Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Busiest Guy on Campus": The Process

I had a great time working on this piece about Recycling Coordinator Rob Townsend.  I spent two and a half hours following him around last week, during which he took me to the arboretum to see the composting site and to the pig farm where he deposits leftover food from the caf.  He's chatty: I think I have over three hours of audio, which will be interesting to edit when I set up my slideshow.

Right now the piece's most glaring error is that I've only talked to Rob himself.  This is mostly a product of timing--I wasn't able to follow him until last week.  So far I have two interviews set up with other K College staff members that he said know him well and one with a girl who works on his recycling staff.  Hopefully those will give me some more insight into his personality.

My biggest question has to do with content: is it interesting?  I have so much stuff that I struggled with what to leave in and what to cut out.  My goal is to weave a story about his background in with the story of his current life at work, but I'm not sure if I got too bogged down in background and didn't give a clear enough picture of the recycling program.  I also have an awkward break between the fourth to last paragraph and the rest of them.  Hopefully interviewing other people will help me fill in some gaps.

A big thing I'd like to add: Rob's love of art.  He's showing me his art books on Thursday, and he refers to it as his real passion.  He majored in art when he went to Western and still does it now.  He says it's the first way he communicated with his parents since he couldn't yet talk when he was really little.  I'm trying to figure out where to plug this in because I think it's really important to his personality.

Also, it's going to be really long if I don't cut things and I add in the art thing and the other interview information.  Problematic!  Let me know if you have any suggestions on what to cut out.

Kalamazoo College's "Busiest Guy on Campus"

Rob Townsend refers to the day Kalamazoo College hired him as “the sweetest day.” It was Valentine’s Day of 1980 and he came to the school as a sanitary engineer, he says, which is a fancy term for custodian. After six months he moved up the ranks to grounds maintenance, and twelve years into the job he started working on his prized project: the recycling program.

At the time, the newly formed environmental student group EnvOrg wanted to start up a recycling system on campus. Rob says one of his bosses asked him if he would take on the job.  He asked for some time to think it over, but took the job a couple of days later. “[My boss] thought that I was just going to go pick up paper. No, I had a long-term goal and, as you see, where we’re at—that’s my long-term goal,” Rob says.

He has come a long way from his early years, when the educational administration in Kalamazoo said he most likely would not graduate high school. Rob was born deaf. A car accident during his mother’s pregnancy left him with undeveloped hairs in his inner ear, which have a crucial function in the process of hearing. 

It took his parents a while to realize it. By the time he was 18 months, however, they noticed he didn’t respond when they called out to him. They took him in for testing and learned he had impaired hearing.

“I did not go to kindergarten or preschool like most kids do; I went to college,” Rob says. “I went to George Washington University at 18 months old to learn lip reading, identifying sounds, speech.” At the time he lived in Washington, DC. His family moved to Ohio a couple of years later because of his dad’s job in the Air Force. There, he went to Ohio State. By the time the family moved to England, Rob was ready to start elementary school.

He had no trouble in the classroom overseas learning to write and read with other kids who were not hearing impaired. Rob had hearing aids to help him function in a verbal setting. He and his family moved to Kalamazoo permanently after his dad retired from the Air Force and, there, Rob began to have some trouble in school

His second grade teacher liked to focus on kids she identified as gifted, Rob says. She did not know what to do with a hearing-impaired student. Rob began to struggle in class and she recommended he go to a school for children with disabilities, where he repeated second grade.

His parents spent four years fighting with the school board to put him back in the regular school system. When they succeeded, Rob had to repeat fourth grade, putting him two years behind his peers. This is when he was told he would most likely never graduate.

Rob proved the system wrong, earning enough credits to graduate high school a semester early but opting to stay and spend time with his friends. He started at Western Michigan University a week after graduation, and eventually moved to Kalamazoo Valley Community College where he could be in smaller classes.

The upside to Rob’s stint in the school for students with disabilities came years later, when he decided to attend a school reunion. “I kind of was looking around and all of a sudden there’s these little sparkling eyes,” he says. “I noticed this one girl, this one gal kept looking at me.” He started dating the woman, Jenifer, soon after and they eventually married.

