Thursday, November 28, 2013

thanksgiving report

a cool, blue-sky day here, drying out and pleasant, and everyone is home with their turkeys and football, this being texas, the two big games cowboys vs. oakland, and texas tech vs. u-t austin down there in austin. they're pretty used to football on the big day, which means that the football fans are pretty close to the television for all or most of several games, and the grocery store was packed, land-office business, yesterday, while people stocked up. the fact is, football mattered a lot.

but was i the only one worried that china was sending war planes to the east china sea after the us, japan and korea all brazenly flew in the face of its orders? it looked like a showdown, a game of chicken, a brazen display of both sides being unwilling to back down, leading to an international war drawing in all the major powers and causing apocalyptic destruction throughout asia. other people were pretty much unaware of it. my son hadn't heard of it, didn't know what was going on. an old friend, esl teacher who makes a living teaching hundreds of chinese, her life would be totally altered, she was unaware of it. it's under their radar, so to speak. not even the top line on google news.

top line, of course, being lines at stores for black friday, which hasn't even started yet. here we were, thinking of driving across the plains of new mexico to las cruces on friday, which we will still probably do (tomorrow), but, black friday being what it is, people are actually camping out hoping to get better deals, in general consumerist frenzy. as the clock grinds past thanksgiving and into the season, i try to focus on the things i like: the holiday music, the stuff i make (cards, calendar, books, etc.), traditions like luminaria and the tree, getting the house ready, etc. it's hard, actually, we're academics, and it's a busy time at school too. my books are published and ready to send out, at least i have a present for folks this year. the calendar is ready; i'll take it to las cruces. things are looking better.

then, i'm hanging around facebook, turkey in my tummy, fire in the fireplace, and the news cycle comes around that, no they don't think china would blow up any of the big planes that are violating its space, it just wants everyone to know, it claims that space, it's got the word out on that, and it's got its warplanes zinging around menacing everyone. i can certainly understand how people would get nervous in this situation. they try to put someone on this lonely old rock, out in the middle of the sea, i'm sure he'd be pretty nervous now too. this game of chicken, it's kind of a metaphor for stress itself. everyone thinks these countries, being world powers and all, would be too smart to engage in a game of chicken. true? we'll see.

our turkey was smoked, it was the market street variety, prepared beforehand, to keep down the stress on my wife's part. it took a little away from it, ok, but anything that keeps her stress down, more than ok. i don't need to kill the bird myself. the boys are not big fans of the turkey, it was all they could do to behave until the pumpkin pie. the fire eventually died down. my wife said: don't put the huge log on it, unless you're willing to stay up all night watching it. that's sensible. the night dies away, it's quiet, traffic has died down.

the dogs are strangely unsettled, with most of us hanging around the house all day, it's way out of usual, and of course they can't have their big naps, if we're all up all the time. the cats too, they're very leery, because the other day we took them for their rabies shots, and they did not like it, to be out on the town, in the cold, not knowing when they'd come back. now they're home, hanging in their usual places, catching up on their sleep. the boys are watching movies or television. i'm still checking the news. nothing blew up, over there in the east china sea? so what's the score in the football game?

people from around the world, are aware that it's thanksgiving day. my students all wish me, happy thanksgiving, wherever they are. they know the profound meanings we associate with it, mostly, in my case, family, way too much food, staying home at all costs, enjoying the weather, frigid and wet as it sometimes is. this commercial stuff, i don't really go for, nor the football. i'm glad i'm in reasonably good health, i'm happy when, in my own neighborhood, there's a little less traffic noise. & a happy holiday to you all, and a wonderful holiday season, as long as it may last.

