The bobby-pin

Every day brings a thousand thoughts of Stephanie, sometimes big thoughts I can write about, but more often little thoughts that wouldn't make much sense on the website. Fascinating as those little thoughts are to me, I couldn't possibly make them interesting to anyone else. So instead, a few of the bigger thoughts:

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Like most everything we did that was fun, it was Stephanie's idea. We had enjoyed watching a silly reality show called Auction Kings, about a guy who ran an auction house, and Stephanie wondered aloud whether it might be fun to attend an auction.

We went twice to an auction house in Waukesha, and once to an auction in some other smallish Wisconsin town I've forgotten. It worked the same at both places, maybe at all auction houses: You show up, pay a nominal fee to get in, and they give you a bidding card — basically a laminated index card with a number written on it. When you're bidding, you hold up the card, and the auctioneer says, "Ten dollars, number nine" or whatever.

But first, you walk around in a room crowded with other people, and with lots of merchandise on lots of tables. For an hour or so before the auction starts, you can look at everything that's going on the block, and strategize about what you're willing to bid. Then the action starts, with a friendly, fast-talking auctioneer, and you sit and wait, or walk around, or quietly chat and hold hands until they get around to the items you want to bid on.

At our first auction, Steph wanted a 40-year-old Kenner Easy-Bake Oven, because the tag said that it still worked. The minimum bid was $125, though, and there's no way we'd have been willing to pay that price. More realistically, she  spotted a pair of large metal leaves that she wanted — big hunks of copper bigger than your head, carved to look like maple leaves — which Stephanie thought would look nice outside the door of our apartment. And I wanted a ridiculous little mini-statue of a man in frilly clothes playing badminton.

With so many of items to be sold, and a separate auction for each item, a day at the auction house really does take most of the day. But it's fun and weirdly dramatic, watching strangers yell numbers against each other for whatever things they want. When the auctioneer opened the bidding on the badminton statue, I raised our card and offered twenty dollars, but the bidding was soon over fifty bucks, far more than I was willing to pay.

A little while later, the metal leaves were announced, and Stephanie made the minimum opening bid of $5. Our pre-auction strategy was to stop bidding if the price went over ten dollars, and someone else immediately bid $10, but Steph bit her lip and bid $11. Our enemy bid $12, and Stephanie said $13, with determination in her voice. It was a bluff, and for us the room filled with imaginary tension as the stranger pondered whether it was worth a few dollars more. "Going once, twice — sold to bidder number nine for a lucky $13." Yee-haw, I kissed my lady.

We didn't bid on anything else, but we stayed to the end just enjoying the drama. The Easy-Bake Oven went for $300-something, miles out of our orbit. We came home, and leaned the iron leaves against the wall outside our apartment door, where they remain to this day, giving me a little smile every time I notice them.

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Another show we liked was Parks & Recreation. It was Stephanie's favorite sit-com, for obvious reasons — the main character was a strong, smart woman, who was perpetually optimistic, and who won most of her battles against a myriad of kooks, crises, and bureaucracies. How totally Steph is that?

Parks & Rec ended five years ago, but the producers and cast have re-united to make a single new episode, about how the show's dozen regular characters are coping with the coronavirus craziness. It's a fundraiser for Feeding America, a charity I've never heard of, to help people whose lives have been shattered by COVID-19-related deaths, illness, and financial ruin.

Steph would love to see how Leslie Knope copes with social distancing, masks and gloves, Zoom meetings, endless hand-washing, and all these weeks and weeks of worry. Steph knew a thing or four about endless worries, but like the hero on that show, she was usually hopeful and always had her sense of humor. 

So I'm looking forward to watching this new episode of Parks & Recreation, here in the same chair I sat in to watch that show with Steph, so many times. When they take a pledge break, I'll make a donation to the COVID charity, in Stephanie's name. 

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Yes indeed, there's a pandemic on. You might have noticed. Like most of the people from my office, I'm now working at home. Some of my co-workers have posted snapshots to our company website, showing how they've set up their workstations in their living rooms or bedrooms. Me, I've shared no pictures, because everyone else's home is friggin' immaculate, but our apartment is a catastrophe.

Stephanie and I always shared the household chores, but neither of us much gave a hoot. Even when we were newlyweds and she was healthy, our apartment was always on the brink of chaos. Seriously, who cares if there's a bra in the corner, or my socks are in the windowsill? Everywhere we lived always looked "lived in," because it's our home, not a display in a museum.

And admittedly, when Stephanie got sick and eventually disabled, and all the household chores fell to me, well, our leisurely cleaning habits got even lazier. And since Stephanie died, I haven't given a fraction of a damn about tidiness. So OK, the apartment is a mess.

The clutter, though, sometimes brightens my days, accidentally. Like, I'm now spending forty hours a week sitting at a desk that hadn't been used for years, and when I cleaned out the bottom drawer a single bobby-pin emerged from the dust — one of Stephanie's bobby-pins.

I held it in my hand for maybe ten minutes, thinking about how that bobby-pins had been in her hair years and years ago. Maybe it was in her hair when we first met, or when we hiked through Kettle Moraine, or the night we got all dolled up for cocktails at the Pfister Hotel. Absolutely I cried, but it wasn't a sad cry, it was a happy cry.

The bobby-pin is still on my desk, and every time I see it I'm softly reminded that for twenty-plus years I was the luckiest man in the universe.