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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Jacqueline

We recently lost a fellow blogger and friend, Jacqueline of Cranky Bar, to a severe stroke earlier this month. She had great taste in music and often showed me food porn, which as you know, gets me pretty hot and drooly in a hurry. I can be ready to eat at a moment's notice.

My mother, whose name was also Jacqueline, died shortly after my third birthday, so I'm not a real fan of death especially when a Jacqueline is involved.

While Jacqueline and her family had health issues, as we all seem to at this age, she never seemed to let it really get her down. She would note it and often joke about it, but it didn't seem to effect her joy in the little things of daily life. Her wonderful words, thoughts, photos, and observations of the world around her were unique and entertaining and I will miss her.

My friend Robyn is better at celebrating a life than I am. It just takes me longer to get there, but I do get there after the initial sadness passes. Check out her blog for a more upbeat read and links to others who are  also celebrating the life of Jacqueline. Did I say I will miss her?  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Immigrant story



She was as dark as a coffee bean with skin as smooth as glass. Her parents named her Hani, meaning happy, as she almost always had a smile. She was tall and graceful and usually wore a guntiino that flowed with her movement and accentuated her elegance.

Hani would often be seen waiting for the bus to downtown as we all lived in the lake area in Minneapolis, although a generation later many newly-arrived Somali immigrants would tend to live more in the Cedar-Riverside area. The time I speak of was the late 1970s. The bus stop was where I met her as we both worked downtown, even though I drove several days of the week. I always admired her headscarves of which she seemed to have many, but I finally overcame my shyness in order to say more than good morning to her. She also seemed a bit shy, but also confident and self-assured. I tried not to ask too many questions so as not to intrude on her life too much, but my curiosity was piqued by this exotic woman.  It didn’t take much to be exotic in South Minneapolis as we all seemed to be fair complexioned Northern European types so Hani stood out in the neighborhood. I was surprised to find out that she was an attorney, fresh out of law school and specializing in immigrant law. This also brought up many questions from me as my parents had been immigrants to this country a few years after the Second World War. 

We got to know each other better over a few months and I was invited to a party at her house a few blocks away.  I had no idea what to expect that Saturday afternoon knowing that she still lived with her parents. I had no idea what they would be like so I focused to be on my best behavior with my best respectful manners. I was greeted at the front door by Hani’s father, Maxamed, who met me with a big smile and warm handshake. He put me immediately at ease with his openness and introduced me to his wife, Ladan. I knew immediately where Hani’s exquisite beauty came from. I recognized the faint aroma of Frankincense from my old hippie days and felt amazingly relaxed in this home.
Hani’s parents had come to the U.S. in the mid 1960s a few years after Somali Independence from the Italians, French, and British. They wanted stability for their small family and chose to come to Minneapolis with their young children. Maxamed (one who is worthy), was a civil engineer and apparently quite good at designing infrastructural needs for future use. He had secured a teaching position at the university and was loved by his students for his insight and informality. He was often referred to as “Professor Max”.  

As more guests arrived and the party grew we gravitated to the backyard. While Max led me through their home we went by a slightly open door revealing Hani with her hair uncovered. I barely recognized her. We went out the back door and into the yard which was surrounded by a tall, solid fence. This had added mystery to these immigrants’ lives, but was in place when they bought the house and offered some privacy from nosy neighbors. 

Hani entered the backyard with her thick, black, wavy hair draped well past her shoulders. Her natural grace and beauty always turned heads, yet she was always humble and kind. She was very at ease and mixed easily with the guests, many of whom she seemed to already know.  
It was an interesting and eclectic bunch of guests at the party. Students and staff from the university, many from other parts of the world, as well as a few people I recognized from the neighborhood. There was no alcohol being served for those who might find it offensive, although the hosts seemed quite secular, but those of you who know me at all will know that I was there for the food. I was not disappointed.

Some of the appetizers were wonderful. I remember one called sambusa that was a spicy little triangular shaped snack, as well as kabaab, tropical fruits, and some hot dipping sauces. I was in taste bud heaven! There were chicken, rice, and pasta dishes that Hani and her mother had made that were spiced a little differently than what I was used to, but it was all delicious.  I did need a fair amount of liquid to cool it all down. 

These were regular parties, about one every other month and I managed to get to most of them. I got to know Hani and her family better and found out how supportive they were of the immigrant population of the Twin Cities. They were always there to help people adapt to the culture of their new country without forgetting the old and Hani taught English to non-native speakers once a week at the downtown YMCA.

I moved away from the neighborhood a year or two later to get on with the next part of my life, but never forgot my old neighbors and old neighborhood. Last I heard, Hani was working at the university supporting, counseling, and advising foreign students.


Afterward.

