Archive for February, 2012

Written Directions

Take interstate 85 North until you’re in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Drive almost as far as the Virginia state line, but before you’re quite there take exit 223 (Manson Road). You will see signs directing you to some sort of historic site—I can’t imagine what. Turn right at the top of the exit ramp. When the road ends, turn left onto 158 East. Follow 158 through Roanoke Rapids and no matter what time it is stop and eat at Ralph’s Barbecue. After leaving Ralph’s, continue on 158 through Jackson and Murfreesboro. If you are feeling hungry again, you can get more barbecue at Whitley’s in Murfreesboro. It’s a little bit of a detour off the main route, though, and I don’t remember how to get there exactly.

From Murfreesboro you have about another hour of driving ahead of you. You might spot a secondhand furniture store in one of the small towns along the way, where several choice pieces spill out the door and onto the sidewalk to lure you in. One piece will probably have a white piece of cardboard taped to it, reading “Chester Drawers $50.” 

Continue on 158 to Gatesville. Once you’ve followed the road through the center of town you’ll come to a flashing light where you have to turn right to stay on 158. Turn right and cross a bridge with an old grist mill. The next turn will be a left onto Muddy Cross Road. I think this is Highway 37. Or is it Highway 32?  It’s one or the other. If you pass the Planters Peanuts silo you’ve gone too far so turn around immediately and drive slowly until you find Muddy Cross. If you pass a group of barns on your right, including one that is situated so that it will appear as if you are going to drive straight into its open doors, then you’ve gone just a tad too far again and will have to turn around. Muddy Cross is between that group of barns and the Planters Peanuts silo.

Once you’re successfully on Muddy Cross Road, drive until it ends and take a left, then an immediate right onto Sandy Cross Road. Follow Sandy Cross for several miles, taking care not to hit a dog that may decide to amble across the road to find some shade. Once you cross a little bridge overhung by dark trees, begin to drive more slowly until you see a sign for Nicanor. The train used to pass through Nicanor, and one day longtime back someone shot at the train as it passed and killed a man who happened to be standing outside the caboose smoking a cigar. The shooter and his friends turned themselves in to the authorities. The train hasn’t run through here in more than half a century and all that’s left of Nicanor is its sign.

As soon as you can read the Nicanor sign and before you drive past it, turn left onto Turnpike Road. Go past a grove of young pine trees and the Up River Cemetery (it’ll be on your left), then take the next right onto Up River Road. A field of infinite possibilities is on the left; Grandma’s house is on the right.


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Image Source Page: http://indiepreneur.org/2008/06/leasing-space-in-an-antique-mall/Over time, even living in an antiques emporium can become routine. Adele enjoyed the excitement of avoiding detection, and she loved collecting things from other booths to decorate her own space. Of course, things were sometimes removed when someone bought them, but there were always new vases, figurines, or books to borrow. When Adele removed something from another booth she took care to rearrange things—tidy up, really—so that she left the booth looking even more inviting. The Emporium enjoyed an uptick in sales as a result of her ministrations.

One night, Adele had trouble falling asleep. She had placed a pint of milk in the refrigerator of the café, and she finally decided to get up and drink the milk, hoping it would help her sleep.

Scott Jako had worked late at the Pin & Ink tattoo shop, trying to finish his sketches for a medieval knight tattoo. He was still pondering the intricacies of the design as he passed the Emporium on his way out of the mall. A movement to his right made him stop. There shouldn’t have been any movement inside the Emporium. As he watched, a white-gowned figure turned a corner, disappearing from view. He stood there for several seconds, then turned around, thinking perhaps he’d seen a reflection. But the mall was empty. He looked into the darkened windows of the Emporium again, but all was still.


On Election Day, a young man came into the Emporium and stopped at the front desk. He wore a Pale Rider Machine concert t-shirt with an “I Voted” sticker on the right sleeve. He asked Len if it were true that the Emporium had a ghost.

“Ghost?” Len said. His dark, foxy eyes were like beads on an abacus, calculating, calculating.

