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Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Rather than being "unheralded," you might call Nancy Edmonds Hanson "reforumed." The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead hired her at 17, “launching the shyest teenager in all of darkest North Dakota on nearly 50 years of writing adventures.” She covered news and features there and wrote columns for most of the next 10 years. Since then, she's written, edited, advised, marketed and taught all over the place. Her work has turned up in North Dakota Horizons and many other magazines over the years, along with bookstores, where her guide to freelance writing was a long-term best-seller (among the fraction of bookbuyers who want to write); the regional book publishing and distribution business; public television; countless anonymous advertising and public relations venues, and — for nearly 25 years — in the classrooms of Minnesota State University Moorhead's School of Communications and Journalism. She's also a bona fide Photoshop wizard, has a photographer husband and chef daughter and is crazy about cats.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Commencing

It’s one of life’s funny little ironies: Graduation season brings on a nearly irresistible urge to give advice … at the very moment when impending graduates are least likely to think they need to listen.

Exactly 50 years ago, I was in those bright young mortar-boarded and begowned whippersnappers’ shoes. Fresh from the hallowed halls of ivy in a tiny outer North Dakota town, I — along with the other 15 luminaries of the Class of 1967 — was convinced I was ready to take on the world.

Our tiny procession stepped into the superheated gymnasium with hearts full and hopes high. This was our moment! As the band played a ragged rendition of our school song — “cheer, cheer for old Streeter High” — a heavily perspiring crowd of parents, grandparents and antsy younger siblings rose to their feet and applauded us. We knew this, at last, must be the start of something big … a conviction symbolized by finally being permitted to walk across the gleaming basketball floor in street shoes.

That was the first — and last — time I was tapped to share my august thoughts with those on the verge of being launched into the world. My deep grasp of the human condition — honed by 17 years in ZIP codes of no renown whatsoever — was summed up by the fact that, within seconds of returning to a folding chair on the edge of the stage, neither I nor anyone else could recall a single word I’d uttered.

After that inauspicious debut as an inspirational speaker, it comes as no surprise that this spring marks the 49th consecutive year in which no one has asked me to headline their commencement ceremony. Such a shame! Not only do I still possess that yellowed Streeter (N.D.) High School diploma certifying that I knew absolutely everything my teachers could imbue … life has taught me a critical thing or two that Mr. Lund and Mrs. Nenow somehow missed back in the classroom.

Naturally, like pretty much every adult who sees seniors strolling across the stage, I feel an almost cosmic compulsion to give advice to the tender young sprouts of 2017 … even knowing full well they’re no more inclined to listen now than I was.

1. Your parents know a lot. Yes, really. Though you doubt it now, someday you’ll utter the most beautiful words in the English language: “Mom (or Dad), you were right.”

2. Your parents don’t know everything. Try not to rub it in too much. Try especially hard when you go home on break as a college freshman. This is traditionally the moment when offspring are at the absolute peak of obnoxiousness, drunk on a semester’s worth of higher education. If you can’t resist the urge to show off your new smarts out of respect and consideration of their feelings, do it for self-preservation. Research proves these are the moments when even patient parents are likeliest to contemplate sacrificing their young.

3. If high school social life has left you feeling dark and tattered, don’t give up! College is bound to offer many more opportunities for despair. (Oh, not really. It gets much better.)

4. Ninety percent of success, in college as in life, consists of showing up. In 26 years of working with college students, I’ve noticed something almost mystical: Attendance is an almost foolproof way of predicting grades.

5. Don’t just sit there. Speak up! Whether what you say is brilliant or confused, you’ll get more out of the experience if you actively engage. Don’t worry so much about whether your peers will think you’re showing off or cozying up to the professor. If you want the answer, ask the question.

6. Boredom is optional. It’s up to you. Dig a little deeper. You may be surprised.

7. Stop apologizing for your work. When you’re asked to share, don’t start out by declaring, “This isn’t very good ….” Chances are, you’ll be so persuasive that listeners will agree with you. Say it loud and proud, and hope for the best.

8. Your teachers have already heard every excuse in the book. Moreover, they probably tried the same bogus tales themselves — and told them better. In particular, be cautious about ginning up a grandparent’s funeral again to explain missing a due date. Some of us keep count.

9. When you fall asleep in class, everyone else can still see you … even if you slide way down in your seat. There’s no better way to make an impression.

10. And your teachers have a pretty good idea what you’re doing with that iPhone. When a student stares intently at their crotch and smiles, it’s the better explanation.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Hitting Below The Belt

I miss Mister Whipple.

The prim TV grocer’s pursed lips and disapproving glare were apparently all it took to move toilet paper off those shelves back when the Earth was young. Remember the giggling gaggle of housewives who’d give his display a surreptitious squish? Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!

Those were the days — when prime-time television dared to push the envelope only with innuendo. The ladies’ giddy glee hinted, but barely, at the delight a certain brand of toilet paper would deliver in your bathroom. It seems unbearably quaint today that Charmin’s ads were considered a bit risqué when the first debuted 1964. By the 1970s, a national survey revealed George Whipple was the third best-known figure in American life, right after Richard Nixon and Billy Graham.

Good times! Network TV made his obsession a household word without ever pronouncing the word t-o-i-l-e-t. We deemed some things unmentionable — though hinting was OK.

Russ and I were reminiscing about the Whipple era as we half-watched “Sixty Minutes” and “Madame Secretary” on a lazy Sunday night. We’d just absorbed the gazillionth consecutive ad extolling diarrhea when it struck us: The grittiest, most gut-wrenching drama we witness is packed into commercials.

We’d mostly spent the past two hours being indoctrinated about the frailty of our bowels. Whether the next ad extolled a panacea for constipation or the most exhilarating roll of tissue to perfect the bathroom experience, nearly every commercial message focused on matters once considered unmentionable.

When, exactly, did television advertising come to focus below the belt? In the days when racy Mister Whipple pushed the limits, our parents were — at first — aghast: Why would you even advertise toilet paper? Doesn’t everyone already buy it?

History has taught us their bathroom horizons were sadly stunted. Ol’ George (who, we learned, would sneak in a squeeze or two himself when the customers weren’t looking) has been long replaced by a host of cagey characters who butt into our TV time, desperately battling to win this particular game of thrones.

Charmin’s bear family settles, once and for all, that old question about whether a bear does its business in the woods. Nope. Mama Bear confesses, again and again, that she pampers her little poopers, along with bumbling Papa, with cushiony ultra-soft rolls of luxury.

In the land of Cottonelle, the most annoying Brit ever to cross the pond confronts strangers with queries how they “clean their bums.” Really. Then, after finding Nirvana, she advises them to ditch their now-redundant underwear: “Go commando!”

