Friday, June 29, 2007

Drop Off- told from the point of view of a Wal Mart trucker. What do I know about WalMart truckers? I just write. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the summer after graduating from college, ten years after starting, i went to a high-school reunion that was pretty wild. everyone asked me how i had managed to end up in a cabin out in iowa. i asked them how they managed to get out of buffalo, since i'd never thought they would, and some clearly had. i actually had a lot of friends at that high school, but had more or less buried my memories of it.

back in iowa, though, i wasn't ready to go to graduate school yet, as it had exhausted me, graduating and getting out of college itself. didn't have my application done, hadn't taken the tests, but worse, couldn't bear moving back to iowa city. it seemed like as hard as it was to live in the country, it was better than moving back. i stalled. finally i was offered a job at scattergood high school outside of west branch, and i took it and moved there. i was to be a cook and a dorm sponsor; eventually i taught music also, and worked a little on the farm, feeding chickens, slopping pig barns, etc.

i was surprised that the quakers would take me in as they did, and trust me with their high school kids, but i did well there, and actually had a chance to go back and do high school over again, this time in a small, loving community. by that i mean, in the position i was in, working all the time but still near all those young, smart kids, i got to vicariously experience the innocence of high school that i'd kind of missed. the one thing one can say about it, though, is that although almost everyone experiences high school, and some of us experience it longer than necessary, very few people can really take it, year in, year out, as a permanent thing. i had one foot in graduate school anyway, and started that in my second year at scattergood, i believe.

but the quakers had a deep, permanent influence on me, actually living in a community that was committed to peaceful, deliberate living, and practicing things that christians like to talk about but find so hard to really do, among a group of lively teenagers who were committed to nothing more than just being teenagers, for the most part.

i had an old international travelall, a funky, boxy old thing that let the dust from the roads come up through its wheelwells, and was impossible to find parts for. but even when it became difficult to travel, i wouldn't move to iowa city, even when i began to see it as inevitable. i liked scattergood, but noticed that it was a bottomless pit in terms of the amount one had to put of one's time, life, spirit, into it, with no regard for one's own future. and i didn't mind this, for a while. when i started wanting to go back to graduate school, it became a problem.

one difference with living ten miles east of iowa city, instead of eighteen miles north, was that i now spent more time on the interstate, and quite a bit of time on ruthless gravel that was a shorter route, though much tougher on whatever one drove. it was kind of a wild combination- on top of that, the feeling that, within the community, i was bound by community expectations, a kind of unspoken (well, sometimes-spoken) group ethic, a kind of behavior i'd agreed to, after all- but, upon getting back on this wild gravel, i'd be out, free, on the nyc-sanfrancisco artery again, if only for ten miles. a couple of scattergood students actually did that, got down on the highway and took off, while i was there, but i'd always stop in iowa city, try to work things out in some way or another, and turn around and come back- try and hang in for another round.

i have lots of memories of that era- teaching josie to ride a bicycle; taking her to a farm pond in plato to swim and make a clay pot; having a thanksgiving dinner in a boys dorm; feeding the chickens in a bitter winter where the water froze on me before i could get it to them; blaming it on the maharishi; skating on the pond out on the prairie, with its sod house and high grasses; taking a high school trip with students to a quaker farm community in northwest iowa; pouring cement, building barns and doing healthy kinds of outdoor activity; being fairly successful as a cook, being able to use my mass-production and volunteer-organizing skills from stone soup; yet, being unsuccessful as dorm sponsor, not having much a policeman-instinct or inclination in me, having enough trouble policing myself. but i was able to move into a vacuum- a lack of music teachers- and then, turn around and tell the graduate school that i actually had teaching experience. it was a stretch, but it got me into my first esl classroom- as a graduate student, needing a way to get my m.a., i got an assistantship back at iowa, the very school i'd rejected a few years back. and still, reluctant to even come to town, let alone move there, or get a parking sticker, or in any way join back up in a system that i'd come to have very mixed feelings about. in fact, i'd come to have mixed feelings about both places, iowa city and west branch, with its old hoover village and gravel backroads- but eventually, i got off the fence and just did it. esl, and esl grammar in particular, was a kind of fascination. and i had to just follow it out as far as it would go.

