Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
another huge ice storm here, siu going into its third day off in two weeks, absolutely unbelievable. i don't think they took three days off in the previous two centuries, it was against their moral upbringing and general character. the ice brought them to their knees though. now all of us- preschool, elementary, high school, all the way up to graduate studies director- get the day off, to watch food supplies steadily dwindle and road get layer upon layer of ice & slushy stuff. this one doesn't seem as ruthless, as slick, as the last, still, they tell us to stay off the roads, and i don't mind complying. i've become somewhat of a wimp, don't want to drive in it really, would rather stay around the house making marble castles or maybe playing the new weboggle which can only be done, here, on firefox.
but, the other night, a birthday boy needed a ride over to get a card, see his mom, and there was an eclipse of the moon- turned the moon a dusty reddish brown, like the rivers coming down out of minnesota copper country. sure enough, a night clear as a bell- this was right before the second storm- and plenty of stars out, orion, king of the winter sky, prevailing- somehow we knew more ice was coming, but the moon was so clear, full, and at the same time shadowy, we opened the car window.
eclipse of the moon happens every couple a years, i told him, two or three, i've seen a few of them, but never this clear. when he looked it up later, he was amazed that i was more or less right- the next one will be 2010, or something like that. it's the eclipse of the sun you have to watch out for, i told him. it gave him a boost that an eclipse of any kind would actually fall on his birthday- and not only that, but now, school is out for two more days. the first ice storm had hit on abe's birthday- this one started on his and now is carrying right over to george's. but the weather has hit all the big ones- abe, george, noah, and even darwin, whose birthday they are only now beginning to celebrate seriously. i'm going to celebrate obama's, too, i have every intention, but first i have to find out when it is. this is the land of obama (you heard it first here)...someday, in the distant future, they're going to have to close the post office, let out school, get the garbage pickup all screwed up, that kinda stuff. this same boy, the birthday boy, he once told me that abe lincoln was shot by robbers while he was watching tv. nothing wrong with revisionist history, i told him, this was in the yellow elevator at work, i'll never forget, usually when i'm there, i'm in more of a mood for accuracy, but, you gotta roll with the punches. this time a year, we always cut a cherry pie, and tell the kids about how george once cut a cherry pie with an axe, but he didn't tell a lie about it, he did, however, take the biggest piece for himself. set the tone for a nation that, even today, wouldn't hesitate to use a brand-new, golden, silver dollar, where the smallest brazilian penny would do just fine. it's a kind of overkill, you could say, upsetting the balance, but, today, you wouldn't know it, you look out the window, and it's all white, a steady drizzle of ice and rain and snow which has been coming down now for what, a couple a weeks, when ordinarily we could be plantin tomaters.
which reminds me of two things, you'll have to forgive me for the second, first one is this: a satellite is heading our way, the government hopes to shoot it down out of the sky before it really hurts anyone, but it's due to hit earth any day now, and anything could happen. it's a kind of incoming news story, we've got our eye on it in my newstalk class, which of course now has been cancelled 'til the new week. but my point is, ice storm or not, clear bloody moon or not, don't wait for that old orion to shoot it down. he's been pointing that bow and arrow at taurus the bull for what, a few thousand years now, and he isn't fixin' to change yet. talk about throwing a dime on the rink- you never know what a little glowing hot metal will do to a level playing field, do ya?
second one, let me tell you, from the heart of the country, you buckeyes & longhorns, it's time to do the right thing. vote for obama. his name comes off your lips easy, you can vote for him easy, i agree with his wife, it makes you feel like you can have hope for this country, for a change. it's time to show the world we can do the right thing, and that we're more than what we've been, time to get someone who can pronounce "iran," and "iraq", and "nuclear" and who knows a pakistani from a mexican, and who can name a few countries down there by el salvador. 'nuf said, except that i'm a buckeye myself, always thought, if i was still there in ohio, maybe it woulda worked out differently. but there's always tomorrow, at least i hope there always will be, and assuming there's at least a chance, it's time to get started setting things straight.
layer upon layer falls, sits on the car and the road, makes it slick out there, makes a few trees lose their long branches. makes ya wonder. my parents were apparently in tucson arizona for a couple a days, said it poured down rain the whole time....can you imagine? my wife reads blogs & says, everyone's talking about the weather, doesn't matter where you are, it's unusual, nobody's ever seen anything like it. a friend moved to fairbanks recently, where it's eighty below, and it doesn't seem at all unusual, like well, everything's gone kinda bonkers anyway. that's all i can conclude, we've gone a bit too far, we've tilted the balance, we pushed the earth a bit too much. as for me, life's been going too fast, i've been writing for work, ignoring my creative stuff a little, trying to do excel charts and the "easy-grade-pro", finish the christmas shopping package mailing, falling behind on the birthdays and the groceries, not to mention library books, medicine and kids' art & swimming lesson, icy driveway daycare parallel parking 30-yard-dash olympic triathalon, but hey, if someone's gonna throw dimes on the rink, i'm 'a stop the zamboni, i'm 'a sit in the penalty box for a couple of minutes, and watch the show. i'd forgotten they even had stars, out here, on the west side, maybe if i keep my eyes open, i'll see a meteor shower, or at least see the earth tilt back a little, toward spring. if ya just give us another chance, we'll do better next time, promise.
