Saturday, August 28, 2010

Spiders and Wasps: Champaign 1994

I was thinking about when we lived in the little house on Miller Street and I was at the window (probably washing dishes--we had no dishwasher) in the little kitchen and this was when the kids were little and we had a little insular world. Anyway, what I was recalling was there were two small spiders (shall I call them little?) living in opposite corners of the outdoor kitchen window sill. They weren't much bigger than a sunflower seed but they had built their respective webs in the corners and went about their respective business of catching little bugs while respecting each other's territory.
But the reason I recall it is because as I stood there washing the dishes--probably the kids bottles and sippy cups and such--a big wasp came flying to the window. I watched as the wasp went to one of the spider's webs and plucked it with its legs. That spider came up a bit and looked and then retreated. The wasp went to the other spider's web--the right-hand side spider--and plucked its web and this spider came charging out to see what he had caught. Well. he had not caught anything and the wasp proceeded to grab the spider and sting it and eat it.
And who says Nature is not a nasty place?
I also recall seeing a big blackbird, who was feeding in the back lawn, attack a small sparrow who was also feeding there. I had never seen a fellow bird attack another but this blackbird (not a crow or raven, mind you) jumped on the sparrow, held it down and deliberately pecked at its head until the sparrow was dead. The blackbird them flew away, leaving the sparrow's body in the grass.
Yes, sweet sweet Nature.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Related Memory #4: Daughter Disappears

Ah, for whatever reason I remember saying that Second Daughter never hid from me again after that incident in Victoria Park (in Ft. Lauderdale). But, for whatever reason, I now remember that that's not true. She did hide again, this time maybe four years later when she was over at a friend's house.
This time Second Daughter was maybe eight or nine years old and she'd gone to Carly's house to play after school. When I showed up to get her, neither I or Carly's mom could find the two of them. They had been playing outside (a nice neighborhood, Carly's family-her parents--nice people who we were friends with) and it was strange that they were not around. Of course, being parents, after so many minutes of looking and calling we began to think the worst. You can't help it. Neither Carly's mother or I said anything, but it was there, the thought of kidnapping and killing or just plain lost.
It took a while, but finally their two heads popped up from inside the new car in the driveway. They had been playing inside the Toyota Sequoia and had hidden in there.
I did not strike or get loud, but I was angry. I let my daughter know--once again--that such games were forbidden, that they were wrong and I believe that this time it stuck.
She's seventeen now, drives herself around town, a straight A student and high achiever. So, I guess she learned something.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The World of Work: Des Moines 1975

