Monday, March 30, 2009

Leaving Iowa City: 1983

I remember that I didn't really want to leave. I had lived in Iowa City for--more or less--five years. Okay, maybe four. And it was my home. But, it was a college home. And, I knew that. I knew I should leave even if I didn't want to. And that's how I ended up back in Des Moines. That's how I ended up in Santa Fe.
Let me explain: In Iowa City I came into my own. As I've said before, I was a late bloomer. I'd gone from a rambunctious child to a pensive teen and then got stuck for a while. Iowa City cured me. So leaving that town, that carefree college studying taking tests life, was not what I really wished to do . . . at least not on the surface. Because there was, in me, some desire to get out of town. To hit the road and see new things. For me at that time, such a simple thing was a challenge. And I knew I didn't want to get stuck in Iowa City--like I have seen people do, remain in their college town, leave but come back, work college level jobs and become myopic in their choice. It's not a bad life, I think, and in fact could be a very rewarding one--but to stop and say, "Oh man, this is it. This is all I want."--that didn't appeal to me.
I remember I was living at Black's Gaslight Village. Black's is still there, I think, and it's a strange commune-ish kid of place with many trees and many buildings of strange and elegant design. It attracted the Bohemian/Hippy/Artist type. Probably still does. But by then I lived by myself in a single room in the L Building with a desk and bed, a shared bathroom on the hall, a shared kitchen further down the hall. It was weird. Brock had already graduated. I had come back from Alaska (and had been to Mississippi, New Orleans, southern Louisiana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Key West and other spots) and Matt was working in Iowa City but not back in school. So, I wasn't crazily happy in my living quarters.
I only needed one semester to graduate. So, I knew that that was the end. I wanted to graduate. But I had friends in town--many--and I knew Iowa City and loved Iowa City as well as anyplace. But I knew it had to end--as I keep saying. So, I went through the motions. Did well with my grades, kept the drinking and sleeping around to, well, not quite a minimum, but as second thought to graduating. I wrote a lot. made plans for an eventual turn to grad school at Iowa (where I was very welcome, the director of the Iowa Writers Workshop--Jack--told me). But I was also still full of wanderlust and a keen stupidity. And so I decided I'd head back to Des Moines for a spell, so that I could figure out what to do with myself and not fall into the easy rhythm of post-college Iowa City.
And the day came and I jumped all the hopes and put on my cap and gown and did the walk. Cin came out from Chicago to be with me and she, of course, stayed with me. But when she went home, I went "home". To Des Moines.
I really don't recall how I got back. I did not have a car. And though I often took the Greyhound Bus, I know I didn't to leave Iowa City. I'm thinking Dave, a friend from Leon, Iowa, who was driving home for Xmas break, gave me a ride. But, I got back somehow and Iowa City was gone for a while.
In Des Moines I got a job at the 9th Street Warehouse (Younkers). I lived with my parents and saved money and wrote and stayed in touch with friends. I got sick of Des Moines and contacted Joel, who had transferred to St. John's College in Santa Fe and he said, "Come on down."
So, I went on down. And Santa Fe started a new life, one of rambling and bumbling and seeing a small section of the world for my own eyes and experience.
I came back to Iowa City often--lived there for a few spells--but mainly I went back to Des Moines (or not back at all). I did go to grad school at Iowa, but dropped out and headed back to Florida where I lived in a house on the beach with Tee. Then went to Seattle.
But none of that would have happened, I think, if I had not made myself leave Iowa City. And perhaps that wouldn't have been a bad thing. Or, perhaps, if I had gone directly into the Iowa Workshop, maybe I'd have published sooner. Though so much of what I wrote came from those wandering years, I'm not so sure of that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To Whom It May Concern #4