Friday, November 22, 2013


a fine mist all over town, freezing in some places and leaving others dry, about 25 or so, just about perfect temperature, i had to admit at the market street. the two women, one a cashier, and the other, the woman behind me in line, were a little intimidated by it. for one thing, it's getting worse, coming in from the north, due to last a few days, causing accidents all over town, etc. for another, snow and ice are rare enough here that it's a major issue when they do show up. i told these women i actually like the stuff. sure, it's inconvenient, and you have to know how to drive in it, which can be an issue here. but nothing feels better after a long texas summer than a little cold drizzle on the face.

the tech soccer team was in its ncaa championship semifinal round, against texas a & m no less, and even with all that quality soccer, championship and all, almost nobody even knew about it, and it certainly didn't change traffic patterns a bit. here it was tied, double overtime, our women playing a dynamite game, and people went about their business, no football this weekend, so it's all the longhorns and the pros. at the grocery store they're laying in for a long weekend of football and beer and chips, i'm sure, they didn't even know there was a soccer championship. the chess team also won it all, nationwide. i thought it was pretty cool, to have a championship chess team. no, really, football is all that counts. really.

going about our business is, for us, finishing a semester, for me, final term papers in my e-mail, online grading, speak tests to grade, lab assignments have higher pressure, etc. for my wife, kidney stone, various hassles with people above and below, persistent health issues. we're trying to become foster parents. i have some trepidation, given her health. this would be number nine; the other eight are doing well. i am on the downhill slide toward turning sixty though. we'll see how it works out.

been working on my haiku a lot, in particular, oklahoma, and washington d.c. don't know why these two particular places would be on my mind, it's surely true that they have strong relationships with texas itself. my haiku now numbers almost 800; i'd really like 1000 before i level off, and start weeding out unnecessary ones, or making some deliberate variety from year to year. for now, i'll settle for states in which every season is represented. whole states have nothing for fall, imagine that, it's just not right. then, some have over fifteen for summer, or winter. i'd like to make it more of a body of work. more to choose from, more variety within it. with all the pressure, listed above, a person needs a little escapism.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

a back door blew open over the weekend, and a couple of cats, one of whom is quite skittish, walked right out the door. the orange one, smashing pumpkin (or the Punks) really gets treated much better indoors, and only has one eye anyway, so she came back in. but the black one, Edgar, headed straight under the house, where there's about a two-foot overhang crawlspace that reminds him of where he grew up. thus began a tense standoff. he doesn't want to come out. we blocked in the place so as to keep the foxes away from him, and to get him back. he wants to hang out down there in the cool dark crawlspace as long as he can. he considers it a return to his childhood.

tornados raked through peoria, brookport, nashville, virtually all of illinois. the grandchildren are actually about thirty miles west of peoria, while the tornados hit about ten miles east, but it was too close for comfort. a son is about fifty miles from brookport, another grandchild about thirty. the farther we are away, the scarier it is. we feel a little outside of the tornado district, although our town got a big one in maybe 1970. big thing is, they seem to be getting worse, more common, more disastrous, more extreme. illinois had what, fifty of them? in november?

down here it's the heart of football season; everyone looks forward to thanksgiving, which is a huge football orgy. combining football with turkey is basically a very gendered experience, the men go off in one room, which generally has the alcohol, etc. it doesn't seem quite right to me, but i'm not from around here. i remember what, twenty years of cowboys-redskins, or cowboys-washington to be politically correct, but i can't imagine frying a turkey in the cowboy stadium parking lot because that's the ultimate tailgating experience. and how did texas tech get caught up in this, playing in austin thanksgiving at a time that, of course, fits around the cowboys just right? well apparently there was an a & m/longhorn game for many years, but a & m bailed, and now it's just us and the longhorns, and the turkey and the parking lot. our parking lot will be down in austin this year, i guess.

feelings ran high right around the baylor game, because we thought we could win, and we had our favorite quarterback back from an injury, and he runs and throws and especially inspires, and in the grocery store i saw this family hanging around watching the game on the grocery store television, and tech was tying it up, so i said, maybe we'll win, and the young girl says, that would be awesome...but maybe i wasn't sincere enough, or maybe i should have hung around and watched some more, because from then on, it was all baylor, and they crushed us. this game was in cowboy stadium, home of the enormous wide-screen hundred-foot television, and probably the high point in the careers of the tech players who now once get to play in the palace.

