March 2023


Meet Fred Meyer

One of my family’s stories involves a very young Adam – but considering that I do not remember the story, I would presume it happened in the 1970s, roughly speaking.

We’d taken a family trip to Oregon – which is where my maternal grandmother lived. My maternal grandfather died before I was born.

I have no idea where we went on that trip, but evidently we drove a lot of places, seeing Fred Meyer everywhere.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fred Meyer, it’s a chain of grocery stores that pretty well blankets Oregon and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. Back then it was independent, today it’s part of the Kroger family.

At some point we pulled into Salem and looked at the state capital building.

Atop the building is a golden man – quite striking.

One of my siblings asked the question, “Who is on top of the state capital?”

I knew the answer: Fred Meyer.

Oregon State Capital

38 Days, revisited.

38 DaysAt my new home, this piece of art no longer hangs directly in view from my working position – so it is no longer something I stare at continuously.

I previously featured 38 Days in my blogpost Whatchamacallit 152.

Now I see it whenever I leave my bedroom.

It still resonates, as a testimony to the 38 days it took Ahmed Alali to travel from Damascus to Berlin back in 2015.

The world is a vastly different place today – having experienced a pandemic and now, alas, another war. This time the war is significantly closer and many refugees are coming straight through Poland to Berlin, making Berlin their first stop. The last numbers I saw suggest that right now at least 10,000 refugees are arriving every single day, taking the train from Ukraine to Berlin. Many move on to points beyond Berlin, but a substantial number are just happy to be here.

I’m thrilled that I live in a city that is so welcoming, able to absorb and help so many people.

Yesterday, while standing on a train platform, I spotted a Ukrainian flag flying proudly above a nearby garden plot.

Ukrainian flag in Berlin

Wir schaffen das.

23: Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard died 23 years ago today. Considering Matthew Shepard Facebook Post announcing concert in Bloomington, Indiana.

Another year has ticked by.

Another moment to pause and reflect on Matthew Shepard.

One remarkable thing about Matthew Shepard is that he continues to be present in society – I was scrolling through Facebook last week and I noticed that Indiana University Credit Union (my primary bank in America) is sponsoring the Bloomington Chamber Singers.

Their concert last weekend?

Considering Matthew Shepard

In October of 1998, Matthew Shepard, a young, gay student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a lonely field under a blanket of stars. Five days later, when Matt passed away, the world was watching. Approaching the eve of the 20th anniversary, Craig Hella Johnson has responded with his first concert-length work, Considering Matthew Shepard.

Led from the piano by Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard showcases the award-winning artistry of Conspirare’s singers with a chamber ensemble of renowned instrumentalists. This three-part fusion oratorio speaks with a fresh and bold voice, incorporating a variety of musical styles seamlessly woven into a unified whole. Johnson sets a wide range of poetic and soulful texts by poets including Hildegard of Bingen, Lesléa Newman, Michael Dennis Browne, and Rumi. Passages from Matt’s personal journal, interviews and writings from his parents Judy and Dennis Shepard, newspaper reports and additional texts by Johnson and Browne are poignantly appointed throughout the work.

Considering Matthew Shepard debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart after Harmonia Mundi released the 2-CD Set recording in mid-September, 2016. Album page Audiences describe this work as “brilliant,” “powerful,” “innovative,” “dazzling,” and “gripping.” The Bay Area Reporter wrote “it has the richness, depth and complexity to compel repeated hearing, and the power to get you the first time out,” and from the The Washington Post: “’Considering Matthew Shepard’” demonstrates music’s capacity to encompass, transform and transcend tragedy. Powerfully cathartic, it leads us from horror and grief to a higher understanding of the human condition, enabling us to endure.”

Considering Matthew Shepard joins the ranks of many significant artistic responses to Matthew Shepard’s legacy. Most noteworthy is The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and the Members of the Tectonic Theater Project, which has been seen by more than 30 million people. Jason Marsden, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation calls Considering Matthew Shepard “by far the most intricate, beautiful and unyielding artistic response to this notorious anti-gay hate crime.”

Matthew Shepard’s story must never be forgotten.

The fact that Matthew continues to be remembered so vividly, so brilliantly, and in so many ways is remarkable.

