My friend and neighbor Ed died two days into the New Year, exactly one month short of his 85th birthday. A widower living alone, Ed knew how to cook but preferred his four-times-a-day ritual of climbing into his Dodge van and driving off to breakfast, lunch, an afternoon beer break (one bottle only) and dinner. He’d leave on each of these expeditions at the same time each day, to the minute. Compared to Ed, atomic clocks are capricious.

If you invited Ed to a meal, his response was, “What are you having?” To take that as anything but impolite you had to know Ed and, let’s face it, you’re coming a little late to that party.

Shortly before Ed died, I became the custodian of one of his most cherished possessions, a red Martha Stewart enameled cast iron casserole, 2.75-quart size.

A year earlier, around the holidays, Ed had spotted the “pot,” as he called it, in a Macy’s ad and bought it immediately. He had long wanted such a cooking pot, he explained. Why he had waited to indulge this fancy was unclear. Almost as baffling as why he never once used the pot. One day I suggested we make soup in it and he looked at me as if I were deranged.

Ed kept the red pot out "just to look at," first in his kitchen, then in his bedroom.

When Ed moved to a hospice care center late last fall, Ed’s Red Pot moved to my house. I was touched and pleased to have it, as I told him one December afternoon as we sat visiting in his room. “Use it in the next couple days,” he said suddenly. “Cook something in it.” Cook in the pot? I was stunned. He couldn’t eat, so there was no question of bringing him a dish cooked in the casserole.

But the next day I made risotto and reported back that his pot was, indeed, a fine piece of cookware. How did it clean up? he wanted to know. Nice, very easy. Stain? Discolor? Nope. As he sat hunched in his chair, a big smile of satisfaction spread across his face. It was one of the last real conversations we had. He grew weaker and sicker, more impatient to be done with life. A couple weeks later Ed died peacefully in his sleep.

This story would end there, a sweet little reminiscence, except that shortly after his death I learned that Ed’s Red Pot was part of a Macy’s recall. Although no one had been injured, there were reports the enamel coat could “crack and fly off as a projectile, posing a risk of laceration or burn hazard to the user or bystanders.” Attached as I am to my skin, eyes, and most bystanders, I knew I would never again cook with Ed’s Red Pot.

I spent two weeks mulling the pot’s fate. Perhaps it could be repurposed, say, into an herb container? No, Ed would have scoffed at that. And what if someday someone re-repurposed the pot back into cookware and was maimed by my misguided sentimentality?

For a week I stewed in the Ed’s Red Pot issue. Friends and family found any disposition of the pot more palatable than listening to me drone on about it. Even I was getting annoyed by my indecision.

Finally, I settled on a plan that satisfied both my conscience and my anxiety-prone nature.

I turned in the pot at Macy’s, where it was eagerly received, in keeping with the store’s Let’s-Not-Have-Our-Customers-Cooking-With-Enamel-That-Breaks-Off-and-Turns-Into-Projectiles policy. Then I purchased a Bella red enameled cast iron casserole, also 2.75 quarts, slightly different in styling and less orange-y red, but definitely in the spirit of Ed’s Red Pot.

Red Pot Redux sits on an open shelf in my kitchen, emanating good cheer and functionality, a daily reminder of Ed. I think that as a practical man given to neither flights of sentimentality nor reckless endangerment, he would approve.

Yes, Red Pot Redux is more apple-y red than Ed's Red Pot. We do what we can.

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At my bank the other day, I noticed the countertop namecard for my teller included the following bonus information: where she was born (city and country, which in this case happened not to be the U.S.); how many years she’s worked for the bank; how long she’s been married; the ages of her kids; and her favorite food.

I was flabbergasted. So flabbergasted I’m using the word flabbergasted which I rarely do because I can never remember if there’s an “h,” as in flabberghastly idea, which this surely is.

Why on earth, in these security-conscious times, would an employer encourage the sharing of such personal — and irrelevant — information? My teller was friendly, helpful and competent. That’s plenty. Knowing she likes Gummy Bears doesn’t enhance my “banking experience.”

Are these Get to Know Us campaigns everywhere? When I accompanied my husband for a CT scan (he’s fine, thanks), I noticed info bits about doctors posted in the reception area, along with their headshots. To be clear, given the context, I’m talking about photos of doctors’ heads.

Undoubtedly, marketing consultants are behind this bogus bonhomie: Let’s see, what would make patients feel all positive about a clinic visit? Got it! Knowing the doctor skis and collects Hummels.

