Saturday, October 31, 2009

often halloween is the start of the cold and rainy season, and you have to wear several layers, the last one rainproof, to be really comfortable out on the street, but tonight it was warmer, clear, with a big sunset and a full moon. i happened to be at the center of trick-or-treat action in our small town, with hordes of kids and their parents walking up and down this one street that is a long gentle hill at the end, and has a sharp curve in the middle of it. side streets hit it from all angles, making corners for people to cross; people sat in their idling cars sometimes as their kids went up and down the street trick-or-treating.

people come from miles around to trick-or-treat this neighborhood, because it's stable, and the houses aren't too far apart, and it gets a show-time atmosphere after a while; some people are tourists, who just come to see all the kids. some wear security vests as if the city wants to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

i am traveling with a 4-year-old who has several friends of similar ages; he also meets several others that he knows, and in general learns the ritual pretty well. say "trick-or-treat;" get candy; say thank-you, happy halloween, run around with friends; it's a pretty good evening for him. some kids have trouble with various aspects of it.

on the way out the door i'd grabbed an iron-man mask and a large orange sheet, and although they don't go together perfectly, it stops a lot of people in their tracks, or they make wide loops around me. i see shock in some kids' eyes; it's as if they know and recognize iron-man, but don't believe he'd be there in their street. some openly challenge me and i just tell them, hey, parents don't have to wear anything anyway, unless they really want to; i just wore this; you don't have to like it. i am with an african family at some point, and of course, they're somewhat taken aback by the whole scene. hordes of kids in the street, crossing it, ringing doorbells; parents following them around; everyone psrticipating in a kind of street party. i try to interpret it for them. it used to be that neighbors would connect with kids this day, after a year of chasing them out of their rose garden, etc., and say, i know you, you live near here, you sure have grown. a kid would check in with the neighbors, so to speak, and be rewarded with a large bag of candy which would then last a while into the cold season. several things happened though. we got a lot of neighborhoods where you couldn't trick-or-treat well, even if you wanted to; too many students, too dangerous. or. people moved way out in the country where you had to walk miles between houses. all these kids now come to this neighborhood, if they really want a sack of candy. we just happened to be there because we knew people.

if i thought trick-or-treating was dead, i'd only have to come to this neighborhood, to see that it is in fact live and well, and being practiced by everyone from the rightful celebrants, 3-8 years old, to plenty of others, dressed in all kinds of costumes, from skeleton to football player. most of the costumes are store-bought. in our group, the kids take advantage of the fact that the parents are talking to each other, and start in on the candy; the idea is to see how much you can eat. the parents try to control it, but know it's hopeless, and besides, their hearts are only half in it at most; they also were kids once, and knew that this was just about as good as it got, for kids. parents who are too busy talking to each other, but still there if someone really scary came around, like a ghost. all the candy you can haul in, given generously, ss if all the kids were good all year, and really needed it to grow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

so i'll say this much for the illinois state employees' ethics test- someone did a good job on it. they made cool little scenarios that touch at the heart of ethics in government and that aren't so easy to solve, so that it's actually interesting reading, even if you don't deal with vendors, or have any particular interest in selling off your corner of the government.

it only has two flaws, one, it's provided for us by the same state in which our senator bought his seat, our last two governors have gone to jail, etc. second, it takes our valuable time, and they pressure us to do it even over much more pressing problems. i saw this coming today and had about forty minutes for a thirty minute test, right before my lunch swim, o i rescued the email which was slipping way down amongst forty or fifty more, and clicked on it.

now i can never get through it without some kind of ethical dilemma, whether it be stealing a cool picture and putting it on my desktop, or whatever. i thought whimsically of the speed-reading academics who had complained because the test flunked them for reading too fast, thus assuming they were cheating; they said they wouldn't be where they were if they couldn't read it fast. i thought i might even have to slow down myself so as to not get caught in that kind of situation, though i'm only slightly on the fast side, and that's only because i don't bother with the president's message, or the followup lectures.

