Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Married In The Morning: Seattle 1989

Really, it should be Missoula, Montana because Fru and I were living in Missoula when we decided to get married. I'd proposed to her when we lived in the cabin in the Bitterroot--just west of Stevensville--but we didn't make plans until the winter of 1989 after we'd moved to Missoula. But, really, it goes back farther than that, with a semi-chance encounter when, coming from Seattle (after a few months in Des Moines) while on my way to Florida, I stopped in Champaign, Illinois to see Margaret (who I knew from Iowa City) and Margaret introduced me to Fru and then she and Fru came to visit me in Seagrove Beach, Florida and we went to New Orleans and then I visited Champaign at Xmas, then moved there by February, then went to NYC, then came back, then Fru and I moved out to Montana, just us and her cat, M.R. . . . But, we were married in Seattle.
We were both in school at the University of Montana and so we chose Spring Break as the time to get married and have our honeymoon. I chose Seattle because I'd lived there in '87 and had lived in Washington as a kid, plus, I knew Fru liked cities and we both loved Seattle, and, in my mind that's where we would move to once we were done with the university. So, we got our marriage license in Missoula but made a cold call to a Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle to inquire about a wedding. Sure enough, they said they'd do it. (I'm trying to remember if we had to get a license or certificate in Washington--maybe we did.) So, come March, off we went on our spring break to get married.
(It wasn't quite as simple as that--there were rings, there was Fru's dress to purchase, hotel to book--relatives to tell.)
We didn't--or, I didn't--want a big wedding. Brock still lived in Seattle, so I told him and asked him to be the best man. Fru had a friend from Champaign days--Marilyn--who was living in Seattle, so she (and her young daughter) were invited. Margaret--our friend, and who was romantically interested in Brock--flew out for the event. Fru's sister and her daughter came. Fru's father came (Fru's mother had died that winter, a month or so earlier--after we were engaged but before we married--from breast cancer, so there was a measure of sadness with the happiness). So, though I essentially wanted a controlled elopement, it turned out for the better to have friends and family with us. There was enough ceremony, enough church, for Fru (I think/hope) and enough smallness, intimacy for me. (We had a huge and elegant reception in Champaign that spring/summer--thanks to Fru's dad--with everyone imaginable coming.)
Fru and I stayed at Brock's apartment in Ballard when we first got there, sleeping on the floor. We had to go see the church and meet the pastor--neither of which we had seen before. The church was downtown. It was a humble place across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station. Yes! But it was pretty in its own way and had a nice little blue stained glass chapel. The pastor was a woman, younger than us, and we were her first wedding. The first! She was kind of a punk rock-looking pastor with a monkish haircut but she was pleasant and nice and we knew more about relationships and life than her (I think). We liked her. So, we did that (did a quick rehearsal at the chapel a day or two later when everyone was in town) and took care of any last paperwork, made reservations at Hiram's at the Locks for the after wedding meal, had made reservations at Inn at the Market--downtown at Pikes Place--for our wedding night. A water view!
Margaret came, Fru's father, sister and niece came.
It was Seattle in March. A little rain, some blustery clouds, gray skies with splashes of blue. We went out and about. Then came the eve of the wedding day and Fru went to stay with her dad at their hotel and I stayed with Brock and Margaret at Brock's. I'd lived in Seattle (with Brock and Matt) in Queen Anne, so Brock, Margaret and I went back to some old haunts in Queen Anne. I tried to get a little drunk, but wasn't all that successful. We went to the Sea Otter, the Irish Pub, went to the Ginza, the Mecca and ended up at Sorry Charlie's which was a restaurant and lounge, kind of an old school place.
At Sorry Charlie's I sat at the bar and started singing I'm Getting Married in the Morning. I sang it without true gusto, more in an ironic joking way. (I can't sing, really.) Some patrons were taken aback, until I explained that I really was getting married in the morning. After that, everything was cool.
We went back to Brock's place in Ballard and I slept on the floor by myself.
I'd rented a tux the day before and so, next morning at Brock's, I was getting dressed to go to the church, to go get married. Then Holly stopped in. I'd known Holly since Iowa City and in Grayton Beach. She was Matt's girlfriend for a long time, off and on, and was now living in Seattle (I should have invited her to the wedding, but I hadn't been in contact with her for a few years). It was nice to see her and she congratulated me on getting married. Then, after a bit, off we went to the church. I must have driven, but I don't recall.
I never really had cold feet. I thought about it a little, but never really wondered if I was doing the wrong thing. I did worry a bit that Fru was having second thoughts and that she wouldn't show up at the Church by the Greyhound Terminal in downtown Seattle. And, when we got there, sure enough she wasn't there. But Fru was always late--notoriously so--in those days. Then, finally, in she came with her family.
She looked illustrious.
She had on her white gown, her hair up, everything done beautifully. I was happy to see her. I knew that I was doing the right thing.
And, we got married.

