Monday, March 30, 2009

colfax avenue was where my motel was in denver, and the name didn't ring any bells for me; it seemed like it was a cheap motel and reasonable, not too far from the convention. i suspected by how cheap it was that something was up, but i didn't see it until i got there.

what was up was this; although it was only about a mile from the convention center, and that mile passed the beautiful state house and lots of stately civic buildings, it also encompassed several bars, music venues, cheap liquor stores, and literally hundreds of homeless people. it started snowing almost the minute i got there, and turned into a blizzard, where you could hardly see in front of you, yet whenever i turned around, there was some guy with a long beard like i used to have looking at me like he was at the end of his rope. usually they didn't bother me much, a couple of them asked me for money but most actually didn't. still i knew they were homeless, why else would they be out in a blizzard like this? and i knew colfax avenue was some kind of magnet for this kind of thing.

the snow piled up and became slush as it was wet and wasn't really frigid although it had a bite to it with the wind and all. once webheads and i were walking up a street and some guy was sitting out directly on a heating grate, right in the middle of the blizzard. he also didn't especially bother us for money, but the warm steam of the under-the-city air was all that kept him from freezing into the sidewalk. in fact he was smiling. it was as if he'd gotten the choice spot in the city. snow swirled around and blinded people that tried to walk in it, in the rest of the city, almost the whole time i was there. once in the hotel, in the morning i think, a woman slipped in and quickly asked me for a cigarette, which of course i don't carry. another time, taking a back way, i came upon a house with maybe twenty or so outside, standing around, while the house sported lots of "no trespassing" signs all over it.

if they weren't so "there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-i," i would have just gone on with my life, busy as it is, with three presentations and now makeup classes the following week, for what i missed, and a birthday party to plan and a trip to the d.r., whenever i can get it together. a half-dozen stacks awaited me upon my return, but my thoughts carry back to denver, a mile high, where, in the sun, it can get pretty warm, but where mostly i saw slush, ice, snow padded down, and people out walking in it by the dozens at a time. i'd walk home at eleven or twelve, too late for the shuttle, and the street was full. on the way back, i had to get out at about five thirty a.m., to make it to a seven a-m presentation. stopped at a place called "tom's diner" for a denver omelette, which tasted very similar to what one would get around here, but which i can still taste. by this day, three days later, the blizzard had abated a little, but it was still snowy and icy on the street, and i warmed up as the sun showed signs of possibly rising in an hour or so, outside. a big guy came in looking for work, and was rejected. not many jobs around, i'd guess, the depression and all. it gave me a deep sense of tiredness, but eventually i got back out in the cold, walked down past the capitol and to my presentation, and started, in my own kind of way, back home.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

came back from denver last night late; had two presentations on saturday so was dressed up for the long flight back. denver had had a crippling snowstorm from the moment i was there, but was sunny on the day i left; in st. louis it was raining and cold as that same storm was coming through, but arrived at home to a very busy life, with a hole going into our ceiling and my wife leaving soon on another presentation. so, dear reader, things have been scarce, but i do offer you some tidbit clips from the trip.

the first bart driver offered me a horrible story of an accident in our own hometown, but took us the long way around, where i saw, believe it or not, a sign promising "a seven wonder of illinois"...i couldn't imagine what it was. illinois looked bleak, and so did st. louis, which is full of beautiful old architecture, but was looking pretty bombed out even in the sun. high over eastern colorado, we looked down on miles and miles of dusty plain, at one point seeing a tiny green road sign way below and a car maybe every three or four miles. after landing in denver the blizzard started right away- blinding snow and very wet, lasting a couple of days. one guy made a snow angel outside of the convention center, but most of us just tried to get around, not having dressed so well. we saw the prettiest part of downtown, but all in a blizzard; it went on and on. one night, went out with webheads to an italian place; ate with people from montreal, uae, argentina, georgia, california, vermont, greece. another night went to a friend's house to have a korean dinner with his family and a brazilian guest who is living in mexico. finally, on the way home yesterday, stopped at a place called "tom's diner" to have a denver omelette. colfax avenue, where we stayed, was the wildest of the city, kind of out there even in a raging blizzard.