And this concerns the three or four people who look at this blog now and then: 
And I guess what I want to say is that, yes, the entries are hit and miss and sometimes blindly idiosyncratic, that they are of little relevance or consequence beyond the world from whence they came. I understand this. And even to me they are sometimes silly, mere practice, some foundering search among the grass blades of my memory to be thrown out on the electronic page ad hoc, organized as it comes to me, in a single draft. I often post them without going over them even once. I do try to go over them at some point--sometimes before I write another--but really only for typos or unclear sentences. My hope is that, eventually, these little ditties can be viewed within the larger context and thus display some sense of subtle absurdity, or gain some sense of gravity. But, they are not meant to be grave. They are meant to evoke something in the reader from his or her own experience, while allowing me to gently cogitate upon my own. They are meant to be read in the space of a coffee break, with about as much seriousness as a coffee break should allow. I will not know what they really are until I know what they really are--as Yogi Berra might say--either as a group or singularly if I ever rework them beyond the coffee break realm. So. . . so. So, this is all rather unnecessary, isn't it? But I couldn't think of anything else to write today.
And, I guess, I'm just trying to be gentle. Nice. Conversational (albeit in a monologue way) and contemplative and casual. Maybe it won't work. But for the reader it's a matter of taking a break from work or politics or concerns and seeing what inane little thing I have to say. That's part of my intention . . . There's the saying, nice guys finish last. Someone also wrote, "Nice Guys Finish Lunch." (And I think that guy--a comedy writer--died when a cliff collapsed under him while on vacation in Hawaii. Huh.) So, for now, I guess I'm just trying to finish lunch.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Special Edition #3: Haircuts

Father always cut our hair. My brothers and I--but not my sister--all grew up wearing butch or crew cuts. I have no idea where my father learned to cut hair, or rather, if he ever learned, and I'm not sure why he wanted to cut our hair, except that there's a lot of Scot on his side of the family and it was probably out of a sense of thrifty economics. But he cut mine and I was always a bit bald in some old photos; when we were younger he just gave us thin, butch cuts that followed the shape of our heads and later we had more of the honest crew cut. I know that we didn't like getting our haircuts. When the time came--always Father's decision--he'd get the box of electric clippers out, set up a seat in the dining room and call us with his megaphone voice. I think we went in order of age: oldest, second-oldest, me, fifth-oldest. (Of course my sister, fourth oldest, was exempt. (Actually, I can't say if I know this is completely true, certainly she didn't have our butch or crew cuts, but maybe he trimmed her straight blonde hair or maybe Mother did, I doubt she went to a beauty shop.)) Then we would all scatter. At least I know I scattered. For some reason, it was the act of getting a haircut that we hated, not necessarily the cut we ended up with. (None of us cared that much about our hair when we were little.) I would run around the house, climb under the table, sometimes run outside to avoid the ignominy. But he always caught me, eventually. Sometimes it was just a matter of chasing me down in the house, other times it was a game of just waiting--I had to come home sometime. And, at times, he would spank me, with his hand or sometimes with a belt, for disobeying him. I realized that hitting your child nowadays, especially with a belt, is almost shocking. But that was a different era and he came from an era previous to that--you know, how far back in history do you want to go if you play a parent blame game? He was a good father.
Now, when we were much younger, the haircuts meant little to us. We complied, I know sometimes I cried. And after we got to Tennessee--as we hit our teens and our hair did matter to us--then he let us do what we wanted. It was our hair, it was our decision. And that remained true as we moved up to Iowa in the Seventies.
But I still can't recall going to a barber shop.
Maybe I went to a couple as a child or teen, but I only have the vaguest of memories about it. I think Mother cut my hair for a few years when I was a teen. I wore it longish for the times, unbrushed, less-than-shoulder length, bangs covering my face. My hair was neither straight or curly. I had the sloppy-look down. And later, I began to cut my own hair. A pair of household scissors did the trick . . . Sure. I looked terrible.
I remember I was maybe eighteen or nineteen when I first went to get a haircut. It was the late Seventies, style salons for men were just catching on, old time barber shops were starting to disappear. So, I went to a "salon" and I had no experience at it. It was a man--this was in Urbandale, Iowa for god's sake--and he wanted to wash my hair. This was strange, I thought, and when he led me to the sink, I tried to put my knees in the chair and hold my head over the sink. He corrected me and washed my hair. Then he took out scissors and went to work. Then he blow-dried it. It was all new to me. But I liked it okay and I paid and tipped him--not knowing how to tip either--way too much. From then on I got my haircuts at your average type Supercuts place; though in Iowa City I did use a beauty school where students cut your hair at discount prices (seems maybe, later, I did that somewhere else, too).
Now I go to an old fashioned barber shop close to the house. But they know all that they need to know, certainly more than they need for my services. They'll also trim your eyebrows, ear hair, neck hair, even straight razor blade your neck with foam and then massage it with aftershave. All for less than twenty bucks--which is probably what I paid, with tip, for that first salon haircut in Urbandale.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Runaway Horse: Johnson City 1969