“Yeah! The guy at Pin & Ink saw a ghost in here one night, late. You haven’t seen it?” The young man was clearly disappointed.

“Not personally,” Len said smoothly, “but I have heard tales. There are some extremely old pieces here. There’s no telling what sort of spirit might still be attached to some of them.”

“I think I’ll take a look around,” the Pale Rider fan said. He came back 20 minutes later with several albums from the 1970s and 80s. “This place is awesome,” he said. “I’ll be back, I can promise you that.”

“Didn’t see the ghost, though?” Len asked, writing up the sale. “That comes to $12.62.”

“Nah.” The Pale Rider fan shook his head. “But I tell you, man, that old lady in the shadows? She nearly made me pee.”

Len smiled and gave the kid his change. “Thanks for coming in,” he said. “Come back, and tell your friends.”

“Absolutely, man.”

That night Governor Paul Patrick won the gubernatorial election. Adele listened to the radio behind the front counter and clicked it off as soon as Governor Madigan conceded.  “Well, that’s that,” she said, and she went to Booth #48 to go to bed and try to sleep. As insecure as her position should have felt already, she felt even less secure now, knowing the type of person who would be running the state in a couple of months. 

She slept poorly, and felt listless the next day. To make matters worse, Len stopped her as she walked past on her way to get lunch and said, “Adele, dear, do you never go home?”

Adele looked straight into his beady eyes and said, “Of course I go home, Len! I love my home. Matter of fact, that’s where I’m headed right now. Want to come have lunch with me? It’s going to be grilled cheese and tomato soup.” She lifted her head higher and gazed steadily at him.

For a terrible moment she feared that he would accept, but he shook his head and said, “No thank you, Adele. But what a kind offer! Maybe another time, dear, when I’m less busy.”

She left the Emporium through the exit to the parking lot rather than going through the mall, and walked to the bus stop. If Len were watching, he could see her get on the bus. She rode to the public library and spent the afternoon there. Lack of sleep and anxiety made her feel almost ill. She walked over to a sandwich shop for a late lunch, then took the bus back to the mall. The Redbud van was parked near the main doors. She thought how wonderful it would be to climb aboard and wait for Rick to drive her and the others back to Redbud. She even thought momentarily that she could conceal herself somewhere until nightfall, then sleep on the couch in the Gathering Room. Really? Hadn’t she humiliated herself enough?

Adele walked into the mall and staked out the Emporium, watching from a bench near a fountain. Len left the front desk from time to time, but when he did she couldn’t tell where he had gone, and of course had no way of knowing how long he would be away. Finally, one of the booth renters came in to take a turn at the front desk, and Len put on his coat and exited to the parking lot. Adele quietly entered the Emporium from the mall side, selected a book quickly from Booth #12, and read while locked in the handicapped stall of the ladies’ room until closing time.

Then, with enormous relief and a determination to go straight to bed, she went to her booth to touch base and sit for a minute in her rocker. She was so focused that it took long seconds for it to register:  Len was seated in her rocking chair. Adele’s heart froze.

“Good evening, Adele,” Len said, with his sharp, foxy smile. “You know, I’m afraid that I will have to cancel your booth rental. We have that right, of course—to refuse to rent to anyone who we deem undesirable. Where shall I send your things? Or do you want me to sell everything for you? The commission would be 20%.”

Adele looked around her booth. “Sell it all,” she said abruptly. “I’ll just take my clothes and things. Please call a cab for me while I get packed.” Len nodded, rose, and stalked away.

Adele sat in the rocker for a moment, wishing she could pretend that nothing else existed and that she could sit there forever, in the gloom at the back of the Emporium. Finally she stood and began to gather her clothing, prescriptions, and toiletries and packed them into two tote bags. She went to Booth #48 for her nightgown, Booth #20, where her winter coat hung on a Victorian wrought iron coat rack, and Booth #39. There she opened the old roll top desk and removed the $35 stashed in the secret drawer. She put on her coat and returned to her rocking chair to wait.

Minutes later, Len announced over the intercom, “Adele, Yellow Cab is here to collect you.”

