Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Bird in the Garage: Urbandale 1975

I can't recall exactly how old I was when I found the baby bird. I know I wasn't 13 or 14, must have been 16 or so. Not sure. The bird was a robin, small and newly hatched, found on the ground below the maple tree that grew in our front yard. I did not try to return the bird to its nest--I saw no nest. Instead, I put it in a shoebox with nestlike materials and put the shoebox in the garage.
For the next several weeks I fed the bird. I fed it bread and raw hamburger and insect-like stuff. It grew and feathered up and responded to my feeding of it. My father knew the bird was in the garage--which was a detached garage, half-old and wooden--and my sister came out to see the bird a few times. It was early summer by then. The bird was growing but it did not come out of the box. I did not handle it.
At some point I decided it was time for the bird to learn to fly, or some such. I took the box off the shelf and carried it out of the garage. When I finally took the bird out of the box itself, I saw that it had deformed legs. It could not stand on its own. It could not fly.
"Maybe that will teach you to let nature take its course," I recall my father telling me, intimating that I should have left the bird alone, that its mother no doubt had pushed it from the nest.
The next day, I ground up two aspirin and mixed them in with the raw hamburger. I carried the meal out to the garage and the shoebox. I fed the aspirin and hamburger to the baby robin, the bird eating it just as it had eaten all the meals I'd been feeding it. I can't recall if I stayed or walked away.
I buried it in the garden.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sandlot Baseball: Urbandale 1971

I was never much of a baseball person. My father was not a fan, I was not a fan, I didn't toss the ball around much or favor an old glove--none of that stuff. I recall in Johnson City, Tennessee I decided to try out for Little League: I signed up, my father took me to the try-outs (or whatever they were) and it was crowded with kids, we stood around and I looked around, there were so many kids, and I told him to forget about it and we went back home.
When we moved to Iowa, to Urbandale--a suburb of Des Moines--I was the new kid once again. I'd started school halfway through the year. Down the block there was one kid my age named Bob and we struck up a semi-friendship. he knew a group of kids from around the immediate neighborhood--most a bit older, some in the same class as us--and he invited me to play baseball with them at a field behind Jensen Elementary School, which was close to our street, just across Aurora Avenue. So, I went.
I played horribly. I was athletic but I could hardly hit. I let ground balls roll between my legs, I was timid and uncertain in the infield, misjudged balls in the outfield. They other boys laughed at me. I took it in stride, told them I was better at football, but still, it stung a bit--like I said, I was the new kid.
(I had plenty of experience being the new kid--I'd been in five different schools by then, in four different states ranging from South Dakota to Washington to Tennessee and now Iowa.)
I just didn't have any baseball skills. I was also into the beginning of my adolescence so some of the confidence that used to come naturally to me was now failing, diminishing, leeching out of me and being replaced by I didn't know what. But I soldiered on with bat and glove and (over the years, not the summer of 72) I got better. I also came to understand the game of baseball better. I really didn't take an interest as a fan until much later, in the 80's, when I made up my mind to follow the Chicago Cubs one year and asked my very good friend Kevin to teach me why people liked baseball so much. And it wasn't until the 90s and 2000s that I finally got it.
But anyway. After my baseball fiasco, where I was pegged as the clumsy kid on the block, not too long after that, Bob came and said they were going to play football behind Jensen. "Okay," I said, eager. And off we went to the school, Bob and I, Blair, the McIntire brothers, Scott Oaken and maybe one or two others (I'm surprised I can recall these names). We stood there in the grass and the two eldest picked teams.
I was the last one chosen.
But as the game began--we played two-hand touch--the team that didn't pick me soon regretted it. I can to this day still recall the catches I made, the runs, interceptions and touchdowns, the surprise on the faces of my more-or-less-peers. I was tall and fast, confident, had sure hands and quick reactions. I had football skills. And from then on I wasn't the clumsy kid anymore.
I still played sandlot baseball, but among the group of friends--good friends--I fell into and acquired over my years in Urbandale, football was the game we played. It was the most important. We came to mainly play at Lions Park, just across the road from Urbandale High. The games were great fun and full of exercise--I recall years later I happened to meet an ex-Urbandalite and he said he remembered seeing us play football in the park; he had been a pothead, essentially, and he told me he couldn't understand how we could just play football and have fun and not be stoned or drink or whatever, said it in a wistful way almost, as if he regretted not being so simple or smart . . . And I am glad I played all those games, that I did not learn to drink and smoke until much later in life. I believe I built up a very healthy base for myself physically by being so simple and semi-innocent, by playing sports and riding my bike, building myself up (innocently enough) in those years when your body is still growing, your brain still developing. I can say that, at least.
I played a lot of basketball, too. And baseball--which is what this post was supposed to be about. But, as you can see, even a post about baseball becomes one about football. Football was very important to me in those years--not organized football, not the high school team, but just sandlot, just among friends. All of that was very good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming Into Iowa City: 1977

