Pencil Sketch, 750 words: Clyde

I liked Clyde the minute I saw him. This was summer, more than twenty years ago.

I had just moved to Minneapolis and Clyde was standing at the open back of his mail truck, plucking envelopes and flyers out of white bins and organizing them into complicated sheaves.

He rarely said anything back then. But there was something about the methodical way he sorted that mail and the solid way he moved from building to building that brought me calm and relief when I saw him, as if the world was more reliable than it seems.

That first year, I wrote him a note when the holidays rolled around. We began to talk, a tiny bit, now and then: hi’s and how you doin’s. In summer he wore blue mail shorts, in winter a red, black and green winter knit cap that I think of as his snow beanie.

After a few years I had a baby and then another one and then another still. I moved to a different house. It was only a few blocks away but it wasn’t on Clyde’s route. We still waved and smiled whenever we saw each other, Clyde with his big bag of mail, me with a baby in a backpack or toddlers in strollers or in a child seat on the back of my bike.

The years went by and the kids got bigger. Clyde shaved his head. I got my long hair chopped off. He stayed big, I stayed scrawny. I published a book.

“I see you,” Clyde called across the street one day. He was laughing and shaking his finger at me. “Don’t think you can hide. I woke up this morning and saw your photo in the paper.”

I crossed the street to talk to him.

“I got a question for you,” he said. “All these years when I watch you walking around, walking walking walking all those long walks, are you writing books in your head?”

I shook my head. Nope.

“I don’t know, girl,” he said. “You might be writing them but you don’t even know it.”

Time went by and other things changed, big things, and I moved again in haste and stress. I didn’t see Clyde for a long time.

And then, about a year after that hasty move, I turned the corner when walking my dog and there he was. Beaming. He was as big as ever but there was something lighter about him. He gave off a feeling of joy.

“Girl!” he said. “Where you been!”

My heart swelled at the sight of him, at the sound of his familiar voice, and to my horror I started to cry. Clyde bent his head and closed his eyes and then he wrapped his arms around me. He didn’t say anything else. Neither did I.

I kept moving. Twice. And once more. All within a few blocks of my original apartment, but still not on Clyde’s route. Every few months I would be out with my dog or out running, and there he would be.

“You grew your hair out,” I said to him last summer. “It looks great.”

“You’re blonde now,” he said. “Are you having more fun?”

It’s been a long time now that I have lived within Clyde’s orbit. A long time now that I have watched him sifting through letters and packages in those white bins in the back of his mail truck. He has been the bearer of so much news over the course of those years, news that he is unaware of –marriage and birth and death and bankruptcy and scholarships and party invitations.

Yet maybe he is aware of what he carries in that mail pouch. Maybe that’s why he moves with such gravitas from block to block.

At the beginning of this endless winter I saw Clyde on the other side of the street. It was a bitter day.

“How are those kids?” Clyde shouted, his breath pluming out. I filled him in as he stood opposite, shaking his head in wonder at the fact that they were in college now.

An hour and a half later, I turned the corner on my way back home with the dog and there he was again. He bent his head in what looked like sorrow at the sight of me.

“Girl,” he murmured. “You been walking a long, long time.”

“So have you, Clyde,” I said. “All day, every day.”

“We’re both strong,” he said. “You know we are.”

Day Twenty-Six: Inspired by that guy with the giant red paper clip

Dream: to climb Machu Picchu the long, winding, non-touristy way.

Dream: to live for a while (or maybe forever) in Montana or Colorado or Wyoming.

Dream: to build a rock or stone terraced wall-garden-thing along the sidewalk in my front yard, fill it in with dirt and then re-plant the insanity that is my perennial garden back into it.

Dream: to get really good at swing dancing.

These are just a few of my many, many, many dreams. I was thinking about some of them at dawn today, and then that guy with the giant red paper clip popped into my mind.

Remember him? He began with the huge paper clip and bartered his way up the ebay ladder until he owned a house, in Canada as I recall. This was in the news a few years ago, and the whole idea intrigued and delighted me.

Barter: it’s the new money.

I used to do a food exchange with another family. Once a week, sometimes more, we would cook twice the amount of dinner, package it up and then go leave it on the others’ doorstep. This was an idea I dreamed up out of a (probably false) sense of imaginary nostalgia (imaginary because I never experienced it myself) for the way little communities used to work, or the way I imagine they used to work, in which everyone took care of each other and each others’ children.

