Sunday, August 31, 2014

new story:
Ferris Wheel
enjoy! comments welcome as usual!
firefighters are having a busy night tonight, since it was a football game evening, and since i went out for a walk, i pretty much heard them all, and experienced the post-game activity. the game is everything here. people were happy that the season started again. People were happy that they won. People were wrapped up in the details: whether they won by enough, whether things went well or what might be changed before the next game.

at the grocery store, right around game time (what they call "kickoff") most people, most people, were wearing red and black. and these were the people who weren't going to the game. it was a lot of red and black, out there in the world, in favor of the home team. the cashier, however, wasn't impressed. maybe it made the place too busy for her taste.

been writing stories (see below) and working on language as a self-organized system. i should be working on my class, which will be studying social media, but it's the labor day holiday, and i'm trying to take some holiday time. soon enough, i'll get to what we're studying. i wrote a poem, in the style of the master, dr. seuss, about my day. it came out of me so easily, so freely, that i considered devoting part of my life to making more like it. the world needs another dr. seuss, a modern-day bard. a friend of mine does a little bit of it, somewhat like dr. seuss, but there aren't many.

went to new mexico one more time, last weekend, to go camping once before the fall set in, and pulled it off. took the tent, pitched it in the mountains, had a window of time where it didn't rain too much up there, and took in some nice mountain breaths of cool wet air. down in the valley beyond, we saw my parents briefly, and turned around and came back, skipping the white sands this time. the camping, the smores, and the dew on the green grass were a big hit. millions of stars dotted the sky, along with the milky way itself, high above the tall pines that we camped in. i woke up several times each night, perhaps because i was sleeping on the hard ground, but each time i looked up through the little tent window, saw those millions of stars, and went right back to sleep. i dream well on nights like that. but then i come back, and life on the high, flat sunny plain - well, i guess i'm doing ok. i'm not in the high rockies, but at least i'm 3300 feet above the rising seas. and the skies are beautiful way up here.
new story:
Burger, fries and a coke
Comments welcome, as usual!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

new story:
enjoy! comments welcome, as usual

Thursday, August 14, 2014

war in palestine, war in ferguson

not to mention ukraine, and the high mountains of northern iraq, and dozens of other places...syria? azerbaijan? south china sea?

st. louis is close to home, my previous home being carbondale, two hours south, and we used to go through ferguson regularly on our way to lambert airport, or anywhere really, since we were usually going north. it's got a history. it's one of these little enclaves that dropped out of st. louis intentionally. why wouldn't a neighborhood like this just go on being part of st. louis? because it's easier to have your own police and fire, have your own utilities, set up a whole new city hall and administration, etc.? no, so far, those are not plausible reasons. i suspect that at one time ferguson was all white, whereas st. louis was more multi-racial, higher taxes, etc. the white folks of ferguson thought they could do it better than the city. dozens of other enclaves made the same decision. all put together, the number of towns that dropped out of st. louis itself, and into st. louis county, made st. louis city simply a carved up piece of what's left, what used to be the city. and then, with its city population so low, it started winning the crime statistics prize. high crime, low population, high percentage, st. louis won it all a few times.

the airport itself, i'm not sure whether it was in the city or whether it too dropped out. but soon it too was engulfed by city problems moving westward from the ferguson area. city problems we could take for a euphemism, for which people often use words like ghetto, inner-city, etc. motels had bars on their office windows. people looked at you funny if you were in the streets after dark, like trying to get to the rent-a-car lot from the airport. this was the st. louis i knew. i dropped my son off at the airport (he was going to france) - when he found out his international flight had been delayed by an entire day. he stayed holed up in a cheap airport hotel (i didn't find out until well after i'd driven two hours home) - and did nothing but study french. after looking around, he was almost too nervous to step out for a hamburger, although he eventually did. you could feel trouble in the air. the hotel was the kind of place that, cheap enough, had all kinds of activity outside the usual airport variety.

