Thursday, September 26, 2013


so the distance i walk to my office is like five city blocks, it's not so far at all, but i have to cross nineteenth street, which is ten lanes altogether, any of which might have somebody in it who doesn't see me. so i've taken to wearing a big visible hat and bright ties; it's all about nineteenth street, is my new motto. the sun blazes down and the days are clear-blue, dry, cool at night, by some accounts perfect. i water my baby tree and my vegetables; the jalapenos love it. i live on jalapeno and black coffee. i eat other stuff too, but the jalapeno and black coffee stick with me throughout the day.

there is some question about whether sanded paint badly influences garden vegetables. that is, if the painters sanded thoroughly, and it was in small enough dust particles, do those go down into the roots of the jalapenos for example, or the basil, and make them bad eating. they didn't have lead in the paint after, say, about 1950, but who knows what they might have sanded off our old house. the color they put on it is like a pink, though not a bright pink, more of a terra-cotta light tan pink, but nonetheless i'm bragging around town that i've painted my visible house pink, and people have noticed. living right here on flint and twentieth, i have found that most people are familiar with my house. that is an interesting and unusual position. people come up to me and say things like, i've noticed you've done your windows. yes ma'am, we sure have. and now it's pink.

today at flint and nineteenth, in broad daylight so to speak, a big accident, somebody being loaded onto a stretcher. it appeared to be a bicyclist because a twisted bicycle was nearby. people were explaining to the policeman what they saw; emergency medical folks were all over the road. i wanted to ask but you don't generally ask in those situations, though you can if you have to. one of many bicyclists who use flint regularly and cause us some grief as we try to pull in and out of it. i however have sympathy for the bicyclists. the other night at the local small-town grocery i saw three or four bicyclists pull in from all directions to get their one or two items. but some guy had parked a huge whopper double-cab truck there, right where i parked, and left it on, and it had this enormous exhaust, it would have taken an alaskan potato to plug it. it was spewing so much diesel into my window that, though my trip was short and i myself was only buying a few things, i had to shut the car up completely. and the guy was still there when i came out. i thought, he's undoing all the good all these bicyclists did all put together. and the bicyclists put all that danger and risk out on the road with them. it's like, dusk, you have to be careful in this kind of time.

broad daylight, at flint and nineteenth, is the problem itself. when there are ten lanes, nothing above, just a few scrubby trees on the side, the sun takes over and you might not see all ten. all you have to see is the one right in front of you, but that can be hard enough. a lot of times i miss the walk sign, because the order sometimes alters according to whether every lane is full, turn lanes and plain lanes. you sometimes have to run across it while looking back over your shoulder. a green light is no guarantee of survival.

i'm about to start my walking campaign again. ideally i'd be swimming laps every day, but my afternoons are taken up, checking on kids at school, soccer practices, etc. then my foot split its skin open for some reason, and i limped around for a while while at night, fan on, windows open, house quiet, i tried to figure out what had happened. no telling. things happen quickly. a single rock in my shoe can do it. what i like, though, is to head out to that green park, walk around it, and get a shower before i even sit beneath the fan and do facebook.

on facebook all kinds of things are happening: one guy got into north korea, and is taking pictures for all to see. another has moved to canada, phone out, taking pictures. people are getting better at making those "memes" and all kinds of clever stuff pops up. quakers get into huge arguments concerning online rudeness and inconsiderateness. various kids go dancing across the pages as you scroll down and you get to keep up, generally, with everyone's growing child. some friends move to new york, or to nagoya, or visit korea, bali or phuket.

i'm of a mind to conserve, though; i figure, the fewer trips here to there, the better. the other day i forgot my glasses and had to come back across nineteenth twice more. now i remember my glasses; i don't want to keep having to do that. if i can limit my trips anywhere and everywhere, i'll do it; makes sense. i don't want to become a hermit, afraid of the outdoors. just keep it down. it's the busy season; there's too much traffic. some days there are ambulances in several directions. i just want to make sure, none are for me. i've become a little paranoid.

then again, the painters are still at the house. this means they're talking right outside the window, radio on, rotten boards from the backhouse porch falling (they are repairing that as well), pink going on the old house, even as some of it is being repaired. such a racket, this makes the dog nervous, and she sleeps better when i'm right nearby, blogging and ignoring the sound. but i can't ignore the sound forever. a minute or two, i'm out of here, have to go to the school & look into the progress of one of the boys. the school is back over by the little grocery, in the neighborhood of the green parks, away from nineteenth. i'll go that way every time, stay away from that wide, sunny, shiny, ten-lane airstrip as much as i can.

