Sunday, October 31, 2010

Waiting For Rick Kading: Urbandale 1975

I didn't get my drivers license until my senior year of high school. By then quite a few of my friends already had theirs. I was from a family of five kids with two older brothers, from a family that usually only had one car. I had two older brothers so, even though by then we had two cars, it didn't mean that one was at my disposal. Though I did drive when I could.
The reason why this was important was because my social groups entertainment and world revolved around driving. And I mean, literally, just driving. We'd pile into someone's car, start up the main streets of Urbandale--down Aurora past the high school, down 73rd to Douglas and downtown, maybe down around past the mall and then around and around and around . . . We joked and listened to the radio (not our 8-tracks or cassettes and there were no CDs or ipods and such--I had an 8-track in my van that I bought after high school) and looked to see who was out and about just like us. This is what we did on Fridays and Saturdays and other days and summer days, at least for a couple of years. Sometimes we'd go somewhere specific--a movie or bowling or whatever. Sometimes we'd venture into Des Moines and go to The Loop, which was a circle downtown among the big buildings where all sorts of strange people went around and around and around to no purpose other than to go round'n'round and see others do the same. Ah. Sometimes we'd hit the Interstate--I-80 or I-35--which was an even bigger circle and we'd see what we saw.
Talk about your wasted youth.
But the person who drove the most was Rick Kading. He was a good guy, from my class and my lab partner in biology and botany and friend. I did most of the work (all of it, really) as lab partner, but I liked Rick very much and he was good to me. He'd come pick me up at my house in his car and we'd gather others for a night of driving. he had a Chevy Nova--his car--that looked cool and whenever the song Don't Rock the Boat came on he'd turn his wheel back and forth and make the Nova rock like a boat. Yes--very inventive . . . Anyway, we had fun and I used to sit out on my front porch each evening waiting for Rick to come driving down 65th Street and stop so that I could hop in. He didn't come every time and then, if he didn't show up, I'd feel shunned and sad. I don't know why I didn't just call him (he lived only a few blocks away from me in the older part of Urbandale), but that just wasn't done. (We did NOT have cell phones and that constant need to be in touch, anyway.) So, out I'd sit and hope Rick Kading would come driving down my street in his Chevy Nova.
There were adventures to be had--girls to meet, near fights with older classmen, car chases with strangers on the Interstate. But ultimately, besides just enjoying a newfound motorized freedom, we were just killing time. We didn't know what to do with ourselves in a place like the suburbs of Iowa's biggest city other then to circle around within it. I mean, we socialized and had our routines and it was not a long period, this driving around, but still: we were going nowhere while pretending that we were going somewhere.
But that's how it is in those years. Eventually we did grow up and go--to college, to other states and such. Rick never went to college. He married and had a kid and stayed in Des Moines--in Urbandale. I lost touch and we weren't close friends, I'd hear of him here and there through the high school friends I did stay in touch with. I did come back to Iowa one summer and Rick called and he gave me a day's work doing concrete, which I appreciated. But, just like not calling to see if he was coming by in his car, I never asked him for more work. Rick became a very successful person, as I understand it. But, like I said, he was a good guy overall. And I got my hand on cars and vans and such and I drove all over the place in the following years. The following decade or two.
Maybe Rick got it out of his system while in high school. But I made bigger and bigger circles, still thinking I was getting somewhere.
Do I wish I had stayed in Des Moines? No way.
But I'm still circling.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Killing Of A Deer Fly: Missouri 1974