but alas, a student came in and took twenty or thirty minutes of my time, and it was a valid request, really, one i couldn't just brush off until later. thirty minutes gone, i'm now about a third through it and it's time for my swim. so i go swimming. but that alone is an ethical dilemma. now i've taken too long, or, deliberately stepped out in order to slow the clock. how slick is their system? will it flag a guy who takes an hour break in the middle of a thirty minute test? who goes too fast in the first and last half, but slows to a halt for an entire hour?

guess i'll find out. actually they passed me and allowed me to have and print a certificate. they also wanted me to take a survey, which i declined. an hour and a half was enough already. but if anyone asks, it was a great test. well-made. worth taking. nice web design. educational.

they should make everyone take it, all the way up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the seats in american airlines flights these days are slightly more narrow than the length of my upper leg, which means that i'm slightly cramped for an entire flight and when i finally stand up i'm a little dizzy or drunken-looking on my feet. we are cramped in there like sardines, and this would be ok on a flight say from peoria to moline, but st. louis to newark new jersey, you'd think they'd let us spread out a little more. some guy who's overweight really feels his girth moving into the next guy's territory, and there isn't much anyone can do about it, except maybe put their wallet in the overhead bin where it won't hurt the entire flight. on the bart i'd seen high water in the illinois farmlands; beans turning red and ready to harvest, but getting thoroughly drenched by relentless rains. landing in newark, i take the bus into manhattan and the subway all the way out to queens, watching every person and listening to the languages. in the morning, i'm on the same buses but back over to new jersey where i have a presentation. jersey is actually stunning in its color, its beauty, the reds and oranges of the hardwoods and the old houses. but in the afternoon it starts raining, and i'm drenched by the time i get back to times square.

times square has a large demonstration for global climate day, and i'm given a sign which i hold in my soggy hands as i watch people walk through the square, again speaking various languages; i seem to hear a lot of russian. the rain comes and goes; the televisions of times square flash over and over, the news, which i imagine is supposed to impress me. actually ads flash, in huge sizes, lit up; the news runs across in ticker tape as if i wanted to know about some grisly crime in missouri, over and over no less. it's almost like the suspension one feels in an airport, but here, i'm outside, on the street, with lots of noise, and the sounds of climate-day speakers on their bullhorns. one of the televisions also broadcasts worldwide climate-day demonstrations from such places as mongolia, new zealand, south africa. my cell phone apparently is ringing, me not hearing it; my sister eventually finds me and we walk off into lower downtown manhattan, an area called chelsea where there is a market and an elevated train bed that has been turned into a kind of open grassland walkway. one can walk through the grasses up there, look off into jersey, look down into the city, and slip under and through some high-rise hotels and apartment complexes.

the city in itself is a rich patchwork of different kinds of people, speaking different languages, living busy lives and looking a little stressed out. some are familiar to me; the small-townish patriarch wearing jets pajamas, and getting ready to go to the football game with his sons; the rabbi, head down, hustling through the airport; the two croatian dudes on the subway, shirts unbuttoned about halfway down. actually i have to guess about these people, but my conclusion, much of the time, is that i'd never see this in carbondale. the rains come more and more heavily, and people give up on getting taxis as there is too much competition. wherever you are, you're kind of stuck, in this kind of downpour. water washes over our shoes and comes pouring down the street although the sewers do seem to manage to get it out of the manhattan canyon as soon as they can. we have a fine dinner at a restaurant, down there in the meatpacking district, but ultimately we're rained out, like the yankees, and go home and take off soggy socks and sleep deeply in my sister's apartment in queens. having walked a lot, and had plenty of fresh air, east coast version, i'm now sound asleep, and dreaming of cell phones that never work, or respond to my various touches.

in the morning it's sunny and bright, the trees again their various shades of green, orange, brown, red; we walk and take the bus to laguardia where she rents a car for a gig, back in jersey again. in jersey i am beginning to be familiar with some of the roads, the sights, the tunnel as now it's maybe my fourth time in it. her gig is out in bergen county, and it's very suburban, woodsy, and pretty, and stays that way all afternoon. on the way to the airport again, though, i see the lowlands where the north jersey swamp buries its legendary secrets; we can see the meadowlands and the airport in the distance, city more or less on all sides, as we're squeezed between newark, manhattan, and various other urban centers. traffic flies by, license plates from up and down the coast, especially on i-95. later i read about jersey and its political situation, but at this time, being driven into the airport, the sun is setting on the wetlands; it looks like nature, and the atlantic, are mixing in a kind of man-made swampy situation, and lots of people are living with it just fine.

