Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jimmy West's Hands: Johnson City 1969

Jimmy West was the only guy I knew in both Jonesborough and Johnson City. (We didn't really live IN Johnson City, but outside of town in a small development off Antioch Road, among the walnut trees and the tobacco farms.) He was a country boy, Tennessee style. And what I recall is a time in, I think, 6th Grade, when he had come to the county school--Cherokee Elementary--and he knew me so we hung out a bit, and I noticed his hands. His hands were--and this is a 12 or 13 year old boy--they were are gnarled and dry and full of deep creases. And I asked him about them and he confessed that the skin hurt but he didn't know what to do about it. I said, simply and quickly, put some lotion on them. He looked at me. He said that was what a girl would do. I looked at him, shrugged, saying So What and Who Cares. And he seemed to appreciate that wordless response.
Even in the small world of 6th Grade, I only saw Jimmy in the school now and then. I don't think he was in my classroom. But later I sat at lunch with him and he showed me his hands. They were no longer gnarled. They were smooth and looked like regular, comfortable hands. He told me he'd used lotion. I was glad for him.
But what this says to me is how people will harm themselves sometimes, or will follow ides or norm to their detriment, unless someone else says, C'mon, who cares. I was never a kid with a whole lot of insight, at least the practical kind, but I'm glad Jimmy realized that you don't have to give in to what other people think.
Now that I think of it, Jimmy and I had a certain intimacy because in Jonesborough he had contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. H had squeezed a tick off his dog and contracted it. He was out of school for months and--I don't know why or how--he called me on the phone a few times. I talked to him, talked for maybe an hour or less at a time, and this seemed to be meaningful to him. I can't say that's what I thought at the time, that Jimmy needed some other kid to talk to, but it's what I think now. And I guess I see the hand lotion thing in the same vein. And I think I took pleasure in being nice, or in being helpful in some fashion.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July Fourth: Ft. Lauderdale 2002

When I think of the Fourth I mainly think of Vancouver, Washington in the early to mid Sixties: Going with my older brothers up the street and around to where the little fireworks stand was, Washington an early state banning anything extreme, and getting all those snakes, poppers, Smokey Joes Cabin, sparklers, roman candles and firey cones, Piccolo Petes==loud whistling little black things that we learned if you pinched its base with pliers it would explode at the end--and those soldiers with parachutes that shot up in the air. Simple things but great enjoyment. I don't recall much of July Fourth in South Dakota. I know we celebrated, I knew of sparklers and snakes and cones but I cannot recall a specific thing about the Fourth from Sioux Falls. The same goes for Tennessee: don't really remember. Iowa, sure. I recall July Fourths in Urbandale clearly, both with family (climbing up on the roof of the house to see the suburb city fireworks) and with my pals of high school (going to Lions Park with blankets, meeting up with girls). Of course there was that Fourth in Iowa City where we all got drunker than drunk and drove around in Matt's Uncle's big work truck dumping trash around the city . . . And Fourths in other places, from Santa Fe to Missoula to Grayton Beach.
But I'm thinking of a Fourth in Fort Lauderdale, me and my wife and my kids in the only house I've ever owned. Neighbors were there with us--Billy, Michele and Silvio and Alana, maybe Abdul, maybe Marge, Cheryl and Denny were there, maybe Andy and Lisa and Dakota. I had gone to Neptune Fireworks and bought a bunch of stuff. In Florida the big bad fireworks are illegal, yet, just down US 1 in Dania Beach, there's a year-round fireworks store that sells all the illegals. Some loophole or another. That's Florida. So I had that good stuff and we had a party and everyone was happy and pleasant and excited to see the things I shot off outr in the street.
I don't really know if it was 2002. I don't know who all was there or that it was only one specific Fourth (I bought stuff from Neptune many Fourths in a row) and had a number of parties on that day. I do know it was before my wife became ill and my daughter also and we were all laughing and together and more or less happy.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Was Just Thinking #1

I was just thinking of Grayton Beach. Walton County. Florida. The panhandle. I was thinking how I lived on the beach--off and on, sometimes in ancillary towns--that I lived without air-conditioning or heat. I also remember the sand. We had sand on our feet, on the floors, in the sheets, in our food. Always. And when it was cold it was cold and when it was hot it was hot and we wore few clothes, or many clothes, and ceiling fans and electric fans were important to us most of the year. And I was happy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Undead Squirrel: Fort Lauderdale 2007