the animals are now way excited, tearing around the house, shooting out the back door every time someone opens it. they know there's a hostage situation just under the back closet, they know and can even hear their brother edgar, who probably won't be lost, he'll probably pop out when he's hungry or thirsty, god knows we try at least three or four times a day. we don't want him wandering off, there are too many foxes and other strays in the neighborhood. it's kind of the totally local version of the city scene, where you have these red and blue lights, and lots of noise, and everyone's tense. here it's like, we're all around the back of the house, trying to get this cat out from under the house overhang, and just down that little space between house and fence, you have this little tree that has turned bright orange. but aside from that it's just us. we're going, "here kitty kitty" and we have tuna, but he's like, no dice. not budging.

way down at the southern edge of illinois, where the interstate shot across the ohio river to paducah, was this town of metropolis, which had this old statue of superman in its downtown, right there by the courthouse, and a couple of superman gift shops. the town had been taken over, more or less, by a casino boat, once casino boats became legal, so this big fancy boat would be sitting there in the ohio river, and you could kind of tell that that boat had most of the jobs in the county, it was kind of a depressed place. one sunday morning we went in to see the statue, and about the only people we saw were coming and going from the county jail right there in courthouse square, somebody had been arrested over the weekend, and they were bailing them out, maybe. right off that interstate was the town of brookport. this town had a much older bridge, also across the ohio, and it had a bunch of trailers and was actually a little livelier. this was where the road took off that followed the river all the way down along to cave-in-rock, so we had to know how to get down through that town to get out and really see the rest of illinois down by the river there. that's the town that just got flattened. why a tornado would pick out a town like that, who knows, it's all pretty flat. would it go across the river? flatten the casino? who knows.

some of the texans i've met have only a vague sense of the world outside of texas, such things as hurricane sandy, or this or that tornado don't mean much to them. when i say i'm from illinois, they figure that illinois should be doing ok, because obama is from there, surely he takes care of his own, same way george did for them. those are the ones who know illinois from, say, iowa. my son's teacher said she was up in oak park, and was surprised that any place could be 90% democrat, but some lady at her son's party got a little tipsy and asked her if everyone in texas was dumb enough to elect someone like george. it really made her mad. sure, she said, we're conservative, there's no secret about that. but we aren't dumb.

you hear stories like that, because people are real friendly, and they like trading notes. they want to know how i like texas, and i always tell them, people are really nice here, unbelievably nice. i told this woman, i don't live my life for politics, i'm not going to dislike this place because it has opposite politics from mine. in fact i was a little too radical for illinois or iowa, too. i've been to a lot of these states, and i know, a tornado can hit one just as good as another. we're all out here kind of treading water in a steadily boiling pot, it's no wonder people are popping off at this tsa or another, or having another standoff, where all the dogs get called out, and you got your red and blue lights, all over the neighborhood.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Friday, November 08, 2013

new story:

Staying Put.

comments welcome, as usual!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

in the spanish inquisition hundreds or thousands of jews were forced to convert to christianity or be killed. some found that if their son was a priest he was able to talk to other conversos and thus some communities of jews remained secret. in their public life they would be catholic, perhaps more catholic than their friends, and in their private life they would perpetuate the survival of judaism and try to keep it alive, swearing dfriends and family to secrecy. part of this program included finding faraway places to establish communities; both spain and portugal encouraged exploration and the settlement of communities in brazil, mexico, the caribbean, etc. sometimes groups of conversos would head out for these wild parts where they suspected that, once the other catholics gave up and went home, they could live life as they pleased, and become jewish again. and they tried, in various corners of the world. the enemies of the survival of judaism were the forces of assimilation and the forces of the colonial governments which demanded extreme loyalty to the church and to spain.

onate had relatives who were conversos; he led the expedition up from mexico city through el paso and las cruces, all the way up to santa fe which he settled and claimed for spain. in his zeal to prove that he was converting the indians, in this case the acomas, as he was directed, he had the left foot of many of them cut off. you could say he was not a friendly guy, or that he was a racist, clearly, but this was 1600, and history reads like that in 1600. anyway here he is in northern new mexico, and apparently some of his people who had come up from mexico, were conversos, and went and settled in northern new mexico in the deeply forested san luis mountains on the colorado border wherupon they disappeared for 300 years or so. onate himself, who knows how he felt about his judaism, or about the position he was in, he went on to fight other wars, and make himself a name, a name one sees nowadays on a high school in las cruces, and on an onate center kind of museum near roswell.

