Monday, June 27, 2011

these days when i go out around snapping turtle corner, turn up toward possum hill where the old poor farm/asylum sits out in the university farm field out over the hill, i can't see the place; greenery has taken over and even the grasses are high enough to totally block the view of it. it appears to be a seasonal thing; you can see it sometimes, when the leaves give way and the grasses are a little trodden on or plowed over or whatever, just dead for the season, and the light's just right. animals are all over the place though i've only seen one turtle in spite of the water, and apparent mulberries, and all the joys of the season. the tomatoes are springing out of their little cages and taking over all over the garden blocking light from the poor pepper plants like invasive weeds and drooping with the weight of their own green balls, far over the limit for the little cages that were supposed to hold them. and summer has taken a turn for the hot and steamy, but only after a storm dumped three inches of rain on us in about an hour, and even the sunset strip was flooded and i had to go around.

so i got to my class and there was a few inches of water on it, and ceiling tiles fallen and spread in it, and we were supposed to have a quiz so we went over into the student center. some student asked me if this happened all the time at cesl, and the truth is that in thirty years of teaching or so it's happened two or three times but never at cesl. so in fact we're pretty lucky notwithstanding that story i told you a bit ago, when the chancellor happened into our class and we realized we'd pretty much been leaving the door open due to inhospitable conditions, all term. and my office similarly, after eight years ago of no airconditioning leak, now, it's busting out all over the place, leaving me a wet carpet and probably a fire hazard with all the stention cords around the place.

so sunset was closed, and there's no telling whether it was the creek there or not, and folks out in the country say no sooner did they finally get something planted, than now it's all under water and that's bad because if it stays that way, they'll lose the whole season's crops. now we're going to minnesota, so it's mattering to us less and less, as it gets intolerable steamy, and harder to live here and all, we're just in time to go up the river about three states and way up to where the water actually flows out in another direction. and, i may not be able to give you a report from up there, since we have an agreement to go unplugged for the whole two weeks and stop e-mailing, bogging, stressing over badhearted colleagues, etc. a true vacation. just the pebble beach, the great wide freshwater lake, a swimsuit or two, and a driftwood fire, and maybe a trip to the lighthouse which you see up in the corner yonder.

so i'm going to print out just passing through and e pluribus haiku so i can make a few decisions while i'm on the road, namely where and how to enlarge or cut and whether to run with either as a fullscale 2011 publication. it takes me several years to actually print anything so if i get started now we might be looking at maybe 2013, but no matter; you do what you can and put your stuff out there. eventually i'll be noticed by content-strapped hollywood which again has millions of customers but no good stories left, not that mine are so great, but in their desperation they probably won't notice the difference. while i wait i apply for "dinner with barack" and try to finish up my semester.

barack wanted to know what we'd say if one of us were to have lunch with him, and two or three thousand people wrote in right away so they decided it had wheels, reset the deadline for saturday, and re-advertised, this time throwing twitter and others into the pool, and, on top of that, inviting the vice president as if that would make a difference. now if i have anything to say to the vice president, it would be, don't plagiarize, but i'd have a much better time with barack, so i told them, i'd tell him to consider putting his presidential library in southern illinois, since it has a rich african-american history that needs to be developed, and since chicago and hawaii don't need it. now you don't know this dear reader, but i've actually said this before, and even have a facebook page that says much the same thing, and also wrote barack a letter with pretty much the same message on it, but somehow never sent it. in any case i thought it was a winner, it had a "like" on the comment within minutes, and was unusually well written considering the other entries around it. but now that the pool has been enlarged into the millions probably, and even includes people who merely pay for the privilege, and don't have anything clever to say to him, who knows, and the kicker of it is, no sooner will they announce the winner, than i go offline for a couple of weeks up to the north country. so it's time to let go, as they say.

ah but there's the rub. we here in these small towns get stuck on stuff, it's part of the territory, it's like there's nothing else to do but hearing banjo where there isn't any and reading street signs that are misspelled or simply have a couple of shotgun shells pumped through them. for instance you see some house with a for sale sign and you drive past it five or six times a day and begin to wonder, what's going on here and how long will it take before the city comes by and gives one of those cards for letting the weeds grow too high...doesn't take long around here, but it takes forever if you drive past a place a few times too often, or ride a bike, and it's right where there's a pothole int he street.

saw the granddaughter on skype the other day and she made me proud playing her "ba" (banjo), waving at me, blowing me kisses, talking, and then loping over to the dining room to reach her hand over and haul down some important business from some table. no regard as to whether it would spill, or end up on the floor, or whatever, she was cute as a button, and had all kinds of stuff to say, but the main thing was, i'm here; i'm growing, they're crazy about me, and it's all totally justified. the "ba" was losing some strings from being overplayed yet i got to play my "ba" for her so maybe we'll upgrade on the "ba" scene and get her something that can stand up to a little use. she clearly doesn't mess around and she's working on putting on shoes, riding her horsie and a host of other skills including all kinds of sign language that is quite intense. the bottom line is, maybe it's the wrong time to give up on the internet.

on the other hand my wife put a hibiscus in the ground and it literally almost bust up, bloomed and splayed its wild red out right in front of us as if it'd lived there forever and made her want to get another dozen or so, but made me curious about the tea and the herb-growing business which might be easier said than done but certainly possible. there are a number of them i'd like to investigate, and while i'm at it a few to be harvested and eaten but i didn't even get mulberries this year, i'm so far behind, and almost not keeping track. life is rich, life is full, yet i barely get to eat my own tomatoes and find myself almost not stopping to take a breath or even having a clear nostril to jam it up.