in saint louis the word beach is not so much a euphemism, as an ironic word; the city has no beaches and certainly none on the river, which you'd have to be a fool to swim in. but there are two, times beach and pontoon beach, both near the river, that are two of the worst toxic waste dumps in the history of the u.s. dumping toxic waste is an old tradition; it's an industrial city, and it's had a number of steel mills and other industrial plants that have been at it for years. one of the worst is called mallinckrodt, which apparently dumped toxic wastes in creeks in north saint louis way back in the forties, and now history is catching up to them, because people are coming up with brain cancers and they are so heavily localized that there's no doubt there's a connection. my father worked for mallinckrodt for a couple of years in the fifties; as a chemical engineer who had an environmental conscience, he probably wasn't happy there, but i have no idea what he actually did. one thing that was true was that very few of those chemical companies had any conscience at all, when it came to putting toxic things in the area. much of it ended up in the mississippi, where it became new orleans' problem.

from lambert airport in the northwest part of town, you can take seventy, the main interstate from kansas city all the way back east through indianapolis, and it will drop you at the arch where you can take the main bridges over to illinois except when there's heavy traffic, in which case you might take the ring roads and avoid both the ferguson area, and the main bridges which tend to get bottled up. to those of us who don't know the city well it's a huge temptation to just go around, but usually i didn't do it, mostly because it didn't save much time unless the conditions were really extreme downtown. but on the way into town, you pass through the north side, and i'd often stop at exits like lucas-hunt, jennings road or hanley. i didn't really know where i was; i have very little idea of true saint louis geography. even now it's news to me that ferguson is actually north of this road; that the north side, which seventy bisects, includes so much territory. it's an old city; the ozarks sneak up on it from the west, so it's hilly and very green, and the roads turn around a lot and there are florissant avenues everywhere. there are old french names like laclede and soulard, and a history of the french making it an outpost in the fur trade, and trading up and down the river.

the french era, though, was in the seventeen hundreds, and around the time of the great earthquakes, which were in 1811 and 1812. the french had their heyday, and left a pretty and charming character in the river towns that they liked, such as saint louis, cape girardeau, and new orleans. but by the civil war missouri was as embroiled in racial division as any place. black folks were free across the river in illinois, and alton, illinois was an abolitionist center, but missourians would cross the river and capture freed slaves, and bring them back. a huge race riot in east saint louis, illinois in 1917 was the worst in the nation, and its effects i think are still being felt today, though the facts were, even at that time, it was mostly a massacre of black folks at the hands of violent, very afraid white folks - there could be a pattern here. in the modern era, we have mostly a story of the established white families fleeing to the outer edges of the county, or, in illinois, up on the ridge, and the inner city being increasingly boarded up, though still pretty, older houses that are vacant. the city has lost population dramatically; people go elsewhere looking for work. the budweiser empire distinctly abandoned the city, when it sold out to a belgian company that had no loyalty to the area. the lack of jobs made for continual, and worsening, hardship for everyone.

my friends keep coming up with articles about the militarization of police forces; all of a sudden these police have major weapons and look more and more like the army invading its own people. that, and they tell about how black men live in an entirely different world than the rest of us, and are constantly targets, suspected, blamed, beaten. this is true not only in saint louis, or ferguson, i'm sure, but ferguson is quickly coming to represent the problem. saint louis friends of mine are horrified at how it's come to just be a 'war zone'...

a friend of mine, world traveler, american but raised in the middle east, passed through saint louis the other day based on curiosity about the arch as an architectural marvel. i told him, yes, it's a marvel, but you get way up there, and all you see is saint louis, which as i said is pretty but mostly only at the brick street-level, and of course the river, which is wide and dramatic in its own way. watch out for the airport, everyone said, but if you just go straight downtown, it's not really dangerous. that, of course, is easy to say, i don't guarantee anything. i told him about cahokia mounds, which is near east saint louis. it was a city, biggest in north america for a thousand years, but totally abandoned by the time the first french arrived, and the cahokia indians, who it was named for, freely admitted that the mounds were already there, when they arrived. so, we call them cahokia, but really they are the center of an empire that was huge, in its time, and is better named as the mound people. there's a little confusion, in other words; nobody really knows that much about the mound people. we only discovered that it was a city, when we were making interstates, back in the fifties, and so many of them had to go right down there by east saint louis.

