Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

before I left new mexico I was happy to notice that the shuttle took us along the rio grande, instead of cutting back behind the mountain as the other had done. My only problem was that, entering the shuttle, I had chosen the far back seat, and it was protected from the sun by a kind of screen that prevented me from seeing in clearly. same with the chihuahua license plates; I knew they were there, but I couldn’t read them, because I couldn’t see them clearly and in fact have trouble reading little license plates now, even when I can see them clearly.

the trip back was uneventful, relatively; dallas was a huge sprawling city but its airport didn’t have wi-fi so I graded papers almost the whole way, and drove back through the villes of southwest illinois in the middle of the night. thanksgiving at home was similarly uneventful; it was nice to be home, and have turkey, and have family and even a friend, who said she thought it would be tofurkey based on what she knew about my wife, but it wasn’t, it was the real thing, with plenty of leftovers which is the way it should be.

but the following day off we went to peoria where twins could be born any minute, and it started raining and stayed raining for almost the whole two days we were there. Sometimes it was a steady drizzle and sometimes it was pounding, but it kind of took over the place with its cold wet insistence. now we’re on the road back, at the windmills of use, and the rain has turned into overwhelmingly cloudy, cold grayness. we spent a lot of time swimming in the motel and I read the papers, which was nice, but the news was full of black friday shopping violence which was somewhat disturbing. apparently the stores are so desperate for customers that they’ll open in the middle of the night and work with these couponers to make sure hundreds of people appear at their doors in the middle of the night; apparently shoppers are so desperate for the exceptionally cheap discounts on such things as xbox, etc. that they wiil come out, and stampede, with pepper spray and pure shoulders, in order to get these deals; and the muggers are enjoying people with goods walking around parking lots in the middle of the night, because those guys are desperate also…it all sounded kind of sad, actually, like a country that’s lost its bearings.

the road from the motel to the tiny town where the new parents live goes through northern illinois countryside which is really very beautiful, but has lots of farms, ranches, mansions and developments in every direction. It cuts right through the town of kickapoo, and crosses kickapoo creek, which I’m pretty sure fed into the kickapoo river, and the low spots there I’m sure are called the kickapoo bottoms, so we had fun saying that the kickapoo bottoms were looking pretty soggy, and noticing how that rolled off the tongue. peoria in general is a hard-luck kind of town, with not a whole lot of good new jobs around, and people trading around the same dusty old antiques on the edge of the road there, though the folks in the mansions seemed to be doing well enough.

a little further down the road now, past springfield, I’ve noticed that the traffic is very heavy; we’ve seen more license plates in a couple hours than I saw in the whole trip before today, and altogether this trip may rival the last one, in which I had the benefit of seeing all those southwestern states, like AZ and NV. Up here I’m seeing mostly southern states; they’re all over the road, but what’s missing really is the eastern ones, who don’t get all the way out here this time of year or at all any more, for all I can figure. On this part of the road the big things to see are this enormous mansion, which is for sale, and which must have twenty rooms or more, but is right on the highway, and an old-car lot that has cars going back to the fifties and sixties which I drool over upon passing it. aside from that, it’s all flat illinois farmland, stubble cornfield and bean fields plowed over, and a gray sky above to cover everything. there are three colors in the fields: a bright green that is probably winter wheat, a stark black that is probably a bean field, and ground with stubble on it, brownish, probably corn fields.

people pushing and shoving, one even using pepper-spray, lining up in the middle of the night, bringing coupons from online that promise huge discounts, which will put thousands of people in a store but will only give a few hundred of them discounts, thus frustrating many and getting people to turn to violence after three to ten hours committed to a cheap deal goes bad. you wanted a deal? i'm not sure what advice to give.

home now, having gone through the villes, and even to an old farm on the hill outside murphysboro, to drop off dogs, and the kids are in bed and we settle into the calm of a winter night, though we all have school tomorrow. i don't know what my point is; i'm proud of granddaughters born and unborn, but worried about the world they are inheriting. the news was a twisted mess about what's happening in pakistan, egypt, los angeles & philadelphia, etc., but the story that stuck in my craw was one about these amish guys who went bad and broke into other amish folks' houses and cut their hair. didn't rob them, or kill them, but humiliated them badly by cutting what could have been a lifetime of hair. it made me wonder about the other crime folks commit in this society, and how much humiliation is a part of it: whether, if one were to remove the violence, this kind of criminal would simply be left with the prospect of humiliating people, yet not even really having to hurt them. it was an odd story, so odd that one wonders. out here in the "english" world, one wouldn't dream of doing crime without the proper firearms. i've reached a point, though, where i wouldn't do it in any case. i haven't been humiliated, denied work, made to feel inferior or incapable, pushed back, made consistently more and more angry; on the contrary, i have enough, even in rough times, and i wake up grateful, generally.

on the license plate front i ended up with 27, almost the same as my entire new mexico trip, and got CT toward the end being the only one from new england. on the new mexico trip the high point was the chihuahua one, being out of the country and all, but on this one i saw two that mystified me, and i never did place them. the first was on the way there and appeared to have a bear on it; i thought, at first, nwt, canada, which has had a bear for years, but on looking it up, i decided that wasn't it. the other was a multi-colored one in which a rich dark green was prominent, but i couldn't read that one either, it flew by pretty fast. in general, i like letting my wife drive; i see more; she's very observant of the speed limit, and, as a result, people tend to fly by us and i being on the outside have trouble reading their tags. this is especially true if they have a dealer's license-holder or if there's a shadow or no light. i lost more than a few of them and cursed my own impending elderly infirmities as i tried to guess and wondered if the license game would allow me to "know" what i saw. hawaii? nwt? guam? one flew by me that was a rich orange and i could have sworn it was an ancient oregon; it was on a van, and sometimes those large vehicles keep the old-style plates long after a state has converted en-masse to the light one with the trees on it. but i couldn't read the "oregon" clearly and never did quite count it, though i'd seen oregon trucks on both trips. not sure, even now, what i did see, but it'll have to go down as one of those unresolved things, you learn it eventually, or maybe you don't.

main point is, it's now the season of buying, and i'm not sure what kind of x-box kind of toy i'll need, i only hope i don't get pepper-sprayed in the process of retrieving it. i've tried to spread a general non-materialism throughout my family and my life, but to no avail, and i can see that the nation as a whole is getting worse, with black friday now rivaling valentines day as a major must-spend occasion. i can only imagine that the bright side is that, having parked in the last spot in the mall parking lot, one gets at least some exercise, to do the mall, unless one has contrived to get a handicapped flag, illegally, or goes to the trouble of staging a fake car-is-busted-must-leave-it-here-indefinitely kind of ruse, in order to get out of walking. i heard stories of massive foreclosure fraud, and disability fraud, and the widespread nature of the fraud is such that i begin to wonder what people consider "work," if there is such a thing, if people do "jobs" anymore, or even if there is a point in encouraging people to try to make an honest living. would the system be stacked against you? if so many people are watching television, even at work, what does that make those of us who don't have time? non-participants, i guess, in a sordid kind of culture. if it comes to this, maybe it's time to turn off the power, so that we have more of a separately generated, off-the-grid kind of system, where you can turn, non-commercially, for a little bit of peace. maybe the occupants will come up with it, or i can do it for them. it's time for a new concept. this black friday crap has gone far enough.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the plane circled high over west texas plains and this guy next to me started in telling me about an interesting life in east texas and in various places where he works. i missed new mexico already, its soft mountains, clear sky and cacti. two stories from new mexico stuck with me; both were from world war two.

