Monday, October 30, 2006

paycheck in hand, i was glad to get away from atlanta and back out into the country, this time hitchhiking a country road up through northwest alabama up to the farm- this is spelled with capital t, capital f, but i'm not using those in this treatise. my interest in communities and communes was stirred up by the sunflower family, and i'd wanted to go see the place anyway- but, at the same time, i was getting into the groove of being alone, being out there, being a free agent. i began traveling lighter, shedding baggage, no longer feeling like i needed a shelter all the time, or for days at a time, or even at all. there was talk in alabama about some truckers burning tires further up the road, a labor movement of some kind; it was cold, it occurred to me that i was miles from my natural element. but i was loving it, and people were really nice to me. there was a certain cultural gap in talking, but i was bridging it; i'd had some practice.

up at the farm they were very seriously into right living, soybean farming, settling down, doing the right thing. it was impressive- to live in a community a person had to do what was best for the group, live by agreements, work hard and not get a whole lot in return sometimes- i was attracted by the stability of it all. inside, though, i was blowing them off- i wasn't ready for this. i didn't hang around long- i did some work, saw the place, and, they were gracious hosts, so i told them i appreciated that- and i got back on the road, this time going south.

the route down to new orleans passed through the natchez trace, the whole state of mississippi, practically. this was very exotic, even in january- lots of plants i'd never seen, red clay soil, a strong kind of accent in the people. again, everyone was very friendly, rural, helpful. i was arriving in new orleans a little early for mardi gras- too early. there was talk of a policeman's strike, and the best thing i could have done would have been to hide my pack in some hostel and done my walking around without it. as it happened two policemen pounced on me in lake ponchartrain park...told me there was going to be a revolution all right, but it was going to be the policemen who ran it, and they were going to clean the world of people like me, especially given my northern accent, that last bit being implied and not stated directly. seemed my first mistake was to open my mouth with these policemen- they were questioning me about some table knife that i used to spread peanut butter, and i was maintaining stubbornly that that's all i used it for. i seem to remember that they dragged me into the station on some charge, giving me the policemen-will-get theirs-someday lecture on the way over, though i don't remember paying anything, and i had to get a bus ticket out of there because the exit to the highway was right there at the police station. so i bought a one-way ticket to baton rouge, the nearest possible place, but got out there and continued west. no sense waiting for mardi gras under those conditions. but i wasn't really mad about the south- it had been good to me, in spite of everything. people had been friendly. maybe it was just that my license, my main id, still had new york on it, maybe that was a bad thing. the policemen had been a bit rude, to be sure, in both cities, but it could have been worse. my experience in atlanta had been a bit spooky, but that too, could have turned out worse- and, i'd had a pretty good time there, exploring the underground, walking around, getting to the airport and back. but spring was coming- you could sense it, on the roadsides and bayous, it was in the air, and i was just getting started. the wide state of texas stretched out in front of me, and the sun was coming 'round to shining.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

so i got down south, atlanta to be exact, and noticed right away that it wasn't what i'd been led to believe. not that anyone consciously told me, the south is all rednecks, but somehow i'd picked up some impressions somewhere, maybe the media, and was surprised now to see a vibrant, diverse city with lots going on. people pointed the way to a youth hostel/place to stay and i parked my pack for the first time. i had no desire to go to florida, though it was january, and knew of no place between atlanta and florida that had promise, so this was as good a place as any. actually i was thinking about money- did i really have enough? probably not. i asked around about jobs and was told they were hiring out at the airport. i didn't even have an address.

a kid befriended me and said he had a place to stay that i was welcome to share. he'd been taken in by a rich fellow, he said, who had left him alone in a condominium. i went there with him. it was posh, elegant- the kid was alone. he'd run away from mississippi, he said, and had walked about halfway. he seemed a shade young, maybe 18, but i couldn't tell; turned out later he was 17. i didn't put two and two together and think of him as a runaway at that moment, but he was. he was nice enough to me- and i stayed there a couple of nights, sleeping on a couch. it was strange, though- the place was new, fancy. it seemed like he wanted me there maybe to protect him. yet there was no one else around. we played cards a little, watched tv, talked. i went to the airport where i got a job as a dishwasher at an airport diner. within days i was promoted to grits-cooker- ahead of lots of black guys, who had probably been there longer, and probably even knew how to cook them- but who didn't seem to hold it against me nevertheless. i knew nothing about grits- had to admit that to them- but they didn't care & said they'd teach me whatever i wanted to know. this was hartsfield international - now a major airport- and it was possible that people like jimmy carter were passing through there regularly. i barely looked up from the job, though- still trying to figure out what a 'grit' was. that night, going 'home' i jumped my first train, in the city of atlanta, and it took me off the path, veered a little, into a strange part of town. i jumped off, endangering myself slightly, and used numbers of the streets to find my way back to the condominium.

when i got there- it was morning, as i'd worked the night shift- the kid said we had to go now, and we did. collected our stuff and left, walking down the street, seeing our own reflections in the fancy windows of office buildings on one of the peachtree streets (avenue? court?) where we were, back toward the hostel, which was only a few blocks away. but we were accosted by policemen, who pushed us into a movie theater entrance, and then checked our id's, finding nothing much on me in the process, but speaking contemptuously to me. maybe they were mad at me for harboring a minor, but i didn't feel i'd done anything wrong. maybe they were just looking for the kid, as they then told me to get on down the road, go back north from whence i came, and that nearby northbound highway would be good enough. i took their advice, left the kid behind, & quit the airport job on the spot, though they now owed me money which i'd have to return to get.