saint louis people have an unusual accent; for example, they pronounce the vowel of their own city name, immediately following the l, as the vowel in bush rather than the vowel in toot; it took me years to hear it. but by far the most unusual thing they do is refer to what we would call dumb hicks, as hoosiers. now to the rest of us, hoosiers refers only to people from indiana, and isn't necessarily derogatory, since there's nothing unusual about indiana unless you have some reason to find it there. but to saint louisians, it's a much older story, and those hoosiers where white, mean, poor, and maybe some other stuff, though i never quite got how they really meant it. after all, it was the people who weren't hoosiers who were using it, and for the most part, i count them as mostly white, i never heard any black folks using the word. in fact the whole time i was around the city, i had nothing but polite, and normal, interactions with the black folks, who for the most part were always working the lower-paying jobs, airport shuttle, hotel bellboy, mcdonald's server, etc.

some conflicts, you can say, come from vast, deep historical hatreds, like that between israel and the palestinians; because people won't compromise, or try to understand each other, they are doomed to hatred forever. but i don't see the racial situation in saint louis that way. in ferguson you have white folks, sure, who dominate the police by a 50 to 3 margin, and who don't want to give up a good job. you have the black folks who live there, who by and large are working people, i'm sure. you have people, the media and the world, who tend to see these things racially. everything is an excuse to use racial categories, the white folks, or the israelis as the case may be, have all these guns and just kill people indiscriminately. i think the majority of them want to just live there, be left to go their own way, not suspected, tortured or killed just for their color, and they have no problem with folks of a different race; they'd do a better job at managing peace, if people weren't carrying around these huge weapons, and shouting at them. the wartime environment tends to be hard on the ones who are just trying to work things out.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

stickers and dog poop

a storm is passing over, but it's not really dropping anything yet; it's kind of hanging over the town, rumbling with its thunder, but not a drop from the sky yet. yesterday and the day before, it rained but only for a second; each drop hit with a psst and evaporated into steam immediately.

but the effects of the cloud cover are considerable anyway. it's ten degrees cooler if a big honkin' cloud will simply cover the sun for a while, and these clouds are enormous. they seem to be many-dimensional, and one can just imagine that being a pilot around here must be some interesting gig, going up through these things that are just so huge, colorful, snd constantly moving. nobody bothers guessing if and when they'll spit though; it's a kind of random geography, rather than a situation where you can actually say that some people are more likely to get it than others. it's all so flat that for us, it's a pure gamble every time.

when i go walking late at night, stickers and dog poop are my main enemies. i do three miles, around the park five times, barefoot, on the edge of where the little gravel path is around the park. but this edge gets its share of stickers and dog poop. the stickers are tiny little burrs that poke so hard they stick right in your foot and make it impossible to take another step. they are small and not to be mistaken for goat's heads which are larger, sharper, and less common. you can't see those stickers coming but after a while you know the dry spots where they have a lot of them; constant watering and thick grass tends to get rid of them. so i alter my path a little to avoid them. but the dog poop, it's squishy and disgusting, and i fail to see it every once in a while, and, much as i wipe my foot afterward, it seems to have a way of finding the spots on my foot that don't wipe easily. it's disgusting. and, it's totally opposite of stickers, in the way it's disgusting.

when i was a young guy, i did anything i had to to be independent, and pick up a few bucks to spend on beans and whatever to keep it all going. after i dropped out of school i worked in a restaurant, and a bakery, and as a newspaper bundle-dropper, house painter, and as a school-bus driver, and as a janitor at a mall. i was good and sick of the dead-end street that having no education offered me, so eventually i decided to go back to school. but even then, i got accepted into a school, and got started, and what did i find, i still had a couple of years to go where i was basically at the lowest level, uneducated, and had to do those low-level jobs a few years past the point where i'd decided they were pointless. i even considered becoming a carpenter at one point, because i figured if i was going to be outside working with my hands, i might as well move up and get a decent salary for it. but no matter what, i was at the mercy of the economy. there were jobs for unskilled people, and, as a white guy, i was as likely to get them as anyone. but times are different now, everybody has to figure out what they can do and get to work doing it.