Yet at my core, what I remember is my visceral reaction to the initial shock, the out of body feeling – crawling into my closet at home in Bloomington and crying.

R.I.P. Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – *December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998

For historical reference, see 2004200520062007200820092010201120122013,  201420152016201720182019, 2020 or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

I am not a Hoosier.

I’m fresh back from a trip to the USA, where paranoia about Covid is on a whole different level from Germany. Excluding Monroe County, Indiana, only three shops enforced a mask mandate: REI Fort Collins, REI Denver, and an art gallery on the court house square in Spencer, Indiana.

In some shops I was the only person wearing a mask.

However, that’s not what I want to babble about here.

Rather, I noticed on this trip that despite the fact that I vote in Indiana and maintain some aspects of my life in Bloomington, Indiana, ultimately I really do not care about the state. There is no emotional bond with my Hoosier brethren, no need to sign “Back Home Again” as I walk off the jetway into a humid and hot Indianapolis.

I arrived late on a Thursday evening, drove to a nearby hotel, and fell asleep as soon as I lay down in bed. The next morning I got up early and drove down to Bloomington – a brief stop where I met a friend for breakfast at the IHOP (which used to be Long John Silver’s) across from the Dunkin’ Donuts (which used to be a Steak ‘n Shake and, before that, Mustard’s).

It was along this drive down State Road 67, cutting through Martinsville, to State Road 37 (I mean, I-69), where it dawned on me that Indiana really is a state that lacks any redeeming characteristics that make me care about the place.

It is the state, after all, that gave us Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. In the same genre, Indiana also gave us Jared Fogle.

Which is to say that if Chicago were to announce that it had purchased Newton County, Indiana, and was going to install a garbage dump there, I wouldn’t have any strong objections; though I would passively hope to visit Beaver City in order to laugh at the town name in person before it was covered with trash.

About the only thing in Indiana that I like is Bloomington.

But not the Bloomington of today, the Bloomington of 20 years ago. The Bloomington with Long John Silver’s and Steak ‘n Shake as part of (but not really) Eastland Plaza. The Bloomington with a functional movie theatre downtown, a couple blocks away from the Laughing Planet Café (RIP, Covid Times) and Howard’s Bookstore (apparently closed in 2013!).

It’s not to say that today’s Bloomington is bad – it is actually the nicest city in Indiana, complete with a walkable downtown, infill construction filling in gaps, and a rails to trails path stretching through the city that is exceptionally nice. Ultimately these qualities make today’s Bloomington property of those living there today – the memories that will bring today’s undergraduates back in 20 years to attempt and relive their fond memories only to find that the city now belongs to the kids of 2040.

My travels south to Evansville involved driving down I-69 (a highway and a personal claim) – the highway is nice, but nobody uses it: 99% of the traffic took the exit for State Road 37 to Bedford. Basically it’s a faster way to get to Evansville, but only marginally so and at great expensive (both fiscally and environmentally). I’d go so far as to say that I-69 was a complete and total waste of money; the roads that were there were good enough (though they could use repaving).

I did stop at a few places, but I was more tourist than local. Some of the stops were duds, some were fun. I did not have an emotional connection to any.

Him / Us: My collection

Him & Us (and Epic)

Since I have not been travelling or planning travel, I’ve had some serious extra energy to devote to strange things.

Awhile back I discovered two romance novels: Him and Us – both are by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. Both are excellent and fun novels to read with well thought out plots and excellent writing. Consequently I’ve read everything (as far as I can tell) by Sarina Bowen and a fair amount of Elle Kennedy.

As a member of the Sarindipity Facebook group, I became aware that Him and Us were available in a wide variety of languages: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Thai.

So I set out to acquire the complete set – which I now have.

Some of these were incredibly easy: Danish, Dutch, English, French, Hungarian, Italian, and Thai. Among these the hardest, so to speak, was Thai: this involved navigating a Thai language website and paying a lot of money for shipping.

German proved to be messy: the books are out of print and I ended up having to search ebay.de and medimops.de, putting on alerts to help me keep track of what was for sale. Ultimately I snagged copies off of ebay, including a copy of Us that was signed (dedicated to somebody else, but…).

