Sunday, April 26, 2015

clouds move dramatically on the horizon in every direction. sometimes they seem to be coming at you from every direction. what you don't want is for them to come at you from two directions, then get caught up in an updraft or some kind of violent result. sometimes it just opens up and pours on you; that happened a day or two ago, and it happened suddenly, in the middle of the morning, and by evening all the lawns were green and i had to get back to mowing. i'm mowing two houses, the one i used to live in, and the one i live in now, and when i get behind i feel like i need a scythe instead of the pushmower i've been using. but i have to mow in between the rains.

out on my walk, i go five times around the park, and sometimes i see these cloud movements above me. they come from the north, or the west, or the south, whatever. it's late at night so i can't always tell exactly what's happening. sometimes there is lightning way out in the distance as a storm rolls across the plains outside of town. helicopters take off and land as they always do; the park is near the two hospitals. police sirens happen in the distance; it's a busy city, around ten or eleven at night.

but last night, there was a fairly clear sky, and a large group of people having some kind of party on the sheltered side of the park, where there isn't a lot of car traffic, and one can sit out in the grass and see the sky. as i walked past them the first time i tried to figure out if it was some kind of reunion. they had a table and a bunch of drinks and ice, and everyone was talking away. it was a cool, clear night, and i have to say one thing, it's been a beautiful spring - even though you have this wild cloud movement, at least it's clear and fresh. the fourth time around they were beginning to clear out and go home; it was past eleven. but the fifth time, i saw a telescope - turns out they were looking at the sky. what they were trying to see, i have no idea. the perseids? something like that was coming through.

frustrating times on the baseball field; the pirates can't catch a break. my son strikes out with the best of them, and some people get mad at either the ump or the coach, each of whom is partly responsible, i'm sure. some days i wonder if this enormous sky show is going to catch up with us before the game is over; one day, it caught up with us, right as the game was over. mostly, people play as if it wasn't going to rain, and, mostly it doesn't. in west texas you have thousands of square miles for just a few thunderstorms, and we've had more than our share already, so much so that the dust is really quite minimal this spring, and green stuff is spouting everywhere. in my own yard, i'm not sure if i know ragweed when i see it, but all kinds of stuff is growing, and most of it is not good, just in the weed kind of way, and if it is ragweed, i really want it out of there.

the band is coming down to its last days; one of the guitar players, the police chief, is retiring and moving to georgia; another is getting quite old, and having trouble tuning the guitar. he also might be having trouble with the rhythm; that's a little harder to discern. in the rhythm department, it actually could be me, though i try my best and usually get close. the banjo picker, best banjo picker this side of the panama canal, i like to say, is having surgery soon. hard times coming; i might ship out and see what else i can find. too bad, though, i love these guys like i've loved no other musical arrangement. they play hot, and fast, and harmonic, and they sing in tune. you can't get much better.

then, out on quaker avenue, my wife saved a dog the other day. it was hollowed out, scarred, starving, flea-ridden, but it was a white shepherd, quite beautiful, and it's sweet. it's settled in with our other dogs, though it's quite sensitive, and we call her snow. at first i objected; i've said from the start that two is enough, three too many, but i was outvoted, and i let it go, i can't send some beautiful white dog off to certain doom. i still advocate for finding a loving owner, namely maybe my sister, or someone who really needs a dog; we certainly don't. or maybe some of us do, i'm not sure. in any case she needs us, at least for the moment. pictures coming. she has a black lab for a sister, and a chih-weenie for a brother, but she is focused on loving us, and getting some food, for the moment, and after she eats, she'll be quite beautiful. she has something in her, besides german shepherd, something tall and thin, but she has those shepherd ears, pointing straight up. and she defends the children with a ferocity that is quite touching.

sometimes i'm out driving, and sky does its swirling thing; you can see that things are happening up there, and they are rearranging themselves and fixing to move. life as a pilot would be very interesting, and you know this because you can see many layers, just looking up at any given moment, and you can know that it would be a wild show on all of every layer, all the way up. in fact, when you come down into our airport, you come down through layers of sky that are quite dramatic and amazing. and if the sun happens to be coming up or down, even more so. it's a never-ending show, dramatic and constantly unfolding, and it's made for high drama all spring. keeps me on my feet, i might say.