We were a bunch of kids, ranging from age nine to sixteen, maybe. I must have been twelve. Maybe. This was when we lived just outside of Johnson City, in a place that was more country than development, but which became--many years later, long after I had moved away--green-lawned suburb. It was my three brothers, sister, me (of course) and there was Kurt, Kent, Mary-Ellen from our side of the unfinished development, and the boy Greg and his two sisters (Joy and Lisa) who lived up at the top of the hill on the other side of Antioch Road and The Creek from us (there was also little Bobby, who had a glass eye, and his sister, who lived below the hill) . . . The day the horse showed up, I don't recall exactly who all was there.
We were playing along The Creek, as usual. Sometimes we played in The Woods, but I think we were at The Creek, out goofing around in the summer sun, looking around, making up our usual games and then one of us looked uphill, along the steep road, to where one of the houseless cul-de-sacs was and shouted. We all looked and there, in the round bulldozed circle of orange/red earth a horse stood.
It wasn't a big horse. It was a little swayed-back, as I recall. But you can imagine our excitement, our blind childmind surprise to see a horse up the hill, standing like a breathing statue against the thicket of southern trees and vines. Holy Crap.
We made our way to it. It did not move, did not take a step, only flicked its ears, tail, maybe turned its head at our approach. We got very close. There was at least four or five or more of us. The horse had no saddle or bridal or reigns. It was just a horse, dark colored, almost unhealthy looking. And we got closer.
I don't recall it making a sound or moving much. It was used to people. We knew nothing of horses. True, as a kid, my brothers, sister and I had ridden horses on our cousin's farm in Arlington, South Dakota. But that was as far as our knowledge of horses went. But we came up to it. Saw no danger. We touched it. I remember how strangely stiff its hair was, dirty and sweaty. But the horse did not mind us petting it--a bunch of kids. So we stroked it, talked to it, talked among ourselves about what a wondrous phenomenal inexplicable find this was. A horse! Right here in our neighborhood! Like a child's dream come to pass. And that's when we got the mind to ride it.
There were no stirrups, so we got the horse--so gentle and quiet--to move closer to the red clay embankment where the bulldozers had carved out the circle, a space for a house to be built someday. And from there we could get up on the smaller mounds and try to jump on the horse's back. It had no saddle or anything to hold on to, no way to command it even if we knew how. But we tried to ride the horse. We failed to ride the horse. The horse gave no complaints. I don't know what would have happened if one of us or more had been able to mount it. Would it have trotted off with us? Would it have thrown us? Would we have a childhood memory of riding the magical horse or would we have, perhaps, been killed? But, we never got up on that horse.
Yet, what were we to do? Tell an adult? (No way--or--not yet.) Forget it and go back to our usual games? Impossible.
So, we stayed with the horse. It would move if we nudged it in a direction and I think we nudged it down the hill a bit, maybe to The Creek, then we just stood around it again, trying to come up with new ideas. What do you do with a horse you can't ride when you know nothing about horses? How do you suddenly incorporate a horse in your regular summer day childhood playtime? 
You don't, I guess.
Because it wasn't long after that that a man in a beat up pick up showed up. (That's a lot of ups.) He was looking for the horse. He talked to us a little, but mainly he just came and put a rope around the horses neck--again, the animal did not complain--and led it to his truck. He did not use a bridal or reigns, just the rope around its neck. Then he got in the vehicle, held his end of the rope with his hand through the open window and drove off, slowly. We kids watched him go down Antioch Road, driving his truck, one hand out the window with the rope, the horse trotting slowly along next to him.
Goodbye horse.
It was kind of sad. Sad for the horse, in my mind. Because it was as if the horse had run away and the man--the owner--was not a nice man. Of course, I have no idea if this was true, but at the time that was my impression: the horse ran away from its mean owner and that owner had caught it once again . . . I wonder what the horse thought of it all. Did it like our company? Was it afraid of us? Did it see us as new dominant creatures that it had to obey? Ah, who knows. But I remember it. I remember what it was like to live in that Southern countrified underdeveloped development. I had my problems with life in Tennessee, but I have always appreciated that spot, that childhood spent out in nature, that mild climate and its earth and hills and animals--even runaway horses.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Friends: Vancouver 1963-1968