i'd go about collecting tools as if i could ever become a truly independent, country landholder with a small plot of whatever, corn, being as i was in iowa, but when i finally got my chance, way out in the country there, i didn't have the money to license my car legally, and i couldn't even take care of the muscovy ducks that somebody had left on the property. they were characters, somewhat mean and opinionated, but i liked them, and would have kept them on if i had any brains. or cooked them. but instead i'd spend days in town, or i'd try to find work, and when i found work it was on the railroad way in the other direction, and i'd come home exhausted, barely able to cook. the ducks wandered off, got hit by cars on the gravel roads where people would fly by at about ninety. how was i supposed to prevent that? maybe clip their wings, or keep them better fed, i never quite knew. same thing happened later when i was given some goats. what do you do with goats? try to get milk out of them, i guess. but i was lacking skills and tools, i didn't have a chance. the country was nice, especially at night, lots of stars out there, and people watched out for each other. but people could see by the overgrown weeds that i wasn't going to make it.

the other day i was walking across nineteenth street, which i do four times a day, and the sun was beating down and making a huge glare on the road which makes visibility bad and increases the danger. lots of folks stop for a little too long at the light and stare vacantly as this old-timer hobbles across nine lanes taking my good old time. people do occasionally miss the light or come barreling at you but in general, it's too much time for them standing around, and running doesn't help. this day though i saw a screwdriver in the road, sun glancing off its rusty shank. shamelessly i picked it up and put it in my swim bag, right in front of everybody. it felt a bit like a weapon, but it's not; it reminded me for a moment of a shiv, a homemade blade, that i found one time on a gary on-ramp in the winter. over the years i collected a lot of tools, and many of them walked away, one time some workers who were working on our house must have picked up a few, maybe there was a drug issue there. the old ones, already run over, beat up a little, they're less likely to go. so i have an affinity for them right away, even if they have that day-glo color, common these last twenty years, possibility of being made abroad i'm sure. anyway, coming back across nineteenth, after my swim, i found the phillips-head; those, as it turns out, are even more useful than the plain ones, easier to misplace. this one also was a day-glo color, and found right near where the other one was, surely they were partners, and i'm surprised i didn't see it the first time. probably was under some poor guy's tires, but that's no place for a screwdriver.

but, driving out on the levelland road, got a small rock hit my windshield and make a hole; it was sudden and sharp, and i knew right away i was in for it. i'll have to take it into the shop, fork over a few hundred, etcetera, but fortunately it's not like the old days, when i'd simply live with it indefinitely, as an unfixable nuisance. i have one tool now, and that's a paycheck, so, i'll support those windshield-repair folks i suppose, and then i'll be on my way. the wide open texas plain stretches out for miles in every direction, that's why they call it levelland i suppose, the sun beats down, relentless, and the wind occasionally picks up whatever's not heavily seeded and watered down. then this rain, which is probably a teaser like all the others, either it'll come or it won't, but either way, i'll water if i have to, or just hold onto what i can get. it's been a good year for cherry toms (see below), not to mention sweet jalapenos, green bell peppers, second-generation sunflowers, and a kind of wild squash-gourd that was a volunteer and really went to town. where i'm from, any squash in its second year was doomed, because the bugs had already found it. here, it's too sunny for bugs, unless they're the below-ground variety. they just can't make it on no water for as long as they have to, here. unlike us, they don't have air-conditioning.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

summer in lazy river


in the art building

in the hood

lazy river blooms

trains at the ranch museum

kerrville memorial

friend in ruidoso

thistle, ruidoso's foe

white sands, old friend

mission accomplished

cherry toms

back on campus