up in the mountains i tried jumping on another train, but this one didn't go anywhere, or didn't go very fast, and i remember kind of sitting there, in the rain, waiting to see if anything would happen. i didn't even want to go that far- further up north, after all, it was just january; here, at least i was in the mountains. it wasn't too cold, but it was rainy, drizzling.

i got back on the road at just the right time, because a car full of young folks came along and invited me to their commune/house up in the hollow up against clinch mountain in bean station, tennessee, northeast of knoxville. this was the sunflower family, they explained, and they led a tenuous life in this hollow, as they didn't have jobs at the moment, and an incense factory down the road might hire some of them, but hadn't come through yet. they asked if i had money for grits, and i gave them some, but that turned out to be cig-grits, the hand-rolled kind, which they bought at the grocery at the mouth of the hollow, as they had some food back at the house which they shared when we got there. i set up a tent up on the mountain there and stayed with them a few days, almost a week. at one point we set out somewhere and a back wheel of their truck fell off, leaving those of us in the bed sort of bouncing on the wheel drum, as the truck threw sparks off behind it. this, someone explained, was the bloody 9-w highway that went from new orleans to washington dc, one of a very few that cut through the mountains, and a very dangerous and curvy one in many spots. bean station was the site of a well-known truck stop, near where the other road that cut through the mountains, coming down from cumberland gap, cut diagonally through the other way, and went over clinch mountain. it was a special place, and i was grateful that they'd let me stay in it for a few days, and i let them know that, and eagerly pitched in on whatever they were doing. but at one point, that was burning down an old rotten outhouse, and a crazy woman emerged from the house, and pitched a basket of love-letters into the fire. the letters, unfortunately, flew back at her, due to the vagaries of wind currents and bad luck, and this caused a lot of psychic distress, i guess. i didn't know her, or anyone really, but she apparently was important in the lineage of the ownership of the small farmstead, unlike folks like me, who were more or less expected to drift in and out, i guess. the place was heated by a woodstove, was pleasant, and had a fog settling in the hollow at nights that i could walk down into in the morning, when i came down off the mountain where my tent was pitched. it was one of the few times i actually used my tent- most of the time, on the road, i'd never use it, as it was too auspicious if i was just off the road in some trees somewhere. here, at the farm, it became a place to live for a few days. i met a couple who had actually met each other in a cemetary in new orleans- they were both travelers looking for a place to rest, and were very alive, not into voodoo at all. some other people were on a quest to find all the natural ways of altering one's mental state, including jimson weed, morning glory, wild lettuce, wild hemp, peyote, etcetera, and were quite up on all the details- though i myself found the fog and the mountains altering my mental state enough as it was; this was not a quest i needed to push, especially. if we turned right at the store we went up clinch mountain, through a town called fern hill, and the oxygen got kind of thin, and the view spectacular, even in january, but they said they didn't like to go that way, because there wasn't much in the way of supplies up there, and they didn't completely trust the brakes of whatever vehicles they were driving, on the trip back down. there were several vehicles on the farm, but none in especially good shape, and i didn't see the truck again after its wheel had fallen off. they complained that they'd paid someone money to go up to chicago to bring back a truckload of natural foods, but they'd disappeared, hadn't come back, and they were wondering whether to do it again, or just make do. i couldn't help them- i was headed back to atlanta, to get my measly paycheck, and then was on the road, westbound, hopefully to mardi gras and out to california.

i didn't get a true picture of commune life, as they were kind of in crisis- many spoke of leaving the farm- and life wasn't truly stable. the woman with the letters and her grief over something terrible in her past, back in alabama- that kind of took over the house, even with its wood smoke, and upbeat, backwoods fresh-air feeling. the sun came up over the mountain in the mornings and one day i knew it was time to get on, so i did, but i left a piece of myself there- i thought, if i could ever settle down, a llittle house out in the hollow, back in the mountains, where it didn't get too cold in january, where there was a steady supply of wood for a morning fire and grits, was not a bad way to go. i'd yet to hear any of the bluegrass the mountain was famous for- apparently it extended all the way up into virginia- and the community was also a down-side, as we were always in a group, and they'd give us a collective dirty look, wherever we'd go. it might not be a place to get friendly with the neighbors, or to put one's kids in school, but at that time, to me, the difference between country and city was clear. the city was potato chips and plush carpeting that i was allergic to; the country was a wood smoke with a pot of oatmeal on it, oak leaf-softened ground, a mountain with a history. i could see myself coming back one day, and i did- but that time, about a year later, it was empty, the people gone- and i didn't ever really know, after all, who really owned it. it was a hill away from the highway, bloody 9-w, so i got on it, and started back for atlanta
west campus, boston university 1972-3

my time in boston and boston university could be divided according to the places i lived: first, the west campus, a drug festival but nonetheless where i had a number of friends, and first started seriously traveling, in order to breathe fresh air, see new england, and sleep at night on weekends; second, a huge dorm called 700, heart of boston university, where all stereotypes came home to roost, particularly about the women students at bu; where a roommate named p.h. woke up stumbling for his cigarettes every morning, a good friend to this day. and finally, as a sophomore, symphony road. on the other side of kenmore square and fenway park- by then i was a journalism major, transferred from sociology, still somewhat unconnected, not integrated into campus life.