Monday, June 25, 2007

spent the weekend slogging through research papers, about twenty-five of them, on various topics but mostly the pacific ocean and arizona, and most of which you may be able to read shortly. but took a break in that at least once, besides trying to give the family badly-needed attention- had a gig at the yellow-moon cafe, went to a kid's birthday party, and wrote a little, on this very blog (below)....

the sky opened up on the kid's birthday of those wild, midsummer violent thunder-boomers where the weather comes over and dumps sheets on everyone- unable to control corey, we kind of got out of there just in time...this was something i'm sure that kid will never forget. at the yellow-moon, candy and i were joined onstage by the blackberry blossoms, an old band in the area, i guess; i don't know much about them, but will give a report if i find it. and, of the blogging below, i can only say, a complete collection is here, but is still not quite organized, or complete. lots to go, more to say...too busy, even, to fix the bikes.

Friday, June 22, 2007

the lincoln highway connected mt. vernon and lisbon, and had an old stone post about halfway between the towns that commemorated that. i walked that road a time or two, but usually when i lived in lisbon i had a car, or an old '50 dodge truck that made old farmers turn their heads and remember old times. mt. vernon is what's known as a casey's town, not big enough for a walmart (at that time); but lisbon wasn't even big enough for a casey's. my family came to visit me one time, from the east; it wasn't everyone, but there were four of them and me in the car on the way to the lisbon post office to pick up my mail. they were still amazed that my address could be: tom leverett, lisbon iowa. i tried to convince them that that was more than enough- everyone there knew who i was, the minute i got there, whereas i was still trying to figure out who they were. but, that was indeed my address; i got my mail at a box in the post office, which was open most of the time. i was also in the practice of leaving my keys in the car as i got my mail; in fact, i left them there most of the time. as we got to the post office, though, all four members of my family locked their doors on the way out- thus locking us out of the car. fortunately, the town was full of people who knew their way out of that jam. it was a resourceful place. it's one of the things i liked about it- you didn't have to get the police involved, just because you did something stupid.

the road south from lisbon went through a tiny town, sutliffe, that was even smaller than lisbon. it had two streets, swine drive and madison avenue, and i often stopped there just to wish i had a camera to take a picture of that street sign. the other reason i stopped was that the bridge was so rickety, you could see through it; it was good to stop just to make sure a car or truck could still make it across. i think even then they were making another one, or at least planning another; it was the only way across the cedar for miles in either direction. but my daughter and i especially liked to peer through the holes in the planks there, at the fast river below, and i would watch her very closely, knowing that in spite of being in virtually the center of a town, there was no one around for miles sometimes, if one of us were to fall in. we're talking sunday mornings here, or maybe toward the middle of a sunday in june or july. not a soul around. corn simmering on the edges of the roads; roads with no shoulder, just a drop-off into a ditch, and another sharp curve that could turn treacherous on a sleety evening. another dangerous thing about these roads was that you could occasonally come over a rise and see these huge monster farm machines taking up 9/10 of the road, looking at you with rectangular, shiny unearthy glass-window eyes, a farmer behind the glass to be sure. they meant you no harm, of course, but they couldn't just get out of the way, and, if you were going too fast, or unable to stop suddenly on the oil-slicked gravel or frozen ice, you were dead.

the gravel on these roads wore out your tires, the underside of your car, and your shocks; eventually dust would rise up through the various vehicles i had, and that's why i got them so cheaply, no doubt. taking the paved roads would be an extra five or ten miles, but well worth the peace of mind, and equally scenic- but sometimes it wasn't an option. in lisbon, it was usually an option- i didn't have to go through sutliffe. it was the scenic route. one thing i remember about this part of eastern iowa was that the relentless westerly winds, coming from northwest iowa, or colorado, or canada, depending on how you looked at it, would sweep right over the cereal factories in cedar rapids before they hit our area, and we would often have that cooked-cereal smell, or, you would drive through it on your way south. the smell was especially strong in cedar rapids itself, but we very rarely went there, and more often would just catch it while we were outside or while we had the car windows opened- we didn't use air-conditioning, ever. i'd smile a little, remembering my father's "that's the smell of progress" on smelling the steel mills in pittsburgh, or my grandfather, in central iowa, saying that the manure on the fields was a good smell, since it meant growth and another round of good crops, while we grandkids held our noses and went "peeeewwwww"....

in this era i went to jones county a lot, as i had a friend, j.t., who had bought an old stone building in stone city. stone city had a number of old stone buildings, including a bar/restaurant/place for music, but his attempt at establishing an alternative community there was probably doomed. anamosa ("annie"} was a prison town; the area was beautiful, but didn't have much in the way of jobs, outside the prison. one night i was driving home late at night, and came upon a hitchhiker, just a few miles outside of annie. this guy was drunk; his car was a silhouette out in the cornfield where he'd rolled it. he insisted that he was going to annie, even though i pointed out that he was heading toward mt. vernon when i picked him up. he actually argued with me about where the road was going. convinced as he was that he was going north, he eventually realized that i was sober, and let me turn around, and take him back north to annie where he could no doubt drink coffee or water until the police came by asking him why his car was found in a ditch that morning.

