Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image


Boxes, Staging, and the Miraculous Irishman

Living Room - 500 Wide.jpg

I know. I’ve been gone almost three weeks, which for Contra is a long time. Where have I been? Well, c’mon, where do I usually go?

We had a serious and difficult mission this time. Carol and I co-own a condo in Chicago suburb Des Plaines with our older nephew Brian, and have since 2007. Brian needed a place to live, and Carol needed a place to stay while she was looking after her mom’s needs during Delores’ last years. Carol’s mom is now Home, and Brian is married and has his own place down in the city. So it was time to sell the condo. Long past time, in fact.

Having been mostly vacant for over a year, the place was dusty and cluttered. So for two weeks we sifted and sorted and dusted and scrubbed and re-polished the oak cabinets. Brian and Alexis took trunks full of stuff home, and Carol and I shipped five biggish boxes back here, loaded to bulging with clothes, kitchen gadgets, towels, plastic hangers, stuffed animals, books, odd computer parts, and much else. (The boxes arrived yesterday, and my initial reaction to the pile on the front porch was: What the hell is all this stuff?)

One subtask was to sell the bedroom set in the second bedroom. It was a nice, rugged item, bought in 1977 and used by Carol’s parents for a long time. Carol figured out Craigslist, and listed it. Then the weirdness began. Many people inquired about it, some of them clearly on the far slopes of the sanity bell curve. A few came to see it. Some thought we were giving it away. Sorry, folks. “$100” is not a computer backplane. Several more seemed willing to pay for it, but had no idea how to get it home and broadly hinted that we should deliver.

Time was running out. We tried to give it to the Salvation Army, but they were unable to get a truck out for it any time soon. Getting the place ready to sell meant rearranging furniture, but until the bedroom set was gone we couldn’t even begin. Not quite three days before we had to hop a plane home, Carol got a text from an Irish chap who said he loved the photos and would bring his pickup over to get it. When he arrived with a hand-cart, he handed me $100, scratched his chin, and then got it out the door, down the elevator, and into his Dodge pickup truck all by himself. He was chatty, and all the time that he was strongarming dressers while talking about growing up near Ulster and encouraging me to indeed visit County Mayo, from which my Irish forbears fled bad harvests in the 1880s, I was boggling at the main force he was exerting, he who was barely my height and 47 years old. It’s not like he looked like a linebacker. Then again, my father didn’t either, as certain North Side toughs learned to their sorrow in 1939.

Office Bedroom - 500 Wide.jpg

With the bedroom set gone, Brian and I shifted some desks and things around to make the now-vacant second bedroom look like an office, while Carol and Ali staged the condo. “Staging” means making it look like a model home. Some of this involves removing personal items and photos of relatives, and the rest getting the towels to hang just so in the bathrooms. Carol set the table as elegantly as Corelle would allow. Ali directed Brian and me in shifting the livingroom furniture here and there to get a balanced look. Four hours before our flight back, we looked around and said, Damn, is this our condo?

The unit is now listed on MLS, and our Realtor lady is actively showing it.

We’ll miss the condo. It served us well during a difficult time in our lives. Freeing up our equity will making certain things possible, like a winter place in Scottsdale. We’ll be exceedingly thankful when it sells. (I am already thankful to my late, beloved, and very Irish godmother Aunt Kathleen for sending us a muscular Irishman just when we needed him the most.)

And now, boy, is there some work to do, work that (huzzah!) has nothing whatsoever to do with real estate. More on this tomorrow.


Bugsplat Rearview - 500 wide.jpg

Carol and I just got back from a month-long driving trek to Chicago. I generally don’t talk much about my travels until I get back home, hence my silence here for the last few weeks. As usual with Tripwanders, this entry will be a sort of long-form Odd Lots, and not a coherent essay leading toward any particular point, beyond the epiphany that there are many different colors of bugsplat.

Place: The Des Moines Sheraton. Time: 5:38 AM. I awaken from my usual dream of trying to teach evil cosmic forces how to use their silverware correctly to find a xenon strobe flashing in my face, one pulse per second. WTF? The room is utterly dark. There is no fire alarm, nor any sound at all beyond that puissant pop! of the triggered strobe. I am on my back, and the damned thing is centered in my field of view. I began counting pulses while waiting for some sort of hell to break loose, or at least try to push peas onto a fork with its fingers. 26 pulses, and then darkness again.