Rob comes from a big family—he’s the youngest of five brothers. “I think that’s part of the reason why my job is sort of related to recycling,” he says. “I got a lot of hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down toys, so I’m accustomed to it. I’m not real picky about brand new stuff.”

Some of Rob’s duties directly involve hand me downs. He runs the Resource Exchange Program, a collection of discarded objects to be handed down to new students. People dispose of products no longer useful to them—from academic tools, to kitchen utensils, to lamps—and other students can peruse the storage room and take things they need for free.

Rob also works on recycling-related programs off campus. He started a composting initiative at the College’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum, just over 10 minutes west of the campus. Right now he composts yard waste, but he hopes to one day incorporate food waste into the mix.

Rob collects bins full of the cafeteria’s leftovers several times throughout the week. Currently he takes them to a farm about 20 minutes from the College called Lake Village Homestead. Rob drives onto a field and dumps the food into a pile for eager pigs. “They’ve got the best meal plan,” he says.

Moving food to the composting site would save Rob time and fuel, concentrating both tasks in the same place. Rob also takes issue with the fact that using the current system, he says, the school pays the farm to take its leftovers. “I totally disagree with that,” Rob says. “The way I see it is we’re helping them decrease the cost of the food they need to feed their livestock.” This situation frustrated him enough that he started looking into ways to add food into the arboretum composting mix.

Rob does not anger easily. His wife, who is also hearing impaired, speaks American Sign Language. This has taught him to be patient during disagreements. “I don’t know how to argue with my hands,” he says. He has a general philosophy of taking things as they come. Negative dispute, he says, “is a waste of my time and energy.”

His attitude carries over to his job. Rob has a special system for categorizing problems. He breaks them down into the good, the bad and the ugly. “If it’s good, leave it alone. You’re happy with it,” he says. Bad things, he says, can be good or ugly. They are things you still want to work on, things that could eventually be made good. Ugly things are not worthy of time and energy. “Get rid of it. End of story,” says Rob.

Rob hopes to stick around at the recycling program for another five or six years, health permitting. He was recently diagnosed with stage one non-Hodgkin follicular lymphoma. It is a slow growing cancer, he says, and he does not currently have to undergo treatment. However he was also told that it can be treated, but not cured. The diagnosis has inspired him to listen to his body more, he says. He has let go of some responsibilities, namely retiring from the LandSea program, an outdoor orientation for first-year students entering into the College.

He hopes the summer will give him a bit of a break too. He will be working on a variety of projects, from revamping recycling bins to organizing an annual furniture sale that benefits the recycling program. He will have a staff of 15 people helping out with the projects, 10 of whom have worked recycling before, he says. Their knowledge will make it easier for him to run the program over the academic break.

“There are days where I feel crappy and I just don’t feel like I want to come in,” he says. “But you know, it’s kind of hard for me [because] I’m so dedicated to K College.” Rob hopes to take a month off at some point to visit as many of the 59 state parks as he can with his wife, but otherwise he plans to stick around. “I am very optimistic about it; I’m a fighter,” he says. “I am determined to try to beat this thing. So I got time. I got time.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kalamazoo's furniture Emporium (Revised)

For the few hours that Emporium—an antique furniture store in downtown Kalamazoo—opens each day, a colorful flag on the back of a Ford pickup waves passersby into the large parking lot. Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weeknights, and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends, customers squeeze themselves through narrow aisles to scope out furniture and other trinkets. 

“It’s haphazard,” says Amanda, a woman in her 20s who recently moved to the area. She stops by to look around and to see what kinds of furnishings the store holds. “I’m afraid I’m gonna, like, tip something over! I don’t know how they get it all in here.”

The furniture at Emporium fills three old farm buildings. Chairs rest on sideboards and tables balance on top of one another. “There’s a whole lot of people that wouldn’t set foot in this place,” says its owner, Bob Medema. “People who are wantin’ modern things. They don’t come here. They don’t understand this.”