justin- as heard from the hill- an interview
chinua achebe turns 50- village voice
Saturday, February 16, 2008
exchanging kids- taking them around to friends' houses, coming home to watch them, took over parts of days, afternoons, lots of time, lots of coffee, grading done late at night. thursday still out of school, though the little guy, the 2-yr.-old, had daycare, and parking and getting up the walk in any given location was demanding. kids are close to the ground, and don't do much damage when they fall- to them it's a wild and beautiful icy world, fun to experiment in, and no school is kind of a bonanza for the six-year-old, who is old enough to know that he's getting a free break, ice & snow being fun. on one of those days it warmed up a little, and a gentle wind blew a lot of ice down from the trees which landed like broken chandelier pieces on the sidewalk, tinkling and making people protect their heads with their arms as they walked. but that night, as it finally had thawed a little in the afternoon, it refroze, and there was an even glazier glaze on everything; walking out my front door, a slight hill down to the street was such solid ice i could do nothing but slide down to get the newspaper. this was the slickest day, yet now school was on almost everywhere, and life was going back to its usual. people had to get groceries, do business, etc., and got out whether there was ice or snow or whatever. big limbs of trees sat around on glazed ice, having fallen days ago and not being moved; big piles of snow were now big piles of snow covered with ice.
spirituality is not carrying a huge burden forever, like atlas, or poking through the clouds, like a 747 on its way to philadelphia. it's noticing the details, keeping one's balance, getting safe passage across an icy patch, so that one can keep going forward, keep on keeping on. the six-year-old routinely steps on anything in his path, just to test his balance, just to see whether he can stand, successfully, on a playskool popcorn-popper, a fallen ladle, or an abandoned package-box. he does this just for fun, just for adventure, just to live dangerously, just to test his balance, and i never do any of this anymore, it's all i can do just to go where i have to. and, since my ladder accident, i've cast a wary eye at life's hazards, tried to keep my kids away from them. but you can't, every minute, today on the way from art class to swimming he strayed over to a patch of ice, slipped and down he went, scraped his knee. this is nothing but a mark, a mini-lesson, to a six-year-old, though it may still hurt him now, twelve hours later. tonight, more rain, which, it being right around the freezing point, could make another glazy mess by morning. but i'm safe at home now, don't have to go anywhere in the morning if i'm socked in, we got our internet connection back, got enough food to get by for a day or two. would like another ten or twenty hours to get caught up on stuff, get a little ahead on life, but instead, i'll have another icy path, maybe right out the door, with no traction, a hazard with no notice. that's the deal you make with the midwest- life is good, life is calm, life is affordable, people are nice, but anything can happen any time, with the weather, one year you're planting tomatoes on valentine's day, another year you're wondering what happened to that groundhog. you're thinking you're almost in the clear, now there's wicked rocksalt on every step, a black bleachy garish ghosty stain, but another place is a big wide hockey rink, strong enough to hold you and whatever you drive over it. bridge freezes before road surface, patches of treachery reach out and grab people, though it only really hurts if you're brittle, or if you're in a car, or some such thing. either way, the transitory character of a place to step- it could define the whole winter, if i'm not careful.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
in a small town there isn't much to see, but what you hear makes up for it. that's what they told me a few years back, and i've come to believe it, having lived fourteen years now in this one. our lives are busy, not much time to reflect, but we drive the same roads over and over again, sometimes a house will go up for sale, or something will change, and when you drive by it three or four times a day, it's old news by the time you get home at night. if you mention it at dinner time then maybe it'll seem like news again, at least for a minute, but everyone gets used to it so fast, it's almost like in their starvation for something new, anything different gets devoured. and they go about exaggerating, telling stories a little, to pass the time.
these days we live on the far west side, and take highway thirteen quite a lot, up a hill by the grocery store, past our friends' house with the two stone salukis out front, past the payday loans, across the tracks in the center of town, down to an almost imperceptibly flat and low spot by the drugstore, across from the old carnival strip mall near what's now the gold gym, and up another slight hill to the mall, wal-mart, and the high school. there isn't much to see, really, though it's three lanes going each way, and pretty soon you recognize the car license plates, although they're all illinois and you have to be encyclopaedic to remember which ones were actually issued in carbondale. there have been some potholes on this road recently, and my wife gets mad at me if i don't see one and happen to drive over it- it's been there for days, it's old news, you ought to know it's there by now.
when the storm hit on tuesday we were at home, our small family, with a two-year-old and six-year-old, though the fifteen-year-old was still at the high school for an international festival. the weather radio came on and the storm got worse; finally the tornado siren went off and we all got into a small tornado shelter that we'd put behind the house last year. it's fiberglass, big enough to hold a small family like us, dark, cozy- it was a little wet, too, as they'd left the top open just a minute in order for me to run in last, come down the small steps and shut the door on top. the weather radio gave us a report and said it would be over in twenty minutes, but we lost the station, and instead got the basketball game, where announcers were killing time and all the spectators were down on the arena floor, waiting for the warning to pass and for the game to start up again. the two little ones were afraid, but it was cozy down there and we assured them that everything would be all right. the phone rang twice, and we knew it was the boy at the high school, but we couldn't answer it; the shelter blocked the signal. we also knew he'd be ok if he stood still at the high school and waited for the storm to pass.