We were a family of five kids. We traveled--moved--long distances three times in our collective childhoods, leaving homes and others behind. So, in many ways, we kids were best friends and also worst enemies. But I always had good friends outside the family unit and I'm trying to remember them, those fellow little kids, when I lived in Vancouver, Washington.
My first pal was Jeff. I'd met him in the first grade. He had a twin sister, but I can't recall her name. he lived a little ways from the school, yet would walk to and home each day. One day, I went home with him. We were, what?, five or six. I went to his house which had some land next to it and we walked through fields full of odd weeds and plants to get there. I met his mother and she was nice and she asked if I wanted to call my house to let my mother know where I was. I said no. I realized that I should call my mother, but I didn't know my phone number and I was embarrassed that I didn't know it. So, I didn't call. (And I don't think I ever got in trouble for it or that my mother was overtly concerned when I didn't come home from school--maybe I told one of my brothers where I was going, but I don't thin so.) But Jeff and I were good friends for about the length of that school year, then I didn't see him much anymore.
Next door to us lived a family who we played with the most. They had a daughter a year or so older than me--Kathy--and a son my age--Bobby--and a younger son named Mark. I hung out a lot with Bobby. His father was in the Navy and was often gone (Sea Duty, you know). Bobby had found his father's huge stack of Playboys and we often spent time looking at those, developing an unhealthy objectification of women at an early age. (He also found a photo of his mom naked, hmmm.) But Bobby was okay. Sort of a little sailor himself, in many ways. But we all goffed around together quite a bit and then another family moved in on the other side of us, kind of an odd group, but we got along and they had a boy and girl and the girl was a bit younger and cute and so there was always an undercurrent of infatuation, romance and--yes--sexual attraction between us. I suppose the Playboys didn't help. 
Then a year later, by second grade or before, a kid moved in down the street. he may have been an only child (or had a much younger sister) and they were from Albuquerque, New Mexico and his name was Joey and Joey became my best friend. Joey wasn't the brightest boy in the world, but he had s sensitive soul (unlike Bobby) and we enjoyed each other's company and he'd sleep at my house and I went and slept at his. I remember the first time I did so, he told me a story about a guy who would creep around his windows when he lived in Albuquerque. And that night, as I tried to sleep, I could see a man--the shadow of a man--standing along the wall as I curled up scared as hell in my sleeping bag on the floor of the bedroom. The shadowy man had white shoes and a hat and he swayed from side to side. Finally, I worked up the courage and reached out to touch his shoe and came away with a wad of paper. Then the man disappeared as I held the balled up aper in my hand . . . Joey had two pet rabbits and he was very concerned when one of them hopped on the other's back and began to bite it. yes . . . Joey told me his dad promised to get him a pet weasel. That's right, a weasel. Their yard was fenced and the weasel would have the run of it. I asked, "How could you keep a weasel in the yard? Weasels like to dig." And he said his dad would put plates of metal under the fence. Yes. he never got a weasel . . . But by third grade our friendship was really tested when we found out we both liked the same girl in class: Kathy McKay. Oh, we loved Kathy McKay. And as time progressed, it turned out that she liked me.
Kathy had a friend named Barbara. And at recess at school, Kathy and Barbara and I would go hang out by a tree and they'd wrestle with me and talk and I was quite infatuated. I didn't know exactly why it made me so happy, why it felt so good to have these two girls fawn over me, tease me, tell me they'd put me in a magazine for girls (I don't think I told them about the Playboys--I guess pornography, the concept of it, is omnipresent in people). But i remember I'd go home and at night, as I lay in the top bunk trying to sleep, I'd think of Kathy and Barbara and I couldn't sleep because it made me quite happy and giddy thinking of them both. Yes.
I had other friends in Vancouver (there was Mike Gust, Second Oldest Brother's friend who was kind of a wild, scheming fellow that Mother didn't care for too much--we all hung out with him quite a bit) and Joey remained my friend until we moved away to Tennessee (and we drove through Albuquerque--maybe spent the night there and I wrote him a postcard saying so) but even to this day I can sometimes conjure up Kathy McKay and Barbara. Recapture that warm, anxious, tingling egotistical, innocent and sexually prophetic feeling inside my gut that came with being loved by two girls.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Myopic & Self-Indulgent History #3

