Friday, March 26, 2010

Sleep: Champaign 1991

In the summer of 1991 I got invited to go canoeing and camping with Matt back in Iowa. At that time, First Daughter was only about, oh, maybe 3 months old. So, Fru and I were still in the shock of having a baby, the worries, the 24-7-365 attention, the lack of sleep. But, I was off to spend some time in northern Iowa, canoeing the Upper Iowa River and with Matt.
I was going to sleep!
In some ways, I was looking forward to sleeping as much as seeing Matt, as being in a tent again and canoeing, looking forward to being away and free for a few days. So, off I went. And it was a nice time--(overall, I'll have to write about it some other time, Matt, the river, seeing Roger also who was married and living in Decorah, Iowa at the time)--and we canoed and had a camp spot at a campground right on the river.
Night fell and I was ready to sleep.
Ah. Sweet sleep. Anyone who is or has been a young parent knows what I'm talking about (and I'm talking about five or more years of pure zombiedom!).
But as I lied there in the tent, I couldn't sleep. This was an open campground and there were still people up, particularly a group of young gents who were drinking and playing cards. Still, things like this never bothered me before. I could always sleep. And here I was, tired, desperately craving a long sleep, so why should some semi-noisy neighbors keep me from it?
I was upset. I blamed the campers playing cards. I told Matt I couldn't sleep and I grabbed my pillow and went out of the tent. I indignantly shot a glance over to the noisy campers as I marched with my pillow to my truck. It was my red Custom Deluxe from Montana (still had Montana plates, I think) and I crawled inside and thought I could sleep there, in the cab. I'd slept in many vehicles, many smaller than my truck.
Still, no sleep.
Sure, I dozed, eventually slept, but it was fitful, lousy, a sleep that made me even sleepier.
I blamed it on the kids playing cards, on the cramped truck, on my unfluffy pillow.
The next night we stayed at Roger's house where I slept on the couch. Still a bad sleep.
The day after that, I said I was leaving early to return home. I told them I missed my baby--my daughter--and that was true. I did miss her. I wanted to get away from her, from Fru, from that world for just a bit, yet that was about all I truly thought about also. I wanted to get back to it.
And--as the years passed and a new baby was added--I realized that that was why I couldn't sleep. Not that I missed her so--my baby--but that I was now used to listening each night for her. It was ingrained in me to listen, to sleep lightly, to be aware. It was not the other camper's fault, or the truck's or the pillow's, it was my new life. The life of having babies.
I'm sure there are exceptions to this. I'm sure there are men who--knowing their wives, the mother of their children are right there--sleep as soundly as ever after having kids. But, for most, that kind of deep sleep is lost forever. You're always listening, listening, even when years pass and experience tells you that all is okay now, they are no longer babies and will sleep and will wake up the next day. Still, you don't sleep that well.
Even a few years later, when I'd go off to camp by myself, when I'd spend one night at a motel with the sole purpose of just sleeping, I couldn't do it. I couldn't conk out and disappear like I wanted to. Eventually, I gave up that hope.
No. I'm not sleep deprived anymore. But I don't sleep that well, either. I can't say I've ever had one of those deep, unconcerned sleeps again ever in my life. Not just because I had kids--that's what brought it on--but also because I'm getting older and am told you don't sleep that well the more you age.
Oh well. It was only sleep. It is only sleep.
Being awake is more fun anyway.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

James: Missoula 1990

I didn't know a lot of people who were Indians in Montana, at least not intimately. I did know James. He was half-white and a painter. He was also pretty much an alcoholic. But he was interesting and we got along with each other, we were friends. I think perhaps he was Blackfoot. Maybe he was Salish. Anyway, that's not how I saw him, not as Indian or half Indian or an alcoholic. He was just James. He was a painter.
I met him in the bars. At Charlie B's to be precise. He knew Dennis and by 1990 I was good friends with Dennis, who collected and published books for a living. I know I met James before 1990, but that doesn't matter. What I'm thinking of is a short conversation we had at Charlie B's one night in 1990.
You have to understand that James had bad teeth and big glasses. He had long black hair and was very skinny. He had a crooked grin. He was drunk a lot. His paintings didn't sell much, but he was a real painter. He was poor. So, one night we were with each other at the bar--both drunk--and he started arguing with me, calling me White Man. I was actually interested that he called me White Man--don't know why, exactly, maybe just because I am--and he said his people don't always like my people. Of course, I didn't see it like that but also did see it like that (the fault being in my camp) and I said it wasn't true about me. He asked, "What do you think of me, then? What do you say when you see me?"
And I said I see a painter. I said, "You're an intelligent guy." And right away he smiled. He ducked his head and looked away and gave that crooked grin. He was flattered. And he wasn't flattered because I was a "White Man" or because he was a poor painter or because we were in Montana where people don't often compliment each other--only because I had surprised him by saying he was intelligent.
But James was intelligent. He was a good painter. He was a half-breed and I was a white man. I was glad to have surprised him. I was glad to have said something nice. It pleased me to make him smile his crooked smile . . . I should do that more often.

