Friday, September 29, 2006
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Friday, September 22, 2006
people had a different accent. they said 'gum band' instead of 'rubber band' and had strange vowels which were very interesting to me. i got a paper route and went around collecting 42 cents a week, but mostly people didn't say much; they just gave me 50 and told me to keep the change. early in the morning, i'd open one fresh paper and see if the indians won, but usually they didn't. sometimes we'd go to pirates games in forbes field; my brother got free tickets for getting straight a's in school, and we could take the trolley downtown (dahntahn) and transfer- for a day of roberto clemente and the gang. clemente i still maintain was the best player ever, mostly because he could and would throw a perfect strike from the right field wall to home, and catch the runner. pirates pitchers gave him lots of opportunities.
my parents put illuminaria on the sidewalks at christmas and my dad had a ham radio tower which was a sight because we were on the hill. our yard had three levels and i had to mow all three, and the neighbor's too; i became philosophically opposed to the concept of mowing lawns but it didn't do any good; had to mow anyway, then drag the mower back up the hill to the house. i sledded one time and, unable to stop, crashed over the orphanage wall into the little walkway directly outside someone's window. we liked the orphanage - mom wasn't crazy about that story - but the heavy snow had cushioned the fall, nobody was hurt, and they were tolerant down there, i guess. if they got mad i didn't know about it.
with the paper route money i bought a cello and this was the only thing that kept me from spending entire summers playing monopoly or baseball-card baseball, a card-flipping game involving a woven rug that you would aim for and hope the card's corner hit the appropriate spot. We'd play real baseball if we could, or tag, or capture the flag, until we got older and just took up too much room. my brother was often not involved in this; he'd play chess, go downtown (dahntahn) for a tournament, fall asleep on the trolley home and end up in castle shannon. but there were lots of kids in the neighborhood and i got plenty of fresh air, even in the peak of the monopoly craze.
my best friend bobby heckman ended up in florida, i guess, but was with me all five of those years, though he was a couple of years behind me and not always in the same school. another kid, paul, was rarely allowed out of the house unsupervised, and we became impatient with that, though i'm sure his parents had good reasons. i still think about him on august 1, don't know where he ended up.
but dec. 27 is paper route day- one would get a paper route on a day like this, of course, so that the previous paperboy would not lose out on christmas tips...and i'll never forget walking around every morning at 5:30 am, folding and throwing pittsburgh post-gazettes up onto porches, climbing steep hills, rustling out deer, occasionally getting spooked by a shadow or some snow that would be shaped like a person's head. nobody was ever up at that hour, or at least, nobody was on the street, nobody was on the paths i walked. one night i was out there, and a meteor shower lit up the sky- thousands and thousands of shooting stars, everywhere. in amazement i actually stopped- usually i had a tight schedule and didn't do this- but i lay down on some grass and just watched it for a while. i felt like waking everyone up, but decided not to. daylight was coming surely and steadily anyway- and soon overtook us- a new day arrived, and i took a shower and went to school. i had a secret, though. the natural world was awesome, and i knew it for a fact. but i also knew that words weren't adequate to describe it; and, even if they were, most people weren't listening. my dad, a nature photographer, would have understood- but he was beginning to get overloaded from the stress of four kids, and another lousy chemical engineering situation, i think. he did take us camping in that era- to kelly pines in northern pa, and down to w-va to some caves known as the sinks of gandhi- my mother was into it too, and we'd go out, pitch tents, make a fire, breathe in the woods. those were the good times. sure, i had some anger building up. i was not producing the grades the way my brother was. but somehow, under those millions of stars, i got the message: i was lucky; i'd seen the best of the natural world, the birds singing, the deer out at their own hour; the heightened awareness of the break of dawn. i was wide awake- i saw it every day, except sunday- at the price, of course, of missing the evening news, at night.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
studying 'role overload' in my class, and realize i'm afflicted with it. if the complexity of my life is making music an afterthought, then my life is truly too complex. but, i'm into this writing gig. bear with me...you may not, at this point, care about the early days. i'll try to make it readable. it'll be below- in italics- then it'll be indexed...then i'll print it, i hope.
one can always dream. and, if that goes nowhere, one can at least practice.