the first was that of the navajo code talkers. the navajo had joined from throughout the reservation so many were from arizona as well as new mexico, and also la and other places. it turns out that at that time navajo were forced to go to school away from home and were miserable, so many joined purely in order to get a better life or to get out of school. but the army found them useful since the navajo language had not borrowed a single word from english even in spite of having borrowed entire machines like cars which were of course full of parts. because the navajo had words for every single thing, their language became an impenetrable code. but because of that the navajo were spread out in different locations during the war; there was no place that had many of them; each regiment had maybe one or two.

unlike the navajo, the ranchers of deming had a much worse fate. they all happened to be in a single regiment, and they had the bad luck to be placed in bataan, philippines, home of the worst incident of the entire war. there weren't many ranchers around deming but every young man went and joined this particular regiment. so an entire area was totally destroyed by the bataan death march. the place was low on ranchers for an entire generation. and now, they still re-enact that death march out on the white sands every year. new mexico is the center of the 'remember the death march' movement.

the trip home was uneventful. i'm glad to be out of the airports tonight, at home, not needing to go anywhere in particular. i'm thinking about my parents a lot, out there under the organ mountains, where the sun shines so, and where it's so far away from the rest of us. they are happy, though; they are together, still getting around, and doing what they want. and for that i'm thankful, every minute.

Monday, November 21, 2011

coming up out of el paso, about three or four hundred years ago, you might stop in this area because the river would be reasonable, off to your left, and the caves of the organ mountains would be cool and welcoming, off to your right. and you might have heard, that straight north of las cruces, ninety miles at least of total nothing, jornada de los muertos, no water to kill for, nothing. down before el paso, which is really el paso del rio, the place you can cross the river, before el paso was this huge sand dunes that catch wagon wheels and which people would go hundreds of miles just to go around.

so when the catholic missionaries came up this way they figured they could be rather absolute, like their superiors, or they could actually incorporate some of the indian beliefs into their ritual, thus ensuring that they would have some indian allies in a very hostile environment and maybe live to see another day. near the south part of las cruces in the village of tortuga they made a church to the virgen de guadalupe and the local people, by custom, would walk east all the way up to tortuga mountain, some barefoot, and they would do this for the virgen, and had been doing it anyway for quite some time. and this kind of mixed religion, part catholic, part local custom, took root and survived.

these days the whole southern part of las cruces has been taken over by the university, which is new mexico state university, a land grant college that got the land between what is now interstates 10 and 25, and the development it brought overtook the town of tortuga, and all along what is now university avenue, at least halfway up the mountain, which now has a large "a" on it and is known to the locals as "a mountain". so the locals go up there and look back down at the valley, and light up the "a" at times when the "aggies" need some school spirit.

it so happened that my parents lived near university avenue, and that on the first night i walked down toward the university, almost all the way to the old town of tortuga, which i knew nothing about. and on the second night i turned the other way on university avenue, and this time walked eastward until the streetlights died out, stars took over, and the road took a steady rise toward "a mountain." at that point it always looks like the mountain is directly in front of you, yet you walk and walk and it doesn't appear to be much closer. at one point i stopped, and sat on a gravel kind of hill where sagebrush and chapparal and cactus and grasses dominated the land, and just watched the stars for a minute before i turned back. i still then didn't know about the people who marched. i was just going for a walk out in the desert.

people come from as far as california to march up the mountain during the festival of the virgen de guadalupe which is around the tenth of december and which is celebrated with days of free food down in the church hall in the town of tortuga. if you asked god for any favor during the year, say your relative was sick, then you promised to march up the mountain and you are expected to deliver. if you march barefoot then you are really showing your devotion, your suffering, for the virgen. fires are burned on the mountain, prayers are said. there's a mass. the local tv stations come and take pictures; one made an excellent documentary which i am using even now as i write this, otherwise how would i know? "tortuga" is a turtle, & i have no idea where the mountain, or the town, got that name, but i can tell you that tortuga images were popular with the mimbres who were the people in the area around the time cahokia was big, around 1100. the mimbres are long gone, but their pottery figures remain as a kind of symbol in the area, and i don't know whether there are turtles or anything like them.

the cacti took it in the chin in about february when there was a deep freeze and it lasted almost two days, wiping out agave, barrel cacti, palm trees, all kinds of things. somehow my parents got out of the habit of walking around the little cactus park as there was a lot of dieback there and it wasn't pretty; even now, though some of it has returned, some of it clearly hasn't. they say it only gets that cold every thirty years ago, but that's assuming there isn't some catastrophic weather change, and that could be assuming too much. but right now it's cool and clear in the mesilla valley, it's at the peak of the fall season with bright oranges and reds everywhere, and some of the cacti are flowering even now.

my parents did the walk around the block with me; my dad took his camera but didn't take many pictures, perhaps thinking flowering cacti were old news. i wished i had my camera, but instead have been filching cactus pictures and posting them just for image's sake. you have to get out there, i told my dad; the place is beautiful, and you need to let that desert air lift your spirit. at one point he said he hadn't seen a sky full of stars in a while, but i wondered: he's got a wheelchair, and he could...if it was my job to remind them of the magic character of their place to live, i hope i was up to the task; in any case, my time has almost run out, as i'm leaving for illinois again tomorrow.

we told lots of stories, of how my parents took us down as far as cars could go in mexico, in 1957, of the crystal caves in chihuahua, and the tarahumara indians, who run barefoot 120 miles or more, routinely, in the mountains of northern chihuahua, and of a friend in the town of guanajuato, a truly memorable place deep in the heart of mexico, and of their travels throughout southern new mexico and up and down the highway where the jornada has been replaced by highway 25. up there is a spaceport these days, but it's off the road a ways, and it's private, and who knows if and when anybody could get to space from there, it's the new tourist item though and it appears in the local paper. they don't get out much, though, and it's all i can do to get them around the block, though mom gets into town quite a bit and still knows her way around the streets. the town has grown, and it's busy, she no longer drives, and it's a hassle getting around and doing errands. we did get a cell phone though and that will at least make them feel a little more connected to the modern world and certainly a little more able to reach a caller when they ring. a lot of its benefits, alarm clock, mobile photos, using it when traveling, etc. are of almost no use to them. they were just unable to answer the cord-phone in their living room, half the time.

a lot of the cacti have come back, and with flowers; i tend to see them in bleached and saturated colors, made into posters. a kind of romanticized view of a land in which these prickly things have to pick up every inch of rainfall, and hold onto it for an entire year, and if you drop a cigarette or something on the red-gravel clay soil it's likely to stay there forever, or until the next rain, which is about the same. camping is not an issue; there's miles and miles of desert, and lots of stars out at night, and though you might want a tent, you'd more likely not want one, so as to dream better, and take in the mountain air. this was not an issue for me this time, since, in my parents' care, i slept like a rock, every night, on a foldaway or not, and had all these wild dreams that connected to every aspect of my childhood. and woke up, completely, and absolutely, refreshed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

missed the shuttle, but fortunately there was one more, and then the shuttle driver took the road back behind the mountain, so i didn't exactly see juarez, except as a passel of lights across the valley for a minute. besides it was night; the plane had been an hour or hour and a half late, all due to some mechanical problem back in oklahoma or something. better to be late than up in the air on a plane with mechanical difficulty, but that's another post.

