Sunday, March 31, 2013

live in west texas, you have to go to a rodeo, i figured, so when i heard the abc professional rodeo was in town, i rounded up the kids and headed over there. this parking lot near the auditorium was totally full, it had some trailers that were ten parking spaces long, lots of horse poop there, that parking lot seemed to be for the rodeo workers itself. we ended up way over by the football stadium, in spaces that were heavily marked for football game day, but seemed to be pretty much empty at seven on a saturday night in march. the stadium itself was lit up, empty, pretty, as we walked by it on our way to the auditorium. in the auditorium we bought tickets, and they gave us five free small sacks of popcorn along with huge drinks.

when we entered the auditorium they were doing some spiel about how great the usa was, and everyone was standing. i sensed the anthem coming, and stopped, but it was hard to stand there with three drinks, five popcorns, and a hat that the little fellow got tired of. we kept walking. but then the prayer started, and i felt even more comfortable, so i stopped again. but it was a long prayer. and i was afraid of spilling these enormous drinks. eventually we kept walking again. nobody seemed to mind.

the rodeo is cowboy skills: riding a bull. riding a horse while roping a bull. jumping off the horse getting the bull off its feet, wrapping a rope around its feet. some of these guys were pretty good at it. others just plain missed the bull and didn't get another chance. they had these 'rodeo clowns' and apparently one of their jobs is to distract the bull so that if he's going to gore anyone, he goes after a clown who knows how to get away. it's a whole world and people came from far away to see it; the performers were from far and wide, towns like calgary alberta and boot stomp, wyoming.

they announced that any kid under ten could come and enter the arena and try to win these big prizes and my seven-year-old wanted to do it and led me to this tunnel going down onto the arena floor; the tunnel was enclosed, and hot, and there were a lot of kids though some of the parents stuck with their kids as long as they could. i let him follow other kids down into the tunnel but i could still see him from the rail above. then they had to wait about ten long minutes. i got claustrophobic, even though i wasn't the one in the tunnel. i began to worry that he was the only black kid in the whole auditorium, and that he was surrounded and unable to get out of the tunnel even if he wanted to.

he, however, was happy in there. i heard the rules; there'd be hundreds of kids out there, and three small calves would have pink ribbons on their tails and the idea was for the kids to pull the ribbons off their tails. when it started the kids tore around in a huge pack and the little calves, scared, stuck together and tore around also. mine was right in there among them. the heck of it was, though, that he didn't appear to know the rules. everyone else knew the rules, but he didn't hear them, because he was in the tunnel, and didn't come to the rodeo last year. or whatever. he tore around, and seemed to catch up to a cow, but didn't come out of it with a ribbon.

i breathed deeply. claustrophobia over. it seemed like a pretty safe crowd, kind of like west texas itself. conservative, religious, maybe, but safe.

the question, as i told my boys, one of whom wants to be a cowboy now, is whether it really hurts the animals or not. sure we saw cows and horses bucking and throwing themselves way in the air, trying to get rid of their rider. had they been tortured before being turned loose? it was hard to say. they were active, and looked mad, but sometimes they just looked confused, or they were like, ok tie me up, but then let me go so i can go eat. sometimes the animals had these airy looks in their eyes, like why would thousands of people want to see this?

they take easter seriously around here; they give you monday off, on the assumption that most places in texas are seven to ten hours away, so to really give you sunday off, they have to give you one more day for driving. they don't seem to hold that feeling for friday, though. easter services, it was beginning to be spring, but the eggs, filled with candy and such, were hidden out on a muddy yard where they'd done construction, and it was an uneasy match of easter's best clothes, and texas's reddest mud. my own son, who lives entirely for the candy, happened to step on a construction nail, but we couldn't find any blood, so didn't ship him off for a tetanus shot. a religious experience, i guess, kind of like how i felt, letting him go down into that tunnel, trust in fate, hope that it'll be ok, keep your eyes open so you don't lose a little kid in a big crowd. one thing about being mixed race, father and son, is that although everyone's reasonably friendly, still we are pretty quickly recognizable, if someone came by maybe five minutes later and said, did you see those two, and where did they go, everyone would know. it would be like if someone wore purple hair. people would pretend not to see it, but in the end, everyone saw it. and noticed it. we weren't the usual cowboys.

but both places were, in the end, safe, and friendly. the lazy river was too; we had our first day of lazy river, of the season, and all i could think of was, this could be the best place in the whole world. one son came out with a pinkish glow in spite of using sunblock. we swam and swam, and stayed outside. we felt the glory of the spring, the sun coming out, the grass turning green, slowly, new flowers and plants coming to life. i get the sense that you have to get out now, while the getting is good, enjoy the sun, do the fun stuff. it doesn't last forever.