Bob opened Emporium 44 years ago. Dave Cretsinger, the only other employee, joined him four years later. Bob says he initially organized his small collection of furniture into room arrangements. As he and Dave accumulated products over the years, however, they gave up on keeping things orderly. “Wherever we find a place to set [a piece] down,” Dave says, is where it goes.

A red barn serves as Emporium’s main structure, separated from a small building in the back by a pile of furniture that has not yet been pulled inside. Across a wide driveway, a long, cinderblock building runs along the length of the other two. Bob says the property used to serve various farm functions, from providing an area to hatch chickens, to storing feed.

No obvious characteristics differentiate the furniture in each space. Each building smells damp and slightly musty. Bob and Dave, however, have a methodology to choosing a building for each piece. They keep furnishings made of lighter wood and ones with flaws in the finish in the small back building. The concrete floor and ceiling produce significant moisture, they explain, especially during the spring, which leads to more furniture damage.

The hum of fans provides soothing white noise in each of the three buildings, but most notably in the largest. Bob and Dave use them to deal with the humidity problem. “A cheap fan is wonderful. You need air circulating,” Bob says. The main red barn seems airiest and houses the widest variety of objects, from a Victorian-looking doll carriage to a disconnected water fountain. 

Customers react differently to the chaos and sprawl that characterizes Emporium. Chris Latiolais, a fan of 17th and 18th century European antiques, finds the arrangement off-putting. “It tends to be dirty and it quite often is cold there…it’s certainly not the type of shop where you just enjoy the actual ambiance,” he says. He also questions the quality of Emporium’s products, noting that people may not go there to find fine antiques.

Bob and Dave hold their products in high opinion, but recognize that not all are of top-notch caliber. Part of this comes from their decision to help out neighbors looking for some quick cash. One Thursday evening, two men come in with a couple of benches they hope to sell. Dave pulls Bob out of the barn to negotiate price, warning him in advance that the benches appear to have come from a kitchen set. “I don’t want none of that stuff,” Bob says, but wanders outside anyway.

One of the men greets him with a friendly “Hey Bob.” He explains that the benches came from a friend’s church.

“These ain’t outta no church.  Don’t tell me these are out of a church, ‘cuz they’re not.” Bob responds. 

After some inspection, Dave clarifies: “They came with a kitchen table.” Bob repeats the sentiment.

The men insist that they got the benches because their friend planned to buy new ones for her center of worship.

“Well it musta been an awful poor church,” Bob eventually says.

“Yeah, it was,” says the vendor.

Eventually Bob buys the benches for $12, despite the sellers’ insistence that he give them at least $15. Although Bob and Dave consider the benches low quality and doubt they will sell, they buy them to help out the men who brought them in. The sellers are what Bob and Dave call street people: “people who are down on their luck…need some money, so it’s kind of like a donation,” says Dave. He and Bob find it important to help people out a bit when they need it. “If I lose money just giving it away I don’t feel bad, ‘cuz once in a while they’re bringing something good, and you gotta learn to give stuff away,” Bob says.

The bright side of the bench purchase: the sellers brought a pair. “I’m a nut for pairs,” Bob says, “Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like two.” The upstairs area of the barn—accessed by a staircase lined with customer thank-you notes, testaments to Bob and Dave’s popularity—houses endless chairs. Bob has them set out in surprisingly organized, even-numbered clusters, as if waiting for an audience to fill them. An odd chair confuses people, says Bob. “They can’t figure out money when it comes to five chairs.”

Pairs crop up in other areas of the store. Two glass panels hang from the ceiling of the biggest building, their symmetry offset by a large parrot hanging nearby and holding a Corona. In the back of the building, two advertising posters from a teen clothing store brighten up the walls. Bob says he hung them up so that young people will know they are welcome.

The young people that visit Emporium do not seem to be the type to buy colorful, branded outfits. All the same, they do come to the store in fairly large numbers. Several couples and groups of friends in their mid- to late-twenties pass through over the course of two nights. “Old stuff. I like old stuff,” says one woman, dressed in a dark clothing, in an aloof tone. “They have a lot of everything,” her shopping companion says, affirming their interest. “A lot of stuff from everywhere.”

