Hello hot dog olive and celery savory jello.

A quick jot. An unset jello as metaphor. It was this or take a walk. The sun is setting and it’s colder than I like for walking plus I am out of the habit plus I’d rather reheat homemade chicken noodle soup and entertainlie the possibilitylie that I will walk after eating. In the dark. Prolly won’t.

Doozy workdays, mélange of administrativa and planning, picking off to-dos before they have ripened into urgencies after the holiday week. That’s the sickness and the flame, to always be working onto some mythical horizon whereupon by doubling fevers today, there is presumed to be some lighter relief in sight for sweet tea on the porch of a new house, a nap, or where to string a hammock for pretending to read in afternoon daylight. My favorite word in this paragraph is mélange but I’m dulldim as can be with accents because lazy Anglophone and tonally clumsy. Can’t win ’em all with languaging; I’ll try to do better.

That photo is meant to be suspenseful, suspended and tottering on the question of is this serious or is this playful? Is this dessert or is this supper? Is this savory or is this sweet? Department holiday party is coming up; we were pink sludged with an email about it the other day. Sign up! Declare your dish! I’ve been wanting to make a jello mold, but then some friends joked that I should make a savory jello, and I thought what better way to transform a small-time joke into an unforgettable big top laugh riot than to actually make the savory jello. Pictured here. Weiners reinforced. Medley of green pimento-stuffed olives and celery for textural offset and palate cleansing. And then some kind of jello in the middle, but what kind is it. Bone broth? Pickle juice? Apple cider?

I wrote to Ph. and Is. and asked if they would indulge me a trial run. That’s where I make something for them to learn how to make it for others. Keeps the shortcomings in the family, quasi-private, and among the most trusteds. They’ll tell me if it’s good or if it isn’t. Their palates are refined and rangy, reflective of their disparate ages and experiences. But in this case, they responded with vomit emoji and that lurching stomach churn animated GIF from Dumb and Dumber. I am listening. I haven’t taken the next step on this one. Not yet. Anyway, celery was sold out at Kroger the other day. But I still have to come up with something for the holiday party, and it’s less than two weeks away. Gelatins have a way of calling you, beckoning, blinkering into a day, reminding you that they have congealing to do. So this is more like a beginning than an end.


A few clicks south along a gravel road and you’re there, a property serendipity or dumb luck or the Fates queued up for a look last Wednesday, just as I was giving up on the ridiculous Montgomery County, Va., housing market. Figured I would be renting indefinitely because who can spend all that time online sifting for leads, then schedule and go for a showing, only to find “pending” by the end of the day. Escalation clauses to 50k over asking. Same day cash offers. Waived inspections. But against the grain of improbabilities, then there’s one, and you only need one.

At 5.8 acres in an unincorporated part of the county, I thought it was a long shot. Right-priced. Low taxes. House plus a small guest cottage in back. Pair of workshop-studios. Went to see it. Another prospective buyer crowding in behind us, arriving early as we walked the perimeter, much of it across angular inclines then declines of as much as 200 feet, what in this region is, if you’re talking about the landform, known as a hollow, and if you’re talking about the auditory call-across-a-distance, then it’s a holler. Hollow or holler, it’s always only pronounced holler. Neither a valley nor a cove, a holler comes with a watercourse and little to no flat land. So I put in a good faith bid and waited. Extenuating circumstances had me waiting an extra day and then part of another. On Friday night, a decision: there was a second matching bid, but if we’d waive inspection, it was ours.

Aerial (drone) photograph with approximate property boundary added for southside Christiansburg house now under contract.

The waived inspection doesn’t worry me too too much.

Offer accepted and heaps of paperwork in motion, we went again this evening, a week later, to walk the perimeter again—having also done so on Saturday when we met the sellers who spend 2.5 hours generously going over the finer features, in addition to some idiosyncrasies I’m going to need reminded about. The water pump especially. For the creek or the pond. The electrical configurations for the two wired garages. The quality of HughesNet versus HollerNet. The spigot buried in the front yard. The location of the septic and drain field. Dwelling sorts it out one way or another.

