I moved to Milwaukee from Cleveland fifteen and a half years ago, in early 1997.  People often ask me, “So what brought you here?” and when they do I tell them “For a relationship that is no longer.” They look at me for two seconds, not sure what to do, and then all of a sudden say “Ooohh” and nod their heads.

That’s where I leave it, except with the people who are closest to me and girlfriends who ply me with five-dollar martinis at happy hour. What I will say is: all those years ago I thought I moved here for the man. But I eventually came to understand that I really moved here for myself.

When I got to Milwaukee I knew two people, and not very well. It took two years to be confident in the fact that every time I drove toward Lake Michigan I was going east, not north. I made new friends, picked up new clients. Every time I went away and came back to Milwaukee, I felt excited and happy when I saw the city limit signs, downtown, the lake.

Although I didn’t realize it until long after 1997, moving away got me away from people and situations that weren’t serving me well at all. It allowed me to grow up and become my own person.

The relationship I thought I moved here for turned out to be a disaster and ended, blessedly, ten years ago. I met John a few years afterward and my life changed again: marriage, moving from the country to the city, more new friends, travel, a motorcycle license, a master’s degree, a band. Our roots here run pretty deep.

Something in our kitchen cupboard has also driven home the fact that I am now from somewhere else: my Cleveland spices versus my Milwaukee spices.

My Cleveland spices moved here when I did. I bought them at Gust Gallucci’s, an Italian market on Cleveland’s near east side that my father and I used to swing by after shopping at the West Side Market together. Gallucci’s carried pastas I’d never heard of. Meats. Fish. Cheeses. Fresh-baked pizza. An entire aisle of olive oils. Their spices came in pint and quart containers, and were dirt-cheap: ninety-five cents for a pint of leaf thyme, a dollar fifty-one for a quart of Italian seasoning.

Every other Saturday morning for years, my father picked me up at 6:30 a.m. so we’d be among the first customers at the West Side Market when it opened at 7. The first thing we did was sweep the produce stands to see who had what and for what price. After the sweep we went back to the beginning, bought as much produce as we could carry, then made one trip out to the car to stash it in the trunk. Then it was time to head inside for breakfast.

To get to the indoor part of the West Side Market, where all the bakery and meat and dairy is sold, we cut through the fish stand. You have not truly lived until you’ve smelled raw fish at 7:45 on a Saturday morning, on an empty stomach and often after being at a club in The Flats until 2:30 a.m with your friends. The smell was somewhat offset by the leers you’d get from the men who worked there, scaling fish and talking in Spanish and Arabic as you walked through.

Breakfast was sandwiches and coffee from the bratwurst stand at the far end. The brats were cooked in electric skillets by three generations of one family. We ate ours on hard rolls loaded with hot mustard. I always got one to-go for my then-husband.

At the market, Dad and I got caught up with each other, and the vendors too. We’d been customers so long we saw some of the teenagers who worked there turn college graduates, thirty-somethings turn middle-aged, the middle-aged turn elderly. Breakfast was always followed by a piece of bakery—an apple fritter, Russian tea biscuit, or kolachi—which we ate as we shopped for sticks of pepperoni, small fryer chickens, pizza bagels, Lake Erie perch, dried beans, hunks of New York State sharp cheddar cheese.

When we were done, if neither of us had anything pressing to do, we drove across the bridge through downtown Cleveland and down Euclid Avenue sixty blocks to Gallucci’s. Their Web site says that this week is Frank the cashier’s 85th birthday.

I heartily recommend that anyone move away from home, just once, just for the experience. You can always go back, like my friend Sally did. Or you can stay and feel like the new place is now home, like my friend Denise. I myself vacillate between the two. Sometimes I feel more Cleveland. Sometimes I feel more Milwaukee.

Over the fifteen and a half years I’ve lived here, my Gallucci spices have worn out, dried out, and completely lost the purpose they were created for. Some are so old the containers have also dried out; when I open the plastic lids, pieces snap off and fly across the kitchen. Over the past few years they have been replaced with fresh stuff from The Spice House in downtown Milwaukee. You can smell the place a few doors away, before you even get there.

When I open our cupboard today, I see that Spice House has overrun Gallucci’s and what little Gallucci’s is left needs to be thrown out. The small bags and bottles of new spices let me know that I am from somewhere else now.

But I can still remember how the West Side market smells. The way the fresh-cut flowers bend into the aisles. Pyramids of peppers in five different colors. Iridescent drops of water on the edges of Bibb lettuce. Cookie, who has a corner produce stand and lets the ash from the cigarette that bounces in her mouth as she talks fall onto her figs and ginger root and shallots. Cookie has been dead a long time now.

When someone asks me where I’m from, I say I’m from Cleveland originally but I’ve lived in Milwaukee almost sixteen years. The Gallucci spices remind me of an old life that is receding ever more deeply into the past. And of places and things and people: some still very much a part of my life, others that no longer physically exist but will always live in my heart.

The new spices remind me that I have definitely become my own person. And that I will always be grateful to Milwaukee for this.


