI
Persons: Shanan, Mark, Nickie, Max, Peter, other friends.
Cats: Clarence, Nimh, Books (i.e., runs fast).
Apartment: Three bedrooms, one bath, front room/dining area, kitchen, closed-in front porch. Ground floor, corner apartment.
Books: Lots ... novels, poetry, social science, philosophy, computer handbooks, Dilbert collections, cat books, foreign language books (French, Spanish, German), various college texts, some coffee-table books of photographs and art.
Music: CDs, numerous; cassettes, many, mostly dubs of other cassettes and CDs, or original tapes of friends' bands; guitars, electric and acoustic; amplifiers, no vinyl records that I could see; some sheet music.
Computers: One, shared between the three. Shanan's old XT was given to another friend who is using it to write papers for graduate school.
Other things on the wall: Photo blow-up of Max's father and uncle when they were five-year-olds in Hartford, WI. ("a nice place to leave"). 8 1/2 x 11 drawings probably done by Mark, pen and ink, slightly surreal and cartoon-like. Two posters in the bathroom ... one for the band Phish, the other a closeup of a peeled banana being held upright by a female hand, the banana dripping with chocolate sauce. Five or six of the various photos of Lydia and/or Lillian that I have sent Shanan in the past two years. On the wall right next to the front door, in a narrow hallway, a poster of Sonic Youth.
Other reading matter: No magazines to speak of ... no TIME, Newsweek, etc. Multiple copies of the local underground newspaper, the Isthmus. No stacks of bills, letters, catalogues, or other junk mail. Back issues of the New York Times and Village Voice.
Trash: Sorted by recycling category (mostly).
Drinks: Plenty. Coke by the 24 pack, beer by the case (mostly Berghoff, a local brew), some hard liquor in a cabinet under the sink. Lots of other sodas, tonic water, club soda, natural juices, and some frozen lemonade.
Drugs: None that I could find, though I did see some rolling papers on one bookshelf.
Tobacco: One roommate smokes, the others don't. The one who does is a computer programmer. Seems to be the one who drinks most of the Coke. Numerous ashtrays around the house, full of butts. Cans of air freshener on some shelves. Found some cans of cat deodorant too, and some devices for extracting tobacco smoke from the air.
Cat food: 50 lb. bag. Three dishes for the cats' dry food (one
Q-tip in each dish along with the food ... I fed the cats at 5:30 A.M.
while I made coffee). No cans of wet food. One water dish for all 3 cats.
Do cats drink milk? I gave them a little this morning. One litter box for
all three cats, needs changing/cleaning. I didn't attempt to.
Lunch at Hardee's,
hamburgers, fish sandwiches, and lots of American
flags. Lydia and her brother Shanan have hamburgers, I have the fish
and take photos of the flags.
At my brother's house in Kenosha, two hours into the surprise
70th birthday party for my mother, I was talking with Sam K., now in his
mid-60s, who lived in Racine prior to moving into the house next door to
my mother's, when I was a teenager. I mentioned to Sam that we had stopped
at the Johnson Wax Building
on our way to Kenosha. He told me how he had worked on a rehab project
to fix some problems that the building developed in the 1950s, 20 years
after its construction. He said that the job involved removing one layer
of the double thick brick walls to get to the internal cork insulation
layer that Wright had designed and had specially constructed for this building.
What happened was that the similarly specially designed window system (which
I remember well from my readings about this building) leaked water regularly
over those 20 years, soaking and ultimately destroying the cork insulation.
Wright wanted a window system integral
to the design of the central
tower of the building. As he envisioned and built it, the windows wrap
continuously around the tower, with curves to match those on each "corner"
of the tower. He fabricated the windows from hollow glass tubing of 2"
diameter, with bends perfectly matching the corner curves. Each window
set, on each floor, was constructed from a stacked group of twelve hollow
tubes. The tubes were held in place by a system of custom designed brackets
and twisted wires. Wright had a team of chemist/engineers work six months
to develop a silicone to use to fill the spaces between adjoining rows
of glass tubing. The problem was that with the changes in temperature,
the tubing shifted, weakening the silicone seals and the windows then leaked
rain and snow. Consequently, Sam spent one summer vacation, while an automotive
engineering student at UW-Madison, working
construction for the company hired to perform the rehabilitation work to
replace the water-damaged cork insulation.
Monday, July 17, Madison, 6:20 A.M.
Just finished faxing the Dells
information to my brother's office machine in Kenosha. He's leaving tomorrow
morning for a three-day trip to the Dells with his son, and one of his
son's friends. Faxed the info via CompuServe. Very easy, you just replace
INTERNET in the address line of the message with FAX,
and then replace the actual address with a telephone number.
Highway I-90, headed east, back to General Mitchell Field, to catch our 5:00 P.M. flight to Albany. Lydia is joking about various reasons why we might miss our plane. Things like a flat tire, a traffic jam, engine trouble on our rental car, or at the moment, the possibility that a huge boulder might fall out of the semi-truck we're following down the highway. I explain to her that it's important to be careful what you joke about, and that one should not tempt fate. I say that accidents often happen, good as well as bad, and that while you can never directly control their outcome, it seems possible to influence the trajectory towards good or bad. Lydia immediately shifts her focus and asks about the likelihood of causing fantastic things to happen. Like what, I ask her? Well, you know, she says, what if aliens swoop down and pick up our car, or cloud our minds so we don't know where we are? We could still miss our plane that way, couldn't we? All of her talk of aliens has caused me to lose track of where we are, and I'm now circling the airport parking garage for the third time, looking for the rental-car- return entrance. We just might miss our flight anyhow.
BOGOTA, POPAYAN AND THE EQUATOR
I'm beginning to see that Lydia has become a seasoned traveller.
Her eight years of trips to Puerto
Rico have made her very adept at the routines of the airport. Getting
from the arrival gate to the next departure gate, stocking up on gum and
candy to keep our ears from popping during takeoff and landing, getting
a few comic books to read on the plane, and making sure that I have the
tickets and know which gate we're headed to for the next leg of our journey.
When we get on the Detroit-to-Albany plane, as usual, Lydia gives the steward
our tickets and tells him, he's my Dad and he's with me. The pilot invites
Lydia into the cockpit to look around, so I head to the back of the plane
to put away our bags. Meanwhile, Lydia has overheard the stewardess asking
the first-class passengers if they would like a drink, while the plane
is filling with those of us flying coach. The man next to Lydia says, not
me thank you. Lydia says, I'm dying for a drink; 7-UP
would be great. She hands the stewardess the tickets, to show her where
she's sitting. When Lydia comes back to sit down, she tells me that the
stewardess will be coming by momentarily with her drink. She does, and
tells me that Lydia certainly knows how to get what she wants.