Him (12 languages)

Getting Portuguese was half easy, half asking a Portuguese friend to order Us for me. I should note that the Portuguese books are actually in Brazilian Portuguese. Him was available from Book Depository.

I put off buying Hebrew because I was lazy – which turned out to be a good thing, because when I started my quest, only Him was available in Hebrew; by the time I turned my attention Hebrew, Us was also published, so I was able to order both books at once and pay for shipping only once.

Obtaining the Czech Us was easy; Him would have proved impossible if I did not have a Czech friend. This is because Us is still in print, while Him is out of print. So I search for Him on a used book site in the Czech Republic, got an email alert when it became available only to discover it could only be shipped within the Czech Republic. Thankfully this Czech friend was at home and could get it delivered to his family, then bring it to me.

Us (12 languages)

Finally I was left with Mandarin – which is only acknowledged in English in the back of the Him/Us novella, Epic. The back also says that the books exist in Polish, but they are not actually published in Polish.

Since Mandarin goes far beyond my abilities, I ended up writing an email to the author asking her for a clue as to which country and which publisher published the books in Mandarin: Taiwan and Uei Shiang Co. (Him and Us) — Thankfully I have a friend in Taiwan who navigated the purchasing and shipping of the books.

My Him and Us collection is complete.

Baseball Thoughts…

Earlier this summer I attended a few Berlin Flamingos baseball games – for the first time in two years, since last summer was, well, coronaed.

One cool thing about the Flamingos is that their home field is about an hour long walk from my new home, meaning that – if I want to – I can walk there and back.

There are two big differences between the games in 2019 and the games in 2021: first, the Flamingos climbed into Germany’s first league, meaning that the competition is much better. Second, the field now comes with light fixtures that illuminate the field for night games.

Not to grumble about the latter, but the lights were installed directly behind the fences that define the field. Along the leftfield line, this is problematic since that’s where all the seating is located: it is all to easy to have a light stanchion blocking your view of the field. I wish they had put the lighting up maybe 4-5 meters back from the fence, behind the seating.

This is, however, only an annoyance – if you get there early enough, one can usually claim a seat where the stanchion issue is minimized.

Watching the Flamingos play reminded me of my last experience watching the Colorado Rockies in Denver and of a story my grandfather would occasionally tell when I was a kid.

Whenever a ball leaves the field, the Flamingos make an effort to retrieve it, with the balls promptly returned to the umpire for further use.

This stands in stark contrast to the Colorado Rockies. I wholly understand that MLB is (to be blunt) rich: that baseballs are inexpensive (relatively speaking) and that MLB pitchers demand the best, most perfect, balls to pitch.

However, it felt like to me that nearly every ball pitched was shunted aside to somebody who took some notes – and on the main concourse of Coors Field there was a stand selling game-day baseballs and more, including the bases. They even market it on their website:

Take Home a Piece of the Game

MLB authenticators are on site each Rockies game to collect and authenticate memorabilia used by the Colorado Rockies and all visiting teams. Game-used and team issued memorabilia is sold at Coors Field, on the online auction site and by phone/email!

This is different from what I remember in my childhood – not that the Colorado Rockies existed then – but extraneous, game used, baseballs were thrown into the stands – especially damaged baseballs.

Now it is all about the money.

Which brings me back to my grandfather – he told this story about going to a Dodger’s game (no – not the LA Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers) during, as I recall, the depression; though my memory says it might have been during World War II. The story works as set during the depression or during World War II.

During the game a foul ball flew into his section. In my memory it is unclear whether my Grandfather caught the ball or if he was relating the general story – but regardless, the ball was caught by somebody in the section, then the ball was hidden by the fans.

In that era, baseballs were extremely expensive and difficult to obtain (hence, this story works during the depression or during World War II) – so ushers were sent to the section to find the ball – nobody fessed up to knowing where the ball went and who had it.

He what??? My 1986 Elementary School Continuation Commencement Speaker

In my lifetime, I have attended a large number of graduation ceremonies, including several where I walked the stage. Many more have been to honor friends and colleagues who have completed a degree.