back in the sardine can on my way home, i try to squirm over to where i can rest and read, but i can't really have both; in fact, i can't have either. in st. louis it's pouring again, an unusually wet, late fall; one can't seem to get away from the ongoing rains and the ensuing sogginess, squishy shoes, sodden footsteps. back in carbondale it's still raining, or again, and it seems like it will never stop. it's peak of the season, yes, colors are flying, in their glory, but everything is wet, and one can hardly step out of a car without a squish, and the rains soaking up into one's toes. a cell phone was lost in my absence; things are busy, and we're back at work and school in hours. i go out for a walk again, to slow things down. the familiar is now reassuring again, the same old houses, the same various blocks where people know me, but the constant threat of rain: what's happening- is the earth taking a huge shower, trying to wash itself off for the next round? one can only guess. for the next round, i'm staying here; i'm tired, and the family needs me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

to a guy who has seen the same thirty or forty buildings now for what, about five years, a town like arequipa peru is a beggar's banquet- beautiful architecture, in varied shapes and colors, the straight lines of the colonial fronts broken by graceful arches which, in essence, protect people from volcanos and earthquakes. a feast of old buildings, narrow stone alleys and streets, the eyes of people who have lived here forever. but the irony of it is, to me, that I'm always going too fast, afraid for my life. cabs pull right into moving flows of traffic; people jump out of moving buses; people try to cross streets where there is really no opening. From the first moment i arrive, the taxi takes off at about sixty in the parking lot alone, and I'm in a struggle to allow such things to be out of my control, to not just walk everywhere, in rebellion.

i really have no time, given my schedule; i teach from eight to twelve, and again from three to seven, but the heck of it is, the long three hour lunch is entirely taken up by running around to the various major sights of the place. an andes museum, basically telling the story of the young people who have been found there, sacrificed by the incas; it leaves me shaken, wondering if, given that the incas truly believed in the divinity of the people they sacrificed, uncovering their graves, even in the service of history and science, isn't a practice of serious spiritual disrespect; another day, a tour at a monastery, right in the city, where generations of women live in the service of a roman catholic system, in which ornate paintings are made of jesus, and churches are decked out in the finest of gold, while women live simply, celibately, arguing over whether it's ok to be rich, and still be a nun. From these places I go straight back to work, but, exhausted, my afternoon classes sometimes drag at around six or seven, and I feel I may be ready to keel over at times. The weather is at its stunning best, at all times, right out the window, right out the door, wherever we go. My hosts, also, attending to my every need, making sure I'm fed, rested, shown the sites, happy.

sillar is a kind of volcanic lava which is cut into slabs and used to build houses, and this gives the town its name the white city, but it turns out that sillar is not as solid as cement, when you get right down to it, and occasionally comes down in the frequent earthquakes that hit the place. Nevertheless even cement is often given the textured look of sillar and painted white or light colors, so the place has a soft textured look, along with its angular lines and arches. These of course fly by as taxis jolt into traffic or people whip around ancient curves reeling from one end of town to another. We don't often go to the sea, they say, not this time of year, because even though it's technically spring turning into summer, this is the foggy, cold time at the sea; and it's nicer, later, like in the winter, july. all of this is slightly confusing. i try to find out if water really runs counter-clockwise down the toilet, and find out that it runs straight down, in a hurry, not making much of a whirlpool, when it runs at all. License plates show me that apparently a hundred percent of drivers are from peru; all look the same, and say "pe" on them, and nothing else. ghey don't come here from chile? or bolivia? bolivia sounds like another universe, the best I can figure, although most people are quite familiar with chile and chileans, who they say come to arequipa all the time; to me, an avid license plate watcher, it's unusual to see 100% of anything, though the usa would be the same if it didn't distinguish by the state. The license plates, all the same, are in contrast to the architecture, which changes in dizzying and stunning speed as the cars dart in and out of traffic. There is a pattern; people take what they can get, and ignore the laws and the lines in the road; this results in what appears to us to be anarchy, but in fact is a system which everyone lives with, and which probably generates the same number of accidents, no more, no less, than ours. driving is hard on the heart, it forces one to give up some control, and just hope the taxi drivers are paying 100% attention. They are. The bright, blue sky puts an impressionist background on every hilltop view; the volcanos tower over, and look down benevolently at the city from every angle.