new mexico is wide and spreads out forever on every side, and the reason they call it jornada del muerto is because there's absolutely no water at all on this one stretch north of las cruces. my mom was heading up there to a park, camino real which sounds like it might be "real road" but is in fact more likely to be "royal road" according to my parents. so this park aims to preserve the old trail that started in mexico and came up through las cruces, through dona ana, and up the jornada to san antonio, and apparently the mexican side was more active, safer, and up here it was good luck buddy, take an extra bottle of water. indian attacks and nothing but wide, wide plain, nowhere to hide. when they finally got little arroyos to hide in (hide from the sun, mainly) they'd make a ranch and settle in for the long haul.

i'm late to get to my parents' place because the shuttle, for some reason, takes us out to old mesilla before it does me. out at old mesilla, the historic district, i see the setup of somebody who agrees with the desert landscape, the wide plain, the mountains in the background, the arroyo as homestead. even at night, the colors are stunning. in the day i take a long nap and tonight i took a long walk down a huge hill into the rio grande valley, beyond new mexico state university on my way back out to mesilla, but then turn around and go way back up the hill and back to base. i'm lucky, basically, that my parents are well enough and living their lives, providing me a place to stay and feeding me, still together, and we seem to be at peace together in this place; they are, at least, where they want to be.

i have a few conversations, on the plane, in the shuttle, and here, about the state of the world we're in, and the occupy protests, and how there's conflict here & there, and a sister is getting involved, visiting and talking to the protesters in zuccotti and environs. i have not decided whether or how much of this to report; it's history, unfolding in front of our eyes, yet i'm tired, and have other stuff to worry about; maybe later. back home, one gray cat (scroll down) has a new home; this is ash & i wish her well. her black cousin, he's hanging around a while, maybe we'll keep him. you reach a point where what you end up with, is a compromise involving what you're willing to tolerate, and what your aggressive efforts at improvement are able to accomplish. the world wins, in the end, because it survives, whereas each of us is tiny, in the big picture.

flight laid over in albuquerque for about an hour more than it should have, due to a mechanical problem back in oklahoma or something. They never quite told us what the problem was but it didn’t matter; albuquerque airport had free wi-fi and I got on facebook and played around for a while. now we’re in the air again, crossing new mexico on our way down to el paso, from whence I’ll catch a shuttle back up into las cruces.

my question about el paso was this (and this may have appeared on this blog years ago): el paso undoubtedly means the pass, as in the mountain pass, but if one gives it the wrong accent, as in el paSSO instead of el PAH-so then one changes it to it happened. my question is this: if you said it that way in spanish would it be considered a clever pun, or would somebody sock you for your insolence? or both? I’ll keep my ears open. btw that general rule that says stay out of Juarez, it’s the most dangerous city in america, has been upgraded to most dangerous city in the world….of course, the guys who said this have never been to rio, say, or goma, congo. and, not that I would know anyway. Here I am going from st. louis to el paSO, and all I’ll do is look at the place.

gave a monster grammar test as I was leaving town and I’ll have to grade it sometime on this trip & I’m not sure, tell you the truth, when I’ll have time. I stuffed it in the luggage and sent the luggage through baggage so I’m taking my chances and those grammar exams could end up in tucson or san diego for all I know, but my point is that I was teaching past perfects (had eaten & had been eating) and future perfects will have eaten & will have been eating) and so I told them, when you learn these you always have to remember, compared to what? Yesterday when I saw you, I had eaten, that’s finished before I saw you. compared to what means it’s finished before something else & we always have to know what else. So then I played them this song I like, compared to what and I had the class rocking for a minute, they thought I’d gone over the edge there for a while, but it was kind of a cool song and the saudi guys obviously went home and listened to it again.

now these are the guys who don’t know grammar for anything, they’re more likely to say had ate or had eating but most of all can’t fathom why there would be any rule at all, or any way of making this stuff or any reason one would have to mess with it at all. but they kind of liked that song, so they were at least attending class, most of the time. one of them lost his book, but he didn’t notice it apparently until the night before the exam. what was I supposed to do, give him a break?

the plane suffers a little from turbulence, the mountains around albuquerque may create an unfavorable set of turbulent gusts. As we get out over the high plains though, across the desert areas and the jornada it might be a little easier. The pilot was going on about whether positivity is a word, but he’s let up a little now & we’re just flying. one thing we’ll fly near would be roswell, home of the ufo’s, and the training area where supposedly everyone saw them so many times. And the town of truth or consequences which one would have to assume, comes from a television show in the fifties or sixties or whenever. And then of course there’s the jornada itself, the walk of death, the place where there was no water at all, and almost nobody who ever crossed it ever made it to the other side. I’m not sure if white sands was anywhere near this, or part of it, or maybe the walkers got captivated by its brilliant whiteness and lost their way, lost their direction, and then ran out of water and died. don’t know the history.

the pilot maintains everything is cool, we’ll get there soon enough, weather’s good, the cool air over the high desert is all good. I’m just hoping the shuttle will still be there for me an hour late, as it goes past Juarez and I peer across the border at life in mexico i always get the shuttle driver to tell me how he feels. and then back into new mexico we’ll go, up past sunland and mesquite, into southern new mexico.

so at the end of this exam, one of them, who has done quite poorly all term, mystified by the whole concept of grammar, walks up to me and hands me his exam, and says, what does that compared to what mean? I mean, what are you talking about? So I explained it to him. he really had no idea. he’s got perfect listening, fluent orally, almost no grammar, no clue. But also, he just didn’t know the meaning of the word “compared”

so, they’re a little bad at grammar. compared to what?

Friday, November 18, 2011

you don’t always get out of my town easily: cars get in front of you, and drive too slowly, and miss the lights, and you don’t want to zoom around, weave or do dangerous stuff before you even leave town. i grit my teeth and hold on until i slip onto the two-lanes outside of town. traveling in november is always special to me, it’s so beautiful, yet this time it seems almost as if winter is coming down, gripping the place with economic hardship, and other hardships, even though it’s a beautiful day and winter wheat fields spread out in the sunlight. i’m on my way to st. louis airport, and from there to new mexico, but I start thinking of all the places I’ve been that have stuck with me over the years. jupiter beach, that was one; on the coast of florida one night, I walked over a sand dune and there was the wide open ocean, stretching out toward a huge sky with lots of stars, and you could see wide dark and gray ocean for miles and miles, with the sand dunes below us. the name, I think, kind of stuck with me, but the wideness, the vastness of it is what I remember.

in illinois, I go past a town so tiny that it’s decided to put up its christmas decorations before thanksgiving; this is typical in that, if you have nothing to do, and halloween is over, you might as well get started, it's true in lots of these small towns. it’s really not a great way though, because you end up getting sick of them before december even starts and, in the case of trees, they become fire hazards after a couple of weeks which in some cases is before the whole season is really even ready to start. nevertheless in a place so hungry for cheer or something to look at, decorations are big, at least they’ve changed a place that looks so much like it did the last couple of times I came through.