The other family, as I recall, was initially hesitant, but game to try. The food exchange was a huge success from the very first day. There was no pressure whatsoever – if you were flat out one week, you didn’t have to cook extra. If you were in a cooking mood one week, you could leave food two or three times.

We already knew that we each liked each others’ cooking, so there were no unpleasant surprises. The food exchange brought us closer together as friends, even though most of the time the only interaction was coming home and finding a big shopping bag by your front door.

There was something about the fact that someone else had done the cooking, then carefully wrapped it up and taken it over to the other house. It made the other family (and me, when it was my turn to find food on my doorstep) feel as if someone else was watching over them, taking care of them.

That was a long time ago, and the food exchange has been over for many years. But I was thinking about it, and missing it, as the dog and I made our way around the lake at dawn today. The food exchange was a form of barter, and barter intrigues me.

Therefore, today’s never done before challenge: to offer up something possibly barterable in return for something that I would like to do/go to/experience.

What could I barter, though? The only potentially interesting thing I came up with to offer was naming rights to a character in a future book. But that idea, for many reasons, is a dicey proposition, so I rejected it.

But wait!

It dawned on me that I do have something of actual value that can be bartered, which is a one-week stay, for yourself or your family or your friends, in the charming little hotel apartment partially owned and operated by me and my youthful companions. Right here in the heart of a famously artsy biggish city, no blackout dates other than Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Uptown Art Fair.

Got anything interesting to barter in return? If so, let me know.

Stranger in a stranger city

Pigs at the trough, a photo which has nothing to do with this entry but which I chose nonetheless

Pigs at the trough, a photo which has nothing to do with this entry but which I chose nonetheless

Despite having lived in Minneapolis for over twenty years, I still can’t get used to the skyways. For those of you who’ve never been here, the skyway system is a many-miles-long pedestrian walkway which weaves throughout virtually all the downtown buildings.

On the second floor.

Windowed bridge-tunnels crisscross above your head on every downtown street, all of them filled with briskly walking pedestrians, businesspeople for the most part, on their way to and from business meetings, business lunches, business transactions, everything business-related.

Yes, as you have guessed, the business world is one which, in its unfamiliarity to my daily routine of hunching over a laptop in an ergonomically incorrect manner, I find intimidating. And if you just waded through that sentence and understood it, I bow before thee.

So anyway, I found myself downtown yesterday. Downtown Minneapolis, as opposed to Uptown Minneapolis, which is where I live. Both Minneapolis, but vastly different parts thereof. I went downtown with the sole purpose of purchasing a new sim card at the AT&T store at 7th and Marquette. I parked at a meter one block away and set out to find my store. It was brisk and windy and the streets were virtually deserted. This, in the middle of the day, in a major metropolitan city.

Why are the streets always so . . . empty?

That was the question I actually asked myself, forgetting, as I have forgotten for over twenty years, the reason why in downtown Minneapolis, there is no street life.

Anyway. I found the Investors Building, in which my AT&T store was supposed to be located, and in I went. Empty as well. Deserted, just me, there in the lobby of a large, downtown, marble-floored building. Why, oh why, so few people?

“Are you lost?”

This from a genial-looking suit-clad businessman who appeared from behind a column. Ah! Humanity!

“Indeed I am. I’m looking for the AT&T store.”

“Right up there,” said the genial-looking suit-clad businessman, who was at least four inches shorter than me, but one of those marvelous men who don’t have a short-man complex. He pointed up the staircase.

Of course.

There it was, the life that I had been looking for ever since I parked at that meter. The life that I have been looking for in downtown Minneapolis ever since I moved here.

Why can I not remember that in downtown Minneapolis, all life happens on the second floor? Honestly, what the hell is wrong with me?

There above me, on the second floor, as always, were the throngs of business-clothes-wearing businesspeople, chatting with each other, chatting on their cell phones, heels (that would be clicking on polished marble floors were there any, but there aren’t, because the skyway system is nearly all carpet), briskly making their way to and from, here and there, onward and upward. Lights, stores, restaurants, commerce, the hum of human discourse, all taking place indoors, everyone breathing indoor air. Sort of like living inside a television.

“Thank you so much, sir!” I said to the genial-looking businessman.

Into the AT&T store I went. Sim card in hand, I headed straight back to Uptown, where the restaurants and movie theaters and bookstores are all on the ground level, and all the sidewalks are filled with grownups and children and dogs and all manner of life, lived out loud and outdoors.