the plane trips were endless; on the way there, way too much time in concourses d and e of miami-dade; trips without views on the way down, and finally, a window on the way back, but a wing blocking most of the view even there. Time in concourses is time suspended, the same newsreels over and over; in this case rawalpindi, and a flood in waldron arkansas in which people were at least saved, a snowed-out baseball playoff in Colorado. Flights leaving for such places as puntacana, st. croix, st. thomas, freeport, kingston, santo domingo, managua, quito, and in some parts, for laguardia, ohare, lambert. on the way back, I catch glances of the andes, of the sea, of finally, panama and the canal; then, cuba. some islands off of cuba sparkle in the beautiful sea, but the land itself, like panama, seems to attract and be covered by clouds. a long wait to see anything, and then, after all that, twenty eight hours down and sixteen back, and there, I finally see it; the world, in all its glory, and I've gone around its fat middle, and up into miami. Same with the traffic; four days of putting my life in my hands, every time I jump into a taxi, and finally, on the early-morning trip to the airport, and the streets of the city are dead empty; it's four am, and people take a break; this time we fly through, glancing only at the buildings. In the earthquakes, they say, the sillar doesn’t really hold up, and that's really a problem for the churches, which have belltowers made of sillar, but which then have to put a new bell-tower on an older cathedral. The central city, with its mismatched cathedrals and towers, and gorgeous old ornate archwork and stone carving, actually has tourists, but they don't seem to be American, but from any other country instead. People all wear the bright colors peru is famous for; some are doing clearly for the benefit of the tourists, but some do it just because that's how they dress; that's who they are. One lady is completely decked out in local, colorful dress, but is buried in a cell phone as she would be if she were in our central square. On the way there, a man in the lima airport introduces himself and encourages me to sleep there, in the basement, across three chairs; his alarm will prevent me from sleeping through my own flight, and it does; he wakes up, and we go on our way together. On the way back, I run out of money, but a man flying through the tax-station gives me a ten-spot (about three dollars) and I get through. If the mountains, or volcanos, rumble, I ask, what do you do? Feel like doing anything to appease them, or keep them from blowing? Don't feed them people, I say; there's light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and the rumbling will settle, and if it blows, that's not so bad, usually they can live with it. It's part of the big picture, a world with its unique form and shape, most of it the fair waters of the deep blue sea. I'm wondering how the gods feel, about the girl in the mountain, about the ornate golden offerings, about the jeweled island in the middle of it all. Is this paradise, is it a dream, or is it just part of the big wide world, a world that has patterns for sure, but patterns that are a bit beyond us at times, not always obvious. another narrow street, back up by the monastery of santa catalina, its beautiful angular patterns framing the volcanos at every turn, and there is a chile license plate, on a bus. one, a solitary, the one different one, that, in my case, would keep me watching for another year or two. until you get used to the stunning everyday-ness of it, the benevolence of the almighty sun, the beauty of the old architecture, fly by as we hurtle through narrow streets, around corners, over hills and down around narrow curves.