To Whom It May Concern #7

Well, I'm still at it. Still writing this blog.
If you wanted to say that this is only an exercise in narcissism, that it's a self-indulgent diary, a re-write of personal mundane history, an attempt at self myth-making, well, you'd be right. It is. It's also a blog, a journal, a memoir, an autobiography of sorts, a record of my very existence, one that moves slowly slowly, a glacier of small memories, that will, eventually, only add up to what it is.
Whatever that may be.
My hope is that as it grows--and it's years away, I can see now, from being even half done (and in some ways will never be done till I die)--it will take on a larger narrative, will be imbued with more meaning. It is, I think, that larger narrative that keeps me writing. Then again, I could be wrong about that. . . I do plan to write more about other people, about some subjects I've avoided or glossed over, maybe get into the minutia of my own thinking and self-analysis (won't that be fun to read?), and then I may not.
What I've been doing is, every nine months, I switch to a new decade. This is just a structure that befell me, one I came to after the first year. I've mentioned this before, but I'm working my way the best I can through the decades--the 80's, 60's, 90's so far--and will hit upon the others I've been alive in, every nine months, until I'm up to speed with this new and current one. Once I write about a decade, I can continue to write about it, so that, now, I write about three decades whenever I want. So, when I get to the Tens, I'll see what I can do to improve the quality and depth of these little things.
I don't know, exactly. To make my myth, I guess.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tijuana Bus Station: Mexico 1990

I'd been in Tijuana for maybe twenty four hours. I'd come down from Los Angeles (after a bus ride there from Missoula), where I'd stayed with Mike. Mike and I and some employee of his--who spoke Spanish--had come down to the border town with me. We got drunk (I can document this). We had a little junk motel room. The next day I needed to get to the bus station, because I was traveling in Mexico for a few weeks.
We got a taxi. Hungover we rode, trusting the cabbie to really take us to the station. It was nice of them to do this, as I could have taken a taxi myself and they could have gone back over the border and, thus, back to L.A.. But, they went with me and when we pulled up to the Tijuana Bus Station, it was like pulling up to a busy airport.
People and cars were everywhere. The cabbie, not wanting to get far into the melee, stopped and told me to get out. Mike and his employee looked at me. I had my duffle bag full of stuff. So, I slung it over my shoulder and got out.
Mike and his employee needed the cab to get to the border crossing.
Oh, I remember--it was raining.
Not a big rain, but a misty one. So, I hopped out and hardly said goodbye when the cabbie pulled away. I turned and looked and saw: this was a big station.
I walked and, as I stepped through the doors, I was a taken aback. The place was cavernous, except for the fact that it was filled with people. I mean A LOT of people. And it smelled strange to me. I'm not trying to say it smelled bad or make some ulterior comment. It just smelled very different and added to my sense that I was somewhere new.
To me, it looked so chaotic. I had just been dumped out of a cab after a long night of partying in Tijuana, and now I had to figure out what I was supposed to do to find my bus.

My bus was Tres Estrellas.
I looked for the sign, found it, went to the counter and--in malo Spanish-- ordered my ticket.
And when the bus came, off I went for La Paz.

It was many years later, when Mike told me that they had made the driver come back around, to look for me. But I was already gone.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Desolation Cornfields: Champaign 1994

