Category Archives: Travels

Seat mates: Please dear god, not again with the ice!

Oh airplane seat mate, when will this flight be over?

(Reader discretion is advised) :
Looking back on some of my worst airplane seat mate experiences, few could top that of a woman I once sat next to who repeatedly dug her hand into her crotch. No, it wasn’t what you think—it was something else (I think?). Still, crotch digging is crotch digging any way you look at it … or try to look away from it … or try very hard to get your seat changed.

Recently, on a warm, early morning flight from west to the midwest, I had a different kind of doodler sitting next to me. Meet my seat mate and a list of all the irritating and neurotic things she did. I finally had to put my hood up (my hood acting like a horse blinder) and block her out:

  1. Slowly shook the ice in her x-large McDonalds cup. Kept shaking. Threw the ice back in her mouth, slowly sucked on it, spit it back in her cup. Threw the ice back in her mouth, gnashed it with her teeth. Spit the gnashy back in the McDonalds cup. When the ice was gone, she sucked the last vestiges of the glacial melt inside the cup.
  2. Begin braiding her long, greasy hair. Let the braids out. Worked the braids in sections by going row to row. Let the braids out.
  3. Shifted her left elbow (she, an aisle seater) and continuously poked me, even though I had by this time, tucked myself into a fetal position.
  4. NO!!!!!! Say you won’t do it! Stewardess came to take drink orders. My gal sal ordered tomato juice with — NOOOOOOOOOO! Yes, ice. (Repeat all #1 steps: shake ice, throw ice, suck ice, gnash ice, spit ice, suck last vestiges of glacial melt).
  5. Aha! I had thought she was knitting. You know, a way to work off that nervous hand energy. But no. She was wrapping the 2 bottoms pull strings from her shirt around her fingers. Knit 1, purl 1, etc.
  6. Variation on a theme: she is now separating large swaths of her long hair and combing in with her fingers. Imagine: your fingers are like comb teeth, you run them through your hair. It is fall, she perhaps is getting ready for the hair harvest during the hair harvest moon.
  7. I note she has taken to pulling at a finger with her other fingers, as if her fingers are the most flexible in the world. I then note: a rubber band is intertwined between all the digits, like a cat in the cradle string game. She is pushing, pulling, elasticating.

No more, I can take no more. My hood is up, I have turned slightly askance. I can breathe again. That is, until I hear these dreaded words from our stewardess: “Can I get you anything else to drink?” (Can you bring me a valium?)

Photo: Angela Frucci
(The seat mate pictured in this photo? Not the seat mate protagonist of story.)

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Photo: Southern Italy in shadow

I was hypnotized by the play of light and shadows, hoping someone or something would walk into the context, which did happen. The man’s  profile casts a silhouette on the wall, making it feel more intimate, yet apart, like a spirit.

Photo (Italy): Angela Frucci

Choosing a Christmas Tree (oh the glory!)

I go back to the Twin Cities almost every year for Christmas. And each time, I go to the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market Annex to pick out a Christmas tree. It’s fun, it’s kooky, it’s MN real. Plus, this year General Manager Tom Hechsel had a brick fireplace built on site. At any time in the picking process, you can sit or stand while warming yourself by the fire, a fine cup of hot chocolate in hand. (Axe is optional.)

A. and Tom by the hot bricks

What’s really great is that all the trees are hanging from twine, so you get to obsess over them in all their verdant glory.  Many of the trees come from neighboring Wisconsin, and some come from as far away as North Carolina.

It was the week before Christmas, and I decided to shadow the first customer of the day to fully comprehend all the steps it takes to buy a tree. His name was Bob.

Step 1 Picking Tree Type and Height

Well, Bob was pretty darn picky and knew what he wanted: A Fraser Fir, with a uniform shape for a porch with a 10 1/2 ft. ceiling. But first let’s pause briefly to consider why Bob likes that Cadillac of xmas trees — the Fraser Fir:

Fraser Fir Likes

  • Straightest trunk
  • Greenest needles
  • Freshest scent
  • Longest lasting
  • Uniform conical shape

Bob among some Fraser offerings

Step 2 Looking at the Leader
The top of the tree (or bare branch) where you place a star or angel or ornament is called a Leader. Picking a Leader that’s straight or has a size big enough to fit your star, etc., is crucial. We’re talkin’ serious.

The Leader is money to the tree seller, counting as part of the tree height you pay for. So, when xmas trees are being cut, handled, and delivered, great care has to be taken not to damage the top. The pic below shows some spruce tops for sale, which are victims of mishandling (don’t cry, Santa will find them a home).

Step 3 Considering the branch
Take an xmas tree branch in you hands (like Bob does below). Now bend it. A good healthy tree should be squishy and vibrant, but soft to the touch and pliable.

Step 4 Sizing up the Shape
Unless they’re the trendy and more sparse and natural “Charlie Brown” trees, most Xmas trees are sheared each year to develop a uniform and conical shape. Some people like chubby shapes, some like lean shapes, but most like a kind of uniformity. Bob found one that he considered quite perfect and asked to have it cut from its twine noose.

Step 5 Doing the Haggle
Every good xmas tree deserves a decent haggle, in which buyer and seller reach a suitable, friendly agreement over the price. Come on, you know the haggle is part of the tradition! It’s fun.

Bob and owner Scott Barriball agree to tree

Tree goes to get groomed

Step 6 Shaking the Tree Down
Perhaps my favorite part of the process is witnessing the “SHAKEE Tree Shaker” in action. What the little thing does is shake off any dead or loose needles so you’ll have less to sweep up at home. Just put the trunk in the machine and watch it SHAKEE! (And who — who I ask — can resist a bright red machine with an xmas tree as part of its logo? See below.)

Behold the SHAKEE

Step 7 Cutting the Tree Base
Cutting the tree base assures you of several things: A fresh cut opens the pores that will take up water once it’s in a tree stand; Cutting it allows you to fit it in a tree stand; Cutting it gives you a custom size for your house. For example, Bob always want his xmas tree to fit exactly to the ceiling.
That’s why they’re about to measure the tree with the measuring pole in the pic above. They want to make sure to measure first and determine the exact place to make the cut on the base. Then the chainsaw can do its thing.

Cut position is determined

Chainsaw is removed from its trunk holster

Cut ensues forthwith

Step 8 Wrapping Around the Xmas Tree
Putting the xmas tree through the tree netting machine is an all-important step. A net makes the tree easy to get in the house and through a door. And it really helps to keep it on until you get the tree in your stand so the branches don’t slap you around in the struggle.

Pulling tree out of the netter

Step 9 Tying and Twining the Xmas Tree to Vehicle
Oh, that dreaded last step to bringing the beloved tree home. Tying the tree down with twine. It has driven lesser xmas tree buyers to insanity. Do you:

  • Trunk it and tie the trunk down with twine?
  • Tie it to the top of the vehicle with twine?
  • Tie the twine like a shoelace? (no)

Twine tying is not for the faint of heart

Yes, it can be overwhelming. But once you commit, you get all the help you need from the friendly Farmer’s Market Annex helpers.
Step 10 Driving Away with a Glorious Xmas Tree
There is no step more satisfying then driving off with an xmas tree proudly displayed on your vehicle roof, or protruding from the trunk. It is a flag of seasonal victory! This is the part where you are the envy of all other treeless vehicles on the road. Not to mention pedestrians afoot. As you can see, Bob and his wife (I never did get her name) are elated with their perfect tree. “Getting an xmas tree should be a happy experience,” said Bob.
Photos: Angela Frucci