the idea that volcanos are alive was laughed at by some of the teachers; maybe they were sensitive that outsiders considered the incas to be primitive, superstitious, scary in the way they offered young people to the mountain in order to keep the harmony. scary, yes, i'll allow it. back in the airports, particularly lima where an american saw me fumbling, not having enough cash for the tax, and unable to manage a spanish-language atm- gives me a ten on his way through; on the plane, i'm now listening to rock, headphones against my ear, as we zip around the fat part of the earth, across the canal, and up through the clear-blue turquoise sea. i don't recommend headphones as an everyday thing. i will say, though, that the airplane wing, in its stunning bright silverness, makes a still-life pattern, around which the world below, off to the side, looks intense, an elaborate quilt of everyday wealth. under the arch, i'd tell my kids. you never know how the mountain feels about the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

exhaustion sets in; i'm trying to get something useful for arequipa reading teachers; at the same time, trying to lure them online where we can stay in touch, and i can continue to provide whatever help i can offer. in some ways, maybe i'm not cut out to be a reading teacher's teacher-trainer; it gives me a headache, teaching so much reading, and at the same time being required to read so much. at the same time, i'm trying to keep the workshop blog current; this will show you that we are getting on edmodo and getting around a little. i could tweet; i could facebook it; instead, i sit here, under the volcano, and edmodo.

there was an earthquake june 21, 2001 here. a nearby volcano blew; our three didn't. our three are misty, picchu picchu (mountain mountain) and a third the name of which i forget. misty and the other are married. one has huge snow on it. behind them, more snow; it's really cold if you cross them. nobody does it. the roads outside of town are difficult; people don't go to the coast this time of year. the weather is stunning. it's an old, beautiful, well-kept, well-painted city; lots of old cars in good condition, on narrow stone roads. wild traffic; the order is difficult to discern. if you push out first, you're there & they can't hit you. yet.

there was an earthquake/volcano in 1867 or something too. lots of earthquakes, and plenty of volcanos too. in 1995 a volcano melted enough snow for them to find juanita. aren't you afraid, living under this huge thing? no, not really, they say. if it rumbles a lot, that's actually good. that way it doesn't blow altogether.

no e-mail. can't relate to fb. have homework, & my head is pounding. but the weather is fantastic, and again, i got out into it; i saw the sky, the city, the helado, another white jesus, a huge watchtower, more brick narrow one-way streets; fields way below, and the big volcanos as usual way above, mist and dust clouding them just a bit.

the other night i heard a rumble. but then, i'm in the city. one hears rumbles in the city. live with it; it's probably a truck. if the earth settles, now that's a real rumble, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, or, fly over it.

the baby is coming friday, they say here; the doctor has gone to lima, leaving me with his wife, who speaks no english, but is a wonderful hostess. i leave friday, 4 am. they are working with the airline so that i get a window seat this time. i need to see the andes some more. i need to reflect a little, on my way out, before i fall asleep, big time.
fourth floor, top of universidad catolico santa maria in arequipa peru, i have access to a computer, but now facebook is denied as well as my e-mail, and i'm curiously cut off from the world, though i know that it's ny-ca and la-philly in the playoffs. why did i lose my email? had something to do with password expiring, and all the popup windows here using spanish language programming, making me unable to even type the password into a popup window. i wrote to them, to no avail. no email; i just have to wait. facebook? i have no idea. i had it last night.

arequipa is fantastic; beautiful city, old, pretty, beautiful weather every minute. views of volcanos hovering over the city that make me nervous when i hear rumbling, but day after day, blue sky, pleasant temperature, clear air. slowly my spanish comes back to me, but that doesn't help at a keyboard; where is the @? where is the question mark, or the other stuff? they seem to move it around for convenience, and not always mark it for old habit-worn guys like me.

one more day; i'll remember and miss the place, but i'll also be glad to get home to my family, my birthday boy, my medicine, keyboard, starbucks, siu beauracracy which i'll have to navigate to restore my e-mail. only sixteen-hour flight on the way back, as opposed to 28 coming. but, i haven't checked whether toilet water goes down in the opposite direction down here; i haven't done my basic shopping. life is busy, and full, especially when the weather's good. chou

Monday, October 12, 2009
Justin's train story

i'm in arequipa peru; life is wild & fast, arequipa is beautiful, exotic, interesting, fantastic weather. the andes rule this territory, the memory of the inca appears when the volcanos blow, i guess. more on this later...chou