Friday, September 20, 2013


feels like things are going way too fast out there. painters have moved in at the house, spraying and sanding and putting paint chips all over everything including the garden. before they left today they painted wide swaths of white on an otherwise dark blue house; it's been dark blue way too long; it's held so much of this texas heat. so the wide swaths of white now make it stand out boldly with its paint chips sprayed all over the grass as we are left to enjoy the weekend.

but it's a weekend of soccer games amid a big football game which will crowd city streets and which has already caused considerable traffic. they're big on football here; these home games are big events where red and black ribbons hang from trees and they wrap up this statue with old will rogers on a horse. i should have pulled out some old will rogers quotes to describe how the situation is somewhat out of hand, but instead i drank an extra cup of coffee and headed over to the yoga bean where they were playing irish music, this isn't too far away and is, after all, a completely different world from the football-obsessed campus. i had a set of stories about culture which i delivered to some internationals who had gathered to try to prepare their dissertations; it was a kind of inspirational speech; i'd wanted to make a TED talk out of it and still might. but i got overtaken by tiredness and still haven't found my notes or begun to copy it down. got the friday afternoon exhaustion and was barely able to even play a note.

the essence of the stories was, when you're at the threshold of cultures, like all my students are, you're like a guy i saw once at a korean apartment building. i had come to visit a korean friend, and, as usual, was a bit uncomfortable because of the general custom of taking off one's shoes in the threshold of every apartment. to me, i said, removing shoes and walking around in stinky or holey socks made me a bit uncomfortable, along with the little routine of jamming them back on when it was time to leave. but there i was in the doorway when along came these movers moving a piano, a big enormous honking piano, barely fit in the door, and the last guy, who was holding the brunt of the weight, stopped and kicked off his shoes on the way into the apartment. so, i said, your dissertation is like that piano, substantial, important, enormous, a heavy weight. but you have to follow the little cultural rules of entering the academy. the a's and the's.

recently the student newspaper went out and asked international students about life in lubbock and one of them said, the only problem is the weather, back at my home, the weather is normal, but here it's completely crazy. i could relate to that statement, but it's true pretty much wherever you are. here these big huge honking clouds have been passing over, interminably, but not raining, or raining only a few scattered drops here and there, while they look big and ugly and scary. i guess it's more or less normal, at least we're luckier than, say, new mexico or colorado where endless rain is pounding them. it's gotten cooler too, so you can actually go outside, so i was outside the student center with a cup of coffee today, enjoying the outdoors as i do once in a while, and the marching band, around the corner, started playing the star-spangled banner. now of course they're preparing for the big game tomorrow, one can't blame them, you have to practice or it'll sound like crap and you can't have that. but here students were coming and going as if it were just background noise, as it was. not another person even showed recognition of the tune. i stopped and waited for someone, there were plenty of people around. finally i left to give my little talk.

a couple of ambulances came by, and all this was on campus, and they were going somewhere because someone obviously needed them. i had the usual scare where i thought they might be going around the corner to where my wife runs her department, but that wasn't the case, they were going on this side, to some other place, and where i was going, they said, they'd like to keep the students off the campus, but they can't, probably one of them ran over another one, because nobody's paying attention anymore. they all go around driving and texting at the same time, and even when they're walking, they're walking and texting at the same time, and all this multitasking has caused even bicycling to be a treacherous dangerous activity, you're likely to die at the hands of someone whose hands most definitely aren't on the wheel.

a couple more stories, i ought to put them here, because they all relate to that general idea that culture is a fleeting thing, but one you still might have to buy into, at any given time, you can't get stuck on the fact that deep in your heart, you think having to put a or the in front of every stupid singular count noun is some kind of ridiculous joke as it's been characterized by certain learners and some teachers of the english language. so there's this one student, he's from latin america, in essence he says i wouldn't dream of getting to the point without trying to establish some kind of friendly relations with the reader, in other words, he thinks the american get-to-the-point writing style is actually kind of rude. to the point that, after a couple of years, he sends an e-mail back home to his friends and they say, hey man, you are so blunt, so rude, have you forgotten to be friendly before you get to the point? and it reminds me of an old story i heard when i first came down south, maybe twenty years ago, and they told of a northern lawyer who called up a southerner and got right to business, said i'm a lawyer, i represent so-and-so, and i need such-and-such because of whatever, and finally, after a long pause the southerner says, faaahhhn thank you how are yeeeewww?

i can relate completely, to both, to the lawyer, to the southerner, to anyone who is a bit affronted by how it's done sometimes, that they can't just do it, and follow the process out to the end, and conduct ordinary business.