i started out at the west campus, in fall of 1972; i'd walk down to the main campus, walk back, take the t into town, take the t back. i had nothing against the university, the education, the city, etc.- i could not seem to get enough out of the city, but felt very guilty having my parents pay for my education, and not know what i wanted or what i was doing. though i avoided going overboard in all the drugs that were floating around, or the other diversions, music, clubs, movies, skulling on the charles, whatever, i also didn't get a job, but rather travelled every weekend hoping just to get out. a job early on at a friendly's didn't stick; i had a radio show, but couldn't keep up with the responsibility; i did my best to attend classes but missed a few; and once, on a campus of 30,000, i wrote my own name in on a ballot for college of liberal arts representative of the freshman class, and won the election. had to turn down the post, though- i was already over my head.

i was involved in mcgovern's campaign for president; this was the fall of '72, and mcgovern was going to win massachusetts, so they sent me to maine every weekend that i was willing. i gladly went- canvassed in orange-brick riverfront towns like lewiston, sacco, portland, androscoggin river outposts where they mostly liked nixon but didn't care much, and had a lively state senate race. the leaves were gorgeous, the sky maine-blue, the ocean a peripheral-vision sight on the ride up, and the culture an interesting taste of getting out of the city. another experience traveling: signs in french; people who spoke french; a kind of isolated culture.

back in town i often took the t to harvard to visit my brother, but he was usually busy, very busy, though his dorm-mates would, having spent a quarter in a video game in the lobby, make a point of beating that game all night long if they could- and a diner advertised food that was ver-i-tas-ty. i was impressed by the brick, ancient feeling of it all, and the profusion of the name leverett everywhere- leverett hall, leverett this & that- in downtown boston, leverett circle, right where the interstate, storrow drive, beacon street, and the charles street jail came together. sometimes i felt that, since my brother was in a fog of study or whatever, too busy to appreciate where he was, i was the rightful heir to the name, the heritage, but of course i didn't deserve it either, being a slacker, with no goals or aspirations but to get out. the city was interesting to me, and i explored it with a relish, walking to dorchester, or taking the t out to allton or beyond, and walking back; sometimes i'd also walk back from harvard, where i'd try to visit my brother, or just hang around.

i would also take the t to revere, a working-class beach town with a boardwalk, windswept styrofoam up against the wooden stairs to the docks, a town where everyone was everyone else's relative and they were wondering what i was doing there in january- for a quarter, i figured the beach in any form was a good deal. the water was icy cold and gray, choppy, dark- there were no hot-dogs for sale, but the t home stopped at logan airport and picked up a motley new batch of travelers- that, if i remember correctly, was the blue line. i lived on the green- and harvard was on the red, but i pretty much hit them all before it was over, figuring that at a quarter a shot i could see everything from walden pond to lexington...and i did.

my roommate in the west campus was t.p., a trumpet-playing boy from the jersey shore who fairly quickly stopped going to classes and became absorbed in the drug culture there in the dorm. he'd play trumpet late at night, sometimes into the morning; then, he'd sleep days, or, he'd wake me up in the middle of the night, out of boredom. i liked him pretty well, although he made it hard for me to concentrate on classes. he occasionally had women visitors when i was sleeping, but what did i know? i slept in a kind of daze. he very graciously invited me down to his hometown; maybe that was thanksgiving break.

the jersey shore was empty, cold, beautiful; his family was generous, and made their own pasta. on the way, he pointed out to me the diner where bruce springsteen played, and other local landmarks. i can't even remember how we traveled, but for some reason, i remember clearly a kind of opposite view; here everyone disparaged new jersey, as industrialized, crowded, inhospitable; and here, what i experienced was a beach town, beautiful, empty, waves crashing on the shore, and a warm, hospitable community. i think his family knew that he was flunking out, but i didn't get involved in that. he was my friend; they were gracious to me.

i was stunned when nixon won the election; it seemed obvious to me that he was a liar, and a crook, and that the war was badly misguided. everyone around me in boston agreed, but that was just boston. my experience in maine just convinced me, in retrospect, that the country was ambivalent and unconcerned. in school, i talked to people, especially in the classes, but those late-night discussions about philosophy in the dorms never happened for me. my dorms, at least those, were bathed in drugs, and i took to avoiding them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

a cold hard rain passed through carbondale, though it didn't seem to stop the cards from winning the world serious up in st louis. it supposedly flooded cape, or so i heard, and flooded my little street too. i stayed home and tried to organize a language theory project which has been occupying my mind since the weather turned cold. lots of other things on my plate, though:

one son is out in kansas visiting the other; both are worrying me. the two little ones are happy and growing like weeds, right under my nose; the older ones are out there, managing on their own at the moment. my daughter is using clever tricks to get 100 people/day to visit her blog; i plod along, telling my story, lucky to get eight, and those are the same eight, probably, over and over again. i'm not worried. after all, it's not at all organized; it would make no sense to anyone who doesn't already know me. these stories are meant to eventually be put in traveling/autobiography/traveling/autobiography etc. form, filling up a whole book and carrying the reader all the way up to now, simultaneously carrying him/her through a couple of years of hard traveling. no telling when it'll be finished, though- some nights, like tonight, i write nary a word. and, there are several considerations: should i really tell the whole story? i think not; i'm already embarassed by some of it, and i've barely scratched the surface. should i print it in publishable form? if so, how? thought maybe i'd give something creative away for christmas again; i've always loved the calendars, especially their graphic nature, but have been working on a cd (almost ready) lately and if we can produce those, that would be best. other projects: it's halloween; i'm involved in helping friends w/marriage problems; am making a new larger dinoco helicopter entirely out of cardboard (love these engineering feats)...and, am trying to write a play for the unitarians, and produce one for my own quakers...would like to repackage my stories, also (the booklet, unloading, has ten, but some of the back five could easily be replaced)...not to mention, unpack the house; move into a new shed; fix the truck & camper, make them more roadworthy; keep the rain off the flattish roof before it freezes; rake the gingko leaves before they rot; throw away tons of junk at work so that the plants i saved will have room; keep up with the usual 50-hr. work wk., complicated by the fact that a new kind of student places a new kind of demand on the system, and nobody, really, is prepared for it; and, last but by all means not least, take a moment to watch the fantastic growing patterns of young folks learning language, learning thinking skills, putting the world into perspective, doing nerve development, etc. there's nothing like it....makes me want to kick myself, for getting involved in so much else. what was i thinking?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

i remember high school as a dark time, gray, cold, like buffalo winters. my family moved to buffalo in the middle of the winter of my first year of high school. i didn't know anyone and had trouble making friends in what seemed like a group of people who had known each other all their lives. they weren't so bad, actually, but i definitely had an attitude, being pulled away from my friends and a happy life, more or less, in pittsburgh. buffalo was flatter, snowier, grayer, with fewer trees, and houses that seemed to be cut out of the same mold, as opposed to brick, older, and with character, as the houses in pittsburgh had been.

the bus took me to school now; it had to go under thousands of power line transformer wires running down from niagara falls and supplying the whole east coast with power. walking was out of the question. sometimes there was one foot, two feet, four feet of snow. people went on grimly with their lives and hadn't seemed to consider that there were other places in the world- i got the strong impression that most of them planned to stay in the area after high school (which probably wasn't true) in spite of what seemed to me to be common sense.

the family would go up to niagara falls regularly, and watch the mist freeze on everything, and watch thousands of gallons of icy water pour over the edge. i was mad at my father for making us move, but what could he do? he had to work, and i knew this. my brother went off to college at harvard, leaving me with no option but to come out second best- even going to college seemed bleak- but where could one work without doing it? I had no idea of a future. i took my anger out on my poor little sister.

the high school was called sweet home- seemed like a joke to me, but it was on sweet home road, named after sweet home candy factory. seemed hard to cheer for the h.s. football team, but nobody seemed to have a problem with it. i was on the yearbook club and took a lot of pictures- also hung around with a radical crowd who was protesting the war, which was at its peak. the draft came; i got a low number; it looked like i might be on my way to vietnam. before this had happened i had been reading up on the war and becoming radical. some people in the high school actually put anti-war reading into my hands; it pointed out, basically, that the government was lying, which doesn't surprise us today. i was actually kind of fascinated with vietnam, and asia in general, but couldn't imagine going and fighting; i fantasized going and disappearing into the crowd, but knew that was a fantasy, and canada, in spite of being a bridge away, held no special pull for me. i really didn't know what i'd do. i was leaning most strongly toward just going to war, or, going to jail. in some ways i thought these would be the least different from what i was already experiencing.

my high school experience had really been most painful when the high school experienced a large anti-war strike directed against a gym teacher who had spit in a girl's face for not pledging to the flag. they were in a crowded auditorium- not having a homeroom, due to construction- and were not paying attention to the pledge coming over the loudspeaker. this particular gym teacher noticed when i and the yearbook/school newspaper squad went to the hearing to cover the event- even though it was held during the day. the following year i was put in his gym class and he tormented me, though basically, i became very humble, because i saw it as the only way out. ironically, the high school graduation was held in that very same gym, and it still smelled just as bad as all gyms did in those days. it was an extremely unpleasant graduation. i felt no sense of victory, no sense of anything except disgust at that gym smell, and my inability to move, or squirm out of my robes. i needed out.

during this time, you have to realize, kent state was just down the road; attica was a stone's throw the other way; woodstock was in the same state; watkins glen, a larger concert than woodstock, was also nearby. i felt like a hippie, but without the nerve to just leave home and drop out of high school. that wouldn't be wise. one summer i did some social work in the city of buffalo, but in general i didn't feel too connected to the area or any particular thing. i got a job at a fast-food fish restaurant, Arthur Treacher's, which provided a lot of badly-needed sanity and some money which of course i'd spend later. i'd come home covered with grease and the family dog was very fond of that. the washing machine couldn't really get it all out. i'd also occasionally get burned by the deep-fry grease. a guy and his girlfriend ran the place; they were either recovering druggies, or just druggies. or maybe they were going back and forth. gratefully they kept me out of it; i was only in high school, after all. many of my classmates were getting roaring drunk, but really i knew almost nobody except a few outcasts and we didn't really do that...