once I was on this spit in the kenai peninsula and I think I was on high ground because I was aware that there was sea on at least three sides of me and I could see it on just about every side. I was also aware that I had gone about as far out to the edge as I could possibly get, as far from home as I would get, on land anyway, and I could practically see that the road led almost no further. but in front of me, down a little hill toward one of the edges of the peninsula, an odd person was working the land on a farm kind of place. he was like no one I’d ever seen, though I don’t remember what it was that was so distinctive; if it was his clothes, I don’t especially remember what they looked like. At the time I was almost out of money and coffee was like three or four dollars a cup so I was about turning around, but I’d found a job on a salmon boat and made enough to fix my pack before I turned around, and I asked one guy what was going on, and he said it was a kind of commune down there. I found out later that it was old believers. I read about those guys later, much later, but if I’d heard that name then, I’d never have even known who they were.

in pinckneyville there’s a grace outreach place but it looks humble, well who knows what kind of outreach, although in my town the word grace is associated with lutherans. In the center of town the opera house has burned down and is still a pile of bricks, old and classy bricks, but a guy in a cat dozer is in the middle of it and some other guy is standing in it too either telling him what to do, or telling him what not to do. actually it looked like that last time I went through too. nothing new here.

the old believers were the truly orthodox, they wouldn’t change when the orthodox changed. then when the orthodox became catholic the orthodox refused to change. Then when the protestants came along the catholics refused to change. But the old believers were the original “refuse to change”…they were so orthodox, they got run out of russia and had to come to alaska. I didn’t know this, of course, at the time. and of course one would have to figure that this was old believers, what, twenty generations after the first ones refused to change.

another place that kind of stuck with me in my travels was guymon oklahoma, out on the panhandle. actually just about everything in oklahoma seemed to be extreme, whether it was extremely barren and windy like guymon, or extremely hot and muggy, or sunny and inhospitable like lawton. or remote and out there like the ouachita mountains of the wild southeast where the rogue criminals hid out. In any case in this one place, guymon, out on the panhandle, the wind blew and blew and every bob-wire fence had whatever paper it had picked up for miles around, and this paper, mostly grocery store inserts, was flattened up against the wire fence like it was trying to hide something, but it was just the wind blowing. it was the kind of place you’d have to press hard on your feet to keep from blowing away. Our kids had high fevers at that time and we took them in to a clinic where they said, 103, or 105, or something like that. that’s where I first learned that that enormous kind of fever wasn’t unusual for a kid. they just cook up in order to burn it off.

past pinckneyville you come to the baseball player’s house which is huge, and beautiful, behind some trees, but basically right on the road. A little driveway heads right up there into it so I fantasize about using it and just asking him what it was like pitching in the big leagues. further on I come to the town of Nashville which is also quite small and which puts the names of players on one of its teams, maybe girls’ basketball, on decorative cheering cone-shaped decorations. girls’ names are spelled differently these days, but the only example I can think of is brittni…anyway they kind of fly by because at this point there is other stuff to look at besides winter wheat. again I get the feeling of economic squeeze, even in farm country. maybe people are worrying about christmas.

one place that definitely stuck with me was northeast iowa, a place so stark and beautiful yet totally void of tourists, you couldn’t even move in and buy a chunk of beautiful land to save your life. It was hilly river valley, lots of rivers through there including the wapsipinicon, the cedar, the iowa, and a few more, all feeding into the mississippi and making hilly and beautiful farm country. I think people jealously guarded it; part of that was that it was just such good farm country that it was worth a fortune, and only other farmers either had the money, or had a true idea about its worth. in any case it was strange traveling up there because these farmers were generally never even aware of the beauty, yet it was just stunning in the way that you’d come around one hill and see fog, a cornfield, an old barn, redwing blackbirds, a kind of paradise scene out there, and nobody to share it with.

in new baden, which I consider to be illinois’ version of out there, farm country squared, I see a flock of white seagulls, and then around the next bend a large flock of black crows, or black birds of some kind. I actually wouldn’t know a crow from another kind, but when they come in large numbers and circle around you always think that they are either menacing the trucks or getting caught up in some other kind of updraft, or, maybe they’ve just picked the goods out of one field and are looking for another. Further down the road we come into east saint louis which really looks much different now that I know about Cahokia, it being the center of the world as we know it for a thousand years and all, now reduced to strip clubs and fast food restaurants. There’s a lot of work on the highway too; somebody’s getting paid something, and it’s probably keeping a few families afloat. Again it looks bleak though. Looks like a depression is settling in, taking hold and making everyone cough.

back home I was given a trove of books before I left, six full boxes of books about every aspect of judaism, including mystical Judaism, orthodox, etc., everything. I could hardly bear to pick through them since I have so little time in my life to actually read anything, but fortunately I had my boys with me and they were able to pick through and keep a few.. the one I had to grab though was called “postville.” It was about a group of orthodox jews who came to northeast iowa and opened a meatpacking plant which they operated for years, with much cultural conflict etc. I can’t even imagine. I’ll have to read the book, if I can find any time.

high above saint louis now, I look back and see that the center of town, the downtown, looks incredibly small and recedes as we follow the sun out west across the ozarks. the arch, it’s like a little ribbon popping out of the ground and marking the place, but, you would have never guessed how insignificant it would look when you were tearing through town, cars flying by on both sides, road construction tearing up the lanes. the “mark mcguire highway” sign is gone, which is good or in any case it’s good that they won it all this year, and were able to move on and glorify in a new world championship…enough to make them forget the steroid era. And the economic malaise. and the loss of budweiser, and whatever else they’ve lost.

there’s a cloudy haze over the ozarks or western missouri if that’s what it is; I wonder if it will burn off as we get into the dry country further west, and I can see the wide plains and the hills of northern new mexico. For once I have a laptop on the plane and can type away while everyone settles in with their crackers and soda; I’m typing mostly for the novelty of it, since I’ve so rarely got to bring a laptop. What a joy! And to tell you the truth, I’ve run out of other memories, nothing else comes to mind, though I’ve been lots of places, and remember them, but at the moment, they’re all kind of blended together, the fog spreads below, the nuts come, & i’ll sign off for now.

Monday, November 14, 2011

on this side of the earth a strong wind is blowing, but it's a warm wind, and leaves are flying from their neat piles on the side of the road, and filling up the yards again where people so patiently had raked (in my case), or got out the horsepower and burned gas to blow them around. i myself had raked for the mental pleasure of doing it (i think it's my right to not rake, but i actually enjoy raking these days) was warm, and beautiful, with oranges turning to browns and greens fading slowly into winter. i also spent some time burning sticks which was hugely satisfying except that it threw the baby off (visiting granddaughter) and she definitely reacted to the smell; she didn't especially want to be picked up by wood-pile smelling old grandpa.

on the other side of the world a volcano erupted, and continues to erupt; it's called mount nyamulagira, and it's in the d.r. congo, which has been called both the most musical place on the planet, and the worst possible place to be a woman. i think, in fact, that all these things could be true, and the volcano is real to boot and could get more real with every passing day. this is a place with all kinds of animals, including gorillas and okapi, and many kinds of terrain, thousands of warring tribes, civil war in its immediate past, and a vast and impenetrable interior. attractive to me, yes, but only from my armchair. there's no way i could even imagine going there, at this moment.