then come to find out that all through the midwest 70 to 80 percent of the soybeans are now genetically modified, so that they can tolerate roundup which as you may know causes birth defects and is a nerve gas, kills almost everything and gives frogs two heads, so they spray this stuff liberally all up and down the valley and then they wonder why folks down at this end of the river are going a little crazy. well hey, enough nerve gas, enough heavy metal, enough hard electricity to the jangly metals in your teeth and you'll glow in the dark too. but that's not necessarily a good thing. you see that big cloud of hot air, keeps rising over the east coast, rises up big and high enough, and doesn't feel like it has to go anywhere, no point in drifting over europe or the ocean, so it just sits up there a while, maybe all summer, and the prevailing westerlies coming down over the rockies have nowhere to go, get backed up with all their moisture, get thick and heavy and wet, until the rains fall & keep falling all up & down the valley, ruining folks crops, which needless to say were probably full of roundup anyway.

so you think the midwest is a wholesome place, what with american gothic farmers hanging aronnd with their pitchforks and looking straight at you with moralistic look and a kind of church window on their barn, when in fact they know full well the main reason they have to use nerve gas on their beans and their lawns is that their neighbor is doing it, and they have to compare notes about yield, and what's good for the earth or the future just isn't really always part of the equation. this might be one thing i'd tell barack, but i'm not sure he'll have time, what with old joe hanging out, and a bunch of aides bringing the coffee, and maybe a shout out from the flooded out swamps of little egypt. maybe the east coast is going on like nothing ever happened, but then, they get so wrapped up in their own hot air they begin to think it's its own weather system and who am i to say it's not; that's surely not what i'd say at lunch, or dinner, regardless of who else shows up. it's summer, times are busy, and it's pretty steamy just about everywhere. just over that hill, though, back in the trees beyond those grasses, there's a ruin, and i don't know but what it might be a pretty interesting combination of ghosts, and spirits, might have something to say, if you could figure out how to talk to them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

my latest story:
plains speaking...about an area where i used to live...
enjoy! comments welcome, as usual

Monday, June 20, 2011

the steam heats up, the pressure's up, the tiger lilies are blossoming all over the ditches, on every road out of town, in big clumps that reach for the sky in their intense oranges and bright survivor colors. on one curve on the road i saw a lively clump of tiger lilies, and behind them another clump of white, queen anne's lace maybe, and behind that black-eyed susans, yellow and black. intense, if nothing else. a totally june phenomenon, kind of like mulberries, turtles and the first ripe tomatoes.

sent a son off to new york city, but he forgot to take cash, and when he came into scott air force base, to get the free parking to save sixty bucks taking the metro across greater saint louis and stay out of the airport long-term parking, he accidentally went right into the base as if he were a soldier or wanted to be. and, he didn't have the dollar to get on the metro, and had to borrow it, but worse, missed his plane, because of missing the metro or whatever. all of this flustered the sister in new york city who canceled her gig in lancaster county pennsylvania and sent a substitute clarinet player out there instead. much ado about one kid going to new york. but, he made it back ok. and while he was gone the pinckneyville opera house burned down.

it was one of those places that every time you drive by, you think, if somebody doesn't rebuild that thing, inside out, in all its beauty, i'll have to do it myself. but wait a do that one would have to live in pinckneyville, who knows what that's like, it was conservative even before it became a prison town. still, it's not a bad place; i'd consider it if i didn't have to put my kids in school somewhere. sometimes i figure reviving these fine old buildings all over the place is a good way to make this world better and preserve a little piece of what used to be, and is still good in its essence. the problem is i have no idea what kind of opera they ever had in that place, not to mention other activities, who knows. it was just a fine old building, is all i remember. i told my son, on your way back from scott air force base, when you get to that courthouse, look back over your left shoulder and tell me what you see. i wanted a report. no way i'm going to drive up there to take a look tonight.

we're getting excited about going to minnesota which should happen in about eleven or twelve days; i might get off the blogger and the bog and virtually everything else except the beach by the lake where we will stay, the big wide lake superior, grandest and coldest of the great lakes, cold, clear and bringing a few stormy nights all by itself. down here, we're mired in steam and these storm systems that drift up from god knows where, and then just sit there, and you'd wonder if it's going to rain or pour or pass on through here and do its thing to some other town, when in fact, having drifted up here, it's no longer inclined to go anywhere at all, and the wind dies down to just about nothing. it's kind of like that fake weather we have from here on out where clouds come sailing through but nothing ever rains and we on the ground parch until it changes its mind right around november. my parents say that out around southern new mexico they look with dread at the wallow fire, half a million acres drifting east from arizona and catching on in the piney hills of the apache national forest, and burning down whole hills of pine and making so much smoke in the air that they can no longer see the organ mountains which are virtually right out the window. yet they say that whenever there is a dry winter, as there has been, they have this danger, and they know that these fires could catch just about anywhere, and do, and the worst thing is when they catch right under the power lines.

so they say it will be fire next time, the end of the world, but tell that to the folks in the atchafalaya, down where the mississippi has been higher than ever this year, and all its tributaries have backed up into the delta. or tell that to anyone else. i don't know if it will be fire next time; i'm just tired of this time, this moment; our grown kids are wearing us down a little, with pregnancies, financial woes, flights into laguardia, house-moving. the littlest ones at least get directly in the lake and then sleep much better, also when they learn to ride a bike or get way out in the woods as they should. it is, after all, tiger lily season, and you don't go see 'em, they just sit there 'til they fade.