But bears! This evening while walking the perimeter, there a mossy shelf, maybe 15×30-feet, there a knuckled ledge overlooking the holler, there a place for chickens, there a hoop house and garden, there a series of hooks for ladder storage, and there a dispatch of bear scat. And another. I think? I mean, what else? And it’s not like there is a cell signal available to Google bear isht til you get back to the apartment later on. No apps for identifying it definitively. Seller said they’d had a bear pull a trash barrel better than three-quarters of the way up the embankment. Presence of a bear or two accentuates a holler with special caution ahead of moving and planning. But they’re no more worrying than a waived inspection, and obviously they aren’t especially concerned about the location of the septic or drain field.

Whatever It Was

The worst of the past week’s viral blast has passed. First symptoms showed up last Tuesday, 9/14, and as of today the onslaught has dwindled to a cough. Now, with the deepest of deep inhalations possible, there comes an exertional tickle, what you’d imagine a balloon at its limits feels like could it feel anything at all. I’m in Michigan, and on Monday morning, I did try to set up a phone consultation with my doctor in Blacksburg, but the receptionist put me through to the scheduler, and the scheduler told me Doc was out sick and nobody else in the practice would be available to talk with me until at least Thursday. She wanted to make plain that she wasn’t a nurse but said, free advice being free, my best option was to monitor my O2 levels and to drive myself to a local Urgent Care if the fever roared back or if O2 levels went below 92. Saturation was 92 upon waking up Monday morning, but it hasn’t been that low again since. I just now checked it, and it was 99. On the mend is what I think that means.

Was it Covid? Was it not Covid? Omicron variant, maybe, or pi (n.b., this is me being playful; I really don’t know whether these are valid variants, and I have no reason to believe any specific variant was to blame). The PCR test administered on Thursday afternoon returned a negative reading by late Friday night. So what. I didn’t pursue another test. Here are a couple of things I learned (or wish to hold onto):

  1. The certification of illness as Covid or not Covid matters for mitigating transmission. Had I known definitively that it was Covid, I would have had slightly clearer protocols to follow insofar as isolation/quarantine. But I did that, anyway. There was no particular relevance otherwise in having validated whether this was a breakthrough case or not. I was vaccinated with Moderna in early April and early May. I was sick in a special and distinctively severe way in mid-September.
  2. In the midst of succumbing to this particular virus, the surest decision aids were 1) loved ones checking in with me regularly and reading back to me impressions of just how dilapidated I seemed to them, 2) a good thermometer, and 3) an oximeter. Loved ones could text and ask about my temp and O2 levels. And among the three decision aids, I could more or less lucidly make judgments about whether it was time to go to Urgent Care or an ER.
  3. The two scariest nights were when I did not yet have the oximeter and when I turned in nighty night having read among many accounts of Covid (breakthrough cases and regular cases) about how dark and long is the night. Raised doubts, small questions about seeing another day, and those questions can grow from one hour to the next. This was not quite an “oh shit, I might die” scenario, but it played out at a narrower edge of self-attentiveness than I’ve dwelt at in some time.
  4. About the symptoms: most were erratic, clutching and releasing from one hour to the next, then redoubling and doing the same with rangy intensity for the messiest 72 hours of the ordeal. Peak temp was 101.7F/38.72C. I don’t have a scale here in Michigan, but I’d guess I shed 5-8 lbs./2.3-3.6kg (from my usual weight of 213lbs/96.6kg). O2 was from Saturday through Monday between 92-95. One reading of O2 came in at 87 on Saturday. The morbilliform-like rash was the most unfamiliar and unpredictable symptom. In varied densities, it appeared everywhere except my hands and feet, with especially dense clusters on my torso. But it was only faintly uncomfortable; more like my skin reporting that something deserving of a fever was brewing on the inside.

I think that’s it, just about everything worth sharing.