The flowers and organic produce were grown by my brother and father at my father’s farm. My brother, the organic farmer, is also a baker, and those are his bars, cookies, and muffins. 



A few weeks ago a friend copied me and ten other friends on an email she’d sent to the organizer of an event she had recently attended. Apparently as she was standing in line to pay her admission, several other people were jumping the gate without paying and the organizer did nothing about it. In her email, she asks fair questions: Why was this allowed to happen? Why did you just sit there? How big a sucker am I?

A few hours later the organizer sent a passive-aggressive response ten times longer than her complaint and hit “Reply All.”

I wrote back:

Thank you for copying me on your response and providing evidence of your lack of professionalism. In this age of social media, you should really take more care.

He didn’t write anything further.

This past week, a Facebook friend posted a photo I presume he took on his cell, of a thirty-something guy wearing black yoga pants, a powder blue T-shirt, and flip-flops. “Give your wife her clothes back,” read the caption.

This got me thinking: it used to be George Orwell’s faceless, authoritarian Big Brother in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four we feared. These days, it is us, the collective common folk, who comprise Big Brother. Make one wrong move and we will commemorate it via our cell phone cameras and shoot it to the Internet in a matter of seconds. Where it will live forever and ever, world without end, amen.

The same day I saw the man in yoga pants being berated on Facebook, I saw something I had never seen before on the streets. A big woman whose double-wide, double-high Paula Deen hair added to the big.

But not as much as the pants she was wearing: extremely tight leggings in the most giant animal print I’d ever seen. Each animal spot the size of a paving stone. I couldn’t take my eyes off those pants as I drove by. My split-second instinct was to make a U-turn and take a picture of her.

I snapped out of it and kept driving.

It’s a different world from the one that existed when I was in my teens and twenties. Used to be that snapshots taken at a basement party enjoyed a huge lag time. You had to use up the film. Remember to take it to the drugstore to get it developed. Remember to pick it up. Remember to take the snapshots to school and then wait as they slowly got passed among your friends and then made their way back to you. By then the party is so last-month and nobody cares anymore. Unless, of course, it’s a picture of someone getting a wedgie or a swirlie.

But the world does not operate like this anymore. It’s decidedly digital. Lightning fast. Potentially damaging. Difficult to escape.

The first time I encountered this hard, cold fact was in mid-August when our new band played its first gig, with the idea (sanctioned by the club owner) of bouncing our material past a live audience and working out the kinks. A lot of people showed up. We were excited.

At some point during our first set, we all saw the guy with the video camera. Every time I looked up, that camera was aimed right at us. But it didn’t register. During a break the guy came up to John and said, “You sound great. Mind if I put a couple of songs on YouTube?”

There were five other people waiting to say hi to John. “I guess not,” he said.

Two days later, the guy with the video camera sent our bass player a YouTube link. We were shocked to see that our entire show had been uploaded. There were 28 videos: one for each song we played that day.

We were horrified. For one thing, the soundman showed up a half hour late, plugged in a few things, turned a few knobs, then left. That, combined with the audio capability of the video camera, equaled 28 videos in which you could see us band members bobbing up and down to music you couldn’t really hear. It defeated our original purpose. We didn’t want to go down like this.

(Don’t bother looking for the videos. They’ve all been taken down.)

Just this past week, John got into a political argument, and I use that term loosely, with someone on Facebook who reminds me of every Enterprise rental car agent I’ve ever encountered: slick, cocky, ultra-amped on caffeine.

I had actually unfriended this person back in May, the week of the gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin, after he, a conservative, made a number of offensive comments on my wall and wouldn’t stop after I warned him.

This week, after he and John got into it again, he sent John a screenshot of a comment “your charming wife,” aka I, had written to him back in May. Let’s review:

  • “I know you think you can debate, but you wouldn’t know an argument if it bit you in the butt.” Check.
  • “I see the hateful things you post on your wall.” I used to before I dumped you. But I see you’re still doing it elsewhere. Check.
  • “My conservative girlfriend [name withheld], who voted for Walker today and happens to be one of my closest friends in the world, would be appalled.” Check.
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself. Take your Red Bull and go play somewhere else.” Check. Check.

These days you have to be careful of what you do, wear, and write because it stands an excellent chance of being commemorated in perpetuity. I am lucky this time, because the videos of us on stage looking and sounding less cool than we thought are gone, and I’m 100 percent fine with the comment I made five months ago to Red Bull Boy.

I feel sorry for today’s younger generations, who may never enjoy the thrill of having a secret stash of compromising Polaroids in their underwear drawer that only they and their significant others have seen. Which will be destroyed in front of each other when they split up. There will be no delicious secrets such as the compromising tape in the shoebox on the top shelf of the closet no one uses, that only they and the person they made the tape with have seen. They will never experience the joy – or the relief  – of ripping said tape out of a plastic cassette and burning it on the grill when that relationship ends.

A different world indeed.

Every once in a while, something happens that makes me think of all the people who’ve moved in and out of my life over the years.

