Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the night i met tom petty was grim, cold, maybe even snowy, and it was on an interstate rest area in northern ohio, which in fact was where i was born and raised. that is to say, i was born in cleveland and raised until i was ten in toledo, spent the rest of my childhood in pittsburgh and buffalo, but spent some of those times travelling back and forth to iowa to visit grandparents, and, having settled in rural iowa in my mid-twenties, now found travelling back through ohio to be somewhat like going home. it was twelve hours straight driving from pittsburgh to iowa, sixteen maybe from buffalo to iowa, and it would be a little more than that hitchhiking, but it didn't bother me, because at either end, where i was going, i could catch up on my sleep, and would, though sometimes i would fall asleep in some truck in the wee hours of the morning when i probably should have been trying to keep the poor guy awake. there was always plenty of traffic in the industrial north- no matter what time i was out there, there were plenty of cars; my problem was the opposite, if there were too many, there was no room to stop, or if there was room, it didn't appear that way. road construction was worst in the sense that if people were in "danger" mode they just plain wouldn't stop, and i'd be stuck for hours. but the wee hours themselves were not a problem, and neither was terrible weather- in fact it worked in my favor, in that usually i didn't have to wait as long, no matter where i was.

i heard a lot of music when i was out hitchhiking, usually in car radios, usually the music of the driver's choice though occasionally it was the radio station of my choice. the night i met tom petty i still hadn't heard of him though, and that was partly because i was living way out in rural iowa and hadn't been listening to much popular music at all, at the time. in other words, i'd left iowa, gone back to buffalo, and was now on my way back west, and when this particular incident happened i didn't recognize tom petty's name, even though he was already famous, and i probably should have recognized his name. i had been dropped off at the rest area- knowing, actually, that it was probably illegal, yet it was safe because it had a kind of on-ramp with plenty of room for cars or trucks to pull over, and was well-lit- yet it was the wee hours, maybe four or five in the morning, the grim cold of winter or early spring. i was cold and walked back into the rest area to use the bathroom and was considering a cup of coffee. but i was wide awake, and one reason for that was that i was back on my old stomping grounds, the ohio turnpike. something about it made me smile, made me happy to be there, unafraid of anything really, and i don't remember being especially burdened by a pack; if i had one at all, it wasn't heavy. as i got to the bathroom a number of men were coming and going, and as doors were opening and shutting, he was coming out and i was going in, and i just happened to come face-to-face with tom petty, who also smiled at me as i was smiling at him. impulsively he reached out and shook my hand, and said, hi, i'm tom petty. i shook and said, hi, i'm tom leverett. i'm sure he expected me to instantly know his name, but i didn't. i'd been listening to bluegrass or something, and just hadn't heard it, or hadn't been in the habit of remembering it when i did.

but the ironic thing was, i heard a tom petty song soon after, before i'd even got back to iowa. it was on somebody's radio, and when i heard his voice and heard his name, i knew it was him. sometimes these cities would play more of a guy and his band, when the band was on tour and was coming to the city, and i'm sure that was happening, in either chicago, or detroit, or maybe toledo itself. why else would he be on the turnpike at four in the morning?

a lot of songs remind me of those days, one in particular called
heavy weather, a fast-moving jazz song, which came up during some blizzards and in particular in one in pennsylvania that i'll never forget. the pretenders- another band from northern ohio, which embraced rock and roll, fast-moving, it would keep you awake when you were driving on rutted roads or through cities with green highway signs everywhere you looked. but i put tom petty songs in the same category, if only because it gives me a smile to remember it. i was there. i met him. it was just a coincidence, maybe, but sooner or later, just about everyone comes through that little stretch of road.

just passing through- true travel stories from out there


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the earthday/birthday season got kicked off, 12:30 am on Mon, with another aftershock earthquake, but overall, the birthday was pleasant. i gave my students quizzes so i had a bit of a break before the stack stared at me (is still staring at me, two nights later...)- and, the family took me out, sang to me, etc., and that was nice. the overwhelming reality these days is the stacks- i'll call my novel the old man and the stack if i get out of this class alive. i'm getting them to make a youtube, just so it won't make me another stack. if you want to see what it's based on, take a look.