The royal palm tree in my backyard was not that tall when we first moved into the house on SW 18th Street in Fort Lauderdale. That was in 1997. Now, it was a big tree, but when the fronds died I could reach them and pull them down by hand. Even then there was a squirrel who lived up in the green fronds--after a while he'd/she'd have to rebuild the nest higher up. Now, a royal palm's trunk is not like the trunk of a coconut or cabbage or fan palm. It's like a smooth concrete pole, in many ways, and even a squirrel can't scurry up it, so the animal has to jump to low hanging fronds and get up that way.
Jump to ten years later: the squirrel or a different squirrel is still nesting in the royal palm. But the palm is quite tall now and the squirrel has to climb up the nearby travelers palm then make a leap onto the low fronds of the royal to get to his/her nest. It's a precarious operation but must have been a safe place to live. Well, one day I go out in the yard and there's this squirrel on the ground beneath the royal palm. It's splayed out in grass/sandydirt not moving. I think it's dead. I think it fell from the palm. I left it there and went about my business for a while and then, maybe an hour later, it's gone. It's back jumping up to its nest.
Ah. The squirrel fell and was out cold.
Now it's later--maybe a month or two--and again I go out and again there's the squirrel out cold on the grass/sandydirt. This time I approach it. I stand over it and inspect it. I nudge it with my foot. It doesn't move. It's dead, I think, but I leave it be for a while.
When I come back, the squirrel is still there. I nudge it again.
This was before we got our dog and we had raccoons and opossums and such come into the yard at night. So, I get my shovel, dig a hole by the back fence. I use the shovel to scoop up the dead squirrel and carry him/her and deposit her/him in the hole. I cover the squirrel up.
So much for that.
That evening I'm outside again. I go check on the royal-palm-squirrel's hasty grave. But, she/he is not there.
Instead there's the hole.
The squirrel had dug itself out and up.
Zombie Squirrel!
Well, guess it wasn't dead.
It still lives up in that tree to this day but I don't know how the hell it gets up there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Biking to Jester Park: Des Moines 1975

This is what passed for adventure back then. A group of my friends--most of my core friends, Bob, Bill, Larry, Dave, Randy, Jim and I (perhaps others or perhaps not all mentioned)--decided to bike a few miles north of town to a park called Jester Park. I don't know if it was a state park or county park but it was a ways out of Des Moines and Urbandale, maybe five miles or so. We brought along tents and bags and food to stay the night. It was summer, hot, pleasant, and it was our first real trip anywhere as near-adults.
The planning of it was pretty simple. Yes, we were driving by then but we wanted to bike it, so we knew where the park was and how to get there by experience. Were our bikes in good enough shape to make the trip? Who knew--we weren't worried about that. And remember, this was before cell phones and Internet and GPS and constant connections. So, one we packed our bags and filled our measly water bottles (this was before the selling of water as a drink also), we were on our own.
My parents were unconcerned as were most of my other friends. The only parent who seemed worried was Bill's mother and--sure enough--halfway on the long bike ride down rural roads under the sun, here came Bill's mother in her car checking up on us. Ah, what supreme embarrassment for Bill. But also not a big deal--we didn't tease him about it.
It was a fun ride, though hot and thirsty. It was good to be out there and have the world and Iowa landscape slow down, to enjoy the minutes and the farm fields and the trees.
Then we got to the park, set up camp (I think it was free) and wander around. No one else was there, it seemed. We hunted for firewood, played cards, talked, played catch with Frisbees, baseballs, footballs. We wandered the woods, went to the Des Moines River and got in the water, swam and walked the bank and swooshed around in what is a pretty big river. We cooked hot dogs and canned chili and made sandwiches, had chips and cheese--I don't know how we brought all of that on our bikes, but we did.
Bill's mother did not show up.
Night came and we had a fire and told stories and fell asleep and got up the next day and did it again. Then we rode home--long, hot, thirsty--and the adventure was over.
We were not young teens then. We had a year left of high school.
And you know what we didn't do?
We did not drink beer or smoke cigarettes, we didn't smoke a joint or eat shrooms or talk about female conquests.
Perhaps we were behind the times a bit. Or maybe we missed that memo that that was what we were supposed to be doing at 16 or 17. I don't know. But, that wasn't us. It wasn't like we were goody-goody kids, that we went to church and looked down on "bad" behavior. Not at all. It just didn't occur to us that there were other options. For whatever reason, we were not interested in such things . . . But now that I think of it, I think Jerry Lamb went on that trip with us. Jerry was one of those guys that was sort of part of our group but sometimes not. He was one of those guys who saw the other options and had no doubt tried them a bit, had tried to hang and fit in with a rougher crowd than us but was either not fully accepted or was on the fence about who to be: nice boring boys like us or one of the "bad" boys. (Of course, there were many options in between, too.) Jerry Lamb. I'd forgotten about him.
Anyway. It would still be a few years down the road when drugs, drinking, driving cross-country and sex became the idea of fun. For then, an independent bike ride to Jester Park, goofing around in a river, stopping in the shade of a tree on a hot day in central Iowa with friends--that was fun.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jack The Cat: Missoula 1990