but when the warning was over, i was worried, and got in the van to go across town and get him. out onto the main road i went; it was raining hard now, but hey, i've driven this road a million times. at the grocery store cascades of water came down the hill and it was about a foot deep at the bottom, but i was going up the hill, so i didn't worry about it. through the center of town i followed a line of cars slogging along, going across the tracks, beginning to slow down because of the rain.
came to the drugstore though, and this imperceptibly low spot was taking the brunt of the storm. water was pouring into the corner from all sides; i couldn't see the ditch on either side of the road, couldn't even pull off the road. it was now over a foot, and looked higher in places, for example, on the cross-road in front of the drugstore. ahead of me, across from the carnival strip-mall, cars were stuck; they weren't moving, and now, cars near me weren't either. i was trapped behind some cars and unable to get off the road to either side; water was rising at my wheels, and i was getting nervous. finally i pulled into the cross street and up the driveway of the drugstore; parked in a high spot, and got out, stood under the drugstore canopy for a while, watching people navigate the flood. firetrucks and police came by. people stood helplessly by their cars, which were now in a couple of feet of water.
one never imagines being in a situation like this, although, as the woman at the drugstore said, it happens every once in a while. it seemed like the whole town was in crisis, although some cowboy truck-drivers were galoshing through it like it was a weekend rodeo. a friend of mine was standing there; she'd pulled her car off the road but into mud that was so thick, the car had kind of sunk into it. another friend was also heading out to the high school, and now was stranded, like me, unable to get past that last low spot. we stood and talked, watched the rain for a while. the lady at the drugstore said, it'll clear up about a half hour after the rain stops. it'll wash away; it just doesn't have anywhere to go, for the moment.
cell phones made their appearance; eventually i found out that my son had found another ride home and left the high school. apparently if you weren't in that one low spot, it wasn't so bad. from where we stood, it sure seemed as if you couldn't go anywhere, in any direction, without trouble, but, just looking at the road itself, which had at one point had a couple of feet of water, and now was down to almost nothing, we knew that the lady was right- soon it would clear up, and be ok. eventually i tried to pull the friend's car out of the muck, but a generous tow truck driver apparently helped her out later anyway, and i just went home, waterlogged, trying to go around various roads that were shut down between that spot and our house. when i finally arrived at home, the little ones were in bed; the teenager had made it too, and now we had to pick stuff up and get on with the week, which would be no less busy just because i'd lost a couple of hours of it. it seemed like, to most of the town, it was just another storm, you wouldn't have gone out in it, unless you had to, so most people didn't. i, though, felt the waves of flood water lapping at my sides, the stones in the walkway giving way beneath my feet, the water dripping down my pantleg and into my shoes, for days. i actually had a good visit with some people, standing under that canopy; saw people i hadn't seen in years, and told a few stories. there was some speculation about whether certain routes out in the country would be underwater, or whether vast lowland fields, always flooded, would be a good absorbant and actually keep the roads clear. the problem is, you'd have to go way out there to find out. at least, in town, you were always in town, and if things got bad, you could just go shopping at the drugstore, or maybe sit down at the old soda-counter. what strikes me now is that it was really only at that corner, the epicenter of the flood, and maybe a couple of other places that were bad; it was only me and a few other people that were really put out by it, and even i was only put out by an hour or so, a break i actually sorely needed, in my own kind of way. the little ones were pretty strongly impressed. the six-year-old said, next time we have a storm like that, dad, check to see if i'm still awake when you get home, and if i am, come and talk to me for a while. the storm was a scary thing to him- the thunder, the weather radio's sirens and beeps, the shelter with the wet floor, the town siren, the floodwaters, and people coming in from outside, dripping water, soaking wet. you'll have a story to tell, when it's over, but then, such stories are common, you hear them every once in a while, you always meet people who knew people who got caught out in one of the storms. and, if you don't push your luck, you'll live to see another one.
Friday, February 01, 2008
ice storm outside; snow that changed to drizzle, hovered at freezing, got worse, that kind of stuff. school is already cancelled; the town is folding its tent, though the university, as usual, will be the last to go. we'll work, in other words, though we'll take the children, or find a place for them. in other words, a day of driving around on ice, kids in car, teaching yet more hours, trying to get out of the week. but hey, it'll all work out. i'm a writer; have a book out (somewhere)- another coming, maybe, a band, a job, a beautiful family. i've become a wimp around this weather stuff, the hovering around thirty degrees and all, but hey, it won't do me in. i might even enjoy it....
criticism welcome on the stories, btw; i've admitted that i'm very thin-skinned, too sensitive, but as long as you couch it in plenty of compliments, i really do need to hear it.