We had a great post-ceremony meal along the locks, at Hiram's, everyone happy. Then we went to our room at the Inn at the Market. Then, later, we all met at an Irish restaurant downtown for dinner, then Brock, Margaret, Marilyn, Fru's sister and Fru and I went out, drinking and dancing in the small bars of Seattle.
Fru and I spent a few nights at the Inn at the Market, then drove out to the Olympic Peninsula where we stayed at a fisherman's cabin in La Push as the giant Pacific waves smashed in and the fog horns blew. We went to the rainforest and the mountains--I caught a horrendous cold--and then came back for a night at a different boutique hotel in Seattle. Then a final night on the floor at Brock's.
Then the drive back to Missoula. To school and work.
To a married life.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Myopic And Self Indulgent History #5

I find it strange to meet people who grew up in one place, who lived most of their lives in one town or state. I grew up in four states, in five or six towns. Six or seven houses. I became used to making friends. Used to leaving friends. I think there's good and bad in all of it, but lately I've been wondering if it wasn't detrimental. Oh, sure, many people--military brats especially--moved more than I and my siblings did. People have moved from much greater places--Asia or Europe or South America, around the world and back again. Maybe it all depends on genetics, of what your chromosomes have in store for you, and your environment only shapes that pre-planned disposition depending on how good or average or bad your surroundings are.
I don't know.
But when I was younger--as I grew into a young adult--I always had a propensity to abandon places, to quit jobs (and sometimes people), to move on when things got to my disliking. I always thought things would be greener, that I could reinvent myself through moving. Now, this isn't an unusual idea. In fact, it's an especially American idea to pick up and move, to reinvent your life by going elsewhere. Still--is that a good thing? Does it make you give up too soon or not make you face a particular, maybe ugly or wanting, reality about yourself?
I don't know.
All I can say--self-indulgently--is that that's what I did. Even as an adult I moved from place to place, my existence nomadic except for the last fifteen years or less. And, I still dream of moving on and may very well do so in time. But there's also the factor that I see myself as a writer, first and foremost, so I was out gathering in the world, making a list of places and people and feelings, a file of human stories that others told me or I overheard or lived for myself. Good or bad, being a writer (successful or not) gave me an excuse not to settle down or commit myself to career or even to people. But, as far as people go, I've managed to always have solid friendships, close ones, most of whom I'm still in touch with; I've had loves and lovers and now I've been married for over twenty years. That's something. But, did I become a writer and therefore jumped around? Or did my jumping around make me a writer?
I don't know.

Driving to Arlington: Sioux Falls 1961

I can't really recall how many trips we took to Arlington. I was just a little kid. But, in my mind, I remember the trips, at least in a montage fashion.
Arlington is a small, mainly farming community north of Sioux Falls in eastern South Dakota. It was a neat little town, as best as I can recall it. I have no idea what it's like today, as I have not been there since the mid 70's. But it is my mother's hometown, a place where she grew up. My grandmother lived there her whole life. My mother's older sister--her only sibling--Aunt Nancy also lived there her whole life (except for a bit in Arizona before she died), married and with five kids of her own (my cousins, of course). For most all of that time, they had a farm. I liked visiting the farm. I liked Nancy and my uncle and my cousins. I'm sorry I've lost touch with them. (We have always been a scattered family.)
But I remember the drives up to Arlington.
Sure, it was a short drive really, maybe an hour or two, on small rural roads. I mean, this was South Dakota in the late 50's and early 60's: how many people could have been living there at the time, even in eastern S. Dakota? (You want desolate? Visit western S. Dakota.) But there were two main highlights to the drive, things that became family rites.
One was The Hill. The drive up there on little two-lanes had some hills to them. One hill in particular was tall and had quite the gradient downslope. So, we kids would all look forward to The Hill and as we got to it Father would speed up and off we'd shoot at the apex and down we'd swoop and we'd all get that roller coaster tickle feeling in our stomachs (and testicles, to be honest). That was always fun.
The other rite was we'd always stop in the town of Brookings for a hamburger. This was at some little downtown cafe (I don't recall its name), but my parents insisted they were the best hamburgers anywhere. Homemade tasting, they said. So, we always got them. Most times we got them to go--burgers in a bag--a few times I can recall actually going into the cafe, but only have a vague recollection of what the place looked like: small, open kitchen/grill, lunch counter kind of place. Old school. But they were good burgers . . . I wonder if the place still exists?
Not all that long ago I had a very vivid dream about Arlington, about the farm country of eastern South Dakota. In the dream I was an adult and I was driving around the empty windswept roads and it was actually very pretty in an austere, rural way. I can't recall exactly what happened in the dream, but it involved searching for my grown cousins, maybe my grandmother. My mother was with me in the car as we drove around--something was wrong in the plot of the dream--but I remember being impressed with the countryside. And, in real life, there is a beauty to that country. I know there is. In my mind and in my dreams I see it as golden country: fall fields the color of fresh cut pine, lone but leafy trees offering deep shade, shallow and slow rivers, everything windy and peaceful and empty empty empty except a few farm houses and grain silos . . . I wonder if that's true.