This was the summer of 75 (I think) and I was getting older. I went on a camping vacation with my parents down to Missouri (from Iowa, of course). It was the last vacation I ever took with them, now that I think of it. My two older brothers had both declined to go on this little trip, so it was just my parents, Sister, Younger Brother and me. My parents had a camping trailer by then.
First we stopped at this state park called Johnston Shut-Ins. I'm not a big fan of Missouri (though I've come to very much appreciate St. Louis), but the Shut-Ins was a great place--it was woods and had a stream that ran through carved rocks with big boulder-like surroundings and many pools. You could swim and stream down the semi-rapid small waters from rocks to rapids, from pool to pool, all of it natural and fun. But, I was also an older boy and I felt a tad foolish acting like a kid. I was also checking out all the women and girls who swam and camped there.
Then we moved on, further south to the Ozarks area of Missouri. It was along some lake, in the woods, you know, a campground. It was not nearly as interesting as the Shut-Ins. We cooked out, swam in the lake, stuff like that. And there were flies. Sure, there were mosquitos, there were dragonflies and bottleflies--we called them horseflies, those long skinny blue flies, smaller but similar to a dragonfly--and there were deer flies. I hated the deer flies. They were big and fat, looking like mutant house flies, and swarmed around all day long and into the night. And they bit. Not a small bite or a prick like a mosquito, but a sharp stinging bite that made you sit up straight. Ouch. So, deer flies were low on my list of needed creatures in the world.
And what I remember--what this post is about, essentially--is that I was coming back from the lake at dusk, headed back to camp. I was barefoot, bare chested, making my way through the darkening trees and here was this one deer fly buzzing me, landing on me, biting me. I began to jog a bit but could not shake this single fly. I was swatting at it, so it was attacking me where it thought I could not reach. So, I slowed down a bit. I was very angry at this fly. I hated it. And I walked, waited. The fly--and I could tell this, it was a very evil-genius type of deer fly--the fly thought it had the best of me, that I was but its very large young meal for a while. And I watched waited until I felt that big fly land squarely in the middle of my back. Who could swat such a thing in the middle of one's back? I'm sure the evil genius fly thought this.
It turned out that I could swat it.
I was in my teens. A strengthening boy. Nimble and quick. And when I felt that pestilent pillaging fly land on the middle of my back, I quickly brought my arm and hand behind me, using the back of my hand, and smacked it! Good god that fly must have been surprised! I smacked it and felt it with both hand and back and knew I had gotten it and I stopped and looked down behind me and there it was. Yes, it was dusk, but I had my keen eyesight and I could see the damn thing in the leaves and it wasn't quite dead and I took my bare foot and stomped the bastard until it was dead. Dead as a door nail.
Ha ha.
One dead deer fly out of a million, but it was the one who bothered me the most and I am--to this day--very glad it is dead. Yes! I would never harm a person or animal, even some insects (well, I should not say never, because there are always circumstances when no doubt I would, or even have to some degree) but even now I find delight in recalling the death of that deer fly in southern Missouri. I've killed other flies or beetles or bugs that bugged me (I killed two flies on a low mountain top in Santa Fe because they would not leave me alone--snatched them cleanly out of the air and squished them and buried them in the sandy soil--I remember that), but this one was my most triumphant. So, other than the Shut-Ins, what I remember most about Missouri is the killing of a fly.
Maybe that's why I'm not so big on Missouri.