Now I’m fairly relentless when it comes to checking out my doctors. I insist on knowing where they went to med school, where they completed residencies and whether they’re board certified. In other words, info possibly relevant to their ability to keep me alive. Whether they write haiku or dance the flamenco or write haiku while dancing the flamenco — don’t care so much.

Yes, banking and healthcare interactions are inherently stressful, relating as they do to our fear of 3D — Death, Deductibles and Destitution. But the buddy-buddy stuff doesn’t help. Really, it doesn’t. You want to impress me? Save me money. Communicate with me in language I understand instead of Bankerese and Medicalish. You, bank, lose the disclosures in 2-point fonts.

As for my concerns about protecting the bank teller’s privacy, a lawyer friend suggested a nefarious take of the kind that comes naturally as breathing to attorneys. “Maybe,” he mused, “it’s not her real name and information.”

Okaaay, this had not occurred to me. “You mean, uh, like the customer service guy in the TV commercial? The one who talks in a deep voice with a Russian accent but insists his name is Peggy?”

“Exactly.”

The conversation left me stranded, as I often am lately, at the intersection of Paranoia Street and Consternation Avenue. At least he didn’t hand me “10 Fun Facts About Lawsuits.”

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Mourner No. 78, with a drawn hood lifting his right hand and holding a book in his left hand, within a fold of his cloak. Courtesy themourners.org

 

Mourner No. 26, on iPhone tweeting, “OMG, almost @cathedral steps. Is that Snooki?”

Actual descriptors for The Mourners, 38 French medieval tomb sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, read more decorously.

Mourner No. 52, with drawn hood drying his eyes with a fold of his cloak held in his right hand, his left hand on his chest

Mourner No. 73, mourner with hood folded back, both hands at his belt, a dagger at his left side

These exquisite figures in alabaster, only 16 inches tall, portraying individual expressions of grief, are touring the U.S. while their home at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon is renovated. At the Art Institute, they are displayed in single-file procession on a long, narrow, runway-like pedestal. Entering the gallery, you feel as if the procession of Mourners is moving toward you. It’s a little disconcerting, like the experience of realizing you have barged into a line of cars in a modern-day funeral procession. (No, of course you haven’t.)

I’m entranced by the quiet dignity of these figures. Not that this keeps me from irreverently spinning their 3D images at themourners.org, a gem of a website where you can manipulate each figure 360 degrees for closer inspection.

The individual mourners beg contemplation: What is the book carried by Mourner No. 63, with hood folded back, pointing with his right hand to a wrapped book held in his left hand? How does Mourner No. 53, hood drawn, hands clasped at his waist see where he’s going?

Sculpted in our age of social media, The Mourners would, undoubtedly, leave us less to mull.

Mourner No. 12, texting about the slow progress of the procession

Mourner No. 25, with cell phone, cursing poor coverage

Mourner No. 18, uploading photo of herself and Mourner No. 19 to Facebook

Mourner No. 34, shooting YouTube video of himself  whispering, “Winning!”

We live in indecorous times.

Perhaps that’s worth mourning.

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In the movie “Fargo” there’s a scene that stops me cold with incredulity every time I watch it. Not the stuff-a-colleague-in-a-wood-chipper scene, which, by the way, I find entirely credible.

It’s when one of the kidnappers buries nearly a million dollars in ransom in snow drifts next to a fence along a desolate highway — and marks it with an ice scraper.

“You’re never going to find it again, idiot!” I yell at the TV screen. “What if you need that scraper before you buy a new one?”

I grew up in northeastern North Dakota, near the Canadian border, very near where the highway scenes in “Fargo” were shot because the Coens had to cross the border from Minnesota to find enough snow.

Retreating south after Christmas, I pulled my Flip camera out, documenting for you that the distinguishing feature of the winter landscape in this area is that there are no distinguishing features. You can be riding along in a car and doze off — ideally as a passenger as I swear I was — with a scene like this out your window.

When you wake up, you will see this.

I exaggerate. Sometimes it will look like this.

I keep three ice scrapers in my car. You just never know.

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More lurking. This time at Sherwood Anderson's place in New Orleans

 

In 2003, my sister took this photo of me outside a New Orleans apartment building where the author Sherwood (“Winesburg, Ohio”) Anderson lived in the 1920s.

We were on a car trip through the South with my mother. My sister dubbed it the “Thelma & Louise & Louise” tour.

