Sunday, May 16, 2004


The other day, in the course of a run of comments over at Via Negativa, Dave noted that he "was going to leave a comment at The Middlewesterner yesterday expressing my surprise that you were letting political remarks creep into your posts." Later in the comments he added: "if even Tom is losing it, you know we have problems."

Yeah, we have problems. Yeah, I'm losing it. It has been a tough couple of weeks; and as much as I'd like to think I'm serene and detached, I take the world's sadness much too personally. Every day the news brings more sadness. As a nation we are constitutionally unable to say "we have made a mistake." We insist on staying the course, insist on offering more of our sons and daughters on the Altar of Christian Righteousness, insist on being re-elected. Listen to them: the horror is not that we degraded fellow human beings, the horror is that we got caught at it. One of them flies to Iraq, addresses our troops, and think he redeems himself! "I am a survivor," he says.

Yeah, I have a problem with members of this administration lining their pockets off the war. And oil prices have gone up why? In the face of whose record oil company profits?

Then I wonder how much some of the companies in my own retirement account's mutual funds might be making off the same war and the same oil-gouging, and that distresses me.

I take some solace in the fact that the polls have finally started to shift against W and his Faux Douzepers, Buffoons, Dragoons, Christian-Right Hangers-On, Assorted Lackeys, and Monkeys with Influence. How many more of our troops have to die before we get these guys out of power?

I have lost a lot of respect for Colin Powell over the past couple years, an awful lot, but he is still the best of a bad bunch. He was right when he told the president, "You break it, you own it." We broke Iraq and now there is no way out. That's what "owning it" means.

Shock and awe? I've been more shocked than awed by everything associated with this administration. But this isn't a political blog. This is not going to become a political blog. My notion of how the world should be is so far removed from current politics that it would be silly for me to annoy the pig by talking about politics too much. So - while admittedly I have "lost it," while admittedly I'll continue to take the occasional swipe at things political when I can no longer hold myself back - be assured that The Middlewesterner is and will be a blog about "exploring the heart of the country."

There is something happening here - something good and tough and tenaciousness and sweet and strong and rich and local. I'd like to think that someday it will rise up and overpower the generic white-bread culture that surrounds us, rise up and overpower the Rich White Righteously-Christian Camels Passing Through the Eye of a Needle in Washington, but that's not essential to our success. What matters is that we continue to make the world a little better place - here in our homes, on our blocks, in our communities, across the township, across the county. We take care of our own place : we take care of everything.

"I sweep my walk," Basho prays; "the whole world is clean."


April 20, 2004, cont'd

We have been touring Horizons Unlimited, a sheltered workshop on the south edge of Emmetsburg. Teresa Murphy is our inteprid guide. Now we are in the "Redemption Center" at the far back edge of the facility. This is not a church ("Redemption Center," get it?), but the place one turns in soda cans and liquor bottles to claim Iowa's 5-cent bounty on each can and bottle so marked.

What does the Redemption Center do? The consumers working in the center sort the cans and bottles by hand, by distributor. For instance, in one area to the left of us, Jerrod was sorting beer bottles, putting Budweiser bottles into a Bud carton, Miller bottles into a Miller carton, and so on. Elsewhere, all the Coca Cola cans were being put into flats for Coke; Pepsi cans for Pepsi; and Seven-Up for that company.

The Center makes one cent per can or bottle for those sorted and counted for return to the distributors. That's how the Redemption Center makes its money. The consumers doing the sorting are paid based on how many flats of cans they sort. Each person sorting is listed on a chart; the "recorder" fills in a circle after each person's name for each flat he or she sorts; the consumer earns so much per flat. The center does a time study once a year to establish the piece rate for the coming year. The fellow who does the recording gets paid by the hour because he is not doing any piece work.

In a nutshell, then, this is how it works:

o Cans and bottles are brought to the Center for redemption at three, four, or five cents each.

o Distributors pick up their cans and bottles, paying six cents apiece for them.

o The exceptions are bottles which get crushed on-site, and for which - essentially - the Center is paid twice: the Center gets six cents apiece for those bottles, plus they are paid so much per pound for the crushed glass that is shipped out. Liquor bottles (all from state-run liquor stores) and bottles from Budweiser and Miller are the ones crushed on-site. Unfortunately, Teresa said, the value of the glass does not cover the cost of shipping it for recycling. "But at least the glass is recycled and not buried in the ground."

Crushing glass is noisy work, so it goes on in the farthest back corner of the back room of the Redemption Center. Glass is sorted for crushing according to color - brown, green, and clear. Consumers stand at a sorting table that feeds the glass crusher, allowing only the proper color of glass onto the conveyor. They wear heavy leather gloves to protect their hands from cuts; they wear ear protection to conserve their hearing. They sort off bottles of the wrong color and frequently one or the other of them takes a little hammer to the neck of a liquor bottle to get rid of the metal ring that remains there. All such metal must be removed before the glass is crushed. If plastic rings remain after crushing, that material will burn up when the glass is melted for re-use, which is not the case with the metal rings. Bottle caps have to be removed form the bottles before they go onto the conveyor. Paper labels stay on the bottles.

