Monday, March 30, 2015

oh canada

sometimes, when i go to canada, i ask people about what it’s like to be right next to such an enormous country, the usa, with all its wars and involvement around the world. This time, it didn’t come up. I did talk to a few canadians in toronto, and some were, at one point, singing a cowboy song, and i almost told them i was from texas – I wasn’t sure how they’d respond. people were friendly to a fault, especially when I was lost. on my way home, i was in the wrong terminal in the airport, and a shuttle driver, seeing my dilemma, said, "wrong terminal? buggers, eh?" which made my whole trip, but he gave me a ride to the right one, and i got there just in time. i slipped through customs and security in a hurry, without even the time to suffer from it.

the convention center was sandwiched between the baseball stadium and the hockey arena, and the whole line of them blocked the city from the lake itself, which, as the pilot pointed out, was not frozen over. it was an in-between time of year; definitely spring in the south, but still below freezing up here, and lots of people had had enough, it being a very long winter, and they were ready for the cold to let up. i kept getting lost down there, and at night i was looking for the convention center, in the cold, and stumbled upon a hockey game the first time. the leafs were playing florida, of all teams, and people had come from far and wide, wearing maple leaf shirts, big and wide and blue, to see the game. outside the arena, a large screen showed the game, and i watched for a while. some people had come from far and wide just to be there, and for whatever reason, having spent their money perhaps, were stuck outside the arena, in the cold, watching the game.

several things happened at the conference that were important to me; first, I connected with friends that i’ve had for years, people I've taught with, people with similar interests. i saw a guy I taught with in korea, in around 1986. i went to a reunion of the university I taught at for eighteen years; about a dozen people attended. i gave my own presentation, which was about technological influence on people's writing and learning. And finally I got a bit of a break, from a wild family; I came back to my old stomping grounds, where they were not surprised by snow in late march, and where the grim dirt on the bus windows prevented you from really seeing the traffic, or the scenery, or the lake off in the distance.

at the convention several international people were in a jam. some were from yemen, and had found that the airport was closed, taken over by rebels, after they left. They were not sure they could get home. another friend was in the museum in tunis right before it was attacked; she was a bit shaken by the experience, but was nevertheless packing up and going to bangladesh soon. one friend worked in qatar, and wanted another different job in the same region. one more friend, a computer tech friend from argentina, said things were bad there and in brazil; argentina might go the way of venezuela, she said, and that would be terrible. people shared their experiences, and we heard stories. this crowd was relatively fearless; canada's passport requirement didn't phase them; they were willing to consider most isolated posts.

now, i've made it back to new york, and i'm at gate D10 in laguardia, which happens to look out at a constant stream of planes landing and taking off, every twenty or thirty seconds or so. big giant jetliners are taking off and landing, while the snow swirls around but doesn't collect, and sometimes dies down, and there are smokestacks on the sound over in one direction, and manhattan off in another. back in the usa, i'm not afraid to use my phone anymore, and there's all kinds of stuff on it. I'm laid over for a while, trying to get back to texas. i can see why texans like to get out of this gray, bleak, dark late march. i had met one woman from vermont and i'd told her I was jealous, I thought she lived in one of the prettiest places there was. she lit into me with a litany of complaint; it was a long, hard winter, went forever, way too much snow, miserable. going to toronto hadn't made anything better for her.

i had to admit, it wasn't a break in the weather for anyone but me. in texas, it's already hot and sunny, warm all the time, spring full-on blooming and things about as green as they’re going to get. Some people complained bitterly about the cold in toronto; it was about 25, and it was windy, and a hard wind came off the lake all the time. This I already knew about toronto. my hotel was about two miles from the convention, and it was a hard two miles, partly because suit-jackets don't really make it possible to really make yourself warm, especially if you are like i am, live in a warm clime and rely on layers in cold times. but i was ok with it. it was a lot of very cold walking, and i slept well at night.

american airlines doesn’t let me get on an earlier flight unless i'm a “preferred” customer, or have miles, or some such, so it looks like i'll be at this window watching planes for a while. they seem to mix in take-offs and landings, but they keep them coming, every twenty or thirty seconds, a new one. a family comes with a precocious daughter; they provide my entertainment, along with the snow and the constant planes. eventually, the snow dies away.

