Thursday, November 25, 2010

it's a very rainy thanksgiving here, and as usual i've made it all the way to thursday with very little to show for it except a lot of time with the kids, and genuine appreciation of my favorite month, favorite meal, favorite everything. in other words, try as i might, i'm just not all that productive, and it's partly that i've been working overtime for the other eleven months, and needed a few days to breathe out. but now i'm beginning to focus: just in time to travel, and lose a few days to the holiday itself.

my wife made a fine turkey (she said she did it in self-defense: if she hadn't done it, i would have), and that was fine with me, but it was a couple of days ago, and we're having a casserole tonight, on the day itself. but even that's ok with me; leftover turkey is better than the original, and i picked the meat only today and have the oil kind of rubbed into my skin. my only real problem with vegetarianism is giving up the turkey tradition, because i love the smells and feel of it, though i'm well aware that some poor turkey suffered for my sins. i also like checking in with the family, various people who i might not see a lot at other times of the year. whatever their condition, i tend to get to know it.

it was warm for unusually long here, and when the cold finally came, it dragged a rainy front with it, and stormed for a while, and actually dropped a lot of water. it changes from very dry to very wet here in november, and it's sudden, but i don't mind wet & cold half as much as i mind wet and stifling hot, so i still love november; it's the best of all seasons. the browns and golds, and reddish hues are just as beautiful, misted up in the gray rains. i raked some leaves, and reflected on how, when i was a teenager, raking leaves seemed like a sacrilege - taking nature's own harvest away from it, committing a crime against the natural. i felt this way about mowing the lawn too, but mostly because i didn't want to do either anymore. now, i rake mostly for my own exercise; it works out my shoulders in a way only swimming will do and the pool is closed. but, it also gets me outside and i see all the above-mentioned colors; i feel like i'm brushing out the hair of a yard that badly needs it. this being the suburbs, though, some neighbors are out there with leaf blowers, and that's what i now consider sacrilege, leaf blowers and pesticides which actually put nerve gas into the public heritage. leaf blowers burn gas for the privilege of pushing the leaves around, but the wind will actually do that if you let it, and i figure, we people ought to at least do it ourselves if it's so darn important to us.

on the day itself, i find myself surveying a very wet neighborhood; inside, with the boys, who are on the computer and/or television as usual (though the older one runs through harry potter books with dispatch)...and, the smell of turkey begins filling the house again. i have a lot to be thankful for, and i need to relax, consider, give thanks. it only happens once a year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

this is kind of a depressed area, so the policeman who was hiding behind the old garage along the old highway through the old mining towns, was probably sick of hassling the same old locals who basically had no money, and was looking for a guy like me who works for the university, and thinks he can speed right through town easy as you please. actually i was in kind of a hurry, needing to get from my home to west frankfort in about forty minutes, but i would have slowed way down anyway just to see the place, if i could.

i actually fled the university in a hurry too: there was a job talk, and the woman who wanted to be chair was saying how she believed in open communication, yada yada. she hasn't talked to me in years; she's mad at me, i think, though i can't remember what it was about. actually i don't doubt that it was legitimate in its own way, at least to her, that i had aggrieved her in some way, but whatever the reason, it's long gone, and she just scowls now when she sees me, but of course she had to say all this stuff about open communication. so it was a beautiful day: colors still blazing, oranges turning to browns, hawks out, drifting, looking for their dinner in the fields below.

the road up to west frankfort starts by slipping around my own little town on the back roads, out charles road and up to desoto, and from there past the mulkeytown road and through these tiny towns like hurst, royalton, and zeigler. locals here know it as one of the better back roads and i really should take it more often, as they do, because it's so beautiful and unpretentious, with woods, fields, river valley, old houses, new houses, & run-down old sites. royalton has an onion-domed church, but you have to know where it is, and you also have to learn a little about orthodox rituals, they say; i haven't brought myself to just walk right in, yet. zeigler also had a little mystery to it but i didn't get down into the center of it, being pressured by time and all. the bank in west frankfort, which i found with no effort, had a woman in it who actually remembered me from her days in the university - but she wasn't using her degree, really, just working in the bank. she didn't seem all that unhappy with her lot though. you get way up in those mining towns, mines've been closed for decades, no work, no money, you can't blame people for having garage sales with the same stuff over and over again, or say, for figuring that the best thing about someone driving through might be different-color money. some of the old folks drive real slow too, as if they see a lot more than we do, remembering all the various uses the highway-front property had had over the years, and pointing it out, meanwhile i'm riding their tail so close they get a good look at me. what else is there to do? the hawk circles warily. the cop awaits behind his outbuilding.