This was inspired by some Somali women I observed at a hospital near the University of Minnesota while my brother was having a procedure last year.  They were jaw-droppingly beautiful in appearance and I found myself wishing to talk to them. When my father, Otto, attended North Carolina State University for graduate studies he had an advisor, Professor Hank Rutherford, with whom he stayed in contact until the professor’s death. He told me stories about the foreign student parties and gatherings at the professor’s house and about his other foreign student friends. One of these friends was his roommate, Steve Yang, who taught my father some basic conversational Mandarin. I also have an old roommate who practices immigrant law in an advisory capacity at the University of Minnesota.

I have this daydream of visiting Twin City’s restaurants trying a different cuisine every day until I run out of places to eat. I know that I better start soon. My parents were immigrants and I love immigration stories as well as meeting people from all over the world. I don’t get enough of it, but do the best I can when I can. If you have the opportunity go eat an exotic or ethnic meal and think of me when you do. I’ll be there with you in spirit.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Small Town News

Waaay back in time, shortly after the wheel was invented, I went to college in the town of Northfield, Minnesota. It was a town of about 10,000 back then with not one, but two colleges. The sign on the road that leads into town says, "Northfield, Colleges, Cows, and Contentment." It was a sleepy little town only known for the day that Jesse James and his gang, combined with the Younger brothers, rode in to rob the bank. They hadn't counted on a tough bunch of farmers to shoot at them and all the robbers were wounded. The Younger gang were all caught and/or killed eventually and only Frank James and Jesse James escaped and survived. The banker and one of the Swedish farmers were killed. That was 1876.

That was the biggest news that Northfield ever had and every year around September 7th the town celebrates the Defeat of Jesse James Days. About  one hundred years later I was listening to the radio, another newfangled invention, and heard a voice that would become familiar to many people on the continent. It was Garrison Keillor on the Prairie Home Companion back when you could go to the World Theater in St. Paul, wait in line for ten minutes, and for a buck you could get in and see the show.

One of the segments of that show was Garrison reading the law enforcement report from the Northfield News. One of the most common reasons the police were called was because keys were locked in a car. The reason that this was such an eyebrow raiser was that not many people locked their cars back then and when they did it was usually by mistake, hence the keys were in the vehicle.

In a small town many folks recognize each other by the cars or trucks they drive and since it is a small town every one knows everyone else's business. Most people leave their keys in the car in case someone needs to borrow it. If you leave your purse or wallet on the front seat and someone takes it the merchants at the shops will recognize who the object belongs to. This is a great deterrent and keeps the crime rate low.

Here in Cook County we have a permanent population of just over 5000. In the town of Grand Marais, the social and cultural hub of the county, we have about 1150 souls if everyone stays home and doesn't seek adventure in the larger cities of Silver Bay or Two Harbors which are just down the shore about 50 and 90 miles respectively. If they head the other direction to Thunder Bay, Ontario, they need to bring a passport in order to get back into the U.S. Lately, I have heard some people are headed that way and don't bother with a passport, but I digress.

I wanted to give you all some examples of our Law Enforcement Report which appears weekly in our local fish wrapper newspaper and on our local radio station website. Examples are in italics followed by possible explanation.

Motorist assist.

Maybe a guy needs help with his carburetor.
 
911 hang up. Turned out to be a misdial. No emergency 

They meant to dial a 1-900 number.
 
Pick up sentence-to-serve inmate and return to jail.

If your prisoners are going to work they will need a ride.
 
School release. 

I thought school was released every day about the same time.
 
Traffic stop, warning given.

Don't do that again!
 
Century Link is doing some troubleshooting on the hospital phone lines.

This is a police matter?
 
Inmate visitation. 

They get lonely behind bars.


Vehicle stopped on roadside. 

Better than stopping in the middle of the road.
 
Party reported snow on the Ski Hill Rd, cannot get to Eagle Ridge.

Someone please come and shovel the road in front of me.
 
Foot patrol.

Police car out of gas.
 
Out with person walking on the side of the road. 

The person seemed to need some company.
 
Saw activity at store, was an employee.

Well, in all fairness, it was 3:30 in the morning.
 
Reporting the sled dog crossing does not give enough warning. 

I need more time to plan my sled dog watching.

80-year-old needs medical help.

By the time I'm 80 I'll need medical help, too.


Party turned self in on Cook County warrant.

I didn't want you to have to go to the trouble of picking me up at home.
 
Found stray cat. 

Maybe it wanted to be stray.

92-year-old needs medical help.

Must be the 80-year-old's older brother.
 
Would like deputy to call back. 

It gets lonely here in the winter.

That is just a small example of what our police department gets called to check on during a typical day or two. There is sometimes something more serious, so it is good that they are trained and prepared. They also don't put everything in these public reports. We did have an actual crime last week where someone broke into one of the laundromats and stole quite a bit of money. As you would expect, it was almost all in quarters.