Friday, June 17, 2011

carbondale illinois is a contentious town, being far enough south to believe it's southern, yet still be in a northern state surrounded pretty much by rivers that feed in from northern places. i mention this because i used to think the rowdy drinking was due to these northern hard-drinking kids who'd come down here, go to school, then find their drinking was getting in the way of their education, or maybe the other way around, and then they'd let people have it or go around picking fights at various bars until they got thrown in jail or found some real trouble. and sure, that accounts for a lot of it, but there's also this north-south treachery, i think it's been going on for many years, and a bunch of drunken college students doesn't change the fact that it's been a hard-drinking, treacherous area for as long as anyone can remember.

i was in the john a logan museum one day, and it's actually in the next town over, and john a logan by the way is our local hero, born outside of murphysboro in the town of brownsville, original county seat of jackson county, our county, and someone right there at that museum had the audacity to suggest to me that john a logan was actually a traitor, should have been on the other side, but sold out to the highest bidder, which in his case happened to be the north. well that story is somewhat believable, since this really is a southern area, and if he was born around here he might have had local pressure to side with the south along with everyone else, but what do i know, i'm not from around here. another time i was at the jackson county historical society, which is right across the street from the john a logan museum, but supposedly these two places do not get along, even though they are the only purveyors of history in the entire area. so i asked them, how come the town of brownsville, original county seat of jackson county and birthplace of john a logan, lies in the hollow out by the big muddy river, and is covered by trees, entirely unmarked, sold by one farmer to another for hunting rights a few years back, and the rest of us don't even know where it is? well, the guy said, every time they put a bronze plaque on the road somebody would steal the plaque, presumably to melt down the bronze and get a couple pennies, and they got tired of wasting their bronze.

a friend told how she moved to town, and she lives on gray street so i tease her about her shades and about how life is not all black and white, but anyway she was rattled the other day when she found out that somebody had broken into the house next door and robbed it. but then it turned out that the landlord had locked somebody out for not paying their rent, he'd changed the locks, and they were just breaking in to get their own stuff back out of the place where they used to live. it's the kind of place where a fair number of people just are tired of taking it all the time and don't have much to lose by fighting. i'm sure those folks paid the price or whatever, with years of explaining to some judge why that wasn't breaking and entering, but as i told the story around town sympathy seemed to be with the people who lived there, who just felt that they shouldn't be treated that way.

the first of the sunset concerts was last night, and i took the youngest son up, parked in a university lot, and carried him on my shoulders up the hill to the concert where hundreds of locals stood around and listened to a funk band. unlike many concerts, the music was pretty good, and well done, though funk isn't my favorite, and like many concerts, having young children means sometimes you do what they want and not what i want which is to listen carefully. in any case the sunset concert is an interesting mix of people, hundreds of locals, the hard drinkers, the survivors, the free folks come out of the woodwork some of whom haven't cut their hair in a few years. you look in their faces and you see portraits of survivors over hard times, getting bounced around from place to place and once i talked to an old friend and basically heard a story like that, which made me want to stop starting up with people and just listen to the music. this particular concert was on the campus as the first one always is, and the graceful old buildings and trees make a background basically for what is always quite a show. you occasionally get some fights at these things...a lot of people start their drinking long before the concert and some never actually quit their drinking and just haul off upon seeing someone who, perhaps, they owe money to. you never know, in any case, nobody's going to tell you the whole story.

it's the kind of weather where these storms keep passing through, and they dump hard rain on the place and cool the place off a little, and then you think they're done but you check the wind and it turns out there is absolutely no wind, nothing, not west to east as usual or even unusual, no nothing, like the storm might just change its mind and come back. and sure enough this often happens, so yes it's true the tornado season is pretty much over, with its huge fronts and walls of huge storms ripping through towns and all, and now we just have these thunder-boomers which get real dark or drop buckets of rain in minutes, all so bad you have to pull over, or just take a breather and watch it for a minute as it literally pours down out of the gutters. but then it's over and the sun comes out, steamier than ever, like there's really not going to be much of a break from this for quite some while. i saved a turtle while i was on my bike; he was in the road, quite a young fellow, and i thought, the road is just too darn hot, i'm getting you out of here, before your hot little feet get you all confused and you stay in the road a minute too long. this is a place on sunset that i've taken to calling the sunset strip, not because of any businesses, actually it's just one long very green park, mostly soccer fields, but the turtles are mostly looking for these mulberries in this one house's back yard across the creek there. the price of the mulberries, i guess, is that you have to cross the road. sometimes they don't make it.

on campus they renovated the library so this old abe lincoln head statue was moved from a kind of enclosed hallway to a wide-open, light filled place near the front door directly behind the coffee shop. now this abe has a very shiny nose because apparently for many years students have been walking by it, rubbing his nose to get luck on a test, so they say, and all that rubbing has made that bronze nose very light-colored and smooth, and now the difference is that because that entrance-way is so light filled, and airy, and open, that now you can see that shiny nose for miles, very clearly. so while i'm getting a cup of coffee i ask the lady working there if people really rub his nose all the time. oh sure, she said, they do it all the time. you ever see anything else? i ask her. yes, she says, this morning some guy came through here, and smacked him in the nose, and then walked away.

so there you have it. i'll never know why, whether it's deep-seated hostility to the union cause, and all that four score and twenty years ago stuff, or whether it's just a drunken kid, got set back by his finals, felt a little betrayed by the supposed good-luck bearer who didn't quite pan out, and just had to lash out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

had a busy week so when the google guitar doodle was invented i didn't have time to sit down directly and strum it until i could get some decent noise out of it. like everyone i get this kind of harmonic cello-like stuff that is pleasant enough but doesn't fit well into a coherent tune until you really work with it for a while, which of course some people did and within days, got some you-tubes up with three parts, or playing stairway to heaven, or you-name it, they made it and already within two days there's quite a collection. and some people are offering lessons.

