Friday morning, snow deep, plowing just begun, Adolph and I are on the number 15, headed to the south side to see our chiropractor. Though I figured the bus would be late, we slogged to the stop in front of Pick ‘N Save early. Good move, the bus arrived on the dot. The driver tooted when he saw everyone waiting. “The bus is here!” he exclaimed as we boarded. “Amazing,” I said, “So long as you’re taking us to Oklahoma and Kinnickinnic.” He helped me slide a crumpled dollar bill into the machine, cheerily greeted everyone who got on, “Be careful, take your time.” He sets the tone, a bright bus bubble floating through Shorewood.
We’re passing Harry’s Bar and Grill now, where the Oakland Café once was. For years at 6:15 A.M. I’d swim forty lengths at the Shorewood Pool, bike to the Oakland on my single speed, coast past drivers digging their cars out of snow drifts on days like today, then nurse my coffee, nibble a bran muffin, and write or draw.
The bus TV cuts into my memories, “If you’ve been exposed to toxic chemicals at work or in your home and now have acute myeloid leukemia, call...” “Lawn pesticides,” I say to Adolph, “double your chance of getting leukemia, but at least you won’t have dandelions.” Maybe I’m wrong, I think it’s worse. I’ve read that kids are about seven times more likely to get childhood leukemia if their parents use lawn chemicals.
Here’s Park Place, the stop for the Urban Ecology Center, North Avenue, for Beans and Barley or the Oriental Theater, coming to Brady Street, now Water Street and Danceworks, we saw a great performance there on Sunday, the Marcus Center, we heard Mozart’s clarinet concerto there last Friday, Mason Street, we got off there earlier this month to see the Bellows show at the Art Museum.
“You know, one of these days I think I’ll take this bus all the way to the end,” a man is saying to the bus driver.
“You’ll kill an hour,” the driver replies.
“But there’s a whole ‘nother city.”
“I’ll save you a seat.”
Wisconsin Avenue, and the driver says goodbye to every departing passenger, “Have a nice one,” “Have a good day,” “Have a good weekend,” “See you at the sled hill.” A new passel of passengers boards. A small woman with cell phone, walkman, and a case full of CD’s, sits next to me, peers at my writing, and asks, “Shorthand?” “Yes,” I reply, my own invented shorthand, my own symbols. Now she’s on her cell phone, speaking the fastest Italian I‘ve ever heard, I can’t understand a word she’s saying, so why am I sure it’s Italian? Uh oh, someone went past his stop, has to walk back a few blocks.
As we pass Next Act Theater, the driver turns to me, “Where did you say you want to get off?”
“Oklahoma,” I tell him, that whole ‘nother city.
The Oakland Café, my hangout for writing and drawing in the early 90’s, affected my life in many ways. I’ll mention just one at this moment: THREE LADIES IN THEIR EIGHTIES, a series of more than one hundred drawings I did there. I have a few of the drawings on our web site, and I look back at those ladies with affection. They were not living in the same world they grew up in, just as I, now seventy, am living in a totally changed world.
It’s sixteen years later now, the Oakland Café’s no longer there, and I doubt the three ladies are still around, doubt I’ll get to draw THREE LADIES IN THEIR HUNDREDS. But perhaps the ladies do live on through their words. And Marie Mellott and I will be performing some of their conversations at a Valentine's Day Performance in conjunction with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Show at Walkers Point Center for the Arts. Here’s rthe beginning of the conversations:
WELCOME TO OLD AGE RADIO, TONIGHT PRESENTING TWO LADIES IN THEIR EIGHTIES, THIRD ONE NOT THERE
Today is Sunday, and the name’s deceiving, should be called ice day, or ice stay. The temperature’s in the mid-30’s, and that, too, is deceiving, unless you like puddles with hidden layers of ice. They’ll turn solid tomorrow. Weird weather, unexpected swings of Mother Earth’s moods. It’s all part of global warming, so we’d better get accustomed to this bipolar world.
The Fitness Center was in my plans for today, but I was afraid to walk out the door, imagined myself lying unnoticed on the steps. By 2 PM I decided to risk it, sprinkled our last grains of sand on the path and sidewalk. We’re running out, and neither of us drive, a problem if we want to get more. After the gym I’d see if there’s salt at Walgreens, but is that environmentally sound?
I ventured forth, and made it, barely, to the corner of Maryland and Olive, safer to walk in the street. So I did, right down the middle of Olive. It wasn’t too bad at first, then got worse, all ice. Made it to Murray, and that street, too, was clearer than the sidewalks, I followed the visible pavement, moved near the curb and watched if I heard a car coming up behind me. When I was about to pass Wood, I heard a motor, turned around, police, the car slowed almost to a stop. Was he going to give me a ticket? Or did he think I needed help. Whew, he moved on.
The Fitness Center had already disappeared from my agenda. I’d better go directly to Walgreens, and then back home. I crossed Murray to talk to a friend walking her dog on Wood.
“Your block’s well-shoveled as usual,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied, “That policeman actually considered giving you a ticket for walking in the street, I saw his mind working, but they don’t give people tickets for not shoveling walks. If our block can do it, why can’t everyone?” I looked down the block at two young men in tee-shirts breaking up residual ice, didn’t think a 70-year-old woman could follow suit. “I called the village,” she continued, “And the manager told me if they give out tickets, he gets a lot of angry phone calls.” I was thinking if they give out tickets, they’d have to give some to themselves. Atwater School’s sidewalk on Maryland and the one on Oakland near the bus stop in front of Shorewood High, a route for lots of old people, are often two of the most dangerous walks in the village. “Well,” she added, “You caught me on a rampage. I have to walk my dog, and I don’t want to break an arm or leg.”
A few minutes later as I walked down Wood, so clear of snow and ice, I thought that if I lived on Wood and had to walk my dog, I’d simply stay on the block, walk back and forth between Murray and Oakland. Four round trips would add up to more than a mile.
The west side of Oakland was clear, walking easy, Walgreens didn’t seem far enough to substitute for the Fitness Center. I continued, noticed several bags of salt in Sendiks’ window, went in and tried to lift one, couldn’t budge it.
At Walgreens the salt was sold out. What else could I use? Kitty litter was probably an invitation to cats to litter. Ah, potting soil was on sale! Perfect. Maybe. And if any remains on my walk after this siege of snow and ice, I can sweep it into my garden.
The older I get, the smaller my artwork. Some reasons: I can carry a tiny drawing pad without needing a big purse. I can capture fleeting passers-by more quickly and unobtrusively. Anyway, less is often more. Here's another advantage: In the Roberta Avonn Fiskum Art Gallery at UW-Whitewater I can fit several small works into my quarter of the "Phenomenal Women" show. The opening reception is Wednesday, February 27, 4:30-6:00. Marie Mellott and I will perform at 5:00, "Three Ladies in Their Eighties" plus some of our poems. Marie will become her 101-year-old grandmother, I'll do my global warming poem, which you can see on YouTube if you won't be in the Whitewater area.
MORE DETAILS: The other three artists are Anne Kingsbury of Woodland Pattern, Flora Menager, and Caitlin Carroll.
The Roberta Avonn Fiskum Art Gallery is a newly-constructed gallery in the University Center Building in the heart of the UW-Whitewater campus. If you want more precise directions, please call Beth Wiza at 262-210-9491.