Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Everyone survived, but I didn’t know that when I saw that my shoe repair shop was closed on a frigid Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the shock of the closed gate kept me standing stock still, disbelieving both the locked gate and taped-up “CLOSED STORE” sign. It was a passerby who informed me that everyone was alive and well. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone’s life was in danger – even though I once suggested the place looked like a human smuggling front.

There had been a fire in the back, the well-heeled woman informed me, and all the shops on the block were irreparably damaged. I pressed her for details about my Russian pals, the not-so-friendly faces behind thousands of shoe repairs. She told me their business was over, and they weren’t coming back. I nodded as she gave me unsolicited directions to a nearby shoe repair, as though all shoe repairs were interchangeable. When she started eyeing me with concern, I thanked her and walked back the way I’d come.

For the remainder of the week, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a new show repair. My only requirement: the shop must be willing and able to repair anything I could carry – shoes, watches, leather goods, etc. Instead, I found shoe repairs that didn’t fix watches and watch repairs that didn’t fix shoes. Finally, I just walked into a barber shop and asked if they could fix my stopped watch. The young barber told me he’d be happy to, but it would have to wait till after 3pm. I didn’t want to wait, so he sent me to his buddy who runs the jewelry store down the block. A personal recommendation? I couldn’t turn it down.

The jewelry shop, a store smaller than my apartment’s living room, had three staff and no customers. The greeter and floor manager spent the 10-minutes it took the owner to take apart my watch beaming at me; the greeter from his station at the door and the floor manager within a foot of my face. The shop keeper, uninterested in eye contact, told me that my watch was broken and cheap. He asked me a few times if I’d put the watch in water; I assured him that I hadn’t, since it would have broken the watch. He nodded, and told me that in the future I shouldn’t put my watch in water. I liked the place, but they do not repair shoes. Possibly, they don’t repair watches either.

My time in the jewelry shop was heartening. Just as no barber can be sure that my watch is fixable, a woman in the street can’t judge what my shoe repairmen will do. Those guys are an unpredictable lot; hardy and fearless. Since never answered direct questions about anything, from the weekend weather forecast to their country of origin, it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ve been through. But the tidbits I managed to extract from them made it clear that they never thought they’d make it to America nor work in shoe repair. So, no matter what’s happened to them, I wouldn’t count them out. I’ll keep an eye out for them, and hope that when I find them, they’ll do the same for me.

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On the Road

I’ve been on highways, byways, and backways. I will happily travel over hill and dale, under bridges and through snowstorms – as long as I have snacks. I don’t travel with much; just some books, a change of clothing, and my weight in snacks.

It’s important to balance your car snacks, like so:

  • Water
  • Fresh fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels and/or crackers
  • Cookies and/or muffins
  • Chocolate
  • String cheese, or other easily transported protein that should probably be refrigerated, and thus not doing so adds some excitement to your life
  • Napkins
  • Trash bag

 

Of course, if you’re going to spend more than 2 hours in transit, you’ll need to bring a meal. Preferably, one you can heat up on the car engine.

 

 

There’s More to Be Said: Happy Blog Anniversary

As of today: Happy six years of reading this blog! For my new readers – I’m looking at you Filipino bots – happy one year anniversary! In honor of the occasion, here’s a conversation – or unsolicited advice – I’d gladly have with each of you:

Perel, discussing a colleague who uniformly flatters: He definitely does that to everyone.

Me: Treat him like the really nice guy he probably is –

Perel: You think so?!

Me: Yes. That way if he’s plotting you’ll have lulled him into a false sense of complacency.

 

Novel Approach to Getting What You Want

Like most Russian women she is full of practical relationship advice that only works if you are dealing with another Russian: “Of course, when I want something, like new refrigerator, I tell my husband, ‘I think your idea is good and we should get new refrigerator,’ and he say ‘Eh?’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, at first I think you were wrong and we not need this thing, but now I see you were right and so maybe yes,’ and even though he never say these things about refrigerator now he say, ‘I told you this and was right thing,’ and ‘You should listen to me, Iri,’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, you were right,’ and he go to store and bring me refrigerator next day.”

 from The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Membership is More Than Money

If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!

My first attempt to convince a shul that membership dues are a thing of the past failed. I thought my letter to leadership was comprehensive and persuasive. I was wrong on at least one count: they were not persuaded.

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Fearless Leaders,

As you gear up for the membership drive, please consider the shul’s long-time failure to gain or retain members. A prime reason is membership costs. The currentlsystem  disincentivizes becoming a member for those who are struggling financially. Rather than allow people to pay what they wish, you demand that they demean themselves by telling the shul office that they are too poor to pay full price. Effectively, you’re saying that they can join us, but since they’re poor they can’t be counted as regular members of the community.