At the end of a Tuesday night, a pickup truck pulls into the driveway. Bob and Dave walk over to greet a frequent seller. They have known the man, Scott, for years, having first met him at shows in Ann Arbor. Scott comes by a couple of times a month to sell furniture he has bought at estate and other sales.

Scott, Bob and Dave discuss the pieces he has brought—a full furniture set, including a narrow set of drawers called a lingerie chest—while conversing like old friends. No haggling happens this time. Scott’s wife, Denise, says Scott writes down the amount he paid for the furniture and Bob gives him a reasonable profit.

It takes a while to unload the pieces. The sun begins to set as Emporium nears closing time, while Bob and Dave enjoy a last trade for the evening. A neon sign takes over for the now less-vibrant flag, reminding potential customers that the store’s window of business will stay open for just a few more minutes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Response: The Events of October

The Events of October by Gail Griffin

I could not put this book down.  Although I disliked the writing style—I'm not a big fan of flowery language and the passive voice, especially in nonfiction—Gail Griffin organized the pieces in such a way that I found myself immediately drawn in.  Her decision to place the murder-suicide in the middle of the book initially had me confused about how she would fill the rest of the novel.  This excellent organizational choice, however, allowed the novel to really become a narrative about the widespread effects of the murder on campus.  Griffin told this story through an impressive array of outside input, interviewing Wardle's friends as well as Neenef's.  She showed the spectrum of student responses and also discussed the administrative nightmares involved in the aftermath, a part of the story I would not have considered.  The way Griffin portrayed the president of the College allowed me to feel what she did during the ordeal—a combination of anger and respect.  

Griffin treats Neenef and his friends with surprising but necessary sympathy.  She lets his friends express their grieving process, which they found complicated by his role in the event.  I feel as if Griffin anticipated the reader's response, or perhaps wanted to reflect what seemed to be the response of many campus members; while she eventually brings the issue to its larger societal implications, she first brings us through the process of deconstructing the entire situation.  While clearly presenting the horror of the situation, Griffin also considers Neenef's family situation and the problems of masculine socialization.  In this way, she makes the complexities of the greater situation clear but ultimately (and rightly) condemns its perpetrators.

Griffin comes at the story with a specific perspective and a message—to educate the public about the domestic violence crisis in America.  I think she makes this very transparent, so I had no problem with the angle.  I still struggle with the difference between creative nonfiction and narrative journalism, because I find the term journalism to imply more of a presentation of facts without tons of interpretation.  Perhaps this story represents the former and not the latter?  I may be looking at it incorrectly.  Either way, I think Griffin did an excellent job of addressing this dreadful topic with sensitivity, while still driving home important statistics and raising awareness about ever-present threats to women's safety.  Hearing the story through many voices made it incredibly strong and resonant.

I couldn't decide whether to put my two small problems with the presentation of facts at the start or the end because they did not affect the impact the story had on me.  I will leave them here as an afterthought:
1. I assumed, given Griffin's thorough reporting, that she had tried to contact the Odah family and failed to get a response.  That being said, I wanted to know the details upfront, before the story began.  She describes her efforts to get in touch near the end of the novel; however, I initially resisted some of her analysiswithout actual family inputof the Odahs situation, especially in regard to them being immigrants.

2. I am pretty sure Frelon is not "the Spanish word for 'butterfly'" (53).  This has nothing to do with the actual story here, and I know it's just my unnecessary nitpicking that drew my attention to it; however, it throws me off whenever reporters presenting a lot of big, complex facts fail to fact-check simple, quick ones.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reading Response: Auperlee, Boo & Finkel

Mother who beat cancer walks miles... (Auperlee)

I found this to be a well-written narrative about a struggling mother who loves her sons.  At the same time, the Jackson Citizen Patriot should not have put it in their news section because of Auperlee's angle.  Auperlee does a decent job of expressing both sides of the mother in question, Gail Hammett.  He brings up her alcoholism, he talks to her son's aunt about her concerns and he tells about the time a friend she brought over threatened Hammett and her disabled son at knifepoint.  I appreciate that he wove this into a story that also focused significantly on what she does for her sons and the struggles she's had in her personal life.