How can you top that, you ask? Leave it to Northern, with its poignant observations from Sir Froggy — an amphibious toilet-paper holder imbued with a poet’s sensitive soul. Northern tissue users can forget the whole experience, he laments … but he can never look away.

And it doesn’t stop with what Sir Froggy can’t forget. Speaking for most of Minnesota, I think we’d survived just fine not knowing the Mankato neighborhood includes a town named Kiester. Now, our happy innocence is gone … thanks to the TV pitchwoman who tours it on her bicycle, then says: “If you can get comfortable talking about this Kiester, then you can get comfortable using Preparation H for any sort of discomfort in yours.” Talk about being the butt of a joke!

My father-in-law, a polite and gentle man, spent his career behind the counter of his drugstore, where he handled customers’ health questions and hygiene needs with the utmost degree of confidential respect. They conferred in quiet voices across the high counter that separated the pharmacy from commercial nostrums and other essentials not fit for polite conversation. Discretion was planted deep in the genes of his profession. Even his stock of certain frank necessities like Kotex was modestly wrapped in blank butcher paper.

Toilet paper commercials and their hush-hush absorbent cousins — pantyliners, disposable briefs and, frankly, adult diapers — are, of course, only part of the focus below the belt. What would that discreet pharmacist have thought of living room chatter about irritable bowel syndrome — starring an actress costumed as abdominal pain and diarrhea? Or dancing diabetics and bladder-leakage victims? Or the hearty construction worker laughing over his doc’s cheery reaction to opioid-induced constipation – “How long have you been holding this in?”

And never forget the most notorious of the TMI invasion: that come-hither siren dressed in slinky blue, longing for her Prince Charming with his little blue pill.

The American Medical Association has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical products, saying it drives demand for the highest-priced pharmaceuticals even when less expensive alternatives may work better. A 2016 poll by the Harvard School of Public Health found nearly two-thirds of the public agrees.

But it’s not likely to happen … not anytime soon. It works, and works well. Network television viewers are older than ever before — one trade group estimates their average age today at 54 — delivering the perfect demographic for viewers concerned with advancing age, both their parents’ and their own. Accumulating birthdays come with more aches and pains than candles, of aches and pains than candles, making the nightly news and “NCIS” near-perfect platforms for hawking everything from Milk of Magnesia to hip replacements.

And the toilet tissue industry, with Mister Whipple at the head, was the very first to seize it. Why else do you suppose broadcast TV was built around those convenient commercial breaks? They’re the perfect time to get another cup of coffee … then head for the plumbing.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Your Photos? They’re History, Unless …

If a photograph is worth 1,000 words … well, then, we need to talk.

Those digital photos you’ve been happily snapping? They’ll soon be history.

Not the good kind of history, mind you — the kind that’s treasured for generations, the kind you’d run back into a burning house to rescue for posterity.

They will be history … as in “toast.”

Never have so many people taken so many pictures so quickly. One industry source, Infostream, estimates that 2017’s total will be 1.2 trillion — up 100 billion or so from the year just past. If every pixel were the size of an egg, our world would already be buried beneath an epic omelette.

Instead, of course, the total volume of all those digital pix is more fleeting than a notion. That’s true right now, when they reside, lighter than air, on iPhones and tablets, on computer drives and memory cards, on CDs and USBs and your long-sidelined first Mac that you’ve stashed away down in the basement.

On a day that’s coming sooner than you think, 99 percent of our digital memories are almost certain to be gone. The ease of catching those memorable moments right now will be more than matched by their quiet stealth as they slip permanently out of sight.

Unless we do something now!

Back in the day when cameras just sat there until you fed them film, family photos hung around to nag you. I always admired the folks — almost always supermoms — who dealt with them in a timely manner, filing them in albums with dutiful notes of who, what, where and when. Most of us, truth be told, stowed the little packets of fresh prints in a drawer or cupboard or shoebox, along with our good intentions. Someday we’d organize and label them. Someday we’d take the time to select the best and discard the duds. Someday … we’d get around to it when we had time.

I happen to have a box like that right here on a shelf in my office. It’s been making me feel guilty for decades. Someday, I swear, I’ll organize those precious memories. In the meantime, I’m well aware of where they lurk and admonish me.

Not so, the virtual mountain of digital family photos you and I’ve been snapping for the last 10 years. In technology we trust — far too much, as it turns out. They’re so convenient to show off on screens — scrolling through that smartphone in your purse, emailing images to distant relatives, sharing droll views on Facebook and Instagram. Some of us faithfully save them to flash drives or DVDs or, more recently, the mysterious online cloud.

There’s a chance — albeit slim — you’re a left-brained type who dutifully sorts and labels digital files. More likely, you keep taking pictures until the memory card is full, then buy a new and bigger one.

Either way, it’s high time to take a longer look … before it’s too late. Technology relentlessly marches on. (Remember slide projectors, home movies and videotapes?) Don’t entrust your memories alone to pixels.

My photographer husband and I discovered this in our usual manner — the hard way. Russ went digital very early in the game. That means we’ve lived through nearly two decades of clever high-tech strategies to preserve images in the post-film era — none of which has lived up to its confident promise.

We’ve backed up files to floppies. Hard drives have multiplied. We’ve embraced dead ends like Zip drives. We’ve invested in mammoth RAID systems with capacities soon too small for the next generation of photo files. We’ve written literally thousands of CDs and DVDs — sometimes labeling them with precision, often not so much. We’ve added externals to our network. We’ve archived thumb drives. We subscribe to Google Drive, Carbonite, Dropbox and more.

And I can say one thing with absolute certainty. Not one of them can be trusted. If it’s electronic, it’s not a question of whether it will fail. It’s just a matter of when … not to mention the ghostly hulls of obsolete technologies that wash up on the shore.

Beware the march of progress. We were initially assured that writable CDs and DVDs would survive forever. Nope. In practice, we’ve found a not-insignificant failure rate for disks no more than three to five years old; for older ones, it’s dramatically higher. Unlike commercially manufactured music and movie disks, the home-brewed variety has turned out to be vulnerable to all kinds of woes, from an off-kilter laser whose quirks turned files into Sanskrit to so-called “CD rot,” deterioration of the mysterious layer of goop on which data is inscribed. Meanwhile, computer manufacturers have decided to doom onboard CD drives to the same boneyard where all those floppy drives moulder.

So how about that much-ballyhooed cloud? It sounds so heavenly — so cumulus. Behind every invisible Internet storage service lies a corporation launched in delirious optimism. Try googling “cloud storage” and “bankrupt” to see how that can turn out.

Depressing, isn’t it? But true. The same Grim Reaper that doomed your folks’ home movies and your own videotapes is coming for your photos.