New graduates, the majority of the annual communal influx, are unlikely to spend an amount totaling their first paycheck on shul membership. Because you miss that initial window when someone first moves in, they adjust to not being a shul member. By making the membership price out of their reach, we all lose out. But a member isn’t just a person who pays a subscription fee; it’s someone engaged in the community. In many ways, the failure to bring in members has weakened the volunteer basis on which shuls operate. Volunteering in shul activities strengthens peoples’ bond to the shul, making them more active members of the community. So make volunteering part of membership. Allow people to pledge their time, and make that the standard for their membership fee. Let those who wish to do so pay off their membership in hours rather than dollars.
Those who currently volunteer for the shul are the selfsame people who already give back more than they receive; and that’s the same thing we want from all members – to invest themselves in the shul’s future. By enabling people to be members by giving their time, they’ll see how much further their money can go. And when they have the means, they’ll bring that too.
The ideas above are part of a larger conversation. Meanwhile, I beg that you change one thing immediately – don’t force people to contact the office to say that they don’t have the money to be a full-fledged member of the community. Allow them the option to sign up online as a member, in good standing, at whatever amount they can afford.
Thank you.
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As you can imagine, the powers that be didn’t bite. But I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe they just couldn’t visualize what such a membership sign-up would look like. So, I’ve written it for them:
Hello! I’m delighted to become the newest shul member and pillar upon which the community rests. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m up to the challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing to keep the community running:
Hero Membership
I ain’t got much to  give, but what I got, I’ll give to you. 18 hours of my priceless time, plus $18 so you can get yourself something nice – like salt for those winter sidewalks.
Welcome Membership
It takes money to keep the shul open for each of us. But what kind of shul would it be if we didn’t always have room for one more? At $2,000, welcome in the stranger on me!
Utility Membership
It takes $1,000 per person to keep the shul open. Keep the doors unlocked and the ac pumping and you have yourself a deal.
Choose Your Own Adventure Membership
I’m happy to pay the most affordable shul membership fee of $[my choice] I’ll ever be asked to pay!
Because, at the end of the day, if you want to be a member – you should be a member. If you don’t want to be a member, don’t be a member. Either way, you’re always welcome here.

Arbitrary Arbitrators

My dad told me I’d enjoy college; that one day there I’d look around and realize that I – by far – was not the smartest person in the room. He was right; I enjoyed that as an undergraduate, and learned so much from learning with people far brighter than I am. But as a graduate student it’s been much harder to enjoy the sense the I lag far behind my classmates.

In graduate school I’ve had teachers suggest I consider leaving my academic program; reflecting doubts I’ve had. Professors have told me I wasn’t suited to the work; I don’t fit the mold. I’ve failed so many exams that you’d think I did it for fun. It’s hard not to take the comments and poor grades personally, since I’m the one earning them with my performance. But the truth is that while my professors’ statements hurt, their grading should not. Every single professor – so far – has awarded me a passing grade. Sometimes it’s the lowest possible passing grade, but that doesn’t hold me back. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Even though the words sting.

 

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Message that greeted me outside school. Perhaps they shouldn’t give the students chalk during finals week.

Words, on the other hand, also show that how grades are earned can vary on the day. One of my professors assigned each of us to a group of five, and then had those groups both write a paper together and present it as a team. Since it was a group presentation, all of the comments were supposed to address the full group. However, the professor made an exception for me, writing; “Hannah’s presentation was very powerful. She came across as very well prepared and confident. Really grabbed our attention. Very convincing.” This is the same teacher who felt that our paper – heavily edited by yours truly – was “very lively, but at times it seemed a bit overly expressive given the subject matter of the paper.” Same verve, different grade.

So, maybe I can’t win. But I can accept my grades with good grace. While a bad grade may make me feel stupid, it does not mean that I am; it just means that I’m surrounded by people who know more than me.

Chicago Charms

“Chicago has two season: winter and construction,” I was warned. What no one gave me was advice on what to do once I got there. So, like a Chicagoan shoveling out the snow, I made my own way – in both seasons.

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Boat tour: Lovely views of the city and surrounding traffic without having to be in any of it. Plus, there are some boat rides that provide architectural tours. Or ones that take you to an unfamiliar neighborhood for free and leave you there, like the kind I took. It seemed like the unfolding plot of a horror film where you get kidnapped and wind up enslaved to a drug cartel. So I used the unexpected docking as an opportunity to find a post office so my family could know my last location. Turns out that it’s easy to find a post office, and get an elevated train out from wherever the boat may drop you.

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Toto, I don’t think we’re in Chicago anymore

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But the zip code says we are

The El: Public transportation that works for most of the public. Unless you want to
gamble
.
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Art Institute of Chicago: It’s got Monet’s lilies for the old-schoolers and edgy modern art for the new. For those who don’t care, it’s also where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off filmed a few scenes. So if you prefer, skip the museum and watch that instead.

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Museum of Science and Industry: They let you watch baby chicks hatch and form your own tornado. Take the family, spend the day.

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Howard Washington Library:
 There are cannons. A 3D printer. Seven floors of books. Librarians who allow people to hide in the stacks till closing. The place is so big I wouldn’t be surprised if it also fit a few coffee shops and maybe an airport hanger. There’s basically everything you’d need to run a small city except people who live there full-time; I’m happy to volunteer myself to make Chicago the first city to have a self-sustaining community living in its library.

 

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WBEZ: Chicago’s NPR station is on a pier. If that was intended to deter sightseers, it doesn’t work. Requests for a tour of active recording studios and a place of business were met with incredible goodwill and cheer. That friendliness that held strong even when I showed up on the wrong date for my tour. Their programming is awesome, they let me hang out with a statue of Studs Terkel, and someone even gave us the inside scoop on the Chicago news-agency softball league. Ask them about it, but don’t mention me.

img_20170305_231241.jpgBusy Beaver Button Museum: Yet another place of business that will let you in to disturb the hardworking men and women of Chicago, turning serious professionals into amateur tour guides. It’s a working button business with an immense collection of slogan buttons. They couldn’t be more gracious about visitors unless they worked at WBEZ. You can see Abraham Lincoln’s campaign button and about a thousand others. Remember the Reading Radicals! button from your childhood? It’s there. Along with the sorts of pithy phrases, pathos, and poetry you didn’t think could fit onto a button.

Chicago Federal Reserve: There are armed men everywhere, so it’s best if you take the opportunities provided to learn about the millions of dollars surrounding you rather than trying to steal them. Also, it’s free – so basically you make bank by just showing up.

Lake Michigan: It comes with a small beach and there’s probably boating somewhere. Sometimes its toxic, but the city puts up helpful signs. No signs? No toxicity!

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They told me there was a Bean. Instead, I found a garden. Next trip, someone bring a map.