Tuesday, October 4, 2016

House of the Dead Puppies

This was in Walton County, Fl. Maybe 1987, after I had come back from Iowa and just before moving into the beach house in Gulf Trace with T.

T knew quite a few people in the area--I think maybe she'd grown up in the northeast, or maybe in many places--(her father was a career Air Force man and had flown fighter jets in Vietnam)--but her parents owned a place up in Baker, Florida and she had been living/working along the beach for quite some time. Anyway, for whatever reason, she wanted to stop in and see some guy who lived up among the red-dirt roads along the south side of the bay. And, so we did.

The only thing, when we got there, this guy was not home. And the bad thing was, there in his yard inside a chicken-wired compound, were dead and dying puppies. I mean a whole litter of puppies--and not just newborns, but maybe a few weeks or months old--either dead or in the process of dying. At least a dozen decent-sized puppies. They looked well-fed, had healthy coats, but there was something more-than-obviously very wrong going on.

It was not a pretty sight.

T was especially dismayed. I don't recall if the mother dog was there among the puppies, but here we were in the heat and at a strange house along the back roads along the bay and there were these dying and already dead puppies . . . What more can I say?

I know T called the guy's phone after we got home (no cell phones then) and left a message. I know he called her back--or maybe we saw him somewhere a few weeks later, I don't recall though it seems like I saw his face. Anyway, he apologized but did not explain why they had died or were dying or what he had done about the whole sad ordeal. Doubt it was poison and more likely some disease due to the puppies never taken to a vet or some such. I don't know.

I don't think about it much.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sam: Grayton Beach 1986

Actually I was living in Gulf Trace at this time, living with T. in the unfinished house on the beach after I had come back to the Panhandle from Iowa--after I had dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop (something that still pains me to say to this day).

Sam was a guy I met at a restaurant party, probably for the holidays. I don't recall exactly. He was with another guy--someone's older brother or son of the restaurant owner--and the two of them were, shall we say, a few of the more educated, self-aware and worldly among the usual crew of people in that area in the nineteen eighties. Sam stood out because he was of Asian descent (Korean, Japanese, Chinese--I don't know), which was unusual for that part of Florida. Anyone who wasn't white was unusual for the beach, really. So he and his friend (the older brother) were standing around at the party and I went over and introduced myself.

We--the three of us, I must have been there with T. but I don't think she was there at the moment--made chitchat. I asked Sam where he was from and I could see him and the other guy exchange wry glances, so I quickly added, "Well I assume you're an American, and just wondered what town you're from." This set things up better between us, as (as I could tell) they thought I was referencing his race. Turns out he was from Virginia and had been in the Navy.

As I said, they were good guys who had been away from the South Walton County bubble.

So, one night T. and I threw a party at our beach house. Clark and Charlotte (other friends, connected to Seaside) had been giving us a bunch of scrap wood from construction sites because T. and I had a fireplace for heat (only a fireplace) and we had stored the wood under the house. I think we threw the party because our electricity went out and we had bought a bunch of chicken and stuff and decided to grill it all up--so we invited people. A party along the beach communities mean't everyone was pretty much invited, so a lot of the young crowd showed up--the local teens and a bit older who had grown up there, who maybe hadn't finished high school, who all slept with each other and drank/drugged to oblivion together etc (not a bad lot on the whole, but who pretty much, in general, fit the bill for your stereotypical white trash Southerners). Sam and his friend also came.

Well, the party started well enough, with chicken, beer, pot, a big fire in the sand. But the younger people just couldn't quite accept an Asian man in their midst. They kept bothering Sam about Kung Fu and other silly stuff like that. I'm not so sure they did it out of malice as much as a sense of curiosity and stupidity, as these were the only cultural references they had for someone who didn't look like them. No matter what, they were complete and annoying idiots. So Sam finally had enough and left.

The kids also left, taking the time to run over our neighbor's mailbox in the process. (That's another short tale, the next door neighbor when I went to apologize for his run-over mail box.)