got to work this morning, and it was monday morning; i don't drink all weekend, so i get there ready to work, and actually enjoy my work, most of the time. so anyway i'd only graded half my midterm, because a colleague had walked off with about half of them, and my students had done quite poorly on it, so i'd fretted all weekend, and tracked him down early, and forced him to empty out his briefcase of all papers, so that he could find the twenty or so tests that were mine. tons of ungraded stacks came out of that poor briefcase. this guy made me look like an anal, uptight, overorganized fanatic who actually gets my midterms back to the students on monday. the surprising thing is, they did so well on that last half (it was easy, apparently), that many of them passed, a surprising number. their luck.

took a son down into the creek bed because his assignment, for some reason, was to put twenty rocks in a shoe-box. it actually wasn't easy to get down into that creek-bed and i was surprised, upon getting down there, that the water was high, and not too many rocks were exposed. guess it has been raining, a little; i know it rained today, hard, with violent lightning and thunder, but this was before, over the weekend, and i hadn't remembered much rain before that. we are heading into the changeover - from dry, august through october, to wet, which starts now or any day now. and i can see, already the drainspouts need cleaning, the water has no place to go. we're now a two-car family; i no longer bicycle every day, but this is ok; i'm still swimming, keeping my head above water, so to speak.

trips approach, one to new mexico, before thanksgiving, and one to peoria, and possibly iowa, after, so i should get a little tour of the countryside, and that's good, because this time of year, as i like to say, is by far the most gorgeous of any time, downright spiritual, to get out on the road, as things get brown, and dull reddish, and dark yellow. people look at me as if i'm crazy when i say it. the hajj happened to be in november this year, but i say, every trip in november is a holy trip, a pilgramage, even if you go to visit grandmother, or you only go a couple of city blocks. it's incredibly beautiful, and it's always this way. though, later in the month, especially farther north like iowa, you do run into some snow, and sometimes it blows around, limits your visibility, threatens your welfare, right out there on the highway. it's been known to happen. but i say, hang in there, survive; i have a new traveling hat, relatives to see, a journey to make, and i badly need to get away. a small town moves in on you once in a while, especially a self-absorbed one, a cauldron of egos slowly simmering and reaching a boiling point without even being aware of it. folks drive too fast, and there are lots of casualties. it chews people up and spits them out, and if you don't get out once in a while, you lose all perspective.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

a new story:
enjoy! comments welcome, as usual!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

got interested in chancellorsville, if only because we have a big chancellor, and a small ville, and it's been a very long week in which i've indulged myself in extended fact-finding missions to wikipedia in hopes of forgetting the whirl of conflict around me even as the strike was settled, and everyone i know virtually is back at work, happily or not. so it turns out that chancellorsville was a key battle, one in which the rebels won, and they won through a daring and clever move of splitting their army up into two, and going around, and so, because the rebels won (I assume), re-enacters like this battle, because they always have enough confederates to make two companies and sneak up on the poor union blokes, although those guys, I'd bet, are also confederates who just dress up as union blokes every couple of years, so that they get to be confederates the rest of the time. so the re-enacters like this battle of chancellorsville, and get out to re-enact it a lot, and battle strategy historians study the battle and reflect on how things could have turned out.

but then there's this general, general stonewall jackson, of the rebel side, who at one point gets shot up by his own men by mistake, and he's shot in his arm, so badly that they cut it off. and then, not only do they cut off the arm, but they give it a proper burial, an entire burial for only an arm, because they hold him in such high esteem, as he's a general and all. but he dies eight days later anyway. and i keep thinking about him, this guy's got a name, i've heard that name, he's actually quite famous. and he is.

but he is not, in any way, related to the stonewall riots of new york city in the late 1960's, the birth of the gay rights movement, apparently, sparked by a police raid of a seedy mafia-owned bar in greenwich village by the name of stonewall. if this place had any relation to the general, i'd doubt it, but i can't find any other connection, and it seems to me that as far as i can tell the riots came along and purloined the name, expropriated it, maybe old stonewall is rolling over in his grave.

a guy at the swimming place pointed out a couple of interesting things; he works in the library and takes a keen interest in the way people try to revive old events, and don't let the conflict die, especially in a case like that of old general jackson, or the "war of northern aggression." he said first that in fact, this is the sesquicentennial of the civil war, it's been 150 since fort sumter, so there will be some festivities any time now, particularly in the direction of fort sumter itself, i would imagine. and second, he said, if anyone back then at that battle knew that we would, 150 years from that date, go out camping and re-enacting that kind of thing, they would consider us crazy, gluttons for punishment. they would laugh at us. yet we do, and are likely to re-enact others as well: wwII, the revolution, and the war of 1810, maybe? is it the war we like, or the old clothes?

the boys are now old enough to do serious damage to each other on a simple drive across town, or you would think so judging by their anguished howls, and accusations of pinching, hair-pulling, torture, etc. now i know the geneva convention specifically mentions some of these actions and the sibling exemption in no way allows any of it, nevertheless it frequently gets so bad that we have to stop the car and pull over or wait until sense reigns again. i know i know you are thinking of parallels again, both to a strike situation and to an outright war where everyone loses their senses entirely and takes up arms. i'm not arguing. in any case, at one point we pull up next to this enormous truck at a stoplight, and in the truck are a number of pigs, or rather the younger boy claims there are kangaroos in there also, and they are making an enormous racket, very unhappy to be driving across town, and i think this might help the pinching/hairpulling situation so i roll down all the windows and we listen to those howling pigs for a while, until the light turns green. but it doesn't work, a few blocks down, near the cash-loan pawn shop and the railroad tracks, they're at it again, worse than ever. it's an ongoing battle, so to speak. i'm about to construct a false wall, keep their hands off each other, and their eyes to themselves, the purpose of which, i could drive across town, maybe listen to some bluegrass for a change.

the picture below comes from the virginia countryside where they have names like rappahannock and spotsylvania, and where appomattox is a small nowheresville town with a little work in it but where nobody will ever forget, ever, what it represents and what happened to dear old stonewall makes him a martyr in the eyes of the true and faithful, even though he was shot essentially by his own guys, by mistake. in the end, somebody always loses, that's the cycle of war, you can re-enact the victories, or the feeling of power, or the movement through a beautiful glade on a fall day, but you don't really want to re-enact the sawing off of limbs, or the actual starvation, or even the feeling of defeat. it's over, and it's time to move on; here, the gingko leaves have fallen, and they didn't quite pick a single day, instead, they kind of came down in bunches, all week. most everyone's back to work, but it's a holiday, veteran's day, in fact, time to back off, enjoy the weather, and get some sleep, for a change.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

so the strike has been settled, or so they say after rumors whirled and finally i got an email from the chancellor herself who was probably relieved that the whole lurid mess finally came to a close. it was a week of loud marches, people banging drums in front of the chancellor's building, propaganda flying like excretory material hitting the ventilating device. it has thrown me into a civil war mood and i've started researching what it was like for the people in this southern-sympathizing area, drawn in to a national battle to crush the rebel troops in places like chancellorsville or vicksburg. to learn this i've been reading a bit about our local hero, one john a logan, who was known to have started memorial day and who was a colorful politician. at the john a logan museum though, one guy told me he was a traitor. sold out to the highest bidder.