i would occasionally get lost on back roads of jones county or linn county, and drive around looking for the main arteries that i knew pretty well. it was incredibly beautiful country- corn shimmering on every hillside, old white farmhouses, redwing blackbirds in the roadside ditches, deer and other wildlife at the corners of the day, sunset and sunrise, when the fogs set and lifted. in winter the snow settled around the stubble left of the harvested corn and made patterns of brown on white, the sun reflecting off the surface of the snow and a car wreck if you looked at it too long. this was not flat country- it was river valley, the mississippi, the wapsipinicon, the cedar, the iowa, and various others came all through the area. it flattened out in places- right outside of lisbon was one- but generally the roads i went on were all hilly, all of the time. when i'd come back from flatter places, like des moines, or western illinois, i'd appreciate this more. we were in the hilly part- and sometimes i'd think, when i crossed a lonesome bridge out there somewhere, these rivers were once much more-travelled than our roads are today. and with these hills offering lookout, and edible fish in the rivers, this would have been a pretty lively place, i imagine, a place with lots of trading, and cultural exchange. this was true especially of some of my favorite places: ivanhoe, on the banks of the cedar; matsells' bridge, on the wapsi; a small town called rochester, on the cedar; some cabins south of iowa city, where the original town was called napoleon; the palisades park, known as the pal by cornell students, where there were caves in the rock overhangs. a friend of mine would always throw a quarter in these rivers upon driving across them, but i couldn't figure out if that was good or bad, a harmless or even useful superstition, or maybe a delusion, to make some really hungry fish swallow something really dirty and dangerous, when what they really needed, was to have the fertilizer and pesticide cleared out of the rivers, so they could get some real nutrition. i stayed out of it, though; my path was taking me back, now, to graduate school, which could only be iowa city; as soon as i could take it, i resolved to sit through a couple more years of school, and get qualified in something that would provide more meaningful work, other than painting houses, which i'd been doing a lot of.

one time i was buying paint, and someone said, there's really only three colors anyone buys- farmhouse white, john deere green, and international red. if you're painting houses, you'll want the white, he added. internationals were old farm vehicles, tractors, trucks and carryalls, that were beginning to disappear, but still had a lot of character; many of them were in fact red, probably for practical reasons. it was a kind of trinity of colors, an iowa trinity, and i think of it sometimes now, when my wife orders a "mexican flag" in a mexican restaurant- this, of course, is entirely different, involving kinds of salsa, dollops of sour cream, etc., but it has that same kind of balance, a james joyce kind of thing, that cuts through cultures, and hits you when you least expect it. the summer i was a painter i was also in a band called 'dogs of love,' though we didn't play much; d.l., the paint crew chief, got lots of work, kept me busy, and loved country music. house paint and beer went a little too well together, though, and i was leery of traps like the one i'd seen in the guy's car, rolled over by the road, him not knowing north from south. i was determined to keep my bearings now, and make something of myself. this was partly because my daughter had told me, one day, that my car was all crashed up, and i needed a new one. and because i knew, deep down, that she was right.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

my life hit bottom in a cornfield near the bayertown road, in a lost corner of johnson county or maybe even the next one over, and all i can say is that i'm glad nobody was seriously hurt or killed. i got jolted out of my life's downward spiral, and, days later, holding my two-year-old daughter, i realized that i'd been foolishly treading water when i should be doing something useful with my life. facing another round of unemployment without a college degree, i took a trip to cedar rapids and mt. vernon looking for a way out, and found cornell college, which said, no problem, we have funding for poor residents of iowa like yourself, and sure enough, they did. i found myself moving north twenty miles and going back to school. my daughter, i think, understood; i'd been seeing her only on weekends anyway, and was happily hanging onto that chance even though, deep down, i was disappointed that it couldn't be more.

i got a house in lisbon, iowa, next to mt. vernon; this was a rowdy town, home of a motorcycle gang, a legendary mayor, an infamous policeman, and numerous other people who have lodged themselves in my memory. i was only there for a while; i found that i could not maintain independence, given the grants of the college; yet, if i moved into the dorm and worked at the college, i could get through with a minimum of loans. financially, i had no choice. i stored my wheelbarrow and skis, and moved into a dormitory. i was six years older than the other students; i had a daughter. i was reluctant. but i did what i had to do.

