Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 8

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


As I look back over the last two weeks of ArtPrize (I’m not as motivated to write everyday as I was the first couple of weeks), I will admit that nothing happened to top my “conversation” with the lady who claims to have seen aliens outside her apartment. But I’ve met a lot of other interesting people.

Let’s start with the most recent, then work our way back to the beginning.

On my final day of volunteering as a Wayfinder — a term I think would better describe our job is FindWayer — I was standing on the street corner just outside the HopCat bar. As her boyfriend/husband/partner went inside to check on possible reservations, young woman (mid-20s, maybe?) approached me to ask a couple of questions: that’s why we wear the “Ask Me” bibs, duh. She had with her a smallish dog on a leash, a cute little thing with light brown features on the face and head that blended into off white back toward the body. I asked her what type of dog he was and she told me he was a Rat Terrier, Shih Tzu mix named Ozzie. I mentioned how I thought that was an interesting mix and she pointed to her partner and told me that “he likes to call him a Rat Shit.” That was sort of like the joke when a bulldog mated with a Shih Tzu and the resulting mixed breed was called BullShit. He laughed; she looked confused. He explained. She laughed.

The day before I was asked to monitor the site where the eventual winner, a piece called “Whisper” was on display. Essentially, the art was a group of dinner tables placed end-to-end with many place settings occupying spaces on the tables. There were wires attached to the undersides of the tables and hooked up to a single microphone in the middle of the room. The object was to whisper into the microphone, which in turn would cause the tables to vibrate. But if you talked loudly or shouted, nothing would happen. The artist explained that even by whispering, our words had power and that power could be generated into sound waves which, in turn, would cause the tables to vibrate and shake the plates and glasses to the floor.

Viewers quickly learned that making the “P” sound into the microphone would be the best way to set the art work into motion and after a while, all the vibrations and subsequent crashes got really noisy. About an hour into my shift, I moved up to the third floor and asked a girl if she would like to change places; she said “sure.” So we did.

The third floor was quieter, what with all the pieces up there consisting mostly of twine, string and/or macramé and needlepoint. One piece I really liked contained 50 small — about 6 inches by 6 inches — needlepoint drawings titled “50 People I Love But Don’t Know.” They included Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, comic strip character Little Lulu, “an anonymous 3rd century musician, Hank Williams and Mr. Toad.

To generate some thought and conversation, I asked visitors:” “If you made this piece, give me at least five names or people you would include in your’s.” One gal’s choices really stood out; she picked President Lincoln, President Reagan, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Ghandi. Off the top of my head I came up with: my grandfather, who died four years before I was born on his birthday, Freddie Mercury (late lead singer for Queen) and Larry from the Three Stooges. Oh, and James Earl Jones and baseball player Ty Cobb. Is it odd that four of my five choices are dead?

I did one day at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum where six of the Top 20 public-voting finalists were located. One of them was NOT a large sculpture called “The Desecration of Christ.” It was interesting (again, look it up on the ArtPrize web page at .org), but I’m wondering if some of the people were turned off by the artist himself. He was from Iowa, which had nothing to do with it, but at one point he came over by me and another volunteer and complained that not a single person had voted for him in the last 30 minutes, “but they’re all taking my cards.” I tried to tell him that taking a card does not equal a vote and that he should be encouraged by the fact that so many people were stopping. I don’t think he was.

If I recall, I only voted for one piece and that was at the Catholic Diocese located at the corner of Wealthy Street and Division Avenue. Illy (my wife) and I spent a couple of hours “doing” ArtPrize on a Saturday afternoon and I think I voted for it more because it had colors that would match up with our living room décor more than the fact I liked the piece as an ArtPrize entry. We did meet one artist we liked who used pieces of rice paper to design little stick figures showing different fashions from different countries. She didn’t have anything representing Cuba, my wife’s birthplace, but she did point to a very dark stick figure from Columbia, suggesting “that’s pretty close, no?” Um, no.

