A Charmer

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Strangers spin charming tales.

This restored General Motors truck from the late 1940s has been parked in the neighborhood the last several days. I took a few photos, attracting the attention of the owner, Dave, who came out and gave me its storied history.



Like me, the truck is from the Iron Range, purchased by a man who once went to my old high school. It originally belonged to the Oliver Mine Company and was used to transport dynamite. The man, a shop teacher, found it wasting away in a junk yard, no longer needed for the purpose it was once intended. He took the stray home, refinishing the interior with wood paneling and a wooden dashboard.

Ironically, the shop teacher who loved wood died while out chopping a pile of it a few years ago.



His widow called Dave, a favorite student of her late husband’s, and offered it to him. She knew he’d love it as much as her husband did, diligently continuing the restoration.

Dave showed me the new engine (circa 1970s) and boasted that the truck now has air conditioning. He pointed to the original air conditioning — a crank that opened the front windshield a crack at the bottom to let air whoosh in. Which kind of puts modern air conditioners at a “1” on the excitement scale. Yet I don’t need excitement when it’s hot. I need cool air.

But a hand-cranked front windshield would be the bee’s knees.



* * *

A few more photos from my day out in this big ol’ world:

Curing Cancer and Feeding Baby Tigers With Eyedroppers

November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

Good writers eavesdrop.

Think about conversations you’ve overheard at a party, in the cube nearby at work, in a public restroom, or while riding the subway. Just one perfect random sentence or two and you’ve got a story, or at least a solid start on one.

New York is an ideal place to eavesdrop, for there are many conversations to choose from, and you can casually listen in without blowing your cover (crowded subway during rush hour = opportune time to hear about how the woman next to you is suffering from bunions and a husband who won’t stop bringing home peppered mackerel and kippered salmon from Russ & Daughters despite her severe smoked-fish allergy).

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

But seriously, wait until rush hour. Empty subway cars do not good eavesdropping make.

One of my favorite overheard conversations took place on Coney Island on a quiet, cold morning. It was a long discussion among three friends on a bench, a portion of which I posted last year.

I also vaguely remember listening to two college students talking somewhere near NYU. I’d forgotten about the conversation until I came across my notes the other day. They were talking too fast for me to get much of anything. But I did manage to capture this little gem:

“Curing cancer and feeding baby tigers with eyedroppers.” 

Those eight little words are the perfect start to a short story on two volunteers who constantly try to one-up each other. Or a piece on lame college application essays. Or whatever I want it to be.

Tomorrow morning you should go out and listen in on a conversation to which you weren’t invited. But be discreet. And respectful. And then see what you discover about your capabilities as a writer. The exercise will stretch your creative muscle and help you develop well-rounded characters upon which all your readers will love to eavesdrop.

Fifteen Questions I Bet You Wish Someone Would Ask You

November 14, 2013 § 12 Comments

I’ve been going through old files lately, and fun stuff keeps popping up. Today I found a piece of paper with a bunch of questions written on it. I’m assuming they are questions I created, but I’m not sure of their original purpose. Questions for prospective boyfriends? To ask at a networking event? To ask my family or complete strangers?

Whatever the intent, here they are. Feel free to answer one or two or all. See some of my answers following the list.

  1. A stray, sweet chocolate lab comes to your door. You let him in, give him a bath, feed him. You love him. What do you name him?
  2. What is your first memory?
  3. What don’t you have that everyone else has?
  4. What do you have that no one else has?
  5. What small town (less than 5,000 people) would you live in if you could?
  6. If you could do anything regardless of pay, skills, and education, what would you do?
  7. The phone rings. Anyone can be on the other line. The only caveat is it needs to be someone you’ve lost touch with. Who do you hope is calling?
  8. What song do you often listen to that you rarely or never hear on the radio?
  9. What famous individual have you been told that you look like by more than one person?
  10. What was your favorite toy as a child?
  11. What is the most annoying thing the person you spend the most time with  does every day?
  12. What have you done today to take care of the environment?
  13. Regardless of the type of day you’ve had, what three things occurred today that made you happy?
  14. What surprises do you find when you Google your name?
  15. What is your favorite photo of yourself?