I have mixed feelings about Champaign. At least about when Fru and I moved back there after living in Montana. There were many times I felt trapped in that town. Much of that was due to the fact that I became a stay-at-home father. Don't get me wrong: I loved and love my wife, I loved and love my children. But, I also had bouts of 'What the hell am I doing in Champaign, Illinois taking care of little kids all day?'.
These were fantastic days mixed with dark personal days. Then again, I'm quite capable of being a dark person all on my own, with no help of any other person. But, in the summer, I had one habit--or act--that I came to rely on to give myself a release from my own personally groomed and tailored troubles.
I drove out into the cornfields.
First, you have to understand that Champaign, Illinois is surrounded by extremely fertile earth. The whole county is a big bowl of mucky, schmucky dark rich ground. Things grow. So, it's sort of a farmer's paradise (if your idea of paradise is long stretches of flat flat land and a grid of harrowed fields) and there were miles and miles of corn and soybean fields just a baby step out of town. But, if you looked at them right, those fields had a quiet beauty of their own. I mean, I both despised them and loved them.
Like I said, mixed feelings.
Anyway, come a number of Sundays, I escaped into those fields. I'd buy a six pack of beer, a pack of cigarettes (maybe, if I was lucky, I had a joint) and I'd say goodbye to Fru and my pretty wonderful little girls and I'd head out into the cornfield wilderness.
I almost always headed west of town, maybe a bit southwest. I'd take the small roads, then take smaller roads, then hit the unpaved gravel paths that divided fields. I mean, it was summer. There were fields of tall green corn. Endless sun. No one around. And so I'd pull over in this anonymous little section of Champaign County, Illinois, in the midwest section of the U.S.A. and I'd smoke and drink and listen to the radio. I think sometimes I brought my journal, but not that often, as I didn't even want to write. I just wanted a break from the little house on Miller Street, from diapers and baby food, from Sesame Street and Barney and Disney movies, a break from married life, from fatherhood, from my own poisonous thinking . . . I just wanted a break.
So, I'd stand out there in the middle of cornfield-nowhere, drink and smoke--once in a while get high--and think and listen to the radio. And I'd listen to Prairie Home Companion--the Sunday rerun of it. Or, I'd listen to WEFT, the local community station, and it's eclectic brand of music. Yes, I'd get buzzed and listen and talk to myself out there in the true and honest middle of nowhere. And I liked it.
I guess I have that strange ability to enjoy my worst moments (as I had in Seattle). Even now I laugh at myself, even feel slightly nostalgic about those situations when I was down and self-pitying. It was pretty out there. I liked it out there under the big blue sky and powdered clouds, among the endless grids of tall corn and soybeans, so alone yet also so visible in the long flat landscape, being stupid and smart.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Possum Lake: Champaign 1994

There wasn't much water around Champaign, Illinois. In the city, there was The Boneyard, a small creek that ran through campustown and around, its tiny banks littered with trash and broken bottles. The Boney, as some called it, would flood in big rains and flood the streets (until they built a huge retention pond after Fru and I left). There were miscellaneous "lakes" in the new neighborhoods--manmade retention ponds, essentially. There was the Sangamon River--supposedly, I could barely see it--around Mahomet and a few other rivers around the county and some lakes south of the county, but there was no real bodies or flows of "water" to speak of.
And then there was Possum Lake, which has nothing to do with real water either.
When my two girls were about three or four and one or two, they would listen to music and dance to it. The dancing mainly consisted of running around in circles and falling down. One Xmas, they listened to the Nutcracker Suite, and though it was too long for them to really absorb, they did love a few sets centered around the Russian Dance section. So, I would play the Russian Dance and a few others over and over for them, way past Xmas and New Years.
Their dancing to this music became kind of an act and I became the "Director" of their musical show. Me being me (which is who I am), I gave their performance the name of Possum Lake (as in Swan Lake, as in ballet). They had no idea that I was making a joke. For them, Possum lake was a real and beautiful name for their ballet.
So, when they wanted to hear the Nutcracker's Russian Dance and others, they'd ask to perform Possum Lake.
I made up specific parts for them to perform with moves such as "barbeque tongs" and "banana splits" and the "vulture dive". This was how I entertained myself while they entertained themselves which entertained all of us. So, I'd put on the music and they'd get ready--they sometimes wore tutus--and off they would go with their rendition of Possum Lake, perfectly executing the "barbeque tong" moves and other difficult steps up to the crescendo of an end where they ran faster and faster in circles until they crashed like vultures into the serene waters of Possum Lake (our dining room carpet, usually).
But, this is what I did to them. I could never quite let things be normal or what they were supposed to be, I always had to make them slightly off kilter. I suppose I imbued them with a sense of creativity, of making something into your own, also a sense of cynicism and sarcasm--for better or worse--and maybe, perhaps, irony . . . I don't know. Both my girls turned out quite different, but they both have a great sense of humor.
And maybe that was all it was, after all, humor. Making something funny just to have some fun. And it was fun.
What would childhood be? What would parenthood be? What would anything be if you couldn't have some fun? . . . Today, I'd pay great gobs of money to see them perform Possum Lake once again.