So, ArtPrize is over, except for the shouting and I’m seriously considering entering again next year. A chat with an artist the other day who thanked moe for volunteering made me realize how much fun I had the two years I was in it. I believe if you go to the ArtPrize web page and do a search for my name, I’m still in the system. I didn’t enter to win, but I like to try to show off my creativity and my photography. I’ve got a couple of ideas. I might share them later. One of them involves tape-recording my farts and re-recording them on a continuous loop for continuous playback at the push of a button. Illy totally rejected that idea. We’ll see.

Hasta luego.


Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 7

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)


I’m a people watcher, always have been, always will be. Maybe it’s from the days of my childhood when I was the youngest of six children and I always got stuck at the end of the table or at the end of the row. Or, worse yet, I was the one straddling the leg of that big old wooden picnic table. Yeah, you can relate.

As my wife about this. No longer do I have to remind her that when we got to a restaurant or the club that I have to be facing the door so I can see who’s coming and going. I don’t know why. Very seldom do we see people we know unless we’re show minimal creativity and go to Mc … no, Wendy’s or a local favorite, Russ’.

That’s why, after volunteering five or six times as a Wayfinder for the annual late-summer show in Grand Rapids called “ArtPrize,” I signed up again. But I’m not just going to be wearing that “Ask Me” vest that Wayfinders wear. One day I’m going to do hospitality at The Hub so I can ask people how they are doing and engage in conversation, and another day I’ve signed up for “Access Art.” THAT I’m going to have to look up so I don’t go in blind. For more information, go to artprize.org because I’m too lazy to try to explain it.

All this is leading to an experience I had on Thursday when I was asked to help out a guy named Tim in the Information Booth on one of the bridges in downtown Grand Rapids.

It all began rather harmlessly when this elderly woman with a walker asked: “You guys answer questions, right?” Of course, we answered “yes.” So she said, “Where can I get a wheelchair? I’m tired of walking.” Our booth was maybe a hundred yards from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so we suggested they might be able to help. Then she said something about not feeling like walking that far. Then she said something about “have you ever met someone who saw an alien?” Then I said something stupid like “no, but I saw a UFO once.” I heard Tim gasp. Then I saw this little lady lock the brakes on her walker, flop the seat down and say, “Let’s talk.”


She said her name was Mack. Or Mac. Not really sure, but I remember she was wearing a denim jacket, a funky hat (something like I’ve seen on Tim Conway during a Carol Burnett Show sketch), and she talked a lot. She told me how these aliens were floating just outside her third-floor apartment balcony, how they arrived their after floating out of the mist that surrounded a grove of pine trees nearby, how they stared at her for a couple of minutes, then slowy turned away and zipped back into the mist. There were three of them, Mack (or Mac) said. One appeared taller and she viewed him as “the leader.” One was a little shorter than the leader (the “follower?” I thought) and another was much shorter, perhaps an offspring. Mac (or Mack) and the aliens stared at each other for most of the time they hovered there. She said she didn’t dare make any sudden moves, like reaching for a camera (duh) for fear that they would either disappear forever (which they apparently have) or else they would shoot her in fear.

Mack (or Mac) pulled a postcard-sized piece of paper out of her purse, conveniently remembering that she drew a smaller scale image of the poster she drew of the aliens that is at her different apartment. Apparently she moved because she had issues with the landlord at the aliens’ apartment. I almost laughed out loud when Tim, the other guy who was with me in the information booth, let loose with a quiet, but audible snort. Mac (or Mack) described the photo to me, though I was quite capable myself of seeing what was on it. The background was a deep blue, “a blue I had never before seen,” my guest explained, and there appeared to be a sort of archway over the scene … like a rainbow, but without the colors. Then there were some shadowy figures in the foreground, dark, like silhouettes on a shade (I almost started humming a Herman’s Hermits tune here). She described their appearance to me, which was good because I really could not see on her picture what she was describing to me in her mind.

