Friday, December 17, 2010

Driving to Saylorville Lake: 1976

There weren't many swimming options in central Iowa. There was Camp Dodge Pool and smaller community pools, there was the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River--but people didn't really swim in them, there was Big Creek--a man-made lake--and then there was Saylorville Lake (also a reservoir).
My best friend Kevin had a little black late 60s Volkswagon Beetle. He and I often drove to the lake, often with my other friends who were from my high school class (Kevin was from the class ahead of us, but he and I had become good friends--I was always one of the oldest in my class) and I can still recall that feeling: summer, no school, the warm hot air coming in the open windows, the trees full and open land full of weeds or crops and even above the rush of the air you could hear the calls of redwing blackbirds . . . It was just, by 76 and right out of high school for me, a feeling of youth. And we'd have his cassettes or 8tracks playing--usually the Eagles--we'd sometimes sing along to them though I never got the lyrics right because I've had bad hearing all my life, but it didn't matter, it was the drive and the lazy day and the looking forward to the lake and the friends and the girls that would be there, the sun and the water and what passed for a beach in Iowa, it was a time when time was endless. We were all very young.
But by, say 78, my attentions were shifting. I'd been off to school at Iowa, in Iowa City, while all of my friends--including Kevin--had gone to Iowa State, in Ames and they did not think of staying there in the summer, as Des Moines was so close. And by 79 it was--to the best of my memory--my last summer of coming back to Des Moines and I pretty much lived in Iowa City from then on, until the end of 83, and after that I lived in a series of places for brief months or years (as well as back in Des Moines and Iowa City) until, say, about August of 1990 . . . Anyway, this is a long way from a post about driving to Saylorville.
Saylorville Lake. We swam there. I swam there. Used to go water skiing with Seth who had a fast boat and all the accoutrements that go with the sport. I recall one fall--late fall, maybe even November--there was a late Indian summer and Kevin and I--perhaps I was home on Thanksgiving break from Iowa, or perhaps it was the semester I took off from school with the idea of going to Europe (Brock and I--he went, I did not and went back to school instead; just one of a number of times I backed out on good ol' Brock)--and we decided to go to the lake. We donned swim suits and took towels and when we got to the beach no one was there. The water looked gray and cold, the trees had few leaves. But, it was warm, and we went ahead and got in the water--it was cold, but tolerable--and swam. Not so bad. I recall I went ashore while Kevin kept swimming and I picked up a rock, not a big one and not a small one, and tossed it out into the lake at him. I hit him in the head. You've got to understand, this is a big lake with a big swimming area and no one was out there, not even a boat and I threw the rock from a far distance, never thinking I'd hit him, but I got him right in the forehead. It must have hurt. But Kevin and I were pals and shared a wickedly sarcastic and pessimistic sense of humor, so he laughed it off. I apologized and neither of us could believe I'd hit him from that distance.
But after I'd lived in California and Florida's panhandle, when I went back to Iowa and I'd see my friends, I couldn't bring myself to swim in Saylorville anymore. It looked ugly, the water was thick and dirty--unclear and unclean. It was cold compared to the Gulf of Mexico.
Kevin had stayed in Iowa (as had almost all of my high school friends) and so he didn't know that it was ugly and dirty.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pajamas With Feet: Sioux Falls 1961

Ah, I can barely remember this. I must have been three or four, but this could have been when I was a bit older. All I'm thinking of is that Mother used to buy us kids these pajamas with feet. You know what I'm talking about? One piece kid's PJs that were like a costume of sorts, where they covered your feet and, I think, your torso and arms and all--kind of like long johns but with the attached feet . . . All of us little kids loved those pajamas (we loved pajamas anyway--though my mother and father were not, we kids were a family of loungers, given the opportunity). The best thing about them was that, on the bottom of the attached feet, there were little round non-skid beads. The soles were white and knobby. And, this is really where this tiny memory comes from: Oldest Brother used to pretend they were poison pills. This is what I recall, me being little and my PJs on and Oldest Brother creating some narrative or another, playacting, and I'd sit on the couch and he would pretend to pick one of the "pills" off my feet, swallow it, and with great theatrics, die. Man, I laughed and laughed . . . I don't know why, or how, young kids can find death so funny.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sitting By My Window Reading: Urbandale 1973