So much for that particular Saturday night. I lay there and fumed until Carol woke about an hour later. There were in fact three strobes in the ceiling of our room, two attached to fire alarms of some sort, and one solo. The solo strobe was the one I had been staring at. I went down to the desk a little later to complain, or at least ask for an explanation. The clerk told me that the strobe I’d seen was…the doorbell. Sure enough, there was a doorbell button to one side of our door. If you’re hearing-impaired and order room service, how else would you know your dinner had arrived?

We were in a handicapped room because that was what there was, and we’d gotten the room for $88 in a hotel where most of the rooms went for $150 and up. My only hesitation in getting handicapped rooms is that some handicapped person might come to the hotel an hour later and want it. I never quite understood why they were so cheap. Now I do. As the clerk explained that they’d had a very large and rowdy wedding that night (which we’d seen as we checked in) with drunks wandering the walls until dawn, I could see some staggering fool noticing the button and pressing it. Works as designed.

Other odd things we saw in the middle of the night included little red LED smiles on the front edges of LG TVs in hotels. I never noticed them until our first night out, when I reached for the switch on the nightstand light at a Holiday Inn Express, and saw something grinning at me in the darkness. I discovered that I’m a little apprehensive about glow-in-the-dark smiles (I’m sure there’s a technical term for the psychological condition somewhere) and parked my briefcase in front of it.

Footprints Penny - 500 wide.jpg

Part of the challenge of summer road trips taken with dogs is that you can’t leave them in the car while you catch a meal. This means that we eat fast food a lot. This isn’t a health hazard, though Southern Style Chicken meals can get old after a few days. One lunchtime at a McDonald’s drive-through (in Nebraska, I think) I got a penny in change with two footprints punched all the way through it.

Defacing currency is a crime, which is why I always wondered if the Where’s George site would get into trouble. The same guys who protect the President are also tasked with going after penny-punchers, which says something about something, albeit nothing coherent. As it happens, coin art is legal as long as you don’t try to pass off a coin as a different coin. I was told in grade school that you can sand a penny down on the sidewalk until it would pass as a dime in a payphone, but it seemed like a lot of work to earn nine cents, when the local empty lots were lousy with returnable Coke bottles.

It didn’t take much Googling to find out that the penny had been sold as a sort of inspirational good-luck token based on the well-known Christian fable “Footprints in the Sand.” I’m going to toss it in my weird coins cup, though I do wonder where all the little copper-coated zinc footprints ended up.

Dog & Suds - 350 wide.jpgOne of my goals this trip was to trek out to Third Lake, Illinois, to see what (if anything) was left of the summer place our family had owned there from 1965-1991. I knew the cottage itself was gone, after a tree fell on it in the mid-1990s, and I was more interested in the neighborhood itself, which had been a constant summer haunt in my young teen years. Telescopes and dark skies, model rockets, slopping around in the slightly green lake, my first attempt at target shooting–it was formative in ways I didn’t realize for decades.

I had gotten in touch with a couple of the “kids” I used to hang out with there, and spent a little time with Rob and Tim Smyth, walking around the area while they pointed to things that used to be there. The garage Uncle Louie built in 1977 still stands, but after that it was slim pickins. The adjoining Picket Fence Farm, where we would chase Angus steers while stepping smartly around cowpies, is now a forest preserve, with grass as high as my nose. I’m guessing that launching model rockets there would now be a felony.

I did find, to my delight, that the Dog ‘N’ Suds drive-in is still there in nearby Grayslake, essentially unchanged since the 1950s. I had a coney dog and a bag full of sumptuously greasy fries, and for a moment it was 1968 all over again.

The trip, of course, was centered around the wedding of our younger nephew Matt and his high-school sweetheart Justine. They met as sophomores, which means that they have Carol and me beat by almost two years. As I would expect, the ceremony at St. Thomas church was beautiful, and the reception (at the tony Boulder Ridge Country Club) spectacular. The open bar included Chicago’s infamous Jeppson’s Malört, and whereas I toyed with the idea of trying it, I went for the pinot noir instead. After eating all that McDonald’s on the trip out, I figured my tongue had suffered enough. Besides, my camera was conked and there was no way to get a picture of my inevitable Malört face.

The weather had not been helpful. As we were milling around Carol’s sister’s house 40 minutes before the ceremony, I went outside and could see a very ugly front glowering its way toward us out of the northwest. The WGN radar on my phone painted it in red and (worse) dark red. I suggested to Carol that we needed to leave right damned now, and although we did, it wasn’t quite soon enough. Just after we pulled into the church parking lot, a thunderstorm the likes of which we rarely see opened on our heads. I took Carol as close to the building as I could, and then tried to wait out the sheeting downpour in the parking lot. As the minutes ticked past, the storm abated only slowly. Finally, just a few minutes before the ceremony was slated to begin, I opened an umbrella and ran for it. It crossed my mind that I was dashing through puddles under a lively thunderstorm carrying a metal spike in one hand. I like ground rods, and have used many in my time, but never felt any desire at all to be one.