To collect me, she thought. Wouldn’t that be nice? To be collected, perhaps placed in a lighted china cabinet where the temperature was always regular and there was nothing to worry about. Or placed on a special shelf with other treasures, up high where she could be admired. She struggled to her feet, picked up her purse and her bags, and left.

“Good-bye, Adele,” Len said flatly as she passed the front desk.

“Good-bye, Len. I’ll send you a forwarding address.” She stepped out the door to the parking lot. The air was cold and clear; the sun was setting in a wash of lavender and pink. The taxi driver stood beside the car; he took her two bags and stowed them in the trunk while she settled into the back seat.

“Where you going on this beautiful evening?” he asked cheerfully as he slid back behind the steering wheel and turned to look at her.

Where am I going? Back to Redbud, to beg for temporary shelter? Where was one supposed to go in situations like this? A hospital, or police station?

Adele adjusted her seat belt and straightened her spine. “I’ve got $35,” she said. “Let’s drive over to the governor’s mansion.”


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Image Source Page: http://indiepreneur.org/2008/06/leasing-space-in-an-antique-mall/Adele and Sarah were seated on the front row the day that Governor Paul Patrick addressed the residents of the Redbud Home. He began by giving a considerably weakened version of his stump speech, then he took questions from the audience.

“Mr. Patrick?” Adele said, standing. Everyone turned to look at her as she stood, a slim, tough little woman with an extremely firm jaw.

“Call me Governor,” Patrick smiled.

“But you’re not the governor, and thank you for giving me the chance to say that I think changing your first name to Governor was a sneaky, underhanded thing to do. But that’s not what I care about. I care about all this talk about closing Head Start centers, nursing homes, and what have you. I thought we lived in a civilized society, where we took care of less fortunate people. That’s all I wanted to say.” Adele sat down abruptly, and Sarah Painter cheered and raised her walker a few inches off the floor, as if she wanted to brandish it. No one else said a word, though, and Patrick continued smoothly on, as if nothing had been said.


Over the course of several weeks, Adele took the Redbud Retirement Home van to the mall every time it made the trip (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays).  Soon she was well-known by the co-owners of the Antiques Emporium, Len and Harry.

“Hi, Adele!” Len said breezily when she walked in. He was youngish, and he made Adele think of a small forest animal. He had a face rather wedge-shaped like a fox’s and variegated bleached hair like a hedgehog’s quills. “Are you finally going to buy something today?”

“The truth is, I’m more interested in selling.” Adele put her black tote bag on the floor in front of the counter. “I’ve got some odds and ends I need to dispose of, and some small pieces of furniture. How much does it cost to rent a booth here, Len?”

“Depends on size and location,” Len said. He pulled out a schematic of the Emporium to show her. Before he could say another word, Adele jabbed her finger down on one of the squares.  “Ah. Booth 79. That one’s a 10 by 10, so it would rent for $100 a month.”

“It’s dark back there,” Adele said. “It’s in the furthest back corner, and there’s no direct light source. What about that?”

“It is a bit dark,” Len conceded. “But that’s where the booth operator has a chance to show off her design skills. A lamp or two, and the ambiance would be delightful.”

“There’s not an electrical outlet in the booth,” Adele said. “I checked. I’ll take it, but only if I can get a discount. What can you do for me?”

Len studied Adele, and then the schematic. “I can give it to you for $90 a month,” he said. “But you’ll have to pay a 10% fee for each sale that you make, and you’ll need to be available to work the front counter the second Saturday of each month.”

Adele stood on tiptoe to look over the counter. There was a high bar stool back there for sitting, with an upholstered back and seat. “Fine,” she said.

“You’ll need to pay two months’ rent up front,” Len added smoothly. He pulled out a one-page contract and, using a red pen to mark certain important passages, explained it to her rapidly. He filled in the monthly rent and the booth number, then signed the bottom. Adele read the contract through. She borrowed Len’s red pen and drew a line through a sentence about not using extension cords (“I’ll need one to put in a lamp”) and then she, too, signed the contract.