So, the party wasn't such a big success. We'd run out of chicken pretty quickly (the power had come back on, so we didn't really need to grill everything). We'd burnt up our wood that was for heating the house in the winter. And Sam--one of the few people around I could have an intelligent conversation with--had been insulted.

I never saw him again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Eli and Maja

Eli was my wife's uncle. An amiable and intelligent man, Eli was the person I talked to the most when I first started attending my wife's family gatherings. He was easy to talk to, knowledgeable and welcoming. I liked him.

Maja was my older daughter's cat. She had two cats--Bubbles and Maja--both young but of different personalities. I liked both cats very much, though Maja was the younger and more friendly. In fact, she was a very sweet and expressive cat who liked to rub heads. The two cats (and, by extension, my adult daughter) lived with us for a couple of years when we moved here from from Florida.

Another thing about moving here (this place which shall not be named) is that we were once again among my wife's family. I like her family, though that doesn't necessarily mean I want to live all that close to them--anymore than I want to live all that close to my own extended family.

Anyway, Eli--tragically--developed Parkinson's disease, which slowly eroded him, at least physically. That day, his wife and two daughters brought him up to visit us and though he was pretty incapacitated by the disease it was good to see him. He couldn't talk too much, his physical capabilities were very much in decline--it may have been the last trip he took before moving into an assisted living facility in southwest-central Illinois, around the St. Louis area, where he and his family lived. Eli passed away about two years ago.

My daughter and her two cats moved back to South Florida about a year ago.

So, the visit. Eli and Maja . . . My wife, her aunt and two cousins (Eli's adult kids) went out to see the town, meet my daughter at work, etc, leaving Eli and I alone at my house (my wife's house, ahem). He and I sat in the sun room, trying to have a conversation without a lot of luck. Eli sat by himself in a chair, head down, facial muscles lax and sagging. There wasn't too much to say. But then Maja jumped up in his lap.

She's a big cat and, as said, sweet and friendly.

At first Eli was startled and even more so as Maja began to bump her head into his and then rub her head against him. It was a hard and extended and loving rub from the young cat and I could tell how much Eli was surprised by it, pleased. I don't know if he was a cat person, but I imagine it meant something--at least for the moment--for Maja to display such affection. Physical affection. It went on for a while and it made me smile along with Eli.

I saw him one more time before his death--inside the facility where he lived. He had always kept up his good spirits, at least on the outside. I'm very fond of his family, closer to them than other members of my wife's, though I get along with all. And I certainly hope it wasn't just me, that Maja the cat did bring a little joy to Eli on that day.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Learning French

I took Spanish in high school. I kind of liked it, but only took two semesters--the minimum. When I went off to college, at the University of Iowa, I decided I'd study French to fulfill my language requirement.

It was my freshman year and I lived in the dorms and the class was in one of the old buildings on the Pentacrest, Schaeffer Hall I think. My teacher--my French teacher--was Japanese. Toshio Naka--I still remember his name. Toshio Naka was a good teacher. I would joke that my French had a Japanese accent, but it was just a joke. I liked him, though he complained that my pronunciations were more Spanish than French.

I only took the one semester and then switched back to Spanish, the lazy student that I often was.

I've tried to learn French off and on since then--either teaching myself or using Internet guide or, currently, using Duo Lingo on my phone. I've never been very successful. One of my best friends is French Canadian--a Quebecois--and he's taught me a few things but overall, it just never comes easy to me like Spanish tends to.


Monday, June 27, 2016

That House in Milltown: 1989

My wife and I considered buying a house when we lived in Missoula. We were newly married--childless--and both attending school at the University of Montana. I had never owned a house. My wife had owned her half of a duplex in Champaign when I met her, but she sold it when we moved out west.

We had lived in a cabin in the Bitterroots--outside Stevensville--when we first moved to the area and that was for sale, but we wanted to be in town or at least closer to town. We looked at a few places, including one in Milltown.