However: "It is impossible to measure a mother’s love and devotion to her children, but consider this."  Auperlee begins his conclusion with this sentence, which precedes a reiteration of Hammett's commitment to visiting her son and the pain it inflicts upon her.  To me this screams of editorializing and emotional manipulation.  As a news story, this sentence and its connotations should have no place in the piece.

I like the way in which Auperlee starts this story.  He sets it up with teen boys joking around and, although he mentions that they're in wheelchairs, he does not focus on their disability.  The story is really about friendship between people with the same injury, which makes it a little different than the standard, uplifting story about injured teens who still keep an upbeat attitude.  He includes a section about their frustrations, which I like.  Although the boys seem to be okay with their situation, I appreciate his portrayal of the more difficult parts of their life.  There's a good balance in the article that prevents it from being overly optimistic.

The homecoming scene at the end did a good portrayal of the way the boys navigate everyday life in high school.  It was a bit cliche, especially here: "So, in the end, the boys' biggest challenges at Homecoming had nothing to do with wheelchairs or accidents. Their issues were all too-normal: a loose bow tie and an ill-fitting crown."  Overall though I feel that Auperlee did a good job with the subject.

Life On Chittock (Auperlee)

Auperlee's focus on a collection of residents gave this piece a good dimension.  He talks to a woman who watches a huge group of kids on the block and to a man who sits on his porch alone and reports traffic problems.  My one criticism of his selection is that I would have like to hear the voices of some of the younger residents.  Overall, though, I liked that he showed the neighborhood through the voices of its residents.

The police information also added to the piece.  It shows the crime that does occur in the area, but also indicates that it often isn't caused by residents.

The Marriage Cure (Boo)

This piece was really well done.  As always with this kind of topic, I sometimes have trouble with the idea of a successful journalist dropping in on a low-income community and thinking they can represent them.  With this piece, though, I think Boo did a good job of observing and writing what she heard.  It made me think of Trina and Trina, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.  Unlike in that story though, I wasn't uncomfortable with the reporter's involvement in the lives of these women.  When Kim couldn't catch a bus to get to the mall, Boo didn't offer to drive her.  She essentially refused to interfere directly in their lives, which I thought was great.  It got rid of the savior complex that bothered me in Trina and Trina.

I am glad that Boo pointed out the outdated and situationally distant marriage curriculum.  When I started reading about the program, I was put off by the government's idea of saving poor women by marrying them off.  While that wasn't specifically addressed--and rightfully so, if it didn't put off Kim or Corean--Boo mentioned that the conflicts that arose as examples in the class did not match the real problems those women had with men.  I found this marriage frame interesting in general.  The story was not really about marriage, although Kim did hope to marry Derrick.  The story was about her struggle and Corean's struggle to rise out of their situation, Corean by sending her high-achieving son to college and Kim by making "normal-lady" plans for her future.  The marriage angle gave it a unique aspect, so it didn't seem like just another narrative about a poor person striving for a better future.

Yemen: Exporting Democracy (Finkel)

I did not even realize this piece lacked pictures until I sat down to do this analysis.  Finkel describes the scene quite well, making it easy for me to picture the scenes.  He describes the physical appearance of the people less, but that didn't really bother me.  He also held back on over-doing the review information in each segment but gave enough information so that people reading the series over several days would know the important details.

I liked the topic.  There was a lot of media focus on US military involvement in the Middle East at this time, so it was interesting to read about other US involvement efforts.  Finkel did seem to lean toward promoting Madrid's work and portraying the residents of Yemen as anti-American extremists, which is probably my biggest complaint about the piece.  Other than that I felt like I learned a bit about government and tribes in Yemen, and the way in which these two things are closely tied together.  Even with my limited background in this area, I understood the surface level of the situation, which is all someone can get from something as short as this.  Finkel explained things in a non-confusing way that drew me into the text. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

CYOA Week 7: Responses

The French Fry Connection

I was intrigued by the decision to use the import and export of french fries as a way to look at the Asian economic crisis and its effects on the United States.  Read did a nice job of tracking the movement of the potatoes from the farm to the McDonalds outlets.  This setup emphasized the tie between the Hutterite farmers and food consumers across the globe.  Read emphasized this connection again at the end of the piece, when he talked about the losses that both sides suffered after the economic collapse.  At first it seemed that the Hutterites took a harder hit, losing houses while middle class Indonesians lost the ability to eat McDonalds once a week.  By the last paragraph, though, it becomes clear that people in Indonesia have also lost homes and jobs.  I could see the reciprocal effects of the global economy on both of these places.