the earthquakes have been centered near a town called bellmont, and another called bone gap, no question here about which they should use to name them. but both are merely specks on the map, so they are becoming known as the mt. carmel quakes. they say that there was another in 1968, or maybe another set. but by far the most interesting story i heard was this: back in 1990, some guy predicted the big one, on the new madrid fault, which is a bit to our west. he was well organized- had the tides all mapped out in a believable way- and everyone fell for it, big time- called off school for three days. some people even remembered the guy's name. but he didn't last long, after that- he himself died. and his big prediction never amounted to anything.

as for the birthday extravaganza, i can tell you this- it's kind of like the dia del muertos/halloween turning into all-saints. before the 21st, you have the 19th and 20th, both besmirched by mass murderers (waco, ok city on the 19th, hitler and columbine on the 20th)- but then, poof, you're out of aries and into taurus, for whatever that's worth, and it's spring, with birthday/earthday blossoms, all downhill from here. i'm not an astrologer, but someone once told me that aries was the pioneer and taurus the settler, so they're kind of opposites in the sense that they have a different approach. i of course can relate to both, though, and in fact do, almost every minute. you live on a cusp, you get used to the earth rumbling beneath your feet, once in a while, i guess. go stand in a doorway, is what they'd tell you in california, or so i hear.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

april rocks! birthday club

last year

Friday, April 18, 2008

people say you move to these small towns for the peaceful lifestyle, and i'll admit, yes, the closest we get to traffic is when a train happens by, and we can never make it across town on schedule, because we always run into someone we know. so in general we live at a different pace, slower, gentler, and i certainly felt that when i went to new york, and got to the busy canyon intersections at midtown where our conference was.

but, our lives here in this small town are plenty busy, with kids, and tearing around, and 50- or 60- hour workweeks all crammed into about 45 hours. it's enough to make some people drive too fast, since they see the same stuff over and over again, but i drive slow (ly), because it's one of the few restful times i have, and, the sameness of the houses, though dreadfully boring over a long stretch, fades into the background sometimes as the natural changes- the different colors of the grasses, the new flowers, the new colors- show up, sometimes different every day.

so, yeah, middle of the night, about 4:30 am, i'm wide awake, and the ground beneath me is shaking. my wife asks groggily if the baby fell out of bed. i listened- if he did, i'd soon hear him walking, or crying, or coming in to join us. actually he's three now, so i shouldn't be calling him a baby. but it wasn't him. then i thought, maybe it's the construction guys- but then, it was only 4:30. my wife fell back asleep, fairly quickly. it was the quake, 5.2, read all about it if you want. there was another one at 10:30- by this time i was esconced in my class, chatting with my students on computers in a downstairs lab- and i didn't feel that one, which was 4.2. apparently, there were maybe five more, all around 2. didn't feel those either. but i was there for the one at 4:30 am. first one i ever experienced.

they say that in the new madrid quake of 1811, the mississippi flowed backwards for three days, and i like to retell that as if it's the wisdom passed down the ages, but actually only indians and french trappers lived in the area at the time, and i'm not a direct descendant of any of them, it certainly wasn't passed down by my relatives. in the course of looking this one up we found out that that probably wasn't true, that it more likely appeared to be going backwards, but, hey, the people who wrote that weren't there either. i also have gotten to tell one of my favorite jokes, which involves a farmer who, when asked if he wants earthquake insurance, says, "why? i don't know how to start an earthquake," which, when told right, expresses exactly a true farmer's reluctance to buy any of the mystical and ambiguously-valued hedge investments of modern society. nevertheless i enjoy checking in with local people about a day's events, such a thing hasn't happened, as i've said, for almost two hundred years, though apparently they had a decent-size one in 1968. it was general consensus that animals are, yes, aware of these things before they happen, and make quite a stir, though i can testify that our poor old dog is deaf and unaware of such things, and slept right through it. it was also generally agreed that quite a few things shook, and, the further out in the country you were, or, the more responsible you were for house, family, outbuildings, etc., the more likely you were to be still there, wide awake, at 5:00 am & later.

