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Goodbye, my faithful friend

Goodbye, my faithful friend. You have been with me for over twenty years. Up until last week, you have done everything I asked you gracefully and without any complaint. In the last week, I started asking more of you than you could give, yet you gave it willingly. Today you were grievously injured, but you still did what I needed of you, with nearly the last of of you. Thank you.

Everybody, go ahead and laugh for a moment at me. I am talking about an electric drill. Have your laugh, and allow me to continue. You may stop reading If you cannot imagine loving a tool; this story isn’t for you. It is for my tool-using friends, who can understand.

My Black & Decker Corded Drill
My Black & Decker Corded Drill

This Black & Decker corded drill came into my life back when I was in my third apartment. I think we bought it to drill some holes and stabilize some shelves in the closet. Up until then, if I needed to do a project, I had gone to home and used my dad’s shop and his tools. It must have been 1991 or 1992. Back then, it was just a drill. Cordless drills were so rare that you didn’t have to say “corded.”

You served me more during my years of home ownership. I cannot count the tasks I did with you then. Then you served me well as a boat owner. Soon after starting work on Flutterby, I started taking you for granted. I bought a fancy cordless drill, with a keyless chuck, and I used you a lot less often. I still use some. I needed the wire wheel too long for your replacement’s battery. I was trying to keep your replacement pristine, so I used you for stirring paint.

Your chuck key and chuck teeth started to wear. I finally bought you a new chuck key, but it never quite fit your worn teeth.. Still you did what was needed. Your cord started to fray a bit. I used a lot of tape and stuff, and kept electricity going safely into you. A few years back, Margaret questioned whether we needed you anymore with your cordless replacement. She was right that there isn’t room for a lot of tools here on Flutterby. But I knew you were still faithful, and I still used you for long jobs, and dirty jobs. So we stayed together.

Three days ago, I asked you to do a hard job. Your cordless replacement ran through his battery too fast for this one. I was cutting out windows for the hard dodger. Four windows to go. Twenty corners of those windows. Each one cut out with a hole saw. Through 3/4” of plywood, with fiberglass on each side. I even filed some sharpness back onto the teeth of the hole saw so it wasn’t quite as dull before starting the job. That didn’t last. As you were cutting these holes, I felt you hesitating. I felt your motor getting tired if I pushed too hard. And with such dull teeth, I had to push hard. You made it through that. It was a glorious day of work on my hard dodger. Then after cutting all those holes, I asked put the sanding drum in your chuck and asked you to clean up rough cuts and touch up the corners. I even used you for sanding flat areas. The new belt sander’s motor had already died. You gave me all this willingly at great cost. It was a glorious day of accomplishment for me.

Today I asked you to shape some fiberglass with a coarse sanding drum. I had just filled in the corner between the original ‘whiskers’ on deck and my new hard dodger. I pulled your trigger, locked it in place, and started grinding away. When your body was uncomfortably hot to hold through cotton gloves, I knew something was wrong. I noticed the burned look around your motor vents. I noticed you were not running smoothly. I was mostly done with the job on one side. I sat down for a break. I started shopping for a replacement for you, doubting you would even finish this job.

I wasn’t able to go shopping just yet, so I went back to work. Did other parts with other grinding tools. And when you had cooled down, went back and ground out the other side, hearing your protests that you didn’t have much left in you. Again I had to let you rest, to cool down, so I worked with other tools for a while. At the end of this job, I asked you for a little more fine tuning with the sanding drum. You didn’t let me down.

I know you aren’t healthy or strong anymore. If I ask you one more job, I know you will give me all you have. I won’t be surprised if you have enough.

Candy for the Stranger

Bribing My Way to the Top

This piece was originally titled, “Bribing the Fourth Estate.” After I posted it, I discovered, to my distress, that few people know the fourth estate refers to the press.

Here’s a tidbit that most people don’t know: A newspaper’s masthead is not their name on the front page. That’s the nameplate. The masthead is inside, often on page 3, and identifies the publisher, editors, and contact information for a newspaper.

Last week, I carefully tore the address of the Stranger from their masthead. I put it in my book bag and tossed the rest into the recycle bin. My father-in-law doesn’t normally read the recycling, but he needed some newsprint to protect a surface on which he was painting.

He wasn’t completely scandalized. Just curious, and surprised at what I was reading in my husband’s absence.

The advertising in the Stranger is scandalous: Recreational cannabis delivery, escort services, and an underwear ad where the woman’s hands are inside her panties. (She was right above an ad with the heading, “Sex Offender Registration Got You Down?”)

Yet, like Playboy, the Stranger has a reputation for excellent journalism. In addition to winning a Pulitzer, it’s where Dan Savage got his start, as the editor-in-chief and as the writer of a blunt and often-shocking sex advice column, “Savage Love.”

What I love about the Stranger is that they take the news seriously, but they do not take themselves too seriously.

On Friday afternoon, I braved Seattle traffic, and drove to the address on the masthead. If you’re from Seattle, you probably know the block, the one we call the-Value-Village-where-REI-used-to-be (they moved in 1996). It’s super-hip, brick and trendy, around the corner from the Century Ballroom.