Last year the Center sent out four semi belly-dump loads of clear glass for recycling, two loads of brown glass, and one load of green glass. The glass goes to Shakopee, Minnesota, Teresa said.

Linda Detrick is the plant's Production Manager, Teresa said. "She's been here the longest - twenty-six years." Bill Huberty is Workshop Supervisor/Recreation Coordinator. Jeenifer Long, another Workshop Supervisor, was overseeing work in the Redemption Center while we were there; Pat Henningsen is the Redemption Center's manager.

The glass crushing operation is in the back corner of the Redemption Center at Horizons Unlimited, about as far as you can get from the front of the building and still be in the plant. Teresa led me back towards the front - through the rain, when we had to step outside; through the sorting areas; back to the Program Manager's office.

"This is my other office," Teresa said. Her duties require that she spend part of her time at the desk up front, part of her time here in the Program Manager's office. The staffing that had been underway when we'd come past earlier was finished now and the staff had dispersed. I could see Sharon Manwarren, the Program Manager, working in her office to the left of where we stood talking; and Peg Christensen, the Assistant Program Manager, was woring at her desk in the other office.

Then we crossed the building and stepped through the doors into the Creative Stitches portion of the plant. Creative Stitches is staffed by Pat Hartman, Sharon Mueller, and Lori Forry. Here a computerized sewing machine with four stitching heads will stitch words and logos onto sweatshirts, T-shirts, jackets, hats, bags, towels, and blankets in a wide array of colors. Spools of thread in the entire rainbow of colors hang on the wall opposite the stitching machine. In only a few minutes a logo that started out looking awful bland sprang to life as the final stitches were put in place.

Creative Stitches will take orders from the public, for single items to as many as five hundred. Teresa said baby blankets were a popular order, with the baby's name, date of birth, weight, and length stitched onto it as a memento. Customers can choose from 20,000 existing designs or Creative Stitches can digitize a custom design for stitching. "We don't charge a digitizing or set-up fee," Teresa said. Stitching the largest designs might cost as much as $15-20 each. A more usual logo will cost from $6.75 to $9.00. Creative Stitches usually charges by the stitch - 75 cents per 1000 stitches on materials supplied by Creative Stitches; $1.10 per 1000 stitches on material supplied by the customer.

Creative Stitches has been doing stitching for about seven years now. Screen printing was added about a year ago.

To be continued....



This continues our discussion about "the construction of place," started in our post of April 28, and continued on April 29, April 30, May 10, May 11, May 13, and May 14, in response to the article "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life" by Gaile McGregor. I have been highlighting points of interest from that article and considering them from the perspective of my Vagabond in the Middle project.

McGregor says: "The cinematography itself [in Canadian television] is un-American. Visually, Canadian television is almost always characterized by a greater depth of field and a more evenly distributed focus. We see more of the background, and it is more fully realized. Correspondingly, we see less of the personalities. Characters are shot at longer range, and with a less intimate, less confrontational lens. We get far fewer of the extreme close-ups that are almost a trademark of American commercial television - and when we do, they are more often than not designed to increase our discomfort than cement our identification with the protagonist." McGregor says "... in the Canadian version of this genre [Crossing Jordan or CSI], the emphasis is on procedure and teamwork, not science and ingenuity." The Canadian brand of hero is "flawed, ordinary, unaggressive, committed to truth and justice, but rather plodding in his pursuit of it...."

I have to admit that middle western writers do look at characters here, their personalities; we are interested in the person. Yet I think it is nearly always in relation to the background, the landscape, the culture, the family, the community, never in isolation. And it is not meant to foster a cult of personality - well, except perhaps in the case of Minnesota's brief infatuation with Jesse Ventura; still, that instance at least proves middle westerners have a sense of humor. When we focus attention on the person here, aren't we holding that character up as representative of the rest of us? Doesn't he become Anyman and isn't she Everywoman? And don't they exist only in connection with the tableaux upon which they live and act? Think of William Kloefkorn's Alvin Turner As Farmer: we have met him and he is us.

Perhaps this is the reason there aren't many "middle western" shows on American television: given who we are, we don't look like the heroes American television wants.


MAY 14, 1998

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We have had a warm winter and a moist spring. Will August be dry, the green grasses seared? Will autumn be a long chilly nightmare? No matter - today is bright and blue of sky.

I noticed last night a SOLD sign on the house along E north of Five Corners where the car had driven through the ditch onto the lawn last winter. It didn't take long to sell, did it? I'm told divorce is the reason it went on the market again so soon after it sold the first time. I will suggest that the process of building a house might bring a couple to divorce.

Mourning doves in the driveway again. Lilacs are opening at Weinkauf's, just north of Fairwater. I haven't seen the hawk for several days. Should I worry?

A faint haze in the distance, noticeable especially to the east.

The fellow is working his flower beds at Five Corners. A floppy hat, today. No cigar. Yet.

There are several fields south of Five Corners which haven't been worked yet, including some on high ground with corn rubble. Don't worry of it too soon, Tom, it is early in the season; and how is it your business anyway?

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