my classroom has had lousy airconditioning all term, so we've taken to leaving the door open all day every day unless there is extreme listening exercises going on, and we sit beneath the main generator which is more or less silent and wonder why the cooling never comes our way regardless of what we do with the controls. but lo and behold thursday morning at about nine in comes the chancellor of the entire university, and she's being led around by this physical plant dude who's trying to show her all the hard work they've been doing on what is generally agreed to be an impossible building. we invited them in as we were just about to start a second class and what the heck we'd just had a huge quiz so they were kind of mind-dead anyway.

well my class which is mostly from saudi but also from oman, china, kuwait and maybe a couple more didn't know what to make of it since she was in shorts and tennis shoes and clearly thought it was break and she could walk around casually and all. i introduced her as doctor and left out the chancellor part and she began asking them where they were from and how long they'd been there and all and when we got to the part about the physical building itself i allowed as how we'd had a few problems and complaints but we knew it was a pretty tough assignment, and she told the story of how it was built for an arid california climate but as a big concrete behemoth nobody had reckoned with true humidity etcetera etcetera. i was thinking, well, i could lay into him for leaving us sweltering here all these weeks and that's kind of what i wanted to do, but on reflection i could also have laid into her for putting us all on furlough, not paying us what they'd agreed, riling everyone up into going on strike etcetera etcetera. instead in a small town way i just kind of said, you know my wife i believe, and she did, and when she left i said that was the chancellor of the university.

whereupon the class went up in an uproar. how come we pay good tuition and they can't even fix that big old clunking airconditioner. how come the football coach makes twice what she does. can a person really go and talk to a chancellor? well you can but you can't exactly take the routine complaints you are mentioning up there so easily. actually i'd seen her in the starbucks so i knew who she was, but rather than start in on her right there in the starbucks when i'm between classes and she has her husband with her, i'd decided to wait and i hadn't really met her at all, i guess if you just stand there and teach virtually everyone comes around to visit you eventually anyway.

going home at night i noticed the room which is the first in the hallway was full of workers and sure enough they had fixed the airconditioner by morning and it was quite cold when i went to teach at eight a-m...but there was an e-mail saying that the whole hallway had gone on the blink in the afternoon and they had to get at that main thing that was right over my little table, and in the process of that of course they had to move the table, so as we were taking our little quiz this morning there were these disoriented little bugs scurrying around which must have been used to the table being where it was for a couple of centuries. the students recognize that it's an open question, whether her surprise visit had anything to do with the suddenly fixed airconditioner.

meanwhile all i want to do is play the google-doodle guitar which waits on google every time i want to search for something, and was given an extra day due to popularity but by now, having hundreds of youtubes already, is surely bound for the all-time. what they have done is combined the mouse-over with the guitar, and a new generation of instruments is born, these with more esoteric controls than merely fingers on strings but with basically the same idea, and here comes someone with the star-spangled banner sure enough, just missing a couple of notes.

in the flurry of quizzes, and midterm, and all that kind of stuff, i'm afraid i didn't learn even a single tune on my google-doodle guitar, much less my favorite these days, which is called last chance texaco and which i keep hearing as a banjo song, rich and full of harmony even though it's good & slow. that's kind of how i see life, all in a nutshell. it's slow and easy, by itself, you add the harmony, you make sure it's in tune, you only speed up on your own terms. and it's last chance texaco in the sense that you only live once, from here on in, you never know what you're going to find, might be a desert of a long dark tunnel, and if someone gives you a google guitar and puts it smack on your desktop, there isn't hardly an excuse not to sit down & figure out what it can do.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

it's full on summer, tiger lilies are out; my friend with the mulberries say the turtles are crossing the road to get the mulberries. i myself haven't gotten any mulberries, haven't saved a turtle, in fact I've only even seen one turtle, a poor thing that started across a driveway that turned very sunny very suddenly as i was riding my bicycle one day. I'm riding every day, both ways, and swimming, and gaining weight on top of that. the richness of life keeps putting chocolate cake in my path.

at the japanese garden i noticed that the mulberry tree that was hit by the big storm two years ago is still standing; only its top three quarters or so were sheared off by the storm; the huge stump remainder is still about ten feet, and has three or four young shoots coming out of it. What, they aren't going to cut the remaining stump? i hope not. it was a great tree, safe from the ravages of insecticides that they put on the trees that are too close to the road, or too close to the path; and that tree literally looked over a goldfish pond where we could pluck the mulberries and give them directly to the fish. This was a lesson in using our power as people to do good things in the food chain, as opposed to, say, boys throwing rocks in the pond and causing ripples and alarming the goldfish, letting them think the little rocks were huge food at the same time they tried not to get hit by them.

speaking of the japanese garden, that garden is somewhat of a symbol for me of haiku, and i'm thinking of collecting and publishing in paper form the haiku that i have so far in my collection; there are hundreds but i've lost count. the problem is that they range from over thirty for a state like illinois, but only six for a state like alaska, and those six are all summer; ideally you have a distribution of two or three for each season. I have no problem with picking out the best twelve or so (thirteen if you allow new year to be separate) for states like illinois but the question would be, would I have time to literally finish the collection, by demanding of myself what I need to finish states like Alaska. my goal would be, to finish by the fourth of july, an honorable goal; i republish it, by web, on the fourth anyway, but in this case I would like to print one. print one and carry it around.

this is in the general vein of printing up virtually everything I have; making copies of short stories, walmart stories, haiku, virtually everything, as possible. I'm tired of having these projects half-finished; or, worse, finished with the writing but halfway between here and there with the printing. I'm beginning to say to myself: make it publishable, put it out, get it on the table. then i'll tell you what will happen next: i'll give it away for christmas or sooner. that's what tends to happen, anyway.