His name could have been Zack, but when we heard the neighborhood kids call his name as they came home from school, my wife and I heard it as Jack. This is when we lived in the little cottage on Rollins Street in Missoula. Jack was--we assumed--a stray. He came to hang out at our place all the time, even coming inside and spending the night. He had no collar. But, I admit, he didn't look like a stray.
He was a comical-looking cat. He had the markings of a siamese, including very blue and very crossed-eyed eyes. But he was big and fluffy--sort of Persian, Himalayan, Raccoon Cattish. he was funny and friendly, maybe not that bright but gregarious. I never saw him run from a person or even a dog for that matter. he was a good cat. He was an annoying cat.
he looked a lot like our cat, M.R., though she wasn't quite as fluffy or big or cross-eyed. When we first saw him we thought M.R. had somehow gotten out of the house, but then saw it was not her at all. He began to come around all the time, then demanding that we let him inside. And we did, reluctantly at first. he had a bad habit of climbing screens, the door at least.
I still remember the story Fru has told about him. I worked afternoons and nights at the University of Montana and Fru would be home by herself. One day Jack came by and wanted inside. Fru didn't want to have to deal with him. So, she walked around ducking at all the windows so the cat would not see her. She was in the kitchen and saw home on the porch from the window there and so she ducked again. She was hiding from Jack the Cat. So, as she huddled close to the kitchen floor, Jack jumped up onto the screen and stared at her. So, she had to let him in since he saw her. he was a determined animal.
By the summer of 1990, Fru and I knew we were leaving Montana. She had a job offer back in Illinois and--being quite poor in Missoula--she took the offer. We drove back in her car, leaving my truck, with the idea that I would return, rent a U-Haul and get our stuff to bring to Illinois.
And, that's what we did.
But after my return to Montana, after my renting and packing and loading and goodbyes said, one of my last acts in Missoula was to grab Jack the Cat (M.R. was already gone). I picked him up and put him in the rental's cab with me--I was towing my red pickup. We had a flat in South Dakota (or maybe it was south of Sioux City, Iowa) and the cat had to wait in the truck while I walked to an exit and a phone. But, we made it to Champaign, IL.
Jack the Cat and M.R. settled in as we did. Jack liked to go outside and caused a little trouble by jumping on neighbors' screens, the--when we moved to the place on Miller Street from West Union--he developed the habit of wandering, even crossing the busy street of Church to visit people in that neighborhood: I got calls from people asking if I was missing my cat. Jack had a collar now, with my name and phone # on it.
Yes, we doted over the two cats. Held and Xmas for them and took tons of photos. Yes, they were our surrogate children. But then we had a real child and the cats went back to being just cats very quickly. Still, they were family and they liked First Daughter's crib and she liked them.
I had a job working at Agriseed. I often would go in at night to water the hybrid corn plants in the greenhouse there. It was on such an evening as I left and turned on Church that I saw Jack. he was in the side of the road and his gut was split open. Dead. I had to go back and get a box and a shovel and scoop him up. I didn't go to work that night.
Fru and I were, of course, full of grief. Grief tempered that he was only a cat, but still real grief. And it still bothers me to this day that I had taken him. He no doubt did have a home--lack of collar or no--and I had, essentially, stolen him. And if he had remained in Montana, no doubt Jack or Zack would have lived a long life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Getting Hit: Urbandale 1973

I played football in junior high and high school. I was a good football player--but not so much in organized ball. While a star in sandlot ball, I was always a second stringer when I put on pads and helmet. Why? Some of it was my own general timidity and foolishment, some was that I saw football as a game of finesse not one of brutishness--as said: foolishment. Anyway, I quit football my senior year (the year the Urbandale Jayhawks won the state AA title--my usual luck, though can't say being a member of the 1976 State AA Champs of Iowa would be one of my biggest accomplishments).
But what I'm recalling is a short episode during practice one day when on junior varsity. It was during punt coverage. I was on offense and, best to my memory, ran downfield after the ball was kicked and almost got in on the tackle. So, there I was standing after the play was over when--WHAM--some kid comes and slams me from behind. Blindsided. After the whistle. I get myself up and look at him, some guy I knew but did not know, and he yells at me that the coach said I should have done this or that on the coverage.
I was bewildered. Not because of the hit but because of the penalty enforced upon me--this blindsided wham by coaches orders. I didn't get angry (one of my many failings in the game of football, but I didn't know that at the time). I just looked at the kid and then at the coaches who were yards away and shrugged it off, went back to practice. Yet, that stays with me. It was demeaning and embarrassing. Who was this kid to just come knock me off my feet when I was completely unaware and defenseless? Who was that coach (not the head coach of varsity who was a nice guy--for a football coach at least) to think of and then order such a thing?
And that incident is one of those incidents where I wish I could go back in time. I'd like to go back and when I got hit I'd like to pick myself up and--first off--yank off the perpetrator's helmet and smack him in the goddamn nose. Then I'd like to run up to the coach and tackle him and smack him in the nose. Perhaps that would have impressed them. maybe that's what they wanted from me.
But, though a big guy, I wasn't that kind of guy.
Here's what kind of guy I was: I was a wide receiver, but due to my lifelong bad hearing and general shyness, I got in the wrong line for practice and became a lineman instead. I was big enough to be a lineman and that's where they kept me. So, one practice as a lineman--tackle--and again during punt drill where I was blocking the rush, I recalled the instructions which was hit your man but if the man next to you misses his block, pick up that man. On the play the person next to me was one of my good friends. When the ball was snapped, I saw him miss his man and so I came over and picked him up. My man was not picked up and glided in to the punter, almost blocking it. For this I was yelled at, by both coaches and teammates. They asked why I didn't pick up my man. I said nothing. I didn't want to blame my friend for not picking up his man, so I just said nothing.
That's the kind of guy I was.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Changing Friends: Iowa City 1979