Then Mac (or Mack) realized it was getting close to 6 p.m. and she wanted to head over to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids because one of the local TV stations is broadcasting all of its news and local shows from there during our annual festival called ArtPrize. (Look it up, I’m still too lazy to describe it.) Seems Mack (Mac?) has the hots for Kyle Underwood, one of our local meterologists. When my new friend (Tim’s words, not mine) left, I quickly texted one of the female meterologists there that I know, telling her that if Kyle was on the set to “run fast and run far.” When I explained why, Ellen Bacca said, “Oh, if someone is going to bug Kyle, we’ll be happy to watch.”

Anyway, the rest of my ArtPrize day was uneventful — hell, what could top THAT? — and when my shift was over, I headed back to the volunteer lounge. Apparently, Tim was still entertained by what he had seen as he shared our story with everyone who was up there. Yes, there was comments and jokes about Mack/Mac and aliens; luckily, I’m easy to get along with.

Unfortunately, Mack stole 30 minutes of my time when I could have been helping people find their bearings in downtown Grand Rapids. Maybe on my death bed, the doctors will find an extra 30 minutes of oxygen for me before I die.

Oh, by the way, I told Mack if she DID enter her aliens’ poster in ArtPrize next year, I would vote for her. I said nothing about finding her and looking at it, but I did promise her a vote.

Now, if only I could find out what she had been smoking ………

Lee’s Retirement Chronicles: Part 5

(Note: I am newly retired. The 2015-16 school year, which began the day AFTER Labor Day, marked the first time in nearly 20 years that I was not in the classroom at the beginning of the new school year. Here is the next part of what will be a continuing series: “Life After Work(ing).”)

When last I left you, I told you it was the weekend and you should expect nothing profound. I didn’t give you anything profound because I was tired from a very busy Thursday, which I never even mentioned.

I’ll skip all the acronyms and the names that go with them except for one. I boarded a bus with my wife and some other support staff and a whole bunch of disabled men and women for a trip from Grand Rapids to Lansing to gather at the Capitol building to celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA [see, an acronym]) and remind the Senate and the House members that funding must continue for this great program.

Oddly, the Capitol building is being renovated and a couple of the previous handicapped entrances were closed, forcing us to walk in through what could best be described as “basement” doors, which necessitate riding an elevator up to the second floor(s) to see the Senate chambers and the House chambers. I was along to be a P.A. (Personal Assistant) for a guy (not) named “Bill,” who, in the course of our conversations, informed me that he was 53 years old and very up-to-date on the current state of the Detroit Tigers. Don has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair; my task, other than to make sure he got from Point A to Point B, was to help him when he needed the bathroom. Unlike my guy “Sam,” who doesn’t have an issue when I hold the urinal cup for him to pee in, “Bill” had me lift him from his chair, help him drop trou and put him on the toilet. As I waited the first time for him to go, he looked up and said, “Could I have a little privacy?”

Of course, I gave it to him, so I stood outside the stall until I heard “OK, I’m done.” I didn’t make that same mistake the next two times. In face, because he’s about 100 pounds lighter than “Sam,” on our third trip to the john, I simply pushed his foot rests out of the way, wrapped my arms around his chest and lifted and moved him to the toilet.

Life continues to be a learning experience.


On Monday and Wednesday I was back to work with “Sam,” but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. He missed last week Wednesday with what he said was a cold, but he was still not his normal cheerful self this week Monday and Wednesday. About an hour before his class was scheduled to end, in fact, he tried calling his mom because of what he called “gastric issues.” Thank goodness he didn’t have to go No. 2 like he did at an earlier class. I don’t wanna do that again.


ArtPrize, an open competition for artists worldwide, began this week Wednesday in Grand Rapids. I entered the competition twice in the past five years mostly for fun, but now, especially since I’ve got more time, I’ve signed up to volunteer a number of times as a “Wayfinder,” one of those folks who wears an “ASK ME” bib. A couple of other times, I’m going to work in “The Hub,” a site whose title is self-explanatory, greeting people who walk in the door. It’s great fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, the other volunteers are quite awesome. Yes, it’s crowded in downtown Grand Rapids, but it’s a good thing.

This is year seven of ArtPrize and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.