Monday, October 25, 2010

8hr Layover: New Orleans 1995

I'd been accepted three places for graduate school: the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Colorado State in Ft. Collins and Florida International in Miami. I'd been out to Ft. Collins and loved the place, but was unsure of the program. I'd been to Fairbanks way back in 1983 and, thinking how I had a wife and two little little kids (ages 2 and 4) I ruled out Alaska. We--my family--drove down to Florida and I found the writing program at FIU to be much better then expected. Still, I was not sure. Was torn between Colorado and Florida, with the idea of living and possibly settling down in one of those states, cities. I was looking to get my MFA (in creative writing, fiction), though I had already been to the Iowa Writer's Workshop (and had subsequently withdrawn from there for reason to ignorant to account here). So? So, I decided to take a train ride down to South Florida, on my own, for one last inspection of FIU.
And, that loooong Amtrak ride had an 8hr layover in New Orleans.
I don't know if you've ever ridden the train, ridden it long distance. It's clanky, somewhat spartan (somewhat not, as well), makes plenty of stops and it's hard to sleep on (I had no sleeper car, was doing it about as cheap as possible). But you do, inevitably, end up talking to people.
I met and talked to a lot of folks, but towards the end of the first stretch, before I got to NOLA, I met this guy who I'll call Ferris. (I can't quite recall his name.) He was older than me by a little. He was from Detroit and on his way to visit his brother in Pensacola. He was big and black. I'm white. No, this is not a big thing, of course, this racial difference, but it's also a bit interesting. You'd be surprised, perhaps, how places and people will divide themselves along racial lines--in neighborhoods and bars, in public places and while traveling. But, Ferris and I sat together and started talking and we slowly got to know each other pretty well. We opened up a bit and I found out that he had played football at USC--was the running back behind James White, a guy who was very talented but lost it all to drugs and abuse--and that he had been given a writer's card by some screwed up Hollywood producer (or some such) and that other members had asked to see the card and then promptly burned it, right in front of him. Ferris was not from places I had been, not from a comfortable neighborhood in Detroit.
But, we got along well. And by the time we stopped in New Orleans, we were pals.
He had not been to the Crescent City before, so I suggested--since we had 8hrs--we go to the French Quarter. And he was good with that. So, we stepped out of the big old train station in New Orleans and tried to get a cab. We found one--and older black guy as driver--and got in the backseat and then Ferris said something about money or some such and the cab driver promptly tossed us out of the cab. Huh? I didn't get it. So, undaunted, I said we'd just walk.
I did not know the city that well, but I recognized a few landmarks, I knew sort of where to go and knew if got to Canal Street I could probably figure it out. And . . . I did. It wasn't such a long walk, really and then there we were in the Quarter, wandering and looking and drinking. Yes, we drank. We drank hurricanes and beer and ate meat-on-a-stick while wandering Bourbon Street and Charters Street and Royal and Decatur and Governor Nichols and all others . . . we went to the French Market and there they had tons of vegetables and fruits on display, candies and souvenirs and other items. "All this color, the smells, the sensations," Ferris said. He was happy. I was happy. We were pals.
We went to Pat O'briens--one of the few places I knew--and sat at the inside bar, near the entrance. The place was pretty crowded and we had our drinks and we were animated, talkative, drunk. There was a group of people--all white, of course--sitting with us and they liked talking to Ferris. Like I said, he was a big and little bit rough-looking guy (I'm kind of big, also) and this was where the racial differences became sort of acknowledged, not in a bad way but in the sense that Ferris knew these genteel white people wouldn't be talking to him except that we were together, that he was okay because he was with me. He even said, out loud, "I'm here with my white buddy" and he clasped me in his arms and laughed, inferring that he was safe and accepted. Ah. And I admit I enjoyed hanging out with him because he was a big black male, because we worked against type among the revelers in the Quarter. A woman with the group even began flirting with Ferris--much to the chagrin of her male companion. It was a bit awkward, but again it was because he was deemed a nice guy. We both enjoyed that conception. But then, we were both nice guys.
We kept drinking. A cabbie told us of a good, out-of-the-way strip joint to visit. We went there. It was a little hole in the wall, cheap, dirty, very French Quarterish (except for the cheap part). We didn't spend too long there, just enough to pass out a few dollar bills, just enough to say we'd done it while in New Orleans. then we were off to other bars, other drinks, making jokes, enjoying ourselves. Then, we had to be getting back to the train. We found a cab. The driver did not kick us out.
On the train, we were still giddy. It was late at night. The train had few riders. Now it was time to settle down, to come down from our French Quarter shenanigans and dissolve into the coming hangovers. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses. Ferris asked if he could borrow twenty dollars. He was broke and wanted to get a beer, a sandwich or something. Ah. I knew I'd never see that twenty again, but, sure. I gave it to him.
The train started. It was night--well past midnight I think--and off we went, lurching sideways through the South.
I didn't see Ferris again.
The train stopped in Pensacola very early in the morning. I woke but did not see him from my window. The train went on again and, after many hours, I made it to my stop in Ft. Lauderdale. (I'd chosen to stay in Ft. Lauderdale over Miami--I still did not trust Miami, but that's a different story.)
I took the train back after a few days. Another looong ride. No long stop in New Orleans. I played cards on the train, hung out, I made it a point to integrate myself--I think, because of Ferris--and everyone was friendly.
I think it was close to a year later--maybe only six months, I don't recall exactly--when I got a phone call.
It was Ferris. He was at home in Detroit. I could tell he was a little drunk, that he was with friends. But it was good to talk to him. He was laughing and recalling all the things we did in the Quarter. Then he said, "You know, that was the best time I had the whole trip. My brother was so serious, he was telling me I had to get a good job, had to do this and that. But New Orleans, that was fun, that was something." And I said it was the most fun I had had, too. And it was.
I never heard from him again. I never got my twenty dollars.
But that's okay--it was worth way more than a simple twenty.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Found A Wallet: Alabama 1988