So, I moved around a lot as a kid--and around a lot as an adult. So, I became used to change, to saying goodbye to states and towns, to houses and neighbors, to friends. But this was a bit different, in Iowa, as we had stayed in the Des Moines area for a good nine years or so. I had gone through half of seventh grade on through all of high school in one place, in one state. I had developed good solid friendships with quite a few people and intimate friendships with a core of maybe four or five people (basically all guys--I had yet to understand that you could be friends with "girls", something the younger generation seems to understand better than mine). But them we all graduated and most of my friends went to Iowa State University in Ames, maybe forty-five minutes, maybe an hour, from Des Moines.
I didn't go to college. No right away.
Yes, I stayed in touch with them, visited etc. I worked full time and made new friends from that job. But then a year later (and after a short stint in Key West), I did go to school but I went to The University of Iowa, in Iowa City, not to Ames. Ah. In the state of Iowa, there is a big distinction between the two . . . and as the years went by, my new college friends began to replace my old high school friends.
I know, I know, nothing new there. And it wasn't like I didn't stay in touch with that core group of pals, but I soon quit coming home on weekends while in school, then quit coming home in the summer and then quit all together. Not quit school, but coming home at all . . . But by 1979 the situation was evident that my college pals--Matt, Brock, Mike and others--had replaced Bob, Kevin, Larry and others as my closest friends. And they--college pals--remained my main contacts for the next ten years or so. Then I got married, started a family and the closeness to all friends began to fade a bit.
But here's the thing. Jump ahead another, say, another twenty years, closer to today's date: I'm still married, my kids are venturing into college (about the same age I was in 1979) and my closest friends are not from Urbandale High or the University of Iowa. I still have a core group of four or five good guy friends but the are scattered about. And, I'm still sort of in touch with some of the people from my past. But--of those old friends, it is my high school buddies I talk to the most. My college pals, my best friends who I was closest to, rarely contact me and I, in turn, rarely contact them. Do I know where they live, do I have their phone numbers and know what's going on in their lives? Yes--sort of. The same with my high school pals. Yet I've talked more often and have physically seen the older group more often in the last ten years than the latter. I don't know why this is.
But I think we--my college friends--are about due. I think we will resurrect the old feelings and make an effort to see each other. No doubt we will all realize why we have other friends but, still, it would be good. It will be worth the effort.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Okoboji: Urbandale 1975

Ah, we took numerous trips up to Lake Okoboji which is in the northwest corner of Iowa (more or less). By we I mean Bob, Kevin and I. I don't recall the first time I visited the place--Okoboji a rather renowned spot in Iowa due to its natural lakes and natural beauty, to its original theme park in Arnold's Park and some other small claims to Iowa-centric fame--but I do know it was with Bob (Bob my first real friend in Urbandale who lived down the block from me on 65th). We were old enough by then to be on our own. I believe I was able to drive, but perhaps the first time it was just Bob and I with his parents. I know his parents bought a little plot and had a trailer--maybe not that first time but after that--where you could walk down to the lake. There was more than one lake. There was Lake Okoboji itself, then there was East lake Okoboji, or maybe East and West lakes, and then there was a smaller lake. There may be more, as the area was known as Iowa's Great Lakes. I think. Anyway, Bob's parents--nice people--also bought a small boat to keep on the lake. I believe Bob and I slept on the boat one time. But it was after all of that that we--Bob, Kevin and I--came up to the lake for a long summer weekend. I know I'd driven at least once in my Ford falcon Wagon (1966) that had been the family car for years and years and still ran (and whose stereo wiring--which I had installed--had actually caught fire once and whose brakes gave out on me while coming down a hill in Urbandale while coming back from a trip to Okoboji) but I know we also drove up once in Kevin's old black Volkswagon Beetle. But his parents--Bob's--had let us stay there and we, Kevin and I anyway, drank beer and motored about the lake in Bob's parents' little motor boat and there were a couple of girls staying in a trailer nearby--druggy-ish girls from Colorado or some such, one a little too young and the other a little too hip to have much to do with us--and we just generally did our inane things that we did at that age. But I do recall I was taking a dump in the bathroom of the trailer when all of a sudden Bob comes rushing in (I didn't lock the door) because his parents had pulled up outside. His mother and father had driven up and shown up without announcement, without ever telling us that they would. That was not nice--I mean, we were good guys, not into much trouble except some beer, which we were old enough to legally drink--and here they were showing up out of the blue as if to check on us, as if to catch us in some transgression. Really. And if we had been doing anything more than just taking a dump and having a few beer cans around? (And Bob did not even drink.) What if we'd had the girls over, what if we were smoking cigarettes and--god forbid at that time--marijuana? What if we had trashed the place and sunk the boat and who knows what? Would they have been happy to find that out? Didn't they think that at our age at that time that there were some things they best not know about? I mean, we were still pretty innocent and caused no true or even rowdy trouble, so why show up unannounced?
Oh well.
It wasn't long after that that Bob and I parted ways, fell out of friendship with each other. Kevin and I stayed good pals for a long time but I have not seen or barely heard from him in maybe two decades. And Okoboji? I don't know. I can't quite recall its charms. To me, it's now just an Iowa-centric place.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Football Game: Iowa City 1974