so it was; flying back over eastern colorado, it was all snow in the high plains, much lighter and airier. i was exhausted; another convention, this one again, memorable. next year, boston. if you only go to one city per year, it has to be good.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

stunned by an offer to present at a conference in the dominican republic in june, i went to get a passport photo, and i looked like a deer in the headlights, maybe an unshaven, con-in-a-lineup deer-in-the-headlights. nevertheless, the usa has to let me back in, i figure, because only a native would allow such a horrible picture on a passport and try to get away with it.

flowers and trees are blossoming everywhere here, setting up bright color contrasts and making me wish i had a camera at every corner. the salmons against the whites, the little red buds against the pines, etc. but, i have another conference, this one in denver on wed., to get ready for, and i'm a little behind on virtually everything related to it. Some frantic handout-making will be happening here very soon, but i keep shaking my head and saying, dominican republic. hmm.

i made a little fire again in the back, burning sticks and getting good wood-smoke all over my passport shirt, which i wear only rarely. the campfire made me realize that the one thing i should do, if i can, while in denver, is get up in the mountains. the high passes, the aspens, the rockies- it would be a shame if i came and went from there & didn't see them. but this stuff happens. what i mean is, it is possible to fly in and out of denver, and never get up into the mountains. possible, but not good.

we're dangling in that marginal area between the coldest spring, frost on the winshield, and full-out blossom explosion. that area where another frost could come and wipe out all the fruity berries that blossomed too soon, and do in all the garden plants. my international students, at this point of the year, give up and say the weather is just crazy, it changes all the time and they can't get used to it. and lots of them come down with colds. not me, though; i have lungs full of wood smoke. i'll sleep and dream of mountain passes.

back to work- chou!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

as far as i'm concerned it's a fact we're not irish, though i married into irish, so to speak, and it wouldn't bother me if i were to find out that we had some irish ancestors that i didn't know about. but i don't count it if someone who is scottish for example happens to be born in ireland; we could call him irish but no more than i could call my son korean, who was born in korea. my sister had told a lady at work that maybe we were irish because of an old pig story, but i set her straight on what i knew about the pig story, which i'll tell right now, to the best of my ability, based on a torn and tattered piece of paper that i have had in my pocket since last july when i was at my parents' house.

now to set the record straight, one could go right back to that house, open up the books, and find the same information only probably more accurately, so don't take this as gospel truth. i copied it; i folded it up; i was unable to throw it away; i carried it around for months. here it is, torn & in my hand. take it for what it's worth.

it's an old family story that a couple of boys stole a pig, ran away, and somehow ended up in america. the best i could get from my research, there were seven brothers, at least three of which ended up in the usa; they were sons of william and mary wallace of ayrshire scotland; the sons, john, james, and william, and possibly hugh (who ended up in south carolina, possibly), lived near prestwick scotland, inland; here was mentioned the following phrases: east of the island of bute; along the firth of clyde; from ayr northward near prestwick. john was first to come to the usa, but his son, robert, was actually born in ireland in 1796. robert, who married margaret hendrickson, had a son james jamieson wallace who was a doctor and was my grandfather's grandfather, or my great great grandfather. j.j. wallace was a third son and a doctor. his son j.c. (john crawford) wallace was my grandfather's father; he had a son jack, or j.c. junior, but my grandfather, james jackson wallace, decided not to be a doctor, left pennsylvania, and moved out to iowa in the early 1900's.

so how they got from ayrshire, scotland to pennsylvania: 3 or 4 boys appropriated a pig in scotland. they pulled their boat out of the bushes on the shore and went to ireland. they had an uncle living in donegal county and they think maybe these boys went there. did they take the pig? who knows, it probably wasn't a large boat. the first wallaces came to carlisle, pa, but didn't stay; though he was married and had a son, william, his wife died; he went back to ireland and married a crawford (and here's where the paper is torn) where robert was born; in fact six were born in donegal county (near londonderry?)- it's not clear to me if there was a large community of scots here, or just an uncle, or neither. robert was a baby, but they moved to the usa again, this time to cecil county maryland, and from there to butler county pennsylvania, where, as we now know, there is a place called wallace run, lots of wallaces, a history of wallaces. many wallaces followed john here to butler county (not to say even that he was the first); by the time my grandfather came along (he was born in pa, i'm pretty sure) wallace run was a well-established place and his aunt lived on wallace street (maybe?) in new castle, pa.