Some of these people were childhood friends who probably don’t know how much of an impression they made on me, much less know that I still think about them. The fourth-grade classmate who was into horses who got me into horses who moved away before we reached high school. My first boyfriend, who felt up my leg in the dark at the high school planetarium on a fifth-grade field trip. The daughters of old family friends. We hadn’t been in touch in decades and suddenly, out of the blue, reconnected this year after our mothers died.

Sometimes the friends you make stay and stay and stay. For years. I am blessed to have more than just a few friends on this list. If you’re lucky, all three of your brothers are on this list. Yesterday John suggested I fly to see one of my friends who’s on this list and I burst into tears. I miss her more than I thought.

Sometimes you have friends you get mad at for six years, during a time when you leave your borderline-personality ex and your mother is not speaking to you. And then you get back together and it’s like you never broke up.

There are the friends you make on social media. There are the friends you went to high school with, with whom you reconnect on social media. Some are utter joys to know again. Some you wish you’d left in your memory of how they were back then.

There are the brand-new friends. The ones who treat you to lunch. With whom you have intelligent conversations. Who understand your soul. You don’t yet know if they are here for the time being or the long haul. It doesn’t matter. They are here now, and so are you.

There are the friends who die. Who will stay with you every day for the rest of your life. And who knows, maybe after that too.

There are the friendships that you thought were friendships, but then discover they never really were to begin with. The borderline-personality artist you befriend immediately after leaving your borderline-personality ex. The impossibly arrogant, self-important woman from high school. The despicable human being who goes on to scare the shit out of you for a year after you say, “I’m done.”

This time, the something-that-happened that made me think about all the friends who’ve come and gone and stayed was the end of another friendship that never really was. It happened just a few weeks ago, when someone I once considered a friend blindsided me with a very long and ludicrous email. As I read it on my phone in the laundromat, I laughed out loud in places.

“Must be something really good,” said the young woman next to me, smiling.

“Life is too short,” said a friend – who happens to be a new friend and someone I consider smart, cool, collected – just two days ago.

The fallout from the breakup of this friendship, among other things, makes me think of the in-and-out, the life-and-death of friendships. It happens to every single one of us. I don’t know how we survive it sometimes. But we do.

“Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant,” writes Stephen King in his novel The Body. Thank goodness for the ones who teach us something we need to learn before they move on. Who’ve given us good memories. Fantastic memories.

Thank goodness for the ones who stay. No matter how they stay.

We saw Lake Street Dive when they opened for Los Straitjackets at Turner Hall in Milwaukee last fall, and were blown away. (The whole night blew us away, really.) “Miss Disregard” is on their studio CD, Lake Street Dive. Their new EP is Fun Machine

In June I told you about a project I’d started: photographing things I find on Milwaukee’s city sidewalks. My mama had always yelled at me to stand up straight when I walk, but I still do it leaning forward and looking at the ground. The habit became useful when I got my iPhone and started taking pictures of the stuff I find down there.

I posted the first forty shots back then. You can also find them (among others) under my Photos tab. What follows are the next forty shots in the series.

Some notes:

The first “Dad” graffiti I found was “I Love You, Dad” on a sidewalk on Farwell Avenue. Then I found it on the other side of the street and farther south and over on Prospect Avenue. It was nowhere near Father’s Day. At the time I imagined that someone’s father had just died and the writer was grieving on the sidewalks, sensing it in the hastiness in which it seemed to be written and the droopiness of the letters. I still feel this way every time I see them.

I don’t know who or what Visceral is, but I have him pictured as, well, a he, and a rapper or a tagger, like the ones I saw in the documentary “Infamy” a few years ago. His tag is all of a sudden everywhere, usually in black paint. The last one I saw looked as if it had been written in Gorilla Glue: amber in color, drippy, tacky. If anyone in Milwaukee knows who or what Visceral is, drop me a line.

The recliner: I discovered it the way you first see it here. Over a period of two weeks, the beer bottle disappeared. Then the armrest covers. Then the bottom cushion. In the final stages of its evolution, upholstery was ripped from it, padding exposed. The chair got pushed over on to one side, then the other, then on to its back. Then it disappeared altogether.

The magazine rack: I discovered it on my way to a breakfast meeting. Early American-ish, like one your dentist might have hanging in the waiting room. Excellent condition. A flea market price tag on it. I wanted to take it. But: the meeting. I decided to snag it on my way back, if it was still there. It was not.

Something I could not take a picture of I found on a heavily trafficked sidewalk a half-block from our place: a tiny little creature – I did not know what – lying by its lonesome, fetal, eyes that had never opened. A Google search revealed that it was a newborn gray squirrel. It had apparently fallen from a nest in a tree that hung over the sidewalk. It was dead.

I shoved the iPhone in my back pocket, wrapped the baby squirrel in a Kleenex, dug a hole under a tree in our courtyard, and covered the tiny thing with a leaf, then dirt. If you want to know what it looks like, you’ll have to Google it for yourself.