Things began a little late but turned out well, with the storm rising and falling and rattling against the skylights in the church ceiling. During the exchange of vows, a second front rolled through, with deafending thunder while Matt declared his love for his bride. People laughed, but I had been through something very like this before, and knew the truth: It was God’s applause, for two young people who had made us all very proud, and would almost certainly continue to do so.

Of course, we both got colds toward the end of our stay, which has happened before, and we made the long trip back amidst coughs and sniffles. The dogs were peevish and unruly; Dash has taken up howling whenever Carol isn’t in his immediate vicinity. So when we rolled back into town on Monday night, both of us were abundantly glad that the trip, as good as it had been, was over.

Much to do here, but I’ll try to post a little more often than in the immediate past.

Thanksgiving Break

I’m by no means finished with my current thread on how necessary Windows is, but the Thanksgiving holiday weekend intervened, and Carol and I flew to Chicago earlier this week to spend time with family. I hadn’t seen our nieces Katie Beth and Julie since the beginning of August, and kids change quickly at this point in their lives. Julie is now making short but full sentences (at 18 months) and Katie, now 3, is chattering away as she discusses some pretty interesting issues. For example, last night at Gretchen’s house, Katie looked at me and asked her mother, “What is Uncle Jeff?” (A few of my early girlfriends probably wondered the same thing.) Gretchen tried to explain that Uncle Jeff is her brother, but Katie does not have a brother and may not quite grasp the concept yet.

No sweat on that one; she’ll get there. Carol and I visited with her mom on Wednesday, did some shopping, and helped her sister Kathy prepare the Thanksgiving feast. It was drippy from the moment we got off the plane on Tuesday, and the drips continued through the day Thursday, when the family finally gathered at three. The feast included all the traditional fare: Turkey, ham, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, both ceasar and Hawaiian salad, three kinds of home-made pies (with ice cream, as an option) and probably a few things that I missed, most likely green vegetables. As has become the tradition, I acted as sommelier, and brought both dry and sweet wines for the table. The dry red was Cosentino Winery’s Cigarzin 2004, a superb, fruit-forward Zinfandel without much oak but with explosive fruit flavors. Not subtle–but then, neither am I. On the sweet side I chose Bartenura’s Malvasia, an unusual sweet blush with just a little fizz. We also had a German Riesling Auslese from St. Christopher, with a bottle of White Heron in the fridge in case we needed it. As feasts go it was outstanding; much credit going to Kathy, her husband Bob, and Bob’s mother Betty for somehow making all the food appear at an appropriate time at the appropriate temperature.

I stayed out of the stores yesterday for obvious reasons, even though I’m shopping for a new subnotebook or (gasp) netbook. Instead I spent time at Gretchen’s making an old family recipe handed down from our Irish grandmother Sade. It’s called gumgash, which is essentially hamburger mixed with chopped onions, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and shell macaroni. I dumped a little Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel 2006 into the mix, which isn’t historical but adds significant flavor if you can let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes. After we all feasted on gumgash, the girls demanded to hear their Phineas and Ferb music CD. This is a spinoff from a cartoon show on the Disney channel, about two 10-year-old nerds who invent things and drive their 15-year-old sister to distraction. The show is the girls’ current favorite (having recently upended the Madagascar Penguins; could there be stirrings of Linux culture here?) and I danced with both of them to a few of the brief but well-written cuts (some of which were hilarious) on the album. There aren’t many effective ways to dance with an 18-month-old, so I sat taylor-style on the kitchen floor and held Julie’s hands while we both swayed back and forth to the pounding rhythms of “I’m Lindana and I Wanna Have Fun!” which, while only 51 seconds long, is insanely catching, and echoed endlessly around in the back of my skull until I finally dozed off at 11 last night.

So here I am, taking a breather on Saturday afternoon before getting busy again. We’ll be home in a couple of days, when I’ll continue the current series, and then segue into some observations about writing fiction. I like lumps in my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, and I like lumps in my exposition. The important part is what the lumps are made of. If they’re tasty enough, nobody will care…but I’ll get back to that.