i found it tolerable; for one thing, i was studying and/or working constantly. i worked in the dishroom on the conveyor, playing spoons or scraping food off of plates. i played in the orchestra. the college was pretty, small, a tight community of fairly wealthy kids who, in spite of everything, were very nice to me. i loved the teaching; people lived to teach there, unlike the large universities i'd gone to, where they lived to drink or do research. the town was beautiful, the area around it beautiful; the cedar river and palisades park beautiful; jones county, to the north, even more beautiful.

at the last moment, upon enrolling, i faced a terrible choice: go toward being a music teacher, or go toward being an esl teacher. i changed from the former to the latter, literally at the last moment. it was a spiritual decision. i decided to leave music in the part of my soul marked, "untouched by practical or financial concerns." there it remains today, a hobby that i don't need for my survival, that i don't analyze as a matter of course, like i do language.

thus i was a russian major, as that was the fastest way to my goal, and later was able to add on an american history major due to diligence and interest, and having coursework to spend as i wished. i had about two years to go, but they flew by quickly; my problem came in the summers, when i needed a place to live, but luckily was still able to work at the food service. one summer i lived in a trailer out in the country near lisbon, where i was given a dalmation to take care of, and paid very low rent, but this trailer got hit by lightning shortly after i moved out, and the owner still wonders, i think, what happened. the dalmation survived, i think, but a car that i bought from the guy, died in pennsylvania, i had to leave it there, on a trip back to see my parents. the next summer i got a cabin in ivanhoe, a place down by the cedar river; the cabin had no hot water, but that wasn't a problem; one definitely needed money, but i did ok in that way too. i'd just graduated and was taking a breath. i went home for my high school reunion; this was 1982, so it was my tenth. i reshingled my parents' roof when i was home; they paid me generously, and now, i enjoyed buffalo, the summer, the weather, the view from their roof, the blue jays games on the radio. it was like i had perspective.

i have lots of memories from those days, which come flooding back as i write about them. days in palisades park with friends; playing and performing banjo and cello; my best friends, two from africa and one from india, hanging around the college diner; photo taken with friend J.K. out at an abandoned house, with instruments; bringing my daughter up to be there in the town & community; living above the deli downtown; this could have been my senior year; meeting my old friend from iowa city, p.c., quite a bit younger than me, who also had moved up to m.v.; having a 1950 dodge; also an old pontiac whose gas line froze in the middle of the winter; hitchhiking down to iowa city, picking up my daughter, putting her on the bus; taking her back on the bus; hitchhiking back to m.v., all in one weekend, every weekend, until the car was repaired; taking russian on the block plan two months in a row, dec.-jan., of the coldest winter in iowa for years, blizzards and ice all over the place, me mumbling russian, doing my homework, and playing spoons as the conveyor went by; performing in a spanish play, as a bandido. in short i finally got a college experience worthy of the name, not trashed out by my own angry or restless agenda. i was a good student, learned a lot, got my life back in order, to some degree, ten years after i'd graduated from high school.

in the college snack bar, hanging around with my three friends, we were trying to come up with the phrase to appear under their pictures in the college yearbook. their french dictionary was out and they were working with phrases like, life is beauty, elegance is good poetry, or whatever the french equivalent of some profound thing that an author had suggested; one could look it up, i suppose. i grabbed a newspaper on the table, from africa, whose headline was: gaskiya ta fi kwabo- and asked my friend what that meant. she stumbled a little, translating: truth is worth more than money, she said, more than 2 1/2 cents, to be exact. i'll take that one, i said, and used it under my photo in the yearbook.

on the highway from mt. vernon to iowa city: the salvation sign, warning you of what happens to sinners. next to a hollowed out house, corn growing all around it, going through the cycles, golden, bright green, brown, harvested. the road, winding and curving, icy in winter, unrelenting, but, way out there, plenty of stars. by the time i moved back, i'd walked most parts of it, at one time or another. highway one, it was called, beautiful, graced with history and landmarks, not a tourist in miles. sometimes, i had it all to myself.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

upon arrival in iowa, i had cross-country skis, but little else, especially, very little sense, or ability to adjust to mainstream civilization. i often took the skis out to the city park, across the iowa river, to a hilly golf course with steep hills and a kind of rugged set of cliffs, which i'd occasionally ski right over without seeing. the problem was, the river itself was swift-moving, and led, further down, to a sudden and steep dam. iowa winters being what they were, i was living dangerously. in better weather i camped out there sometimes too...something about the place seemed very peaceful. the river, though, was not peaceful- it flooded more than once in the time i was there- once, years later, i was living by it, and lost everything- though even then, that didn't amount to much.