the image of the hockey game sticks with me. the first time i arrived there, a guy was eager to sell me a ticket, maybe eighty, hundred bucks. i was dazed; i didn’t even know where i was. ticket for what, I asked. he couldn’t believe it, and didn’t have time to waste explaining. the scalpers buy up tickets cheaply, and turn them over the best they can. people were hanging around the open area around the arena. the second time, coming back home, i was at the hockey game again, and this time it was already a period or two into the game. on impulse i asked the scalper how much he wanted and with excitement he called out to his friends. the scalper mentioned $40 as a price for a single ticket, after the game had already started; i probably could have gotten it for less with a little haggling. it was cold, below 30, and there were traces of snow in the air. i kept on walking, deciding i was not quite prepared for the full force of a hockey game.

several people were standing around, part of the scalper community, apparently, or trying to get money out of a ticket or two, so they could go get something to drink. One guy in particular caught my attention. he was an older native american guy, a little drunk maybe, transfixed by the situation, with the wide screen television up in the square and people standing around trying to gather up the resources to get into the game; maybe some people wait for the main scalpers to admit they aren’t going to sell the last of the tickets; at that point, everyone gets in free.

in any case, it seemed like this guy didn’t quite believe he was in downtown toronto. it seems to be the main city of the whole country; it attracts people who are uprooted, who don’t know where else to go. but the hockey game seems to have a special role to the canadians. it was clearly an important event.

out on yonge street some kids just sat on the sidewalk, even in the cold, nowhere else to go. there were lots of panhandlers, a whole community of them, people who had come from far and wide just to be in the times square of Toronto.

at the convention, i asked people what they thought of canada. one friend said it was much like europe, with lots of european brands that you can’t get in the us; she obviously is a shopper. another said she couldn’t take the cold; it was cold enough this winter, and she just wanted it to be over. one guy was canadian, and said it was a brutal winter in most of canada. i asked him what they’d done to the money; instead of the loonies and toonies of yore, they had money with this kind of glassy aluminum on it. This too, he said, came from europe, and don’t put it in the dryer. You can still get loonies and toonies out in the boonies, he said.

one woman said that her mother was canadian, so it was like coming home for her. where she lived, it was all hockey, all the leafs and the habs. habs, I said? This was the montreal canadiens; it attracted the french, the catholics, the quebecois, even in ontario. It was big, the rivalry between leafs and the habs. it's like the raiders and the longhorns. but it’s hockey.

the leafs lost, apparently, and i find that ironic, because we’re talking about florida here. florida can beat the Leafs? There is some imbalance here, an imbalance in quality homegrown players not playing for their favorite team, but going where the money is? I don’t know how it happened.

Somewhere where I was, the television was on an endless loop. It started with a couple of hockey players starting a fight. Now hockey fights are pretty common, and people see them coming, and usually are pretty quick to get between two combatants and pull them apart, even though everyone is on skates and it can get a little dicey. But in this loop, it’s not clear that anyone ever breaks it up. In fact, just as people are about to break it up, the loop does an odd twist and goes back to the beginning without the viewer realizing that. And it’s as if the onlookers have backed off and the two are about to start up at it again. So as the loop comes around its fourth or fifth time, it seems as if these guys have been going at it forever. Where are the lost teeth? Where’s the blood? The television just kept looping.

But hockey was on television in every restaurant, every hotel, everywhere. It was a passion, clearly. It was how a Canadian got through late March, when it was still snowing, apparently.

The airlines wants my bag. They’re getting tired of bags not fitting in the overheads. Everyone wants to carry as much as possible on the plane, and the plane can’t hold it all. Bags are too stuffed, and people are all right up against the measurements of what is permissible. That’s true for me as well. I didn’t want to check any of it; I wanted it right next to me. Didn’t want to pay. I knew we’d be crowded and didn’t care. In the end, I let them check it for free. I was in Group 3, so there was no way I’d get it overhead. So now I’m alone with my computer, and we’re hdigh above the Appalachians somewhere. The sharp opaque clouds have let up, and the sun is reaching the ground below in a kind of haze.