Odd Lots

  • There appears to be a new online scam that is a first cousin of scareware: Driver updaters. Drivers ride with hardware, and install with hardware, so unless your hardware changes or you do a major OS upgrade, drivers do not need to be updated. Every such updater I’ve researched appears at best to be adware and often much worse. Get your drivers from the hardware manufacturer (or built into the OS) and nowhere else.
  • While trying to determine if Chicago had ever had a radio station WYNR (it did, briefly, from 1962-1965) I ran across this exhaustive list of all broadcast radio stations that have ever operated in Chicago (both AM and FM) with brief discussions of their history.
  • There’s a downside to modern optical drives that spin discs at 50X Not all discs can take it–and when they go, they turn into daggers. I know it took the Mythbusters guys awhile to detonate a CD by spinning it on a Dremel tool, but one wonders if a disc accumulates stress fractures over time and one day just…lets go. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Among other things that Carol and I have been using since we were married in 1976 are a Realistic STA-64 30W tuner/amp, a Rival crockpot, and a Sunbeam 16-speed blender. Admittedly, we don’t use them as often as we use our flatware, but we use them regularly, and they all work basically as well as when they came out of the box, way back when I still had all my hair.
  • While not as old as our Rival Crockpot, I still have and use my TI-30 SLR scientific calculator, which I bought in 1983. Won’t do hex, but it’s handled every other piece of math I’ve ever thrown at it.
  • A nameless source in the filesharing community tells me that MP3s of every pop song that has ever charted on Billboard will fit on a single $50 500 GB hard drive. I have no way to verify this, but if true, it’s a good demonstration of what the music industry is facing, and perhaps why they’re as nuts as they’ve gotten in recent years. (I already have an external 320GB USB hard drive that slides into my shirt pocket–and disappears. For $125, I could have one containing 500GB. All of pop music hiding in one shirt pocket. Egad.)
  • From the Wines-To-Avoid-At-All-Costs Department: Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2006. A whiff of galvanized iron is not a plus. (Dumped it.)

The Sugar Bowl Is Back!

sugarbowl.jpgWhile going over to get my shirts back from the cleaners last week, I noticed with delight that the Sugar Bowl has reopened under new ownership, having been closed since early 2007. The Sugar Bowl is a venerable restaurant in downtown Des Plaines, a little to the east of the even more venerable Des Plaines Theater, which has been a Bollywood cheaps house for about ten years now. My cousin Maggie McGuire worked at the Sugar Bowl for 17 years until a very peculiar incident forced it to close. It was sold and reopened for a few years in the early oughties, then closed again and sat empty for more than two years.

Carol and I walked over there this morning about 7:30 for breakfast, and I was most pleased. The Sugar Bowl was purchased by two Greeks, who rehabbed it down to the bones and made it sparkle. Around here, nobody does breakfast places like the Greeks, who also operate Kappy’s in Niles about four blocks north of where Carol grew up (along with countless others). Their coffee is strong but not in the least bitter, and probably ideal for the breakfast-out crowd. I had two eggs scrambled with bacon, and Carol their cheese blintzes. The eggs were completely cooked (not always the case in restaurants, and important in this Era of Salmonella) and the bacon done to a perfect crisp. Carol would have liked her blintzes a little bit warmer. We think they’re trying to make an impression by being fast, and they were, but you have to finish the job.

They’re open every day from 6:00 AM until 3:00 PM. It’s great to have a Greek-run breakfast and lunch place within a quick trot of our condo, and while it’s not “fine dining,” it’s still dead-center in the grand Chicago tradition of locally owned one-off family restaurants. Highly recommended.

Dunteman’s Dairy, and Milk Caps in Winter

DuntemansDairyMilkCap1.jpgWhen I was a pre-teen, we used to get milk delivered to the house every few days. I don’t recall fersure which dairy it was (Hawthorn Mellody Farms?) but the milk was in massive gallon returnable glass bottles with wire carry-handles, and a paper cap was machine-pressed over the lip to seal it. The caps themselves were circular sheets of blank white paper, but stapled to the center of each cap was a printed cardboard disk about an inch and a half in diameter, containing the name of the dairy. The cardboard disks are now collectibles, related in a vague way to the juice-bottle “pogs” that were stylish for half an hour or so in the mid-1990s.

Last week I got an email from someone asking if I knew anything about Dunteman’s Dairy. I did (a little) and when I went looking around for more info I found an eBay auction for one of their milk cap disks. The disk arrived yesterday, and you see it above. As I’ve explained here a time or two, my great-grandfather Frank W. Duntemann was the only boy of five in his family to keep the second “n” at the end of his name. Most Duntemans that you see these days are related to me, and all the Duntemanns, what few remain.