Covid Not Covid and Other Diagnostics

I’ve been hosting a virus, posing as a walking symptoms checklist, and sicker than [vivid hyperbole] for now going on five days. Thought I’d get down a few notes about what it is, what it isn’t, and what’s ahead, offering as pretext that this is surely the sickest I’ve been in the past decade and perhaps in all of my adult life. Unless that’s just how we remember sickness: today’s blergh always outmeasures those blerghs who thrashed us but whose thrashings are only accessible through undocumented recall. Allowing for recency bias, I’ll say it anyway. This is a solid multiple more severe than the worst flus and about even with the walking pneumonia I hosted for a few weeks in my late 20s.

Here’s something of a timeline: Last Sunday, drive to Michigan, tired but steady. Monday, typical workday of email and meetings, all remote, but not feeling especially much like myself insofar as energy goes. Tuesday, had a shower and afterward noticed spots on my torso. I’m not prone to rashes, besides poison ivy, and this was very faint, not especially itchy. I made sense of it by imagining that Ph. had picked up some Dollar Store Gain knock off washing powder for soccer gear and used it to “clean” the towel I’d happened to use. Therein something didn’t agree with my delicate porcelain skin. (No, I was wrong; sorry for even thinking such a thing was possible, Ph.!). Went to Is.’s volleyball match at Northville, masked the entire time. On Wednesday, the rash had expanded, and I was beginning to feel symptomatic: sniffles, achiness, acute fatigue, intense headache, shortness of breath. There was more rash around my torso–stomach, kidneys, upper glutes–and appearing but somewhat lesser on my arms. I picked Is. up from school and learned there that volleyball practice was cancelled for 9th grade and varsity teams due to a positive Covid result for a player. JV (that’s Is.’s team), however, would have practice. As my own symptoms expanded and intensified, I decided to schedule a PCR test for Thursday afternoon; Is. already had one at approximately the same time, and although she was feeling pretty much fine and although she would be able to get an antigen test on Thursday, we had a plan. Based on my symptoms, including the rash, erratic fever, and muted/masked sensations of smell and taste, I anticipated a positive result from the test.

On Thursday, I had just one meeting, an interview with a colleague doing research, and I was able to show up for it and keep things on track. But outside of the meeting, I was increasingly waylaid by and concerned about intensifying headaches, deepening fatigue, an expanding rash (about 30% of my body by this time), and more trouble breathing. The breathing issues were all dry, for the most part, like lung capacity is being slowly drawn down until you are only able to fill what feels like half or one-third of normal capacity. There’s a parallel anxiety in this, right?, due to the known respiratory challenges faced by Covid hosts. Being vaccinated (Moderna, April 6 and May 6) and otherwise healthy leading up to the moment of infection, I was visited by thoughts (to say nothing of readily accessible news clips) about those who don’t make it through the night. I was also reading up on morbilliform rashes and hoping for a quick return on the PCR results.

On Friday, I also had just one meeting. Third day significantly symptomatic, with everything intensifying. Utterly unpleasant. I sat through the meeting and even spoke up a time or two but noticed that utterances were clipped and quakey due to irregular and unreliable lungwork. Sententia, don’t we know it, need wind or there’s no setting sail (aside: I think I remember Crowley and Hawhee noting that sentences as units of thought were also units of breath, the lengths of which were determined by lung capacity; up next for me, much shorter sentences). Nobody could tell because Zoom, but I was drenched with fever sweat by the end of the one hour call. Good times. I decided then that I’m taking some time in the week ahead just to find footing with whatever in hell is going on. On Friday night I couldn’t sleep because lungs were all kinds of unpredictable and unreliable and uncomfortable. At 12:45 a.m., the text arrived saying the PCR results were in. I checked the CVS portal: negative.