happy ramadan...l'shana tova...chusok chuk'hamnida....vaya con dios
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
we spent the next ten years -1955-1965, roughly, in toledo, where most of my earliest memories are. i had an older brother who had been born in st. louis, and a younger sister and younger brother were born while we were in toledo. in those days every mother in the neighborhood was home raising kids and my mom could literally pick her favorite ones to have coffee with, and she did. my father was a chemical engineer, and worked at brush beryllium, but had an artistic side, and took lots of nature photographs which would turn into slide shows. We also went to mexico in a volkswagen- and though i don't remember the trip itself, i watched slides of it for years, and remember those quite well. i'd hear stories of how we went as far as the roads would go, and missed our peanut butter- and saw pictures of myself climbing a pyramid somewhere. this would then get mistaken for a memory- what was actually a memory of a picture- but i have some actual memories from this time too.
toledo was actually small enough that we could be put on a bus and sent downtown to the art museum- though mom worried about us, i think- and of course we wandered around neighborhoods freely, as we got older, which kids don't do much now. in our last year we moved to a larger house close to the university- and this is where i was when kennedy was shot- at a different school, somewhat confused by the teacher's reaction, sent home early, and hit on the head by a tomato that someone threw at me for whatever reason. by chance, i think. we were running home, afraid that the world was going to end.
my parents had white walls in their house and an occasional utrillo painting which stayed with us most of my life. they had good friends and socialized a lot, and would occasionally take us out to iowa, where they were both from, to visit grandparents. as a small kid these trips impressed me deeply, stuffed in the back of a station wagon, reading license plates, waving at passing cars or playing some kind of game. my older brother considered me a pest much of the time and would be absorbed in some book, or later, chess. the weather was highly variable- and we'd be in iowa either in december, when it was very cold and snowy, or august, when it was very hot and humid- either way, it was pretty extreme. once, driving across the flat part of illinois, we saw a tornado way off in the distance. and did nothing about it- we just kept driving. one time we went way out west, maybe to yellowstone, but i could be confusing this with later years; we stopped in state capitols like lincoln, nebraska. in any case, there was lots of midwest to travel across before we got anywhere.
but to this day i am the only one of the four, even of the family, who keeps a strong affection for ohio or the time we spent there. i'm a lifelong indians fan- though i actually saw more tigers games in those early years, influenced by a close friend- and often tell people i'm a buckeye. ohio- anchor of the rust belt- i was lucky, actually, to have a family, to have them happy, or so i thought, in most of those years- and to have the relative freedom that came of living in middle america of the 1950's/1960's. giant elms covered those streets like a canopy, and i'd occasionally lie in the grass, just listening to them shuffle in the breeze. by the time we moved to pittsburgh, pa, it was already too late- i knew who i was, and it was no longer the 50's- it had changed, unceremoniously, to the 60's.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
in chicago did millenium park and the beach, but the high point of the trip was seeing the foster family of the youngest son, and using the hotel ironing board as a car-racing ramp, at the 38th-floor floor-to-ceiling window of the mag-mile-marriott, with the 4-yr.-old. the dan ryan was impressive-lots of orange cones, dug-out trenches, construction machinery, mud. occasional visitors like us aren't up on alternate routes, so they leave two lanes open no matter how bad things get. makes for a story, i guess.
coming back it was the same old state- lots of corn waiting for the harvest; a bright red sun setting on it; american food served in central-illinois-culture sauce; a rest-area cappucino machine that delivered the coffee before it delivered the cup. september is a pretty time to travel, though- and illinois is a lot like iowa, except it has a city in it. it's good to be home.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
my main complaint with the homework in his life is that it amounts to over 30 pounds some nights, and these days both his pack and his left arm are dangling from the same shoulder, since he fractured his elbow in a terrible bike spill a couple of weeks ago. the surgery was heart-wrenching but we survived...for a 14-yr.-old, maybe the hard part is going back to school and telling everyone what happened. that and holding your pants up when you're one hand short.