Friday, February 3, 2017

My old jacket Part 2



Heidi filled me in on what we were doing and how I should act. Apparently, I was her American boyfriend and travel companion for the near future and she was my German girlfriend. I was okay with that. Actually, I was very okay with having this obviously intelligent, attractive woman with just a slight accent as my companion for a few days. I knew that acting like her boyfriend would be easy as long as I didn’t let my imagination run away with me and start to believe she really was my girlfriend. After all, we had just met and getting to know her would be something we could do on the twelve hour flight. Did I mention that we were flying coach?  I suppose that was because we wouldn’t attract any attention that way. Remember, though, back then coach wasn’t nearly as cramped as it is now and the food was better. The stewardi (is that the plural of stewardess?) were all lovely and were, of course, multi lingual. Heidi spoke to them in German and they all spoke to me in English. I was able to start picking out a few words, eventually, since English has a lot of Germanic influence. 

Heidi and I spoke of our life experiences, childhoods, music, and other mutual interests in between naps and meals. She sure was cute when she nodded off and I could feel myself getting a little protective of this lovely person.  I had to try and remember that this was just a job. Sometimes that was difficult when she was awake and I looked into those eyes. They were a deep shade of blue with little green flecks.

As we started our descent to Berlin it seemed as though the plane was slowing down more than usual. Heidi noticed the look of concern and told me about the corridors and restrictions of altitude and speed when flying over East German territory and into Berlin. She mentioned the fact that since I was a pilot it would be less stressful if I knew what was going on. It was one of the reasons I was chosen for this job as people not familiar with these ideas of controlled airspace would be more nervous. They wanted someone calm and mellow while in the air leading to the same behavior on the ground. I reminded myself that these employers of mine were pretty smart people to have thought this little charade through so well. 

We landed at Berlin Tegel and took about a fifteen minute cab ride to the Savoy Hotel. It was a classic hotel built around 1930 and used to have famous people stay there like Greta Garbo, Henry Miller, Maria Callas, Thomas Mann, and now me and Heidi. We were shown to our room which turned out to be a suite. After I got situated in the room my  ”girlfriend” Heidi pulled a key out of her pocket and unlocked the door to the adjoining suite and locked it behind her after she entered. Cool spy stuff, I thought. I took out the maps and places to visit books in the room to see where I was in relation to everything else. We were only about a five minute walk to the Berlin Zoo which would keep me busy for a day or two. It would give me something to do while Heidi was next door doing whatever it was she had to do. While I was out on my own I had the feeling of being watched, but never worried much about it as there was a strong police presence in the parts of Berlin that I saw. I knew that they would be on my side if anything happened.

  
We had dinners together, but once in a while afterward she would have to go out and take care of business. I worried about her, of course, but she always came back safely.  Sometimes we would wander around Berlin and she would show me things that only locals know about. She would translate for me and sometimes be a tour guide when she wasn’t working, but we only stayed for three or four days at a time. Sometimes in public she would take my hand for a while and I had to remember that we were doing this for appearances, not because she really liked me that much. She was a professional after all. 

There were three more trips after that and I really enjoyed Heidi’s company. I was just along as a prop, however, and it was a terminal relationship and just a “seasonal” job. I did get to visit with the local police in Berlin on the last visit and they had been keeping an eye on me and Heidi, apparently to make sure we were always okay and not in any danger. I guess they and Interpol took care of their money laundering criminals. I was admiring their jackets as a very comfortable and practical (it covers my butt in the cold winter wind) piece of clothing and they offered me one! I thought it was a great souvenir and it does make a very good barn coat. It also brings back some nice memories.

About a week after my last trip to Berlin I got another piece of mail to be signed for. It was my paycheck for the “work” I did. It was drawn on Deutsche Bank for an amount that shocked me.  It was about a year’s salary for any of my normal jobs and I was able to pay off my credit cards and stashed the rest for later. They sent a note with the check thanking me for my service and said I should be discreet with the money.  I got a regular nine to five job about a month later and stayed with that until I left the Big City for good. Every once in a while something will trigger a memory and I will think back to that time when I was almost a clandestine operator. Whatever I did had been good enough at the time, but I never heard from any of those people again. It does make me want to take a good long vacation in Germany again someday. And I still have my jacket.

Friday, January 27, 2017

My old jacket



This is my barn jacket. Yes, it really is a German Police coat. It’s gore-tex with a zip out liner and about 10 pockets.  How did I get this? Well, it was quite some time ago and it is almost an interesting story.


I was between jobs back in the early 80’s, living with some guys that were college friends and having monthly parties with old friends. Such was single life back then. At one of these parties one of our old classmates showed up and we were catching up on the last few years of our lives when, after a few beers, he mentioned that the work he was doing for the State Department had an opening for a temporary job.  By the way, when we went to our 35th reunion years later he had just retired after his 30 years of service. Some guys have all the luck. Anyway, he said it involved travel and was only a two month position, but had something to do with an assist to Interpol and the pay was much better than I was used to. 