I have a little peace. I am ready for Texas again. I got my winter fix; I got a good brisk walk or two. I heard a lot of languages; I talked to people from all over. I connected with my buddies in the tech world; I breathed some northern winter. And I watched a lot of hockey on television.
New Story
Enjoy! Comments Welcome!


the #noaccident people have stepped up their campaign. i guess they believe that anytime you leave a loaded gun around unattended kids, you don’t have a right to say that what follows is an accident. some adult was irresponsible in the same way that, say, drunken drivers who kill innocent victims are responsible.

but nobody could possibly be harder on the irresponsible parents who have let that happen, than the parents themselves. i think it would shatter your life, and turn it inside out, if you lost one of your children to one of these "accidents," and frankly, it doesn’t help even when the community gets behind you and affirms that it all was a tragic "accident."

there’s a guy in our community who this happened to, and my heart goes out to him, because i’ve had two sets of boys four years apart, and this is any parent's worst nightmare. he left a gun loaded, in the reach of his kids, at a hunting cabin? it’s scary. i was at a little league opening ceremony recently, and they were giving over a stadium that was named for this parent, and making sure it was named for his son instead, as per his request. but he had to appear in public to do even that. i'm sure it wasn’t easy.

there is no way he can go back and relive that experience, go back and do it right. what’s done is done; the older son has to live with himself too. the #noaccident people got a lot of free advertising. the community itself, which supports gun rights pretty strongly, got united around the idea of "accident." They were even willing to let him get up on stage, and accept an award; he had unquestionably done some good things for the league itself. but he looked like a broken man; he limped. i know it wasn’t easy for him to get in front of his old crowd.

here, people get united behind the idea that there’s a heaven, and all good saved people will go there. i’m not sure, so i stay out of it, but if you really have to go one way or the other, there are a lot of things to consider. a kid, who was probably ten, will surely go there; he hasn’t done enough damage to go the other way. but what about the dad? or me? neither of us is an angel. and then, if everyone goes different ways, is that just the way it is, you remain divided forever? i have trouble with a concept that, in this case, would keep this guy away from his kid for an eternity. and i believe that good people sometimes do bad things, or, are not being responsible to truly cover the kinds of hazards we have in the modern world. the whole thing is so personal, i can barely write about it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recent writing

Saturday, March 21, 2015

over the mountain

set off on thursday to go "over the mountain," which is a six-and-a-half hour trip west, up about six thousand feet, way down into the tularosa valley, and over to my parents' place, where they are getting steadily older but enjoying the warm, sunny new mexico spring. i took my son with me, so i followed his schedule, and ate where he wanted, indulging him and letting him watch ninja-turtle movies most of the way. i watched license plates on the way, and saw thirty-three altogether, including every state west of the mississippi except arkansas and hawaii, and chihuahua and a couple of government ones along with them.

setting out from our town, which is wide and flat, but had a beautiful, gentle fog at the sunrise, we went over texas farm fields, and many of them still had a fog on them as we shot by. I especially remember some old cotton hanging on some vines, but the cotton in the foreground, and the fog in the background, that was a sight. through most of texas the speed limit is like seventy or seventy five, easy for me to stay under, but i have to watch it in the towns, because those guys have nothing to do but pull over someone they don't recognize, and give them a stiff reminder to follow the signs. i'm trying hard to be a good boy, even when people are flying by me in both directions.

we go through the town of brownfield, and then plains, which is virtually on the new mexico border, and then lovington new mexico, a classic ranching town, though it's kind of turning into an oil town. after lovington is a vast stretch of oilfields, down off the caprock, and then we come to artesia, a small town on the other side of the pecos river which it took me several trips to find. to put bluntly, the pecos is a little stream that, at this point anyway, isn't much. at the moment it actually has water and i'm glad to see that; any time a river has water around here, that's a good sign. when we cross the river and get to the town, there's an i-hop there, and we stop for waffles.

now i judge a small town by how they treat total strangers, especially when they're different races, but around this town it's not so bad, except the one time we stopped at the pizza hut and they never actually served us, twenty or thirty minutes later we'd left, and they still hadn't come around giving us a menu. but that was actually more a product of the fact that it was the town's biggest football game, the whole place was total chaos, nobody was being served, and the bathroom was a complete hurricane. so i always get the feeling these things are racial, but often they aren't, and in the case of the i-hop, everyone was nice and they served us right away. we liked it.

we continue on over the high dry country, where you can see hundreds of miles, and very little grows on account of the hot dry wind coming down off the mountain all spring. way up high, in the nine-thousand feet mountains, it's wet again, with lots of clouds, and there's still snow on the ground. at this point i look for excuses to get out of the car and breathe in the mountain air. beyond those wet snowy peaks, the highway shoots down among the dry hills through the ancient caves and the one highway tunnel, and down in the tularosa, on the other side, you have the white sands and the wide hot valley. our friends have already left the white sands though, and there's no point in sledding down the white sands if there isn't other kids to join in the fun.