Milltown was just east of Missoula, through the gap of Mt. Sentinel and Mt Jumbo, where the Clark Fork River is joined by the Blackfoot. There's another adjacent town called Bonner, but I could never distinguish between the two. It was a small town, depressed (at that time at least) and, as one would expect by the name, it had a mill. A paper mill, I suppose. It was home to The Milltown Union Bar and Laundromat: an establishment immortalized by a poem of essentially the same name by Richard Hugo. (I liked Richard Hugo and that poem and I liked that bar.) In fact, the house we looked at in Milltown was almost across the street from that bar.

Yes, we looked at a house. It was small. One bedroom. One bathroom. Not more than 1000 square feet would be my guess. It was cheap. I don't recall how much but, even to me even then, it did not seem like much for a house. I recall that it was painted red. The caveat for the property ended up being that it had no property--that is, it was a one-time mill company home and though you could buy the house, that deed did not include the land on which it was built.

The realtor seemed a little dubious--no doubt because of the land ownership thing--that we were really interested in the house. And, ultimately, he was correct. But I was interested (my wife, not so much) and wonder what would have happened if we had bought it.

Instead we ended up looking at houses in town, settling on one close to the university. Ultimately I nixed the deal. I wasn't ready to buy a house. We didn't have career-type jobs and who knew if we were going to settle in Missoula.

So, we did not buy a house--in Missoula or Milltown or the Bitterroot. We did not settle in Missoula--or in Montana, or in Seattle or Portland as we had half-planned. We ended up back in Illinois for a spell, had our two kids, then moved to South Florida, bought a house, and stayed there for over sixteen years.

Friday, May 20, 2016

NYC Snow:1988

One night in New York it snowed. Jimmy and I were out and about in Manhattan, probably somewhere around St. Marks Square. The snow came tumbling down thick and slow, sticking and piling up and doing that magical thing any snowstorm does for a city--really, for about anywhere. So, yes, it was magical. Cool. Beautiful. Then walking the sidewalk of a side street we come across this man asleep. Or passed out. The unconscious man was also collecting snow. His body being covered in the magical white right along with the pavement and garbage cans and the city as a whole.

Even the policeman who came and started to kick the man couldn't undo this magic.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Squirrel Call: Iowa City 1981

I was working at the University that summer at Burge Hall, doing maintenance and cleaning and housekeeping when needed. I was working along with a number of other students, some who I had known, some who I met while working there in the summer. It was my second summer doing this.

But I--or we, as the case may be--met other people, too. Full time workers mainly, who were often from the smaller towns around Iowa City. People from the likes of Tipton (or is it Tifton?), Solon, Washington and so forth. People like Alfred (which was not his real name, but we called him that and I can't recall his true name any longer) and Norbert (who died in a pick up accident) and, to the best of my knowledge or simply my fallback name I seem to use, Jeff.

Jeff was from Washington, south of Iowa City. He was young--maybe twenty at most, maybe eighteen or nineteen. He was pretty much a country boy and wasn't sure what to make of we student outsiders (nor we to make of him). At first, at least. But he was a good kid (even though I was, in many ways, still a kid myself). Anyway, Jeff taught Steve Bowers and I how to make a squirrel call using three quarters.

(Steve was a close friend of mine. We had lived on the same 2000 dorm floor our first year there, though I had never really knew him well--but we became pals while working together.)

Jeff hunted squirrels.  In the woods he called them out of the high trees with the use of quarters. He showed us how you can cup two quarters in the circle of your thumb and index finger, then using the third quarter, you tap it rapidly on the two suspended quarters to make that hollow knocking sound that squirrels make: thnock thnock thnock.

I have never hunted squirrels. But I did try it out with back yard squirrels once. They certainly paid attention.

Of course, I don't know whatever happened to Jeff. I hope he never ended up like Norbert.