I had a couple of problems with the narration style.  I know this is a series and that some background information is necessary at the start of each piece, but I thought Read got a little too repetitive sometimes.  I also wanted him to give me his sources.  I felt like he kind of departed from real journalism when he narrated some of the scenes that I would assume he did not experience (the boat having mechanical problems, the sailor baring his teeth as he addressed them).  Maybe he was there, and if so, he should make it clearer.  Finally, I got stuck on some of the economics, but I can't tell if Read did a bad job of explaining it or if I am just so bad at understanding that kind of thing that I couldn't process his information.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CYOA: Captive Audience

Emily Guzman and I chose a radio piece for this week's CYOA (yay, radio!).  We'd like you to listen to the first act of a This American Life episode called Held Hostage.  You can access it here.  Click on the play button next to Act One Captive Audience.  The segment we want to focus on is about 15 minutes long; the link will start playing it at the right point, and then it goes until about 21 min.  

The piece focuses on political kidnappings in Colombia and the way in which families contact their loved ones through radio.  Since we're going to be doing audio pieces this quarter, think about how the elements of this piece work.  How do the different voices enhance the story?  Also:

1. If you don't know Spanish, how did you feel about the non-translated parts of the piece at the start?  Did they enhance the piece, or were they distracting?
2. Do Viviana's story and the reporter's story work well together?  Would you consider this one narrative or two different narratives?
3. The reporter leaves Viviana's story unresolved in this segment.  Is that okay with you?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emporium: The Process

Bob Medema, the owner of Emporium, is no stranger to journalists.  When I walked into the building he immediately pulled out two articles about him to read.  I decided to profile the place instead of him soon after this for two reasons: in the time I had, I didn't think I could get beyond the things he's told every other journalist, and I realized I wasn't as interested in his life as I was in the actual store.  I hung around for a full shift and talked to both him and his work partner Dave Cretsinger.  I watched them do a couple of price quotes and purchases with vendors.  I spent a lot of time roaming the buildings and noting their differences and the things that stood out to me about each.

I think the place has the potential to be a great profile piece.  My current piece isn't doing it justice right now.  I posted a couple of my big questions on my draft.  In addition to those, I'm wondering if I should get some outside input on the place.  Marin suggested I talk to someone who's into antiques and familiar with both the store and the antique scene in Kalamazoo.  I think that might add an interesting dimension to the piece for my final draft.  Mostly I'm still up in the air about the intent of my piece.  I think it needs to be more focused for me to have a solid, written representation of Emporium.

Emporium: A Really Rough Draft

Here's the rough draft for my piece on Emporium, an antique store downtown.  It's intended for publication in the Kalamazoo Gazette.  It's really rough, guys.  Advanced warning.  My big questions for anyone who might be workshopping with me: 

1. As it stands, the ending cuts off really abruptly.  Any thoughts on how I should end?
2. Are my descriptions vivid enough?  Does this give a visual picture of the place?
3. I didn't write myself into the piece.  Was that a good decision or a bad decision?

“There’s a whole lot of people that wouldn’t set foot in this place,” says Bob Medema, “People who are wantin’ modern things.  They don’t come here.”  Medema owns Emporium, an antique store in downtown Kalamazoo.  The store’s large parking lot is almost empty on a Friday evening.  Out front, a large sign on a truck bed gestures to the store, which is open for customers. 
This is somewhat of a rare occurrence: Emporium only does business between 7 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 to 6 p.m. on weekends.  “Love to be open nights and weekends because, you see, anybody that’s got any wherewithal has work all day,” Medema says.