white sands is really where all the license plates are, and we got a lot of them, picking up lemonade and finding out a little about roadrunners. my son is suddenly interested in desert animals and plants; he even brought home a cactus. when my sister asked him how it was with grandma and grandpa, he said "they're awesome," but later when i related the story to them, they didn't quite get it. one has to get used to the use of "awesome" to describe people. they had to take my word for it that it was good.

on the way home, we stopped at white sands again, and then, high on the mountain, we went for a walk out to the old s-trestle ruins. there was no snow on them this time; it seemed like massive railroad ties all thrown in a huge pile out in the woods. we were high in the mountains; air was thin, snow was still on the ground, pines were everywhere. he was a trooper and walked a little farther than usual. the hike, for me, was a total breather, beautiful, the rest i needed.

he wasn't hungry for anything except i-hop, so we stopped there again on the way back. artesia was its usual self, a total all-around small town. the food was good, but it was the middle of the afternoon and the place was virtually empty. i watched the traffic at the main corner there, the road going south-north along the pecos, the oil-fields road cutting straight across eastern new mexico. know anything about artesia? my sister had asked. it's where the detention center is, that's where they're putting kids from central america who have found their way up here. total breakdown down that way; these kids have seen their families torn apart, and have nowhere to go, and it's not pretty. they keep them in a detention center but don't really know what to do with them. send them home? that wouldn't work, that's like murder. and besides, they're kids.

my own child was full, and fell asleep upon getting back in the car. he'd seen enough ninja turtle movies, there was little else to do, and the oil fields turned back into flat empty rangeland; he was worn out from the walking too. my hope is that, next time we go over the mountain, he'll still want to go.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

late at night i head straight west from my house and to the park, where i walk five times around, about three miles, at a reasonable pace. there are usually very few people out there, but because i do it late at night, there's an occasional car that is parked up against the park to get some privacy, and of course i walk up right by them and disrupt that. it's not intentional. it's a park, and i believe they should be allowed to do whatever they want and enjoy the wide open grasses just like i do. i saw the fox the other night; he cuts across the northwest corner, and stays away from people, and he's been gone for a while, haven't seen him in about a year. maybe it's the spring weather; it's already getting hot here, and it's not only warmed up, but also dried out, allowing a lot of weeds to bloom like crazy.

my band had its usual jam at the coffee shop last night; this was on saint patrick's day, but i never heard the word 'irish' spoken even once, and we just played right on through with our usual bluegrass. i actually sang my first song, and i was very nervous, but it came out all right, and when i messed up the rhythm they kind of caught up and adjusted, which was good. my plan is to sing more and more, and they have totally agreed to this, but it's taken all my nerve to even get started. finally also i got out an old music stand from my cello days, in the 1960's, and it's good, it makes me feel connected to every piece of music i've ever played. but to get back to the irish part, i was actually sorry about that, that there wasn't an irish song at least, or that i didn't have an irish band even. a lot of fun to be had, playing irish, but i was having a lot of fun with bluegrass, so it all worked out. we have a regular audience; they come for the bluegrass. a few other stragglers chance in and listen. my own sons come down and listen to a few songs, though one, the nine-year-old, prefers to hang around in the front of the coffee shop, pretending like he's being unattended, which, in a way, he is. he does come and check with me regularly; he even recorded a set of three songs which i now have to figure out how to get down off my phone. but in his heart, he wants to be out with the grownups, living the coffee-house life.

i'm somewhat mired in my writing these days; having gotten well over what i needed to have a 1000-poem book, i shut down and stopped writing poetry altogether; i compiled my quaker plays and began to write another, about conscientious objectors in world war two, but got held up again, this time because i'm about to go to new mexico, and then to toronto the following week. it occurred to me today, before i leave for new mexico, that i should just make sure to get some rest, before i do anything else. so that's what i'm doing. the warm sunny texas march beats down on an easygoing town (students are gone), and i'm having trouble getting out of my chair.