the sap flows in the poison ivy which reaches its viney tendons around every sentient thing, old pieces of wood in the yard, an ancient wooden rocking horse that my wife claims is unsafe for children's use and thus sits out back behind the shed looking at the poison ivy all day. in the old days, behind-the-shed activities made that place an important venue that would never, repeat never, get overgrown by poison ivy for any reason, due to overuse and general stomping around. i had a kind of vision while i was swimming; it was a kind of a dream of a right occupation or at least a pleasant way to spend the last ten or fifteen of my working years, if I should get tired of teaching. The other day we took a long ride, thirty eight miles or so southeast down past little grassy road, onto the interstate for a dazzling moment, where the interstate forked and we chose the paducah exit over the memphis one; police were patrolling by the dozens as it was memorial day weekend, but in any case we got directly off the highway, drove through incredibly beautiful hilly wooded land, and past a trailhead way out in the country there, called tunnel hill, where a wooded trail goes through a tunnel; it's short, but it's popular, mostly wooded, and the trailhead parking area was full of people because it was a beautiful, sunny, summer day. Our friends lived near there; finding them was a disaster because we didn't know the area, and folks in the nearby houses weren't exactly eager to mix in with wayfarers from the highway. But let's just say I was impressed by the general stunning hilliness and beauty of the landscape itself. and, while I was swimming, it occurred to me that the place needed a backpacker's outpost: a place that sells packs and supplies, but also such things as fresh coffee, canoes, and such. now on reflection i'm not sure i'm the person to get involved in any material-plane type dealing, since when could I ever keep track of how many packs I have on hand at any given moment, or how many straps each one might have, or how much weight it might be able to carry? this would be a challenge for me.

i don't argue with a dream though. it wasn't an order, or a vision, at least I don't think it was. i saw it pretty clearly; maybe i could call it a leading. This town's outfitter is said to be not a friendly guy (though I haven't bought a single thing there in over seventeen years; maybe that alone is a bad sign) – but, who knows? It would get me out on that hiking trail, at least once in a while, say, on a nice, clear, blue-sky, sunny day like what we get every once in a while. a person could do worse.
I was coming through O'Hare airport in Chicago one time with a backpack, I believe, and was accosted by a Hare Krishna who wanted to give me a book, specifically a Bhagavad Gita, holy book of the Hare Krishna. I was perhaps the only person in the airport at that moment with any appreciation of such a book, but without really looking at it or getting drawn into the pictures that he pointed out, I just accepted it and began to go on my way. But unfortunately now he wanted money for it; in addition he had another book, which was similar, but which he definitely wanted money for, but it was imperative to him that I take them both, so that I have a complete set, and give him at least the five or ten dollars that the second one was worth.

I rankled at this, not having a whole lot of money, and not wanting to part with what I had, so I refused, but said I would take the original offer, which was a single free book. Alas, now he didn't want to live up to that offer, and off we went in a kind of no-longer-pleasant negotiation. In the end I bought the second book and took them both; I suppose I got two books for the price of one, but I wasn't happy about it, not really wanting either book to begin with. Worse, I had the unpleasant taste in my mouth from acrimonious dealing with someone who is basically deceptive.

Upon arrival in the Cedar Rapids airport I collected my backpack and was going on my way when I was approached by a policeman. Cedar Rapids is a very conservative city but Iowa City is quite liberal, so he could tell I was going to Iowa City just by my hair, my backpack, and my general character. I was worried that any policeman would have any business with me whatsoever, but basically he held out a Bhagavad-Gita, and told me that, based on the fact that I was clearly going to Iowa City, maybe I could find someone who would appreciate that book, since it was left in the airport, and he didn't want to throw it away.

I was stunned, momentarily, but I took it. As a gesture, it represented something I always valued about Iowa: people's general utilitarian outlook. It's better to find a good use for something, than to get caught up in whether one religion is any better or worse than another. I never expected to see it expressed in that way, I guess. I was glad to be home.
When we first got to Carbondale we lived on Short Street, on the far northwest side, and I walked Justin to the bus mornings when I could; that was about three or four blocks away. He had a long bus ride way across town to the southeast side, and the bus was riotous and anarchic, but he was a trooper, even as a first-grader, and did well. My wife did not do well at home with the little one or at times when she had them both. She moved out within a few months of our arrival.

My memory is unclear about the exact timing, but it took until 1997 for the divorce to be finalized, and by that time we were so eager to have it over with that we agreed to do it on the only available date, Valentine's Day. As for the time from August of 1994 until that date, what I remember is this: I left after a water-throwing incident on a frozen night in January, probably 1995; I moved to Almond Street on the north side; she moved to Cedar Creek Road, south of town; we split custody of the boys until she insisted on having it, but the divorce settlement gave me half custody which more or less kept us both in Carbondale for the next sixteen years or so.

I liked Carbondale from the moment I got here, except for the weather, which is steamy and oppressive in the summer. Most of the year I can walk or ride my bike places, and I do; I've come to know the place well and enjoy being well known around town. Lack of good buildings to look at is an issue; I don't mind lack of restaurants, or lack of cultural events; actually it has more cultural events than I've ever been able to attend. Lack of proximity to big city (we are 2 hours from St. Louis) is a problem too but not so big for me, really; I don't even feel the need to go to a city regularly, though I enjoy it when I do.

At work the infighting and notorious infighting of unhappy faculty started immediately and carried on for many years. But I was happy to have a full-time job in a place where I hopefully wouldn't have to move again, and could just live somewhere without my eye on the horizon. The divorce and everything that went with it was acrimonious, heartbreaking, and painful, but I felt that I'd done what I could and what remained was to make a stable, consistent and loving home for the children and pick up the pieces, which I did. I became a single father. I had them half the time; I drove them to Unity Point, where they now went (by 1997 Noah was five; there was a time when we had him in daycare on the SIUC campus). Part of this time I had a 1963 Plymouth whose whole job was to make it up Unity Point's hill. Then there was a 1984 Accord that had over 200,000 miles on it.