Friday, October 09, 2009

pure escapism, is the charge some people have against those of us who like to go to a baseball stadium, and, though it didn't seem that way when I was lost, at tiger stadium those times, and then once when we went to cleveland; I had to talk them into letting me go to Cleveland, because unlike detroit, which was only an hour north, cleveland was maybe five hours east, much farther, and maybe my older brother didn't go that time, i don't remember. so there I am, about nine, lost, and fortunately, it was the early sixties, and some nice guy came along and helped me find the bus and get back home again. it was a few years before I went to another stadium, but the next one was forbes field in pittsburgh where I saw the greatest baseball player who ever lived, roberto clemente, who, as i've said before, could do everything, hit the long ball, steal a base, throw a guy out from the right field wall, and dig a ball out of the ivy while still running.

in the end I got to a lot of them; yankee stadium, where I saw a fight in the stands; fenway park, where i had to sneak in after the game was almost over; and finally in the midwest, several busch stadiums, wrigley field, comiskey park, kaufman stadium in kansas city, the twinkiedome, and, out west, i even got to see candlestick park once, although there again, i was way out in the outfield and didn't see much. At wrigley i was surprised to find, standing room only meant just that, and i stood the whole game, along with whoever went with me, and it might have been my kids, or someone who took my word for it that sro meant you would eventually get a seat somewhere. we didn't. and even there i kept my eye on the scoreboard, although the ivy, the classic outfield, the colors, were memorable. the game was not. the teams came and went, and it seemed, with so many national league towns, that it was mostly the giants who were always the enemy, although i know i've seen the mets in that role more than once. altogether I've seen more national than american, with a heavy weight favoring the pittsburgh games, with so many in forbes and even a few in three rivers, and another half dozen here in st. louis. In the days of forbes field the giants were memorable because they had mays, and mccovey, and marichal, and it seemed like they always put up a good fight, and people were tearing all over the field because nobody had any pitching, especially not the pirates. oh yes, they'd play the phillies, and the dogs, and whatever other team happened to pass through town, maybe the astros though mostly this was before the astros' time, not to mention the rockies. i say this to set up the play of all plays, which i saw one day in a game that was maybe 13-11, people running all over the bases, hits everywhere, people in the stands angry that the pirates manager hadn't taken out the pitcher yet. pirates' pitcher was getting hammered, and another guy hit it way out into the right-field gap where clemente as usual was chasing after it and not facing anyone, trying to dig it out of the right-field ivy-covered corner. when all of a sudden, he whirls around, and tosses a perfect strike line-drive throw, all the way to home, and catches the runner by a mile. Everyone who saw it was totally stunned. what a throw, the entire length of the field, in a game that probably didn't matter that much, i suppose, except that every game mattered, every moment, and it was, as I say, the play of all plays.

fast forward to a summer in ohio, when i get to take students to see the indians, and also my baby son, who had been born in korea but who actually got to see the Indians win, which probably brought tears to my eyes by itself. but there outside the stadium, the very same memorial stadium, by the lake, that had looked so huge to me at the age of 8, was a young lad, couldn't have been more than 8 himself, totally lost, and crying. so I was obviously put in that place to return someone's favor, and i did; i helped him find his bus. perhaps it was going back to Toledo, or some such place, where he was surely loved and would be missed. Escapism, people say about baseball. but it's more than that; i here, putting off a load of work that hurts, can easily say that; but i can also say, you genuinely see some interesting things, in the course of a number of games, you see humanity on parade, you see the ebb and flow of character, right there next to the smell of hot dogs, cigars, or in the case of comiskey, italian sausage. In the end, I suppose I didn't see all that much; it wasn't more than a few games a year. but luckily, i remembered a lot of it, and now, when the air is clear, and winter's coming, and the whole baseball thing gets dragged all the way into November, I can remember the good times, when it was all pretty much settled about now, and everyone was about ready to go home and call it a season.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

(written tue. eve.)
my time in minneapolis, the summer of 1994, was punctuated by a baseball game in what my colleagues called the twinkiedome, a domed baseball stadium not far from downtown minneapolis where every game, day or night, warm or cold, could be played in this enormous construction, comfortable, with space perfectly attuned to reflection. the question of the hour is of course whether someone who is cheering for a team has any measurable effect on the performance of a team. in a diffuse, enormous dome it seemed like our international students, who had no idea about baseball in general, could have very little effect. as for myself, actually somewhat of a traitor, being an Indian fan, might have a negative effect, since rooting for the twins, so to speak, would be insincere or at least interpreted that way by the gods of luck. how about now, when the whole season hinges on tonight's game with the tigers, and i'm genuinely torn between the teams? i've been writing about the tigers continually, for about five days, and they've lost what, 11 out of 15? that's insincerity for you. if the law of insincerity applies, i will at least distribute it evenly tonight, by giving a dose of it to the twins.