I was driving through Alabama in the winter to go see Fru for the first time since she had visited my place in Seagrove Beach. In the Florida Panhandle. I was on some lonesome highway or another and it was cold and I pulled over to take a piss in the woods.
All there really was was woods.
I'm a pretty private guy sometimes (as in I'm English, from my mother's side; but I also like to trek in the woods), so I walked and hopped a low fence and walked up a slope a bit into the thick trees. And I took my piss. Then, as I was walking back, looking around at the leafless trees and the leave-full ground, I notice a brown wallet. (I've always been good at spotting things. My father would always come to me when something was lost, no matter how small.) I bent down and picked it up. I looked through it seeing a drivers license--it was an Alabama license, white male, in his thirties--maybe a credit card and other things. There was no money. It looked like the wallet had sat in the leaves for a while, it was damp and worn, but it also was not covered by the leaves, or I would not have seen it.
I still think of this wallet. And in my mind, I took the wallet and stopped in the next town and dropped it in a mailbox. Sometimes I think that I really did that. But, I don't think I did.
I think I looked for the cash, and where there was none, I tossed the billfold back into the leaves in the woods on a hill along a nameless roadside in Alabama . . . In those days I had never had a credit card (had never had credit) so it wouldn't have occurred to me that I could have taken the credit card (if there was one). All I, unfortunately, was interested in was some cold cash. Some wet cash. And I went back to the car,got in, drove off, thinking of my appointment with Fru, who--already--I loved.
And it was when I was down the road apiece that I began thinking about it. This poor guy. I thought that he'd probably been hunting and lost it. He'd probably been hoping it would
somehow return. And I could have done that. That's why I often think that I kept it and dropped it in a mailbox--who knows for sure, maybe I did. But later in life I even imagined that he had been a man who had died, or been murdered, and the wallet was the needed clue to solve his disappearance. Yes, I have thought that. But really, as I got older and had credit cards and changed licenses and such, It's about that bother of not having your identification, your insurance cards, fishing license, voter registration, your library card--your credit cards!--that will devil you. And this poor guy went around knowing his wallet full of ID was missing.
Ah. Anyway.
I know I've found other wallets, some since then. A few. Maybe it was one of those I dropped in the mailbox. Prior to the Alabama billfold, I recall in Iowa City, in maybe 86 (when I was in the Iowa Writers Workshop), I was walking back very drunk from the Deadwood with Craig (not Craig P., who was also from Iowa City and became a screen writer/cartoon editor in L.A. and who I collaborated on a screenplay based off an unpublished novel of mine . . . Nor was it Craig S. who was from Des Moines and who I worked with at Younkers [nor Craid D. M. who I went to high school with]; this was the artist Oregon/Iowa Craig) and I found a wallet at the Quick Trip, on Market and Linn. I was drunk and obnoxious. An unhappy person. At odds a bit with Craig. So, I opened it up, found some money--cash-- and took it. I brought the wallet into the Quick Trip and handed it to the cashier, and said: Someone lost their wallet by the pumps. If they ask, I already took the money."
He smiled uneasily, I smiled easily, Craig was both stupefied and also thinking I was stupid. But, again, I looked for the cash. I did at least leave the wallet--otherwise untouched--where it could likely been found.
But, as I said, I still think of that tiny incident. The lost wallet.
Who was that guy?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Camp Dodge Pool: Des Moines 1976

Camp Dodge was north of Des Moines, just outside of Johnston. It was big place where the Iowa national Guard was located, though I think it used to be an actual Army base. It had a huge pool--and I mean big big--that had been built for and used for aquatic military training during WWII (it was that big, larger than a football field). But it had been a recreational pool for some years by the time I moved to Iowa.
I'd gone to the Camp Dodge pool a handful of times with my Mother and brothers, my sister, but it wasn't until high school and I had set friends, when we could drive, that I went often during the summer.
It became THE place to go. Iowa does not have a beach or many lakes; there was the river (two rivers in Des Moines, actually) and there were two reseviors, Saylorville and Big Creek. But the natural--or naturalish--bodies of water were brown and sandless, though we went to Saylorville pretty often, the best place for swimming and sunning and seeing girls was Camp Dodge.
It was mainly me and Kevin, Larry and Bill. Others came too: Randy, Jim, Dave, Bob and such. But, as I recall, it became Kevin and I, Larry a lot, who habitually went to the pool in the summer--almost every day. Though I was working at Younkers in the summer, I'd sometimes go home for lunch then skip the rest of the day and go to the pool (and then return to work at the end of the day and pretend I'd been there all afternoon--yes yes, my bad). There was this older guy who ran the pool--was the head supervisor. he had a big nose and white hair and a loud voice. Kevin and I called him Foghorn. As time passed, Foghorn recognized us each day. the lifeguards recognized us and Foghorn began calling us The Golden Boys . . .
I guess we were golden. We mainly sat poolside along the deep end, sunned ourselves like reptiles, jumped in the water only to swim to the raft (it was big enough and deep enough to have a raft at the deep end) and sun ourselves some more. We were brown (except Larry, who remained white no matter what, Larry who would not swim out to the raft and would say, "I don't have to prove anything!" [I guess he was a bad swimmer]). Ah. Summer. Golden summer. We had no worries, really. No jobs of import, no need for great sums of money--but we were still wet behind the ears, so life was full of the usual turmoil, teenage turmoil. Still, at the big Camp Dodge pool, even that turmoil was mostly gone, life was but our place in the sun.
That was golden, too.
And when we left the pool, which was situated down in a hollow-like area with a big hill leading back up to the main road, we'd drive up the hill and I'd get out and stand on the car, surfing the car, doing "My Spiderman Routine". Yes, I crawled all over the car as it moved up to the main road--I have no idea if people watched me, but we all got a laugh from it.
I don't know. day in and out, swim and sun in a big pool in Iowa summers . . . a waste and yet not so much. It brightened my life, I think, I who was sad and foolhardy, a self-pitying teen. Camp Dodge was a bright spot. It was the only place in the world--since I had moved to Iowa--where I was a Golden Boy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blizzard Triptych: Des Moines 1973

