Saturday, December 01, 2007

Scent of stray thoughts

The other night I stopped with my youngest son at Zio Johno's, an Italian place with fabulous food and warm atmosphere. While we waited for our bagged order, an older gentleman entered, ordered food, and walked past us to seat himself on one of the wooden chairs under the beautiful mural of an Italian canal.

An invisible but unmistakable trail of thrift-store odor wafted behind him. Not body-odor (which is unbearable and, let's be honest, should not be allowed in public places!), but no, this was the distinct all-world smell prevalent in Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Goodwill Stores, and Value Village Stores stretching across America. (I tell you this at risk of revealing that I've shopped in these stores. There, now you know.)

But at that moment, I wondered about this universal scent that inhabits these stores; this scent had escaped and followed this man like the dust behind the Peanuts character, Pig-Pen. (PEANUTS © 2005, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

My thoughts careened off in their own directions: Is it possible that all those used clothing items housed together results in a blended smell? If so, is this the smell of humanity? Curious thought.

Or--recalling an unpleasant smell we once detected in our family room until we traced it to the narcissus plant that finally bloomed during the holidays (which suddenly smelled heavenly only because we knew the source; a lesson in the irony of perspective!)--I wondered, was the man simply wearing a particular cologne that I had mistaken for the scent of thrift store?

If so, what cologne could it be? What colognes do I know? Old Spice? Grandpa Swenson wore Old Spice. I think Daddy did, too--once or twice. Can I remember what it smells like? No.

Back to the original thought track: is the man wearing cologne or is it the smell of thrift store clothing, clean except for the slight olfactory trace in the fabric? Does an "Eau de Goodwill" exist for sale to men?

No, of course not. Silly me.

Good for him for saving money and being frugal by shopping second-hand. Maybe it's just that he wore his new duds to make a quick run to the spaghetti restaurant to pick up dinner.

Like us--now wafting smells of tomato sauce and italian spices and warm garlic bread in our wakes.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Parting is such sweet sorrow!

I pulled up to my favorite place in Iowa, a place that reminded me of Seattle and the funky coffee places where writers can retreat and muse, and--shock of shocks!--it was closed, in the middle of a sunny afternoon. Brown paper covered the windows. A yellow notice in the glass door announced the death--er, closure--of Java Creek Café.

Behind that brown paper I could still see, in my mind's eye, the sophisticated counter and savvy menu board, the cool lighting, the friendly barristas, and around the corner the cozy fireplace serving as host to six stuffed sidechairs and a coffee table bearing quirky books. I could smell the mocha and strawberry syrups, the warmth of crumbly oversized muffins and scones, the cool cucumbers in garden paninis. Augh! Gone, all gone!

I swallowed. How could this be?

Funny how important things like the Midwest floods, the upcoming elections, and recent reports of record-setting foreclosures didn't make my blog, but this--the closing of my safe haven--did.

Ah, but perhaps that's why. In times uncertain, we long for places of comfort. Java Creek Café was such a place.

Java Creek Café and staff, I thank you for being a place of comfort to lunch with good friends, to share a manuscript with a reading partner, and to buy the best mocha strawberry latté in the region. I'm glad I bought your shirt, because I'll always be a "Creek Freak."

Thanks for the safe haven and the many warm memories.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Aw, shucks

The Journalism and Mass Communication department honored me with the Harry S. Bunker Memorial scholarship at the University of Iowa's annual "Fourth Estate Banquet" in April. I am thrilled! Here's the UI press announcement if you'd like to share my joy. Scroll down to "Washington" since recipients are listed by hometown.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Read my post about the questions I asked after the shootings at Virginia Tech, posted at MyNewsMuse. It's not what you expect.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Some of you know that I returned to college, working toward a BA in journalism and English at the University of Iowa. This experience deserves a blog itself, but today I'm struck by a conversation with a grad student in my editing class this week.

Sitting across from me before class, he read a headline aloud from his laptop accessing the news wirelessly: "How Would Jesus Pastor?"

Intrigued, I said the article sounded like something that should be required reading for all seminary students. The grad student looked surprised, but claimed that Jesus was intolerant. I countered by explaining that Jesus was actually a rebel in his day, and in fact, the religious leaders of his day hated him. The grad student didn't absorb this and exlaimed, "Jesus taught all this about 'love your neighbor' but then if you didn't agree with him," (made a sound of ripping) "he cut you off."

Our professor, overhearing the discussion, offered that he was more bothered by the God of the Old Testament who was the intolerant one. The grad student, on a roll, claimed--with a lot of boisterous cynicism and good humor--that God doesn't care what happens here at all, that God doesn't love anyone. To this I quietly replied, "So that's why He sent Jesus." Then class was called to order.

Today is Good Friday. It's the day to remember how Jesus was crucified. In two days, it is Easter ("Resurrection Sunday"). But for now, let's remember two important facts:

1. The phrase, "Love your neighbor as yourself," is incomplete and is commonly taken out of context. Jesus actually said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, AND love your neighbor as yourself." (Two commands, instead of the ten commandments or a zillion man-made laws.)

2. And for those who say God doesn't care? "For God so LOVED the world, that He gave His Only Son...." (John 3:16)

Happy Easter.