I'm not even sure how I got the job, other than I recall my mother took me up to the employment/customer service department of Younkers at the Merle hay Mall and had me apply. I really--to the best of my memory--know what I was doing exactly, but I got a job in the stockroom there at Younkers department store. (Younkers was a local Des Moines/Iowa store, a trusted and somewhat "high-end" retailer--they are still there, but I think now owned by Macy's.) I was deep into high school by then. I had quit playing football--I'd broken my arm that summer playing street football, but that wasn't the reason I quit the Urbandale High team--and I guess Mother had decided that I needed a job. Though I was old enough, I didn't drive yet and, anyway, there were only two cars in our seven person family. So, I usually walked to work or got a ride. The mall was near our house.
It wasn't really quite my first job. I'd worked a few weeks for Dave's (Dave a school buddy) father in downtown Des Moines, in the upstairs of an old building on High Street. That temporary job was all about filling envelopes, about collating advertising material and putting them in big envelopes to be sent out. But my first real employment was in the stockroom at Younkers.
I worked off and on at that Younkers for many years--up into college, full time between college years and then for a while in the first years post college. But I'm thinking of the first few years there, when I was a self-blind, extraordinarily moody and ignorant teen. I was also shy and a good worker for the most part. But work at Younkers opened up a new world in many ways--a world outside of the kinds of people I'd always met, away from high school and people my age. That's not to say I didn't work alongside other high school students, I did at times, but I also worked with very blue-collar adults, I worked with some college students (one, Jim, from the Chicago suburbs, who became my friend and sort-of mentor). But I now had a couple of bosses, I had bosses above those bosses, there were heads of departments, there were truck drivers and delivery men, there was the occasional customer (as we also did shipping and took out packages for pick up); there was a large strata of people I interacted with in different ways as a stock boy. The job mainly consisted of unloading the trucks that came in from the warehouses downtown, then sorting all the merchandise (the boxes or tags would have numbers on them that coincided with each department--we had to learn the numbers and which department they were--I came to know these very well). We--I--also did clean up duties as needed, even bathroom duties. There would also be calls to come pick up hangers as well as trash, there'd also be calls for help lifting or unpacking or about anything. And on weekends we worked with the cleanup crew--old men, mostly--doing the mopping and buffing and vacuuming. There was a restaurant upstairs--The Meadow Lark--which someone was always assigned to vacuum. Usually Jim Cisco did this. This was not the Jim from Chicago, but a local guy about my age who, unlike most others and unlike me, was very competent and talented. he wasn't exactly wise, but more of a boy scout type. But we got along well and I saw him outside of work as a friend. (More on Jim Cisco and Jim from Chicago down the pike, and others, I'm sure.)
I began to see a lot of my co-workers outside of work. I built a second tier of friends from that job. And--my senior year in high school--I spent more time with these people than my longer friends from school (this shift was on purpose as I'd come to hate high school). But what I'm thinking about are the older guys, the full timers or the retired guys who came in on weekends to supplement their incomes. They were an interesting lot.
Most of them were uneducated people, people who had been laborers all their lives. Another job in the stockroom was running the bailer. The bailer was a machine that squished down all the cardboard and other paper-type trash into giant heavy squares. It was a noisy machine and when the bailer was full you'd select wires and tie it off, then open the machine, push the big bail out and then use a handcart to set the bail out of the back dock. Usually one of the old retired men ran the bailer and I recall one guy whose name escapes me, but I'll call him Charley. (I have not thought of these days in so long, but names and memories--small thoughts--will come back to me.)
Charley was bald and had a huge fat nose. He used to go to the deli upstairs to get their trash because he'd take the meat and cheese they were tossing out and take it home. We younger people made some fun of him for this, or saw it as pathetic, though I don't think I did much. I did feel sorry for him. But Charley (I'm thinking his name was really Al or Alfred) was also a gambling man and he loved to tell me about shooting craps.
Now, this was before all the Indian casinos and other casinos that have spread across each state. The only gambling was in Nevada, then maybe by that time Atlantic City, but I'm not sure it was even there yet. But Charley would always try to show me how craps games worked. He always had dice and he'd even bring in a book that explained the game. What he had done was work up this elaborate system to play craps, to make multiple bets and cover the table so that you'd almost always win. I can't recall it all (I've never played craps, though I went to quite a few casinos over the years, to Vegas numerous times, until about my 30s) but he was very insistent that it was a fool-proof system. He taught it to me and always said I should leave Des Moines and go to Vegas and play the tables. I asked him once that, if was so foolproof, why he didn't do it and he said, "I'm an old man. I've got a wife who needs me. You're young, you should go."
I don't know. He had more faith in me--in my youth--than I had in myself. I wasn't mature enough to go alone to Vegas back then, but it would have been interesting: a young man from Iowa out in Vegas shooting craps for a living. Hah.
Anyway--there were a whole bunch of Charleys and Jims and others, there were my immediate bosses of Farrel and George. There were Marks and Craigs and truck drivers and the limping head cook who ran the kitchen of the restaurant. There were African Americans and Jewish Americans and Hispanic-Americans; there were Poles and Germans and Norwegians, even an Englishman, people from other suburbs and from the inner parts of the city, people from other cities and some from small towns, people with long histories, sad histories (including a number of Holocaust survivors) and others just starting out. Though I'd been around--South Dakota and Washington and Tennessee--this was all new to me in most ways, this mix of people (Urbandale High was stuffed with people just like me, there was one single black student there at the time). And the thing was, my parents knew nothing of this world I was in. Oh, they knew where I worked and met some of the friends I'd made there, but over all it was my own world and my own experiences which I never shared with them or with my brothers and sister. I guess by 1975 I was inventing myself and the world I lived in, independently, and it never occurred to me that my parents or sibling should be involved in it.
I don't know to this day if that was good or bad, that lack of parental connection to my life at that age. I see it--at times--that my parents had raised us, five rowdy kids, and they were pretty much burnt out from the experience, or I see it at times, that they were calculated in the idea that this was now my life and not theirs and that I'd have to sort things out for myself like most people do, like they no doubt had (under much tougher circumstances). But I was a boy/man who lived a dual life, who fretted and was also stridently independent. I was capable of making friends and being very social as well as being full of self-pity and self-isolation.
Ah, those days. I don't think I'd want to live them again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Winter Walk to School: Des Moines 1971

