So did you know that at our local gas station –

You have to write something that begins with “So did you know that at our local gas station. . .”

Do you want to? Not really. But write it you will,  because this is what you signed up for, here on this write what I tell you, like it or not day.

Off you go to the search engine, to find a photo of your favorite local gas station, so that everyone can see how charming it is, if indeed a gas station can be charming.

Here are the words you type into the image searching engine: winner gas pump munch nicollet.

That photo to the right up there is what comes back to you. It is from a woman named Shea’s blog, which appears to be a food blog. Does Shea’s blog have anything at all to do with the Pump ‘n Munch on 44th and Nicollet, here in the frozen hell you call home?

In an alternate world, perhaps, but not in yours, at least not today, this early morning when your frozen hell city has been declared the nation’s coldest by all the weather stations in the country. But you shall keep that photo up there, because looking at that woman’s smiling face –Shea, is that you?– gives you hope that one day you, too, will feel like smiling again, here in the frozen hell in which you live. Look at her there, in what appears to be a greengrocer’s, surrounded by healthy green vegetables. You would like to live Shea’s life for just a few moments, perhaps the next five, to be exact.

PAUSE FOR STATION IDENTIFICATION

Not really. But you suddenly had an intense craving for a large spoonful of Plantation Unsulphured Blackstrap Molasses, and who are you to deny intense cravings? You also have an intense craving to be in Shea’s greengrocer shop (is that how you phrase it? or should you say Shea’s greengrocer’s – is just the word alone sufficient? You are not British, so you cannot speak with authority on the subject of greengrocering), but since that craving cannot be immediately satisfied, the blackstrap molasses will have to do.

What is it about molasses, anyway? Do any of the rest of you get an intense craving for a large spoonful of it every now and then? Does it indicate an insufficiency of something in the body? Certainly there is a lack, or maybe it’s an overabundance, of synapse firing in your own body, but can a large spoonful of molasses help with that?

BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING

Which happens to be the Winner Gas Pump ‘n Munch at 44th and Nicollet, here in the frozen hell otherwise known as Minneapolis. You have written about Winner Gas previously, in terms of its being your preferred place to purchase lottery tickets, but you love the Pump ‘n Munch and you do not love the BP, the SA, or the Holiday, so back to Pump ‘n Munch you go.

There appears to be nothing that can’t be bought at the Pump ‘n Munch. For a store that’s roughly the size of half the first floor of your house (meaning, tiny), these, off the top of your head, are a few of the things you can stock up on:

Assorted candy, milk, cream, sodas (both brand and off-brand), beer (you think, anyway – you are not a beer drinker, but many of the Pump ‘n Munch customers seem to walk out with tall cans of beer-ish looking beverages), tiny bottles of weird-looking energy and/or aphrodisiacal drinks, cigars, chewing tobacco, condoms, pain relievers of all sorts, hot coffee, pre-made sandwiches, a virtuosic assortment of snacks, household supplies such as garbage bags and toilet paper, fishing supplies, birthday cards, “Busted: a magazine of Mug Shots, Sex Offenders, and Criminals in Your Neighborhood,” and, of course, all manner of lottery tickets.

But the best thing about the Pump ‘n Munch is the man behind the counter. He is there literally all the time. One of your friends, a man who also favors the Pump ‘n Munch above all other gas-dispensing establishments, asked him recently how much he works per week.

“70-80 hours!”

“Why so much?”

“Bills, Charlie! Bills!”

Your friend’s name is not Charlie, but the man behind the counter calls everyone –everyone male, that is– Charlie. Does the man behind the counter have a family? Interesting that you should ask that question, because your friend posed the exact same question to him.

“No! You find me a woman, ok, Charlie? Find me a good one!”

It’s surprising that the man behind the counter doesn’t have a good woman, because he is so endearing, so cheerful, so energetic and kind. Many is the time you have been waiting patiently in line at the Pump ‘n Munch –as patiently as you can do anything, that is– while the people ahead of you, people who, by all appearances, live hard and difficult lives, fumble in their pockets for change to buy their candy, their Mountain Dew, their lottery tickets and/or their tall cans of beerish-looking beverages.

“I got you!” the man behind the counter will say, fishing a dollar out of his own pocket. “See you tomorrow!”

When you buy your lottery ticket, he hands it to you and says, “Good lu-uck!” If he forgets, you remind him.

“You have to say good luck,” you say, and he laughs and says, “Good lu-uck!”

Yes, this is your local gas station. Everyone should be so lu-ucky to have one.

How she got so good at typing

How she got so good at typing? She practiced. She took a typing class in high school, when she was 15. It was taught by a woman who also taught Business, which, now that she looks back on it, was shorthand (which they didn’t teach) for Secretarial Skills.

That photo to the right there is not what her class looked like, but it does seem to exemplify a class on Secretarial Skills.

The class was full, mostly girls but boys too. The typewriters were heavy, one per wooden desk. The keys clacked, loudly.

There was a book of some kind that the teacher passed around, a book full of typing exercises. She began by memorizing the keys, by touch, with simple little exercises that spelled out words. When she’d mastered them she moved on to sentences that incorporated punctuation, beginning with the three that you see in this sentence.

Longer sentences followed, ones that incorporated all the letters. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Then came paragraphs, short, circumspect paragraphs about the weather, various holidays, food.

Letters followed, letters that usually, in her memory anyway, detailed brief business transactions. Someone had ordered something. Where was the something he had ordered? Might it be arriving soon?

The teacher taught them the correct spacing after a period –two spaces– and how many times to hit the Enter key after a paragraph (twice). She had to unlearn that correct spacing after a period rule once computers came to rule the world, and it was not an easy task.

