Thursday, February 25, 2010

Invitation to L.A.: Des Moines 1984

At the start of 1984 I had just graduated from the University of Iowa and was back living in Des Moines. I got a job a Younkers, working at the 9th Street Warehouse. I worked there for a few months, till early spring, and then took the train to Santa Fe, NM where I stayed, worked until the fall of that year. Then I went back to Des Moines, went back to Iowa City for a spell, then back to Des Moines.
So, the winter of '84 i was back where I started. I think I may have been working at Younkers again, full time, but at the Merle Hay Mall store . . . So, I was writing, living at my parents' house and--to the best of my memory--had no plans. I mean, no doubt I was concocting some fantasy or real plan to go somewhere, but I didn't have anything realistic in mind . . . Oh, I think I spent a month or two in Chicago with Cin, but I did not plan to move there . . . It was winter. I was lazy. Then Mike called (Chicago Mike, a friend from college days) and Mike asked if I wanted to go to Los Angeles.
I was never much interested in cities back then. I was not much interested in California--except perhaps the northern part. If I wanted to go to CA, no doubt I would have chosen the Mt. Shasta area or the northern coast; maybe the desert--Death Valley--or if I had to pick a city, San Francisco would have been it. So, did I want to go to L.A.?
Mike was going out there to work. His father was in the construction biz and he was going to get some work out there and put Mike in charge of it. Mike was going to drive his car out. He needed some workers--or at least one worker for the time being--and he called me to offer me this trip and job. Hmm. I had not really worked construction, just a small stint doing concrete work one summer in Des Moines. Hmm.
Of course I said yes.
So, out of the blue, I was going to L.A. Did go to L.A. Stayed in L.A. for almost a year.
(Which was enough.)
But what interests me here, is that there was a time in my life when someone could call me up and ask if I wanted to move across country and work a job I knew little about. I had the time and the gumption, the nothing-better-going-on life to say yes. Seems strange to me now.
And so, after Christmas, I took the bus to Chicago, saw Cin again, met up with Mike and we took off on New Years Day in 1985 for Los Angeles, California.
When will I ever do something like that again?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bologna and Mustard: Johnson City 1969

I joined the Boy Scouts once. Back in vancouver, WA I had been a Cub Scout for a few months (maybe only weeks) and enjoyed it, until the den mother down the street quit or they moved away and then it all fell apart. But this was in Tennessee and my friend from our neighborhood, Kent, was a Boy Scout and he told me that his troop was going to a weekend jamboree. he asked if I wanted to join up and come along. For some reason, I said: "Yes."
So, one way or another, I quickly joined, must have paid some kind of dues, and then Kent and I were off to some park somewhere in Tennessee for the jamboree! Ha! I knew no one else in this troop--no one else in all of Boy Scoutdom--but here I was staying in a big tent with a bunch of other boys. But let me back up a bit . . . Before going, I had gone grocery shopping with Mother because we had to bring our own food supplies--so I got drinks and chips and what not and I saw this pack of link sausages and said I wanted those. "Are you sure?" "Yes," I said. "You'll have to make sure to cook them all the way through," Mother told me. "Okay," I said . . . So, back to the jamboree: It was a pretty big gathering. There were lots and lots of scouts, lots and lots of troops, there was a gazebo where people sand and played guitar (I had never really seen this before and still remember this one older scout who played guitar and sang--actually sang!--into a microphone and he sounded good), there were games and food and such; I don't remember it all.
I do recall finding it strange to camp like that, in an open park with all those other people. I was no stranger to camping, but this was likely the first time I'd camped without my parents and in a non-forest/National Park/State Park type setting. I was a bit wary of it all but also excited. I remember our Scout Master was an older guy with a very bald head and he'd wipe his whole head down with a bandana, swiping great waves of sweat from himself, I recall there was a boy named Carroll in our troop--never heard of a boy named Carroll before--and he was very concerned with his bodily movements, worrying about taking a dump and then telling us about it and finally coming to the happy conclusion that all he had were "Wet farts". It was Carroll who I ended up trading food with.
You see, by the next morning, I was starving. All I had left to eat were those uncooked sausages. And, I did not want to cook them. I was a kid, still shy, didn't know anyone besides Kent and for whatever reason, I didn't want to ask the troop leader to help me cook my sausages. I felt stupid for having bought and brought them. But! Carroll, of funny name and wet farts, he wanted them. The only thing he had to trade me was a single bologna and mustard sandwich. . . I had never had a bologna and mustard sandwich. It did not sound good to me--too simple, too salty--but I was hungry and was not, NOT, going to cook those sausages. So, I made the trade.
You know what?
Bologna and mustard sandwiches are good.
That sandwich tasted divine. It was one slice of bad bologna with lots of yellow French's mustard and white bread. Yum. And from that day, I ate those sandwiches. I still eat them (now and then). Second Daughter eats them (now and then). Try one. They're good.
After the jamboree (I remember now, it was over Memorial Day weekend and this was a big city park and there was a big cemetery and we scouts went out and placed flags on many of the graves--veterans' graves--little American flags on little sticks) so after when Kent and I got back to our neighborhood outside of Johnson City, I was done. I never went back for a single scout meeting or program or whathaveyou. But I was glad I went, because I still remember those things, it took me out of my usual world, as a kid, and introduced me to things that were foreign to me at the time.
And--of course--I got to eat a bologna and mustard sandwich.