Monday, March 25, 2013

looking up the hill toward the texas book depository

pink cowboy hat, dallas hotel

flags over dallas

dry rivers on the way home

one schmuck finds the grassy knoll

note: these pictures are not in order. if you want them in order, go to one of those other weblogs.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

at the airport gate waiting to go back home to lubbock. had an emergency trip to illinois, via st. louis, but as far as i know everything is ok; i came back to dallas for a convention, for which i could only spend two days, and now it's done and i'm homebound. at the airport they tell of a big snowstorm coming into st. louis, presumably from the west. last night there was a windstorm in lubbock, but here in dallas it's been rainy, windy turbulent, but gentle, peaceful. the one thing i wanted to see in dallas, the grassy knoll, was a peaceful place, i thought; if kennedy's ghost was hanging around, it seemed that he'd made peace with the situation. some hustlers were eager to sell us explanatory material and show us where it happened, which i appreciated, but i didn't really want the material as my bags were already full and really, the whole story of the assassination kind of scares me. 'grassy knoll' or just 'knoll' were suggested to me for possible names of my band which at this point is still a pipe dream. i did point the guy toward 'long way to centralia,' my only song on youtube, traffic drove over the white X's that were drawn on the road where the car was when the shots came down. the city was working on preserving the area and making it more hospitable.

they say a bunch of stuff about dallas, and make television programs and all that, but it's gotten so i just don't believe that stuff. it is what you make it. you meet somebody, maybe they're into all that opulence, or cowboy stuff, or they come out of one of those limousines that are half a block long. but if all you see is the opulence, and you get mad about it, or make judgments about them based on it, that's really your issue. if they wanted that, then maybe the two of you are wrapped up in one of those 'he thinks/she thinks' deals where people are all concerned about what other people think. it doesn't have to be that way. the last few days, i've seen a few hundred people in hotel lobbies. most of them were tesol people (peace corps ladies in comfortable shoes, one person said once years ago) and weren't generally into that dallas stereotype. it didn't seem to me to be a town of greedy cadillac oil barons, course i didn't even get there 'til friday night. maybe the oil barons had long ago retired to their ranch. now it's sunday, and the place is even more peaceful.

they say that love field is being expanded, rapidly, because an old law preventing them from flying out of it internationally is being removed, and southwest is going to start flying to the caribbean and other places out of here, as soon as the law is gone. southwest doesn't mind being entirely independent of the others, using its own airports whenever it can, working on the sidelines to make those places (like midway, or love) more accessible. we switched over to southwest and noticed the phenomenon of being entirely in our own world; it's not on travelocity, for example; it has its own terminal in several places; you just don't even see the others. but in every other way, it's your typical airport experience: airport security, overpriced cinnabons, etc.

wrote a blogpost for the convention; put it on the professional blog; let tesol use it and link to it; i suppose there is some publicity to be had there. another friend is doing research on blogs and how they tell people's personal stories. this one is all about mine. it's survived and grown for a couple of reasons. first, i've always done it for my own benefit, to both tell about myself and practice my writing; yet i've rigorously left my family out of it, so as to avoid affecting them. second, i've kept it entirely non-commercial; though it may advertise my poetry book, it advertises nothing else, nor tries in any way to draw attention here. this gives me more freedom, basically, to write expansively, insult anyone, whatever. and finally, by making all small letters, it's distinct, uncopiable, clearly informal, even a little hard to read, i've noticed. i'm ok with that. if you got this far down, more power to you, you must be my family, or someone who cares, as i'm sure half my traffic comes from search engines and people who are drawn by whatever words or names i'm using. on the pictures, i've been leaning more toward my own, as much as possible, but i have to keep up with those, and i'm falling behind, so i'll lay off, and get back to you with a few, as soon as possible. grassy knoll, texas book depository, love to all. ba.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

a four-day trip from the high plains of west texas, lubbock, to the chihuahuan desert, las cruces, to visit my aging parents; my wife and two kids went along. you couldn't get much further from the cold, wet, rainy saint patty's day weekends of the north, with hard drinking and raucous parades. the desert was even higher and drier than lubbock, with beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and desert cacti beginning to bloom.