Hmm. I guess I need to get back up there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hunting the Sun River: Missoula 1989

As long as I'm thinking of that pheasant hunting trip with Bill in Montana, I might as well write about it. This was in the fall--in season--and Bill and I decided to drive from Missoula and head out towards Great Falls to hunt. We took his shotgun and his Brittany Spaniel, Gem, in my truck. We didn't know exactly where we were headed, and certainly didn't know anyone in the area, but it was a good day for a drive if nothing much else happened.
We left pretty early, taking Highway 12 along the Blackfoot River. Ate breakfast at cafe in Lincoln, then went further east until we got to Sun River, where we stopped at another cafe. At this cafe we had coffee, maybe ate a little more, but mainly we listened, listened to the people around us who were ranchers and such. I forget exactly how we struck up a conversation, but we talked to a small table of men and said we were looking for some land to hunt on. One guy was amiable enough. Turned out he had been stationed in Rantoul, Illinois many years ago (I had come with Fru from Champaign, had briefly worked in Rantoul) and he talked about how, in the winter, "...the wind would just cut right through you." (And I was thinking: Here's a guy who lives in the plains of Montana talking about a cutting cold wind?) But, he liked us enough to say we could hunt on his land. He had a small ranch just east of Sun River. Bill and I followed him there and he showed us the areas we could hunt--some coulees with brush, some fallow fields and old corn fields.
We were satisfied and thanked him. Told him we'd give him a bird.
Now, as I've said, I'm not a big hunter. I didn't have a gun or a license to hunt pheasant. Bill did. So, I was along for the experience, for the trip and day and views. And that land around Sun River is stunning. It's open plains with big monolithic-like buttes, buttes jutting up sudden and eroded, much like a mini version of Monument Valley (only not as orange). It's pretty land, man. So I was happy just to drive and walk through that scenery. But, we had hunting to do.
Gem, the dog, was probably the happiest. A hunting dog loves to hunt, no? So, he was out there sniffing everything. But there were no birds. I was walking along behind Gem and, all of a sudden, I flush a bird. It was a cock and it flew fast with that whirring sound they make. Bill took a shot, hit it, and it fell into tall corn stubble. But neither Gem or I could find it. Bill figured it was wounded, said they often will run away, undercover, when they land on the ground. We searched and searched, but the bird was gone.
We kept hunting.
Now, I don't really like to kill things, but I like the hunt. I can see why people like it. Anyway, we decided to try the coulees. I came out of a blind of dry willows and down into a coulee ditch and there, but maybe five feet away, is a big buck. I mean, this was a powerful beast with a huge rack of horns. I couldn't believe it. I stopped and stared at the thing. It stared back at me. It could have killed me, easily, but it took off. Like that! It was gone, up the coulee and across the pasture. I scrambled up and Bill was there and we watched that animal charge across the open land, cross the road, jump a fence and off off off it went. Man it was fast. Powerful fast. I'd never realized just how big and strong, how fast, they really were.
That was exciting.
By then we'd figured there weren't many birds around and we just wandered, letting Gem do his thing. But what happened was, Gem holed some animal beneath a fallen dead tree and that animal turned out to be a porcupine. Porcupine! Gem got a face full of it. Bill and I had to hold him down while we pulled big quills out of his mouth and nose. That had to hurt. There was whimpering and blood. After that, we'd had enough and headed on back.
Montana was good for a lot of things. There were times when I didn't care for life in Missoula--winter especially when the air-inversions happened and the pollution stayed in the valley and you'd have constant post nasal drip for weeks on end or when you wanted some complexity, a little sophistication, in your life and could hardly find it and Seattle was 12 hours away and the job market in Montana was no good, few decent jobs available, Fru and I were pretty poor in Montana--but there were great times too. Fun in Missoula, the cabin, fishing and camping and trips all over the state; good people. Fru and I missed it very much when we left. We still miss it, I think. We even went back three years later, with Fru applying for banking jobs, but it wasn't to be. Not to be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nine Mile Creek: Missoula 1989

One of the great things about living in Missoula in the late eighties was that you could drive in any direction, for about five to ten minutes, and find yourself completely alone in the woods or along a river or up in the mountains. It was Bill (MA/MN/MT/IN/FL Bill--we'll just call him MT Bill from now on--though not to be confused with a Missoula friend Bill Van Sickle [love that name] who was a native Montanan) it was Bill who took me out to the Nine Mile Creek area, west of town.
As I recall, Bill had this Czech handgun that he wanted to try out, so we jumped into my red Chevy Custom Deluxe pickup and drove westward. I think he knew of the area, which was nothing special as far as Montana woods go, which was nice enough: dirt roads, treed hills and woods, a small creek flowing through. We got out and walked a bit. There were cattle in the woods and we'd see them wander through the trees as we walked. Then we found an open spot, set up some cans and such and tried out his Czech pistol. It was fine. I'm not much of a guns man. But we had more fun exploring the little creek. That water had small eddies and pools, enough that Bill thought there'd be trout in it. We decided to come back and check some time.