i don't know the answer to the problem mentioned by chris & time magazine (if you click around you'll find the article)...as a language teacher, i hate to discount homework altogether- i certainly give enough of it, and feel that one of its purposes is to prove a student's commitment to learning, as an individual, aside from the collective experience of taking a nap in the back row during the day. it could be that the stuff kids do when they are not doing homework is ultimately more important than what is often busy-work given for the sake of giving it. i've actually seen some of his homework recently, as i've helped him write some of it, due to the immediate writing problems, and i can't say that his is necessarily just busywork. and, it could be that the runescape also gives him skills he may need in his future...ability to type quickly, communicate in chat, kill ruthlessly, taunt mercilessly, etc.
the one thing i've found that we do like to do together these days is watching old movies, old hitchcock, wc fields, etc. or sometimes any old free movie from a cereal box, and some new ones too. with a bowl of popcorn. wish we had music, baseball, something else...
with the four-year-old i make volkswagens out of cardboard and toothpicks...we did a bug, red, with a vw insignia & license plate on it, moving wheels, and now we're working on a van...
the bug is small and red and reminds me of the first car i ever owned, a 62 bug which i used to get from a small farmhouse in wellman iowa -with muscovy geese, leonid & nikita- to a job at the railroad (cmstp&p = cheapest, meanest & slowest to pay = chicago milwaukee st paul & pacific = milwaukee road) - in washington iowa... and to iowa city - the 92 on the license plate meant washington county, home of kalona, shiloh, pilotsburg, some other towns i'd pass through...a couple of them, hills and frytown, might have been in johnson county...nevertheless with some urgency i dredge my memory, and not everything there is stuff i'm proud of...in hopes that i can find stuff to share with the boys - besides this blog - that will steer them in the right direction, take him away from this simultaneous-chat-taunting-electronic-death-by-mouse-lure-poor-sucker-noobs-into-an-electronic-back-alley kind of game, which oddly enough, i guess, prepares them for life in much the same way monopoly did for me. i've enjoyed writing about those times, but i know these boys have to make it in entirely different times. it's the sound of the bug, i tell him - like the sound of a horse & buggy- you can hear it from far off, and you'll always know it. and i haven't heard it in a while, though a later 80s bug that had been made into a three wheeler passed me up the other day. the little fella is also into soccer, and i hope it sticks, because he's already found cars the game, serves me right i guess....
Saturday, September 09, 2006
but toward the end of the route, i'd get on interstate 80, the main road from san francisco to new york, and at this point i would be connected to the world of cross-country travel, if only for a few minutes. at 4:30 am this was mostly trucks, and they had a bitter chill wind, especially in winter, as they flew by, but an occasional cross-country traveller would happen by too, shooting through iowa without even seeing it, really. from my experience on the east and west coasts i knew that this was the sum total of a good number of people's experience with the state, and that was too bad, as it was hilly, green, quite beautiful all year round, in the daytime. at night it was peaceful. the smell of newsprint, the snow on top of glazed on-ramps in the winter, the shine of the street-lights on everything. i had to be careful, or this is all i would see of iowa also. but i'd already seen quite a bit of it, and it was a good way to smooth over a memory of thousands of on-ramps, midnight silences, immobility. the suburban, with infinite uncounted miles on it, never broke down, not even once. on sundays, the papers would more than quadruple in size- the bundles heavier, the routes bigger, the suburban more than full- but i'd be home sleeping, taking the day off. another luxury to a weary traveler. that, and waking up in the afternoon, to a leisurely breakfast, and a free morning paper to read.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
up there it was stunning- i could now see the mountains going all the way up, to where there was even snow, way on the top of some of them. pines blanketed them and an occasional waterfall dropped its fresh water beneath the tracks and into the river. the train was long and i couldn't see either end; looking back was easier because the wind wasn't in my face. i sat there on the ladder, on the side of the car, facing backwards, taking for granted the steady rumble of the train, and looking at the mountain scenery. i saw a few animals that were apparently not afraid of the train, deer, or elk; the highway, however, was a ways away, and i lost track of it. there were no people in sight, no houses, no cars, no mountain climbers. below the tracks, and following them, the river gurgled a little, and shined in the sun.