I stress there was no gunplay, no Brad Pitt and no shenanigans with truckers. Had there been, you can bet your beignets we’d have taken photos of that instead of planting me behind foliage in a doorway off Jackson Square.

Anyhow, before we left home, my husband — originator of the My Wife With Great Writers photo series — suggested we pick up shots for him. Mostly we forgot.

When I stumbled on this photo recently, I couldn’t even remember which Great Writer it involved. The plaque on the wall indicates a literary landmark (I’ll wait here while you click to enlarge the photo) at an address I initially read as 510 St. Peter.

Google insisted that 510 was the location of an Aerosoles shoe store, an unlikely site for literary landmark designation although I was riveted by Web copy for a nifty pair of brown suede boots. (“Scrunch time in the boot department. Soft ruched suede from top to bottom make these pull-on boots an attractive and versatile choice for this season.”)

Dragging my eyeballs off the boot page, I squinted at the photo and realized that the number could be 540 and that some of the letters could spell Sherwood Anderson. Sure enough, Wikipedia confirmed Anderson had lived for a time at that address. In fact, he was visited there by, hold on, William Faulkner. Thus, I award us My Wife With Great Writers bonus points.

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Really, how much extra would it cost to add a comma between "leash" and "curb"?

Inspired by this sign, I’m giving commas as gifts for National Punctuation Day, September 24.

Sure, I could wait to post. But with my erratic blogging it might be Halloween before I get around to it. Strike while the irony is hot, I say.

I had considered splurging this year, ordering umlauts in überbulk from Germany, but every day on my walk I see this sign and contemplate the senseless accidents caused by unleashed curbs.

Punctuation Day. What to give, what to give.

Colons? Undeniable ick factor.

Em dashes? Handy, yes, but it’s work sorting them from en dashes — I do this 2 p.m.–3 p.m. daily — and must-have hyphens. Also, nobody needs — or thanks you for — eyeball whiplash from too many abrupt stops — and starts — while reading.

Ampersands? Too easy to get carried away: “I have a big collection of ampersands & I’m going to use them for this & that & don’t try & stop me.”

Quotation marks? A set of single quotes can be a welcome gift because as someone noted — okay, it was I — “they fit ‘snugly’ within double quotes.” But you read a sentence like that and mentally see fingers forming “air quotes” and you want to scream, “Don’t do that! Ever, ever, ever!”

Which brings us to exclamation points! We’ve all been warned to use them sparingly, but e-mail and texting often beg for exclamation points to convey tone, especially among the emoticon disinclined. “Good job” seems cold and perfunctory, whereas “Good job!” warms the heart of the texted.

Question marks? Who doesn’t have enough?

So commas it is. (Unless I see an online special on parentheses.)

Here’s to an uncommonly fine National Punctuation Day. Does it call for period costumes?

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The largest number of cargo ships I have unloaded in one "shift" was 42. That was in my first week and I haven't come anywhere close to that number again. My average is 12. That's right, 12.

“Are you a natural leader? Do you take charge with a steady hand and an eagle eye? You should be a Harbor Master!”

Actually, no, I should not. Given my low skill level playing this addictive app, I shouldn’t even be a drunken deckhand, which makes it even more amazing to me that I play Harbor Master almost every day. By nature, I’m  just not a keep-trying-at-stuff-you’re-really-bad-at kinda gal.

The object of the game is simple enough — guiding cargo ships through a harbor to a dock where they can unload their cargo, then getting them safely out of the harbor again. No time limit, but the minute you let two ships collide, the game’s over. Really. One crash.

The game demands finesse I lack big-time. I think I’m being extra cautious, alert to the presence and path of every vessel on the entire screen, when out of nowhere comes a dinky boat that rams a big, slow-moving cargo ship I’d thought was on a safe course. Talk about a life lesson.

How bad am I at Harbor Master? I say “oops”— surely a fave expression with real-life harbor masters —  so often and so loudly that it stuns the soundtrack of seagulls into silence. Sometimes the app turns off the jaunty theme music in desperation, as if absolute quiet will help. It doesn’t.

Yet, back I go to the app each day, eager to hear the music and the gulls, ready to try again. It feels good to embark on an adventure with a hopeful heart, even when the adventure is a game app for which we have no aptitude.

I play Harbor Master Lite, a k a the freebie version. The upgrade promises pirates, monsters and cyclones. Inexplicably, I think I’m ready.

Maybe there’s a nap for that.

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