There is a practical alternative, though, to hang onto your memories despite whatever imaging technology has in store. Keep on making those digital backups, of course. (Cross your fingers!) But take a side trip, too, down Memory Lane to the tried-and-true strategy your parents would approve:

Print those pictures. Right now.

It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Upload them to an online photo service, drive them to Target, or organize real photo books on Shutterfly or Snapfish. It’s all good. Despite the dazzle of the digital revolution, it turns out that a tangible, touchable image is still your most secure option. You know you’ll have it safe, no matter what high-tech burps and giggles lie in store.

Real photographs, after all, are nice to have around. You can display them to impress friends with your children’s adorability. You can win points with Grandma by helping her decorate her refrigerator door. You can stockpile them for that traditional photo display when your baby someday graduates from high school.

And, failing even that, you can stash them in that shoebox in your closet. They’ll give you something fun to do someday. Maybe after you retire.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Blowin’ In The Wind

When my fellow Fish opinionator Tom Davies looks out at his backyard, he sees bald eagles, turkey vultures and courting bunnies. When I look out at ours, I see … plastic sacks.

Yes, empty sacks — caught up near the tippy tops of the crabapple tree beside the deck and the maple in the corner. From ground level, one appears to be a Walmart bag; the other, from Hornbacher’s. They’re snagged on distant branches by their handles, snapping and crackling merrily whenever the wind comes up. They’re far too high with your feet on the ground, and we’re far too old to climb after them. Our only hope of relief is a prairie gust fierce enough to tear their flimsy plastic free. Then what? They’ll sail away, only to land in your own yard … or maybe the park where Judge Davies watches his wildlife.

Ophaned plastic sacks show up everywhere at this time of year. They bloom — white, yellow, pink, blue, beige -— from leafless bushes. They flatten themselves on chain-link fences around apartments and parking lots and playing fields and parkways. They weave in among the weeds in ditches and clutter the brush in country windbreaks. As light and flighty as hummingbirds, they waft their way into every urban and rural landscape, from perching on rooftops to clogging culverts.

And they’re almost literally immortal. Each single-use plastic bag is said to have an average useful life of just 12 minutes — from store to car, then car to cupboard. Once you’ve dragged whatever you’ve purchased into the house, you’re bound to eventually use it up or wear it out or jam it into the back of the closet or pass it on as rummage … but the sacks in which the clerk packed them are going to outlive them by an eon — lingering as a thousand-year blemish caught somewhere in Mother Nature’s hair.

While not quite as big a sore spot as gamma rays from Fukushima or an exploding oil pipeline, those flimsy containers are an especially irritating blot on our eternal landscape. When they first stormed into the world of retail in 1977, merchants recognized their advantages — feather-light yet strong, easy to tote and — best of all — only a fraction of a cent each, compared to 4 or 5 cents for paper. Along with the classic ding of the cash register, another universal note merged into the familiar soundtrack of the check-out lane: “Paper or plastic?”

Have you noticed how that’s evolved since the 1980s and 1990s? “Paper or plastic” has morphed into “is plastic OK?” — or no choice at all. Plastic now occupies at least 80 percent of the bagging market. Fifteen years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags were consumed every year around the world, 80 percent of them in North America.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American family now takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. So what do you do with yours? At the House of Hanson, we warehouse them in a bathroom cupboard, then attempt to reuse them in random ways. We line trash cans, gather noxious kitchen leavings and collect the World’s Greatest Granddaughter’s diapers for the garbage. We pack snacks and fold up donations for charity resale shops. At the height of garden season, we squeeze them full of zucchinis and abandon them in neighbors’ unlocked cars. Best of all, the orange sleeves in which our morning newspaper arrives are precisely the right shape and size for picking up doo when marching the dog down the sidewalk.

We’ve also made a habit of filling them with whatever we plan to recycle — newspapers, cans, plastic bottles. Little did we know until now that our tidiness is a recipe for disaster. For — irony of ironies — those thin plastic bags gum up the works at recycling plants. Yes, they can be recycled … but only separately in identified bins. When you fill them with cans and bottles, tie a neat top knot and toss them into  regular recycling bins, they’ll eventually wind themselves into the recycler’s mechanical hardware and bring the machine to a halt.

After years of hearing, “Give a hoot — don’t pollute,” it’s easy to damn careless litterbugs for the baggies blowing in the wind. But careless tossing out the car window accounts for only part of the problem. When plastic-bag-encased garbage arrives at the landfill, no matter how faithfully it’s been collected, the load is sure to be shoved about with heavy equipment, buried beneath layers of dirt and repeatedly squashed down by earthmovers. The bags may be entombed at first, intact or shredded, but that’s never the end of them. They have a nasty way of working themselves to the top and escaping what’s intended to be their grave.

The solution? Not clear. California led the way in banning them last November, but enforcement is a perplexing issue. At any rate, “ban” is a four-letter word in many quarters. (Well, three, to be precise, but you know what I mean.) Nor is a retreat back to paper necessarily the best environmental choice. Timber may be renewable, unlike petroleum that’s used to manufacture plastic, but the whole paper-making process, from lumberjack to paper mill to delivery to the loading dock, may actually gobble more energy and resources than entire one-use bagging cycle.

Nor will our much-anticipated single-source recycling eliminate the problem. Come July, when Moorhead and Fargo residents begin to toss all their recyclables into their new blue bins, those store sacks are one variety of trash that’s specifically verboten.

For now, two alternatives seem to make the most sense. We can sidestep the whole dilemma by bringing our own durable, reusable bags to the store. Toward this end, Russ and I have stockpiled colorful fabric totes in the back seats of both cars. So far, however, we have learned this method works best when you remember to bring them inside with you — a step we haven’t quite mastered.

Or go the other route — far simpler for the attention-challenged. Collect bags from your last trip and return them on your next visit. Yes, there are bins toward the front of most every supermarket and big-box store. You just haven’t noticed them until now.

There, nestled among their own kind, the annoying yet useful bags can live happily ever after. This is not a euphemism. Collected separately and remanufactured, they’re destined for reincarnation as — you guessed it! — more plastic bags. Forever and ever, amen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Down In Front!

You bought your ticket, and you’re enjoying the show … when the big guy in front of you stands up. You can’t see around him. He’s taller than you. Larger. Louder. He’s got a lot of muscle, and his brawny friends are cheering him on. When you tell him — politely — that he’s in your way, all he does is shrug: “Tough. This is my spot, and I feel like standing.”

What do you do next?

If you’re Prairie Public Broadcasting, and the fellow blocking your view is Gov. Doug Burgum’s Kilbourne Group, that’s a pretty good question.

The issue is something called air rights, a concept that rarely comes up here on our horizontal landscape. In the land where most “skyscrapers” top out at a half-dozen floors, we tend to spare scant thought for what’s overhead except when it rains during harvest.