By this point in the week, the few people prone to worrying about me were really starting to be concerned. A. very graciously had sent via Instacart a bounty of deliverables that arrived on Saturday–Vernors, Gatorade, stuff for grilled cheese and soup, so much of what I needed. And in a second order, a Pulse Oximeter, which is a jimmy jammy whose function is to readout pulse and blood O2 levels. I was so far fogged by this point that I couldn’t even set the thing up because I couldn’t figure out how to get the batteries lined up in it. When I did, pulse was 83, O2 was 92. That’s low. Not quite rush-to-the-hospital low, but quite low. I timed the number of inhalations I was getting in one minute: 14. That was solidly where it should be, between 12-16 on average. And then I also called my primary care physician in Blacksburg and found the number then called the on-call physician at Carillion to ask a few questions: If this isn’t a breakthrough Covid case, what is it? And how compromised does my breathing need to be before I go in? The answers, with all due respect, were very textbook, along the lines of how I am in good health and how I am not at risk of dying, so it’s best to rest and hydrate and wait it out. Two telltale indicators backing this stance: 1) my fever only went as high as 101 F and it hadn’t locked in at that point for long, so there wasn’t a steady, prolonged, or especially alarming fever associated with this, and 2) I didn’t have any throat soreness, so although the cough and shortness of breath were serious, this didn’t sound like strep or measles or scarlet fever or Covid.

Today’s Sunday, Day Five of this round of symptoms. The rash is fading, but seriously, folks, let me tell you that if you’d seen the rash, it’s alarming. I took photos. I won’t post them here yet, not today. But I thought I should have them in case they prove relevant for anyone else trying to sleuth through whatever this is. Whatever this is. That’s the other significant issues weighing on me now: I don’t know what it is. Not even a family of possibly associated diseases. Cold? Flu? God help us all. Rubella? Measles? Doesn’t add up. I’ll call my doctor tomorrow to talk through this, but I don’t know that anyone will care because by then I will be more definitively on the mend. About the mend: for the past 48 hours, the worst of the symptoms are that I have coughing fits and related headaches. I can’t sleep at night because of this shortness of breath. I also can’t talk. Every utterance beyond four words is followed by a painfully intense coughing fit.

I have more to say about all of this and also a to be continued. I’ll try to return and write through more of this on Monday or Tuesday.


This here is a short piece about how children say what they say and it sticks. “Short” because of the number of words. Short so short it might also be called “flash” because this piece happened in one sitting and didn’t take much time. Very little rethinking. Very little editing. “Piece” because that’s a way of saying unit of writing that’s not essay or article or blog or tweet or chapter or status update. What is it to always run away from the stale names for units of discourse (units big enough to be called genres and not small enough to be waysided as low order minutiae).

🔝 That is a slow wind-up. But I’m gonna let it stand, “short piece” or “flash” being a writerly hit of Fuckitol.

When Is. was a wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–having begun to compare sizes of things, she recognized I was taller than many other fully grown adults, and putting height+BMI descriptors to work, came up with the name for me, Daddy Biggie. Some days, maybe it was Biggie Daddy. It was cute and descriptive and earnest. Fine by me. And delightful, a source of joy.

Some years later, now that T. has so swiftly grew to be wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–upwelled the question, what’ll be the names she’ll use for grandparents. She has awesome grandparents. The local ones, incredibly giving and loving. I just so happen to be T.’s least-known grandparent, also the grandparent who lives farthest away, who is most tattooed, most Virginian, and so on. Tallest. Because I am at a distance of approximately 500 miles removed, living the farthest away from where the everyday action is there in SE Michigan, time and proximity are precious. Profound are the lessons in time’s passage and in missing.

To the question: What’ll be the names? To be fair, I was consulted, but I credit her aunt Is., now 15, with cementing the reference and supporting, developmentally, T.’s referring to me as Pawpaw Biggie. Pawpaw is a name for a yellowfruit, it’s true, but it’s also afoot and circulating as a southern-regional variation on grandpa. Heckuva lot better than “peepaw,” another variation. And “Biggie,” well, that also stands up to time, descriptive, earnest, delightful, a source of joy.

