2nd January 13
Mary Rothlisberger's "God Bless the USPS."
I called Mary the night before this column ran to double-check a few facts. Her answering machine picked up and I began to leave a message (“Hi Mary, it’s Andy Sturdevant, wondering if I could…”).
Twenty seconds in, I hear the words, “Andy, is that you? I just got in the door.”
To which I reply, very loudly: “HOLY SHIT! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?”
Because Mary has a landline, and I forgot that a person can pick up a phone in the middle of an answering machine message. It’s been a long time since I left a message for someone on an answering machine.
I really enjoyed writing this account of small town and neighborhood post offices for The Stroll two weeks ago. Mary is one of my favorite artists out there right now, and I love this project in particular. I meant to post this then, but travel and illness scrambled my brains even more than they are usually scrambled.
Bang Bang Boomerang:
Thanks to Andy Sturdevant for holding his own in a two-hour conversation, by landline, about the USPS (most of which was spent gushing about postmasters I’ve known and loved). Minneapolis/St. Paul has some of the prettiest city post offices I’ve ever seen and I’m delighted to be included in this…
28th October 10
You imagine a tiny street, crisscrossing a grid. Utter darkness, completely hidden in the shadows of taller buildings nearby. The houses are seven inches apart. Probably cobblestones. The street is named for a person that has been dead for over 300 years, or for someone on the Mayflower (Brewster, Winslow). The very rarest, the most exotic, especially in the Midwest. I have never lived at an address with a single-digit house number. They are reserved for rare book collectors, plutocrats and magicians.
Cozy. One imagines a walk-up brownstone, or a row of brownstone walk-ups. A short walk to the bodega, or party store, or news agent, or corner shop, whatever you call it where you live. Probably hard to find parking in the immediate area. You’d likely have to walk a few blocks. Historic preservation markers may be nearby.
All my addresses in college had three digits in the address (106 Birchwood, 409 W. Gaulbert). I imagine many of you reading this from a three-digit address. Urban, but too not crowded. Thirty blocks or so outside the city center.
Impossible to know. Every house I lived in up to the age of 22 had four digits in the house number (9509, 3604, 1001), as does the house I live in now, as do the next few I expect to live in. Four is the median, the baseline. The smaller or larger the number is than four, the more exotic it seems.
Likely on a long, looping street named for a tree, or a miles-long two-lane with a name like “Airport Way” or “Frontage Road.” You cannot catch a bus to an address with five digits. You’ll have to drive, and you’ll have to drive for a long time. Way out past the proving grounds and the wildlife management area. One imagines absolute silence.
I pray I never have to visit an address with a six-digit house number.
4th July 10
A while back, my friend Erin brought to my attention that an educational and scientific supply wholesaler was liquidating their stock of tiny historical American flags for the incredible price of five for .75 cents. They came in assorted varieties, meaning anything from the Guilford Courthouse Flag to the Taunton Sons of Liberty flag. Naturally, I did the same thing you would have done with this information: I bought 75 tiny historical American flags, had them rushed to my apartment overnight, and took the next day off work so I could wait around for them to arrive.
“Do you have any plans for those flags?” Erin asked.
“The question really is, ‘Do those flags have any plans for me?’” I said. I was very excited to do something, anything, with my 75 tiny historical American flags. Almost certainly an art or curatorial project of some kind.
Now, of course, on this 4th of July, several years later, I have still not found a good use for these tiny historical American flags. They’re sitting in the box they came in, waiting to be put to work for some half-baked art project. They are a handsome lot, as you can see from the samples pictured above. So, reader, as I have so often in the past, I am appealing to you. For the holiday, I am throwing the door open for a collaboration between the two of us.
Describe a project that makes use of anywhere between one and five of these tiny historical American flags. Ideally, it will make good use of both my talents and yours. It should be best conducted by mail, but for local readers I will make exceptions.
Send your plan to my email address, email@example.com, with S. 12TH 4TH OF JULY TINY HISTORICAL FLAG COLLABORATIVE PROJECT. Or, just click here.
Happy 4th of July to you. May it be filled with liberty and union.
"It was ‘OK, we’re not from L.A. and we’re not from New York and we’re not from London,’ but we felt pretty good and we could play with the best of ‘em.” But the problem was not that they weren’t from L.A., New York or London — they weren’t even from Minneapolis. “We were St. Paul people, which was like East Germans,” Hart explains. “So we had to live that down."
6th April 10
Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991.
The poet Paul D. Dickinson once explained to me that St. Paul-based bands and record labels in the 1980s were forced to buy PO boxes with Minneapolis addresses for incoming mail if they expected anyone living outside Minnesota to take them even a little bit seriously. To a New York music industry person, corresponding with some yokel in Minneapolis was bad enough, but corresponding with some yokel in St. Paul was infinitely worse.
30th December 09
Here is a photo of me that was used in a Crown Royal print advertising campaign appearing in the November 1964 issue of Esquire magazine. The original ad copy has been lost, unfortunately, so I leave it to you the reader to leave suggestions for new, appropriately swingin’ ad copy in the comments section.
Best entry gets a special secret swingin’ door prize mailed to them from S. 12th World Headquarters!
5th October 09
Autumn is the time of year where my mailbox begins filling up with L.L. Bean catalogs. I don’t know about you, reader, but I love getting L.L. Bean catalogs in the mail, even if I never order anything from them except long underwear. There is something about L.L. Bean models that makes me wonder about their characters’ backstories in a way that other clothing retailers’ models do not. There is no mystery to an American Apparel model’s backstory: it’s all self-evident in the vacant expressions and gold lamé. Same with Abercrombie Fitch models; a bunch of bros had their polo shirts fall off in a moderately arousing fashion while en route to a squash match. Will their sexy ragtag team of oil-glistened prep school hunks win back the state title this year for the Warriors? Who cares! They’re obviously all going to get laid in the end, and this particular brand of hormone-streaked triumphalism is of zero interest to us here at S. 12th.
But L.L. Bean models! That’s something to get excited about.
First of all, you know that the narrative backstory takes place in Maine, which just feels right. The state of Maine and the way of life of its inhabitants is an utter mystery to 99% of the rest of America. Who knows what goes on in Maine? I only have the faintest idea myself.
Look at the woman above in the Harpswell Fair Isle sweater, “Henley style, with [a] kangaroo pocket,” said to be “just right for get-togethers or weekend wear.” What a sentence; there’s not even one proper noun in there that I understand. Where is she going in that sweater? To a “get-together”? In Harpswell, Maine? What do people do at get-togethers in Harpswell, Maine? Scrimshaw? Cider? Shuck oysters? Do they put on Big Blood records and dance? They all look like very sturdy people. Something about the expressions on the models’ faces indicates a certain degree of know-how, like they could jump-start your car or shovel snow off your driveway without much complaining. They look like they might actually shovel snow for fun.
Plus, Maine accents! I look through L.L. Bean catalogs, and I imagine all the models sound like Katharine Hepburn, even though that’s not quite right, is it? Here is a great Maine accent in a lobster commercial. All the L.L. Bean models sound like that in real life, perhaps. They’re at a get-together in Harpswell, and one of them says, ”Everyone, we’ve got wuhk to do. We’ve got to make shoo-uh that theh’s enough lobstahs on the maw-kit for the holiday season,” and they all strip down semi-suggestively into their union suits and shovel lobsters into crates. Then, cider for everyone. Your mild guilt at having such dumb, idle catalog model fantasies is mitigated by thoughts of hard work and seasonal accomplishment. L.L. Bean models let you have it both ways.