now all this tends to obscure the details of the pig. my sister seemed to think we were from theiving low-down, trailer trash stock, though i may be exaggerating her words, but she also wrote it down to the leverett side, when in fact it was the wallace side; i, on the other hand, had ascribed it to dire poverty, not necessarily immoral, something people do when they have no options, no way to get work or a place to live. and, i had heard that such stories were common in the scotland of late-18th century; the land was owned up by the rich; jobs and money were scarce; any excuse they could find to kick people off the land, even native people, but out-of-work people, they took; once in ireland, where things were friendlier, maybe, but not necessarily easier, it looked, to them, easier to cross a whole wide ocean, and get a place to live, than to go back across a narrow strait and face the kind of life those boys had left. so, i wasn't especially harsh on my ancestors, even if the story was true, which it probably is.

but that's different entirely from calling them irish, or calling us irish. even northern ireland (scot) irish, who have been there many generations, will never be called irish by the other irish (now what do i know really, maybe nothing)- and probably don't call themselves irish, though this may have softened- and so, keeping this in mind, i always say scot-irish maybe, when asked if i'm irish. our family was there, on that irish island, for maybe a generation, where one of us was born and then moved on west to pennsylvania.

now it so happens though, that 'wallace' is a scottish word for 'welsh', so chances are very likely that some ancestor somewhere did some traveling around that little archipelago, and so, to tell the truth, i think that whole thing about separation of the peoples, are you welsh, are you scottish, are you irish, etc., may be a little overrated. there are, for example, all these women in the genealogy who are not very carefully documented; at least i didn't document them, though in some cases some people did, and they actually brought up the children, yet, how far back they went, who knows, and if they were irish or not, or their mothers, who knows. and it doesn't take very long before you lose the trail and you figure, it all kind of runs together.

but it's interesting, how you can take a family legend, and put it on the table, and it might look entirely different to the feasters at the table. and, 1/365 irish, is a good thing to remember- because it's like your birthday, it's really all in your head. if you want to celebrate your connection, just take it. there's some mighty good music back there, in all those different languages.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

springtime in the ornament valley; croci poppin', and all kinds of other things new every day; hydrangea, flowers and trees whose name i don't know. students leave town, going to colder homes up north, or to southern illinois farmsteads that are much like here; but, i could never understand going to florida for spring, when it busts right out here, middle of march. up in iowa or minnesota, i could see leaving in march, it's the peak of winter, the climax of cabin fever, but here, we're outside every day; the ground is soggy, and a little cold, but signs of life are everywhere.

trying to concentrate on the boys a lot; i've been very busy, and now i should be able to put aside some time & just give it to them. slowly we move into the outside, make a fire, get some fresh air & sleep better, but the boys as usual are all over the place, sometimes wanting this, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. in my free time i'm doing a pop exhibit on castle park (see photo below); i have about a dozen; i might make another calendar out of them, or, just use them on the web as everything else. i have a headache of pop-art reorganization, but this will be more pleasant if i'm actually making exhibits and linking them to each other. castle park, next exhibit. quakers, coming. also, downtown, cdl, turley park; maybe murphysboro. i'll hit all the high spots in my life; leave no place undocumented.

meanwhile i should be finishing up my last term, and preparing for a new one, also preparing for tesol conference in denber in late mar. lots to do there; too much maybe. so much that, when i think about it, all i can do is fantasy pop art. driven, and motivated to avoid. so it goes. but, it's spring; first priority, get outside. take a deep breath. open the windows quick; summer is coming, and then it's all over.

so there's no pool for the break; i'm free, and walking all over town in new shoes, or new "kicks" as my son would say. they leave my legs tired, my feet sore at the bottom where i am rough on them. have to toughen up those feet a little, maybe take the seven-year-old to the park, where he can run around, get outside. get the bicycles working, plant the garden.

on a route where i notice every single new sign, every change in cars parked outside, it's incredibly inspiring to walk out, at night, and see and smell so many new kinds of flowers; smells are also rich and sweet. clouds rush overhead lit up by an almost-full moon; they might be bringing in more cold, but in their breeze we know it's at least change. i'm all for change. winter was getting a little bleak.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Friday, March 06, 2009