I really do think T. gave the name a good faith try. And yet morphemes morph. Pawpaw Biggie next Pawpaw Piggy. When in May I picked up Is. from her house, T. in the doorway expressing sendaway wishes said, “Bye, Is.! Bye, Pig!” And then in a recent text message, Is. wrote so share with me that when T. was going to sleep, lulled by a who’s who tiredness litany, “x is going to bed; y is exhausted, too,” she asked, “Is Pawpaw Piggy sleepy?” Sure is sleepy, child. And smiling. Who on this earth gets to be called Pig?

Figure 1. It’s June 2021 and we’re at Go! Ice Cream in Ypsi., T., Is., Ph., and me getting our order together, here gesturally describing the bowl option relative to the cone option. (Photo by Is.)

A serendipitous enunciative event is pig’s alliterative click–Varaha snorted!–and it is there, penned up top among the finest mudrolls of 2021. With it have been unexpected echoes, too, for one a reminder that my mom had a pigculiar interest in swine–more a collector’s persistent return and accumulation of tchotchkes than a researcher’s study, but valid all the same: a hand-made rocking pig, piggy banks, and for some years a real interest in getting+keeping a pig as a pet. Dream what you will, now as then. I don’t really want or need anything more from this Pawpaw Piggy moment than to note it, as if at a trough well stocked with discarded cabbages and other random table scraps and memories, weird fuel sourcing smiles every time after all. 🐖

Anise Hyssop

Figure 1. Anise hyssop, purple and abuzz with pollinators, mid-July thriving in front of Ypsilanti condo.

Next to the place where the over-zealous condominium association leadership by proxy of some hack “arborist” removed the crooked and wise sugar maple a couple of years ago, last year I dropped in a few anise hyssop starters, a gardening feat for someone so passively and disinterestedly tending to the outdoor spaces at this Ypsilanti condo. I could and probably should do better. And yet I also find appealing the unkemptness, the uneven and grass covered stone edge, the anything-whatever arbitrariness of a holly and a lilac keeping watch, a misshapen cedar hedge, lemon balm, sage, and leafy etcetera, green etcetera. I assume most passers-by shrug and nobody complains to me, so it is fine. The mess is honest.

About those anise shoots: they are full, vibrant, and alive with hope. Unexpected! Especially unexpected is the high level of bee activity from dark of morning to dark of evening, bees gooping pollenspecks until their collectors are heaped, glowing orange packs what? maybe half their body weight. The condo and its immediate surrounds are so modest they hardly call for a deep map. Flaking brown brick. Vinyl windows out of warranty. But the years here, even the choppy recent years with months between stays, and behind the weird calendar of living in two places are these paradoxes of banal magic–always there but awesomely there when the attention is slow and direct. Being at the condo for a few unhurried days in late July, I have more time for that kind of attention-giving, slow and direct. If summer holidays had resolutions, this one now–today–would include a rededication to that slow and direct attending, refilling on that edge of humanness haloed and intersurrounding where heavy bees pull at purple flowers next to a front porch step.

Hail Possible

Figure 1. Office window during a heavy rainstorm.

Shanks 315, a Thursday afternoon, sideways rain crosshatched with 45 degree angled rain crosshatched with vertical rain crosshatched with my own break from letter writing crosshatched with a curiosity about whether this WordPress app I’ve had my my phone since forever will actually Thunder! Lightning!

Brought my umbrella, good thing. Will walk home between 5-6 after the rain has passed, good thing. App works for posting, good thing.