on the bicentennial year people crowded into the city park for fireworks, but one of them hit somebody, and the ambulence had a terrible time getting through the crowd to reach the person. i was somewhat rattled. when i got back to black's, someone actually hit *me* with a firecracker- it hit me in the head, but fell, and blew off at my feet, leaving my ears ringing for a few hours...again i was rattled. i'd seen black's as a kind of hippie place, alternative- and iowa too, more peaceful than your average place- yet both suffered from the kind of dissonance you get when you use violence to celebrate a nation...

the writer's workshop folks drank at a tiny boxy bar called dave's, across from john's market, though i didn't know them. i wouldn't have known a world-famous poet from a washed-out, angry drunk though i saw both plenty of times. once, wallowing in self-pity following my break-up with l., i took a tour of the bars and ended up at dave's. i didn't drink much, even then, and i couldn't even stop at the larger, student ones where there were too many people, too much revelry- thus i kept moving until i got to this small one. when inside i put a quarter in the jukebox and played elvis' "don't be cruel" - and was accosted by a surly drunk who berated me for supporting a drugged-out, right-wing racist s.o.b. i almost got into a fight right then & there- though i had no intention of supporting elvis; i'd just wanted to hear a song. this guy was spoiling for a fight, though, and i had to talk carefully, or i would have been it.

at the time i was there, though, there was what was known as actualist conventions- poetry readings of the actualists- or anti-writers' workshoppers- those who believed that one should be able to make poetry out of the actual things in one's life, and not necessarily know a lot of greek mythology in order to understand a good poem. these guys, of course, were crazy in their own way, but i didn't really fall in with them, aside from knowing that they were at the restaurant quite a bit. one could say they gave the town "character"...

other things that gave the town character: an old edsel graveyard, out by the fs silo in coralville, near where the "new" mall is now; an old farm-pond swimming hole, fed by a fresh-water cold stream;a black angel, statue in a graveyard in the czech part of town; the amana colonies, a short drive away, with german still spoken at the woolen mills; amish coming to town from the other direction occasionally, tying up their horses to buy supplies; a fresh-milk dairy, sandwiched between town and the interstate; a pedestrian mall put in the center of town, leaving it for the foot-people like myself, and the kids; hamburg inn #1 and #2; "hall mall," a funky upstairs of an old building downtown where i ran a store one summer; an old capitol building, lit up at night, glowing with the image of being the political center, even though that capital status had moved on over a hundred years ago. in the same way, the place both represented the state, yet was the anti-iowa, the place people went when the farm-belt iowa got to them, the place that was more upbeat, accepting and eccentric than the rest of the state.

at black's, a rain dance, one summer, 6-7-77, it seems to me (but i may be wrong)- a freak occurrence, when, after a long dry spell, people got together, decided to make noise, and sure enough, it rained. right on the spot. nature and the weather always grabbed attention- unlike these places where days can be similar to each other, sometimes for a whole week. in iowa it would be blazing hot sometimes, iced over, frozen keyholes in the winter, and i've seen it thunder and snow at the same time. out driving, the fields would look different every day. nature itself seemed to rule- yet, with no tourists, it often seemed to be floating itself- like the wind, down from the rockies, taking a last breath before crossing the river.

i once was coming through o'hare airport in chicago when i was approached by a hare krishna, giving away his holy book, but actually hocking me for a substantial donation. i got mad, and tried to keep him to his word; he'd said he was giving it away. if he was a holy fellow, i said, he'd keep his promise. we wrangled and wrangled and i ended up giving him money, maybe half of what he wanted. but when i arrived at the c.r. airport, quiet, relaxed, subdued, i was approached by a policeman. this guy had found a similar book, saw mine, and gave me the one he'd found. he said he knew i was going to iowa city- he could tell. he said it was a nice book, had interesting pictures- and i'd be more likely to find someone who could appreciate it than him.