Somewhere in there, twice in fact, the Indians won the pennant but not the series. I remember one time on Short Street, but I was sure that would be 1995; maybe we lived there that fall. The other time, I was on Almond Street and had to catch the World Series on the radio; by this time, I was somewhat bitter about everything and didn't give them much of a chance, and sure enough, they blew it, though I'm not sure I caught that exact game. I would often leave home, on nights when I was single, and walk down to the coffee shop, and drink a long slow coffee and maybe watch the train go by. I became well known at that coffee shop in those years; it helped me by giving me a place to complain and find other parents in similar condition. I was in no hurry to find a girlfriend.

In 1997 my brother got married in England and I took the two young boys, and the banjo, and the luggage, to Chicago, Newark, Stanstead Airport, and by bus up to Stafford, England. It was an enormous trip and I remember being stuck in the Newark airport on the way back; that was a thirteen-hour leg at least, but I might be mistaken on that. I summoned up a reservoir of strength to deal with the little children who basically were very good. Another time we took the train down to New Mexico; I remember these as the good times. Our neighborhood on Almond Street provided them with several friends when they were around; we played baseball with a whiffle ball in the back yard and went camping more than once. We became regulars at Quaker meeting where the boys would act in plays.

In 2000 I bought a house on the south side, out by Arnold's, on West Park Lane, and tried to fix it up; but, the same year, I met my present wife, Jen, and now I was distracted and didn't quite finish the job. In 2001 we were married; this was at Giant City Park and was completely organized and arranged by the Quakers. So began the modern era, which I don't have to retell, because we are in agreement that it least it was good for both of us, at least up until the present (2011), as I write this. She had three children already (Natalie, Eric, and Kylie), while I had Josie, Justin and Noah; Kylie was still with her, but I still had Justin and Noah at home. She moved into West Park Lane; Elias was born in October; we adopted Corey in 2005, and moved to South Lark Lane, on the west side, right around then, or perhaps right before that.

I apologize for leaving out all the personal details. I include all the names simply because the whole story is so complicated that a simple account might be useful to a whole variety of people. In that case, sorry to put so many travel stories in amongst the facts. But I didn't start this out to lay out a personal account of relationships, romantic or parent-child; and I didn't ask their permission, so I'll leave out those details. I want to include those things that are indisputably true, and that anybody, child or ex-wife or whoever, will agree with.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

so the bank signs have all started putting "heat index" on them instead of "temperature" which has me in a tizzy but seems to be popular with everyone else including my wife. my first problem with it is that it's false advertising. it would be one thing if it said "IT FEELS LIKE 101" instead of "101" (sorry, i have no idea how to make the degrees sign on a blog)...but it doesn't, it just gives you a number. second, although "how it feels" is supposedly based on a calculation that takes into consideration how much the humidity oppresses you, and therefore how much you suffer, it seems to me that by nature "how you feel" is subjective and i know for a fact that some people are lapping it up, hot, sweaty, humid, whatever, feels good to them. so i have a dispute with calling it "how it feels" although i'm ok with calling it "heat index." but, one more thing, if that's how you feel, why do you need a sign to tell you how you feel? seems to me, if one of the two numbers was available by opening the car window, and the other one, you had to know, then the bank should be giving you the one you have to know. because that would be useful information. i guess one idea is that, if the bank can allow you to drive by without opening your window, they've done you a favor.

got some pictures up, finally. got the splitrock lighthouse up, finally; it's my totem, my life support, for my own good. a lot of things on this blog, probably, no good to anyone but myself. but thank you for catching it anyway...

Friday, June 03, 2011

it's turned really really steamy outside; the tomatoes are enjoying it, but i've taken to avoiding it and especially trying to keep those threshold experiences, where you experience a temperature difference of over forty degrees or so, between the inside of a building and the outside, to a minimum. this is one of the hazards of the modern world, besides insecticides and cell-phones, and such things are beginning to wear on me and make me tired at night.

i have however been working on just passing through, my autobiography and set of travel stories, and i have several things to report. first, the whole thing is basically already on this blog including the latest entries which you will see below if you scroll down. although i have put virtually everything in all-small-letters on this blog, i found it a pain to take all those entries down, and change them to caps when necessary, but that's how i read and did basic editing, so it wasn't all that bad. anyway there were a few with caps in there and by the time i finished i'd stopped worrying about it, and the ones below are in caps. notice that as you go through the ones on this blog that the all-small and all-italics makes them hard to read. ah, but they were here first. i'm thinking of calling it: just passing through: true stories from out there and beyond, which might be too long, or might imply that i made it out to space though i never really got past north america, until i got to korea which is relatively late. i'm still in something like 1995 in the autobiography part, having gotten tripped up where my rotten marriage ruled so many of the events yet i don't really want to talk about that. yet that is part of a true life and part of it is to go through, step by step, the parts of my life as i lived it and passed through it. then, interspersed, every other one, are the travel stories, which have to be put in order of a kind, i suppose, and i'm working on that also, and am glad to report that even as of now there are roughly as many of one as the other, with plenty of each yet to come. so it's a real document, about 55 pages single-spaced, almost ready for some serious editing.

now on the writing front i should mention that i finally made copies of pile of leaves: stories of a rake which i am distributing to friends and family as soon as possible, and, the walmart stories (a dozen crime stories from a well-known, big-box discount retail chain) will soon be reprinted: this first one is actually more marketable, a little odd, but also easier to print and tangier. short and sweet. the novel? it's bogged down as usual but it's up to about eight chapters too and isn't dead by any means. just kind of being re-jiggered, or altered, just a hair, while i reorganize.

