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 accepting...it's the people that matter the most. that's what's going to shape your life.


Blogger Peggy said...

I remember The Hall Mall! I got my ears pierced up there. My sister Sal and I spent all our detasseling money up there and at Things around the corner.

It's good to read your memories of that time.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous boofer said...

I remember babysitting your store at the Hall Mall. Also "VSPO". Also, lots of parking meters. And, going for a swim in the lake. Wonder what lake that was.

I must have visited IC several times. I remember a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house surrounded by snow-covered farm fields. Also Doctor Pistachio was just born and you were working on some kind of blanket or afghan or quilt for her. Then I visited later when she was a toddler.

10:13 AM  

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