this was the weekend of the bataan memorial march, in which people go out toward the white sands and walk, in some cases 26 miles, in memory of the soldiers who died in bataan in the war. an unusually large percentage of those soldiers came from new mexico, in particular southwestern new mexico, and the white sands area, wide and flat and incredibly sunny, is a good place to recreate the intense suffering of an inhuman march. there are memorial services throughout the area. why this would be on saint patty's day would be anyone's guess.

the drive from texas cuts down through plains, texas and then through the oil fields of artesia new mexico. before that we went through lovington new mexico, an almost surreal town, and after artesia we went through a town called hope, completely empty, a few boarded up stores is all it was. then way up into the mountains, and from there, crashing down to alamogordo and the white sands, which is a big hit with the kids. at the white sands the fine white sand gets in your toes and the sun is so bright your pupils close about as much as humanly possible. pictures will follow and be posted here eventually. it's kind of a family tradition to stop there and let kids be kids; it's a remarkable landscape to document their growing up.

the well basin of artesia is a busy place: roughnecks coming and going, well machinery outposts selling thousands of well-head constructions and pipes. the place smells like oil and it would be easy to look out at a field of oil rigs and say, that looks like prosperity, it smells like prosperity. in that one valley, there's a well every thousand feet, and in some cases pipes come up from the ground and a flame burns at the end of them, burning off excess gas, or whatever. people come and go regularly; it's a busy area. we keep looking for the pecos river, three times i've crossed it and not seen it, and if artesia was built on it originally i can't find evidence; it's a mystery of the lost river. in fact i've begun to wonder about the term "river" since so many of the washes and riverbeds in this part of the country are absolutely dry. high up in the mountains, though, i see some creek water coming down the mountains, and even see some unmelted snow in places. it restores my faith, to see real running water. coming back on the last day, i find the pecos. it's a tiny stream, past artesia, totally unmarked, but it has real water in it. it slips under the highway before the oil wells, and goes off to the south, toward carlsbad. i'm just beginning to learn this country.

not that i have any idea, really, why things are the way they are. the sun is so bright in the days, with nothing green to absorb it; it hits the yellowish desert sand, and buildings that begin falling apart, just keep falling apart, but never quite rot, or get removed, as there's nowhere to take them, so there are lots of old structures, emptied out, historical, standing around baking in the sun in these towns. and people just get used to this stuff, and go about living their lives, doing their business, looking idly at us since strangers passing through are obviously out of the routine. then, sometimes, the wind picks up, and other times it picks up a lot, and blows this orange dust around, and this started happening on our way home. tumbleweeds cross the road and go bouncing around on the yellow clay. the sky looks ominous like it might turn into a larger storm. the dust is orangish red; the natural thistle on the ground is bluish purple; the sky itself is gray though where there is sun it is still bright blue, and it becomes an ominous western desert scene.

i've become interested in the tumbleweed because of the airy way it bounces and floats around, and, when cotton is caught in it, it has the odd feeling of being an airborne surreal rabbit. people hit them with cars and carry them for miles, thinking nothing of it, but i'm still likely to swerve my car, unable to crush even a ghostly apparition, unless i can't avoid it. in movies they are said to symbolize desolation, but people around here are just used to them, and simply drive straight into them without even seeing them after a while.

i heard a scary story, though, while i was in las cruces. a guy, son of a friend, is working in the fourth story down, underneath the white sands missile range. he's called up by his superiors in the army, or maybe it would be air force. they tell him that large tumbleweeds, ten to twelve feet high, are hitting the electric fence and catching on fire. then, they are jumping the fence and heading for the parking lot, where, because they are on fire, they might burn the cars. he's told to take a vehicle and go run over them. now you would think his vehicle would be in danger of burning also, but maybe it's a tank. in any case he goes and does as told; he runs over the tumbleweeds, and renders them less dangerous.