this is the heart of southern illinois, these old mining towns where some people actually still live, but they have a little bit too many houses for the actual people, and quite a few places are boarded up. but the beauty, roadside, riverside, and woods, is awesome, especially a late november day. some folks have wondered why we stayed, and we even discuss leaving sometimes, but basically, it's a beautiful place, and moving to a place one of us would prefer would put us in a place less desirable to the other - so we're kind of suspended, mid air, kind of like our town is suspended, squeezed between the flat coal and farm country, and the rolling hills: rivers on both sides, plenty of history, and just enough weather to cover it up, and start over occasionally. i have mixed feelings about open communication. a train catches me, and i'm stuck behind it for a few minutes. my fellow people on the highway stop and line up behind me or in front of me.

so i'm speeding through the tiny town, for sure, but this guy in an oncoming truck flashes his lights at me, just in time, and i slow way down, and i make it through. the cop, too, i'm sure, went to our university, no question. but i don't have time for small talk, to find such things out; i'm already late, due to the fact that everything takes so darn much longer than you think it should have, and there's so little you can do about it. i must strike these folks as a man with a mission, the way i drive, but all i wanted was to get to the bank before it closed, then, get back before it was too late. the sun was already setting as it got to about four thirty; it gets dark early; i'm now on my way to bed - the day is shot. the kitty bats some wrappers around in the other room: basically unconcerned, about whether those mines stay closed, or what.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

if i'm in the sandwich generation, and i am, what with teenagers out there trying to make it, and parents in trouble and needing help, then i say, pass the mayonnaise, because it might be a long haul here, for a while. i don't want to go into the details, but basically, life is hard on the young folks, and it's not so easy on the older ones either, falling as they are into what is politely called decline. in our own fifty-something lives, we feel the pain of every fall, stiff knees, headaches from sleeping wrong, but that's nothing, i assure you, compared to being eighty-something, or being twenty-something, and having life smack you a big one upside the head.

it's what i call holiday season, the high holy holidays, but it's my own personal holidays, my own personal favorite week of perhaps the entire year, when the splashy bright yellows and reds of october turn daily, relentlessly, into crisp burnt umber browns and oranges, and leaves curl, let go and drift; yesterday was gingko day, a day when an entire tree lost all its leaves in one day, and, as far as i know, gingkos around town did the same. it could have been the hard frost, or maybe it was "gingko day" - one of the high holy days - when its leaves, which look like oriental fans, but stink, came down by the hundreds every time a breeze passed through. now i don't need any more holidays in my lineup - i have saints' day, souls' day, guy fawkes day, bonfire day, sadie hawkins day - and i can't keep track of the ones i have, but i could add gingko day among them, if only i could be assured that it comes at roughly the same time every year. but much as i watch closely, all the changes, this time of year, i don't know even that for a fact. did it happen at this time last year? i can't remember.

which reminds me, one of the scariest things, in my opinion, is loss of memory, just in general; it's not that i don't have lots of things in there that i wouldn't mind losing track of, it's just that, to me, if you lose your bearings altogether, that's really scary. i saw a homeless guy at the park today; he's been there before, and if he was really dangerous, i'm sure they would have found out and scooped him up, but, even though he wasn't, he kind of scared me, because i see myself sometimes, sitting at that eternal bench, no place to go, no memory of loved ones, maybe, or no energy left to go find them. having cast the young ones out, i can only hope they wake up each day with a sense of purpose, to survive, to enjoy, to live life to its fullest- but sometimes i find the wind out of my own sails, somehow cast adrift in the sea of a darkly changing world, with memory slipping as to who was back there, on shore, that even knew i was out here. no, i snap myself out of it, there are a lot of people who care; i'm right in the thick of it. and there are some who really really need me too, so i can't even afford to breathe out. it's a scary shadow, like old age, hiding behind the post up by the edge of the park, not violent so much as just unsettling.

so the gingkos fall in one big smelly pile which i rake a little, and then the following day, forget entirely about "fall back" which i should include in my pantheon of holidays since it also has come at an opportune time, and is essentially good, in that you get this extra hour. but again, i can't remember if it comes at the same time every year; seems to me it used to be in october. if they would keep it in november i could put it right up there with saints and souls as one of the best, election day, sadie hawkins day, all these cool days, some of which i only remotely even understand. what i will say though is, there i am, with the little boys, at quaker meeting, and went for a walk at the japanese garden and the sculpture garden, with camera (pix will follow i hope), and it was a stunning day, absolutely gorgeous, though the nine-year-old would always rather be home reading harry potter. so we took that hour, the one that drifted out of the sky like a gingko leaf, and used it, specifically, in a holiday kind of way. i put a picture of the fall colors on my facebook and realized, based on the comments, that in fact it's a stunning show; i should remember that, and appreciate that, sit back for a moment, even, and watch the show. the pile of leaves may sit out there, on the curb; we rarely get it together to call the city, and often the winds will blow it around before we even get a chance to haul it back into the back yard. i like to have them out there, though, even though they take up a parking space. it's a space i don't need, and besides, those leaves, dead and smelly as they are, change colors just like the rest of 'em, stand as sentinel in the front yard, make the squirrels go around. it gets colder; much darker in the evenings; the air is crisp, and there's much more of orion around every curve.