I'd walked to school way back in Sioux Falls--to kindergarten, by myself, with snow on the ground. I'd walked to elementary school in Vancouver--just a few blocks away, no snow. But in Tennessee, I'd taken the bus or gotten rides--little snow. So, by the time we moved to Iowa, mid-winter and into the middle of the state, I was not used to either walking or snow. I had not lived in a cold climate since I was five years old.
Now, to my recollection, we started school--for me it was Junior High at Urbandale Junior High (Middle School these days), the middle of 7th Grade--while we were still living at the Redwood Motel. But Father and Mother had finally chosen a house, a little red brick one story on 65th Street just off of Aurora Avenue. Dow Aurora but maybe two blocks was an elementary school--where Sister and Youngest Brother went--and down the other way on Aurora (west) was Urbandale High, and connected to Urbandale High was the junior high school (where I would go). The high school was maybe ten blocks or more down the avenue. Oldest Brother and Second Oldest Brother were in High School. But, the first day of walking to school, I did not walk with them. In fact, I don't recall ever walking with them. (We were a pretty insular family, but we were also each individuals, over all the years I rarely saw my brothers in school or walked with them or associated with them or their friends in school [we mainly associated together with neighborhood friends, that was, up until the time we moved to Iowa, from there we all had our own sets of friends or no friends, I guess] the only exception was when we first arrived in Jonesborough, TN and I rode the bus with my sister and tried to look out for her, ate lunch with her, for the first few weeks or month before sliding back into my, our, solo habits outside of the household.)
So, here I was in a new state, city, suburb, a new house. I knew no one. It was cold. I don't think there was snow on the ground, but I didn't know how cold it was. I was unfamiliar with the school. But I was put out the door one Monday morning with my books, my warm clothes and coat, but without a hat or gloves or scarf. And, I began to walk.
It seemed like such a long walk. The threes were all bare, the yards ugly, the homes seemed old to--we'd lived in brand new houses, in new tract communities in Washington and just outside of Johnson City (in Jonesborough we'd lived in a rented house along a highway with lots of woods and big lots, outside of the main town), the streets were straight, the cars puffed by and there maybe were a few others walking but I did not know them. And--as I said--it was cold.
I'd never felt so cold. My hands were aching, frostbit-feeling. By the time I got to the school, I entered the first door that was available, near the gym. The Junior High was on the other end. But I had to get in and the first thing I did was drop my books and hold my hands over the heat register that was in the hall. I thought this was crazy--this cold, this new strange school and town. In many ways, though I became very comfortable with Iowa and Urbandale, I never got over that first dislike. I had never liked school anyway, and this just furthered my dislike.
But I did adapt. I became inured to the cold and midwest ways. I made it through school, as we all do. And I walked. I learned to love walking.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coming Into Des Moines: 1970