Out of the dozens I’ve attended, three stick out. Only one of the three was celebrating one of my accomplishments.

The third most memorable commencement speech relates to my father’s job teaching math at a community college in Colorado. One element of that job was attending graduation ceremonies. I don’t think my father necessarily enjoyed the ceremonies and whether or not his attendance at these ceremonies was compulsory or voluntary is a detail that is lost to time.

As a kid, I sometimes attended these graduation ceremonies. I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the events except one, when Mr. Lewan of Lewan and Associates gave the commencement address. He promised that he would make exactly 12 points and then be finished. From my seat in the back row, I kept count. From his seat on stage, so did my father. After the ceremony was completed, we compared counts – he’d made over twenty points. His speech was commensurately long.

The second most memorable commencement speech was here in Germany. I was there in support of a friend, the commencement speaker was a famous German scientist, incredibly well respected in his field with a list of accolades to match. He’d been asked to give his speech in English – unfortunately he did not speak a lick of English. Somebody had typed up a speech in English and he tried to read the words aloud. As a native English speaker, I have no idea what he said that evening. Nor did anybody around me – it was a total failure.

These are, or course, memorable – for the wrong reasons. In the former, the speaker did not keep his promise of a short, 12-point, commencement speech. In the latter, nobody knows what was said.

In the case of my most memorable commencement speech it was nothing that Norm Early, then the Denver District Attorney, said, but rather what was said before the speech.

The introductory speech was given, I presume, by the president of the Park Hill Elementary School Student Council of 1985-86. What he said went right over the heads of all the students (including me) and most of the audience, but it landed directly on my father, who apparently spent the rest of the ceremony do anything he could do to not laugh:

“As the Denver District Attorney, Norm Early has tried everything from fraud to murder.”

I guess the old saying remained true: a poacher makes the best gamekeeper.

On Googling the Past

Every so often I wonder what happened to various people from my past.

Thanks to Google, I can give it a go.

Earlier this year I googled one of my contemporaries from the University of Wyoming – his name had popped into my head randomly and I wondered what had become of him. Google, of course, is not perfect and the first person I found was a convicted sex offender.

That sat with me for a couple days – yes, the guy I knew was a Republican; yes, I knew he was from Wyoming; and yes, we were radically different in our political perspectives – but I had trouble reconciling my memories of this guy with the fact that he was now a convicted sex offender.

Then I re-searched the guy and realized that the sex offender was too young. A more careful search revealed that the guy I knew had died when he was 44; certainly an untimely death – the obituary describes him as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness.”

Finding this was a huge relief: the undergraduate I remembered could easily be described as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness” – thus I could dismiss the prospect of him being a convicted sex offender from my mind.

A few years ago, my mother gave me a copy of my sixth grade graduation program. For whatever reason, I put off looking at it closely for at least five years. Then, last November, it floated to the top of a stack of papers and I glanced through the list of names: there were many people whose names I could not remember. There were some names where I could remember the name, but the name was sufficiently generic that any attempts to google the name would be impossible.

For example, googling my name turns out “about 909,000 results.” This is a lot, but it’s not impossible (and, indeed, I am on the first page). One of my classmates was named “Aaron Smith” – which gives “About 210,000,000 results.” I imagine that if I wanted to, I could probably add a few keywords to try and narrow the search, but that would rely upon the assumption that he still lives near where he grew up. (Plus, to be fair, while the name rings a bell, I could not remember anything specific about him; so there is not a strong connection, from my perspective.)

There was one classmate whose name I remembered – a name so unusual it probably is unique on this planet. So, I googled him: with around 30,000 results it was easy to find him.

It turned out that in the intervening 35 years our paths may have taken radically different – individualized – routes, but for the last five years, we’ve both lived in Berlin.

His home is 1.2 km (ca. three-quarters of a mile) from my old apartment.

We’ve met and get along fabulously well — thus, I can honestly talk about my elementary school friend.

In defense of the hamster.

Last year, during the initial lockdown, there was that run on soap and on toilet paper.

Both puzzled me: I always have enough soap on hand to get me through at least the next three months – and, more to the point, were these people not washing their hands before the pandemic? Did it take a pandemic to get people to wash their hands after using the toilet?