there was a tiny baby in the yoga bean tonight, and that meant, all that irish music was going straight into its soul, with nothing to block it. one kid claimed that babies knew the secret of the universe but they lost it before they learned to talk, so it was hopeless trying to get it from them, but he himself knew it though could no longer express it in words. that was good enough for me; people were dancing jigs, hopping around, clogging, it was kind of a wild night; outside, clouds turned various colors behind a full moon and traffic picked up as usual for the weekend. i however am home. my animals, who have been traumatized by all the sanding, pounding and loud aspects of the painting situation, all week, are now settling in to sleep at night, in hopes that we'll do the same. tomorrow, it's another wild day, and i have to get some shuteye myself, or i'll never keep up.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


fairly large texas city, a quarter mil or so, got some rain this summer and ragweed sprouted in yards all over the place. some people, i assume, are gone, because it's still summer, or whatever, but in any case they act like mowing is not something they ever even thought of, and it's a bumper crop. some yards, it's five, six feet high, blossoming all over the place. my eyes get a little swollen just looking at it.

they have three kinds of parking: normal, game day, and televised game day. televised game day, there's no parking anywhere, it's all reserved for espn, or whoever. presumably the whole kit & caboodle will be in town. 'nonessential' staff are supposed to just leave, so as to free up the space.

there's a colony of feral cats on campus. finally i read the letter of the leader of the people who feed them, support them, keep them going. they corner them, capture them, give them shots, neuter them, and then return them. they figure, if they are stable, and like the place, they'll keep the other feral ones out of there by protecting the territory. the city's feral cats then, have to just get by in the city. where, of course, the foxes will get them. i assume the foxes wander up on campus too. i'm not sure how it works; i'm not even sure foxes eat feral cats. i know you see them dead every once in a while. sometimes they get hit by cars.

so i'm way allergic to ragweed, and felt it this year, more than ever. generally i try to get a lot of exercise and keep the stress down; i don't generally take drugs to deal with it. but i have this psychological problem about it. i detest the stuff and don't like my body's unrealistic tendency to go to war against it. taking out the garbage, i noticed that there was ragweed, five feet high, in my own alley. in a rage i quickly took the axe out there and hacked away at it until it was down. i figured if i was quick enough i'd keep the sap off my hands or whatever & i'd live to tell the tale.

i was lucky; i almost got it. took a shower right away and then another one soon after. it's like a war zone out there. there's ragweed almost everywhere. blowing in the wind.

i walk to school in the intense heat, across this one ten-lane road where the walk sign is on just barely enough for me to get across it. on the other side, you have the campus, and these feral cats. on my side, we have our house, traffic, more feral cats, foxes, you name it. on the street itself ten lanes of cars, five on each side, wait restlessly while this old goat gets across the street. the sun beats down like crazy. the walk sign ticks and counts down, 10, 9, 8. fall is coming. that of course means football.

church i go to has a labyrinth, it's out there at 48th and salem, in a wild texish neighborhood with wide sunny streets and plenty of room, but still in the middle of the city, kind of lower middle class. the labyrinth itself is very pretty, a peaceful spot, i'll bring pictures, i sit there quietly and remember my friends back in illinois. heck of it is, we had a labyrinth there, and we'd often just sit there while the children ran around. children would start on the outside, and the good thing was, it would always lead them to the center, they almost never failed. but i'd wonder, is this teaching them anything? are they getting in touch with a deep celtic sense of getting to the center of things? more likely, they'd just flail around, it was a place to be for a while, a place for parents to watch them, then they'd run off to this little waterfall or some other place. there was a train track nearby, that's what you really had to watch, an illinois central would come by, anything could happen.

here in lubbock, no such train, or even waterfall. the labyrinth is quiet, as if i'm the only one who even knows it's there. but it's ok in this sense: i'm a quaker, and this is a church. the service is not something i come for. if my kid's happy, i'm happy, if he has a crowd, and other kids, boys and girls, his age, doing stuff, running around, and if this happens, i have a moment of silence, but rarely do i get into the service anyway, and even when i do, it's not especially what i wanted. i wanted the silence, but out by the labyrinth, i have that same dilemma. does it go anywhere? does it have a purpose? do i get a deep sense of celtic peace and inner resolution here?

back up by the university, i've ripped up all the ragweed. i'm lucky i can even see. my eyes are swollen. two showers later, i'm ok, i can sleep, i even wake up the next day, not in too much pain. life goes on. traffic is heavy on flint. a cat crosses every once in a while, in the shadows. a neighbor cat has seemed to survive the whole thing, for at least a year, she crosses when she wants. she seems to know from sunday morning. they don't get much rain here, but the sun beats down and pierces, even in the fall, cuts like a knife. i realize, even when i'm on a busy street, i feel that ragweed. it's pollinating, busting out all over town. i water our new tree, the garden the sunflowers. the squash are turning into gourds. the peppers are coming out a little. sunflowers are drooping and going to seed. most of the water goes to waste. you water at night, it evaporates anyway. it's a strange new environment. snakes, foxes, random cats wandering around. fortunately there aren't many deer, back in illinois you couldn't grow a tomato. here, the weeds press on ya. and they move in, take over on every dumb piece of scraggly red clay no-count "yard" in the city.