the wide wild west just seemed incredibly expansive, full of possibilities, full of life, more than a lungful of fresh mountain air. but suddenly i felt a vacuum at my shoulder. luckily i ducked- suddenly we were in a tunnel. i hadn't foreseen this at all. i don't know what made me duck, right then, at the last minute- it was like the wind behind me just died right out. with my head down now, in total darkness, i was afraid to move even an inch, because i knew that i was on the side of the boxcar, and the walls of the tunnel would not be too much above me. glancing toward the back of the train, i saw a tiny hole of light receding into nothing. total darkness, and nothing but the noise of the train echoing infinitely around the walls of the tunnel. i didn't dare move a muscle- all i could think of was how lucky i was that that mountain hadn't just knocked me right off the boxcar, and down between the cars.
but, sure enough, a few full minutes later, we came out the other side of the tunnel, and now the mountain, and the tunnel itself, receded into the past, a small black hole becoming smaller and smaller. i was back out in the full sunlight again, mountains rising on both sides of me, sun shining above. the river, still sparkling, following the tracks, the only witness to what had happened. it would have never told the story, but i had to: i still see that tiny little light, receding into the distance. and i get the feeling that seeing the big picture might be dangerous- but what's traveling through a place, knowing you may not be back in a few years, and NOT at least trying to get a good view? it was only on a train that, alone, i'd experience whole western valleys, vistas, and feel that, in life's journey, our souls can only occupy our boxcar for a short while - and just hope that the great yard dick doesn't close both doors on us while we're taking a nap...
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
he had a kayak on top. that was his passion: to stop at ice-cold blue yukon lakes, dip that kayak into it, and flip the kayak so that the bottom of the kayak was up- for just a second- and then flip it back, refreshed and yelling into the cold summer morning. he dared me to do it but i wouldn't. i was a witness, though, when there didn't seem to be many others, except bears.
we'd see many cars over and over again, since people would stop for various amounts of time- and the whole thing took days. we knew them by their license plates, and knew that they recognized us. i also knew a number of the hitchhikers, from when the highway was washed up back in fort nelson bc, but of course we had no room for them. at the highway rests, coffee was a dollar, which was excessive in 1974, and pie was three or four- that was excessive too. we got used to a spartan diet, and when someone offered fresh fish or some such thing, we'd take it. we became aware of sources of food in our environment- blueberries, etc., and one guy once taught me how to make bread with easily carried ingredients...
the town of whitehorse, yukon territory, supposedly had more bars than people, but we didn't stop to count. it was paved- and we sailed right through. we might have found a grocery store in one of the larger towns, but generally, i'd had enough of towns- i sure didn't want to spend a day shopping. i do remember seeing some license plates with only bears on them. these would be from the northwest territories, nwt. in the end i considered this part of canada much more exotic, scenic, toward the edge of the earth, than alaska. i saw many times more bear in canada. the craggy purple mountains shot up from these deep blue lakes into a clear summer sunset: these would last forever and turn into northern lights.
i parted ways with this guy at tok, the fork in the road to beat all forks, in southeastern alaska. he had told me of growing up in cambridge, rigging up a car so he and his friend could hide in the way-back part of it, out of sight of everyone, and still drive it, through mirrors and machinery. thus the car would appear to have no driver. i wasn't sure whether to believe this story. in kansas, maybe, but not cambridge. nevertheless what did i care? i wasn't there to decide whether it was true. this guy was a nice guy, camping partner, lent me his kayak, saw a good portion of canada with me, got me through the rough part.
and we saw, together, a monument that still stands, somewhat clearly, in my mind. the border between canada and the us, where hundreds of cars lay still, being overtaken by nature- they had been impounded, and never moved. nobody had bothered- it was too far from anywhere, maybe. so they just stood there, being overtaken by nature, standing as testament. maybe the border guards liked it that way. i've been through a lot of us-canada borders in my time- lived near niagara falls in high school- and this one was, well, different, surrounded by tall pines, miles and miles of endless forest on either side. the cars and vans, mute witness, represented, at the same time, the price of messing with the border folks, and the stark reality of utter remoteness.
a border, of course, is the ultimate test of faith for the guy who picks up a hitchhiker...this is more or less a total stranger, after all- and do you really want your car to be among the others? they let us in, though...we were, after all, coming back to the u.s., and utterly drug-free, a little dirty, a little broke, but looking right at them, and they'd say, as they often would, welcome home, welcome to the usa. the volkswagen started up again, stirred up some gravel, left the car-ghosts behind.