While Len made her a copy of the signed agreement, Adele wrote a check for $180.

“Now, dear,” Len said with a false smile, “here’s your contract, and a sheet of price stickers to get you started. Remember to put your booth number on each sticker with the price, or you won’t get credit for the sale. We can’t help you move your things into the booth, but there’s a dolly in the back that you are welcome to use. It’s available on a fiirst come, first served basis.”

“Thank you. I’ll be just fine. Now tell me: What’s the schedule for the cleaning of the Emporium? I don’t want my corner, dark as it is, to be neglected.”

Len explained that a cleaning crew came in each morning around 7:00 a.m. and cleaned the bathrooms, café, and front counter area. “Once a week they vacuum the aisles,” he said, “but they will not disturb the booths, which are the responsibility of the booth operator.”

“Perfect,” Adele said. “And will I be able to access my booth when the Emporium is closed?”

“No, dear. You’ll need to arrange to move things in and out during normal hours, which are 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. All of that information is on the back of your contract. You may stay in the Emporium after 6:00 p.m., but you’ll have to use the mall exit to get out, and once you leave you will not be able to get back in, so do be sure to carry your purse with you. Mall security will not be able to let you back in. Clear?”

“As a bell.”

Adele informed the administrators at the Redbud Home that she would move out at the end of the month. They said the proper things about how sorry they were to see her go, and in a gently patronizing way they inquired where she’d be going.

“I’ll be moving in with a friend,” Adele said. It wasn’t a complete lie, although from what she had seen of Len and his partner, they wouldn’t have been friends under normal circumstances. She told the Redbud folks that she would like to have her rocking chair, sewing table, lamp, and cedar chest moved to a booth at the new Antiques Emporium, where the items were to be sold. How could this be arranged?

She was pleased when they offered to have Rick take her things to the Emporium on the van. “Wonderful!” Adele said. The Redbud people were so accommodating. She would miss that.

Rick enlisted the help of a young maintenance worker. They got on either end of Adele’s cedar chest and lifted. Rick put his end back down. “Don’t you need to empty this before we move it?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s empty!” Adele said brightly. “Except for a few odds and ends that I plan to sell.”  Lying was certainly becoming a natural habit, she thought. She had used packing tape to seal the drawer of her sewing table and the lid to the chest so that Rick wouldn’t have a chance to see inside. Once her things were loaded onto the van, Adele climbed in with a shopping bag and her largest purse. Most of her clothing, photos, books, and knick-knacks were in the cedar chest. The shopping bag and purse contained her nightgown, three pairs of socks, five pairs of underpants, and a bottle of Jergens lotion.

Rick drove the van around to the loading dock at the back of the Emporium, and he and his helper moved her furniture to Booth #79. Adele fussed around with the arrangement of the furniture. As she looked back at the booth before leaving to return to Redbud, she realized that it needed a rug to make it a little cozier.

At first Adele had worried about video surveillance in the Emporium; there were signs warning of closed-circuit cameras at the end of each aisle. But people simply didn’t think that senior citizens could hear or see or probably even think very clearly, and on one of her forays into the mall she overhead Len and Harry arguing about the cameras. Len had neglected to get them installed, and now he was balking about paying for them. “The signs will discourage shoplifters,” he said.

Adele pulled out her contract. There it was, plain as day: The Antiques Emporium will provide video surveillance 24 hours a day. Len was already in breach of contract. Why was she not surprised?

Now that she knew she wasn’t being watched, her next challenge was to find safe places to tuck her belongings. The drawer in her sewing table was shallow—and it would be natural for customers to open it. She had planted a “Not for Sale” sticker on her cedar chest, but it was awkward to get in and out of and was filled with her clothes. She toured the Emporium and eventually devised several caches: She used the “Not for Sale” suitcase in Booth #48 for her nightgowns, since she would be sleeping there.

Next, she found a roll-top desk similar to one that her great-uncle Willie had owned. Adele moved a piece of the decorative oak molding on the front, and she was not entirely surprised when a capacious secret drawer opened. She knew that the drawer was still a secret, because she found $35 inside. She left the money there and lined up her five pill bottles inside. She only had seven days to make her final move now, because that was all the medication that she had back at Redbud in her Pill-Minder.