There was no sign, only a newspaper box full of Strangers beside a tall, unmarked door. The door was incongruous, a piece of modern metal art on an old brick warehouse. A couple of men occupied the sidewalk, blatantly ignoring the law against sidewalk-sitting that’s intended to keep homelessness at bay. The entryway with the newspaper box reeked of urine. Inside, my spidey-senses were tingling, because there was no one in the foyer, just a dimly-lit dead-end corridor with an elevator.

My heart thumping, I peeked into the elevator and saw a scrap of paper that said “The Stranger” beside the third floor button. At least I was in the right place.

Alone and unmolested, I rode the elevator to the third floor, where I found the receptionist. He was a young man behind a bulletproof glass window, eating what looked like pie. I breathed a tiny sigh of relief. He had a sweet-tooth.

He held his hand over his mouth, embarrassed, and mumbled “Can I help you?” around an extra-large bite. I took a deep breath and remembered what I had rehearsed in my head.

“I’m on a mission,” I said, cozying up to the counter and the little opening in the bulletproof glass. “I need to know which of your staff members is most susceptible to bribery.”

His eyes widened as he swallowed his pie and asked, “What kind?”

At this point, I opened my leather briefcase and took out a baggie of candy. It happened to contain Hershey’s kisses, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and three Strangers Have the Best Candy cards. My hand was trembling with fear as I pushed it through the little slot.

“Candy,” I said, and watched him break into a grin at the cards. I reached into my bag a second time, and pulled out a copy of the book. “You see, I have this…” I pushed it through the little opening.

He looked at the title, made the connection, and started laughing. “I can give it to our book guy,” he said. “He’ll probably want this, too,” I said, pushing a third item through the little slot, a copy of my press release.

He carefully assembled it all into a package, putting the press release inside the pages of the book and the name of the book guy on a post-it note on the outside. I watched as he clipped the candy bag to the cover.

“Do you think it’s enough?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” he said, patting the parcel. “Are you going to give it all to him?” I continued. He nodded earnestly. “Of course,” he said, as if I’d challenged his integrity.

That’s when I pulled out a second bag of candy, and pushed it through the opening in the glass. “Then this one’s for you!” I said. “Have a great day!”

I was still shaking like a leaf as I got into the elevator and fled back to my car. I’ve never tried bribing the Fourth Estate before. But I had to try. I simply had to give Candy to the Best Stranger.

Update on my bribery attempt, June 16, 2014:
At the Georgetown Carnival this past weekend, I gave a “Strangers Have the Best Candy” card to a young man in the crowd. He laughed so hard, I went on to say, “I even tried to bribe The Stranger with candy!” His eyes grew wide, and he looked at me seriously. “How did you know I worked there?”

“I didn’t,” I responded. Serendipity.

He wasn’t in the newsroom, though. “I don’t have any influence there. I’m in the tech department.” He went on to tell me, “Paul Constant is the book guy. He has stacks and stacks and stacks of books on his desk.” He held his hand at shoulder level to indicate how high the piles were.

My face fell. I was discouraged. Then I thought about what I’d done, and I cheered up. “GREAT! By paper-clipping a lumpy bag of candy to the cover, I have made it impossible for Paul to simply stack another book on it.”

In other words, I’ve bribed my way to the top, where I hope to stay until Paul Constant reviews Strangers Have the Best Candy!

Margaret Meps Schulte
Margaret Meps Schulte

Margaret Meps Schulte is the author and illustrator of Strangers Have the Best Candy.


Meps’ Book: Strangers Have the Best Candy

(and it’s on Amazon!)

Strangers Have the Best Candy, a book by Margaret Meps Schulte
Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I will try to calm down. This is like having a baby. I’m hyperventilating.

Ever since I started blogging in 2003, my followers have been asking, “When are you going to publish a book?” I stalled, because I didn’t know what the book should be about. I didn’t want to write a travelogue or a navel-gazing memoir.

Finally, I figured it out! Strangers Have the Best Candy, which is available on Amazon today, is about my chance encounters with strangers — all the laughing, crying, topless, boozing, and completely adorable people I have befriended in my travels. It’s their book. I just wrote it.

Meps in Summit, South Dakota

Since these encounters are completely spontaneous, there aren’t a lot of photographs. I had to sit down and illustrate it myself, with 125 pen-and-ink drawings that I completed in the St. Marys, Georgia public library. I didn’t even know I could do that until I tried.

The stories are amazing and hilarious, and the illustrations will make you grin. But it has its thoughtful moments, and there’s a pretty big message between the covers: Strangers have wonderful gifts for us, if we take the time to talk to them.

Maybe the Strangers Have the Best Candy message will go viral, and then you can say you knew about it and followed the blog before it was famous! Thank you for staying with me for all these years, and for encouraging me to say what’s important to my heart.

I would love it if you would reshare this post with your friends in email and Facebook, and go out to the Amazon page and give me a review. I will reward you with hugs the next time I see you, because I think hugs are the best candy of all.

Green duffel bag with fake nose
Tim’s duffel bag

(you did see the link above, to my Amazon page, right? If not, here it is again!)