Monday, September 02, 2013

du vin

last friday of every month, all the bluegrass pickers, mostly old duffers but a few young ones, meet out at the golf club house out on the north edge of town and pick away. they have a bunch of usual favorites and they also bring in whatever they want to hear, lead it and hope everyone can play along. people can come and listen too, and often they do, especially wives of the musicians or just people who like this kind of music; after all, it's free.

so this month by impulse i asked J., an international student from france, if he'd be interested, and he said yes, and he'd like to bring his friend, who turned out to be maybe a girlfriend, an exotically beautiful black woman by the name of K., also from france. now i knew that he was a guitar player, with a tendency toward metal and the harder stuff, but i figured, if you're going to live in texas for a while, you might as well hear this bluegrass just so you know what it is and you never know, maybe you'll take a liking for it back with you. consider it my gift to him or them, as an american.

on the other hand i'm well known to be a yankee fiddler, don't know those dixie songs all that well and i talk funny, so having people from france with me, makes me feel a little more like one of the crowd. at least i know the music, at least, i know it more than i did when i first got there & i've been to, maybe, eight of them.

truth be told, i have lots of dreams, i dream of being a fiddler & finding my right band, i dream of finishing my novel, of going to france, of going to africa, argentina, norway, & maybe myanmar. i dream of owning a bookstore & just the other day this guy was selling one in town for $12,000 or some such, $8K worth of equipment like shelves or maybe computerized inventory, and 25000 books. but this isn't a reading town, and my guess is, he's languishing out there in the sun, nobody's stopping by to buy anything. some of these dreams, as my wife would say, aren't going anywhere. i am, however, a decent fiddler, and when i got out there to the golf club i started sawing away and it was ok, i was enjoying myself, in fact, i got the hang of some dixie songs to the extent that i could actually express my mixed feeling toward the concept of dixie, right in the song. i could kind of whine with that fiddle.

J however had no such luck. try as he might, he couldn't jump right in and just play, even though he saw everyone else doing just that, and he knew it wasn't that complicated musically. he just figured, how can you play something if you haven't had a chance to practice it. he was completely, absolutely, unable to strike a single note. eventually he wandered off a bit to buy a couple of beers with K. and walk around a little.

as i was driving them out there, at one point, the road dipped down into what is probably the only canyon on the entire caprock prairie, for hundreds of miles in every direction it's flat, and has been grassland since time immemorial, but this one canyon cuts through town on the north side, and it's called yellow house canyon, and as we get to the bottom of that hill you can see a bit of river off to one side and he asks me if that's the lazy river. no, the lazy river is part of the university recreation complex, we spend all weekend at the lazy river, but that's not this, this is a canyon, the only natural canyon in the entire prairie, where the comanche met their bitter end becasuse it was also the only hiding place, and site of many bitter conflagrations back in olden times.

not sure, exactly, of what kind of impression J. and K. will take back to france with them, or even, how different it could possibly be, here and there, texas and some small town in the french countryside. i told them a little of my french interests, la barres de prison, du vin pour ma tante, some of the french songs i do, but i know they are probably bogus from a pure french point of view and in fact J. admitted that he didn't know a wide swath of quebecois music not to mention louisiana zydeco or creole. he just outright didn't know it. well you learn something every day, i figure, that's why i got folks like j. and k. in the car. they may be a little too polite to tell me what they really feel, but you have to just keep trying sometimes, and it'll all work out.

then back in illinois, middle of october, some young friends of mine are getting married, on a farm way out in the countryside in a place one would call tunnel hill, near a trailhead in a rolling and pastoral and quite beautiful part of the state. now that's something to dream about, going up there for that wedding, but alas that too may be a bit out of my reach, and it would be especially hard to have just me going, and nobody else, yet how would i take the rest? four round-trip tickets to illinois, a little out of reach. life goes on, though, that couple likes bluegrass music, maybe i can at least figure out an appropriate gift. i miss those folks, a lot, but i don't stop loving them, or dreaming, or even, once in a while, playing out a song that might express a little of what i feel.