So I was trying to think--in imperfect yearly counting--how long I've lived in different regions of these United States. And this is, off-hand, mind you, what I came up with:

The Midwest: 21 to 23 years.
The South (including the sub-tropics): 17 to 19 years.
The West (north and south, mountain and pacific): 9 to 10 years.
The East (northeast, really): 2 to 3 months.

Oh, I think of odd, pointless things.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Things I Remember: Sioux Falls 1960

Let's see, we lived in Sioux Falls until 1963. We lived in two houses. The first one was in the Hilltop neighborhood. It was a white, single story house on a corner lot with a huge weeping willow tree that my father would trim and we'd gather up those trimmings (the soft pliable whip-like reedy branches) and make big nests out of them. I had a friend named Myron who lived down the street and we'd fight and he'd pin me down but I'd never give up and never admit defeat. Across the street lived the Bosslers, a group of kids about our ages (our being my two older brothers, maybe my sister, not my youngest brother until later) and the Bosslers' father was known as a mean guy who loved his lawn so much he wouldn't let his kids play on it, would get out cutting shears to clip wayward strands of grass. We had a dog named Goldie which we gave away (but that might have been in the late fifties--I was so young yet I still remember when the man came and took Goldie away, she was a cocker spaniel) and then we got another cocker named Blackie who had puppies that lived in the basement when they were born. I used to go see them and feed them my snot. I remember the basement--my mother had a crank washing machine, I'd guess it was electric, but it had wringers and a tub. I had a balloon that was special to me, a helium balloon that got to where it would float only half way up with its string trailing along, it often sat above the stairs that led down to the basement and then one day Oldest Brother popped it, just to be mean, I guess. I recall a big field of dandelions in Hilltop where we kids would go to test our courage catching honeybees. Things like bees, spiders, dragonflies were big deals when you were a kid. I recall some older kids--at the second house in Sioux Falls--told us dragonflies could spit venom out of their mouths into your eyes and could blind you. I believed this for a very long time--maybe until I was eleven or twelve--that dragonflies could blind you. It took a long time to appreciate them, but I do. I had a trike and would go away from our block where there was a "haunted house" and where some mean kids lived that always threatened us--tribal kids--and chased us away and I was waiting for the day I turned five so that I could ride my trike down there and beat them up. But I had to be five before I could do it. I recall the winters where snow would pile up like crazy, the walks to kindergarten between huge banks of snow, the giant snow fort father built for us in the front yard that took up almost the whole front yard and I was getting over the mumps or measles (not the chicken pox--don't think I ever got that) and Father lifted me up so I could see it from the front window and when I finally got to go out and play in it (we had big snowball fights with the other kids) there was always dog shit in the snow. That troubled me. Oh, hell. There are a million and two little memories from South Dakota but so few of them stick to me anymore, so few of them have any specific beginning and end and heavy connotation. 
But I will sift them like flour and bake a cake.