(We also found a lean-to with blankets and such--an encampment--thinking it was maybe some Vietnam Vet living in the woods.)
(Maybe the land was part of a National Forest, maybe Nine Mile was a bigger creek in a watershed and the creek we walked was some unnamed one.)
So, Bill and I did come back and did a little fishing. We caught a few very small cutthroat trout that we couldn't keep. While doing that, we heard the Wood Grouse. These were pretty thick woods for western Montana, but you could hear them--it must have been mating season--doing there thumping wing call. It's a steady drumbeat that gets louder and louder--thump thump thumpthumpthumpthumpthump--and doesn't sound like a bird at all. It's loud. It's cool. So Bill--a bird hunter who had a bird dog (Brittany Spaniel named Gem--we took him pheasant hunting near Great Falls once; Sun River, MT: I'll have to write about that trip)--wanted to come back during the bird season and give it a try.
And so we did. We got nothing (which was fine with me) but had another nice outing in the woods along little Nine Mile Creek.
And one morning, early and all by myself, I made the drive out just for the heck of it. I parked my truck, walked a ways to a stand of jack pines and up in those pines were owls. They were maybe Tawny owls or Barred owls (I don't think they were Horned owls) and they were big. I love owls. Have always loved owls. It was very exciting for me to discover these big owls up in branches maybe only ten to twelve feet high. I stood under them and watched them. They looked down at me but otherwise seemed unconcerned. Cool once again.
Nine Mile Creek. Yes. I liked that spot. Woods water and animals.
A good spot for an owl-watching breakfast.

Rainwater Oceans: Vancouver 1964

Only have time for a quick post, but I was thinking of how, as a kid, I loved to play in puddles. And, as a kid, we lived in Vancouver, Washington where there was more rain than a kid knew what to do with, so we often had great puddles in our street on Enid Avenue.
Right after a rain--or even during it--I'd go outside. Our street always had vast puddles in it, usually three or four. I don't know why--was the drainage bad? Was the rain too much? But I liked it. Sure, I'd jump in them, get all wet and squishy, but my favorite activity was simply to float sticks. In my mind, the rain puddles were seas or oceans, exotic bodies of water with depths and currents and creatures. And my sticks were ocean liners or battleships or sailboats--vessels on long journeys across treacherous waters, often lost at sea or encountering rogue waves (I threw rocks or dirt clods into the puddles). Ah.
Sometimes I forget about the power of imagination. When I think back about childhood entertainment, I rarely think of specific toys or TV shows or movies. Almost all of my attachments were to games of the imagination: floating sticks in puddles, pretending to be at war or traveling through time, play-acting through self-invented paper or cardboard worlds, running with magical sticks through woods. I spent time outdoors, some of it in nature, some of it in--essentially--suburb.
But, back to puddles. I always loved puddles--dirty or clean, in the street or in mud--and could rarely resist them. I was a messy kid. I got dirty and scraped and bruised a lot. But not hurt. I was not a clumsy kid.
I recall I'd seen this cartoon movie called Alex Kazzam or something--about a monkey king (in fact, it was based on the Monkey story famous in Asia about the Buddhist teachings being brought to India or China)--and in the movie, the monkey falls into the water where--under the slim surface--a new world exists. And I recall in Vancouver how--being inspired by this movie--I'd slip my hand into cool puddles, trying to see if they were hollow, if the water only existed like a skin on the top and a new world actually existed below it.
Anyway, my imagination was always alive and well. Maybe it still is.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Painting Houses: Seaside 1987

I worked painting houses for a few years. That is, not a few years straight through, but a few years off and on and in a few places. I mean, I'd painted a bit before somewhere down the line: garages, rooms, do-it-yourself stuff. Then in Los Angeles, I painted with Jeff as side work from my construction job. It was Jeff's gig and he hired me and I had a knack for painting: could get it covered evenly, was good at trim work and small work with a brush. So, I painted a few homes with him up in the hills northeast of L.A.. But I didn't really work as a painter until I came back to Grayton Beach for the third time.
This was in the Fall of 1987, after I'd dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop and came back to Florida to live with Tee. Actually, we lived in Gulf Trace (after a stint in a small house in Seagrove Beach--maybe it was Seagrove, maybe it was no town, just a place along one of the ubiquitous red dirt roads that used to be there). Anyway--I needed a job . . . Now wait, I'm getting confused. Trying to place this better in my memory. Because my first painting job in the panhandle was when I came and lived with Brad for a while and I worked for this hot-headed little guy re-painting condos around San Destin and when that job was over, I never went to the next one with him and had to find new work . . . Anyway, ahem, I was right the first time--yes--my first job was when I lived with Tee in the Beach House in Gulf Trace. Yes. And it was in Seaside.