Monday, April 20, 2015

highway 61 revisited

in about an hour i turn sixty-one, so i'm revisiting old classics - the dylan album, the allman brothers doing "highway 61 revisited," other highway songs. i was thinking of revisiting that old road outside of iowa city, but it turns out that one isn't sixty-one, and maybe never was, as sixty-one goes up the river over toward maquoketa, and in iowa at least, i wasn't all that familiar with it. the sixty-one i knew best, i caught up with going south out of iowa city, down across the quarter-bridge at st. francisville, south into missouri where i caught up to sixty-one, and took it down through hannibal and down into st. louis. the other sixty-one i'm familiar with, same one really, is the one that goes north from duluth, through two harbors, and up into the split rock lighthouse (which is now the symbol of this page and the press)...up there, one is on the north side of lake superior, and looks back over into the continental united states, and that lake seems so cold, so blue, i can feel it now.

when dylan wanted to name his album "highway 61 revisited," he got lots of flak from everyone around him, but he used his muscle with the recording people, and they eventually let him do it. his idea was that the delta blues from highway sixty-one, down in mississippi, where robert johnson allegedly sold his soul, were at the root of his blues, and he wanted the world to know it. dylan apparently would take highway sixty one, in the old days, from northern minnesota down to new orleans, and had more than one story about getting caught up along the way. interstates weren't as ubiquitous those days; taking a two-lane along the river made a lot of sense, was perhaps the fastest way. there's no telling how much of the two-lane he really knew well; i have no idea when exactly he was even on the road. but it's not hard to imagine him on the same road i was. he sings about missouri, and about new orleans, and about the darkness and the endlessness of the road. lots of road to revisit.

these days i watch a lot of baseball; my son plays on the pirates, who often lose, and even lost big ones against the phillies and indians recently. knowing that i loved the indians more than anything, he asked if i would be for the indians or for the pirates. of course my loyalty lies with him and his team, and i told him so. the images are good in this league - the kids dress up like the pros, with pro uniforms, pro hats, etc. it's high class baseball at its best. the whole thing reminds me of being a kid - when everyone wanted to be a pirate, as we lived in pittsburgh - how i insisted on being an indian - how our little team won it all - this was the high point of my experience in little league, but i played literally days and days of baseball, out in a field, behind our house, and a place technically owned by an orphanage. if one hit it far enough, it went into the woods, or, if foul, down into a series of parking lots. it's impossible to recreate the kind of fun i had with baseball, to give my kid that kind of experience, though i know it can be had in some places, somehow. our present little league isn't quite doing it, but he's still touched by it, i think. he says he wants to play baseball from now on.

my band will play on my birthday, just the usual jam session, two hours in the back room of the coffee shop, pure bluegrass, the best in town. i play the blues, alone here at home, because that's what i don't play when i'm out, for the most part, though they do play highway forty blues, which, in my mind, is another missouri song. these songs all revisit highways for me; sometimes i just hear an old radio in a beater on an old country road, but i'm still revisiting a highway. i love the band; sometimes i even say so, but we won't be together forever; one member is retiring and moving to georgia soon. i fantasize about where i'd go next - blues maybe? i've always loved blues, and could just as easily play with any band that was as easy to get along with as these guys.

i've decided to take "revisiting highways" as a year-long project. my day, tomorrow, is totally full, until the gig, at which time i'll bust forth with that fiddle and let out the stress of two meetings, a class, and a couple of writing-lab shifts. life goes on, birthday or not, one has to do one's job; i will, however, as i always do, refuse to let anything bother me. that's my right, i figure, on my birthday of all days, and that's a useful attitude to take into a meeting. i've found this exercise - of not letting things get to me - a good thing to cultivate and practice. there's plenty of time to revisit highways. the time, the pressure, the end of the semester - this is what's happening now.

my son found the old 1995 world series, with the indians, a game which they may have won. this is what we do, sometimes, when we're just relaxing, before bed. sometimes it seems like he's into baseball to please me, says his mom - other times, it seems like he takes this knowledge of baseball, and uses it among his friends, hating yankees, for example. though i must point out, hating yankees had a different meaning, back when i was growing up, than it does down here. i point out that, on a pure level, hating a baseball team is not the same as hating people, and just means you want them to lose, no matter what team they are playing. but i do notice that in all the little league leagues, there are no yankees. there are several pirate teams, at least one indian team, but no yankees.

listening to the old classics - dylan, grateful dead, allman brothers. various versions of "highway 61," or songs that were on it. but i'm laying low; i won't put these on my facebook. i'll ruminate, sing them in my head. then, at the coffee shop, i'll let fly. to a new year!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

easter day i've spent transplanting holly bushes and very little else; i was overcome by a kind of tiredness brought on by getting enough sleep, two nights in a row, for the first time ever. last night i was having pretty wild dreams, and it made me tired to jar myself awake and return to the world we know as reality. fortunately the egg dying and egg hunts went off pretty well. the kids filled themselves with candy and ran off to do kid things, and left me to my holly bushes.

i had to put the holly bushes to the side, because my wife planted two big salmon-yuccas at the front door entrance. i call them salmon-yuccas because of their color, but there is a lot of sun there at the front door, and the hollies i could tell weren't incredibly happy anyway. now that they're virtually in the shade they can spout their red berries and thorns and just relax a little, since they don't have to guard the doors. one always hopes these things will survive a transplant, but one never knows.