            His customers have ranged in age over the years.  When he first began the business forty-four years ago, younger people came in to look for original furniture.  Soon after that, an older crowd started frequenting the store.  In the past year or so, however, Medema’s seen an increase in younger people again.  “I’ve had a few musical instruments, I’ve put up some young posters, and let ‘em know that we’re adapting to young people,” he says.

Emporium occupies three former farm buildings.  Medema says people used to hatch chickens in the upstairs of the main building and used the rest of the complex to store fertilizer and feed, and to make molasses.  The property now houses an endless and overflowing supply of furniture: chairs sit on top of tables, tables rest on sideboards and various trinkets hang from the ceiling. 

Medema and his main colleague, Dave Cretsinger, can often be found in the main building when they’re not consulting furniture brought in by dealers or casual customers.  A counter near the entrance is piled high with bills, which Medema never throws out.  He shuns most technology, so the counter lacks the telltale sign of a checkout area: “Don’t have a cash register.  Never have had one,” Medema says. 

They invite customers who wander in to explore the buildings and to ask any questions they might have as they peruse the narrow aisles of the store.  The furniture that spills into the walkways lacks a specific system of organization.  Sideboards from different eras sit next to each other, decorated by ubiquitous glassware.  “Wherever we find a place to set [a piece] down,” Cretsinger says, is where it goes. 

When Medema started the store, he had $1100 worth of merchandise.  He says he originally set up pieces on display in room settings.  He put down rugs and organized the furniture carefully.  After a while the displays and the floor got dirty, and he decided not to worry about cleaning them.  The store has filled up over the years, eliminating space for displays like this.

A radio tuned to a music station provides a mixed soundtrack, a 1970s Fleetwood Mac song playing right before a top 40-sounding pop song.  When Medema and Cretsinger negotiate a purchase, their voices drift into the building, too.  They haggle a lot when people bring in pieces, critical of the types of things they’ll allow into the store.
A pair of men shows up early in the evening the shift with two light-colored wooden benches.  They tell Medema that the benches came from a church.

“These ain’t outta no church.  Don’t tell me these are out of a church,” Medema says. 
“They came with a kitchen table,” Cretsinger says, and Medema repeats it in agreement.
The men continue to insist that the benches came from a church.  They say their friend ran it, but got rid of the benches when she bought new ones.
“Well it musta been an awful poor church,” Medema says, giving in a bit.
“Yeah, it was,” says the vendor.

Medema agrees to buy the benches for a low price.  He and Cretsinger often agree to do this, even when the pieces are not very nice.  Their lower-quality items usually come from vendors they refer to as “street people.”  They consider these purchases a type of donation, helping out people in need.

Most of their pieces are made of dark wood and have a good finish.  Cretsinger says they avoid buying upholstered furniture.  Usually it requires reupholstering, which gets expensive for customers. 

The upstairs of the main building holds rows and rows of dinner-table chairs.  Medema says that people have an easier time finding tables, but often the chairs have broken.  The sets of chairs he has sell well.  He keeps them in even-numbered sets.  “I’m a nut for pairs,” he says, “Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like two.”  The odd chair confuses people; “They can’t figure out money when it comes to five chairs,” he says.

On the walls of the stairway hang suggestions of Medema’s and Cretsinger’s celebrity.  A series of newspaper clippings profile Medema himself, and others mention the store.  Thank you notes sent from local and out-of town customers cover the rest of the area.  Medema says they get lots of out-of-town customers

The other two buildings contain a similar sprawl of furniture.  None of the buildings have heat or insulation, but the other buildings don’t handle moisture as well.  One in particular has a concrete floor and ceiling, meaning it sweats humidity.  It contains furniture is not as well finished, as well as a handful of mattresses.

In the largest building, fans whir to remedy the climate situation.  “A cheap fan is wonderful.  You need air circulating,” Medema says.  Cretsinger says it helps to even out the humidity and to keep the air flowing.

This building also holds a couple of light fixtures that provide illumination to the pieces on display.  Other things hang from the ceiling as well, most notably a large model of a parrot holding a Corona bottle.  It swings between stained-glass panels, which add a touch of class to the display.