ONE: The blizzard was a big one and, what made it unusual and what makes me recall it, it happened in the spring. In April.
When you live in the northern climes where winters are long and often brutal, spring becomes very important. Now, someone who lived north of Iowa, say in Duluth or the U.P. of Michigan, or a Canadian, they may look at Iowa and say what nice short winters we had. But they are not nice short winters. Tennessee has nice short winters. So, I can recall livng in Iowa and hating the month of March because in March winter was dissolving but never quite went away--the weather would tease you with snow melt and hints of warmth only to turn around and freeze and sleet and snow a little and piss you off. But April? Ah, April is crocuses and tulips and daffodils. I mean, it's not May, but April is usually more sun than snow, there's no more hinting that spring is here. But not that winter.
I think there may have been flowers out and leaf buds and the first insects of the year, but a huge winter storm came roiling in out of Colorado and across Nebraska and it dumped pound upon pound of wet heavy snow on Des Moines and Urbandale. Upon central Iowa. Whiteouts and roads closed, people and animals trapped, cities shut down. Schools closed (Yes!).
But despite all the trouble, a blizzard is fun, it demarcates the season, your life. Even though a feeling of spring had been trashed, I went out into the blizzard to goof around. The next day my neighborhood friends, my brothers and sister, went out to play. It was fun. Huge drifts, our boring landscape changed. Snow wet and thick, perfect for snowballs and snowforts and snowmen . . . Okay, if you're going to have one last shot of winter in April in Iowa, why not a blizzard?

TWO: I built a huge snowman. This may have been after a blizzard, but don't think it was the one mentioned above. I built the snowman out of a drift that had blown in against our front door covering the porch. I'd shoveled the porch, piling it upon the drift, and I then shaped that--because it was wet snow--into a ballish shape, then made another huge snowball, rolling it up in the front yard, then added a smaller one for a head, then packed snow all around that. Did the usual stuff with charcoal, carrot, hat, sticks and had me a snowman. But like I said, it was huge. It was maybe seven feet tall (I could reach its top by standing on the porch), big and fat and solid, as solid as a snowman can be, I'd say.
It stood by our front door like a sentinel, a winter god, a big oaf to scare off solicitors. It stood there for days and days.
Now, I was the kind of kid who liked to stay up late. Living in a smallish house with a family of seven, sharing rooms all my life, arguing over tv shows and such, I loved the night when everyone else was asleep and the house was dark, living room empty, streets outside empty. So, I was up one night after my snowman was into his second week of existence. I was up, alone, looking out the window, houselights off, streetlights on outside shining cold and yellow upon the snowed suburban landscape. And what do I see? I see the neighborhood kid from down the block come sneaking into our yard. This was one of the two boys (or were there three?) who lived across the street and about four houses down, maybe less. I don't recall their names. I don't recall which one it was. They were not friends. They were rough kids, mean-spirited (the Howles?)--to me at least--who would throw eggs on Halloween and mistreat animals. So, I see him sneaking up. He does not know I'm awake and watching. And he comes up to my snowman, looks it over, then goes behind it and braces his body up against it and heaves, trying to topple it.
I watched his push and push.
I don't know why I didn't tap the window or open the door or go out the back door and confront him. I wasn't afraid of them, just disliked them for the most part, but I was in my lonely groove and only watched as he pushed.
And he could not do it. My snowman did not budge. And I enjoyed that, seeing him unable to knock my giant snowman over. he tried and gave up and that was good enough for me . . . He may have been the one I had the snowball fight with where I had to pay for the broken window.