and i'm thinking, four floors under?

but i don't worry so much about what all these people do underneath the surface of an enormous desert, that stretches out for miles and miles in every direction, a huge pristine white sandbox of dunes right in the middle of it for no apparent reason. let them plan things out, away from the sun, down where it's cool, protected. above ground, people come from all over to see the unusual sand formations; the bataan marchers walk as we drive past on the last day, one step at a time, across the massive desert. we see them as specks from the high mountain pass. some apparently end up in the hospital every year, having been unprepared, not having brought enough water, or the right shoes. maybe they feel like they've shared in the suffering, or taken on part of it. i'm not sure. it seems like the opposite end of the world from saint patty's day.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

i go out for walks nights and the sky is usually wide open with lots of stars, more than i used to see in illinois even though i'm in a larger city. orion has been a constant visitor. the moon was very clear and i could see all its patterns when it was full, but that was a few days ago and now it's not even up when i go out there, at about ten. there's still good vision; i can see the dog poop so as to avoid stepping on it, and i can see way across the park even at night.

i was asked if i like texas and i do, in spite of missing my old friends and old home; the weather alone has taken a hundred pounds off my back and they have a whole kind of music here that's interesting to me. people are nice. the red clay soil is hard to get used to. some of my students, international and otherwise, are cotton people, or frackers, or whatever, but i just teach them, and don't worry why they want to learn. sometimes though the future really scares me. the governor of texas goes out to california to tell all their businesses: come to texas. we're going from 30 million to 80 million and there's no water, but that doesn't matter, we're growing, we'll find some water. we're becoming more like california, we're moving into the future, embracing it, sometimes that scares me too. why should i like the future?

here's what scares me. the fortressing of america, especially white america, these black humvees with black shaded windows, blocking my vision of oncoming traffic, or walled fortress neighborhoods, that can afford a security guard who is some disabled angry ex-vet. a lack of genuine jobs and everyone scrambling around for what's left, that's not genuine but good enough to pay the bills. a totally collapsing, imploding europe, no jobs there, no economy either, no nothing; china pouring its money into its army; my friends more or less divided over the death of chavez. maybe the left kind of liked him, but to me he represented the intolerance of the left, and if the left is intolerant, there's nobody left! i'm already sick of the republicans and even the democrats can't do anything about our steady slide into despair, fracking, use of all our resources.

ah but i'm a pessimist, sometimes i oughta just look at the better side of things. a friend of mine, wrote a book about the solar power industry in germany, why can this country totally develop and utilize this resource, while we sit around fracking. and he says, i'm done with the book, and now i'm looking at the moon, because i've taken to walking at night, and i'm wondering why the sea of crises is at the top when it first comes out, but way over on the other side when it goes down, hours later. now i had some idea of how to answer, but didn't, some other people did and probably did a better job than i could, but days later i'm still looking up at the thing and going, sea of crises, who'd a thunk it. i didn't know such a thing existed. the thing is, i felt like saying, i had a kind of parallel thing going on, where i go out for walks often, and i see more of it than i used to, but of course i'd done nothing to find out what all that geography was called. and i'm wondering, what else do i not know?

a whole radio station devoted to red-dirt texas country music. 'nothing but texas, all of the time'...'if it ain't texas, it ain't country,' etc. etc. a person could get lost in this stuff, and just live to play it. after you do austin, you do san antone, and maybe the big d - then you get yourself an old ranch out in the hill country, or the green country or wherever. maybe there's part of it where you can grow yourself some food, or maybe you can do that out here, grow something besides cotton, and forget about the rest of the world. or maybe the earth's spinning is just going to wear itself out, cause some more earthquakes and such, and we'll have to find someplace more stable. they're going to start sending boats across the arctic soon, that'll probably scare the heck out of the polar bears, if not wipe them out entirely, and then what, maybe the north pole will just tip over and change the basic rotation of the earth. the sea of crises will look down on us in despair. people on earth, whoever's left, will crowd onto land that still isn't ruined. don't panic though, have faith. we made it through two world wars, we'll probably survive this too, one way or the other. chou