The first night she spent in the Emporium was filled with heart-fluttering excitement because Adele had no idea what to expect. At 5:45 p.m., Harry announced that shoppers should bring their purchases to the front counter to check out. He made a final announcement ten minutes later, and the lights in the store dimmed. By 6:15 the place was deserted except for Len and Harry. They finished closing the store and she heard the doors lock shortly after 6:30.

Adele relaxed a bit, and considered the long evening ahead of her. She went to Booth #48 and pulled her nightgown out of the suitcase. She arranged it on the bed and turned back the coverlet. There were no sheets on the bed, but she had brought a top sheet from Redbud. She would double it and sleep inside the layers, under the coverlet.

She had picked up a fish sandwich and a small vanilla shake from McDonald’s at 5:00, but she’d been too nervous to eat before the Emporium was closed and she was safely locked in. Now she returned to her booth and ate. The piano lamp she had plugged into an outlet in the booth that backed hers cast so much shadow that she figured if she sat very still in the corner the cleaning crew could vacuum the aisle and never even notice her. She felt alternately terrified and pleased.

Adele carried her McDonald’s trash to the ladies’ room and disposed of it, retrieved her toothbrush and toothpaste from the antique biscuit tin on a shelf, and rubbed moisturizer vigorously onto her face and neck. She then went to Booth #48, carrying her tote bag. She changed into her gown and pulled her slippers and alarm clock from the tote. It was only 7:40. She set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and placed the clock on the “Not for Sale” suitcase beside the bed. Then she pulled a flashlight from her tote and padded softly to Booth #12, where she selected a book from its floor-to-ceiling bookcases and carried it back to her rocking chair and piano lamp, where she read for an hour before going to bed in #48.

Adele awoke at 4:25 a.m. and didn’t remember where she was. A breath of cold air skittered along the floor, and she knew she wasn’t in the Redbud Home, whose teal carpet deadened noises and discouraged drafts. She kept her eyes closed, and slowly it came to her where she was. At first she felt nearly sickened by embarrassment, but that was soon replaced by a fierce pride. She was making do. She was getting by. With no help from the government or a charity, she had made her own arrangements. She got up, found the ladies’ room thanks to ambient lighting from the emergency exit signs, and freshened up so she could be ready to hide when the cleaning crew arrived. As she straightened the coverlet on the bed, she realized that she could also hide beneath the bed in an emergency. It was mercifully high.

At 6:00 she was sitting in her booth, rocking gently and wishing for a cup of coffee, when her alarm clock went off in Booth #48. It nearly gave her a coronary. She hurried to turn it off, struck a corner of the bed’s footboard, and almost fell headfirst. Thank heaven she was spry. She quieted the clock and took it away. On her way back to #79 she noticed a pretty hooked rug in another booth. It had a tag pinned to one edge: #41, $30. As long as she kept the tag with the proper booth number on it, it wouldn’t hurt a thing to carry it to her own space, which was in dire need of some color on the floor.

The cleaners came in at 7:08 and were finished with the bathrooms, café, and front counter within an hour. The doors opened at 8:45, and Adele heard the sounds of café tables being moved out into the larger mall area. She stayed frozen in her rocking chair until 9:10, then eased out and stretched. She had done it. She had spent an entire night in the Antiques Emporium.


Tomorrow: Conclusion

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“Is he a politician or a preacher?”

Adele Olson glanced at the TV in the Gathering Room of the Redbud Retirement Home. How could you possibly tell? she wondered.

“That’s Governor Paul Patrick,” Herman Revel said.

Sara Painter leaned forward in her Queen Anne chair and white-knuckled her walker. “Governor? I thought the governor was that woman with the red hair. Governor Madigan. What happened to her?”

“She’s still governor,” Herman said, sucking on his eye tooth. “This one’s running to replace her. He changed his first name to Governor so he could have it put on the ballot that way. See, alphabetically he’d be listed after Governor Madigan, and this will give him an advantage because she’ll be on there as Janet Madigan, and then listed under her name will be ‘Governor Paul Patrick.’ He’s a sharp one.” 