in contrast, i remember back hardly two weeks, deep in the heart of midtown manhattan, there i was, walking around thinking, i've only got a couple of days here, and going to a convention is probably the least of what i could be doing. then i find out that, miraculously enough, moma is free for convention-goers. moma, with everything but the o capitalized, is the big art museum, i knew right away, and was surprised to see it right down the street from the convention, barely two blocks away, with a quick step i hotfooted it down there. i thought of a relative of mine, an artist, single at one time, who said that he wouldn't go out with a girl if she didn't know where the art museum was. i myself go to a big one maybe every ten years or so, though i go to our town's small one occasionally, and consider myself lucky for the opportunity. this was evening; it had only an hour or two left to be open, and i spent some of that time at the folk-museum part of it, listening to a guy named matt jones, who i really liked. so i had but a half hour or so to do the museum, and ran smack into andrew wyeth's famous painting of the poor woman out in Kansas or wherever, having trouble getting back through the grasses to her little cabin. a little disturbing and unsettling. after that i had trouble settling my eyes on paintings, partly because the steady stream of people, new yorkers, interesting, my age, people who could have been me, if i hadn't done what i did. a steady stream....on the stairs, on the escalators, in front of every famous painting. god's art, etched into their faces, in their conversation, in the textures of their clothes. later my sister said she was down on the moma, since they had raised prices, even made getting a snack out of reach of the average person, but i guess my view of that was, the whole town seemed that way, five bucks for a coffee at the hotel, no place to park, etc. and, it was free for me...but, as i walked around, dazed, getting caught in a maze of different rooms, this one impressionist, this one abstract, this one an escalator with lots of bizarre people on it, finally i got off a little to the side, in an exhibit about books. this one turned books into a kind of museum piece, glazed over with bright paint, museumish, quaint, decorative. this one reached me somehow.

back home, 4:30 am, i'm wide awake. i know it was an earthquake. if it was the kid, i would have heard him by now. if it was the workers, they would still be at it. but now, it was just silence. and the house, still only one story, still standing. native californians, it turns out, as several of my friends are, teach each other, through generations, to go stand in the doorway, which will protect you when the house falls. i hadn't known that, of course, and even if i did, i might not have done it- i was only vaguely aware, even after a good shake, what i'd felt. in my daze, i looked at the clock, looked at my wife, gone back to sleep, and outside, very quiet. quietest i'd experienced in a long time. then, after a while, i fell back asleep.

Monday, April 14, 2008

kind of wild spring weather here, enough to make one of my international students ask, hey, what's up with this weather? actually it was a student from another class, who just happened to hear me say something to her teacher about it. in fact, it's normal for spring- warm one day, cold the next, flowers and buds everywhere, yet possible freeze warning for tonight. last night it was raining as i went to bed, and i had a bad night's sleep imagining riding my bicycle to work in the rain in the morning. but this morning it was clear, cold, kind of like after a blizzard, so clear i could see every new blade of grass- and the sun was in my eyes so badly that i had to concentrate on the road, and almost missed saying hello to an old guy that i see almost every day. i even turned on the wrong road; i could see where i was, but only with the difficulty of having the sun blind me, and i wasn't looking carefully, and turned too early. it didn't matter much- the west side is all ranch houses, and the road i took was a bit more gradual in its uphill than the normal route, which is flat most of the way and then has a simple, quick uphill. traded a few blocks of ranch houses for a few different blocks of ranch houses. and it's the same ones, basically, that i've seen for a few years.

which brings me to the next subject, which is general architectural deprivation, which one suffers when one lives in a place like the ornament valley, where such things as a painted wall or an addition on a house will pass as "new" but will quickly become "old" as one scans the horizon for anything. it was such a relief to go to new york, where every block had a surprise, an old building with hand-made brick lattice and turrets and all that stuff i don't even know, since i never use the words around here. the problem there was, there were so many people around, and such traffic, and it was all so interesting, that i could hardly take a breath and take it all in. on one street was carnegie hall- fantastic, i thought, but there was construction there, and it was a busy corner, and i almost got run over staring at it. cars were honking. and i wasn't even standing in the middle of the street. was just waiting for a walk sign- thought i'd do that, wait, be polite, just in case the locals had a complex about it, or it all came down to whether i was law-abiding, after some guy smashed into me. so i waited at the don't walk signs, and looked at the buildings. but, as i said, i could hardly take in some of the prettier ones- it was too busy. had to settle for a quick glance, as i did several times.