and now, outside, it begins to swelter; the tornado season about ends, and it turns to miserable, humid, way-too-hot, kind of usual southern-illinois summer. it occurs to me that coffee is the wrong beverage for this kind of stuff but i'm kind of locked in a habit. i ride a bike a mile-and-a-half each way, and swim, yet still gain weight because it's so hot and i eat all the time, and i feel myself holding onto all the ice cream just to protect myself from the swelter. ach. but you don't want to hear about this.

it irritates me that this blog has lost some of its visual appeal; with the death of my photo service i've lost the pop lighthouse, and can't find it, though i know it's around and can make another one anyway, though i haven't. the fam pics are a bit stale and i really need a kind of redesign, and i'm thinking about doing that, and making this much more visual, more visuals all the time, but i'm kind of dragging my feet on that also it being ninety-nine in the shade and me being exhausted all the time just from the forty-degree jump four times, required just to go outside to get a cup of coffee. my band partner is down in texas, camping and playing folk music twenty-four seven, but it's dry down there and one can actually spend time outside without suffering from wishing-you-could-crawl-out-of-your-own-skin. today though as i was driving, i came upon this spot where pretty flowers were growing out from the cracks of a sidewalk and wall, and i stopped and took pictures, so i'm not totally dead, though i haven't been playing much music myself; i'm teaching again, and this time, it's the same old lesson as i've taught many times, yet i heard it a little differently this time; one lecturer, what she says is this: it's not being busy that kills you. it's not the stress of a test, the stress of taking it or making it or being too busy or being frazzled at work. it's thinking about the stress, and thinking about being busy, that sets of the chemicals that in effect weaken your immune system and make it so people who are too busy get sick a lot. so the secret is, obviously, if you can't make yourself less busy at work, make yourself more able to not think about it while you're not.

the tomatoes are early this year; the wildflowers are having a heyday; the grasses are going bonkers; the poison ivy is so happy that i'm breaking out just thinking about it, even though i teach a lesson about las vegas where they have less of it. it's a high-stress, high allergy kind of world, and it's not getting any better, though i'm finally getting some of my stuff coming.

I write this from a comfortable chair in a comfortable house, on a comfortable street. The town isn't exactly peaceful, but it's the one I've chosen, and because it's small, I'm a big fish in a small pond; that's comfortable. I can tell a story, and some people will snicker, and not everybody will believe it, but it's a familiar event, and I don't have to struggle to find an audience.

So why do I sit and write my memoirs? First, the original journal, from the 48-state trip from Guatemala to Canada, was lost; I lent it to a friend in Iowa City, connected to a workshop-type crowd, who then somehow let it slip from his grip; I've been trying to reconstruct the details more or less ever since. Second, I've come to realize that the 48-state trip influenced and informed every aspect of my life, from teaching, to music, to stories, novel, haiku, you name it. My experiences there are with me every minute of my life, so, in a sense, this, the true story of the trip, is very important to me.

I've studiously avoided fame every step of the way; I saw it as bad, both for me, and for my family and children, but I've maintained a kind of fascination with it. I wouldn’t mind it, after I die, then, it would be kind of cool, I suppose. Right now, it would be too much for me, probably; you need a certain maturity to handle it. But, being a big fish in a small pond is a kind of fame, and it's good enough. Furthermore, having something to say is, in itself, an honor. I've made it this far. This is my story.

One winter vacation it was raining and sleeting outside and the roof was leaking; I got onto the roof in order to sweep a huge puddle of water off of a bowed roof. But the ladder foot slipped back into the soft earth and I fell off the ladder, face down on the sidewalk. I don't remember the pain but got up, dazed, and ended up in the hospital where stitches fortunately cured me. It was around then that I realized that I couldn't live my life so quickly that I forgot to notice what earth my feet were standing on. And, I couldn't take for granted the idea that I can do important things later. There is no later. If telling this story is important, I'll tell it sooner, namely, now.
Back to the cities: Chicago and Minneapolis, summer of '94

It's so hard to talk about the breakup of a marriage, that I've avoided this segment for maybe a few years. Let's just say that at this point in the marriage I was beginning to feel like my wife was abdicating, dropping out of our agreements to be equal and be married and work together. She felt that, having spent too many years in isolation, she needed to be in Chicago.

I had a summer job in Chicago at St. Xavier University, on the far south side, but we lived in Evanston, on the far north side, in a place that her brother had rented for the fall but let us use for the summer. If I drove to work, it was seventy or eighty minutes of hair-raising traffic each way that would leave me rattled and exhausted; if I took the subway and bus, which I much preferred, it was much longer; I'd have to get on the very first el in the morning, and this brought its own perils, especially as the month wore on. But worst of all, it was a huge city, and I didn't want to be there, and I didn't want to go back to Kansas either. When a job came open in Minneapolis starting in early July, I took it. My wife said she'd stay behind with the children. At this point her mother was watching them, but becoming exhausted; they were a handful.

One of my memories of Chicago was looking around desperately for a way to make it work, in terms of putting kids in school in the fall (they were 6 and 2 at this point, so we were really only talking about one of them). On an ESL salary, this would probably be Chicago city schools, worst in the nation. Other possibilities included living with the inlaws, living way out of town, or living much closer to the work site. By July I had scoured the city and found nothing. The ride on the el became steadily worse as the month wore on. The city cooked like an open dumpster.

Minneapolis, in contrast, was cool, green, pretty, manageable. I stayed in a room in the house of a friend of a friend and started commuting down to the university. I soon found out that the teaching was less, and paid less, than I thought, but this was the only down side. It was a wonderful city, full of music and young people. I found a couple of side-jobs to get through the summer and again scouted the place out looking for ways to put kids in school; the options were much better here, though housing was still tight.