Only my father and I loved football. No one else in the family--my three brothers, sister, mother--had any interest in it, at least not until much later. I also shared a love of plants and trees with my father--a love of gardening and growing vegetables. But, as I said in the post about buying a vehicle with my older brother, there was still an emotional distance between us when I grew up, as there was among us all in the latter stages of the family as a unit (that is, before we all got older and moved into our own, separate lives).
So--and I'm hazy on all of the specifics--one fall I agreed to go to a football game with my father. Just he and I. And it was not just any game, it was an Iowa Hawkeyes game. Father had gone to Iowa and was a rabid follower of the Hawkeyes. I--and my brothers, sister as well--were supporters of the team, more or less, but not avid ones (that would come later as each of us, like my father, would attend the University of Iowa). So, he drove us over to Iowa City from Urbandale/Des Moines. Not a long drive--two hours at best--but long enough to go back and forth in one day. It was early in the fall. Sunny. Warm. Green. I had not really been to a college game before (maybe once in Tennessee, at the small college in Johnson City because a friend of mine's--Bobby, who had a glass eye--father was the band director at the school) and was pleasantly surprised to see the crowds, the general pleasantries, hear the marching band, see the baton twirlers and all that went with the game. We had parked in a grassy lot in someone yards for five dollars or such (we had entered the town the back way, which was why, years later when I drove to Iowa City for orientation, I came the wrong way--it was all I knew) and had brought ham sandwiches that he had purchased in a store. We sat and ate by our car, he drinking a beer and me a soda, I think.
The game was not a great game. Either Frank Lauterber was coach or maybe Cummings by then but they had both always fielded bad Hawkeye teams. I don't recall who they were playing (Nebraska? Not a Big Ten team, I don't think) but they were losing, as usual. But then the Hawkeyes made a big play--a long pass which the receiver barely caught. My father and I cheered. We looked at each other, cheering, straight in the eye. And then we didn't.
It was as if we both had caught ourselves in a faux pas--this act of shared emotion, this father and son moment, one that would be considered healthy and normal and sweet, both of us cheering and sharing a near touchdown for the home team. But that was not done in our family. Not much, anyway (at least by our teens). Again, expressions of affection or love, even at a sporting event, were suspect expressions. That's not to say that my father or mother never said they loved me or us or each other, but if they did it was on very rare occasions. I don't know. It just seems strange to me now, that I--and perhaps Father--would be embarrassed to share a cheer at a football game. And I'm not trying to place blame, or make it into more than it was. I loved my father, love my mother, my siblings, my wife and own children. My parents were good parents all through their life--my mother still. They had much tougher childhoods than we--their children--can understand. As a father, a parent, I know that as your kids grow older, hit their teens, things change in both how you view them and certainly in how they view you.
I know love.
But, I guess I wish it had been a bit different. I wish I could have easily yelled for the Hawkeyes with my father on that bright sunny day in Kinnick Stadium in 1974. I wish we could have cheered the team on to a touchdown and be able to hold our hands in the air and look each other in the eye as we did so. I wished we could have hugged.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Driving To Nevada To Buy A Van: Urbandale 1976

It wasn't that I lacked practical sense, I actually could be a very practical person, but when it came to spending money on big items, I had little sense at all. Which was how I came to be riding in a car with Second Oldest Brother down little dirt roads in rural Iowa trying to find his friend who wanted to sell me his van.
Now, I had been practical enough to save my money from working in the stockroom at Younkers (at the Merle Hay Mall) for almost two years so that I could buy a car with cash. I mean, I spent very little. I had, I think, close to twelve thousand in my little savings account my parents had helped me start as soon as I got the job while in high school (I'd quit football and had gotten the job instead, walking to the mall after school and often working full days on weekends). So, eventually I got the car bug and wanted one of my own. My older brother--Second Oldest--had had cars by then, had had money and had spent money, so I went to him for advice. And he, in turn, went to his friends who were trying to unload certain cars.
In all fairness, Second Oldest Brother took me around to some car lots and I drove some cars from there. I knew nothing about anything: what to expect, what to ask, how much I should pay. Second Oldest Brother was there for that, I figured. Eventually he showed me his friend's vehicle, a Grand Prix (Pontiac?). I liked big cars, more or less, and I drove it around but decided it wasn't for me. I told him what I really wanted was a van, one I could camp in or live in. You see, I didn't tell him this, but I was fresh out of high school and I wanted to get a van, a dog, and hit the highway. I wanted to go out west and live a vagabond's life. So, Second Oldest Brother knew of a friend who had a van. He lived out in Nevada.
Now, this was not the western state of Nevada, that mecca of gambling and whorehouses and deflated housing markets, no this was Ne-VAY-da (as I believe the locals pronounced it), a small town in rural Iowa not terribly far from Des Moines. So that's how I ended up with Second Oldest Brother driving the back roads one summer weekend.
I have to say, it was very nice of my brother to take the time and effort to help me. He drove me out there at his own expense, even bought me some McDonalds as we got a bit lost. Just he and I, he closer to adulthood than me (two or three years older) who had always been the doer in the family, the one to get a paper route, the one to buy his own mini bike, then car and other items, the one who was most independent and anxious to get out of the house. Which was also why he was the most mysterious brother, the sibling I felt I understood the least.
We had been a very close family in many ways, yet also an odd one. Yes, we had both parents and were a family of five kids (four boys, one girl). We were all born in Sioux Falls, SD but from there we moved often: Vancouver, WA, Jonesborough and then Johnson City TN, Des Moines/Urbandale, IA. So, in many ways we were close to each other out of necessity, out of a sense that all other relationships were transitory . . . But as we got older, as Oldest and then Second Oldest finished high school and as we stayed in one spot--in Iowa--for once, we kind of drifted apart. Then again, I should say that we became indifferent to each other. Both of our parents had grown up in broken families, both without fathers (my father's father was in a mental hospital all of his life after WWI; my mother's father ran away, abandoning his family). And we, as their offspring, always had some kind of element in us, one that is hard to explain but that essentially was disdainful of positive emotions, of showing need or affection or cohesion as a family unit. I'm not sure. I mean, we knew we were loved and that my parents loved each other, but, yet, no one could say the word and we were often--as we got older--more mean to each other than nice and then we were, as I said, indifferent. My parents, fatherless children of the Great Depression and young adults of WWII (in which my father fought in Europe), perhaps had learned to deal with sadness and disappointment in their lives through indifference to it, so much so that we kids carried a certain stoic/pessimistic gene . . . Then again, who the heck knows. Maybe we were pretty much like everyone else. (We all get along quite well now, us "kids", but we also live far away from and don't have much contact with each other.)
What I'm trying to point out is that it was strange and somewhat embarrassing to me for my older brother to be helping me out, to care enough to help out. But we did find his friend and the van and I bought it. I paid the asking price because I had no concept that I could bicker--and, Oldest Brother never said a peep that I could ask for less from his friend. Yes, I paid too much. Yet, I was happy to have the van: a 72 Ford Econoline painted in two-tone blue with shag carpeting on the inside and a bed in back, a cooler between the two front seats (Captain's seats) also hidden by shag carpeting. It was quite the 70's semi-hippy mobile.
I never did take the van out west.
I did take it to Florida that next spring, to Daytona and Key West. I took it to Iowa City a few times and when I decided to go to college, it sat back at my parents house until it became an eyesore. I eventually sold it to friend of a neighbor for about $500--more than $2000 less than I paid for it.
So it goes.
I disliked owning a car for many years afterwards.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1st Drunk: Urbandale 1976