the story of the conscientious objectors is interesting, because of the times they lived in. i grew up hearing about the great war, and i don't remember anyone ever questioning it, or saying that the best response to it would be not fighting. they felt like the world was devolving into racial hatred and an enormous collective imperative to kill, and when we finally dropped the bomb, killing thousands, the nation was caught up in joyous celebration that they didn't share. their stubborn refusal to kill made them targets of everyone, but they stuck to their guns, so to speak, and that's what the story is about. it'll be the last of about a dozen plays, although i may keep on writing them. i am kind of scrambling for ways to stay quaker, besides lurking on quaker sites and occasionally commenting.

and, when i'm mired, as i am now, facebook takes up more and more of my time. you get online, and manually you control which friends you visit, what you read or watch or do, it's like a folk festival or a huge party. if for a single minute a person becomes boring to you, or god forbid says something you disagree with, you simply click away and go somewhere else. people post music; some of my friends keep me up on liberal or conservative articles dealing with politics or world events. i can have it if i want it. i can make my social life political, religious, new age, academic, or full of cartoon puns. it doesn't get much better, and it goes on forever, or could anyway.

but if i really want to sink and mire and give away time, nothing beats the bog, which i've always said, is one of the three best things about the internet (google, boggle, and blogger)...every night, thirty to sixty people in one place, coming up with words out of a square of twenty five letters. i'm usually lucky to get in the top half. join me sometime! I'm on late, generally.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

you have to pay attention to the door, and latch it on your way out, otherwise it hangs there loose and anything can happen, namely the dogs can shoot out after a dog walking down the street. that's exactly what happened; four girls came in after tape, some knew how to latch but the last one didn't, the door was hanging there, and the dogs shot out after a neighbor dog who was being walked by. that neighbor wasn't too happy about it and mumbled some kind of threat, but i don't remember exactly what it was. the kids, one boy and the four girls, shot out after the dogs, going down the street barefoot as the dogs enjoyed their sudden freedom on a beautiful sunday afternoon.

the problem is, the more you chase them, the farther they go, whereas if you stop and let them go around in circles, they start sniffing, and then you can catch them. but the little boy, head of the pack, decided he could catch them, and kept on going forward, around the corner, a couple of blocks to the schoolyard, past the schoolyard, up to the city park, and then back left into the neighborhood. the dogs were joyfully sticking right in front of him, refusing to be caught. the girls, all barefoot, yelled and called out and in general made it harder, but they were pretty soon out of the territory where they were comfortable; they didn't really know where they were. in fact, i was probably the only one who really knew where we were. i called out after the boy, trying to get him to stop, or at least slow down, so i could catch up to him, but he was very caught up in the chase, and he kept going a little farther, and farther yet.

so finally i was on this intersection back in the neighborhoods; one block to the west was the city park, one block to the east was a busy street. the dogs and the boy and one girl had crossed the busy street, and the kids actually caught the bigger dog, who is less serious about evasion. once the big dog is caught, the little one is easier, but that's mostly because they aren't chasing anymore, they have to stop just to hang on to the bigger one. but one of the girls at my side said she wouldn't go any further, because she didn't know where she was. she knew how to get home, but if she went any farther, she wouldn't. and it was her cousin that was with her, these two barefoot girls, and they wanted to go back. i could have told them to hold still, since i could see the end of the chase, but i'd lost my confidence in my own ability to contain the kids and their reaction to the dogs. so i let the two girls walk back on their own.

another block and a half, and we'd caught both dogs. the little one let me catch him right in the busy street. he growled at me, but finally he let me carry him all the way home. the kids got the big one home; it was only five short blocks, but we went right past the coffee shop and the local grocery, and halfway, who should we come upon but the two girls, who didn't go straight home as they'd said, but kind of got a little sidetracked. we had made a very contained five-block loop through a neighborhood center, where basically the schools (that buddy holly went to), the coffee shop, the grocery, the park, are all near each other. fortunately the roads here aren't truly that busy. the busy one that i caught the dog in is only two-lane, thirty mph, no real danger of being run over, i thought.

i had less confidence about the girls. i knew people would be behind us looking for us, but i didn't know i could let two young girls walk back, past the park, on their own. i didn't have my cell phone. i felt in a way like forcing them to stick with me was not quite right. i tried to get them to stick with me. but the two with the dogs were lost too. taking their word for it (that they could find their way home) may have been a mistake. but it all worked out, and now we're all working on keeping the door latched.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Monday, March 09, 2015

new story
enjoy! comments welcome as usual

Saturday, March 07, 2015