one summer day i set off on my bicycle to visit my father's workplace, hooker chemical on grand island. grand island was a huge, windswept place and i could barely get across the bridge and onto it, it was so windy and out there. the work complex was large and complicated also, but i found him, and he gave me a tour. he'd later say that he didn't like the people he worked with- they had, after all, been responsible for the love canal, many years back, and would do it again if they had the chance, he once said. he was kind of an environmentalist in a very conservative crowd, and eventually quit to run a nature preserve down in the wetlands by the old lackawanna steel mills, but at this time he was just trying to get by as a chemical engineer. absolutely nothing that he showed me made any sense to me. maybe i just blanked it out because of our relationship- i often blanked out good advice on such things as cars, at my own peril. such was our relationship. he loved me a lot, though, i knew. the ride home was worse. the place was vast, empty, windswept, difficult. it took me all day.

another time i checked out a bridge-guard's place by the old canals in north tonawanda- the place was not without its charm, its history, its proximity to canada. tonawanda, my father would say, was an indian word for "bring an extra snow-shovel." one time he was able to walk onto his own roof- up a 9-ft. drift of snow. another time we made a hockey rink out of the snow and ice in the backyard- but it melted into the basement in the spring (may, maybe?) and we couldn't do it the next year. when we went skating, little boys tore around our knees, growing up on their skates, while we walked tentatively on the ice. but mostly, i missed pittsburgh- the sun, the hills, the trees, the tunnels, my friends, and baseball. i counted the days, and finally went off to college. somewhere in there they cancelled the draft; announced that we were getting out of vietnam, no more were needed. some guy i knew had already lied about his age, joined early, and gotten killed; another waited until he turned eighteen, as i did that april, tried to join, and was rejected, as the camps were full, they didn't want any more. i was grateful, free, relieved, but dazed. i would not have made a good soldier.

Monday, October 23, 2006

symphony road

this was actually my third semester at Boston University; my first two had been quite different, both from each other, and from this one.

i found a room in a house on symphony road, not far from fenway park, a little behind the berkley school of music; saxophones played out into the street in the afternoons. the day i moved, i put all my stuff in a shopping cart, and wheeled it over there, but, while i was upstairs getting a key, someone walked off with my record albums, which were on top of the cart. my roommate here, g.h.- he was not the only roommate, but was the one i remember- accompanied me on a trip to cape cod- but here again, i knew hardly anyone, and didn't really connect. i knew i was finished with the dorms; i couldn't take it anymore. at the same time, i wasn't really into the homemaking routine yet, making meals, settling down in the evening to read or do homework. i was always on the move.

the volume went up on my doubts when journalism seemed hard to touch- hard to relate to- and i was losing my patience. the city still held plenty, and i hadn't actually flunked anything- had even taken courses with famous people like howard zinn and a couple of others. i was getting an education, but was feeling so bad about the money thing that i started fantasizing about living on only what was mine. i had saved a considerable amount delivering pittsburgh post-gazettes for 42 cents a week, for five years, and working at the fish store, and i was stuck on this; i could no longer relate to school at all.

this fantasy finally became a reality in january when i dropped out, went to iowa with my family to see grandparents, then took up my pack, and walked off southbound somewhere around the mississippi river. that night i stopped under an interstate bridge in louisville kentucky, warm enough with my sleeping bag wrapped around me, protected from the weather, and felt incredibly free, free of twenty years of school, of everything, and thought, darn if i won't see a little before i do anything else. to this day i have no idea why i chose the south- maybe it was because it was january, maybe it was because deep down i suspected that stereotypes they put into you as a youth are just that- and one's first goal should just be, to find out how wrong they were.

turns out the traveling life maybe wasn't as free as it seemed that first night- and, a person like me takes with him all the doubts, anxiety, baggage i'd had before- no easier to shed, when you're not living someplace where you can work on it. a year and a half i ended up traveling- guatemala to alaska, i've laid some of it out on these very pages, and sure, i look at it a little differently now than i did then, but then, that was 1974 and 1975- the world was a lively place, and it was hard to even picture myself finding a way to fit into it.

-took a little break to revive a linguistics project, in which i totally debunk the universal grammar theory in favor of my own: that the best model for human language is a good traffic it and weep. i devised it while cutting across the lawn in front of the pulliam clock-tower, combing my hair, taking in the peace of the japanese garden to my left, as i get down past the coal center, and the weeds climbing through the fence at the library construction parking. the minutes i save cutting across the lawn all go into my sandwich- though this term, i may have a couple extra (minutes, not sandwiches)...
-wrote a small play, monster of kanifloria, based on a fable, well loved at quaker meeting, and hopefully to be performed there. was invited to write plays for the unitarians, and might take them up on it. now there's a market, if you just talk playwriting biz. thousands of liberal/radical denominations, with christmas-play traditions, but eager to branch out...
-made a small all-cardboard mater (the toothy tow-truck in the movie cars)....this little feller has a real tow-rope, rearview mirror ears, turning wheels, etc. had to make him because we already had a cardboard dinocopter, and had to put something in it. got to get these on film. the 5-yr-old is hocking for a fillmore's geodesic dome...trying to figure out how to make that out of cardboard...