I've always been late at doing everything. At least late in doing those things often considered as rites or thresholds and such. I was eighteen before I ever got truly drunk--bad drunk--and that was when, in 1976, the drinking age was eighteen. I must have been nineteen--almost twenty--before I got laid and though I had tried pot towards the end of high school, I'd never been stoned until the age of twenty, while in college. Even later for later thresholds, I was always behind somewhat, be it a live-in relationship with a girlfriend or love and marriage or getting published and teaching and so on down the line. As I've said before I was (am?) a late bloomer.
So, this incident is not one I like to recall often. It was after high school (which I pretty much hated) was over. It was summer. I was working full time at Younkers with no plans to go to college--my only plans were to get a van, get a dog and drive out West: Idaho and Oregon specifically. I was smart in some ways, very stupid in others: I was still a kid. After a self-imposed semi-exile from my longtime friends at school (I thought I was punishing them as well as myself, but I don't think they noticed that much that I was gone from the group--but this is another story/lesson), I was pretty much back into the fold by summer, after graduation. And I was out with them: Jim, Randy, Bill, Rick, Dave. There was a party somewhere in Urbandale, not at someone's house but at some rented room like one would for an anniversary or birthday or bar mitzvah (though we knew nothing of bar mitzvahs, any of us, as there were no Jews in Urbandale [that we knew of] just as there were no asians or blacks or much of any ethnic diversity [okay, there was one asian girl, Alice, and there was one black girl, but that was pretty much it for a suburb of Des Moines in the late 70s]) and in this room were only fellow former students of our class.
Now, I'd had beer. I'd had wine and whiskey and such. My parents were no teetotalers. In fact, they were heavy drinkers in their way--nah, strike that, they were heavy drinkers--so I'd had sips and gulps since childhood and there was always beer and such at the house and I'd had a few beers since turning eighteen, but only a few. But I'd never been drunk.
Well, at the strange party I drank beer after beer. I had been quiet and invisible for most of my high school years--at least invisible to the movers and shakers, that upper echelon of cliques in the tiered world of high school--and a lot of the popular people, guys mostly, were there. But, becoming drunk, I was doing just fine. (I'd also changed a bit--again my luck, my sense of being late--just out of high school: my acne (a great thorn in my side, the bane of my life) had dissipated, I had put a lot of pettiness behind me very quickly since school was done, I was more vocal and personable. So, I was holding my own and somehow became the focus of attention as music blared and they all encouraged me to chug a beer. Me! And so I obliged.
Now, do I think they purposely encouraged me so that I'd get drunk and make a fool of myself?
They had no idea I'd never been drunk. They encouraged me because they too were drunk and that's what young males do, the only difference here was that I was new to this game, this bonding through drink and objectification of women and such. So, I drank it up! And, I was quite drunk by the time the party broke. A good chunk of the boys decided to head to the Urbandale Country Club to sneak into the pool for a swim. I recall Dave was driving (Dave was one of my earliest friends, since junior high, and his father was the Mayor of Urbandale (seriously)) and Dave had his dad's Cadillac. I was full bore drunk by then and I rode in teh back seat as we charged out to the country club (a place alien to me except that I'd gone a few times with Dave, as his family was a member) and they all clambered out of their cars and climbed the fence in order to swim. Me? I was too far gone, feeling quite sick, so I only made it to the top of Dave's Caddy, where I sprawled out like a wounded soldier and groaned. I wasn't very aware of things and in other ways I was very aware. So, I rolled and moaned on top of the car and then I eventually began to vomit.
I threw up great hanks of slime and chunky beer-swum vomit and--so very unfortunately for poor dave (or poor Dave's father--the car's windows were open below me. So, on top of the Cadillac I threw up down the side of the car and into the open window. Ah. I was out of it. I'd never been drunk, had never vomited because I was drunk, I thought little of it other than the vomiting made me feel a bit better.
I don't recall everything after that. I know dave was not happy. I know we went to Gary M's house but I was wasted. They--the classmates who I did not care too much for (though I always liked gary and he was always good to me)--my erstwhile classmates of 76 put me tenderly to bed, treated me quite nicely, were very amused that I had thrown up into the open windows of a Caddy and there I was.
In the morning I woke up feeling 100% horrible. I did not like standing up. My mouth was dry, tongue swollen, my skull was like a washing machine at full tilt. But it was my stomach that pained me the most (I've always felt things through my stomach, be it worry or heartache or what-have-you). I did rise and make it out of doors. I knew where I was and why. No one else was around. It was still somewhat early--maybe nine or so, maybe seven--and I felt strange as well as sick. My world--the simple world of Urbandale which I pretty much hated--was different, different in neither a good or worse way. Just altered somehow. And I began to walk. It was a slow painful walk, a long distance to walk, further than my walks from 65th Street to the high school, but I walked.
When I finally got home, my mother was there. She was relieved to see me. Of course I had not called and I had never before failed to come home, but my parents were not the over-worrying type, they assumed we kids knew to keep ourselves alive. Still she was relieved and pretty quickly made the correct assumption why i was struggling home at nine in the morning. I told her i was sick, that I had been drunk. She was not angry. She told me I was hungover.
"I'm not hungover," I protested. "I'm sick. My stomach hurts."
She laughed.
"That's what a hangover is," she informed me.
Ah. All that time I'd only seen hangovers through the lens of TV and the movies and in those it was always the recipient's head that was in pain. But, there, I learned that wasn't true.
Well. Though I'm often late to things, I'm rather glad for it. It's like when you have kids and in those early years people prattle on about when your child or their child first learns to walk or talk or even sit up and as a parent you'll fret over it until it happens and then it's forgotten for the most part. The thing is, they learned, it happened and now on to the next threshold. So, I'm glad I took my time. My brain and body had a good while to develop and strengthen before I learned to destroy it. My emotional state--always a bit iffy with me--had time to strengthen also before I involved myself in the trials of humanity. So, I'm okay. And now, on to the next rite of passage . . .