THREE: I was walking home from school on a winter day and when I got to 65Th Street--where I lived--there was one of the boys from down the street and he began to throw snowballs at me. And that's fine. There may have been a malicious intent on his part, but to me it was just a snowball fight. So, I dropped my books and bunched up some snow and tossed snaowballs back at him. The snow was heavy, icy (oh, ice balls--the worst of snowball fights; I got hit in the face by an iceball one of my first winters in Iowa, by a guy who was pretty much a friend, when I was walking to Joe Strayhall's house; it hit me in the nose and I bled all the way to Joe's). So we battled back and forth and I had him on the run. He backtracked to his own house, to his driveway where I had him cornered, though his garage door was open. So, I tossed a good fastball right at him as he backed into his garage and, as the snowball flew hard and straight, he reached up and pulled the door down. he got it closed just as the snowball came and--BLAMCRASH--my snowball went right through one the garage door's windows. Glass was strewn.
I didn't think too much of it, but within a day his mother called my mother and demanded that I pay for the broken window.
My mother was always of the mind to just pay it and be done with it--no arguments--and ignore people like that. So, she gave me the money in an envelope and I went and put it in their mailbox. But, what injustice! I can see that he never told his mother that he was the one who had lowered the door, who had stared the fight . . . but there's more to this, in a way.
The Howells (I'm pretty sure that was the family name) had two, maybe three boys, as said. But one of them was killed a few years later, maybe in the early eighties. I think maybe it was the oldest boy, not the one I had a snowball fight with, not the one who tried to topple the snowman, but then again, it could have been him. He wasn't murdered, I believe. I think he died in a hunting accident or some such thing. But he wasn't much older or younger than me.
Winter. Winter. Winter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Confounding Idiocy: Urbandale 1974

So, I was in high school and I'd been in the Urbandale school system for about three, really two and a half, years by then. I wasn't the new kid anymore, but I also wasn't an established one. I was tall, broad-shouldered, lean and lanky. My face full of acne by then, I think. And I was on the football team.
What I'm thinking of--what I'm remembering--is one particular football practice when one of my teammates began to hit me. Not hitting like you're supposed to, but hitting me with his arm after a play was done. This was Noel. I was not friends with him, not even really acquaintances. He was, socially, in the upper echelons of the high school world and I was one of the invisible minions for the most part. Now, I had met Noel before, early on when I'd first come to Iowa from Tennessee. This was the 7th grade and I was brand new to the school and bewildered (well, I was bewildered most of my teens) and was thrown into some kind of counseling session with some other students--something I guess all the students were put into. The counselor was, I guess, the counselor for our class all the way through our Urbandale school career (I hardly knew who the guy was). In this forced get-together we had to partake in a role-playing game where we pretended to all be in a life boat--with the likelihood we'd stranded on a deserted island--and, as best I can recall, we had to pick who should survive or not, that there was only so much room on the boat and only so many supplies or something. (Yes, a nice game.) We essentially were supposed to argue among us who should die and who should live. This was the counselor's set-up, mind you.
I guess the idea of the exercise was to either learn how to work together or get you to stand up for yourself, to list your qualities and qualifications to live. I immediately said I would get out of the boat--I would die. I mean, I did not take this seriously. I could see what was going on and I thought that it was idiotic. It was all pretend, so, heck, I'll jump off the boat and into the sharks . . . The counselor (Mr. Woodley?) did not like this. Noel scoffed. Okay, I thought, then I'll play. I said I'd stay. I said I knew how to live in the woods, to find food and build shelter. Noel came back and said that he could beat me up. This was his qualifications for him living and me dying. Hmmm. He was a small guy but a tough guy, I don't know if he could beat me up or not, but this was his logic for being a superior specimen.
Which brings me back to that day in practice. I was playing on the defensive line. Noel was somewhere, maybe even on defense too, my teammate. It was a practice play and someone ran the ball, was tackled, the coaches blew the whistle. And just before the whistle and then quite a while afterwards I could feel this guy on my back, not just on my back but he was taking his forearm--which was padded--and repeatedly smashing it into my helmeted head. He was reaching around and trying to get his arm between my face guard and helmet to hit me in my face, rendering blow after blow long after the whistle. And it was Noel.
I really didn't react. One: I was kind of shocked--why would he do this? And Two: I had hardly noticed it at first. I was sort of a big guy--especially compared to Noel--and he was sort of a nuisance on my back. In football, bodies are always crashing into each other and it took me a few moments to even realize he was hitting me with his forearm. I just couldn't quite fathom the point, didn't realize the purposeful maliciousness of it. I wasn't mad. I was simply perplexed. I thought that he was an idiot and--somewhat like the counselor meeting--I was confounded by this idiocy.
But, perhaps I was the idiot. No doubt the coaches liked this display of aggression. That anger was needed for a good football player. They don't need a player who is perplexed. That mean-streak (even if it borders on the sociopathic) is part of the competitive spirit, and to take it further, part of the competitive world. It's very much part of the American psyche: violence and competition, action over thought, attacking over consideration. Isn't that why football is the national sport--a game of controlled warfare? It's just like in the counselor's meeting when Noel said that he could beat me up so therefore he should survive and I should not, what he was saying is that he would kill me in order for him to survive.
But what may have surprised him is that, if it really had been real and not a game? If it was not just a psychological exercise in a room in a junior high in Urbandale, Iowa? I would have killed him first.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Into The Dorms: Iowa City 1977