It’s late and I’m tired, so I only answered a couple of these (the easiest): 

3. A microwave

8. A few of my favorites, but there are more: “The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III, “Kingpin” by Wilco, “Picture Book” by The Kinks, “Bullet” by Mason Jennings

15. Probably not the best photo of me, but it makes me laugh:

Playing chicken

Playing chicken

Art World Kiss and Tell (Subtitle: AWK-ward)

November 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

On my twenty-fifth birthday, I went out with a group to a favorite downtown bar and spent the evening kissing men I didn’t know. Egged on by a friend, I found the exercise remarkably innocent, confidence-building, and rewarding, landing me in the arms of a handsome stranger who danced with me until closing.

Alas, those days are gone — the late nights, downtown bar hopping, youth.

Instead I now fill my time learning how to kiss strangers in the new old-fashioned way. Thanks to events like Art World Kiss (AWK), I can now greet friends and strangers alike in the manner people on the coasts and in the Old World are accustomed to.

Part tongue-in-cheek, part boot camp, today’s AWK lesson was led by three artists and inspired by writer Andy Sturdevant and his essay on the AWK — that kiss on both cheeks you see people do on television but never in the Midwest — from his new book Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow

(Side note: I highly encourage you to buy the book, especially if you’re from Minnesota — not only can the guy write, but he also finds quirky aspects of the metro area and beyond to research, ponder, and profile.)

The band of artists, the author, and a small group of amused and curious participants (including my friend Laura and me) met in downtown Minneapolis this afternoon, did some warm-up exercises, and hopped a train to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to learn and practice the art of the AWK. Why the train and the airport? Both are symbols of cultures that embrace mass transit and require a long plane ride to reach — locations that coincidentally embrace the AWK.

Awaiting her AWK

Awaiting her AWK

Once on the train, the lessons began in earnest, always beginning with an example of the wrong way to perform a portion of the AWK (e.g., eye contact in the transition between cheeks, wet lips, invasion of another’s personal space).

Light rail AWKing

Light rail AWKing

While the other light rail passengers seemed mildly upset or confused by our shenanigans, the rest of us had a ball, answering and asking questions, and eventually trying out our new skills on one another. Once we reached the airport, we detrained and graduated, receiving a certified AWK learner’s permit.

Certification means I must now widely practice my new skills by AWKing the millions of Minnesotans who weren’t in attendance. It takes a village to make AWKing a cultural practice, so let’s embrace it, one and all.



Stranger Things Have Happened

January 7, 2013 § 8 Comments

I heart New Year’s resolutions. Last year I succeeded at several, and I want to keep the momentum going in 2013. This year’s primary resolution: engaging strangers every day in conversations by asking open-ended questions (best to avoid “yes” and “no” answers — not conducive to story evolution).

I’d define myself as a friendly, optimistic person who’s great at saying “hello” and smiling at everyone I pass on the street. But I often don’t proceed beyond that, fearful of invading someone’s privacy or personal space.

To hell with that. It’s 2013. Time to get ridiculous.

Admittedly, I haven’t stepped too far out of my comfort zone this last week. It’ll take some time to really feel confident approaching random people and asking out-there questions. But I haven’t pissed anyone off yet. Each person has appeared genuinely pleased that I took the time to ask, and a couple lead to conversations that lasted several minutes.

We’ll see what I have to show for it by year’s end (if I follow through): New friends? The inspiration for a new character or short story? Multiple restraining orders?

A summary of the strangers approached, questions asked, and answers given follows. Nothing earth shattering, but I’m guessing it’ll get better as I grow braver.

January 1: Drugstore cashier

  • Q: “How’s your new year so far?”
  • A: “Ugh. We were just robbed 45 minutes ago.”

January 2:
Kowalski’s cashier

  • Q: “How’s your new year going so far?”
  • A: “J-term just started at my high school and I’m so excited about my acting class that I showed up a day early not realizing it doesn’t start until tomorrow.”

January 3:
Guy manning the running table at the Dome

  • Q: “What can you tell me about your organization’s group runs?”
  • A: “We don’t do those.” Which I knew wasn’t true, but he seemed confused and sweet, so I don’t think he realized he was lying.

January 4:
Waitress at Nightingale

  • Q: “What’s your favorite memory?”
  • A: “Meeting my husband.”

January 5:
College boys at Weisman Art Museum

  • Q: “What’s your favorite exhibit right now?”
  • A: “Guy Tillim.”

January 6:
Couple walking around Lake Harriet

  • Q: “Where did you get your dog?”
  • A: “Boondoxie.” Led to a wonderful 10-minute discussion about their dogs and kids.

January 7:
Two random people

  • Q: “How’s your day going so far?”
  • A: Nothing much beyond “Great,” but one woman perked up and seemed appreciative for the question and interest.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Strangers category at The Quotidian Diary.