But the next addition to Fargo’s skyline is creating a splitting headache for one of its venerable downtown neighbors, and it all comes down to who owns rights to use the air of downtown Fargo. When the Kilbourne Group’s wildly pricey and much-ballyhooed 18-story high-rise starts to loom over the east side of Broadway, it’s going to cause inadvertent pain far greater than sore necks among the flatlanders craning to admire its apex.

Gov. Burgum’s impending prairie edifice is aptly named — Block 9. It will, in fact, block Prairie Public Broadcasting’s signal. The statewide public television and radio network is housed in the American Life Building on Fifth Street North, due east of the 18-story skyscraper to be erected on the 200 block of Broadway. It shoots its microwave stream 30 miles west to its main transmitter near Wheatland, N.D. … and from there to satellite stations that cover 98 percent of North Dakota plus surrounding states and provinces.

Building a 220-foot structure right smack across the street obstructs that path through the ozone. And apparently, according to a statement from Block 9’s builders, that’s just too bad. Since Prairie Public doesn’t own the airspace over that block of Broadway, that makes it solely the public broadcaster’s problem.

Valley News Live, which broke the story last week, reached out to the Kilbourne Group for comment. This was what they heard back: “The partners involved in the Block 9 project and Prairie Public Broadcasting have met multiple times to discuss the television and radio signal tower that uses air rights that Prairie Public does not own. … We are hopeful that Prairie Public Broadcasting will find a solution that works for their organization.”

Owners are generally considered to own the rights to the space above their own buildings. Beyond that, however, they have no influence over who can put what around them. Thus, the fact that public television and radio waves have been blasted from that rooftop for 33 years — and by WDAY TV and Radio for decades before PPTV took it over — carries no special weight when a partnership of two of the region’s top-dollar developers erects its showplace right up in your face.

The big guy sitting in front of you bought his ticket fair and square. If you can’t see around him when he stands up — too bad for you.

In case you haven’t been following the stirring drama of downtown redevelopment, let’s introduce the players. First on the list: the Kilbourne Group, headed by entrepreneur Burgum. Since its first public-spirited foray — redeveloping an aging commercial building to accommodate North Dakota State University’s art and architecture departments — it has gradually acquired the lion’s share of property in downtown Fargo. It’s widely and properly credited for reviving the aging, deteriorating district, bringing vibrant, stylish life to the city center. Today, the Kilbourne Group owns 18 structures between University Drive and the river.

Playing supporting roles in the drama are RDO Equipment, TMI Hospitality and the city of Fargo itself. The $98 million high-rise — Kilbourne’s most ambitious production by far — will house 26,000 feet of retail on the ground; 99,000 square feet of offices; a 350-car parking ramp; an 88-room “European-style boutique hotel,” complete with a ballroom sized for 400 guests plus an outdoor garden for rooftop soirees; and, finally, five stories of million-dollar condominiums, like a luxe layer of glossy frosting on the ultimate prestigious cake.

Back on the ground, the broadcaster is trying to figure out how to literally get around Block 9. Three options are being explored.

One is to relocate its 100-foot monopole and microwave equipment to a site farther from the towering obstruction. Prairie Public engineers will meet with city representatives next week to talk over the most feasible location, the spot the Fargo Police Department now occupies. That possibility involves purchasing or leasing the property (or graciously accepting it as a gift from the city), along with pouring a foundation and all the structural work, plus moving and reinstalling equipment. Estimated cost: $100,000.

Option B is securing rooftop rights to mount the equipment on a taller building. The logical choice, Block 9 itself, is out of the running because of those snazzy condos on its top floors. Talks with owners of other likely candidates are, shall we say, up in the air. The city’s height regulations also come into play. Cost: to be determined.

Plan C? Ferry the broadcast signal to Wheatland via Midco’s fiber optic connectivity. The cost? That’s difficult to say, partly because Midco’s fiber now ends far short of the transmitter location. A current best guess is that upfront construction costs plus ongoing line leases could reach half a million dollars over the next 10 years.

Weigh these against the one option that’ll never fly — not building Block 9 at all. Net cost: zero.

So Prairie Public Broadcasting has run into the perfect storm … and at the worst possible moment. The Republican gang in Washington, D.C., hopes to scratch out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in its upcoming budget. The North Dakota Legislature seems poised to cut its biennial appropriation for the statewide network to less than half of what it is today. They’re even tinkering with charitable gaming, another source of PPB’s support.

PPB reaches 100,000 TV viewers and 20,000 radio listeners weekly, covering 98 percent of North Dakota plus the surrounding area. The radio audience could diminish, though, due to an unrelated tempest. Prairie Public partners with the University of North Dakota in two Grand Forks public radio stations, KUND and KFJM. UND needs to disengage from the radio business. That means Prairie Public must buy out its share of the broadcast licenses — at a cost well into six figures.

Membership — the largest element of Prairie Public’s support, contributing about 30 percent to its $8 million budget — is holding steady at about 15,000 individuals and 200 corporate sponsors. Their average gifts are growing, up 20 percent over the past decade. But they’re not nearly enough to compensate for cuts and unanticipated costs in other quarters.

These are not serene times for the nonprofit enterprise that brings a dizzying spectrum of broadcast benefits to the North Country — from priceless educational programming that enriches learning in schools and homes all over the region to programs exploring science, history, public affairs and quirky niches like the BBC’s comedies and dramas to cooking shows on Saturday morning.

Compared with the gargantuan numbers swirling around the Block 9 project, Prairie Public’s problematic digits seem rather puny. The dollars needed to cure its transmitter woes amount to barely a blip, considered on the far loftier scale of the Block 9 project … yet the cost represents a devastating body blow to the scrappy public corporation at a time when it’s coincidentally beset by threats from so many directions.

The skyscraper issue, though utterly without malice, is a disaster nevertheless.

So far, the wildly well-heeled Kilbourne Group has offered no help at all to rectify the damage they’ve unwittingly created. Let’s hope the big guy standing up in front sits down to help solve the problem.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Act Your Age!

We were at one of those buttoned-up business luncheons — the kind with tablecloths and butter in little balls — when I noticed it.

My first liver spot. Right there, on the hand I was using to stab a cherry tomato as juicy as a marble, was proof positive that I myself was a darn sight riper than the garnish on my salad.

Ironically, my pal and I had been laughing about how we wavered while dressing for this august event. Cher and I are both well past the point of being constrained by our old dress-for-success uniforms. She’d settled on her favorite jeans; I pulled leggings out of the closet. We were debating, amidst girlish guffaws: Were our get-ups age-appropriate?

She’d just reminded me, “You’re only as old as you feel.”

Next thing I knew, I was staring at my elderly mother’s hand fiddling with that salad fork.

The trouble with sage advice like Cher’s is rather clear. How old I feel varies from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. It rattles back and forth between 17 and approximately 90.