I recall that I drove myself to Iowa City from Des Moines (Urbandale, actually) for freshman orientation. I'd been to Iowa City before, but only with family. My father had gone to the University of Iowa--so we had visited briefly when I was younger. Oldest Brother and then Second Oldest Brother went to Iowa, so I must have gone along to help move them or visit them at some point in time. Father took me to a Hawkeye football game once--just the two of us, as no one else in the family had much interest in football--so I'd been there for that. But I had no true sense of the town and school when I drove there. I recall I came up the back way--through Coralville--from Interstate 80 because I knew of no other way (the more direct way) to get there. So, I ended up on the other side of the Iowa River, feeling my way through the campus around the science and education buildings, past the hospital and stadium.
I parked in some garage across from the Union (I'm not sure it's even there anymore) that was on a hill and connected to either Gilbert or Trowbridge Hall (Trowbridge, I'm thinking) and attended the orientation, didn't stay the night, and then drove back home.
I didn't really understand what I was doing.
Even though I'd taken a year off--working and traveling to Florida (Key West!)--I was still not clear of mind, I still didn't quite grasp what the heck I was supposed to be doing in the world. But I'd decided to go to college, to go to Iowa, had taken my SAT or ACT entry tests a year later than I should have and applied and was accepted and so on. And then went to orientation, signed up for classes, applied and got a dorm assignment, and then I think my parents moved me over to Iowa City just before classes started.
I was wary at first. Uncertain I'd done the right thing. Was ready to return to Des Moines (Urbandale, actually). But then, slowly, I got it.
College was fun!
Being in Iowa City was fun!
And Iowa City became the place I'd rather be.
I can still recall drives from Des Moines, coming down I-80, and as I neared the city of Iowa City I'd get a slow burn of excitement, of anticipation. I remember the exit onto Clinton Street and there would be the sign for Iowa City and the university--a shiny black metal sign with gold lettering (Iowa's colors) with some symbols: the Old Capitol, an ear of corn--and it just plain made me feel good. (I was into signs back then. I loved to drive long distance and the sight of highway signs could elicit the same feel-good emotions in me, feelings of adventure and anticipation. I recall walking the pedestrian bridge on the other side of campus to cross the busy road and there was always a highway sign right there--some numbered highway leading out of town--and just the sight of the sign would evoke travel and escape and new frontiers; I loved it.) So, just coming into Iowa City became a pleasurable endeavor for me.
I don't know. I mean, I was young, a late bloomer, I'd lived such a small and insular life for many years that a place like Iowa City, that roadside signs, became symbolic for a new and open world, one of fresh uncertainty and challenge. To this day I still love Iowa City. I don't know if I could live there--well, not true, I know I could live there, just don't know if I'd really prefer to live there--but it's always close to me. I realize that almost everyone has great affection for their college, their college town, but I'd like to believe that my connection is a little more than that, a little more tied to my personal history. It is, after all, where I bloomed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Whom It May Concern #9

I know of only one person who reads this blog. And I'm very intimate with that person, so I'm not sure that counts. Doesn't matter. This wayward blog is still in it's beginning form. Not there yet.
It makes me recall a time in Montana. I worked with this very nice guy, Bruce, at the Old Town Cafe in Missoula. He was from Glendive, MT which is way out in the eastern part of the state and is full of treeless expanses and wind and dust. But what I recall is he told me a story about a friend who wrote a play that was set in Glendive. In the play there was only one act and setting--it was set in a radio studio where a disc jokey is spinning his music. He's also talking. Suddenly something happens to him--I don't remember if it was a medical calamity or he was being threatened with murder, something--and he yells out to his audience that he's in trouble. But, there's no response. Or, maybe he's just doing a call-in show and no one ever responds. Anyway, what the point of the play, and the theme being an existential one, is that he was all alone with no listeners. He was talking into the void, playing music for no one. And--if he is indeed in need of help--I guess he dies because no one was listening.
The fact that no one is "listening" to this blog, however, is fine. Perhaps for the best. It is after all irregular and idiosyncratic at its base. In many ways the posts are only dry runs for potential ideas and possibilities much later in life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Radio Days: Champaign 1993