again, i fall asleep as i write. i've been grading all weekend, at this very window, though i took a minute in the middle of a thick cup of coffee, and watched the gingkos flying. i got sick of it, yes, but i got some time off too, and got to see a little of the color, here and around, as i walked out the door. the little guy painted the pumpkin, and now it wears its pale colors as it shrinks into itself for the winter, and becomes a little scarier as it rots. we now have a new kitty, casper, who flits around, making war with little candy wrappers, and we have yet a third kitty who we might give away because we merely saved her from certain death, but without the intention of having and keeping a third. either way, with the young critters, there's no question of getting tired, stopping, catching one's wind, trying to recharge or find a reason to get out of bed on a monday: they spring forward almost every day, sometimes without me even seeing them - the young know, instinctively, that they have to practice constantly, in order to grow, improve, survive. i, however, am waiting for just a sliver of vacation, or, at the very least, a true weekend.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

deep in the middle of holiday season, i've enjoyed hallowe'en, all saints day, all souls day or day of the dead, and election day, all in a three-day period, of the most stunning colors, days in which glorious bright oranges turn to more subtle browns and beautiful arrays of reddish rusty colors; the deer scamper around trying to decide if the highway shoulders are any safer than the middle of the woods. on all souls' day, apparently, you meditate hard on the poor dead folks who are caught in purgatory, between heaven and hell, and you hope they make it; you pray for it. you try to avoid letting them be stuck in this in-between land forever. i find myself wondering if my intervention could possibly make any difference.

a major novel goes unwritten; i could have given it a shot tonight, but i still have no plan, no motivation, a phone book of characters to draw from, but no driving engine to keep my spirit going once i've started. so, nothing; silence. instead i bring you reports straight from the world of reality. my son says he clipped a deer out on giant city road, but it just barely hit him; my wife saw two kitties out in the middle of the road; one was hit but just barely; the other she scooped up, but only after it had crawled up into her engine block and behind the dash, hiding; it was tiny. we now have to find a home for it; we didn't really need another kitty.

there were a lot of trick-or-treaters on sunday night; the habit is alive and well in the ornament valley, where suburban houses are close enough that the neighborhood imports kids by the carload and people are parked in places where generally there are no cars. people drive very slowly, following along as their kids go door-to-door; we use buckets of candy, but fortunately, we have young lads that go out and collect almost as much from the neighbors; it's an exercise in neighbors slowly finding out who their neighbors are, and what their neighbors might give away on a night like this. one older lady told me that brett favre had been hauled off the field on a stretcher; another threw me a bag of popcorn even though i was clearly just accompanying the young lad who was dunning them. scores of kids ran up and down lawns and through bushes. young lady gangsters were big; a certain harry potter in the family had a bit of magic about him. i was a muggle.

an enormous amount of effort went into dressing up over the weekend; people went to all lengths to disguise themselves. at one point i was at the park with a young son in the middle of the day, well before trick-or-treating, when along came the gorilla that scared the bejeezus out of my little lad a couple of years back. at the time the gorilla had stolen some candy and ran behind the birds at the pet store; the lad had broken out crying and remembered the moment clearly and sharply for months if not years afterward. now, along he comes, right through the park, just as realistic as he was that day a few years ago. but this time, he removes is mask, pulls his outfit loose a little, and lights a cigarette. my son peeks out from behind my leg and sneaks a little closer. he now, finally, believes me that it was just a costume all along. he wants to go touch the costume. leave the guy alone, i tell him; he needs a break.

saints day, and a good train comes by right through quaker meeting; a good train is like a beach with tiny stones massaging your feet and reminding you that a thorough foot massage affects your whole body. in the same way a train goes in through your ears, and a good thunderstorm, well, it's kind of similar. the place had some qurans hanging around so i picked one up and started reading randomly; i found myself on a page addressing the namesake of my own son; this was quite a coincidence, but then again, maybe not. the unwritten novel; the story of the kitten; the deer jumping, randomly; a razor-thin election, where the simplest denied vote, or failure to vote, might make a difference. in our family we had one of each, but we're not giving up: it's heaven or hell, baby, and there ain't no in between, there ain't no hanging around in the middle of the road; the deer in the headlight has to, eventually, hear a good horn, and jump, one way or the other.