now by the way i might also mention, i've been working straight along, i never struck myself, my union settled at 4 30 in the morning before the deadline and back to work i went until i have a midterm tomorrow and then settle in for a long holiday weekend of what, maybe reliving a solid week of uprooted lives and anxiety over in my wife's department and in other nearby households, the kind of ground-war that affects every classroom, every walk out to the parking lot, etc. i wore a civil war hat for a bit and told everyone the news was that the south was seceding from the union. when i heard that the teacher's union wanted strike pay, pay for the five or six days they'd been out on strike, i suggested that they get hardship pay for the times they stood at the entrances and people actually tried to run them over. this was only half in jest as this actually happened, probably more than once, in spite of it being a nice day and most people having nothing against the faculty. i myself waved at them every time, thinking, actually, that in a town this small you say hello to everyone, and it really doesn't matter if they're your best friend, an acquaintance, or someone you're locked in a life-or-death struggle for basic human rights at all costs etc. etc.

there is of course this one woman in town who doesn't even say hello to me, she tried to be chair of our department once a while back and promised to make relationships more civil within the department. i'm all for more civil, i pointed out, but still i wondered how it was she hadn't talked to me in so many years and i still didn't know, clearly, why. a good place to start with "civil" would be saying hello to everyone, even your worst enemies.

in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people in the countryside, amid vast and overflowing propaganda for all sides and a land war in which not only attendance monitors, but also substitute teachers and even regular teachers are all taking an interest in who exactly is in class at any given time, anyone except the students themselves, who are all marching outside carrying signs and beating drums, the one thing i can say is, they've both kind of lost my heart and mind, i'd rather be thinking chancellorsville, appomattox, vicksburg, than of more mundane concerns such as financial exigency, fair share, whatever. i come back from the civil war re-enactment and my quaker friend says to me, why don't you re-enact the dysentery, or the sawed-off legs, or the starvation. that's not the point, i said, and i didn't even mind the musket fire though it was obvious that the kids liked that much more than the steamed beets and fried yams. the point is to remember history, and not worry so much about how great it was.

the faculty union blog is called deo volente and that is the motto of the university itself although i've always wondered, not knowing latin, if that would be god willing or if god wills or god's will or, better, god is violent since who knows latin anyway? i tend to read it always keeping in mind that complete, utter obsession with any single dominating one-horse-town kind of institution is thoroughly unhealthy even though, at this point, it is still my main and only employer, and though i try to keep an even keel, and even feel that if you completely believe one side or the other in a dispute like this, you're way over your head, i still get caught up, once in a while, in the tides of war. i'll spare you the pictures of dead bodies all over beautiful battlefields such as gettysburg, manassas, etc. which ironically are all placed in the mountain areas, center of the country as we knew it at that time. this was john a's country, his people, the rolling hills, the hardwood forests felled to make little jacksonian pioneer homesteads out on the western fringe of civilization. brother against brother, some went off to fight for the rebs, and preserve a southern way of doing things.

why do i confuse the issues? some guy has begun writing on deo volente by the name of johnny gray and i don't even know this guy, but all i can think of is, what a name, where'd you get this name, and, are you taking sides or what? i guess he's clearly taking sides, writing on the blog and all, but i'm thinking, no, it's just a coincidence, and, not a single person has died yet in our conflagration although it's reared up and devoured our entire town not to mention our building, our student center, our coffee shop, even the pool. down at the pool, speaking of which, i told someone, now if they shut down this pool, then i'll be right out there with my sign, lifting it and shaking it and screaming at passersby, but i really don't care that much about that other stuff, which is pathetic, if you think about it, because "that other stuff" is faculty respect and an honest accounting etc. etc. and is life and death in its own kind of way. but if i couldn't swim, then my life would really go to hell.

in class we were talking about these two identical twins who were adopted out into different homes and found each other thirty-three years later & did an informal nature-nurture experiment trying to figure out all the stuff they had in common that could only or at least would more likely, come from their common genetics. then the underground railroad came up unexpectedly and, sure enough, back into the civil war i went, researching where exactly folks came, when they came through here on their way north to chicago or wherever it wasn't so darn hostile to black folks. it doesn't hurt to do research. you tend to find out stuff that way.

down in the democratic republic of congo they prepare for a presidential election and one of the main candidates goes bonkers, announcing that he's already president and they should just turn everything over to him. meanwhile a volcano erupts out there in the eastern part of the place, which is actually huge, bigger than texas, and harder to drive across, being all jungle and no roads. this volcano is called nyamuragira and what do i know, about when it erupted or who it affected, for all i know it's just a peaceful little orange bubbly drink, spitting and gurgling for all comers & especially the photographers. it's a rowdy place, that eastern congo, tucked right up against uganda and all these other places where rebels like the lord's resistance army go around just killing whoever they please, raping and pillaging and using the border like it's some kind of tightrope they don't have to keep their feet on. here, everyone's so wrapped up in the propaganda, and they try to figure out if these are real people we are dealing with, or have they been awake for a few too many 24-hour bargaining sessions or is there any reason on earth, that civilized educated people couldn't reach a deal of some kind before it got too late and ruined the entire university system and all hopes for future enrollment. we'll have to wait and find out. my guess is, someday, the whole place might be civilized, but, by then, it might be too late.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

oh yeah sure, there are a few people who are scarcely touched by the strike, even me, my union settled at 4 30 am and i went back the next day, scarcely missed a beat, teaching as full time as i ever did. or the secretaries, or the janitors, their unions settled too, so life went on as usual, they didn't have to feel a thing. but a ground war is taking place over the faculty classes, some people are teaching, some aren't; some are teaching others'; some are encouraging marches and standing out at the entrances of the campuses; some are encouraging disruption, or disrupting; the war is played out on the internet, in the media, on e-mail, in the press. having come from a civil-war encampment weekend, and being an escapist kind of guy, thoroughly averse to conflict but still totally engrossed in it, my thoughts naturally turn to the civil war, brother against brother, everyone wrapped up in it, nobody unaffected. i think of something i heard over the weekend: our local hero, john a logan, he could have gone either way; he could have been a northerner or southerner, so the reb sympathizers tend to think of him as a traitor, to his people, to his area, for going off with the north, selling out to the highest bidder. when i run into a history buff, as i did, i ask, what's up with that. i guess the question really is, if you grew up around here, as he did, who would you have been expected to fight for?

john a was a political dude, a jacksonian democrat, got elected from southern illinois as an ally of douglas, lincoln's adversary, but jacksonian democrat in these parts meant, anti-abolitionist, pro-states' rights, and it was perfectly natural to represent illinois, believe in the union, yet still not believe in war; to believe, at first, that illinois should discourage slaves from seeking freedom here, yet also believe in preserving the union, and then, as it got worse, joining up with illinois and union forces, because he knew grant, and knew other illinoisans, and was, after all, part of the state. but his friends and family were more than rebel sympathizers; they were outright confederate allies. this place had been settled by people from virginia, kentucky and tennessee; almost everyone, all the settlers, had come up that way.