Dunteman’s Dairy was located at 420 E. Northwest Highway in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was founded and run by Lenard Barney Dunteman (1906-1992) and his wife Grace Stippick Dunteman (1909-1978). As best I can tell, Lenard started the business in 1939, built a dairy plant from scratch, and ran it for almost twenty years. He bought raw milk from local dairy farmers (including some of his cousins) pasteurized and homogenized the milk, bottled it, and delivered it with his own trucks in Arlington Heights and adjacent Chicago suburbs. He was of my grandfather’s generation. Technically, Lenard and I would be third cousins, twice removed. His father Albert Dunteman was my great-grandfather Frank Duntemann’s younger brother, if that helps at all.

I don’t know a lot more than that, nor how broad their product line was. I know that they made and sold chocolate milk, but whether they sold butter or cream, I’m still trying to find out. Lenard had a mild heart attack in late 1958, and panicked. Fearing early death, he sold the equipment to another local dairy (I don’t know which one) to generate cash to support his wife, and retired. Ironically, Lenard lived to a genteel old age, but Grace died fourteen years before he did. The dairy building is still there and has been different things over the years. Parts of it have been razed, and what’s left has been given a new facade and is now a Shell station.

One final note about paper milk caps. In the worst of a bad Chicago winter, a bottle of milk left on an exposed front porch (like ours was) would begin to freeze after an hour or two on a particularly raw morning. I still find it odd that the bottles didn’t crack from the expanding milk, but something even odder did happen: A column of frozen milk would rise from the neck of the bottle, forcing the cap off. I remember seeing the cap a full two inches above the neck of the bottle on our porch once, circa 1959. This used to be a common sight (Stevan Dohanos did a Saturday Evening Post cover on it in 1944) but these days I doubt that more than a handful of my readers have ever had milk delivered to their homes. It’s just not done much anymore.

As for why the bottles didn’t crack, well, that still bothers me. I’m speculating that with whole milk, at least, the cream that collected at the top acted as a lubricant, allowing the ice to move freely upward, relieving pressure and keeping the bottle intact. If you’ve got a better theory, I’d love to hear it!

Red Swill and Warfarin

Today’s entry is about classic rat poison. Or maybe a Georgian folk band. (From our Georgia.) Or perhaps the mis-persistence of memory, mine specifically. And certainly about the power of true names.

Hokay. Calling all Baby Boomers formerly of Chicago: Do you recall seeing signs tacked to the wooden power poles in the alley, warning us that the City of Chicago had set out “Red Swill and Warfarin” to combat rats? The memory came to mind in an odd way: I had remembered my writer friend Chuck Ott casually remarking, some time back in the 70s, that “Red Swill and Warfarin” would be a great name for a fantasy thief and his barbarian sidekick. The signs were a commonplace when I was ten or twelve. And whereas it’s been my experience that absolutely everything has been mentioned somewhere on the Web at least once (and thus findable via Google) I found nothing about “red swill and warfarin.” I did find a decent folkie band in Macon called Red Swill. I found plenty about warfarin, which is a medical anticoagulant that was toxic in rats until the rats ate a little too much of it and started developing tolerance in the 1960s. But no mention of the signs, which all my Boomer friends knew as just part of the alley background in our home town.

Pete Albrecht mentioned on Skype last night that there is an herbal called red squill that is toxic in large doses, and (significantly) an emetic. That’s a big deal if you’re a rat, because rats can’t vomit, and emetics put them into convulsions. Aha! So we do find mention of the thief and his barbarian:

It was the spring of 1967 [in Lincoln Park, Chicago] when I came up with a plan. Spring was when they baited Pearl Court with Red Squill and Warfarin, and every few days you’d see a dead rat lying there. Many of them were decomposing and maggot-eaten but one day I found one in perfect condition. I picked up that rat by the tail and put it in a shoebox. I took it to my grandmother’s house, the back yard of which adjoined Pearl Court, wrapped the box with brightly colored paper and tied it with a shiny ribbon. I then took it over to Robin’s house a block away. He wasn’t home, but his older sister was outside with some of her friends. “Hi, Debbie,” I said in as casual a tone as I could muster, “I have a present for Robin. Please give it to him and make sure you tell him it’s from me.” The next day in school he approached me, grinning like a jackal, and spoke his first, but not last words to me. “Thanks for the present!”

Yet another example (in my long list) of the truth that if you don’t know what something is called, you can’t find it. The last time it was coupler nuts, but the nice man at Ace Hardware looked at the sample I had found in my junkbox and took me right to them. The time before that it was golabki. (I know a few Polish words, but can’t spell them.) This may be an unsolveable problem, or at least one with no general solution.

And while I’m at it, here is more than you probably wanted to know about all the various concoctions used to kill rats. Bad beer with a little food coloring might work too, but I’ll leave that experiment to others.