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Washing My face In A Cold River: Seattle 1987

Just a short memory as today is cold and the water from the tap--normally warm down here where I live--is coming out cold. What I recall is a time I went camping in the rain forest in the Olympic Mountains. This was with Matt and Brock and, just east of Forks or wherever, we went into the National Park and to the rain forest and there was no one else there save one lone camper who had tons of collected wood and had stored it beneath plastic tarps although while we were there it did not rain in the rain forest. It was damp, grey-skied, a place full of huge trees and tree limbs and the thick drapery of moss, slugs and fungi. It was quiet and the trails led through the trees and over white-rushing streams and up mountainous hills. But what I'm thinking of is the morning I awoke and--this was a primitive camp--there was no running water, so I took my wash cloth and my bar of soap and went down to the river--the Hoh River, I think--and dipped my hands in it and it was ice cold! But, I wanted to wash up (I was somewhat fastidious about washing my face, a leftover from my teen years of bad acne), so I went ahead and lathered up (yes, I know you are not supposed to put soap in a fresh river, but really, this was a bar of soap and this river was fast and wide and I hardly considered it to be a pollutant) and I washed my face with that achingly cold water. Fresh water. Snowmelt/rain water. And it wasn't just the water, but it was the fact that I was more or less alone in a great woods leaning into a big cold river with woods and mountains and the gray un-raining sky above me. That's what I recall and miss.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Weirdest Place I Have Ever Been: Jonesborough 1968

By weirdest I'm totally talking about within my own vision. The people who lived in small towns, the people who lived in Jonesborough in 1968, would not have seen it as strange. I know that. But I was a kid of, what?, 11 years old or some such when we moved from the Pacific West Coast, from Washington, and into that little tiny burg in semi-Appalachia Tennessee.
For us--at least Mother, Oldest Brother, Second Oldest Brother, me, Sister and Younger Brother--it was a shock to the system. We went from a bedroom community of Portland, Oregon, a burgeoning town with ties to Seattle, to a smaller than small town in the almost deep south. In the late Sixties! We did not understand the history, the customs, and almost the language . . . Ah, I'll explain later.