This was in the summer. This was when I shared an upstairs room with my brothers. Not all of my brothers, but at least some of them. This was when I had a bed next to the lower window in the first room down the hall, the upstairs being the first floor, not the basement, in our one story house. This was when we did not use air-conditioning. I grew up without A/C.
What I recall, is that in the summer I sat in bed reading a book. I'd gotten the book at the Urbandale Public Library--Mother was a big reader and I'd gone with her to the library and randomly looked around in the Young Adult section and picked out books. I had this novel that was set in Russia and was about Cossacks and Tartars and such and I was very involved in it. And I was reading it one lazy summer afternoon by the window in my bed, the window wide open against the hot Iowa day and outside in the street kids were playing. I knew the kids that were yelling and running and scuffling through some game out there, and as I heard them and watched them I thought that I should join them. I was an active person, I liked games and sports and running around. Yet, I really liked the book I was reading.
It was a warm summer Iowa afternoon yet I was inside reading by the open window. I should be out there with my neighborhood peers . . . But, no. I wanted to read my book. I loved reading that book. So, I stayed inside, consciously relishing the air from the window, the sounds of kids playing in my absence while I read my library book set in the old Russia of cossacks and czars. I realized that I liked the excitement in my head--from the book--as much as the excitement of reality, at least for that moment. The world of my imagination was more important.
It's not as though I became a bookworm from then on, but I think I still remember that otherwise mundane instance because I realized that I had something else, something small (or big, depending how you feel about books) and private and that there was a value in pursuing it. I'd always liked reading, writing, but until that day by the window in the summer I don't think I realized how much it meant to me.

Watching Dr. Who: Iowa City 1978

By 1975 to 76, after a childhood rich in watching a lot of television, I quit the habit. Sure, I still saw a thing or two now and then, but no more gluing myself to the tube as an opiate, watching reruns and prime time shows, I gave it up cold turnkey. But then, by the second semester in college, while living in Burge dorm, I started watching a bit again. One thing was our small dorm fllor, the majority of us, began getting together in Marty and Tim's room to watch Mork and Mindy once a week. I know, I know--lame show, lame activity, but it was a communal event and Robin Williams was funny enough. But the Tv watching I enjoyed the most became a semi-weekday habit of tuning in old Dr. Who reruns on a PBS station.
I'd head of Dr. Who but had less than a passing understanding of the show. But the local PBS station ran the half hour show every weeknight around the or ten thirty at night and, by that time of the day, I was done with classes and studying and Morn and Mindy etc and ready to settle in a bit before bed. Now, I had no TV set, but my roommate, Chuck (my third roommate being Jeff) had brought one, a small black and white thing which he had set up on some kind of pole near one of the desks. So, despite all of my good anti-TV intentions, I began to turn it on at night and watch the show. And I got hooked. It became a bit of a ritual: come 10:15 or so, I'd make the walk (sometimes with friends, often by myself) down to Vendo-Land (what I called the bank of vending machines down in the basement of the dorm; our half-hall was essentially in the basement, just 1/2 a flight of stairs up from it) and get my soda and snack, then return to my room to tune in Dr. Who.
The thing is, despite having two other roommates in the small dorm, I always watched the show alone. Not even Brock--a candidate for serious Dr. Who watching if there ever was one--joined me. So maybe this was part of the enjoyment, being alone, munching on my Sour Cream and Onion Lays potato chips, drinking my Coke or Mt. Dew or whathaveyou, watching the silly British show with tacky and campy special effects, semi-humorous story lines and characters. That Dr. Who was the big red-haired guy who always had a long scarf. That's my Dr. Who. Black and white. He had some primitive cave-girl type companion then (if you know Dr. Who, there are many actors who played him and he always has a constant Earth companion or two along for the adventure) and she was not horrible to look at as they gallivanted around the universe saving alien races or planets or saving Earth itself. Fun enough.
It was always a moment of respite. Moments of respectable waste of my time. Dr. Who and Sour Cream and Onion Chips. Dr. Who is back now on the BBC and I admit I've watched it. New actors and better special effects, an hour time slot. But it'll never be the same as when I was in Burge Hall in Iowa City in 1978.