the thing about racially-directed brutality is that people remember it longer than the other kind, if, for example, he had just gone bonkers and randomly killed a bunch of people at the local tsa. at first when they made special penalties for "hate crimes" i objected because, i figured, if you killed someone you hated, what difference did it make if you used a foul word in the process? murder is murder. but one can clearly see that some murder is more than murder, though i don't know what makes it worse.

these days there is a general movement to promote spanish heroes in the new world, in part because the hispanic community feels a bit of its hispanic-ness slipping away with the relentless influx of white folks into the southwest, as well as the general forces of assimilation. after a couple generations, everyone is watching football, speaking english, driving a ford. so they start making statues to onate and other "heroes" so that nobody forgets. they put this one statue up near espanola, but this town was not far from the acoma territory where needless to say they hadn't forgotten him. in the middle of the night the foot of the statue was cut off. the sculptor later put another one on, but it didn't matter, you can still see it.

meanwhile dna testing comes out and sure enough, some women up in the hills of san luis turn up with a kind of cancer known only to jews, pretty much, genetic evidence traceable back through spain to the holy land, a certain rare genetic mutation. there had apparently been rumors for maybe 300 years, that people were jewish up there in the mountains, but they were secret about it, nobody knew that for sure. the women who were tested and found to have the gene were catholic, always had been, as far as they knew, had some awareness maybe of relatives who were jewish but only vaguely. the sands of time had washed away any practicing customs, that would have maybe tipped you off. i mention this because sometimes i still dream of heading way up into the remote mountains of new mexico, where it's hard to make a living, but basically, it's quite beautiful all the time, and just living out life up there. not that i'm jewish, or even have any customs to take with me. i could write, of course, but who would read it? sometimes i like to cough up this ancient history, just because, you never know, what kind of ghosts you might trip over, as you go tromping around.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

there is an interesting theory that the increase in violent outbursts, LAX here, NC A&M there, which is accompanied by an increasingly aggressive and omnipotent media glorifying violence, and a football culture allowing focus on extended violence, three or four hours at a time, is related to americans' acceptance of wars in iraq, afghanistan, pakistan, etc. or at least our general inability to think critically about such things as drones, war in syria, etc. i'm not suggesting that the government is paying rupert murdoch or the nfl to keep us deadened to the kind of critical thinking that would bring these wars to a stop, only that the violent culture developed in tandem with continuous war, a war on terror that, since 9/11, has had vague or unstated goals, and involves us bombing people in places we only have a vague concept of.

i think actually that the majority of americans favored the war in iraq, if only because they felt we needed to get revenge somehow for the brutal destruction of our towers and people, and at the time they weren't so concerned with whether saddam hussein was the true enemy, or whether he was just evil enough that he would do in a pinch. six trillion dollars and thousands of lives later, we are mired in afghanistan and are sending drones to places like pakistan and yemen, hoping to single out and blow up bad guys who could be plotting against us. the tension is high back here on the homefront. sometimes it's boys from our community who are dying; we see the breakdown of our culture; we sense the enormous monetary consequences of the six-trillion sinkhole, and what can we do about it? if you're like me, you oppose it and vote for people who might stop it, but hey, thinking obama could stop it was some kind of illusion. he couldn't stop it. maybe he couldn't stop it for economic reasons, or political reasons. for whatever reason, he couldn't stop it. he's still dropping drones. our boys are still dying over there. you hear that? STILL DYING

living in this country day after day, you forget what's really important. miley cyrus is out there, there's all this football, and then these young guys just pop and go shoot up a TSA booth or a school or something, they snap under the pressure. maybe young people have always snapped. what's new really is this all-pervasive media culture that hones in on the guy's poor family, the neighbors who maintain he was always kind of a loner, etc. what's really happening? the world is watching television, especially america is watching its own black sheep of the family, those who got left out, pushed out, bullied as kids, or whatever, and just couldn't take it anymore. america watches in horror on television while the whole thing plays out over days.