LATER: much later. Trying to pick this thread back up but suffice it to say that the United States of the 60s and early 70s was not the homogenized, restaurant and retail chain, cable TV/Internet/cell phone connected country that we live in today. We were all midwesterners and, though my parents were not sophisticates by any means, both from small towns in the midwest (Red Oak, Iowa; Arlington, South Dakota) and we kids had been born in Sioux Falls and had a bit of the west coast in us from Vancouver [not L.A. or San Fran or even Seattle], but it was still a shock to the system to have landed in a small burg like Jonesborough--even Johnson City would have been shocking enough. It was world still wrapped in racism and small thinking, one of rural sensibilities, it was like a foreign country in the sense that the language was different, the food was different (how many hot school lunches did I have that were simple beans or cheese toast, collard greens?), the people were different. That's not to say I disliked the people or even, eventually, the culture. I grew to like it in many ways, but more in Johnson City than Jonesborough; I adapted--perhaps more than my brothers and sister, perhaps not as much as my father who liked it, over all. But it was--the small town of Jonesborough, where I did return briefly in the eighties with Fru, a quick car trip for a look-see when I lived with her in Champaign, and where it had changed and was a charming little southern town, pretty and unassuming with a cafe and bed and breakfast and antique shops and such--the damned weirdest place I'd ever lived.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Pet Hammerhead Shark: Fort Lauderdale 1997

First Daughter always loved animals. Sure, she liked cats and dogs (she still does like cats, dogs not so much), but she really loved elephants and giraffes when she was young. She also liked things like anteaters, bats, lizards, armadillos, tapirs, and other creatures. But all of this was mainly when she was very young, when we lived in Illinois.
We moved to Florida and she started school and then there were other interests--friends and cartoons, music, Pokemon. She still liked animals and was interested in them, but the pull of them was less so. So, a year after our move, when we bought our house after renting one in Victoria Park for a year, I was a little surprised when she started going on about hammerhead sharks.
She really really liked hammerheads. We took her and Second Daughter to the Museum of Science and Discovery and there they had a bonnethead shark--very similar to a hammerhead but much smaller--and that fascinated her. At some point she asked if she could have a pet hammerhead. I said, "Sure. I'll build an aquarium in the back yard." Of course I was joking.
I guess the point of this memory is that I was very surprised to find that she had taken me seriously. She really expected me to build the aquarium and get her a hammerhead shark. I had thought the she knew I was being fatuous in my comment (she even knew the word facetious, she knew by then my sense of humor and irony), she was six or seven and so I had assumed she would not conceive of the idea that we could have a 100 to 1000lb shark as a pet. But it turns out that I was the one who was wrong.
She took the news well that she would not be getting a pet hammerhead. I explained the impossibility of it and she understood. No biggie. But then, for her birthday, I surprised her and got one!
Not really. Just being facetious.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Guy at School, Once Again: Urbandale 1971

I'm thinking about how I started 7th grade in Iowa, how we moved mid-year from Tennessee to Des Moines (Urbandale) and, once again, I was a new guy at school. I'd been a new guy before and so it wasn't traumatic or unusual for me. I'd started kindergarten in Sioux Falls, the 1st grade in Vancouver. We'd moved mid-year from Washington to the little town of Jonesborough, TN during my 4th grade and I adapted to those very strange surroundings. Then, while in Tennessee, I'd changed schools from Jonesborough to the Cherokee county school and then the Johnson City school before Iowa. Still, there's an oddness and stigma to be new, especially in mid-year.
I started attending the 7th grade at Urbandale Junior High (now it's called middle school, I believe) right before the Xmas break, but we didn't move into our house till the new year so in many ways I started the first of the year. I recall within my first day I had some girl pass me a note from some other girl who wanted me to "like"her, she described herself and where she sat in this class, etc etc. I was new. I didn't know what to make of it, so, I ignored it. She and her friend--who had passed the note--then took a disliking to me for, really, about the rest of my years in that school system. Huh. I was assigned a locker and my locker mates--two false tough kids--didn't care for that, so they changed the locks on me, threw my stuff out, etc. I complained and got that settled--don't remember exactly how. I was not adverse to fighting, physically, but did find that I was a bit cowed by all the newness in this new world--not just the new school, but entering into that phase of life known as adolescence. I think middle school is probably the worst years of a person's life, in many ways. This was before they tried to educate kids (and parents) about the difficulties and changes, about the steep pitfalls that befall many young people in those years.
The school systems themselves were quite different. In Tennessee, I was used to regular rooms and then going to classes. Academic expectations were not high. I was basically in a country system, full of rural boys and girls. In Iowa, they had open classrooms, where we all gathered together then split up into sections within a giant room to be taught separate subjects. They were further along than I was and I had become shy, internal, subdued by it all. I tolerated school. I felt more displaced than I had--in many ways--than in Tennessee, even and still longed for the days on the west coast in Washington (which I still considered my true home).
But more than anything, I think it was just the physical and hormonal changes that affected me in those days and the years to come, until about the end of my senior year or even a year or tow after--for me, probably until about the ages of 19 or 20, believe it or not.
It still amazes me to come across teens who are self-confident and capable, who engage well with both adults and their peers. I get ticked off when I see movies--or, less often, read books--about teens or pre-teens who are crafty and quick-witted, who confound adults and the adult world and can accomplish many things (perhaps that's why these teen movies are popular, they provide the fantasy of being able to outwit and outshine the adult world). To this day I such find such confident teen behavior--whether fictionalized or empirically derived--abnormal and always expect teenagers to be shy and clumsy and to do very stupid things.
Maybe that was just me.