To me, it was a manageable compromise with my wife; it was a city, but I could handle it; it wasn't Chicago, but it was close enough. To her it was one more compromise ruining her life; she wouldn't budge. And, it wasn't full-time; didn't have insurance. When the summer was over, and a full-time job in Carbondale came up, I took it and moved to Illinois.

In Dinkytown, at a café, I'd sip cappuccino and reflect on my life and where it had gone. I turned 40 in this year; Carbondale would be my fourth town, but there would be no question what school my son would go to, or, how to get to work.
Enterprise Reservoir

Hitchhiking up through Arizona and the Grand Canyon, and then Navajo country, I got a ride on the back of a pickup truck and noticed somewhere in there that it was now well over 110 degrees and as usual, I didn't have sunblock, or even a good strategy, really, to deal with the heat. People were nice to me, but the weather was excessive; I had to get out of it.

At some point I heard of a gathering of nomadic travelers called the Rainbow people, and this was in Enterprise Reservoir, on the Nevada-Utah border but not far from Arizona. I found it, and, much to my surprise, there were hundreds of people, mostly huddled in caves and staying away from the heat.

I'll never forget the entrance: a couple of sheriffs had found the place; the desert sun was setting, and a full moon rose at the same time over the reservoir. It seemed that I had forgotten that full moons arose at sunset, but I had. The sheriffs were somewhat mystified at the arrival of such a large crowd of people like me, who had no cars, who arrived out of nowhere, who claimed to be peaceful; I'm sure they were suspicious too, but they were polite to me. I was in a state of near heat-stroke; I found a cave, and slept maybe fourteen hours.

Much is written about the Rainbow people, and one can either be romantic, or realistic, or even quite cynical, but I didn't really join them for much more than a drum circle or two, so I didn't learn much. Many of them lived on the road permanently, or for most of the year. They had families, people who lived together or knew each other well from living together in remote outposts in places like Oregon, New Mexico or Wyoming. This happened to be one of the early gatherings; they had legends about earlier gatherings in Lander, Wyoming or Granby, Colorado; they had other gatherings for maybe fifteen or twenty years, always on the Fourth of July, and usually way out west. My memory of them mixes the extreme climate of the far west, the rugged atmosphere, with their here-today-gone-tomorrow nature, their "welcome home, brother" greeting.

As I traveled I developed a fascination for community; unhappy with life in the suburbs, where I grew up, or the big city (Boston had been one of the best), and unable to make it, really, in the country alone, I needed to find the right kind of community. As a permanent arrangement, the Rainbow people draw too much trouble, really, and I could see that. But, at that moment, on the road as I was, I was glad to have a family, however temporary.
Appalachia revisited

In general, hitchhiking is not conducive to falling in love. You are totally in the moment, and that's good, but at the same time you are totally unprepared to take the time to get to know someone, or even stay in any place long enough to do it. That's why I figured, while I traveled, that it probably wasn't going to happen, and I didn't worry about it too much.

There, was, however, one woman who actually picked me up hitchhiking in Wyoming; her name was S.G., and she was not afraid of anything. We stopped at an overlook facing the Tetons, that afternoon, as the sun was going down over them, and shared a certain feeling, an awe at the majesty of the mountains, the fresh western air. I'm not sure it would be right to say I fell for her. I didn't even know her. I told her the truth: that I was about to visit a cousin who was a park ranger there at the park. This was true, and I couldn't change it, really. At the cousin's cabin she felt a little left out and decided to keep on traveling.

Much later, I was hitchhiking southwest through Pennsylvania when who should come by but S.G.; she was driving the same van. She was on her way to Charlottesville, Virginia, she said, where she now lived; she was living with her boyfriend, but it was pretty much over. I was welcome to come along, she said.

I was interested in Charlottesville because it had several things that I valued in a town. It was fairly small. It was close to all the important places on the east coast. It was in the mountains. It was old and pretty. But, best of all, now I had a friend there; I could conceivably stay until I had work and could pay rent, which wouldn’t take too long. It was a possible landing site.

But S.G. and I landed there, and she immediately announced, to boyfriend, roommates, colleagues and friends, that she was leaving, with me, in a couple of days, just long enough to gather her things, close up shop, and get out. This was news to the boyfriend. He was not happy about it. He confronted me soon after. I told him, somewhat impulsively but truthfully, that no, she wasn't really my girlfriend; I was just passing through, and she was traveling with me. You must understand, I told him, that I mean you no harm. She's a free person and is doing what she wants; I'm not causing or provoking this. Uneasily, he refrained from pounding me, or killing me in the night, though I didn't sleep well. But, true to her word, in a couple of days, we left.

The problem was, we weren't going anywhere in particular. I'd helped her get out of a situation, obviously, but I didn't have one that I thought would be better; I didn't even have a destination to speak of. Going southwest, we settled on a little hollow where I'd spent part of a winter earlier, down on Clinch Mountain, near Bean Station, Tennessee, and pretty quickly we ended up there. There was a pullover there where one could camp on the road, and we did.

I found myself twisted inside; if we were to become a couple, I would become a liar, and I would have trouble living with myself, though I might never see her ex-boyfriend again. It was also a question of what I really wanted: but I didn't know what I wanted.

This may not have been what she wanted to hear. She drifted off, and moved to the Netherlands; I never heard from her again. I'm not sorry I let her go, wistful, maybe, but not sorry. She was one person who shared with me the absolute wanderlust, the pure joy of being suspended at that moment when the sun goes down over the ridge. It's not always pure joy; sometimes, it's more like pure suspension, with the possibility of joy, but the possibility also, of having everything burn off, like a mountain fog.