Monday, October 16, 2006

picture break- from the old house

Sunday, October 15, 2006

the following come from the movie cars and show a little about what we're thinking these days:

Thursday, October 12, 2006

after a year and a half of traveling, living on peanut butter, apples, and cheese, camping out on sand dunes and washing sticks out of my teeth with coffee, i came back to boston thinking maybe it was time to go back to school, live in a single place. trouble was, having seen the whole wide west, boston was seeming a little crowded, a little busy. my friends were in a different dorm, myles standish, a very old brownstone right in the middle of kenmore square- right in the thick of it. the river a few blocks back, fenway park a few blocks up the hill, the green line trolley running right through it. they were good to me as usual and began calling me "mott the loophole" after an old rocker mott the hoople, and because there was another tom hanging around. within a day or so i got a job at the myles dining hall, but they found out i wasn't a student and told me i couldn't work there. a day or so later i found another job painting rooms at a nearby college, emerson college. i didn't really have an address, but that didn't really stop me. didn't want to keep staying in a crowded dorm room either, so, one night i snuck up on the roof. getting into the building didn't seem to be a problem, though it was right in the middle of boston. i know this wouldn't be possible now, even in rural illinois. but it was common then, and, i never hurt anything, never took anything.

the roof had a small little elevator shaft building that was even a little warm, but not stuffy. but the best thing about it, besides the view of the street below, was that the entire roof was bathed in the citgo sign that kenmore square is famous for. this sign switched from red to blue to silver; eventually the whole roof would be bathed in all three colors and then start over again. even today i can't look at my citgo credit card without thinking about it- but then, even that card has kenmore square on it, an icon, a logo, a symbol of commerce driving the big city's engines. why they chose that place to put their huge sign, i don't know, maybe so i didn't have to light candles in that rickety old elevator shaft. i loved the view and slept like a log with the fresh air, the ambulances below and the steady red, blue silver light.

eventually someone found my sleeping bag up there on the roof during the day, while i was gone, took it and later told me to get lost, but, for a few days i was able to work painting and live a fairly interesting life. it was in this time that i met a very interesting character, in an elevator somewhere in kenmore square. it was possible that i was investigating other jobs or maybe places to live, but anyway, i met up with a guy who was selling his own homemade books of poetry. the interesting thing was, right there on the elevator, someone we met seemed to know who he was, knew he was good, and bought one. i almost bought one too, on the spot, but was being kind of tight with money, such was the source of my nickname, and didn't. that was unfortunate. i have fantasies even today of doing basically the same thing, only maybe with the stories.

within days, though, i'd concluded that the whole city life, the busy square, the trolleys, the history, wasn't for me. if it was, why had i left in the first place? all the opportunities- going to the beach at revere, going over to harvard square, the music, the street life- it was interesting, historic, vibrant and colorful. but speaking of color, fall was coming, and the only trees in boston were the ones growing up in the little holes in the sidewalk- i felt i was being robbed of my natural birthright of new england fall colors, with every day that passed in deisel fuel and bar entrances. somewhere in there i hatched a plan...i would go up to mt. katahdin, in maine, and start hiking, walking the appalachian trail, south, as far as i could go. somehow i'd decide what i wanted to do next, i'd have some time to think about it.

i was able to enact my plan fairly easily. i'd already been living on very little, living outdoors, sleeping even in the cold with very little problem. the trip up there was uneventful but it was quite a ways north in maine and it took a while. i was able to find the trailhead, get a few supplies, and inquire about the nearest town, which was called monson and which was a good hundred twenty to a hundred fifty miles down the path or so, i can't remember exactly. it was very rocky there, not much of a view except maine pinelands as far as the eye could see, and i found myself in a completely different world, with too much weight on my back, and a little bored, in spite of the beautiful color all around me and the need for solitude cultivated by long nights of socializing in the city. when i ran into people i had interesting conversations, heard about the moose that got drunk in the fall, because they ate the apples off the ground and had a lot of stomachs, like cows, where the apples would ferment and make them ornery and surly. watch out for those moose, and also, watch out for winter. it was pretty clear that at the rate of twenty miles a day, i'd barely make it to monson, let alone georgia, before the heavy weather set in. and the mountains would get higher, since in northern maine we were actually north of the big appalachian range that started in the whites in new hampshire. so i'd probably get socked in by winter if i was serious about staying on the path.

fortunately, i wasn't serious about anything, except maybe stewing about possibly going back to school, which i did (I did stew, and I did eventually go back)...but, an interesting thing happened. so-called "through-hikers" started coming at me- they'd started in georgia in the spring, prepared for the long haul, were well into the groove of serious, and now, just thirty or forty miles from katahdin, were almost done, and were elated. they could smell victory. many were compulsive, were counting every mile, knew from careful study of the map exactly what rock they were standing on when they were talking to me. one offered me a classic book, by balzac or someone, to give to another through-hiker a little ways back; apparently they whizzed through this classic literature after they set up camp, usually at a lean-to, at about two or three in the afternoon. they'd wake up and start hiking very early, and have no trouble getting in twenty or twenty five miles in a day. they knew each other as a kind of community- having passed each other off and on for ten or eleven states. and, they even had grudges, i could tell- they knew each other well enough to be deliberately not walking together.

i passed up the book, though, only because it would tie me to the trail. not that i had anywhere else to go- we were deep in the maine wilderness- but if i felt i had to be there when one of these guys came by, that would be a kind of obligation, and would weigh more than my camera. i suggested he just leave it in a lean-to, and the guy actually did it- he didn't mind that. who was going to take it? even the bears had better things to do.