but in fact i liked the twins also, especially on that day, or night (it's impossible to remember; I just remember the dome); they were playing the Yankees, so it wasn't really a question of who I liked at that moment. and, we were in right field, directly above Kirby puckett, a hall-of-famer, so there wasn't any question, we were seeing something worth seeing, at least in baseball terms. the twins have been good off and on, over the years, from the days of harmon killebrew in the early 60's, to now, when they have all kinds of stars. But most of the time they were the enemy, playing the brothers in the back yard, playing the sox, or the tigers , or the Indians, ad infinitum so to speak. i liked their "tc" hat. i liked the fact that "thomas" means "twin". and i loved minneapolis- at least the summer i was there. no question about it, if you're going to represent a city, that was a nice one.

it had a running sense of calm, and joy at the same time. calm, because it was summer, and things worked, and you could get outside and do stuff, and the air was fresh and warm and life was good. joy, for the same reason. winter was long; you could see signs of it everywhere. but it was summer; people were out, people were jogging around the lakes, people were on the highway. things were happening. you could feel it in the air.

people talked about "minnesota nice"- a prevailing kind of politeness, that made the place more livable and pleasant. i had actually seen that before, in iowa, in the whole north central area where winters are too hard to pile misery on top of them, so people genuinely and warmly helped each other. but i also saw the trappings of my youth: northern industrial grayness, working-class warehouses, big city buses and a downtown where people turned their collars against the hard gray wind and the encroaching nightfall. i knew the ear-splitting kind of acid rock that came from such places, and also liked the art that popped up in museums or store-windows around town. i tried to learn the city; i studied its neighborhoods. i tried to learn the difference between minneapolis and st. paul, and get some sense of what the outlying towns were like.

once on a city bus and american indian picked a fight with the driver and started yelling at him angrily, though the driver kept driving as if it were normal, or perhaps there was security at the next stop. we were coming down into downtown, and this guy just kept yelling at the driver; i'm not sure if he was drunk, and it might even have been morning. it was about the only discordant incident of the entire summer, really; i couldn't explain it, didn't know why it happened, what to make of it. there at the twinkiedome, all such hassles of life were forgotten; time seemed to be suspended, whether it was day or night, in this kind of infinite yankee game, in which the good guys, the twins, actually did pretty well, and all seemed to be going our way, though we couldn't see all that well, being out in right field and all. it had that in common, i guess, with tiger stadium. by now, though, as a grownup, i knew what to do: get up, take a long leisurely stroll all the way around the stadium, stop at around homeplate, and take a good long look at the action, before being hustled along to end up back where you started. i get to baseball stadiums roughly once every two years, going sometimes four or five without, but going twice in other years or lucky years. a few years back i took a son to comiskey, where we saw the sox and the mariners, but a young son came to us around then, and we haven't been back much, even to busch. the memories will have to suffice. summer. minneapolis. Secret Beach. Clear northern air, as it got dark early, and people ran around, trying to get their kicks, and their supplies, before the long winter. i can't imagine october in the place, but if it's inside, suspended, lit up, this is a series that could stretch on for a while. here's hoping the dogs come to town.