They silently watched Governor Paul Patrick address a large rally. “He does sound like a preacher,” Adele said. She didn’t like his sermon much, either. His focus was on slashing funding for libraries, museums, parks, schools, day care, and elder care. Everybody’s supposed to do for themselves and not depend on the government for any help. Which is fine if you’re healthy and can work but what about the tiny children? And what about us?

“I grew up Baptist,” Sara Painter said. “And I don’t think that one knows a Bible from a billboard. I know for a fact that there are verses in there about helping the widow, and the orphan. Well, I’m both, and this fella wants to cut funding for every program that’s intended to help somebody.”

Adele sighed. Sara had her late husband’s life insurance and his pension from the Army. Adele had never married, and with no one to share expenses over all those years she had not ended up with much of a cushion. Now her cushion was hard and flat.

Looking around the teal-carpeted Gathering Room, Adele estimated that she was down to her last few months of expanded cable television, hot meals served regularly in a restaurant setting, and a private mini-apartment. Her retirement fund, never particularly robust, had taken multiple hits as the stock market lurched between bad and worse. She knew that as her money dwindled, so did her security at the Home.

Adele stared at the Gathering Room television while her thoughts ran around like a squirrel with its tail on fire. She still had her Social Security, deposited on the 3rd of every month into her checking account, but it wasn’t enough to keep her in Redbud. She would have to find a Medicaid home.

Or perhaps she should get a job. But doing what? She had retired more than 30 years ago as a legal assistant. The day of her send-off party, a new fax machine interrupted the festivities with a massive paper jam. An entire roll of expensive, specially treated paper was nearly destroyed. Adele had counted herself lucky to be getting out before worse happened. She could use a computer but was certainly not proficient. She was probably qualified to work at a fast-food restaurant—if they’d allow her to sit for most of her shift. This thought was, if anything, even more depressing than the unidentified Medicaid home.

She reminded herself that she had always been resourceful. Her mama would have said stubborn and single-minded, but either way it had worked out all right because here she was, 88 years old and the last of her family left standing. In fact, the last one left breathing and above ground. All she had to do was negotiate the remaining years she had left, which could be as many as 10 or even more. Aunt Iris had lived to be 105. Ten years in a Medicaid home! Had anyone ever survived such a thing?

“Governor Paul Patrick is coming to Redbud next week,” Herman told Sarah. “He’s holding a question-and-answer coffee hour. You can call him out then.”

Adele tried to look on the bright side. Life at Redbud had deteriorated into a dull, teal-carpeted sameness that made her wonder if her mental faculties weren’t losing their edge. Perhaps it was time for a change. She didn’t really want to leave her friends, but the fact was her friends were leaving her in droves, mostly through the freight door in a hearse.

Adele shook her head. She needed to focus. She needed to make alternative arrangements. Sooner, rather than later, because what if this fake governor person won the next election? He seemed determined to have the government stop paying anything—except, presumably, his salary, living expenses, insurance, and pension.

“The van’s ready for anyone planning to go to the mall,” Redbud’s activities coordinator, Jaycee, announced. “Be sure to stop and let me know if you’re going so I can put you on the list.”

Adele rose. As long as she could stay at Redbud, she was determined to take advantage of every amenity. She fell in behind Sara Painter, a risky proposition considering Sara’s tendency to stop real sudden and stand stock-still.

The van ferried residents to Holly Gables Mall three times a week so they could walk, have a non-institutional snack or cup of coffee at McDonald’s, pick up a prescription, get a haircut, and review the dwindling number of shops in the ailing mall. Penney’s had pulled out two years back. One by one other shops had closed their doors. Holly Gables was down to a beauty salon, drug store, McDonald’s, a large fabric and crafts store, and a few strange boutiques and specialty shops that catered to the young people who took over the place in the evenings and on weekends.