Tuesday, March 03, 2009

got cold & stayed cold, right through the end of feb. & into march, now it's time to spring forward already, and it's still cold. due to open up any day now, but you wouldn't know it from hanging around outside, where you still need a jacket and have to keep moving if you don't want to blow into your fingers or put them in your pocket. why am i complaining? big piles of snow all over the east coast, various parts of the world socked in, and we're just having the usual, a little nippy chill before we plant the garden & everything turns a soft bud-colored purple. i'm trying to shift gears, from a more than full-time teaching load, finish the grades, figure out what's online, and get ready for a conference in denver, which should be good; i like denver, haven't been out there in a few years though. it's partly a plains town, steak & stockyards, then on the other side a spectacular ski-run kinda place, with avalanches & mountain pines or maybe aspens if you go out there at the right time. i'm thinking, it might be good to get away from these same five or six streets that i'm on every day, where any new for-sale sign is huge news, but after it sits there six or seven months, you kind of get a little too used to it. out in colorado, people were hitchhiking on the wrong side of the road, and it looked strange to me, so i asked someone, and they said the penalty was so steep for hitchhiking on the right side of the road, so everyone just walks over to the wrong side and hopes that works. it was enough to make me jump trains for a couple a hundred miles, but trains were a bit scarce where i was, in pueblo or something, and i ended up spending a little too much time in the scrubby weeds by some trainyard waiting. problem was, i didn't have much for patience back then; i was used to at least seeing cars, even if they were rejecting me. i read license plates for sport.

another time my sister was actually performing there, in downtown, and i wish i could remember a little more of that particular visit, because it's the same downtown where i'll be staying, but i actually remember very little of it. it seems to me we actually saw her perform there, but my memory is vague; it certainly wasn't as spectacular as the time in boca where we ended up on jupiter beach in the middle of the night. the thing i remember about denver is the long drive out there from the midwest, the huge state of nebraska with a tiny motel on a huge plain, and a road that seemed to go on for quite a ways. i kind of liked that road, in a lot of ways, was more comfortable there than in the downtown area of larimer square, colorado this, colorado that. i remembered old stories of iowans driving out to colorado in big old american cars and filling the trunks with fresh coors & ice for the long trip back; the coors was very fresh back then, so they were greeted back in iowa with great fanfare, as if people were now liberated from the usual blue-ribbon. this was all part of legend, like the stories of the great nor'easters, you never knew what to believe, but it all seemed vaguely plausible, to pack up & drive two huge gargantuan states & back, all for a trunk a' beer & a story, or at least one endless nebraska, at least half of iowa itself, and the plains part of colorado which goes on forever even when squinting you think you can see the big rocks off on the horizon. it's uphill all the way, which is especially obvious when you're on a bicycle, they say, though the few times i did it i was either driving, or hitchhiking and worrying about the notorious ogalalla turnoff where you might get stuck, trying to dip down to denver when all the rest of the traffic is shooting through wyoming in the middle of the night, trying to get out to the coast.

they say it's all much bigger out there now, there are a lot more people, more traffic, more cities, & i'm not surprised; i feel like the cowboys in lonesome dove when i tell my boys, it just isn't what it used to be, probably. but i guess i'll see for myself. see it from a plane, that is; i'm probably going to dip right over that wide plain, down into the new stapleton, and not see much of the high alpine aspen-covered hills. it's the way it goes.

back in this small wretched town, the economic squeeze puts one more person out of luck every few minutes, leaving me to feel: what am i to tell my boys, going off into a world like this? where is there opportunity- is the computer really bringing down the house, or just all the major newspapers? and then, if the computer is so great, where are the jobs on the computer? if it's true that we could now live just about anywhere, make a living on the computer, etc., then all these cheap rural counties with the beautiful land oughta be filling up any day now, with people fleeing the high-rent districts and coming out to breathe in the fresh air and make a living at their own pace. and in fact, maybe i oughta try it. i'd like to copy a few reams of stories first though, maybe a book or two. write that novel. get my fiddle a little warmed up. after all, break is coming, and, in a little bit, i'll be off to the mountains, top o' the world...