in the same way, i often met people i'd never suspected i'd have much in common with, and came to like them, a lot, and feel that their generosity, their openness, was a kind of nourishment, and gave me a feeling of home. i'd go back east, where it was crowded, and hurried, and people wouldn't know iowa from idaho- but back in iowa, people seemed to have a better perspective, were less quick to judge. reminded me of something i was told on a plane once, coming back into the u.s. sure, it's big, beautiful, full of resources, this guy said, but what makes it, really, is that it's more's the people that matter the most. that's what's going to shape your life.
my days in wellman were numbered: the railroad job didn't work out; i wasn't a natural-born farmer; my bug wasn't legally licensed; i wasn't a mechanic. i drove through amish country often, to visit friends, and looked longingly at the neat and beautiful farms, bountiful land, the product of hard work and healthy lifestyle, but i myself had to move back to town, look for work, be someplace where a car wasn't necessary. i found a house back on muscatine avenue, closer to town than the first place, on a corner, and got some roommates to share it. i.c. was a rake and didn't pay his bills; r.a. was a great guy, and eventually got stuck with them. p.a. was a blues musician, invited whole bars-full of people home at 2 am, to leave their cigarette butts in the plants and greet the dawn on their way home. he and his partner were quite good though; we played blues often, around the half ping-pong table that served as our living-room table, often stained from last night's party. i wasn't a heavy drinker at all then, in fact, i got work at the natural foods bakery, and was going in the other direction, but it was their house too; outside, cars stopped at a stop sign, and gunned it for the last cruise out of town going east; this, we heard constantly.

at the bakery i found some measure of peace, and worked there a while; i was working there when my daughter was born, and felt some pride in turning out fresh loaves of whole-wheat kinds of bread every morning; again i was conservative, against a new mixer, against free-spending ways. i fell in love immediately with my daughter, the minute she was born, but had a hard time being shut out of the situation; in this account i leave out much of this personal anguish, though it was very much a big part of these times. i traveled as constant intermission, whenever i had to move, whenever i changed jobs, whenever i could. i worked for a while at a daycare, as a cook; i worked as a paperboy and a bundle-dropper for the d.m. register. i lived on dodge street, then down on benton street, in a house that had seen better days.

Monday, June 18, 2007

i've started working on the autobiography again, after a hiatus of about half a year. crime stories were getting old to me- i haven't been able to think of crimes, and even got tired of thinking, murder, death, identity fraud, etc. my own life, while not as violent and grisly, is at least interesting to dredge up, and since i have often been told it would be good to document my travels, i'm more or less doing both. keeping the record of it here. enjoying rearranging it, playing with it, etc.- as if, someday, it will be chapters of a book.

my son, back in town, is working for the campus newspaper and writing reviews such as this one, which makes me very proud. as one who enjoys media as a hobby, having passed through journalism as a major myself at one time, i say, participate. an active writer is already better than about half the population, though quite a few of us are typing away in chat pidgins as we speak.

had a great father's day- got african music from my daughter, got some fathering in, got a nap on the couch. father's day is an extended holiday here, as i'll get another one in about a month, in return for actually losing this one, in part, to putting a younger lad in camp. i'll stretch it out all summer if they let me. what i need, is a level. that, and maybe to go to a baseball game, miners will do. the african music is doing it for me now, though. i love it, and, it's reawakened in me a desire, a need to get out there, to connect. i have some old friends in africa, if only i could find them; i have some local friends, off for africa this week. i resolve to try to find the old college buddies; i resolve to remember.

slogging through dozens of bad papers, i found one sentence that reached me. here it is in its entirety.

all people want to become traveler at people got the sadness, people were cornered from some difficult problems, and people looked up at the sky.

this one will never make it to the weblogs, being on a citation exercise that was about big cities on the other side of the world. its grammar is now fixed, but i thank its author, sincerely and honestly, for touching me. actually i don't have the sadness, don't even have problems, really, not that i could really complain about, compared to those i've had before, or those of others i know. but i do look up at the sky. and not just because i've watched 'lion king' seven times in the last two weeks.

finally, a lightning storm, a soft rain comes in, and i think of a travelling companion, the golden. maybe the thunder will always bring that, though the clumps of hair will probably go away eventually. she's off in a place where, maybe, the geese will always jump when she dives into the water after them; the heron will glide away effortlessly, remind her that she's jumping just on principle, she doesn't have a chance, she'll never actually taste them. they, after all, can fly, and can fly at will. she, however, is no longer trapped inside her body- and, though the price of that may be giving up the earthly joys, the rolling in the grass, the smells of the wild, the taste of a caught something-or-other- i'm sure one reaches a point where it's worth it. a fair trade. and it's off to the next open field...
i landed in iowa, literally, with skis and a backpack, a cousin who lived there, a plan to go to school. i was flighty- if things went wrong, i'd go to california, or mexico, money or not, especially when school was on break, or for even less reason. i imposed on my cousin for a while, then got a place out on muscatine avenue, a long walk from school. the landlord confronted me because i'd leave my door open, all the time, and this made him very nervous. my view was that it was my room, and i wanted it to be open at night. you can guess that i was a little dogmatic, unreasonable, uncompromising. iowa set out to make me grow up.

