Fall stock-up.

Yesterday I had an errand in Monroe, Mich. A friend/colleague of mine grew up there. She describes it as “the home of General Custer and general boredom.” Got that one right — even the outlet mall is a sad affair. But it has a Gap, so I took Kate along and we bought a few things for the upcoming school year.

Having a child has rekindled my interest in shopping — it’s like having a big Barbie doll — and made me newly amazed at the wonders of the human body. Kate will be 9 in November, and as she got dressed for the pool the other day I realized she had been wearing that bathing suit for four years. No, five. She has two suits we bought early in 2001. They were a little loose on her bottom, but oh well, kids grow and this problem takes care of itself. By the following year, everything fit well. Since then, the space between the top and bottom grows by an inch or so every year, but only in 2005 have the bottoms started getting Daisy Duke-ish.

On the other hand, she can’t wear last year’s jeans. Too short. I think she needs a motto: Adding length but not circumference, since 1996.

So every year around this time we have a closet cleaning and reorganization, figure out what’s still viable and what isn’t. And we shop the outlet malls. I pulled a halter top from the clearance rack, an item of clothing I have been unable to wear in three decades, and you ladies out there know why. Watching Kate try it on, I was stabbed with jealousy, realizing how badly I’ve wanted to bare my back to the summer breeze all these years.

But my Barbie still has a few summers to enjoy a bare back, so I bought it. Besides — clearance.

“I can’t wear this to school,” Kate said. “They’re not allowed.”

“Yeah, but you have a bit of summer left. Enjoy it.”

We were going to tour the rest of the mall but recalled what our contact in Monroe said about leaving: “If you don’t get out of here by 3:30, you might as well spend the night.” She wasn’t speaking of an evil spell that descends over the place at mid-afternoon but the story of summer ’05 around here — road construction. Virtually every major freeway in southeast Michigan is being torn into riprap simultaneously, and traffic horror stories are standard small talk. I checked my watch as we left the Gap: 3:19. We burned rubber heading for I-75, and beat the rush by the skin of our teeth. Southbound travelers weren’t so lucky — it was bumper-to-bumper all the way into the city.

Just for the hell of it, I must note: I-75 may be the only interstate highway in the country that I have driven every inch of, from Sault St. Marie in the U.P. to wherever it ends in Florida. My favorite parts are in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan (Sea Shell City! The Mystery Spot!) and the Kentucky-Tennessee stretch that goes through the mountains. Noted.


I love Jack Shafer’s media writing in Slate. Today’s, Why does drug reporting suck?, does not disappoint. I tried to do a story once on why the so-called “street value” of seized drugs was so widely inflated, how two pounds of marijuana could have a street value equivalent to the GDP of a small western nation. The police basically told me, “because it makes us look good.” I think the story got buried inside.

I’m looking forward to seeing “The Aristocrats,” but I admit I’m a bit baffled by the joke itself. It just doesn’t work on the page. I trust the movie will be better.

Finally, a particularly wise line from the Tao te Ching today:

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

Step away from those tools. More later.

Posted at 10:14 am in Uncategorized |

13 responses to “Fall stock-up.”

  1. MichaelG said on August 11, 2005 at 11:40 am

    I know that the Detroit area is very close to Windsor, Ont. Is there any advantage to shopping in Canada with its devalued $$ as opposed to driving to wherever Monroe, MI is? Beside the possible currency exchange advantage, is there a sales tax incentive to shop in Canada?

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  2. Nance said on August 11, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Not that I’ve seen. Prices are higher to make up for the currency difference and there’s a substantial value-added tax. It’s refundable, but the hassle factor isn’t worth it, if you ask me.

    That said, the shopping in Toronto was pretty good, mostly because of the NYC-style concentration of discounters, etc. But Toronto’s as far as Chicago.

    There’s a better outlet mall the other way up I-75, but our errand didn’t take us there.

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  3. MichaelG said on August 11, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks. Just wondering. Canada’s a little far off for me to do any casual shopping.

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  4. Dorothy said on August 11, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    Have to agree with your statement about I-75 along the Kentucky/Tennessee mountains. It is beauty-ous as we say in my family. My first time through was July 4th weekend 2004 when we came down to South Carolina on a househunting trip. Then we drove it in May going to see our son at OSU in Columbus. Next time we go, in September, we’ll have our exchange student with us. He’s loving the countryside so far. He likes the cleanness of Greenville.