most of them were willing to stop and chat for a bit- this of course depended on when i caught them, what time of day it was, etc. since i slept until eight or nine a lot of them whizzed by me while i was still sleeping in the mornings. others i would run into in the middle of the day, making a large meal at a lean-to, wet clothes already washed in a stream and hanging from a branch- the point was to make them dry off in the sun and daytime before the cold nights set in and possibly made the jeans stiffen. these were jeans shorts, though- these guys had everything down to a science, to weigh as little as possible, give as much support as possible, last to katahdin. each was a little different- tanned, older, younger, but all muscular, and most of them used to the solitude, in one way or the other. i admired their perseverance, knowing, also, it wasn't for me, at least not now, as i clearly hadn't planned as well as they had, and was going backward (north-south) and starting late, and carrying a pack full of unnecessary things (though i really was travelling relatively light), that a smart traveler would just pitch.

they told me they'd gravitated toward classical literature because it gave them something rich to think about while they were walking. sure, they'd found some trash novels too and had gone through them and passed them along, but they'd come to value the better stuff just as i've come to value a good cup of coffee in a rainstorm. i found this attitude in a number of trail-hikers and soon was discussing writers like lawrence, hardy, balzac etc. as if i were in school. in fact i hadn't read much in over a year, and almost took the book for that reason alone. but, i was using all the daylight hours just getting down the path, and began to worry about how far monson would actually be. would i last a week to ten days?

in fact that was the least of my worries, and, arriving in monson, found my two choices to be northwest and southeast, neither of which i'd planned. the road only went through two ways, and i was taking the road; my feet were tired. i went to quebec for a few days, and, upon returning, set out for the west, this time picking up my cross-country skis in buffalo, at my parents' house, and hitchhiking through a blizzard in toledo, where i'd grown up. i wasn't afraid of a blizzard in those days. i'd just go all night if i had to, go until i either got where i was going, or found a warm place to rest. ohio in particular was always fun, thought the fall colors were gone, the grayness was settling in, what was left of an earlier snow was turning dark and mushy beneath my boots. i always thought, i'm a buckeye myself- they can't kick me out of this place, i was born here. if you don't like me just passing through, i'll stop, and then you'll just be stuck with me, you won't be able to get rid of me.
this kind of thinking always worked pretty well in the north, where they basically had better things to do than hassle some guy that clearly didn't have any money.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

much of the time i was in iowa life was crazy- you would think an agricultural state like that would offer a pastoral, peaceful existence but in fact i worked hard, lived amongst wild people and rarely stopped to smell the roses.

so when i heard about a trappist monastery up near dubuque, about 90 miles up the road, i decided to hitchhike up there one day. it was about eight miles off of highway one, a beautiful road that wound up through eastern iowa- past dvorak's farms, mt. vernon, jones county and beyond. hilly farm country, unspoiled by tourism, and beautiful even on a windy, blustery march day. the monastery was not too far from dubuque, and i got a ride to its road and set out walking. i believe i eventually got a ride a couple more miles, but had to walk the last mile or two in from the last ride. this walk was indeed peaceful- a gray, windy day; corn trying to grow; and not a person around who was not shut up inside their car, hurrying down the road. the walk alone was very meditative; i could only imagine the monastery. eventually it loomed ahead, a large stone building with a self-enclosed feel to it, a little off the road.

i was met at the door, though, by a guy who talked more or less nonstop. he told me about what they did- they baked bread; they had various food-growing and food-making operations, and they prayed at 5 am and other times, always in silence. he himself had come and joined them, but couldn't take the silence, so he became a tourguide, talking constantly to visitors. which he did. he served me tea or something; we sat in a kind of dining area, and silent monks passed by on their way to prayer or wherever, their feet shuffling on the stone floors.

i didn't push the issue, go try to communicate with a silent guy, or actually try to experience the silence of worship there. in fact there was no silence, the whole time i was there; this guy was with me the whole time. i recognized the irony of his situation, but had no time to reflect on it. i didn't want to intrude on them, so, after a little while, i left- surely they didn't really want random visitors. but they'd been nice enough- had even shared a glimpse of the silent religious life. the walk back to the highway was longer- but, back on the highway, it was always easier going back toward iowa city than getting out of it. i ended up at home, fresh air in my lungs, sleeping better, restored by knowing, if nothing else, that such a life was even possible.
this is what we in our house have always called popping poppies. now that you can do it on computer, who needs reality?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

-got back in the groove on some travel stories, see guatemala & cape cod, below;
-made an entire dinoco helicopter out of cardboard, with propeller and skis, colored, good for the 4-yr.-old- now i have to figure out how to put mater, the tow-truck, in it. was impressed by the cars movie, and have a new philosophy: float like a cadillac, sting like a beemer. best movie in the ornament valley, i'd say.
-got caught up in a troubled marriage; it's a tragedy, is all i can say. makes a person conjure up a downpour, and hope for a better day. hope for some peace, some sleep, a chance to not only ride through the autumn day, but also stop, brush the fallen leaves off my shirt.
-got the opportunity to take the two little ones on my own turf, student center corridor where they are a novelty and in some cases respond to the buckets of attention that rain on them. if it was a habit, though, i'd find a better place to go than mc-d's, which is an odd place for a kid to try out his first steps. they did give a toy, this time, though. a kind of unusual surprise.
-saluki pride, greek life, homecoming, tailgate culture, university politics, all seem to be at their peak, in touch with the leaves, maybe. show your colors, i guess. i'm more of a november guy myself, as i watch these leaves go through their stages, i wait for the brownish one, where they'll sit there for a while, dry out, and return to the earth from whence they came.
gilbert m. was my roommate for the short time that i lived on symphony road, tucked behind fenway park, rows of brick bay-window rowhouses that often had saxophones playing out the windows. i'd had my record albums lifted right out of a shopping cart that i was using to move all my stuff, when i went upstairs to look for the key, but i'd found gilbert to be a really nice roommate, and the deep green walls of the apartment, i still remember. gilbert was a native american, from los alamos, n.m., and was often silent for long periods of time. this made the moments that we were stuck hitchhiking together stretch out into the night. it could have been that nobody was going very far onto the cape, and we were trying to go all the way to the end of it. or maybe folks saw that a huge rainstorm was coming. or, as we suspected, it was racism, or maybe, just desire not to deal with two unknown men, which can be infinitely more threatening than dealing with just one.