I’m far younger, it seems, on sunny days, when I lunch with friends, and right after I’ve met a looming deadline. Older? When I lose my trifocals. When I pull out Pillsbury pie crusts because rolling it out is too much bother. When I hesitate to get down on the floor with the World’s Greatest Grandchild, knowing all too well how I’ll struggle to get back up.

When I got home, I googled “liver spots.” I hoped, somehow, to find good news. No luck. Wikipedia put me in my place, offering the encouraging synonym “senile freckles.” Mayo Clinic’s website suggested creaming them with dubious potions, zapping them with lasers, freezing them, abrading them, peeling them away with chemicals — basically every nasty thing you can imagine just short of cutting off the whole hand.

Or not. When you still think of yourself in unguarded moments as a flower child only slightly gone to seed, confronting signs of age … oh, let’s call it “maturity” … can be both humbling and hilarious.

They sneak up and pounce when you’re not paying attention, like when you’re filling out a survey and checking the age category “and over.” Or while watching the few remaining network TV shows that don’t disgust you — and noticing every ad seems to tout irritable bowel meds, Cialis or toilet tissue.

Do you think getting your first letter from AARP is shocking at 50? Try the moment when the thoughtful waiter automatically figures your senior-citizen discount into the check. I notice, too, that servers have started to address me as “dear” or “sweetie.” They apparently assume that I’m too toothless to bite them.

But I take advantage, too. I no longer suffer in silence when my order’s not quite right. I shamelessly ask for doggie bags. I go ahead and order the pie … right out where other humans can watch me eat it.

Eating out, in fact, is a great time to meditate on mortality. Russ and I seem to be dining earlier every night. That’s led to the advent of the new mealtime that we call (in the spirit of midmorning’s brunch) “lunpper,” or maybe “dinch.” It’s when you consume the final meal of the day while the sun is still up, even in January. Partly, this occurs because IHOP offers two-for-one entrees to well-aged patrons from 2 until 5 p.m. There’s another benefit, too. When we wrap it up well in advance of sunset, our Rolaids last much longer.

When it comes to advancing age, mark me down as mostly enthusiastic. For one thing, it’s much better than the alternative. For another, it has given me a giddy sense of relief from so many everyday “thou shalt nots.”

Once a typically reticent Norwegian, I now brazenly talk to strangers wherever I go. It’s lots of fun — especially when a cheery “hi there” startles young iPhone addicts so greatly that they stumble over their own feet.

I don’t worry nearly as much about making mistakes. I’ve learned that the people around me are paying far less attention that I ever could have imagined. Just dust yourself off, patch the damage and — if anyone bothers to ask — assert, “I meant to do that.”

Fashion faux pas? Forget ’em. As I draw near to some indeterminate point of no return, my mother’s ageless wisdom has begun to sound less like a lament and more like a blessing: Nobody really looks at old ladies.

Even my own advice seems to be getting better and better … or, at least, younger mortals are less likely to argue with me. I grin from ear to ear when I catch our daughter sharing Mom’s Greatest Hits with her own peers: “It’s not all about you.” “You’re just a bit player in someone else’s movie.” “Not your monkeys — not your circus.”

And by now, I’ve lived long enough to hear the four most beautiful words in the English language: “Mom, you were right.”

As for that little liver spot, I figure it’s clearly premature. In the meantime, I’ve plotted out a way to cope if it invites more friends to the party. After weighing removal by scouring, freezing or chemical peels, I’ve settled on a simpler course of action. I’m looking for a single, sequined glove … or I’ll tuck my hand into a pocket for the duration.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No More Ringy-Dingies

Remember the last time the sound of a ringing telephone made you smile?

I think I do. I was probably still in school, pining for some fabulous high school hunk to finally call.

Perhaps, for you, it had less to do with teenage hormones and more with family ties. It could have been a birthday call from Grandma while you could still count your years on one hand … or, much later, word that your own new grandchild had arrived. It could even have been a nurse reporting the tests had come back negative.

Or maybe it will still be the Publishers Clearing House prize patrol.

Nope, not the Clearing House. If the Prize Patrol picks me to win $7,000 every week for life in their latest sweepstakes, I do hope they plan to let me know in writing. If they intend to call our telephone, they’re guaranteed to go to voicemail.

I’d hate to miss out on the riches … but it’s worth taking the chance. Nowadays, I hate the telephone.

I can’t come up with even one more recent ringy-dingy that’s produced more than an annoyed grimace. I flinch when I hear it. It’s irksome enough at home, where we still cling to the landline we’ve had for 33 years, but my mobile is even more tone-deaf. It either interrupts at the most inopportune moments — when I’m in class, for example, and have just admonished students to turn off their infernal devices — or shrills its head off, unheard and forgotten in the car.

The modern miracle called the telephone is choking to death on its own success. Shouldn’t the post office have forewarned AT&T? Over the past 50 years, the delicious pleasure of pulling a much-anticipated missive from the mailbox has been smothered to death by an avalanche of unwanted, unneeded and unasked-for opportunists who’ve stuffed the mailbags with junk.

Clearly, that flood of and fund-raising must be generating big bucks for someone, somewhere. Why else would your letter carrier have to trudge along his route beneath a back-breaking ballast of bales of unsolicited paper … nearly every page destined for garbage cans up and down both sides of the street?

The Postal Service (if not its well-toned work force) clearly benefits when people who want to sell stuff shower them with money. But the love affair has dimmed considerably for the rest of us on the “occupant” end of the transaction.

Remember when you’d actually anticipate gathering the daily mail? I just barely recall that — when it held the promise of a well-penned personal note, sweet greetings or even, perhaps, a check.

Now, we tread the well-worn path to and from our mailbox … right past the big wastebasket in the garage. And Russ and I don’t even gather it daily: Our faithful mail carrier has been known to show up and ring our doorbell in person when the mail receptacle is too full to accommodate another day’s delivery of junk mail.

Telephony, it turns out, has swallowed the same bitter pill. Since the late 1970s, telemarketing — a money-maker for the telephone companies — has stripped away all the excitement of jumping up to answer the phone. The goose has been choked with its own golden egg. The more businesses find innovative ways to use the telephone wires to snare reluctant customers, the cagier we have become at eluding their trap at the other end of the line.

And now it’s come to this: We don’t answer. Here at home, we let virtually all calls from unfamiliar numbers go straight to voicemail. At the same time, we find ourselves clearing messages far less often, as the clouds of chaff overwhelm what’s left of the wheat. Yesterday, for example, Russ felt the need to go through our tardy log of voicemails. He turned up 15 in the cache — 14 from telemarketers and robocallers, and just one from a regular human being (who’d already made contact with a text).