Wait… I have seen many men piss then not wash their hands in public toilets. Yuck.

As for toilet paper – that’s one thing I always have more than enough in stock with. As a kid, growing up in a family of six, we would always stock up whenever toilet paper went on sale, buying enough to last us six months at a time.

I’ve always made it a point to have at least one unopened six pack of Happy End toilet paper on hand in the event that I didn’t buy more in time.

In Germany, people who buy more than they need for the next week are accused of “Hamstering” – that is to say, like being a hamster. During the lockdown, hamstering was discouraged: purchases of toilet paper were limited to one package and signs told people to not hamster any other goods.

Now that I live in a slightly larger apartment, I will confess that I am, to a reasonable extent, a hamster: I make it a point to always have enough toilet paper, paper towels, dishwasher salts, hand soap refills, detergent, dish soap, and more on hand.

Some of this is strategic: since moving, the closest main-stream supermarket is roughly a 25-minute walk away. While I can get many supplies at closer low-cost supermarkets, there are some things where I am brand loyal – like my wonderful smelling unscented laundry detergent.

So I buy these things in bulk via Amazon or from the supermarket that delivers to me. The prospect of carrying one bottle of laundry detergent alongside a week’s worth of groceries – no thank you! Put it all in a cart and let somebody else drive it to my apartment: excellent! Plus the detergent is on sale? Make it two bottles and I won’t need to buy it again until October or November. No need to cart home dishwasher salt on my back – buy a case and I won’t need to think about it again for a year!

Thanks to a tip from a friend, I now buy rice in bulk: 7kg of Jasmin rice delivered to my door? Absolutely – far easier than buying it 7 separate times and carrying it home in a backpack along side other groceries.

Hamstering is good – stocking up is good – not everything is worth stocking up on, but having essential goods on hand so that you’re not scrambling to buy the last package of toilet paper when everybody else is panic buying is a good idea.

4709; Two too low.

Sometimes it is in random moments that things said to you years ago make sense.

For example, I recall once listening to my paternal grandmother complain about the address of her apartment in New York City.

“I’m so disappointed in whomever picked the house number. Why 4709? It could have been named after a cologne!”

Or something to that effect; the conversation was at least 20 years ago.

I had no idea what she was talking about. If I had to guess, it was said while I was visiting her at her apartment back in spring of 1999, but this point is unclear to me. What I will say is that the apartment was the same apartment that my father had grown up in. It was a perfectly decent apartment and I imagine that rent control made it an exceptionally good value, even if it was not in Manhattan.

It was one of those things that she said that I probably promptly forgot about, never to think about it again.

Until last year when I read Brendan Nash’s The Landlady, a novel set in 1923 Berlin. Buried deep in his excellent book, one of the characters wears 4711 cologne.

It was that moment it clicked: my grandmother loved perfume – I remember that when I was a small child she once gave me a bottle of Aspen cologne for Christmas. I was quite young at the time, probably way too young to be given cologne.

However, presents from my paternal grandparents often carried not so subtle messages – like the men’s hairbrush set. I would guess that the last hairbrush that I owned was, uh, the one I was given when I was about 9 years old.

Being a curious fellow, I did a bit more research: 4711 cologne is still on the market – so I coughed up a few euros and ordered myself a bottle.

Honestly, it smells of my grandmother.

It is not the only bottle of cologne or perfume in my current collection: I have bottles of Joop Jump, Tommy, and Secret Craving (Victoria’s Secret).

Ultimately, I rarely, if ever, wear scents: I tend to think it is rude to wear scents at the office and I do not go to places with people where it occurs to me that wearing a scent would be fun and/or a good idea.

I suppose this represents a generational shift of sorts: the values of my paternal grandparents essentially reflected the era in which they lived.

The status symbols they thought were important also reflected that era: my grandmother would wear this (I presume real) fur coat in winter – as a kid I thought it was fantastic and so cozy to hug. In the last decade, I have seen fur coats being worn by people who are entitled to wear fur coats, people who have come upon the fur in a way that I consider to be ethical and reasonable – but I cannot imagine a scenario where somebody living in New York City today could walk a block in a real fur coat without being shamed.