anyway, we'd decided to hitchhike all the way out to the end of the cape, to provincetown, and it was taking us all day and beginning to turn into all night. we just couldn't get rides at all. it turns out that most of the last part of the cape are these wide dunes, just mostly sand, the sky, and ocean on most sides. if there are trees, they don't amount to much; there is one kind of changing house, a place where there is shelter, if you care to call it that, and a couple of fishermen were parked outside of it at about 3 am when we realized that the rain was turning into a downpour, and drenching everything we had on us. i believe we were prepared to camp, and had even unrolled our sleeping bags, if not tents, out there on the dunes, but within an hour of the downpour we knew all was doomed. it had not been the best expedition.

the fishermen did not even roll down their windows. they were going to do some serious fishing, i had to assume. gilbert was actually in a better mood about it than i was. maybe he had never seen such a rain. i felt kind of like a bad host; i went out on adventures a lot, wanted to show him how it was done; was hoping it worked out; felt bad that it hadn't. we wrung out our shirts and sleeping bags as we waited for a ride into town. no ride ever came; we walked a couple miles into a small town. in a laundromat we decided what we had to leave on while we dried the rest, and sat up on the tables to wait.

a young couple came in...this had to be about 4 in the morning, now. they were in love and probably high as a kite. had no business whatsoever in the laundromat, but we were clearly the only other souls awake in this small town at this hour, with the possible exception of the fishermen, and somehow they found us. the rain had let up outside but there were huge puddles everywhere. they'd been out jumping in the puddles, probably.

out on that sandy spit of cape, you could see ocean almost everywhere, and the dunes rose up from beneath you. when the sun came up we went to provincetown, or p-town as these young folks called it, but, somewhat in awe of nature, and sleepless, the little craft shops didn't do much for us, and we turned around for the long trip back. going back wasn't as hard as getting out there. somehow people were more willing to push us back to boston, toward the city, than they'd been willing to push us out to the edge, to the dunes. don't know if gilbert would remember this. don't know where he ended up, don't know how he saw all that pilgrim, yankee-type scenery. he did point out, though, that europeans had been in new mexico long before those pilgrims had arrived, and, that his people had been in the area much longer before that. i spared him the whole story of the early settlers of the the time, it seemed less like a colony, than just a windswept, storm-swept peninsula, drenched in gray seawater, shells cracking underfoot, and old pieces of beer bottle, worn circular by the tide, that would have skipped better, if the oncoming waves weren't so rough.

Monday, October 02, 2006

in guatemala city someone pointed me to a youth hostel where lodging was very cheap and a large stone basin, in the courtyard, was used for washing one's clothes by hand. this was kind of a zen practice even for one who had never done it before, i found out, and i got a healthy dose of sanity just emptying out my pack, getting the peanut butter and sand out of the camera lenscap, and seeing what i had left. lack of passport would keep me out of nicaragua; lack of money out of tikal, the wonder of the world but an eight-to-eleven hour drive and possible refusal at the belizean border. the city, though, reminded me of an old law...even if you're not a big city person, you can take an extremely different big city. ones like chicago and la, i get sick of in a day, if not a summer. cities like guatemala city and seoul, i could take for a bit longer.

the colors were fantastic, exotic dark greens, purple, deep blues, black, reds. the market was crowded with thousands of people from every imaginable village- supposedly each village had its own design, its own colors showing on the clothing. the country was mayan; had never been entirely taken over by spain and spanish, the way mexico had, or so they said. and a ride up into the mountains, in the villages around the lake, and i knew they were right, in a way. they spoke spanish, which i did ok with by now, but there was another gulf, another way of looking at things. i could only sense it, my spanish just wasn't there- even now, maybe i'll never know. i met a young guy, by the lake, a guatemalan hippie, in panhachel, provincetown of lago atitlan. picturesque town, high mountain fog, beautiful lake, but the guy seemed to be alone, in terms of community, people to share his worldview with. and i wasn't much help. i hung around for a while, but, couldn't stay. i drifted down off the mountain, and back down into the lowlands, where at least i could work toward another goal- make some money, maybe go to california, where i was heading when this whole detour had started. if i was smart, i'd have picked up a few of those guatemalan purses to sell up there when i got there...some others made a fortune, later, and i'd thought of it, but didn't have the money, nor the desire to capitalize, so to speak, on the remoteness of the place. the guy at panhachel had got under my skin. a dreamy look, the peace of the lakeside, whatever drugs he was on. a person could stay forever in a place like that- and that wasn't for me, i guess. one way or the other, i was on my way.