Monday, October 05, 2009

the berries on a tree at the base of our driveway are almost ripe, bright red, juicy-looking, and in the cool mornings they sometimes have dew hanging on them that makes the sun sparkle and sets the bright red color off from the browns and greens in the rest of the yard. my son and i wait for the bus down there, and he has an active internal life, imagining something, and acting it out, there at the bottom of the driveway on a cool october morning. when i was seven, i also had an elaborate internal fantasy life, mine involving baseball; actually, mine might have lasted quite a bit longer, and was surely thriving on those times when i got lost in tiger stadium, detroit, this would probably have been in the very early sixties.

busloads of ymca kids would go up there for a tiger game, and we'd sit way back in left field, and watch the likes of al kaline, mickey lolich and dick mcauliffe from a far distance. I mention mcauliffe not because he was a star, but because his batting stance was so unusual that we knew he was up; he was perhaps the only one we knew was up. My old friend claims that al kaline was the best of all baseball players, but i couldn't discern; he seemed so much like the other tigers. i guess, yes, he must have hit a homer or two while i was there watching, but, who didn't? those were free-swinging days.

because we were way out in left field, our walk back to the bus was circuitous and took us through several stadium areas each of which had views of people walking in all directions and an occasional glimpse at the baseball field. it was somewhere in here that i'd get lost, either coming or going, the tiger blue all over the grandstands, huge numbers everywhere. maybe i stopped to look at a player? somehow i'd get separated from the crowd.

if it was 2009, i probably wouldn't be around to tell the tale, or so they say, given the nature of present-day downtown detroit. but, here i was, ten or less, and somehow they found my bus every time, and got me back home safely. Now detroit at that time was an interesting place, exploding with motown and a thousand other things, but we, our family, our friends, glad i made it back to toledo and all, probably knew very little about detroit itself, and years later, when i saw the old tiger stadium, i had a dim memory of being there before, but not much of one. even being lost more than once, i didn't meet anyone, or remember much, except a few policemen, and they were tiger blue also, in their own way, big, blue, angular, larger than life. they towered over me, those policemen; i remember that, but mainly what i remember is that the stadium seemed like an impossible place for a kid to stick with a long line of other kids.

down at the bottom of the driveway, the boy picks up the berries occasionally and throws them at the tree, reminding me of old bob feller stories and baseball dreams, which i doubt he even has; he doesn't watch baseball; he doesn't have a television, and this is partly my fault. he plays soccer; his older brother was disappointed when, being on a town-league team, that team was just a little too overbearing and parents were just a little over-competitive. even the soccer can be that way; they have to remind us not to keep score; my four-year-old wanders around, enjoying the attention, but not keeping his eye on the ball by any means. The seven-year-old is involved, competitive, and engaged, but likes goaltending, where he's given some time to engage in his fantasies if he wants. the four-year-old, however, seems to like the fact that life on the soccer field has slowed down to just a few minutes in which almost everyone is watching him. Why should he get in there and kick the ball? it's a beautiful day, and everyone is watching him; it's time to chase butterflies.

at the bus stop, the bus comes, and the seven-year old is on his way, and i wonder about the things i didn't say to him, about baseball, about school, about life maybe, having let him live out his fantasy without interruption; it's a sign of safety, really, that he can live out his fantasy in his front yard, and not be interrupted. water hangs from the berries in the tree and falls sometimes; the four-year-old, if he comes out at all, will yank the berries and let a whole branch of hanging dew fall around him and on him. why not? he doesn't go to school until later, and by then the sun, and the warm house, will dry him off a little. life is quick, they grow up, with or without baseball. if i took them anywhere, it would probably be to see the cards, where everything is red, and where i would dread their getting lost. But these days, my mind is full of reading theory, reading practice; i'm going to peru, on saturday, no less; for a week, and then, upon my return, to new jersey. life is so busy, i don’t bother reading, or commenting on the news, or finding out what's going on, how are those tigers doing, who's going to face those yankees this year. now there's some blue for you, some deep blue, dark, like the blue of ibm. yankee stadium, now there's a blue place, larger than life, angular, tiered, with steps on all sides and big white numbers with dark blook background. I was there one time, and looked up, and there was a fight, way up there on the third deck, over my head; two guys were duking it out. i thought maybe one would come tumbling over the rail there for a while, but the fight was broken up; it didn't happen. look lively, i guess, life is short; it's funny how, short as my experience in a given place was, i only remember a tiny piece of it. i'm lucky, in the sense that i do remember lots of the good things; i don't want to get too busy, and miss something good, like a good play at the plate, maybe, or a kid and a berry, and a seven-year-old smile, as he goes off to face the day.