When I graduated from high school I had no real interest in going to college. So, I didn't.
Instead I worked at a department store--full time--bought a van, got a dog, and planned to head out into the world thusly. I didn't.
Instead I worked and saved and took a long trip down into Florida, to Daytona Beach and then Key West. When I came back I got a job at the local UPS distribution center unloading trucks in the middle of the night. By then, I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew that I wanted to go to the University of Iowa.
I was a pretty insular person by then. Iowa was my realm from which all other places were judged. It wasn't that I loved Iowa or Des Moines/Urbandale (actually I had a great disdain for it all, especially Urbandale) but it was what I knew. It had--despite my growing up in South Dakota and Washington state and Tennessee--become home. My frame of reference. Most of my friends from high school had gone on to school and they'd gone on to Iowa State, in Ames. I'd been to Iowa City, where the U of Iowa was, and preferred that town, that campus, that school (I mean, if you knew anything about the two, who wouldn't?). My father had gone to Iowa. My two older brothers had gone there as well (as did my sister and younger brother and even my niece later), I also had a few friends of a friend (people who later became my friends) who were at Iowa--they were from the high school class who graduated the year before I did. So, Iowa it was.
I applied, got accepted, got a dorm room assigned to me.
But like I said, I'd become a rather insular young man.
So when I got to the university--my parents moving me in and leaving--I wasn't so sure of my decision. I was used to sharing a room, but my two roommates were, of course, complete strangers. Everyone on the floor was a stranger. Everything was strange . . . Yes yes, it's the usual normal experience, the strangeness is also part of the excitement, but I was ill prepared for it in many ways. I guess I hadn't considered it much and my parents had offered little guidance for the situation. So, my first thoughts after about a week were: This is too strange. I'm getting out of here!
Of course, I didn't. No, it took only one more week where I began to see the fun of it, accept it, to make friends and go to classes and be independent (sort of, at least feel independent) among others my same age. Again, yes yes, usual and normal. It all turned out to be very very good.
The dorm was Burge Hall. I had wanted to live in Daum, which was next door, because I'd known someone who'd lived there (Keith). Burge was much bigger, but I had been assigned to a floor that was a half-floor. It was essentially a semi-basement floor, a step below the main floor of the dorm, a small floor whose windows on one side looked out on the loading ramp. I had such a room and every morning the trash truck or the food truck or other delivery trucks would show up and come beeping backwards. Ah and oh well. I got used to it.
I stayed in the dorms for two and a half years. I liked it. I stayed in Burge and on the half-floor--the 2000 floor. Met most of my Iowa City friends through there. And then I stayed a summer and worked and never really went back to Des Moines. I lived in apartments around the town, always close enough to walk to classes or work or the bars.
The bars. That's a different part of the Iowa City equation.
But I still hold a great fondness for dorm life, for Burge Hall, for the University of Iowa and Iowa City. Now that I've been gone so long, I have a new respect and appreciation for Des Moines.
I'm still a little leery of Urbandale, though.