interesting to be in such a treacherous environment, where you don't quite know who's on what side, where you have good friends that go both ways, on either radical pole of the situation. i myself, as i've said, have quaker inclinations, feel that the rhetoric wraps people up & makes them lose reason, that both sides are wrong, especially inasmuch as they start in on lying, cheating, censoring, disrupting, destroying, etc. & i'm talking about both sides a war, you do war-like things. and you develop a network of spies, and people talk to each other in corners in low voices, trading stories of what it's like in this department or that, in the ground war. brother against brother, bloody campaign, scorched earth, march to georgia or wherever.

on my mom's side they were pennsylvania doctors, got called into the service i presume but then asked to be doctors thus living through what killed a vast number of countrymen. on my dad's side they'd taken a sawmill, loaded onto a buggy, and were walking out towards pike's peak when everyone told them it was bust and you might as well turn around. they settled in a little corner of nebraska near kansas and missouri, and a little girl died out there on the prairie, but worse, the civil war came and found them as it was especially hostile out on the kansas-missouri lines where people seemed to think that if a new state like kansas went slave or free it would upset the delicate political balance of the rest of the union. upon returning to illinois, the ancestor was called into service and marched to alabama but it was too late, battles were over and he lived through the war, almost by chance. no brotherly conflict in our family; the part of illinois he was in, it was relatively unambiguous. if he'd lived down here, in what they call egypt, it might not have been so clear.

don't want to give you details of a ground war while talks are going on as we speak at what, appomattox or wherever, that might resolve the whole thing, but you never know, and to tell you the truth, i know absolutely nothing about what they are still fighting for, or whether they might resolve it in the coming week, or not. doesn't matter though; you can get those details if you want; might even be over by the time you read this. a different kind of problems looms. homeless and drifters have taken over the building that houses our quaker meeting, an interfaith kind of place, funky, a bit run down, lacking leadership except for that of activists who have keys but whose main problem saying no is stemming from philosophical belief that the movement is here to save the drifting class. the problem is, it's not meant to be a homeless shelter. wasn't made for that; doesn't have showers, for example. now that doesn't stop a true drifter, and i think, as obamavilles go, or rather, hoovervilles, one takes what one can get, and it appears to be getting worse in that direction, rather than better, as the unemployment rate hovers over ten, and people need a place to go. so to some degree, if it's not this place, it's someplace else, and the organizing principle of the occupants may be, hang onto these people, as they're warm bodies, and will hold a sign in a pinch, as long as you feed them. it's a ground war.

i fall asleep at the keys; computer makes endless i's and a's as if i'm screaming out, from within, for rest. time to get some; more later.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

i sit at my living-room window on saturday afternoon after an overnight campout with the 10-year-old and the other 10 & 11-year-old academically talented students in his school. the idea was to have a civil war re-enactment, with old-fashioned food, no electronic devices, a little hardship, etc. the teacher at one point said, "i wanted them to have a taste of hunger and hardship" but she had actually gone way out of her way to have fresh vegetables, rustic pancakes, bread-rolls roasted in the fire, etc. the other parents brought their tents out into a glade that had absolutely stunning colors; to me, this time, beginning of november, is by far the most beautiful in the year, when the bright yellows and oranges and reds begin to give way to the more subtle browns behind them; this was added to by the camp smoke and the gray drizzly overcast nature of the weekend.

the kids tore around the glade; the parents were allowed to have flashlights, and the kids then were allowed to borrow them which they did. many of these were kids i've known much of their lives, though i'd lost track of quite a few of them and there were some i didn't know at all. they had prepared regimental flags and regiment songs and were able to march around with wooden guns and flags, and follow the orders of a civil-war soldier (company march!) who at one point also fired his musket into the woods. i tried playing "ashokan farewell" (actually one ten-year-old, later, did a much better job than i had) and also played my banjo in the glade, late at night, by the fire.

the kids had been assigned, randomly, to either confederate or union battalions; my son and friends were in a union battalion that was called "Minn-Conn-Penn-V Rangers (?) and had a flag to match; one of my sons' friends said the the V was for Virginia but was corrected; it was for Vermont. We are in the second day of a faculty strike here in our small university town, so hearing the word "union" perked up some people's ears, especially mine, though i was trying to avoid any talk of the strike really (gratefully, i woke up on thurs. morning to find out that my union had settled along with two others, leaving the tenured faculty alone striking). some of the parents were involved, principally or marginally, and talked about it a little. but the big news was the kids, their marching, their costumes, their music, and what they knew and showed about the civil war.

it occurred to me, watching them tear around, that they were on the cusp of adulthood. you could still hug them or kiss them, but it was obvious that this wouldn't last for long, for any of them. the girls giggled about the boys and told stories about them in the tents; the boys ran around and spied on the girls, not quite ready really for the trials of being older.

the valley filled up with the smoke of campfires and the musket, but pretty soon it cleared up and the sky was a brilliant blue, the soft browns of november and the reds and yellow of the leaves all around. a box turtle stood in the path, withdrawn; the re-enactment was too much for it. it too was pretty though; it had a yellow design on its shell. it survived the encampment.

on the road home a huge fog sat between the state park and our house even though it's really only about a twenty minute drive. the fog varied in its thickness as we drove up and down the hills out in the country; at times we couldn't see much. close to home the fog had almost lifted when we drove past the little dirt road to the old ruins of the asylum/vivarium where it's known to be haunted, with unmarked graves around it and writing all over its walls; at this time of year, with the leaves falling off the trees, it can be seen from the road. and there was a kid heading off on the dirt driveway, purposefully carrying something, maybe a camera or computer, to document his journey.

the last couple of days, the town has been preoccupied with the strike. groups of picketers stand at every entrance to the university with signs; it is impossible to drive anywhere without going past them. many of these are friends of mine, or at least acquaintances, and it's hard to go to work past them, knowing they remain, out in the cold, demanding a contract, etc. i'll stay out of this fight on this blog, since i don't know the issues well, and hear only incomplete versions from various friends and my wife. i was grateful to not be caught up in it, but in a sense everyone in this town is caught up in it, and will be for some time to come. it's like the civil war itself: it takes in everyone, it pits brother against brother, and people will be sawing off legs before it's all over.

at home, the gingko leaves are a bright yellow, asian-fan shaped, perching on the edge of the tree waiting to fall off on "gingko day," the day they all fall off, which could be tomorrow, guy fawkes day. i'm not sure which day this will happen but i guarantee it's coming; i can see it, and know that much. i'm exhausted (lots of tent-carrying, tent-pitching, etc.) and wouldn't mind sitting in this very chair until the last one falls. but it's an intensely beautiful day, and i'll probably be called into service at some point to make sure every child gets a dose of fresh air; there is still way too much energy around the house. i find myself thinking about union politics at the time i was growing up, around pittsburgh. you didn't find a wide variety of attitudes then, about striking, about "scabs", about unions in general, ambivalence was unheard of. the mill owners were known to kill people to get their mills back from the occupation of strikers, who were brawny, mean and violent themselves. on the verge of losing their job, they could get violent, and stories were told throughout town for years about mill-owner steel-worker conflict, and the violence that it wrought; the mountains of west virginia, southwest pennsylvania and kentucky were similar except there it was the mine-workers, the u-m-w. as i remember those stories and the collective memories of the region i come to feel that a university union is almost a caricature, like a historical account is to the history itself, like a political science class is to a revolution. but i shrink from the conflict itself. my sister, when she heard it was a civil war re-enactment, asked me what side i was on, and i answered, "parents".