An informal study of friends and neighbors suggests that the Hanson household is not alone in the throes of its phone-phobia. Every single person I questioned confessed — sometimes sheepishly, sometimes in defiance — to ignoring calls from unfamiliar area codes and numbers. (That doesn’t include the several Millennials who asked, surprised, “You mean you can ‘talk’ on that thing?”)

Security is one issue. Phone scams abound — both the traditional, fleecing the elderly with mumbled tales of grandchildren in dire trouble, and the higher-tech kind leads to unwanted charges on your phone bill. Hint: If you pick up and someone asks, “Can you hear me?” — don’t say a word. Hang up. Your “yes” can be recorded and used to authorize scam purchases. Also, beware numbers beginning with 900. They are “premium service” accounts where the caller may pocket part of a jacked-up fee.

C’mon now. Did you really expect to hear from a mysterious dreamboat calling from the Cayman Islands, area code 345, or Trinidad and Tobago, 868? That one’s fairly easy to sort out, at least for those of us who lead more humdrum lives. (You can make sure by typing the number into a website like or Automated robocalls that spoof a number that appears to be local — 701- or 218-, for example — can be harder call to pick out. When in doubt, we listen for the tell-tale hollow, empty gap — the sound of intergalactic space — before a voice begins … and answer with one finger on the hang-up button.

I long for the telephone days of yore. I’d love to dial an office or business again and be greeted again by an actual human instead of a robotic voice asking me to enter an extension. I’d adore getting a quick response to a simple question, the kind a receptionist could deal with in five words or less, instead of half a dozen recorded options, none offering the help I need.

If my party wasn’t able to take my call, I’d be deliriously happy to imagine a competent adult filling out one of those little pink message slips, then leaving it for the person who really, truly was “away from his desk” and honestly would return my call “as soon as he is available” … blissfully confident that she’d nag him later if he failed to get back to me.

But no. It’s over. Progress has offed our faith in Alexander Graham Bell. Remember the Ma Bell commercial that warbled that we should “reach out and touch”? We’re still busy touching our untrustworthy phones … but only to text a message.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — The Death Of Groovy

For some, it was the breakup of the Beatles — for others, the demise of the Volkswagen Bug.

For me, though, “groovy” officially died last week when Vanity announced it’s closing its doors.

Millennial shoppers may view it as merely a sign of the times … or barely notice at all, given their propensity for ordering online and foreswearing girly fashion in favor of athletic duds. While they’ve been taking their business to other venues elsewhere, the sun has set on more than a dozen once-sizzling West Acres shops that used to draw their kind like honey attracts bears.

Once-sizzling Abercrombie and Fitch was among the first to shrivel in the face of change, along with PacSun. The Limited, Wet Seal, New York and Company and quite a few more have already disappeared. Anchor stores are sinking, too; though Macy’s in Fargo has dodged the bullet that took out its sister store in Grand Forks, Sears is a goner. Rumors are flying in the national media about corporate shakeups at J.C. Penney’s and Kohl’s in the face of troubling sales. Just down the street, Gordman’s is being shuttered.

Granted, shopping center stores always come and go. West Acres CEO Brad Schlossman has assured that new tenants are on the way to fill these gaps, like false teeth fashioned to replace the aching molars pulled by a merchandising dentist. Virtually all the current closures seem to be part of a dire nationwide trend: Anchor stores are drifting down to the depths. Specialty women’s apparel chains are collapsing at a breathtaking pace.

But … Vanity? True, I haven’t walked through its door for 40 years. (Perhaps that’s a clue.) But it has been so much more than just another of the young women’s chain stores that line the mall. Nearly 50 years ago, Vanity brought “cool” to North Dakota. It introduced my Baby Boomer generation to groovy.

There was nothing like Vanity 2 in Grand Forks when it went full-tilt to junior fashions, or Vanity 3 when it opened in downtown Fargo. They were Shangri-La. They were the gold at the end of the rainbow. They were hip, and what’s happening — finally, our local connection to all the flash that had been teasing us for years as we fantasized over Seventeen and Tiger Beat and TV shows that delivered that swingin’ ’60s vision into our tidy Midwestern homes.

Vanity brought the edgy counterculture here to the Heartland. It injected exuberant, youthful hippitude into the mix on Broadway — trailing California and most of America by, oh, five years or so, but welcome nonetheless.

Downtown Fargo was bustling with our parents’ and grandparents’ tastes and tendencies. They’d kept the business district sedately humming for decades, vying for parking spots in front of Herbst and Penney’s and Sears and DeLendrecie’s, as well as more select establishments — Shotwell’s, Sgutt’s, Black’s, S&L and even the Virginia Flora Corset Shop (an ancient local precursor of Victoria’s Secret). Some might dabble a bit, dubbing a corner strung with bead curtains “the mod shop” and stocking it with outlandish garb, but that was only teasing.

Then along came Vanity. Its ground-breaking all-junior fashions instantly won the heart of high school and college girls who still spent evenings dragging Broadway. They’d suddenly found a locus all their own — designed to enchant their teen-age tribe. Even better, it annoyed the dickens out of older generations.

From its garish pink, orange and gold pop-art façade at 208 Broadway to every square foot within, each facet of Vanity was geared to its target market — more beads, of course, plus fuchsia shag carpeting, black light posters, hip sales associates and eye-popping arrays of the hottest new fashions. Even better, it offered charge accounts to its customers without a parent’s (male) cosignature … a true innovation in its day.

Oh, Vanity! Miles of miniskirts! Bountiful boatloads of bell bottoms. Fringed and beaded leather vests. Paisleys and Peter Max and everything denim. The top attraction, though, was Gunne Sax, the high-fashion ne plus ultra of every would-be hippie girl who danced across the vast northern prairie. Young America, its cool-guy counterpart, was just upstairs. The Walrus waterbeds were a floor below, backed with a little head shop of accessories, jewelry and other accoutrements.

Vanity embodied all that was cool and hip, From the moment you entered, the whole place rocked. Youthquake! The walls trembled with KQWB’s top 20, blasted at runway volume (not as in “fashion runway” — I’m talking airports here). It was all designed to make the young smile … and, perhaps, to discourage parental oversight by making Mom grimace. Indeed, a friend — another Nancy — remembers her mother asking the manager to turn down the music while they were shopping. “SO embarrassing,” she recalls.

It may be hard for the generations who followed us to understand the thrill of hanging out in Vanity 45 years ago. Subsequent teens soon would have whole shopping malls to haunt, sampling the stylish wares of a host of shops fabricated to fit their generation’s trendiest tastes.

But in 1971, there was no West Acres — not quite yet. A store aimed directly at teen and 20-something females felt like a revolution. When my besties and I were in elementary school back in the days of early Elvis and Brenda Lee, clothing (like life itself) was still compartmentalized into just two basic categories: kids and adults. Suddenly, now, the hazy bridge between childhood and dull, hidebound maturity acquired a ZIP code of its own.

