Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Societal Claustrophobia: San Blas, Mexico

I didn't start out thinking about San Blas. I started thinking about this place--where I live now--and then about Missoula, Montana and then about San Blas. They are all pretty much small towns.

Small towns--or medium-sized towns, which is more apt to Missoula and this place--can be good and they can be, yes, not so good. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. Seeing the same people day in and out, going about the same circles and having not so many outlets for change, surprise, stimulation--that's what's not so good. Small towns, medium-sized towns, small cities, they can become claustrophobic for sure.

I'm already tired of this place.

And as I recall, I got tired of Missoula the same way.

Now, Missoula has grown some since I and my wife lived there (as has this place) and it does have the mountains, the forests, a river and other natural amenities. Has some cool restaurants and bars and people as well. Like this place, it has a university. And I would take Missoula without a nanometer of a doubt over this place But, after a while and especially in winter (like this place) one can feel quite trapped. Hence the need to go to Mexico.

So, in 1990 or thereabouts, I went to Mexico on my own. And one place I ended up was a very small seaside town named San Blas, in Nayarit not far from Tepic, on the Atlantic coast . . . And was it a nice town? Yes it was. It was a great little town and only semi-known among the tourist trade.

I believe I've mentioned this little story once before. In Missoula, I worked at The Old Town Cafe, which is not there anymore. It was a popular place serving breakfast and lunch, diner style, and then sometimes dinner. It had a lot of regulars. I mean a lot. I waited tables and got to know those regulars, whether I wanted to or not. So, some of my escape from Missoula to Mexico was to get away from the same old faces as well as routines. Ahhhhh. I had met a guy, Francis, on the trip (Francis and I are great friends to this day). So, Francis and I were on the beach after a couple of days in San Blas and I'm having a beer and it's nice and who should walk up on that beach?

A couple of regulars from The Old Town cafe in Missoula.

That's who.

Sure they recognized me. We talked a little bit. They were a youngish couple and were going to go to Guatemala, they said. Okay. Best of luck. See you back in town.


Well, I still had fun but that was just plain weird. Societal Claustrophobia can follow you around.

I think of all of this because winter is setting in here with its cold and dark and I'm sick of this place. I never wanted to come here but I did and many times I regret that decision. If my mother had not fallen ill--had not died at the time that she did--I may have never shown my face here to begin with despite all the serious implications that would involve . . . Anyway. Recently I was in the kitchen in a quiet house slowly putting dishes away from the dishwasher and I had to stop and think and wonder what the hell I was doing.

Why was I here?

Why didn't I just go?

This is not, was not, should not be who I am. This is not the future I thought I'd signed up for.

Yes, I have no one to blame but myself for all of that, but I have only certain ways to change it unless I want to blow up the whole paradigm. And that day in the kitchen, I was thinking of how to blow up the whole paradigm. I don't know, but something is going to have to give. Or take. Or forced.

Claustrophobia of the soul, I guess.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Went out to get the Sunday New York Times and there was a little frost on the ground--well, on the un-raked leaves in the shade. It's a sunny morning and I slept in a bit.

But that made me think of my kids--my two girls--and the first time they recognizably saw frost on the ground. You see, though both girls were born in Central Illinois and had experienced both frost and snow as well as hail and ice and cornfields and soybean fields and--well, all that Central Illinois has to offer, shall we say--they didn't really remember it. Mercifully or not, they couldn't recall it because when they were very young we moved to South Florida.

So, one of the first times we were driving back to Illinois for a holiday--maybe Thanksgiving but more likely Christmas--we stopped for the night in Georgia, probably south or north of Atlanta. (We always drove not flew--some of that just out of stubborn habit.) We pulled into a Super 8 or some such place late at night, off the highway among a few other some-such-places and Waffle Houses and their ilk. Slept. Got up semi-early. At this exit there was still a stand of trees and a plot or two of land that had not been turned over to an American restaurant or motel chain and that stretch of earth and trees was just filled with frost.

The frost was thick and unexpected. It lay like silver, like crushed glass, along the hard ground and under the bare trees. Even to my wife and I it was a surprise, kind of a wonder in its way. But to the girls--who had not felt cold air, seen their breath in that air, had not seen or felt snow or ice on a landscape in all their memories--it was the most stupendous thing.

So we spent some time walking among the frost and touching it and explaining it. I think when we did cross the Ohio River there was snow in Southern Illinois and we stopped at a rest area and they played in that. But that morning in Georgia where the frost was a crystallized unknown under a morning sun, that--I think--was more exciting. Exciting for them, but also exciting for my wife and I--seeing the world again through their eyes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Paper Route: Urbandale 1974

I never had a paper route as a kid. I had a paper route for a couple of months at the age of thirty while in Missoula, Montana--a second job, more or less, to make money for a trip to Mexico. But that's not what I'm thinking about. My friend at the time, Mark Neil, he had a paper route and I subbed for him at times.