being a northerner, i never actually suffered any doubt about which side i was on in that particular conflict, but as i traveled many countries, i did notice one curious thing: the closer you were to the borders (kansas-missouri, for example, or illinois-kentucky, or say pennsylvania-maryland), the more intensely people felt about it, relived it, fell hard on one side or the other. it could also be said that the southern side still felt the sting of losing, daily, continuously, and to some degree its regional economic success has been at the expense of the north which has fallen away into economic malaise, its unions staring at vacant factory shells. i heard about this a little from one of the parents who happened to be a manufacturer in the area, who had actually worked in and run manufacturing places throughout the south and now up here in illinois, where the climate is somewhat set against him. he told me of the difficulty of running a shop; laying people off, and facing the facts when someone he'd laid off killed himself the following day; choosing a location when in essence you don't want union territory, and you want tax breaks, so you tend to favor the south. we stood by a crackling fire, i with my banjo, various other parents staying warm in the cold november night, the kids running around us with their lights.

the war is over, i'd like to think, though i can tell you, the strike has barely begun. the country may still be divided north-south, confederate-union, but we are but one country in so much trouble that it doesn't make much sense to stay divided. and that's basically how i felt about the university; it had enough problems, that being riven by union problems was the last thing it needed. ah, but such things, i suppose, get lost in the fog, as it burns off on a fall day. getting drawn into a conflict can be a life-altering, or life-ending, turn of events; it can cost you a job, or a leg, or a home, or a marriage. i, however, have lived to see another day. the picture above is from traveling days; i'd always look more carefully at the maps from mountain country. they've got the most interesting-looking roads.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

an uneasy peace in the living room this afternoon; i'm home with a sick child, and not feeling all that well myself, though i've gone back to teaching and even eating full meals, and i often skip coffee now but i finally poured a cold cup at home to sit down here. uneasy, because tomorrow is supposed to be a strike, for our university; four unions are gearing up for zero-hour; negotiations have been going around the clock; people are whispering in the hallways; students are wondering if we will actually have class. students don't have a clue, but, worse, many of us teachers don't have a clue either and we're important because we are the ones who actually might is incumbent upon us to find out, quickly, what exactly this is all about.

it brings up the general question, and i mean this in all sincerity, that if you live in this country, and you work your forty-five or fifty hours, and bring up your children, and go to their school programs, and keep your cars running, and laundry done, and actually cook once in a while, do you really have time to notice if somebody is stealing thousands of dollars at the top levels of government or the institutions that matter in our lives? oh yes, you notice when they charge you twenty dollars for a band-aid in the hospital, and that's even when insurance is paying most of it, and you notice that probably a whole swath of people can't pay it, so those of us who can are left holding the bag. and half the working people, going all the way up past wal-mart, can't afford insurance and don't have it, so aren't paying for it, so incredible amounts of money are flying around; the government bails out whole banks and financial institutes, car companies, finances both sides of wars in afghanistan, and occupations in places such as libya and iraq, and korea, and germany and panama and probably samoa and guam; and this means a lot of health insurance, and twenty-dollar bandaids. but my point is, when somebody is stealing, or moving vast amounts around at the top, who is watching? anyone? is there a press to say, hey, what happened to the twelve billion, or, is there any control over how and when it was misspent? this i think is what the occupy people are going after, and i think it's a good impulse, i think it applies both on the siuc campus and in the world-bank hustle.

and then, because i don't want to think about how wretched things can be, when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, and there's war between the haves and havenots, and the powers and the no-powers, or the i-can-do-as-i-wishes and the open-up-the-vaults, and there's a class war, or a strike, or a use of force, or a carrying-out-of-threats, so i think about other stuff, like the holiday season. here we have gone, from halloween, to all saints day, to all souls day, and it turns out that in mexico the all-saints to all-souls translation is more like dia de los inocentes to dia de los muertos where you at first pray for the souls of young children, the truly innocent, who must certainly go straight to heaven anyway, being aligned with the saints and saints day and all, but then you move on to the murkier territory, that of adults who have died, whose fate is far less certain. so you're hoping that, if they are still in that purgatory area, somebody today (all souls) is looking in on them and judging them in the right direction. which brings me to this question: when it's all over, and i'm dead and gone, me, a guy who is certainly not an inocente, then will there be anyone around saying, this is all souls, let's give a hand to these souls who are trapped in the in-between-land? i kind of vacillate, thinking sometimes that this whole world as we know it is a kind of purgatory, that we're all here in in-between-land, or, maybe, that we have all three, heaven hell & the purg, all here with us at once and on the spot, depending on how we look at it. yet i don't ever, ever, hear anyone wish anyone a happy all-souls day.

it is, however, quite beautiful outside, the leaves of the gingko turning bright yellow and waiting for their day (they all fall at once); other leaves oranging up, turning red, falling gently; some huge leaf so enormous that, for a moment, i thought it was an animal writhing on the road, turning over and over, and i slowed down to avoid hitting it. the leaves, even the largest, will blow around somewhat indiscriminately, until they find a valley or a hedgerow to settle in for the winter, where the wind can't get around them or stir them up, then, finally, they can rot in peace. the same will happen with a marble that a cat bats around until it's in a corner where the cat can't reach it, and it will then live there what, until you move? or longer.

the socks have their own all-souls-day basket, where loose ones end up, unpaired with their partners, waiting to be matched and used but they are often taken out of the basket, lined up so we can see if they actually do match, and then left there to be scattered in the winds or slept on by the cat or end up on the floor where they'll have to be washed again. so it happens that a lot of time they're in a kind of purgatory but that assumes that, in fact, a folded-up, in-the-drawer kind of state is what? heaven? or maybe that's hell, considering that, if the system were actually working, being in the drawer would mean you could be snatched and worn by any kid at virtually any moment, and have no control whatsoever. but about a month ago my wife was moving kids from one room to the next and put a whole basket-load of clothes aside with the purpose of sorting, and it remained there, it's now a couple of months, this pile of mostly clean clothes has been sitting in that basket, and it somehow got out of the cycle. is that good? does that help those clothes last one more kid? not sure. one has to assume that clothes want to be worn, they're made to be worn, not sit there like some museum piece. this would be a toy-story kind of religion, to be sure.

these days i slog through my swim, and when i get to my afternoon classes, i'm a little dizzy, and woozy, being not quite over my flu, and need coffee to keep going. i try to focus on the class's issues; we were studying bobby fischer, and he was kind of a wild nut (though i saw him one time, when i was about nine), but their reading was so bad that they couldn't quite get the hang of what the reading had to say about him. and then in grammar class, i'm coming to one of the classic points of all time, which is the difference between "i ate" and "i have eaten" - a distinction lost on the average american kid, by the way, but not lost at all in england - and this uncertainty, this idea that the outside world is not at all supporting the idea that there is a difference, is unsettling, to the point that i have to talk myself into the value of teaching it. perhaps i shouldn't bother? or i should qualify it by saying, you don't really need this in your everyday life, since you can get by just fine with, "i just ate" or "i never ate"...whole grammatical structures are in a purgatory of their own, except that they don't have anyone praying for them, except maybe me, since i know what they are and can literally see them fading into the autumn fog. the leaf lets go of the tree, and it hangs, suspended in a breeze; it could drift in either direction, or just not drift at all.