Vanity pulled back the curtains to not only reveal a vivid fashion world apart from Mid Mod suits, pillbox hats and shirtwaists, but the tribal identity of our generation. Remarkably tame (and rather late by California standards), yet we teens, too, in the Heartland had our heyday.

The coolest selections that once amounted to an anti-uniform — bell bottoms, dashikis and tie dye, plus miniskirts, fringed mocs and macramé belts — were pruned from my closet long, long, long ago. But Vanity’s demise revives fond, fading memories like a faint whiff of patchouli wafting in a crowd.

Someday — maybe in 2525 — apparel archeologists could still spot a few fossils here and there, entombed among 2017’s jackets, leggings and T-shirts proclaiming “Peace, Love, Cats.” Consider the little brass temple bell hanging, silent and nearly forgotten, from a hook way in the back. I wore that bell for months, nay, years, on a rawhide cord tangled among the love beads around my neck. Its pleasant tinkle sounds crashingly loud when I jostle it now. It must have driven the adults around me crazy back in the day. Today — grouchier, as befits my present age — I’m amazed that they allowed me to live through the rest of my teens.

Peace, love and rock ’n’ roll. Groovy — R.I.P.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No, The Checks Aren’t In The Mail

Sorry to disappoint you, but no checks are in the mail.

A standing-room-only crowd showed up for Rep. Kevin Cramer’s Fargo “Coffee with Cramer” town hall last week. Let’s call them “lively.” Trouble was clearly brewing. They packed a local coffeehouse to pepper him with comments and questions about health care, the bungled travel ban, the Great Wall of POTUS and the Cabinet’s billionaire assault on everything from public education to the environment.

And they left later that afternoon with exactly the same change in their pockets that they’d come with -— less the cost of a cup or two of coffee. Contrary to rumors right-winging their way around the media and Facebook, no one was paid to be there …

… except, of course, Rep. Cramer himself.

This ludicrous preoccupation with “paid protesters” seems to be a standard response whenever Republicans face constituents who disagree with them. We heard it used — with no evidence whatsoever — to damn the opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We heard it used to dismiss the millions who stepped up — in pink pussyhats, no less — for the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches from coast to coast.

We’ve heard it announced as fact, in the most authoritative of tones, by everyone from POTUS and Wayne LaPierre of the NRA (who asserts *someone* is paying protesters $1,500 a week) to State Rep. Randy Boehning, who wondered on Facebook how many of those who came to Cramer’s kaffeeklatch were “bought and paid by Obama’s new organization.”

No, they weren’t. But no wonder right-wingers are dreaming up conspiracies. Members of Congress and the Senate faced unheard-of crowds when they went back home during last week’s recess, and to their horror, they weren’t full of smiling faces. Some politicians ducked and ran, like the Texas tough-talker who canceled the meeting in his home district because he feared he’d be shot like Gabby Giffords. Others blustered their way through, complaining mightily of an insidious and unfair plot against them.

What just happened here? It says a lot about the majority of embattled Republican politicians that the first question on their lips was, “Who paid them?” Those who showed up here in Fargo have been having a good laugh at that one.

I wonder if that suspicion isn’t what psychologists call “projection” — the urge to defend yourself against your own worst impulses by blaming them on others. (Which raises an interesting point of speculation: How do those Republican crowds get there?)

To his credit, North Dakota’s Cramer added an unplanned date to his schedule and met them face to face. He seems to relish the give-and-take … make that, “push and shove” … far more than his senatorial colleagues. Neither Sen. John Hoeven nor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has shown any appetite to date for hearing what their riled-up voters have to say.

No nefarious billionaire pulled strings to turn Cramer’s town hall — normally a more congenial snoozer where he does most of the talking, in person or on the radio — into an all-out news-making fracas. No one had to organize their wrathful minions and direct them to bedevil poor, innocent congresspersons. It blossomed spontaneously.

Indivisible F-M is nothing like a tight-knit army of hard-core political strategists that Republicans invariably blame. The local contingent began with a Facebook page set up by one Fargo woman a couple of days before the inauguration, inspired by a 24-page Google document, widely shared online, titled “Indivisible: A Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” While several former Democratic staffers composed the little guide, it’s squarely based on the playbook pioneered eight years by a very different grass-roots movement -— one the Republicans know a thing or two about: the Tea Party.

“Indivisible’s” key advice: One thing is ever foremost on politicians’ minds — re-election. Showing up in force scares them, and numbers count as much as content. That certainly worked before, when unexpected hordes of Tea Party activists turned the tide of public discourse starting in 2009.

The writers behind “Invisible” were watching back then from their posts on embattled moderates’ staffs. Tea Party techniques, they know too well, do work … do work both ways.

When Nicole Mattson of Fargo couldn’t find a local chapter on the website, she started one herself on Facebook. In its first week, Indivisible F-M gathered 700 members. In the six weeks since, Nicole estimates it’s grown to 3,500 or so via closed groups on several social media platforms. Almost all, she says, are from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Nicole is no hardened political operative. Her partisan involvement was, and is, minimal. Nor is some shady megabucks mastermind pulling Indivisible F-M’s strings. It’s loosely run by an all-volunteer, all-local organizing team. Beyond urging members to contact their representatives on pressing issues, they seized upon the suggestion to talk to them face to face.

They started by reaching out to North Dakota’s congressional delegation to request town hall events in Fargo. “So far, the only one who has responded is Rep. Cramer,” Nicole says. Team member Lisa Cook worked with his wife, Kris, who manages his schedule, to set up last week’s gathering. “Mrs. Cramer went out of her way to make time in his schedule to come to Fargo last week,” Nicole reports. “She has been nothing but kind and gracious to work with.”

That brings us to Thursday. The smallish cafe was mobbed, inside and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Retired folks stood crowded together with much younger activists; the timing — 1 p.m. on a workday — perhaps minimized middle-aged participation.

While some media later characterized it as a hostile group of raucous, revved-up liberal opponents, the crowd also included a generous number of equally rude and highly vocal Cramer and POTUS supporters. The ruckus was clearly bipartisan.

Talking afterward on WDAY, Rep. Cramer — who does adore a good fracas — conceded that actions like the discordant Fargo town hall may, in fact, affect the national GOP agenda. “I think it does have some impact,” he said. “In some respects, it should. If people are genuinely concerned in large numbers and their members of Congress are listening to them, it should inform how the congressman thinks. It did inform me.”

He added, “Some members of Congress get squishy easily. They forget that their context should be the 700,000 people they represent — as opposed to a loud minority. The loud minority matters, but you need to put it in perspective.”

