Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming Back To Des Moines

I don't know how many times I came back to Des Moines. I guess it depends on what you mean by "coming back". That is, I came back the first two summers from Iowa City, when I was in college, to live and work and I returned to Des Moines after I graduated. But like all other times, Des Moines was but a way station, a place to go between going to other places, a place to be when I didn't know where else to be.
In Des Moines I almost always stayed with my parents in Urbandale, at their house, usually in the basement. Yes, I know it sounds bad, cliched, insipid, but that's what I did. I could live rent free, eat for free, had the use of a car when I didn't have a car and I could work, save money, write, visit old friends. I always had a lot of friends in Des Moines (though now they have all moved on, except for Scott and Larry, it seems). In Des Moines I could touch base with who I was or used to be. In Des Moines I could make my plans to leave Des Moines.
I love Iowa. I love Iowa City and other towns and have a begrudging affection for Des Moines. I like Iowans and, though I was born in South Dakota, had grown up in Washington State and Tennessee and didn't live in Iowa till I was thirteen, Iowa is still "home" to me and Des Moines is a hometown in its most emotional sense of the term. Still, I don't live in Iowa and have not "come back" to Des Moines in over twenty years. Just visited.
It's hard to piece together each return and what happened and who I hung out with and where I worked because I returned so often. I know I worked full time at Younkers twice--once at the department store at the Merle Hay Mall, another time--after graduating from the U. of Iowa--at the 9th Street Warehouse. Maybe I worked there one other time, maybe not. I also worked full time mowing lawns for Truegreen, I worked many many temp jobs, worked construction, for UPS unloading trucks late at night, worked washing dishes at a company cafeteria for the Meredith printing plant and other simple, often strange, jobs. Usually there was Kevin and Larry and Bill still in town. There was Scott and Keith and an assortment of their friends--like Lowell--who I got to know and went around with. There were also Yonkers pals: Mark, Bruce, Tim, Craig.
Kevin, Keith, Scott and Lowell lived in different old big falling-down houses at different times in the north side of Des Moines when I'd come back and I hung with them. They had other people living with them too, like John and Randy. John was a furniture salesman, a drunk driver and drug user and a Christian. Randy was a cocaine addict who spent all of his time alone up in his room snorting away--nobody knew he was doing it because it did it all alone and by himself. I barely knew him. He worked for his father's Tv appliance store and would steal TVs from his father's business--sell them in the street--to fuel his addiction. John was funny and a good person to drink with but was a wreck of a young man. Don't know what ever happened to him. Lowell got married--after dumping his long time girlfriend--and moved to Topeka, Kansas ( I think). Kevin, who was one of my best friends coming out of high school, eventually married and moved to Wichita, Kansas. Keith married, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, divorced, remarried and still lives outside of Cleveland. Scott, after a bit of rambling and an MBA at Iowa and being jobless for a long spell, bought a house in Des Moines, across from Waveland Park. Larry married, worked with computer programing, met another woman and has lived a dual life for as many years as I've been married. Very Weird. He lives in Windsor Heights. Bill is married and is a gentleman farmer in Kansas also. (I don't have the slightest idea why in the hell anyone would move to Kansas.) My Yonkers friends left and stayed and I lost touch with them as easily as I had made friends with them.
Hanging out really meant drinking. Drinking cheap beers at their houses or going to the small bars of the city. The Waveland Tap was a favorite, but there was the Bon Ton, Sully's, the Duckblind, Wellmans, the Greenwood Lounge, King Tut's, the Alpine, the Westend and others. Johnny's Hall of Fame Lounge, downtown. I do recall one day drinking beer at Keith and kevin and Scott's house where they had a big front porch with a fat porch rail. The wooden rail was big enough to stand on and so I initiated some contest to see how far we could jump from the rail out into the weed-grass yard. The railing was at least three feet high with a broad top, and it was another, what, two feet at least down from the porch to the yard, So I clambered on up there, stood, swung my arms back ready to jump big. And as I jumped, pushed off from the rail, the whole thing collapsed. The balustrade became disengaged from the pillars and porch and went down into the shrubbery and I went down also. We all laughed. I wasn't hurt.
I saw Scott just a couple months ago in Des Moines and he brought this up, said Keith had been in town and Keith had retold the incident. Had to have been there, really, for it to be that memorable.
But Des Moines is a good city. Most people have heard of it or driven through it. To some friends--who were from the small towns of Iowa--it is the Big City. But overall, I don't think Des Moines gets much respect in a national sense. I like it, but was always ready to get out of it.

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