Monday, February 8, 2010

And An Elephant Says?: Champaign 1992

My kids had lots and lots of animals when they were babies. I don't mean real live breathing animals (we had two cats: M.R. and Jack and Jack got run over and killed before Second Daughter was born in '93), but they had a great assortment of plastic animals and stuffed animals and animal videos and magnet animals, wooden animals, animal cards and on and on. So, I used these animal toys as lessons--like about all parents do--from what kind of animals they were to habits to sounds and eventually to what regions of the world they came from.
First daughter was especially crazy about animals--she loved giraffes and elephants the most for quite a while, then gave way to cats and dinosaurs. (I remember once we were visiting my parents in Des Moines, just me and First Daughter--I'd driven us over from Champaign--and a friend of mine, Scott, came over to visit. He was impressed with First Daughters ability to name numbers and colors and the alphabet, not just recite them, but when he went to leave I said, "Good bye, Scott" and First Daughter said, "Good bye, Skunk." . . . Oh, I never told Scott this, but I laughed and laughed, she had animals on her mind so she thought his name was Skunk.) But I remember one time when Francis came to visit us.
I'd met Francis in Mexico (where I'd mistook him for an English-speaking Americano) and he was from Quebec. His English, on the whole, was good (my French tres mal) and he had no problem coming to a place like Champaign and hanging with me during the day while I did laundry and took care of a baby and all of that (yes, we did go out some nights, Francis and I, and he did go to Chicago, so there was that). Anyway, he was there as First Daughter and I went through our animal sounds.
You know: What does a dog say? "Bark, bark!" Yes! What does a cow say? "Moo, moo." Good! What does a monkey say? "Eee-ee-ee-ee." Ha ha. "A dolphin?" "Bee-ee-eee-eee. " (Something like that.)
It's when I got to the elephant that Francis cracked up.
"What does an elephant say?" I asked First Daughter.
"Breeee Cheese!"
Francis--a French cheese kind of guy--thought that this was hilarious.
And it was.
So many things with little kids are hilarious, impossible to record--especially if they are your own little kids and their whole years are often profound second after profound second--and this was but one of many delightful happenings.
Ah. I was just thinking of it, that's all. Maybe you had to be there.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Small Memory In Idaho #5

This was either '89 or '90. I'd gone camping--alone--down in Idaho from Missoula. I spent the night at the Craters of the Moon National Monument, where I'd walked around among the fossilized lava floes and went in the caves and such--it was nice. But the next morning I woke early. Had not slept that well, but wanted to get going as I wanted to take the long drive back, through Sun Valley and Stanley and the Sawtooth (instead of back through Arco), then back up into Montana. So I was sleepyheaded. I was discombobulated. I was hungry and wanted coffee.
I took off driving the thin road out of the park, headed west to southwest. The sun was just up, everything was fuzzy and surreal, the light dusty upon a dry landscape. And I had the highway all to myself. And then I just admired it all, became amazed at the small mountains hills and the color of the sage and the smell of the very Idaho air and I pulled the car off the road and got out and, more or less, just exalted in the moment.
And, again, like many of my Idaho moments, that was it. A moment of realization, of living in the very now, of appreciating the small and the grand in the same second.