meanwhile a young girl slips in to washington to ask our leaders why they blew up her grandmother, and she's more or less completely ignored, not only by obama, and the congress, but also by the people. now you can say that western media wanted to put malala up there, but didn't want to put nabila up there (that's the essence of this story - that, because they are so different, nabila is entirely snubbed) - but, another take on it says that the media are just pawns, they just serve up to the people, what the people demand, and what they need. if they can't handle thinking about the drones, serve up some football, or some freedom, or the right to be educated, as malala represents. by all means, don't make them think about the fact that we're killing people.

and the fact is, the drone stuff has been in plain sight all along. it's not like they're hiding it from us. we knew they were doing it. we knew they bombed these people all over the place, and sometimes they missed. we even had some people point out, publicly, that it was a mistake. didn't matter. we're still doing it. we're still doing it, and the people, by and large, are silent.

big football game in lubbock tonight. people converged on the football stadium starting at about ten or eleven in the morning, or they converged on the parking lots around it anyway, and this was to 'tailgate' for a six o'clock game with oklahoma state; there's always bad blood between oklahoma and texas teams, so everyone was looking for a rough game for which they reserve adjectives like "bruising," "punishing," "pounding" etc. people got hurt. the crowd got drunk, no doubt, by and large, anyway. my house is close enough that some people park here on their way over, and i see a steady line of people walking or driving into the campus all day. the tailgaters take up the entire campus, every parking lot, bring tons of beer and things to eat, make a day of it; by now, at about ten, though, the game is over and it's down to the serious partying. i'm not sure what's worse, when we win, or when we lose; i suppose i'll find out, because we just lost again. the town lives for the football team; we were all pulling for them. we'd been undefeated, up to a point, but these oklahoma teams, they kind of had it in for us, they were a bit too tough. those who went to the game to see a fight, they saw a fight, i'm sure. i'm not really sure it helped, though.

what gets me, i must say, is the relationship. it's like, we know that meth kills. we know that people are attracted to it because it makes them feel powerful. we know somewhat the same about guns, and young people that are powerless, pushed out of a society that hasn't found a job for them. same is true for football, even, to some degree; if you're in the top thousand of today's college senior class, you might have a chance in the pros, if you haven't gotten injured, if there's anything left in your brain. if not you join the army, get a job in the security industry, or sell cars, or do what you can. six trillion has been out there, making somebody's world better, but it hasn't been doing much for ours; we've lost a lot of jobs, and with crushing debt, aren't in much of a position to do anything about it. we sit here in football country, and you can hear the low growl of the trucks; their drivers aren't happy. things aren't working out the way they'd thought. the prosperity we took for granted isn't panning out for our children. there's an edge to the world, and more and more, you wonder who's going to snap next.

a related theory would be that if your team never ever ever wins, things get even worse; you could call it the cleveland syndrome. you read it first here. by that measure texas should be ok, because it has teams that win occasionally, and money to make sure it keeps happening. so much can be said to be lost in cleveland; weather's bad, has no economy, no hope, no nothing. but in michigan they at least have the wolverines, the tigers, the pistons, they have hope...not sure it makes that much difference, though. on a 'hope in sports' index cleveland would be at a one, maybe, slightly relieved that the indians at least made the wild card. that probably saved a half dozen lives, right there.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Friday, November 01, 2013

at the irish jam i hang around on the edge playing fiddle harmony some unless they let me lead a song. i led a song and it was a bit of a disaster musically because i couldn't sing & play at the same time; i'm still working on that. maybe i'll master that, next time before i go. this time, i'm standing on the outside, trying to jump in occasionally with harmonic chords that sound a bit like backup. i love it; i'm slowly getting better, and even learning a few tunes.

the other fiddle player is the kind of person who learns every note, and doesn't go much for harmony. in other words, it rattles her that i play it before i actually know the tune. she plays well but has no love of performing, especially, i don't see her crack a smile while she performs. i say this mostly because i feel like she should share the stage, and everyone should be enjoying it. i don't know that she doesn't, though, i just feel this uncomfortable feeling. the songs she knows, she knows well. she's been working on it.

the cafe is buddhist in nature; it has buddhas by the bathroom, for example. we have a buddha in our bathroom, too, so this makes me feel in harmony, at least when i use the bathroom. lots of yoga-type things around, yoga mats, yoga this, yoga that. kind of yoga in decoration, but irish in sound. my young son is very comfortable there. he lounges on the couches with his shoes off, upside down, and makes friends with other kids.