Was thinking about when my girls were very little and I wasn't working unless you consider working taking care of two babies and not being able to sleep or shower or do anything of you own volition except take care of babies . . . So I often had the radio on for company there in Champaign. In the spring I'd tune in WGN from Chicago and listen to the early baseball games--the Cubs, with Harry Caray. Harry Caray was the greatest and i could listen to him and the soft cheers and pinks and snaps of the game as I cared for my little kids. It made good background noise even if I could not follow the game. And other times I listened to the local NPR station with it's mix of shows and music and news. They had this local guy, a weatherman, named Ed and had a show called Talk to Ed where people would call in before the weekend and say they were traveling to such and such a place and Ed would let them know what the weather would be like there. This was before the internet and when the Weather Channel was in its infancy (not that it's that specific) and Ed had a natural and soothing voice/demeanor and it was always pleasant to listen and think of those places people were going to. And then there was WEFT, a community station from downtown Champaign. Now THAT was a radio station. They played jazz and blues and old time country music. They played rockabilly and rasta and sub-genres of sub-genres--eclectic stuff depending upon the taste and mood of the volunteer disc jockeys. I learned a lot about music and musicians by listening to that station.
Harry Caray is gone. I'm sure Talk to Ed is gone. WEFT is still there, I believe. But, I'm not. I'm gone and those days are gone and I don't listen to the radio anymore . . . Maybe when I have grandkids.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Minnesota 3 Green Bay 0: Urbandale 1972

My father was a Minnesota Vikings fan and so when I started watching football, I became a Vikings fan. This was when Joe Capp was their quarterback. This was when the had Carl Eller and Alan Page and the Purple People Eaters defense. Anyway, what I recall is one game where I stayed in my room and listened to it on the radio.
It was a late season, winter game--freezing cold afternoon, the game in Minnesota when they had an outdoor stadium--and I had this little green radio that I used. It was not televised (like almost all the games are these days) and my radio was round like a ball, which I had won in some kind of contest through a local radio station by calling in or something. Weird. Anyway (again) I stayed in my room and listened, following the game on my scratchy radio. And it was a boring game. I mean, it was arctic with wind and snow and nobody could move the ball. 1st Quarter: 0 - 0. 2nd Quarter: 0 - 0. 3rd Quarter: 0 - 0. 4th Quarter: still 0 - 0, until about the very end.
Finally Minnesota moves the ball down into Green Bay territory. Their stubby-legged kicker comes out (and again, this is all through the radio), Cox I think his name was, before Gary Anderson was their kicker, and he hits a field goal and the Vikings win three nothing.
But what amazes me is that I sat through that game, only listening on my tiny green ball of a radio, sat glued to the whole zero to zero ball game. And I pretty much enjoyed it.
Man. I must have had no life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Destroying the TV Guide: Urbandale 1974