I had a few irons in the fire, but really nothing solid and my savings were dwindling quickly, so he gave me his card to call and find out more. When the weekend was over I thought I should call and find out more. He set up an appointment with the German Consulate in downtown Minneapolis. I was having all kinds of James Bond thoughts going through my head what with Germany still being divided, Reagan having been inaugurated, the uprising in Gdansk, Poland, the year before, and the U.S. having boycotted the Moscow Olympics( Brezhnev was still in charge)  also in the previous year. I was nervous, but dressed up in a coat and tie as I had no idea what all this was really about.

It was unlike any “interview” I had ever had as the three people in the office asked me all kinds of questions about my life in general. Not much about any of my work experience. There was pastry and coffee and it was just like getting to meet some new friends. After about fifteen or twenty minutes I asked them about the job itself. It turns out that there was a money laundering scheme going on with a Twin Cities connection that they had infiltrated, but still needed time to properly set up the sting operation in Germany. The only reason they needed me was to accompany one of their infiltrators on a couple of quick trips to Berlin. Apparently, this infiltrator was at a lower level of the operation, but they said it was still important for appearances to be nondescript. Well, that was me, Mr. Average, nondescript, nobody knows who the hell he is and he looks harmless. They wanted me to accompany their man a few times so that I would relax and they could keep up appearances.


So it was all not really a big deal. No exploding pens, fast cars, or Playboy models, just a few trips to Germany and that was it. They said they would call me in a few days and I thanked them for their interest and got the nerve to ask them who they were. They had been introduced as Herr so-and-so and I had already forgotten their names (I’m bad that way), but they informed me that they were a diplomat, a German cop, and an Interpol cop. I thanked them and said I was still interested, had the time, and was excited to go to Germany as I had never been there. I had only recently gotten a private pilot license at Wings, Inc. at the St. Paul Downtown Airport (Holmen Field) and loved flying whether or not it was me at the controls.


A few days passed and I got a phone call that offered me the position. I asked if anyone else was doing this and they said I didn’t need to know that. Okay, then. So there was still an element of secrecy, but when I asked them what to tell my friends if they asked they said just to tell them I was a short –time contractor for the State Department and that it required some travel. It was true, but they said keep any details, of which I hardly knew anyway, to myself. For my own safety, they added. That made me a little nervous, but apparently this was not really a big deal and they said that was just standard operating procedure. So when do I start?


A couple of days later I had a knock on the door and had to sign for an envelope that looked fairly plain other than the “signature required” part. Inside it were my airline tickets and hotel information. I checked to see that the plane tickets were for a round trip, they were, and there were what appeared to be some Deutschmarks in denominations from 5 to 1000, but only two of them were 1000 bills. I think the value was around fifty cents U.S. for a Mark, but I don’t remember exactly what it was back then. They had also put a note in there that told me to keep my receipts and to try and keep my purchases to “necessities.” Of course my mind was all over the place as to what constitutes a necessity.  I “need” a new guitar and I “need” some new stereo equipment. I also “need” some new lenses for my camera.  Somehow I figured their idea of need and mine were somewhat different.  
    
It occurred to me that I had never asked, nor did they offer, to tell me exactly how much the job paid. I took a look at what was in my hands and thought for a moment about cashing in the tickets and converting the cash. It was about the equivalent of two months’ salary from my previous job, but this job was only going to be a couple of months. I decided to call the number they had given me for questions and contacts and ask. They wouldn’t be specific, but they said “adequate” since there were three agencies involved. At least that I knew of.  Two days later a money order for a thousand dollars came in the mail with a note to say this would help cover my day to day living expenses until my actual paycheck was written. Since my share of the rent and utilities was about $250 a month back then I figured that I was going to be okay even if the pay itself wasn’t much. The fact that I would get a few quick trips to Germany in the meantime was really what I was looking forward to.


Three days later I was at the Minneapolis Airport (MSP) finding my way to the right concourse and to meet “my man” as he was referred to and begin. My passport was in hand and I found my way to the Lufthansa counter to check in my suitcase. It was a smaller one since the trip was only for a few days and my carry on was just a soft-sided briefcase. I was dressed casually as I waited in the short line to check in. When my turn came and I put my bag on the scale the uniformed woman at the counter informed me that my travel companion was waiting for me over there, pointing to an empty row of seats with a woman sitting at the end. She was an attractive, casually dressed woman with a large purse. As I approached her and began to extend my hand she got out of her seat and gave me a big hug which pleasantly surprised me. “I am Heidi,” she whispered in my ear. “Of course you are,” I thought, “I'm J...”, “Ssshhh, I know all about you," she whispered. I decided right then that this might be the best job I ever had.

To be continued...