i was in a writing class, but the teacher held classes in a bar, had a drinking problem, didn't give much serious criticism. of course i was, and am, thin-skinned anyway, so it didn't take much. i continued my pursuit of languages- after having mastered spanish, in some form, i set about learning german, and then chinese- but chinese lasted only about a week, when i lost my book- and my german teacher spooked me one day by sounding exactly like hitler- or maybe it was a hitler movie. i dropped out; had no place to live, was not feeling good about myself or my plan. it seemed like, in the condition i was in, i wasn't much for going back to school.

fortunately i'd been spending saturdays working for the co-op, a large store on gilbert st., that had stories about the old times on bowery- but nevertheless allowed me to find some peace and work off my self-doubts. talk there was in starting up a restaurant, and i got in on was called stone soup restaurant, and opened, i believe, in 1976 maybe. i ended up working there for several years- the first vegetarian restaurant in iowa- a kind of anti-restaurant. in the basement of center east, an old german catholic grade school, with pigeon droppings on the sidewalk, bats on the inside occasionally, ghosts of nuns in the closets beneath the was quite a place. i wasn't much of a cook- and cooking for 70 (or so) was a skill in and of itself, but i held my own there, for years, learned to set a table, and back off, and let a restaurant be a place of peace, a rest stop for wayfarers. of whom there were many- those days they lined up at the door, they found us.

the time line is a little fuzzy in my mind. i went to school in january of '75, held out one semester and a summer, and dropped out that fall, a couple of weeks into the term- dropped out quickly, so as to not endanger my grade point average- and, adding my barely two semesters at iowa to my one and a half at boston univ., was now about halfway, but thoroughly disillusioned with school for the moment (for, as it turned out, the next five years or so), certainly not wanting to be an english major, but also seeing no particular point in going into language or other things that interested me. as for the restaurant, that started maybe in spring of '76; i'm not sure, but i got work there and paid my rent with my own labor, eventually, from about spring of '76 well into midsummer of '77, when it just got too hot down there, and i got other work painting at black's. though it was barely more than a year, it seemed like a lifetime.

those days i lived at black's gaslight village- a truly unique place. i had got tired of homelessness, as it had been my life for so long, and i was now glad to have a roof over my head. henry black was a truly unique character- he had taken a mansion, bought the mansion next to it, built on to each of them, built houses behind them, and thus created a village, with at least four distinct warrens of rooms and apartments, many of which had separate kitchens, but many of which didn't. he enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere, and the battle it took to keep it going, and defend it against attack by neighbors, city, mormons, local stray cats, etc.

the odd thing was, after no more than a year or two i was the pillar of stability, a workaday grunt, coming home exhausted, barely able to keep up with the wild turmoil of the people around me. at the restaurant i was a conservative- against expansion, against wasting money; it was as if, being a natural contrarian, i found myself opposing all the radicals just out of principle. we'd have long meetings, which we didn't pay ourselves for, and i remember wondering if we could, or if paying ourselves would just make them longer and more painful, or make them mercifully shorter. as a vegetarian, cooperative, etc. etc. we were very principled about everything, but to me one important principle was having my own place that i considered myself part-owner of, having something to put my soul into. i was, in that period, a vegetarian, but had trouble when i travelled, as i couldn't say no to things, and often would give in to hunger or impulse. being a vegetarian was much easier with a huge main dish prepared every evening, and i working right there most of the time; making it or being involved, and able to snatch a few bites between mopping the floor and changing one beatles album for another. my friends there were good, close, and i would love to have a reunion with them, someday.

i had an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman named p., who actually lived with me for a while, but this never quite worked out, and at one point i met another woman at black's, l., who became the mother of my first child. i was completely in love with her and wanted a family, but that was not going to happen. i thought maybe my menial job was the problem, and got a job on the railroad out in the country- but that didn't change it.

that did give me a new perspective, though. the restaurant receded into memory...and i picked up a volkswagen, a rusty old bug, and a quaint farmhouse on the edge of amish country...and drove, the other direction, in fact, to washington iowa, where i pounded on track for the milwaukee road. cmstp&p- chicago, milwaukee, st paul and pacific- or, cheapest, meanest, and slowest to pay...& what that last p really was, is lost to me. this also didn't last, i wasn't made to work on the railroad, though it was romantic in its way- and they broke me, maybe because i said something political. or maybe they didn't like my bug. my farmhouse, out on a gravel road way out in washngton county, was a lonely place when i was out of work- my two muscovy ducks, leonid and nikita, had got away, got run over or picked up by something wild, while i was away. i was away a lot- in spite of my need to be alone, get away from it all, see the stars, get some sleep- i didn't like the idea of a baby of mine, starting life, off somewhere where i couldn't get near. it didn't sit well. i started another round of travelling- to mexico, to banff, or back to buffalo, wherever the road would distract me.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

i was living in iowa, and had the itch to leave iowa city again; it seemed like i was spinning my wheels, getting nowhere. i had a friend, a kind of hustler, who i'll call s., who claimed that he had gotten a job in the movie fist, with sylvester stallone, which was being filmed in dubuque. he invited me to come up there one day, and i took him up on it.