Father’s Day

  1. Is. is in Virginia with me this week. We’re eating and driving and hiking. Giles County yesterday. Floyd County today. A supreme pizza from Palisades yesterday. Sandwiches at the Floyd Country Store for lunch today. It’s Father’s Day. That’d the day each year when the full spectrum of fathers get recognized. Fathers living, fathers dead. Fathers uplifting, fathers downputting. Fathers drinking-always-drunk, fathers ascetic straight-edge sober. Lovingkind fathers, bully and dipshit fathers, too. Fathers present, fathers absent. I could go on. Or you could.
  2. The clock on fatherhood started for me with a kind of hidden compartment around 1997. So that’s 24 years ago. It was also on a Sunday that year (as every year?), Sunday, June 15. My mom had died four days earlier. For all I know or fail to recall, might’ve been the day we buried her. Nobody considered me a father right there and then. But there was enough build-up building that I figured I’d be resigning my job in Detroit (well, Bingham Farms), moving to KC again, and stepping up to see things through with Ph.
  3. This Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ph.’s birth certificate. I keep a clean, minimalist desk. Not a whole lot of shit on it. A bum hard drive we could call Fickle Lacie 2 TB or Crapola Lacie 2 TB. A dancing bears coffee mug holds pens. A standard mouth quart Ball jar has some change in it. If I had to guess, I’d guess it’s $6.85 in change. A lamp. A computer. A wire thingamabob for holding books open. And a few note cards, which I use for making to-do lists. Folded alongside the note cards is a copy of Ph.’s adoptive birth certificate. It was issued in 2001. Four years lapsed from the time my mom died to then the adoption was official and materially certificate-able.
  4. I’ve carried that certificate in my work bag for twenty years. At least four or five work bags in that time. Always had it with me, knowing someone somewhere would ask to see it. I didn’t need to get it out very often. But while in grad school at Syracuse, when driving across southern Ontario and crossing at Buffalo-Niagara or Sarnia-Port Huron or Windsor-Detroit, best have it ready. Border keepers would ask, skeptical: how do y’all know each other? And the certificate had damn well be in my work bag or otherwise close at hand.
  5. Sometime in April, I was checking into the possibilities of buying a house in or around Blacksburg. Getting a pre-approval letters, as one does in this rabid wolfpack of a housing market. And in rummaging for my passport (so infrequently needed during Covid), I found Ph.’s birth certificate. Gave it a long-held pause and close look: the paper giving up at the creases, surrendering to time and folds, a spill of something like sunscreen splotching a translucent freeform over two-thirds of it, or maybe that’s just the outline of human heart. Could be.
  6. Ph. turned 30 in March, so you’d think that nobody in the world would still be carrying around his birth certificate, which is not at all to say thinking about it constantly, but always ready to be asked. I suppose that’s why the folded old mess of a dilapidated photocopy, in its journey to eventually, inevitably being discarded, only made it from my work bag to the place where it is now tucked innocuously by the blank note cards between the dancing bears mug and the big spender change jar. What’s merely a sheet of paper, a scraplet of an event long ago settled, I think I’ll continue holding onto it for now. Another few weeks or months or more.
Back in late May, the 30th, T. and me sitting down with two donuts for sharing: a sour cream and a creme-filled long john. I check out the stickiness on my hands for some precognitive tactile habit–am I gonna need a napkin? And then T., with that cure-all attentiveness, here holding a kind of echo gesture, as Is. or was it Ph. clicked a photo. What is this but grandfatherhood?

NULL’s Best Guess – Tournament Pick’em Invitation

It’s time again for the EWM Yahoo! NCAA men’s basketball tournament pick’em – 17th annual-ish. Just like whatever year it was when we did this last, we’re using Fibonacci scoring (2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21), and going with modest upset bonuses, +1 point for upsets in the first round, +2 for upset picks after that. Everyone is welcome to join this pool, which will include some of the most steady-handed dart flingers of all time. There’s no time time for consulting with your local misfortune teller, ordering new eyeglasses, staring into the sun (never advisable) while wondering about the rate at which your bracket will wither if you choose that team you kind of love.

Sign up! Free, free, FREE, yes, free to you: join this year’s group on Yahoo!, NULL’s Best Guess (ID#29676). If you have questions, elbow me with all you’ve got via email at dereknmueller at gmail.com. Invite your friends, frenemies, faux-frenemies, Canadian compadres, social media snobs, wishful critical thinkers, mentors, interim interim interim associate provosts, outrageous sentiment analysts, multicolor kitchen molds, too-long-didn’t-readers, spendthrifts who subscribe to more than three streaming media services, people who can’t ever seem to find the goat yogurt at Kroger, friends of Appalachian folk artists, people who say they train on a bike but who haven’t trained on a bike in over a month, candy-sneaking flexitarians, Ypsilanti tattoo artists, grandchildren dancing to the baby shark video, snail racers, assessment Jedi, the miscreant living in the upstairs apartment who does floor+ceiling thumping Jazzercise in the six a.m. hour every god-blessed day including Daylight Saving Time spring ahead day, etc. The group has space for the next 49 who sign up. Giant stakes: reputations are made (and quickly forgotten) right here.