all the other stuff going on, and i've more or less taken a break. i'm almost done writing about half-dozen things, but all are stalled in their own way. i was going to renew my tlevs press page, but it too looks overwhelming to me, and i'm out of ideas except that it needs some change. and finally, there's insulating the garage and growing a garden, but although i did some insulating over the weekend, and have actually made some progress, i still have a long way to go and can't really move the last of the stuff over from the old house until i have a little more room in the garage.

now that you've made it this far, and read patiently about the boring stuff in my life, i'll share some of the wilder stuff, that we're still in many ways recovering from. there was a student maybe two years ago who made some threats, e-mail, obscure, just under the radar - it was hard to pin him down exactly but when he made an e-mail threat to my wife, chair of the department, and it included her kids and family, i took notice and did research. the guy was not on the web in any form, and i could not find out what he looked like. she and the police were pretty sure he was behind the threats, but that was based on his choice of recipient - he was the one who had all these people in common, and had in turn creeped each one out. but they couldn't prove the e-mails had come from him, and he denied it. finally in a confrontation involving some of his accusers, him, and the police, he agreed to leave school while he was allowed to graduate and finish his course without coming on campus, and he did; he went back to houston.

the local police were alerted to the fact that he had come back up to town from houston and might look to be causing trouble. his phone pinged from our neighborhood, but fortunately, we had moved, and anyone who was around didn't necessarily know our new address, even though we were only six blocks away. my wife actually went over to the old house twice on thursday, but we can assume they didn't cross paths, or, if they did, that he didn't take the opportunity. we can assume either that he had it out for everyone, in coming up here, or just wanted to visit; he was being called up in a hearing in houston and had simply skipped out. but as the police were checking up on our whereabouts and condition they received a call that he was dead. now we can guess that it was a suicide, but i've spent the weekend checking the news for a report, to no avail. if he killed himself on thursday the local media were left clueless, and that could be a habit for suicides, but i would have thought they'd say something.

in fact the guy is now thoroughly cleansed from the media; there's no mention of him whatsoever. it's as if he never existed, and i find that kind of creepy, because i'm pretty sure, based on what i know, that he did exist. we were left relieved and without even ever being aware we were in danger, as we'd more or less forgotten about him for a while, until some detectives knocked on our door. i recognized the name right away. but the minute they mentioned it, they also mentioned that they were pretty sure he was not longer a problem for us.

the picture i get from my wife is that of a kid who never figured out how to connect successfully with the people he liked, or even the ones he didn't; he'd sent threats in various places, and had creeped out a whole variety of people. he complained that two girls in his class were bugging him, but he sat in the front row and they ended up in the chair's office complaining that he was bugging them. various people reported that he was a problem; the police had followed him around for a while. yet he had never really followed through on his threats; he hadn't hurt anyone as far as we knew. and when he did, his victim was himself.

the question remains of why there would be a media blackout. i find myself more educated about the pool of random crimes in this city over the weekend, and also about the passel of people who just happened to have died, here and in houston, since about thursday. but his name comes up zeroes in every search. he's not in there. if he died, the world is clueless. and who knows about his parents? did they never find out? or come up and identify the body? is that perhaps the holdup?

it got warm again today, after a little respite in which it actually rained a bit, we had a storm, and it cooled off for perhaps a day. good time to transplant holly, but april in texas often brings up serious wind, shift toward warm and dry, and an intense sun one can only hide from in the days. my mother has found that she has melanoma, and though she is old enough that it's not a crushing blow, the warning has been sent to all of us, with our scottish blood and skin issues - protect thyself, it's a cruel sun. she got it, she thinks, from detassling as a teenager. i mention that to people around here, and they don't recognize it, but they all know melanoma. texas sun is hard on us white folks who settle down here, and spend whole summers out by the pool. as we got to the middle of the day, i shrank back inside and rested some more. i think you have to give yourself some space to get over the traumatic things in your life, like for example being saved by the simple circumstance of having moved randomly, and not left a forwarding address. we have no idea, of course, that this exactly saved our lives; perhaps it was only a coincidence. but the phone pinging in our neighborhood is still an image that sticks with me, as for example some of the great horror movies, before cell phones, like "i know who you are and i saw what you did," early version, which left us on the edge of our seats and gave us nightmares for months. some of those nightmares, i think i just got again, though they took a very strange form and totally disoriented me before i even had a chance to wake up. and now, i can't help thinking about the kid, and a life of being totally alone, friendless, no tools to make and keep friends, and in fact only one well-honed tool, that of eliminating oneself entirely from the internet.