i'd been to dubuque- a hilly river town, with an incline, and old brick buildings, a kind of 50's feel, and it reminded me of pittsburgh pa and the towns i'd grown up in. i actually was considering moving up there, so i thought i'd go along with s. and see what the town looked like from his viewpoint. he claimed that he knew sylvester stallone- as a personal friend. but s. was kind of a hustler- i figured, i'd believe it when i saw it.

we got up there, and the first place we went to was the set- a row of old warehouse buildings down by the river. the interesting thing was, they were filming the movie at the time. and, the extras were hanging around, smoking, talking to each other- and all wearing period costumes (1920's? 1930's?) it had an uncanny realistic feel to it. it was like i was set back in time.

s. was not for hanging around, though i could have browsed the movie company's free old-clothing stock. they apparently had hired all the extras they could use, and whatever s.'s angle was, people didn't seem to be entirely familiar with him. we headed uptown to a fancy coffee shop called the red stone inn, set in an old red brick mansion up against the bluff. i knew coffee would be a couple of bucks here and you should probably get cheesecake, but hey, i was a visitor, and had to figure the place out. the minute we got in the door, there he was: sylvester stallone- taking coffee back to a back table. as he turned around, he was looking right at me. he was shorter than i was, but strong, healthy, wide-awake, coffee in hand, and looking me in the eye.

i stumbled for words, but i said something to the effect of, aren't you sylvester stallone? and he laughed a little and said, yes. well, welcome to iowa, i said (after all, i lived there, all the time, whereas he was just visiting for the movie)...thanks, he said, and headed for the back room. it was over in a minute. my friend s. was nowhere in sight. I was left there to order my coffee.

in fact, i'm not sure where or when i finally caught up with him; maybe i hitchhiked home. seems he must have owed stallone money or something; he'd disappeared in thin air.

dubuque in general turned out to be a bust- not many jobs, not especially welcoming to a young unemployed traveller...but, it was a pretty place, hilly, wooded, lots of brick. years later i rented the movie 'fist' - again, s. was nowhere to be found. i'm not sure what happened to him.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

lindy was a golden retriever- loved the wild lands, the shawnee, the tree improvement lands with the civil-war graveyard, the lake, the green-earth lowlands, the red cedar trail, any place where she could romp around, get dirty, roll in a dead fish carcass, or jump in the water. when i first met her (i married her master- she was my step-dog), she had a tendency to get away from us when we took her out, and her most disturbing habit, destroying furniture, floors, doors, etc. during thunderstorms, she got maybe because she was from california, and/or experienced loud kinds of violence in her earlier home. she learned to stick with her owner on walks, and she even calmed down a little during storms, but she kept her bouncy step, her long golden locks (shed freely), her trust and undying affection. she was especially sweet with the children (corey called her ngingy; they grabbed her, rode her, pulled her hair, and even bit her, and she'd virtually beg for more. she did fine in cold weather, panted a lot in the heat, and didn't like the car- she'd scratch and pull and even rip out seat belts. finally i got an old truck though and then i didn't worry about it, but, we also moved to a place where she didn't have to go out in it so much. she had turned quite gray (sorry, we have no picture to share) and we knew she was getting older; we'd been told that 13 was pretty old for goldens, and we knew she might have a few years on her that we didn't know about. we weren't prepared for her to get sick suddenly, though, unable to eat or have normal functions; thankfully this happened rather quickly.

lindy died in an anna, illinois vet on tuesday afternoon. the children are in no way prepared to understand such a thing, so we won't explain it too carefully. we will miss her deeply, though, and always remember those walks in the country, which, hopefully, will continue, in some form or another.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

here's one for my loyal fans- Pass the Syrup, another of the wal-mart series...enjoy! comments welcome!

natalie is married- it's a done (dunn) deal, one could say...and we're all happy about it. news is flying left and right. all i have to do is grade another pile of papers, and something else will happen.

more later- it's getting late, and there's still lots to do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Customer Service- the newest of the big-box, discount retail chain series. enjoy! comments welcome...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Congratulations to Natty and Ethan- getting married (officially, in Murphysboro) on Thursday!


Big wedding will be in one year, they say. Stay posted!