Yahoo! Tournament Pick’em
Group: NULL’s Best Guess (ID# 29676)
“17th annual-ish.”

Firm up your selections any time between the selection show on Sunday evening, March 14, and first tip of the round of 64, sometime around noon EDT on Thursday, March 18.


Let’s call this one “Painting Among the Decaying Birds, July 1991” or “Coop.”

Nearly thirty years have gone by, but I can not forget that first job after high school, working for Coyne Oil & Propane. Didn’t have any description to pair with it, and I was 17, so didn’t pause to care for long about how the job was defined, what amounted to a do-anything unskilled generalist, some days refilling the windshield washer tubs mounted near the fuel terminal or sweeping the engine-leaks-absorbing clay pellets scattered on the concrete where fleet vehicles parked while fueling. Other days painting lines on parking spaces, emptying garbage, or loading grime-covered empty barrels by hand into the back of a semi trailer, one by one by one. When the weather cooperated, most days involved painting propane tanks. I wrote about it once before, several years ago (“Propane“), keying on some of the flashbacks to that job and how it was set up, the Ford half-ton flatbed I drove when the tanks were in the field and the rickety front loader whose hydraulics were so breezy, to hoist a tank initiated game show-like countdown, racing to paint the tank’s underside before it lowered to the ground.

It was an iffy first job. Minimum wage was, what?, maybe $4.25 an hour in 1991. The beige paint came in five gallon buckets with exclamatory warning labels about its toxicity and how you should avoid contact with your skin, but day in and day out for months my hands were covered with the stuff.

Iffy, too, were some of the situations that presented with the off-site, in-the-field painting. Some of the tanks were a mess–surfaces pocked and rusted and impossible to refinish with the limited tools I had available; many of the sites were heinous, too–tanks converged upon by tall weeds or branches, swallowed up by their surrounds, much of which the homeowners preferred to have left undisturbed. But there weren’t many rules, otherwise, and the only lines of communication were when one of the Coyne brothers who owned the company would receive a phone call of request or complaint.

The drawing up top returns again to the unforgettable excursion to a remote, wooded lot north of Farwell, Mich. A trailer in the trees with an ad hoc perimeter of chicken wire around, lazy-tacked stakes leaning, and inside that perimeter, the 330-gallon propane tank sat stably on blocks. I knocked on the door to alert them to my being there; but the adults inside were gravely ambivalent, vaguely gesturing “go on” without getting up from where they sat watching television. And in the side-yard, in that coop, all around the tank, dead, decaying chickens were strewn about right where the universe had left them–unfed to the point of starving, maybe, or subjected to a weasel’s spree. Who knows. Not the finest hour of my work life, tending to the job, stepping across the piles of putrid feathers abuzz with flies, getting out my painting supplies, pouring a roller pan full of beige paint, and rolling until the tank glistened, there in the shade. Naked or half-dressed, little kids ate cherry popsicles and watched from the window, onlookers almost like at one of those live sidewalk art performances in Chicago or New York, only humbler.

The memory comes up. This time, I drew about it, then wrote a few lines. Grand lessons, I don’t know, probably not. I do wonder if anyone has had to paint that tank since. How those kids are doing. Whether the residents got right with raising chickens and had a better go of it. Coop is of those memories that raises up any time I have a bad day at work. I suppose that’s why this was such a good first job after high school to have, painting propane tanks this way. At least it’s not that July 1991 excursion again. At least there aren’t dead and decaying chickens scattered about the place.