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Archive for October, 2010

Rubber Band Wallet

I saw an old Chinese man at Costco pushing his wheelchair-bound wife through the checkout line. His life seemed complicated, with language and aging challenges, a partner who needs extra care, and a cartload of bulky Costco items to haul around. But he had simplified his life in one astonishingly practical way.

He had a rubber band wallet.

It was a single, fat blue rubber band holding together all his credit cards and IDs and photos. I thought, in the new cash-free economy, this rubber band wallet seems like a pretty clever idea. And I was reminded of a man I photographed in China in 1991 who made a business out of transforming old bike tires into shoes. I was also reminded of my father, who fixed exhaust systems with coat hangers and installed a phonograph in his car before 8-tracks or tape cassettes or CDs existed.

I love seeing people solve sophisticated problems with unsophisticated solutions. And yes, the man at Costco was most likely just cheap. Like my father was cheap. But the ability to stay in the game when you are dealt a poor hand is admirable. And I think it can be an addictive way of looking at the world. I have a few shot bike tires in the garage, and right now I am looking at my shoes.

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The Finger

There was already a bit of tension in the air as the mountainous contractor surveyed our aggregate concrete floor to bid on a refinishing project. I’m sure he was trying to figure us out as much as he was assessing the job. Were we cheap? Were we well off? Were we well off but cheap? People can be hard to read.

At last he came to an estimate of what we would be willing to pay: $1,000.

Julie was taken aback, and then the screaming began.

It was not Julie screaming, even though she may have felt like screaming. It was not the contractor, left standing with his “$1,000” hanging in the air like a dirty joke he could not untell.

It was Tom, who had just caught the tip of his fingernail in a door he was slamming shut. He ran by the contractor in three directions, screaming and waving his hand like a bright red paint brush. Blood on his clothes. Blood down his arm. Blood across the dirty aggregate concrete that was apparently so expensive to clean.

So I ran down from upstairs and did my best to calm myself while attending to a child whose fingernail was held on by just a thread of skin now, flapping back and forth like a cat door.

The contractor waited for some peace to return, and then ventured quietly, $600?

And Hell broke loose again. “I don’t want to go to the hospital! I don’t want to go to the hospital!” Tom paced around frantically trying to reason with his father. “I don’t want to go to the hospital!”

Julie called off negotiations with the bewildered contractor: “I think you’d better leave.” And he was gone.

An hour later, peace and quiet had returned for good. Tom did not have to go to the hospital. I cleaned up the blood where I found it, and then quietly retreated to trim my own fingernails.

Just to be on the safe side.

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