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.