It must have been November when we moved from Johnson City, Tennessee to Iowa. Possibly December. It was a move most welcome by all of us in the family--except perhaps by Father. We--Oldest and Second Oldest Brother, Sister, Younger Brother and myself--had all gone through the shock of living in a place like Eastern Tennessee in the late 60's (after having lived in a rather progressive-minded place like Vancouver, Washington) and we had all wanted out, as did Mother, I'm sure. So, we were eager to get to Des Moines.
I really don't recall the drive up. I'm guessing we took two days. But what I remember is that--my father worked for the V.A. as a psychologist, as a Chief of Staff--the government gave my father a moving/living allowance and the first place we lived while my parents looked for housing was the Holiday Inn on the east side of the city. This was like at the intersection of Douglas and maybe SE 14th Street (I think). And, this is not a pretty part of town. Was not, still is not to the best of my knowledge. Yet, there was very much a sense that we were somewhere different, that the stores and streets, the people were different.
We were somewhat used to living in motels, as we had moved before, but this was a rather bleak place, it was cold and gray, the surrounding area was old and unfriendly (there was some store across the busy street that we'd wander over to, it had a few arcade games and those gumball machine-type things), it's intersection full of traffic (at least to us) and industrial-feeling.
My father had to start work right away and the rest of us were pretty much free--we were out of school though we should have been in it; I missed at least a month of 7th Grade with this move. (I remember going around to all my teachers back at East (Junior) High, getting grades from them on some piece of paper because we were moving, recall my squat little woman geography teacher saying, "Oh, you're going to Iowa where they have all those pigs." Ah--the start of the many misconceptions people have about the state of Iowa.) So--I don't know--we did what we did around the Holiday Inn where we had adjoining rooms for all seven of us, my Mother handling it all, everything strange and new and not very beautiful. Eventually we moved to another, smaller place--The Redwood Motel or some such--which was on Douglas/Euclid right next to the V.A. Hospital where Father worked. We did spend weekends looking at houses around town, which I vaguely recall, and by that time I think they decided on the suburb of Urbandale to buy a house. So, our family of seven was squeezed into two rooms--some kind of suite-like place--at this small motel in the winter of 1970.
Such as it was.
There were the expected problems and despair, the sibling battles and all that. But then--a house purchased but not yet ready to occupy--it was time to start school.
Mother got us all registered, got the situation set up. But, we were still living in the motel. But, we needed to be in school. No one wanted to go to school, but we did.
What I mainly recall is my mother having to get all we five reluctant kids ready and hauling us to the local cafe for breakfast and the hauling us out to Urbandale (north of the city) and to the school. What a thankless chore that must have been. I don't really remember the first day or those first weeks too much, other than being the new kid who shows up just a week or two before Xmas, I guess (it could have been the start of school after the new year for all I can recall). I do recall feeling out-of-place, of feeling the strangeness of my new reality--as one would expect. But, there was more to it than that, I was changing too, going from a semi-rough outward looking kid to an introspective shy adolescent. I guess sometimes I blame that or associate that with the move to Iowa, but I know it was starting to happen prior to the move.
Anyway, what I remember about the first days in Des Moines are the cold gray skies, the Holiday Inn, the breakfasts of fried ham, the strange stores and restaurants, the fact that I felt insular, that the world was confusing and I was confusing myself.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Myopic And Self Indulgent History #7

The 1970s.
I don't think too often about the 1970s, at least not on purpose.
If I recall correctly, I spent the seventies in three places, but mainly only in one:Des Moines.
If I remember correctly, I lived within the boundaries of family life in 1970 and we were still in Tennessee, but by the end of 1970--by November--we were in Iowa. Des Moines, as I said. And then by the tail end of the seventies I was in Iowa City (but, still in Iowa, still connected to family for the most part).
The seventies, for me, are about adolescence. They are about self-sadness and self-consciousness. They are about awkward times and self-isolated times and the throes of high school. But, there must have been good times as well. Yes, there were. And I did have friends--plenty of them, some who I am still connected with to this day. But I had a difficult time in the seventies--at least as I recall it--I had a long, drawn-out adolescence, one of your usual angst and pain, but also one of intense depression which led to self-pity and withdrawal and inner-discovery. I doubt that I will explore the deep sadness I felt in those mid-seventies years. At least, it won't show up on the page--too embarrassing, I fear. But that doesn't mean I won't think of it, remember it as best I can. So for now I think I'll look towards the positive things, the little things, the mundane and the absurd.
To slip into "To Whom It May Concern" territory, this blog is still but a vanity project (at least on the surface). It's still just a dip of the toe in the water of my own life--my own ego, psyche, history, connections, my own true thoughts. All posts are still but quick hits, little shrines to the self, little pools of shallow water that reflect only the thinest of reflections, which--for now--suits me just fine. These current years I don't really have the time and patience, the courage, to wade into deeper things.
I am my only reader.
So, the seventies . . . Let's see what I come up with.