She loved to type. Her goal was words that appeared on the page as fast as she could think them, and a typewriter was a vast improvement over a pen. Clack clack clack; her fingers leapt about the typewriter, and the sheet of white paper inched itself up from the roller.

Make a mistake? White-out. Daub it on with the little brush, let it dry, roll the paper back down to the correct line, re-type the letter. Or the word, or the sentence.

When she went to bed at night, age 15, she typed herself to sleep in her mind. She would think up sentences and paragraphs, tiny stories even, and close her eyes and imagine her fingers on the typewriter, clacking out the keys.

That right there is how she got so good at typing. Imaginary typing. Typing that didn’t involve a typewriter or a ream of paper or any sound at all other than what she heard inside her head. She went to bed practicing her typing in the privacy of her own mind, and when she woke up in the morning, she was a faster typist.

She got to be incredibly fast, and incredibly accurate. In fact, when she moved to Boston after college and embarked on her life as an unpublished writer, she supported herself by typing papers for students. $1/page, whether it was a paper on Jane Austen (yay! no symbols!) or a math Ph.D. thesis (yikes! all symbols!).

Later, in the years of babies and tiny children, she would write her stories in snatches of time during the day. She had moved on to a computer then; all she cared about was speed and ease. She had not changed since she was 15. She still wanted the words to appear as fast as she thought them.

Sometimes, during those snatched stretches of time, type type type type type type, she would sense a presence behind her and turn to see her son and his friends standing silently in the room, watching.

“Whoa. Is your mom the fastest typer in the world?”

“Yeah. She is.”

from an unfamiliar photo sent by a friend

See that photo there, in the upper left? Of course you don’t. That’s because there is a tiny mutant rebel army wielding swords and running amok in the walls of this blog, much as tiny mice used to run amok in the walls of the very old house in which I grew up, and they have decided to chop out all the photos that once could be viewed here.

The tiny mutant rebel army soldiers also stand guard at the gate of New Photo Uploads, denying permission to every new photo I try to include. So you shall have to use your imagination when you look at the invisible photo to the upper left, and trust me when I tell you that it’s a colorful snapshot of five teenagers, all wearing green t-shirts –they must be part of an urban summer camp of some sort– playing Double Dutch.

Remember Double Dutch? I do, sort of. Two of the teens hold a jump rope in each hand and stand opposite each other while two others watch. The jumprope-holding teens are, from the looks of the photo, swirling back and forth with each hand, creating a double rainbow of a jumprope, through which Teen #5 is leaping.

He is the only boy in the photo.  He concentrates intently, his red sneakers flashing. The girls watch, expressionless. There appears to be no real happiness in any of them. Why not, though?

Now I see –this is the first time I’ve noticed this, so focused on the jumper and holders have I been– that there’s a crowd in the background.

Girls and boys and adults sit on a low curb that flanks the parking lot where the Double Dutchers stand, their hands between their knees. An older woman with a long necklace and a yellow sun hat and Birkenstocks sits in a green plastic lawn chair.  I have no sense of conversation.

Hark! A table to the left holds papers, a tall can of Mountain Dew, and not one but two trophies. Behind this table sit a man and a woman, also watching the jumpers.

Is it possible that I have stumbled upon a Double Dutch Jump-Off? I do believe it is possible. In fact, the evidence seems incontrovertible: the intent teens, the green t-shirts, the silent bystanders, faces full of wary expectation.

Now I’m remembering the feel of a jumprope in my hands. It’s been a long time. Would I still like it? Because I used to, on the hot black pavement outside the elementary school.

I used to bring a jump rope with me when I traveled, so that I could jump rope in my hotel room. But did I ever actually jump rope in a hotel room? Methinks not.

The first time I met my friend Karla was through a story she wrote, in which the girl was great at making up jump rope rhymes. You know the kind, chanted in a singsongy voice. The girl in Karla’s story made up wild and unique rhymes. I looked at Karla, sitting across from me, her beautiful dark curls and her beautiful smile, and I hoped that we could be friends.

Long ago, my friend Judy used to jump rope in the fourth floor stairwell of our dormitory. You could hear the monotonous beat all the way down the hall, nearly inaudible most of the time and then, when someone opened the door to the stairwell, suddenly loud and echoey. My God, that woman could jump rope.

I have it in my head that she would jump for an hour at a time, but thinking about it now, that seems excessive, even for back then, when most of us were skilled at the art of excession.

“Excession,” in case you’re wondering, appears to be the title of a science fiction by Scottish writer Iain Banks, but which I believe should be the noun form of “excessive” instead.

Judy, hello, are you out there? Did you in fact used to jump rope for an hour at a time?

Would I be disappointed if she said no, of course not, you have a deeply flawed memory?

And now I’m remembering the Rope Power team at my children’s elementary school. My God, could those kids jump. Single Rope Freestyle, Single Rope Power, Double Dutch Speed, Double Dutch Pairs Freestyle, and on and on.

At one Rope Power tournament, I sat in the stands with a videocamera –perhaps the only time I, the camera loser, ever tried to videotape anything– taping. The children leaped and flipped around the gym, ropes swirling in all directions. It was stunning.

For the finale, a lone jumper came leaping out into the center of the ring, one leg somehow pretzel-twisted up behind his ear, backward and forward jumping on one leg. The crowd roared –it was truly an amazing sight, this twisted-up one-legged child nimbly spinning about– and just then the video ends with the sudden sound of my voice saying “Holy shit! That’s my son!”

A my name is Alison, I come from Alabama, I eat apples and I like the month of April.