The TV Guide used to be the #1 selling magazine at one time. It was a small publication, thick and hard and square, about the size of a current-day DVD box. It was published once a week, I think. Embarrassingly enough, we were big TV people when I was a kid. We--us kids (except perhaps Second Oldest Brother) and my mother--used to get excited when, each year in the fall, the TV Guide featuring all the new shows would come out. We would read about them and decide what we would watch and what we would not. And we watched a lot of shows together as a family: The Addams Family, Mary Tyler Moore, M.A.S.H.--oh crap--and many others (which fortunately I can't even recall now). But, that's not what this post is about. It's about how I came to enjoy destroying the TV Guide.
As I've mentioned before, I was a very unhappy adolescent. I had a lot of pent-up anger. I was introverted most of the time but also an aggressive little snot. (Okay, I wasn't little by then, probably at or over 6ft by then, nor was I ever a snot. I was sensitive and introspective and depressed and could be dumb about the most basic things. I was also a boy and as a boy I liked to knock things down and tear things up and run around till I fell down.) So--and I don't know how I discovered this--one way I found to get out my aggression was by destroying the TV Guide each week.
As soon as my mother bought a new one (or it arrived in the mail, I think she subscribed eventually) and the week was over, I grabbed the old magazine and began to punch it. I would throw it up in the air and kick it, slap it, crunch and chop and slice and dice the fat little thing with my bare hands. I killed it. Murdered it. Mutilated it. It brought me great joy to start it out fresh in the living room and smack its glossy pages--Blam Blam Blam--and see how the magazine began to fall apart as I worked it all around the house. I made it fly against walls and down the stairs and back up, it hit ceilings and floors, the stove and fridge, chairs and doors, my knuckles dug into it and its spine would crack and bend and pages would fly and I did not stop until it was a mealy mess.
I did not imagine the TV Guide to be anything other than what it was. It did not represent authority figures in my life or boys I disliked or evildoers or enemies of any kind, it was not a fantasy moment, this destruction. It was just a pure outletting of desire, desire to destroy something. I became very concentrated as I hit and swatted and dismembered that magazine. And I understood what I was doing, that it was a release, that it was a type of therapy. I know my mother was somewhat unsettled by such behavior, but she couldn't stop me. No one could. And I so enjoyed it. I looked forward to it each week.
Ahhhh. It was fun.
And it was only the TV Guide, no other publication would do. And, maybe but two years later, I learned to dislike TV itself. I remember I sold my own little TV for 50 bucks to Jim at Younkers, because I wanted to give it up. And I did. I think I was so full of TV watching by the time I was in my late teens that I had no desire to watch much of it ever again. I still don't . . . As for the TV Guide, as far as I know it still exists, but I'm not sure. And if it does, I think maybe I could still put it to good use if I bought one; I bet I still have a lot of aggression to release. Lord knows I could use the exercise.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seattle and Walla Walla: Vancouver 1965

When I was a little kid and we lived in Vancouver, Washington, my father worked for the VA and sometimes he had business trips. Conferences or whatever. Often he'd take all of us--our whole family: Mother and Oldest Brother and Second Oldest Brother and me and Sister and Younger Brother--along with him. These trips were usually either in Seattle or Walla Walla. We may have gone to Camas once, that smelly paper mill town along the Columbia River, but I'm not sure. But it didn't really matter where to us kids, it just meant we got to stay in a motel.
We were not hotel people--we'd stayed in few by then, in Chicago maybe (and later in Atlanta)--and we weren't even motel people all that much, though we had stayed in quite a few by then and in some cabins back in South Dakota (where all of us kids had been born, where my mother was from, my father being from Red Oak, Iowa [though he had been born in Nebraska]), but we had become mainly campers after moving out to Washington. So, a motel stay in a city was a treat. And my father would go off to his meetings and my mother would get us all together and take us out around the town.
In Seattle, going out around the town was fun. We had a place close to the Seattle Center and the Seattle Center (home to a World's Fair at some time, when the Space Needle was built and where the Space Needle was) had amusement rides and park-like settings and monuments and the monorail. Ah, the monorail! Here was a futuristic ride that you did not find just anywhere. So, we rode that. We went on a few rides, got some cotton candy, walked and looked and stuff like that. We went back to the hotel--all of us crammed into a single room (I have no idea how my parents did this, seven in one motel room)--and discovered Seattle cartoon shows like Patches the Clown and other things that were different than home. Seattle was the big city. We liked it.
But we also went to Walla Walla . . . Hmmm. I think Walla Walla--the town with the funny name--was smaller than Vancouver. Vancouver was really a bedroom community for Portland, Oregon (though we never felt this, that I recall) so it had a larger city attached to it. But, in our kid eyes, Walla Walla was just fine. Sure, there was no Space Needle or monorail, no Patches the Clown, but there was a toy store and other stores and all we needed was new coloring books and crayons and a TV in the motel and that kept us busy enough. That's what I recall of Walla Walla (which, like the name, we went to twice; Seattle twice, too, I think), that we got some new monster-themed coloring books (it must have been close to Halloween--a big holiday for kids) and worked on those the whole while.
So, these were little adventures. I came back to Seattle in the eighties, lived there for a bit just a few blocks from the Seattle Center, then visited often with Fru when we were in Montana, but by then I required more than just a motel room and coloring books to make me happy.