I don't recall how I landed this job, but I got it working for a guy named Conrad who was building his own house in the strange town of Seaside. (If you want to know about Seaside--look it up. It's semi-famous. But I worked there when it was only a small place, a handful of brightly-colored homes with tin roofs on the beach.) Conrad was from Germany and had married a young American girl. He was older, in his mid-thirties I'd say. He was okay--was always nice to me--but also had that typical German streak in him which, perhaps just to we Americans, made him come off as arrogant. But as I said, despite this attitude, I got along with him. He paid me pretty well. So, I painted Conrad's house, learned about painting that way.
Then, when I came back for the last time--after Seattle and a stop in Des Moines (and after I'd met Fru but didn't know I'd be in love with her)--then I got the job painting condos. It was interior painting only and I worked with some old hippies who were fun to paint with. Their laid-back attitude helped, because the boss was a real jerk, would yell all the time. But as I said, that job ended and I didn't get carried over to the next one which was in Panama City, I think (which was a bit of a daily drive if I had continued to work for him).
I'd been staying with Brad, but then moved into a house in Seagrove Beach--on 30A, just across from the beach--with Dave, who was a co-owner of Bud and Alley's, the main restaurant in Seaside. I think it was Dave who told me about the job in Seaside, painting houses. Again.
This time I was painting a house for Mr. Hyatt. Nice guy. Peter was the man in charge, doing the construction. He'd hired/subcontracted an older guy, Hubert--who owned a painting business in Panama City--who in turn had hired/subcontracted Mike (this is Fl/St. Louis Mike) who worked as a painter or as about anything at times. Mike, in turn, was the one who hired me to be his assistant. Mike was great and became a good friend. We did a few other side jobs in Seaside and I enjoyed working for him. He lived in Panama City and I got to know his wife--Denise--and his two kids. (In fact, they were from Belleville, Illinois--near St. Louis--and moved back up there after I'd moved to Champaign to live with Fru. Fru's grandmother and aunt and her family lived not far from Belleville [Highland] and so I'd visit Mike and Denise when I took Fru to see her grandmother [Mor Mor]). Anyway, ahem, I painted both interior and exterior, back in Seaside, and it went well. This is also how I met Jimmy.
The first day I met Jimmy, he came skateboarding up the street in Seaside, with a flute and a cold potato for lunch. I didn't know he had a flute and a cold potato until lunch time, but he did have it. He had a vehicle--because he lived in Panama City Beach in a house his parents owned, though he was from Florence, Alabama (though born in St. Louis)--but he'd park it wherever and ride his skateboard to the job site. So, Jimmy became pals with Mike and I and--later--we'd go to Jimmy's to jam on the guitar (Jimmy was a musician--played flute exceptionally well, but also guitar, piano, anything really--and Mike was a from a musical family, he played bass and his brothers had a band in St. Louis), though I mainly just goofed around because I did not know how to play an instrument. But I did sing--badly but oddly okay--making up strange ambient songs to their jam music. We recorded some of it and had a laugh. We called his place the Jimmy Wizz Club.
We had a good time working together, socializing. But then I re-met Fru, who'd come down to visit me with Margaret, and I fell in love. And I left Florida by February, never to return. (I'd driven Jimmy up to Florence that Xmas, on my way to Champaign, which was when I decided to move up there.) But, as I said, Mike and Denise moved back to the midwest and I visited them often--mainly in the 90's, after Montana. But Jimmy, Jimmy and I went to New York City with for a month or two. And we stayed in touch for many years after that--like Mike--and Mike and I went down to visit him in Franklin, Tennessee (outside of Nashville), where he had moved there for a spell, and we had a very pleasant reunion. That was also in the 90's.
So, I painted houses.
In Florida.
In Seaside.
And I made good friends by doing so.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Box of Puppies: Johnson City 1968

I was thinking of dogs (we've had a dog for about three years now, our first and only current-family dog) and I was remembering dogs from my childhood and then I thought of the three dogs we found abandoned along Antioch Road in Tennessee when I was a kid.
I don't recall who in our family found them--I was there, so I guess it was me and one or two of my brothers, my sister perhaps--but there they were, a box of puppies along the highway. This was not a busy highway--more of a rural road where we lived, outside of the city limits--but still, here were these puppies in a cardboard box, obviously set there by someone who did not want them.
We kids dutifully brought them to our house.
These were three cute puppies--shepard mixes or something--and they were happy puppies. Mother and Father got a kick out of them, but would not let us bring them in the house (I think they stayed in our garage). Of course we wanted to keep them. Of course Mother and Father said no. We had a couple of cats, we'd had dogs in the past, still, these were great little dogs. We took them out to our back yard and it was the generic, postcard, Kodak Moment moment that you'd expect: kids rolling around in the grass with three lively puppies, licking and barking and laughing and smiles. I still remember that, that that was what dogs were all about for kids: roughhousing fun. Still, we could not keep them.