This week there was something new, though, and all the Redbudders perked up.  A red-and-white “Grand Opening” banner stretched across one of the former entrances to Penney’s. 

“What could that be?” Herman Revel asked.

Antiques Emporium, the sign says.” Rick, the van driver, had eyes that could still see everything clearly, without a halo or a missing spot or floaters getting in the way. “Don’t y’all wander in there, or they might slap a price tag on you.”

Herman gave the driver a withering glance and stumped through the automatic doors into the mall.

“Van departs in an hour!” Rick reminded the group.

Adele walked in with the others. A few went toward the pharmacy; others began a slow but purposeful circuit of the building. She hesitated, then headed in the opposite direction to check out the Grand Opening. Maybe they’d be giving away something, like lemonade or hard candy or bookmarks. It seemed odd that no one else was interested in the new store, although Adele had noticed that many of the residents at the Redbud Home were addicted to their routines and didn’t care to deviate from them. At a certain age, sticking to a routine seemed imminently safer than not. But with everything safe now in jeopardy, Adele might as well flirt a little with danger.

The mall-side entrance to the old Penney’s was open again, with an “Antiques Emporium” banner over it. A small café took up the area near the entrance, and some of the café tables were scattered outside the doors in the main section of the mall to lure people in.

The café was furnished with antiques: a pie safe, two Hoosier cabinets, and an oak sideboard. Adele entered and turned right at the end of a long front counter and headed down the first aisle of numbered booths.

As she walked deeper into the Emporium, she felt a change in the atmosphere. It seemed dimmer, but warm and homey in a mixed-up, cluttery way. Adele imagined it was like being inside a roomy steamer trunk filled with a lifetime of treasures. It lulled her into a feeling of content, and all the cares of recent days slip away.

She moved down the aisle as if she were going from room to room in an eccentric old house, each one filled with things that smelled of aging fabric and bitter metal, implements no longer made or used but evoking times past in utter clarity. When she picked up an item, it brought back memories of her mother or grandmother using something similar—a hand-cranked egg beater or flour sifter, a cherry pitter, a rug beater. Her hand couldn’t resist touching the rich, carved sideboards, the curve-backed Victorian sofas, the fringed lamps and tasselled ottomans and frothy lace displayed on the edges of half-open drawers in dark walnut bureaus. Her stomach dipped in delight at a display of hat stands filled with hats identical to those she had worn in the ’50s.

Adele walked faster, wanting to take in everything inside the Emporium and become a part of it all. She noted a lovely rocking chair in one booth, a fine mahogany china cabinet in another, an inkstand like one she had seen somewhere but couldn’t quite place. Then she arrived in front of Booth #48. 

Many of the other booths were cluttered, with vases and baskets and frames and bowls on every surface. Booth #48 was clean and spare. It held nothing more than a Victorian cast iron coat rack, a cherry highboy, a floral upholstered ottoman, and a fully dressed three-quarter sized sleigh bed. It was like a room in a perfect little bed-and-breakfast inn.

Adele tested the mattress, expecting it to be a plywood fake. But no, it was a real mattress with plenty of give. She sat on the bed and noticed a vintage suitcase beside it, big and solid enough to serve as a bedside table. The suitcase was discreetly labeled “Not for Sale.”

To Adele, it looked like an engraved invitation.


Tomorrow:  Alternative Arrangements, Part 2

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Palm trees in front of MOCA, Miami

It is like a great palace with many entrances; all who enter it would soon lose their way. A wise man [Solomon] came and took a rope and fastened it to the entrance, and all would enter and exit by following the rope. – Shir ha-Shir Rabbah 1:8

It would be helpful to have Solomon’s rope in Miami. The city is a labyrinth where roads end without warning at canals, and interstates sweep over and around the places one wishes to reach. Wending your way out of the maze seems impossible. (Dave Barry once said of its airport, “At Miami International, a cramped and dingy labyrinth, the message is: Just Try to Find Our Baggage Claim Area!”)

Ernesto is my rope in Miami, and even he sometimes loses the way. We were there this past weekend to visit his family, and never has the city seemed so much like a palace filled with exotic rooms. Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne, South Beach, Hialeah—even their names taste delicious.