but then, all of a sudden, in a cross street, maybe around 54th, i found a beautiful old building. and now, i can't find the link, can't remember the name clearly enough, it was like city cultural center, or some such thing. the street was narrow, and relatively empty- there was time to just stand there. the day was beautiful, like today- clear, cold, windy, fresh. and the architecture- completely wonderful- intricate, gorgeous, handmade, sandstone, personally carved in spots, and very unique.

made the whole trip worthwhile. i loved the people- but hey, a good building, a visual feast, that'll have to last for a few years of ranch houses.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yes, these will end up in squares, on the templates, and elsewhere:
Hilton, NYC
Lawrence, KS
Office plants

Thursday, April 10, 2008

high water on the kaskaskia, i noticed as we drove up to st. louis- this was a couple of weeks ago, before i even went to new york city. it was my wife's conference, in the hilton above the stadium, where we watched the rain pour down on the fresh astroturf as the stadium guys fussed with the tarps and tried to protect it for opening day. you carry your stress with you- the kaskaskia was carrying its stress right up under the bridge as we drove into town. and, at the city museum, a huge fort-like place made from recycled metal and earth, an endless maze of pathways, very narrow and interesting, big enough for a two-year-old but a little squeezy for a fifty-three-year-old- that was stressful too. with all the rain, i thought, even a trip to new york would be a good vacation, get out of here, get away from all this stress.

in new york, walking down the avenue of the americas, talking to an old friend, a woman who lives in champaign, is sick of illinois, is going either to turkey or to the south pacific, i was looking for an address, a dinner i was having with the webheads. suddenly a bike messenger got hit by a car, virtually right in front of us. a deep bump, a bicycle flying, the guy jumps up, curses the driver, and throws the bicycle underneath the car. why? i still don't know. maybe so he wouldn't back up...maybe he had been through it before. i was alarmed; i hadn't seen it coming. i was going to just cross on the walk sign, like an idiot. my friend said it was the driver's fault. i wouldn't know.

back home, the rain started again today, the earth sodden and not holding any water. our own creek, rising up under its bridge. i rode my bicycle, got soaked, but that's ok, i have coffee, i'm giving a midterm, i'll be ok. i'm making time to blog. i have lots of stories to tell. the stress will come out one way or another- regular swimming, blogging, novel, i don't know yet. larry and his crew are building our house up in the center; this is a problem, that being how to put a new story on a house while a whole family including young children and sick dog are still living in it. it's his problem. mine is, when i'm not blogging, i'm grading.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

being too busy to blog started way back when the roof leaked on the piano and computer, forcing us to move everything back into the rest of the house, and call in Larry and the workers who ultimately tore out the walls in the center too, strengthening the house to move it on up into what will be an upper floor. this will cause all kinds of general havoc but part of this means, it just might be hard to blog late.

a sociology conference, high above busch stadium in st. louis, looking down on the stadium in the rain about a week before the season opened, with a trip to city museum, one of my favorite places- was followed by the big tesol, my conference, in new york city, where i visited my sister who is making a fantastic cd, and checked in with all my old friends. so much to report, i can hardly begin, but the high points include a return flight through miami, the plane circling high above the harbor and the statue of liberty, a long walk down the entire avenue of the americas, ice skating in central park, a free trip to the moma, a mariachi band on the n train to queens, and a host of experiences in times square, astoria, the lower village, midtown hotel district, and the airports, in short, everywhere i went. i'll try to blog it all, but can't promise anything. rube goes to big city, i'll call it, since it was fairly obvious by my stretched neck that i wasn't a local. yet everything went well. i'm home, way behind on everything, and have some big birthdays to watch out for. april rocks...happy birthday everyone!

Monday, April 07, 2008