I think my parents said they'd look for the owner. But I believe we ended up taking them to the shelter. Man . . .
We'd had a couple of other dogs in Tennessee. When we'd lived in Jonesborough, we got a black puppy that we named Pokey. Pokey was a houndish dog, not especially wild or good looking, but sweet. I don't recall too much, but Pokey never quite gelled as a family member. Then a kid next door picked Pokey up and tossed him around, got Pokey's leg caught on the fence which injured him. I think we put Pokey to sleep . . . Then we had Fluffy in Johnson City. Fluffy was fluffy, a cute dog and full of energy. Fluffy had to stay in the garage at night and in the morning we kids would let him into the den and he'd go crazy with happiness. I don't know what Fluffy's problems were, but he must have had some because we gave Fluffy away after a few months. We were a family of five kids, my older brother getting into high school age, and we ran around and played away from home a lot. Maybe we didn't spend enough time with the dog and dogs--puppies--can be a lot of trouble, a mess, they need to be trained, so maybe no one felt like taking the time to train Fluffy, no one paid enough attention to him (maybe with Pokey, too). Anyway, Fluffy was history.
There'd been other dogs. The first dog was Goldie--a cocker--that was my father's dog from when I was a baby. One of my earliest memories is when we gave Goldie away to someone. To me, Goldie was a big dog--about the size of a St. Bernard--but of course she was a cocker, small and stout, but I was a tiny kid, maybe one or two years old, so she was a big dog to me. But what I remember is a man at the door, my father at the door and Goldie and the man was taking Goldie away. This was in our first house in Sioux Falls . . . Then we had Blackie (what's with all these great dog names, huh?). Blackie was also a cocker spaniel--black this time, as you might expect--and she was a great dog. She was the true family dog that I grew up with in Sioux Falls. But when we moved to Vancouver--and my memory is a little shaky on this--when we drove out west as a family, Blackie jumped out of the car at a rest stop and we left without her and my father would not turn back (this is a painful story in my family's history, especially for Second Oldest Brother) and so Blackie was lost. We did get a new puppy one year in Vancouver--we had this little black puppy for a few days, then one day we were playing with it in the yard, on our street and my father pulled out of the driveway and the puppy ran behind the car and it got run over. I stood over the puppy in the street and watched it die. I don't remember its name.
My parents could be very unsentimental about things, about animals. They both grew up during the Depression, both grew up without fathers. My mother was from a small rural town in South Dakota, where farm animals came and went. My father--also from farm country, in Iowa--had fought in WWII. There were bigger things to worry about than pets. That's not to say they didn't love animals--they did--and that's not to say they weren't bothered by the loss or deaths of pets. I'm sure they were. But life can be tough--for humans and animals. What are you going to do?
We went through a number of cats and dogs, birds, hamsters, a rat, a rabbit, turtles and lizards. I wanted a pet owl at one point. We finally had a long term dog as a pet in Des Moines--it had been Second Oldest Brother's dog but he could not care for her and Father took her: Tanya, a golden cocker spaniel. Father loved that dog--Mother, too--and Tanya was his companion as we kids got older and moved out. I had a dog of my own--Wolf--but gave him away when I realized I did not have the time or desire to raise him.
So, I've got my dog now. Long term. And I had my box of puppies as a kid--even if only for a few fleeting days.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To Whom It May Concern #6

This is my 100th post. Yes, this "blog" is one and a half years old and I'm only now getting to the century mark of posting. Many people post a hundred things in a week, some--no doubt--even in a day. But, this is a strange blog.
As I've no doubt said before and will no doubt say again, this is somewhat experimental for me. It's essentially a Memoir of the Mundane. No one really reads it (and I'm still fine with that), but it does what I want it to do--I'm accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. That's not to say that I think my posts are accomplished. No. Some are better than others, many are the kind of drivel that only my own idiosyncratic mind can appreciate. But they are not meant to be fully developed, fully explored essays. Yes, they are essays, but they need to be linked for a fuller effect. I think there is a larger arc or narrative at stake here--for me there is--one that will take more years of scribbling to accomplish; definitely one that would take much realigning, editing and rewriting to make good. But, I like the posts. I like that I don't know exactly what I'm going to write when I sit down to do it, don't know what sentence will follow the next or how I'll attempt to tie it up at the end (which is why many of the posts are on the lame side). And I don't want to do any heavy rewriting and crafting--not so much out of laziness, but out of a dual sense of keeping it in the realm of a true blog and to teach myself to think (write) on the run, letting the consequences of the incompleteness fall where they may. Anyway, I have other writings to attend to and--as in anyone's life--I have only so much time to do the things I want to do.
The posts change. I shape them differently, concern myself with other things as time passes, as new subjects and events present themselves. In a month or so, I think I'll start writing about the 1990's as well as the 60's and 80's. Then there's the good and horrible years of the 1970's. And by then, another decade will have passed--the aught aughts (2000's). Two thousand and ten is a' coming.