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  5. mary said on August 11, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Boys do that all height no weight gain thing at adolescence. My older son went from 5’4″ and 140 pounds (pudgy) to 6′ 140 pounds in under two years, between the ages of 12 and 14. Pants get too short in a matter of weeks around here it seems, because he’s mostly skinny legs. His brother seems to be on the brink of the same metamorphosis. Shudder.

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  6. brian stouder said on August 11, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    “It is beauty-ous”

    Agreed; being a life-long flat-lander, I-75 is indeed gorgeous – especially as you approach Georgia. We peeled off at Chattanooga and did Lookout Mountain (very much worth the stop) and then a fairly quick stop at Chickamauga.

    My favorite interstate, though, is I-68 through Western Maryland. There is nowhere more beautiful than when you get to the Blue Ridge mountains. In fact, at Sidling mountain there is a cut; and at that cut there is an enclosed footbridge over the interstate. It is a rest-stop/scenic picture opportunity/geology display/wildlife primer, and I blew past it on two occasions before stopping to see what it had to offer – and now I wouldn’t miss the chance to stop there again.

    A genuine ‘diamond in the rough’

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  7. Dorothy said on August 11, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    Brian – have you ever stopped at the New River Gorge in West Virginia? We have pictures in a photo album from probably 17 years ago, and I thought for sure I’d be able to see it again during two recent weekend trips to Pittsburgh. I drove I-77 to I-79, and never saw any signs about it. I looked at a map and it seems perhaps you have to be on I-64 to see it. I wish I knew precisely where/how to see it because we will be traveling that distance again in the not-too-distant future, and want to show it to our exchange student.

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  8. brian stouder said on August 11, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    Yes! Four or five years ago we drove to Williamsburg Virginia – and on the way I had it in mind to see that bridge that people bungee off of. I believe we were on I-64*, and I saw a sign for “Grandview State Park Overlook”, and we went for it. Took us maybe 10 minutes off of the interstate – and then we arrived in a National Park Service parkinglot, in the middle of a dense forest. We all got out and stretched our legs, and headed for the NPS visitor center. I asked the ranger where the ‘grandview overlook’ was, and she said to follow the marked trail (which sounded a lot like “Follow the yellow brick road!”)

    As we proceeded down the flag stone path through the woods, we could see a very deep blue emerging between the trees ahead…

    and then – wow! We approached the edge of the abyss, and there was a split-rail fence between us and a truly grand view (and a small sign warning parents to mind their children!) You could see the New River, and a rail line snaking beside it, and a church spire that a sign told us was in a town 7 miles from where we were.

    Never did see that bridge, though. I think it might be closer to Beckley.

    *ever note those % grade signs on the interstates in the mountains? I-68 has some 4% grades and 5% grades – which will get your attention. 5 percenters mean ‘both hands on the wheel’ – but in WV we did a few 7% grades – which were simply terrifying!



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  9. basset said on August 11, 2005 at 9:10 pm

    Perfect soundtrack for that trip: Norman Blake & Tony Rice, either “Blake & Rice” or “Blake & Rice 2,” whichever has “New River Train” on it.

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  10. Dorothy said on August 11, 2005 at 9:16 pm

    Brian – it was 1987 when we drove from Pittsburgh to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. That’s when we saw the view from the steps, down to the bridge, etc. The view was breathtaking. I will have to go back through my photo albums (I used to be anal about them and marked the time frame they covered on the outside!) and see those shots. I do remember it being notorious for bungee jumpers.

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  11. harry near indy said on August 11, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    regarding the artistocrats — it probably will sound better than it reads, because it’s meant to be listened to.

    for example, if you read the lyrics of many popular songs, they aren’t that great as poems. but if you sing them … ah.

    it’s a difference between an oral and a written orientation — one’s for the ear, the other’s for the eye.

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  12. mary said on August 12, 2005 at 2:36 am


    Those jokes don’t read anything like song lyrics. Or at least like any song I’ve ever heard or read. I hope it plays better in the movie, but it sort of lies there being nasty on the page. If the kids are at the ex’s this weekend I’ll probably go see it. Lots of great people in it.

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  13. John said on August 12, 2005 at 10:29 am

    I have white water rafted down the New River (pulling out just below the bridge). What a great trip!!! The kids (teens at the time) loved it and even the old lady had a good time but was sore the next day. The New River bridge is featured on the new West (by God) Virginia quarter.

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