Perspective, though, is a shifty platform for prediction. Eight years ago, a strident, angry minority of voters field-tested these very same tactics. As the Tea Party coalesced, it was ultimately able to stall an earlier president’s agenda. Then, as a different horde of angry partisans with Lipton’s Tea bags dangling from their brims outshouted the majority, they took on a far more popular president. No. 44 had been elected the previous November by the greatest number of American voters in history – 69.5 million – and with 365 electoral votes. Today’s Indivisibles take on the popular-vote-losing POTUS 45, who managed to amass only 63 million votes for a nonlandslide Electoral College win of 306.

So, can sincere grass-roots passion succeed again? That was tea. This is coffee. We’ll see.

One thing, though, is dead-on certain: Republicans, you can lay to rest your fetish of for-profit protesters. No checks are in the mail, and no one is cracking open the champagne.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Accenting The Positive

Perfect English? That’s the way you heard it spoken when you were growing up. For those of us lucky enough to live here in the center of the universe, that pretty much means the Scandihoovian-tinged or Deutsch-inflected accents of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Thus the message was plenty clear last week when the owner of Orange Julius, a West Acres fast-food outlet, specified whom he wanted to hire: “We ask that you only apply if you are U.S.-born and speak English as your primary language.”

That little slip is against the law, which forbids hiring based on national origin. The embattled Fargo businessman quickly saw the light, especially when reminded he could face a hefty fine. He assured WDAY he had not intended to “hurt anybody;” he just wanted to “make sure his employees could communicate easily.” (The shopping center, which recognizes that cash is the universal language, promptly issued its own apology.)

An innocent mistake? Maybe … but let’s dig a little deeper. First, you needn’t be born in the U.S. to speak English as your first language. The rest of the English-speaking world comes to mind.

Nor does being born within our borders mean you’re going to sound a lot like we do. Didn’t the movie “Fargo” make that clear enough? Please be advised that the rest of America already thinks we talk kinda funny up in this neck of the woods, doncha know then?

Ah, well. What we’re really talking about, I think, isn’t where a potential orange juicer is born, but how he or she sounds taking orders behind the counter. It’s all about the ears. We’re scared to death to venture beyond the Upper Midwestern accent.

Let’s be honest here. We’re still not used to people who don’t sound local. That’s hardly surprising. In days gone by, the most exotic foreign accents we ran into were by Canadians who said “aboot” and “eh.”

That has changed dramatically in recent years, and it does make us squirm a bit. More and more international experts have been hired to teach in our universities and heal in our hospitals, or build new lives through global resettlement. Still, it’s a good bet that only a scant few rural Dakotans and Minnesotans interact regularly with someone who sounds vastly different. I’m not just talking about Somalian or Malaysian accents, either — how about the patter of the Deep South or the Bronx?

Personally, I avoid both British dramas (sorry, PBS!) and domestic rappers. They just rattle it off faster than my languid country listening can keep up with.

I’m not used to having to concentrate. My ears are lazy. Yours, too?

Big-box bargain-seekers are complaining lately about the rainbow of employees who now staff checkout lanes. Their most frequent gripe is that the cashiers “can’t speak English.” Wrong! They do speak English, sometimes very well … but we haven’t gotten used to the small burst of extra effort it may take to decode them, compared with how the folks next door talk.

Wrapped in our home-grown cultural cocoon, we seldom give a thought to who, really, owns this problem. It couldn’t possibly be “us”, could it — we who’ve lazed along in the rhythms of the Upper Midwest from the time we crawled out of our cradles. So, for sure, it must be “them”! They’ve got to be the problem …

… even when they’re addressing us in what is, in fact, newly learned English.

We take for granted that newcomers will not only master the nouns, verbs and idioms we’ve accumulated over our lifetime but to pronounce them however we do.

When you learn a language, your accent is often the last to be lost. Our own grandparents and great-grandparents would be happy to set us straight, were they still around to explain. People stared at them with the same bafflement back in the 1800s, when they washed over the Upper Midwest in a northern European tidal wave. The “old Americans” — who’d founded these cities — mostly considered them second-class and mocked their dress, habits and thick accents.

Like the Hispanics and Asians who’ve joined us over the past 40 years, and the Kurds, Somalis, Nepalese and more who’ve come more lately, they’ve landed in a culture that doesn’t make much effort to understand. Our current malady could be called Lazy Listener Syndrome: Being forced to actually concentrate on what someone is saying, instead of absorbing it, easy as oxygen, without a second thought.

One of my grandmothers was born to a Norwegian family that settled near Hillsboro, N.D., almost 150 years ago. She read and wrote Norwegian even before her schoolteachers taught her English. The man she’d marry emigrated from near the Arctic Circle, embarked from the cattle boat that brought him (according to family lore), then walked from Ontario to Traill County, where he apprenticed to a blacksmith.

Different time, different place — but the same situation. Picture my bright, eager grandma in primary school, already reading two languages but scolded by her teacher and teased by classmates for her Norwegian brogue. Imagine Grandpa, who’d arrived alone at 14, standing for long, long hours at his forge — chatting easily with Norwegian farmers but never quite fitting in among the city fathers. Can you imagine them wincing at “dumb Norwegian” jokes — amusing now, not quite so much when aimed straight at you.

Grandpa and Grandma’s speech never quite blended with the unblemished Midwestern norm. And so, from the moment their children started school, they never spoke Norwegian in front of them again … except, of course, for content best reserved for adult ears.

My mother — who grew up knowing little more than a few Norwegian swear words — often reminisced, “Ma and Pa wanted their children to be American.” Somehow, I always pictured that in terms of the Stars and Stripes, Sousa marches and crisp salutes on the Fourth of July. It’s taken a good long time to grasp the deeper, more desperate longing embedded in that patriotic dream: To speak without self-consciousness. To talk freely in mixed groups. To be taken for granted as part of “us,” not “them” — no more than that, and no less.

Once, my own family craved the same thing these newcomers long for today — to be able to speak freely, to be understood and to fit in. No matter how much they may love the culture they’ve come from, they want to meld in here and now. They want an ordinary day, an ordinary job, an ordinary classroom, an ordinary trip to the grocery store — the luxury of not standing out.

Some may even aspire to serve up Orange Julius.

We can awaken our own lazy ears … if we’re willing. It can take a little extra effort to decode distinctive accents and rhythms. We may have to ask “what?” more than we think polite. We may have to rattle off our comments a few beats slower and concentrate a little harder.

In the end, though, what counts isn’t accent. It’s attitude. The New Americans among us — international students or refugees, skilled professionals or newly arrived relatives, or simply hard-working families scaling the same mountains our own forebears once had to climb — are already giving their all to conquer our weird, wonderful patchwork American English, along with our sometimes-baffling American ways.

They’re throwing everything they’ve got into talking to us. Why not stretch just a little bit more … and catch it?