I sometimes think of my chosen title for the blog--something done almost on a whim. I originally thought these posts would be much more stylized, more doused with fictional elements, but they didn't turn out that way (except, perhaps, for my very first post about Los Angeles). I thought they'd be funnier. Imbued with excitement, a little self-pitying tragedy. I thought they would capture the absurdity of my own life--though now I'm not so sure what's all that absurd about it . . . Semantics . . . It's all absurd--the whole ball of wax--isn't it?
Really, I guess I didn't have anything to say, other than to commemorate my 100th post. Commemorate it to myself. That's kind of absurd.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cherokee Elementary: Johnson City 1968

My family had moved from Vancouver, Washington to Tennessee when I was in the middle of Fourth Grade. In Tennessee, we first rented a house in Jonesborough so I finished Fourth at this school in this little town in the hills of Northeast Tennessee. But then we bought a house just outside of Johnson City (where my father worked--had been transferred to--as a chief-of-staff psychologist for the Veterans Administration). But since the house was outside of the city limit, we younger kids had to attend the county school (my two older brothers went to East in the city, which my parents paid for them to attend). Cherokee Elementary--the county school--was a few miles from our house. We rode the bus sparingly, but mainly got rides--traded rides--with other families who lived in our brand new development.
To us--or to me, at least--Cherokee seemed like an enlightened place compared to the big, backwoods school of Jonesborough. Cherokee was a single-story, red brick, semi-newish place, with tiled halls and classrooms and open playgrounds. It was a country school, but not as "country" as the other town we had just come from. Also by then, I think we had acclimated (somewhat) to life in Tennessee compared to the shell-shock of jumping into school mid-year in Jonesborough.
Anyway, I attended fifth and sixth grade at Cherokee. They were decent years. Good years, really.
My Fifth Grade teacher was Mrs. Roberts--I think__ and she was pleasant enough. I met new people, made new friends, a few enemies. I was still confounded by this southern world I had been dropped into, but I liked where we lived (the creek and woods and pastures, the unbuilt lots) and--after some initial North/South fights at the new school, I liked my new friends. In fact, there was one boy--Jimmy West--who had gone to Jonesborough and who I knew and so we hung out a bit at school. (Jimmy came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after taking a tick off his dog and missed almost half a year of school. He used to call me up and I'd sit and talk with him, while he was laid up with nothing to do at home. I didn't know where he lived, only saw him at school until he got sick. I remember, he once showed me his hands which were severely cracked raw from dry skin--I mean cracked and lined like an old Indian's skin in wild west photos--and I told him to put some lotion on them. He looked at me, shook his head, thought that that was too girly to do. I looked back at him and shook my head and said, essentially, who cares? Your hands look horrible, so put some damn lotion on them. He did and was grateful to me for not making fun of him.)
Again, anyway. For Sixth Grade I had Mrs. Owens who was quite a character. She liked to tell us stories. She also liked to tell us how Lincoln had wanted to send all the slaves back to Africa (intimating something or other to us kids) and stories about driving by an insane asylum at night and hearing this constant screaming and when she stopped her car, a bat had been caught on her antennae. She talked about her cat, about her health. She was a bit of a nut, but I kind of liked her (she could also be mean).
Tennessee schools were big a corporal punishment. Every teacher had a big wooden paddle hanging in their classroom. Some teachers were known for their paddles--size and shape, whether it had holes drilled into it--some were known for their proficiency to use it. I got paddled at least twice, maybe three times, that I can remember. One time it was because, when the teacher was out, my friend and I (Kurt Waddawick--he was a character) went to the newly re-glassed windows of our room and stole the new putty from where they'd put in the panes. The putty was like clay and we made things with it, threw it at each other. The boy who was supposed to be watching the class tattled on us [I knew the kid, considered him a friend] and we got taken out into the hall and paddled [that day at recess, I tripped the boy as he ran away from us thinking I was going to punch him--I wasn't, but then I tripped him and felt bad about it]) One time I got sent to the principle and paddled for whistling in line at gym class. Besides the justification for the punishment, the problem was that it had not been me who was whistling, it was the kid next to me who was also tall and blondish and the gym teacher pulled me out instead. I explained it was not me, but she nor the principle cared and paddled me--this set off a fierce sense of injustice in me and I still resent it. I also got in a fight in the boys room--not one of my choosing but some kid deciding to pick on me. I got sent to the principle's for that, though I had not started it, she said I partially at fault and I think I got paddled (later that year--in the summer--the boy saw me at the city swimming pool and came over and talked to me like I was a good friend; he asked if I thought I had passed and I had no idea what he was talking about, until I understood he was asking if I had advanced to the next grade at school--the thought of not passing had never entered my mind--because I guess he had not passed and had to repeat the grade).