We spent much of one afternoon trying to find a restaurant that all of us loved, Sundays by the Bay. Years ago it was on the north end of Miami Beach, on the Intracoastal Waterway in Haulover Park. Later it moved to Key Biscayne. We drove to Key Biscayne and missed it on the way down, so we turned around and headed back. We stopped at a marina where Ernesto thought it should be, and in fact there was a sign pointing to “Restaurant.” But no restaurant appeared, so I got out of the car and asked a lady walking a dog if she could tell us where it was. Closed, she told me, and added that it had been closed for some time. This Ernesto would not believe, and he found a marina employee a little further along who took our picture and assured us that Sundays by the Bay was back toward the bridge to the mainland, near a restaurant called the Rusty Pelican. “No, it’s not,” Ernesto said, but we got back in the car and drove to the Rusty Pelican and found no signs of Sundays by the Bay. It turns out that not only is it truly closed, but the building has been demolished, leaving no sign that it ever existed.

We also had trouble finding the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, mainly because the road we were on forked subtly and became an utterly different road. As we tried to retrace our path and get back to the right street, the side roads, which should have been numbered in an orderly and chronological fashion, were not. Finally we stopped and went into a Panera long enough to use their free wifi to pull up the directions on our iPad. Then we found that we had driven right past the place earlier, but somehow had missed the gigantic letters M-O-C-A painted on the side of the main building.

In a smaller building on the MOCA campus, we enjoyed an installation by artist Teresita Fernández: A life-sized, empty swimming pool made from plywood and gallons of blue paint with genuine porthole-style pool lights mounted in all the appropriate places. As we walked down some rough wooden steps into the pool, a tape played the sound of rushing water as if the pool were being filled. Large, rectangular windows built into the sides near the bottom of the pool were reflective for those inside and made the pool into an aquarium for observers on the outside. At one point I stood on the outside looking in a window and Ernesto pretended to swim up from the inside. His eyes and cheeks bulged as if he were holding his breath underwater. That’s the sort of thing I love; it brought the exhibit to life for me.

The museum’s main building featured the work of Mark Handforth. Titled “Rolling Stop,” the exhibition is meant to serve as a commentary on modern man’s tendency to rush blindly from one place or activity to the next, so that we don’t even come to a full stop when we’re legally required to do so. (Yep, I’ve gotten a ticket for that.) Handforth’s work is designed to make people stop and take a good, long look at things again. I liked his silver wishbone, roughly the size of a small plane, and a gigantic coat hanger that hung from the ceiling. Proving that he’s not limited to over-sized items, there was also a Vespa with burning candles on it. The machine was covered with wax drippings from previous burnings. It reminded me of a long-ago art project that involved melting candles and dripping the wax over an empty Coke bottle. That sort of thing was hot in the ’70s.

We found more Handforth pieces tucked in a side courtyard and in a fountain in front of MOCA. Two others were installed off-site, making the entire exhibition a sort of scavenger hunt. One was a tree in a public park that had been illuminated (day and night) with neon—the perfect Miami tree. Instead of completing the tour properly and seeking these last two exhibits, we drove to Coral Gables to El Palacio de los Jugos (the Palace of Juices). I had a piña colada blend, Ernesto’s mom chose mango, and Ernesto ordered papaya. Knowing that we would soon be far away from delicious fresh tropical juices, Ernesto and I went back and got refills of mango.

(I had never seen mangoes growing on a tree before Ernesto pointed them out to me in an earlier visit to Miami. The tree grew in the back yard of Ernesto’s uncle’s house. I was captivated by the way that the tree seemed to be lowering the mangoes gently to the ground, because the fruit was suspended from long, ropy stems.)

El Palacio is not simply de los jugos, it also sells produce, sugar cane, and every type of Cuban food imaginable, all in a sort of colorful flea-marketish jumble. It is vastly different from the white towers of the Delano and Beacon Hotels in South Beach, and the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc a little to the north. But it’s all wonderful, and I could get lost there forever.

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