they talk about people flying in for the weekend, luckily none came through l.a. where apparently there was a shooting. one came connecticut, new york, chicago, denver? caught in the air somewhere. people text furiously these days, when they're caught in the air. the plane circles. they wonder if they can catch their connecting flight.

the nature of mental illness is, sometimes people snap. a tsa site is as likely as any other place. i was once caught in l.a.x. for an entire day, had to sleep on some bench for a while, but people were really nice to me. they knew who i was, they knew i'd stupidly missed my own flight. they kept an eye on me as i snoozed, the wee hours, 1 to about 4 or whatever, then a whole new l.a.x. day. thought i'd write a book about it someday, but never did. interesting people all over the place, with dull airport looks on their faces. stranded between security and the gate.

halloween was wild. they have this new thing, trunk or treat, where people actually decorate their car trunks, and it's part of the church's obligation to be a community, provide candy for its young, give lots of good comps to kids in costumes. didn't know it had come to this. but the neighborhoods were wild too. at some houses we stood under canopies of trees admiring their landscaping, while whole shows took place at the doorway where they might hope to scare some kid before coughing up the candy. the kids, eventually, got an attitude, give me the candy, skip the entertainment stuff. you know how kids are. 8, 9, 10 they come into the pinnacle of pure greed, focused on their own pieces of almond joy, or whatever. one of our kids had crustacean hands, like a preying mantis, and couldn't carry his own bag. mine literally ran from door to door but got too sweaty in his mask. the neighbors smiled benevolently and coughed up the candy, most of the time.

busy streets, a cool night, a little bit of rain coming through too. but it was saints day, the beauty descended on green grass, changing colors in the leaves, belated parties. mixing halloween and saints day, i'm not sure that's appropriate. but it seems to be happening all over town. costumes and more costumes, then, another wild party, then, a football game. but that's tomorrow, i get ahead of myself. more later......chou
rather than keep private holidays in my head, as i'm accustomed to doing, i've started just telling everyone: these are the high holy days. there are dozens of holidays, and all of them are the best of holidays, because it's such a cool time of year. devil's night, hallowe'en, saints' day, all souls' day, dia de los muertos, election day, sadie hawkins day, guy fawkes day, you name it. they all pile in, as the leaves change and it turns to brownish, cool, reflective winter. definitely the best time of year.

i learn a little about some of these holidays, but mostly i just kick back a little, go outside a lot, try to take in the stunning colors around me. it's really more of the peak of color season here in texas, whereas it was well past the peak up north by the time it got to november. but here there are fewer trees, and you have to go out of your way, a little, to see a truly stunning yellow or red. they are out there, though. it's show your colors month, at its best.

the football fans are camping out, and they can get away with it, because it's so beautiful, it's football weather. my break came around, my day when i teach a little less, and i actually kicked back a little, did some research on the research on international education at tech, tried to collect my thoughts. there's a lot I don't know. with so few internationals, there's almost nobody to ask, either, though i have two classes full of graduate students. i might as well start with them. everyone, it seems, is busy being themselves. young students drinking. young truck drivers squealing tires on the road. cowboys chune tobacker. police out pulling people over. everyone doing their thing. show your colors, that's the rule.

i let my beard grow out for the season; it looks a bit scruffy. my son is getting braces though and is in pain. just thinking about him, makes me want to grow it out in protest, in alignment with his pain. don't shave. set yourself back from culture and its expectations. don't know if this will help me get across 19th street; i doubt it. in fact i think the tire-squealing has increased since i grew it out.

not to say life is dangerous; in fact, i'm doing ok, still alive, breathing this fresh air, ready to start on another project. cleaning up, that'll be my project. the house is a mess. we show our colors, yes, we painted our house pink. but inside, it's evidence of a few too many animals. it is way slovenly, way too comfortable. time, maybe to chip away at the piles. but i'll play a song first, and see if that makes the dogs jump. it's a holiday, holiest of days, time to be still, listen for a leaf crackling out on the yard.