There was also a religious--Bible Belt Christian religious--current running at the school. Everyday we started with Devotions. We said prayers before going to lunch. I was totally confounded by this. I didn't resent it so much as I just couldn't quite figure out the purpose for it in a school. I knew none of the words, so I either stayed silent or mouthed some words along with the prayers. And then there were the religious rallies/assemblies that the school sponsored. All classes had to assemble in the gym and some preachers would talk to us about the bible and Jesus and then hold contests to see who could memorize the most verses of the Bible. Then, a month later or so, we assembled again and the kids got up and recited their verses and received prizes for their efforts--the more you could memorize, the better the prizes. Hmmm.
Anyway (again and again), there were all sorts of things that went on at Cherokee that I found odd or different or just interesting to me in my own little self-history. It was not the most scholarly of educations (to put it politely) but it was an education of a different sort, one that I would not take back for all the prep schools in heaven.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Going to Vegas: Los Angeles 1985

The first time I ever went to Las Vegas was about a year or so earlier than 1985, when I left Santa Fe. That time, Bill (IA Bill, not MT Bill or FL Bill or other Bills) came from Des Moines to visit and we went to the Grand Canyon, Utah and Vegas before I went back to Iowa with him. Then, in L.A., Mike (Chicago Mike) and I took a drive out to Vegas for a wild weekend. (I even went once, later, with this girl I was dating in L.A.) But the time I'm thinking of was when there was a group of us from Burbank and we planned to go.
This was a weekend when nothing was going on. Mike and I were hanging with a disparate group of friends we had mainly met at Charliebar in Burbank (and then the Pago Pago after Charliebar went out of business). This group all lived in Burbank and Mike and I lived down the boulevard in North Hollywood. I believe it was Jeff, Bob and Roy who had planned to go.
It was Saturday and we met at the bar and all got into the big red work van (The Red Sex Oven, Mike and I called it for reasons I doubt I'll explain) to head out. It was one of those lazy, hot smoggy summer days in L.A., when life was slow and boring and we were probably hungover. Anyway, we all gathered in the van and set off. Now, Jeff was younger than me (and I was young) but had a toddler son and a common-law wife--except at that time, I believe they'd split up. Bob was a co-owner of the defunct Charliebar, now a sometimes tile-setter and alcoholic, who had a wife and two teen kids. Roy was an old man--in his sixties, a drinker (alcoholic) who worked whatever jobs he could for cash. They were all very nice people and we all got along well. But Roy, as we drove out of L.A., was insistent that we stop in "Canyon Country" so he could visit some old friends. Roy, you see, did not own a vehicle or even drive--he rode a bicycle around Burbank. I guess he used to live in Canyon Country and this was his chance to get back there. So--we all liked Roy--we agreed to stop.
It was a little out of the way. I'd been all over the counties working, so Canyon Country didn't look too different from anywhere else outside of L.A, really. But he directed us to a little hole-in-the-wall bar (where else? a bar) where he said his friends would be. We all went in with him. And sure enough, people in the bar knew him. They called him Pops, if I remember right. The woman bartender was especially pleased to see him: "Pops! Where have you been?"
Roy was happy as a pearl-less oyster.
He talked to quite a few people. We talked to them a little. We drank beer and played some pool (it was a bar, after all). We let Roy have his good time. Then, a few hours later, we were on the road again.
Roy fell asleep.
And it wasn't long before the small euphoria of beer and pool, of pleasing Roy, ran out. Even the excitement of going to Vegas dwindled down to where it seemed more like a chore than an adventure. The skies were hazy, the landscape brown desert, the highway boring. So, we mumbled a bit to each other, hemmed and hawed, then turned around. Headed back. Roy--who was still asleep--was not in on this decision.
I forget exactly what we did next, but I think we decided to stop somewhere, at least, to salvage the idea that we were on a trip. And so we pulled off to this place called Pyramid Lake. But Pyramid Lake was more like a reservoir. It was some flat dirty body of water propped up between bald brown hills--was a place for bass fishing mainly--not scenic at all. But when we stopped, Roy woke up.
Roy was pissed.
"Where are we? This isn't Vegas! Why aren't we going to Vegas?"
We explained we'd all changed our minds, but he was having none of it. But, it was late afternoon now. We were groggy and bored. We'd made Roy happy, now we'd made him unhappy. But, it was sort of his fault for making us go to Canyon Country to begin with.
Really though, our heart wasn't in that Vegas trip. It was one of those ideas that sound good, but when it comes time to execute, we lost the thread of that idea. The time and money. The long drive there. The long drive back and then back to work. No thanks.
So, we went back to L.A.
It wasn't long after that that the work dried up and I went to Chicago for a spell, then back to Des Moines, then came back out to L.A. And when I got back, Roy was gone. No one had seen him much. Then, no one had seen him at all . . . Maybe he tried to come back--like he did in Canyon Country--come back to Charliebar on Olive Avenue, but Charliebar was closed. maybe he even looked for us in the Pago Pago, but we weren't always there all the time. And I left L.A. for good by late August.
Anyway, I never saw Roy again.
Maybe he went to Vegas.