It's early morning, still dark, the cold and wetness of October now overtaking what is left of summer. That's today. Right now. And I was up--as usual--and went outside to put the trash and recycling out and for whatever reason, the look and smell and feel of that small moment made me think of Mark and his paper route, or more specifically, of my subbing for his route.

It was a morning route. It was in a part of Urbandale I was not really familiar with at that time--from Prairie Street to Douglas Avenue, across to Oliver Smith Drive and then down to 86th Street (as best I can recall). I really hadn't quite adapted to being in Iowa--well, I hadn't really quite adapted to adolescence or high school or wha-thave-you--and any experience out of my norm heightened my senses (and I was a sensitive person) . . . Anyway, it was a morning route. It was the dead of winter. Mark walked me through the route once, maybe twice, before I took over. I was not a morning person, had never really worked before, was not used to being out on my own at that time of day. Or should I say night? because it was dark. Streets were empty. It was quiet. Snow was banked along the road, buildings, sidewalks.

There was certainly some fear on my part--fear of the unknown, fear perhaps of entering adult activities (work, responsibility, being alone, the making of money) but it was not an acknowledged fear, really and it was also the novelty of being up and in the dark with a duty to execute, it was the newness of the experience. That's what I'm thinking of and how that experience--even this morning, even a good forty years after the fact--still sticks with me. Or resurrects itself within me given the right conditions. That's all I'm really thinking of here--at least I think that's all I'm thinking of.

Yes, there were some events on that week or two I subbed for him and upon consequent ones when I did it--maybe only three times at the most. mark and I were decent friends early on in school, not so much later, and then not at all by the time high school was gratefully over with. I have no idea what happened to him other than his younger sister--who I eventually saw a few times at the University of Iowa--told me he'd gone into the military or was ROTC or some such. (I knew his mother half-way well and would see her now and then, or a few times, at the Merle hay Mall where I had a reoccurring job at Yonkers for many years.) Okay. I'm losing my thread here or making a longer one than intended . . . Events. Paper route. Dark cold mornings. Let's see: I messed up his route; delivered papers to the wrong person for a while, not delivering to the right. Mark had never made a mistake and I blew his perfect record. (Sorry, Mark!). I was once cornered by a barking dog (I had a fear of dogs at that time) and knocked on a customer's door and a man came out in his t-shirt and threatened the dog with his fist and the dog shrank away and I felt very and rightfully foolish and there were a few other things. The route started with an apartment building and I always felt strange in its eerie hallways with its too-bright lights. I don't know. I was a weird kid.

So, that's it. Another small memory of no real importance, except that it is what it was, was what it was, as best I can recall.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Death of Your Parents

I don't really want to write about the deaths of my parents. The demise, the death (singular) of my, your, our parents. Who wants to think or write about such things, really. But, it's there.

My mother died two years ago. My father has been gone for twelve years now. I and my four siblings grew up in a tight--if not completely close--family. We were the typical nuclear family of the 50s and 60s--we had limited contact with extended family, lived away from the places my parents had grown up in, our parents did not divorce, we all had food and shelter and education and we all went on to college.

I don't want to get into the specifics of their deaths--at least not at this time, in this post, at this hour. I don't even know why I chose this topic to write about when I don't even want to. It's not that I'm upset or in denial. By no means am I traumatized by their deaths. And I know that, when parents are gone it means that, essentially, you are next in line.

That's life. That's death.

I have my own children and they too will have to cope with the deaths of my wife and I. I certainly hope that will be the case. Anyway, this is a morbid subject and again I don't know why I chose it. Or it chose me, this morning.

Maybe I'm feeling the pull of uncertainty regarding my own age--what will it be like from here on out? How much health do I have down the stretch? How long is that stretch? . . . Bah. I rarely think that way. But maybe that will change, too. I'll come back to this with specific experiences at some point in this blog, at "somewhere down the stretch" . . .

Mortality. Morality. Morbid. Moribund.

You are born to die.
Every soul becomes extinct.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Seattle In Bits And Pieces

I finally made it back to Seattle. My wife and two daughters and I flew in from Chicago a couple of years ago. 2012, I guess. Summer. June.

We stayed at the Edgewater Hotel. We stayed only about three days before renting a car and driving down to Oregon and then on to Missoula, Montana . . . Anyway, Seattle.

Although my wife and kids and I did most of the requisite things while in Seattle (Space Needle, Pike Place Market, seafood--including geoduck--and riding the monorail) I also got up earlier than them each morning and walked about 'the old haunts', as they were, by my lonesome.

The 'Old Haunts As They Were' consisted of Lower Queen Anne, basically. I mean, I'd visited and stayed in Seattle as a young boy, with my family, when we lived in Vancouver, but that was then and my memory was better in my late twenties when I lived briefly in Lower Queen Anne with Brock and Matt on First Avenue West. So they were not the haunts of boyhood (if boyhood can have haunts) but rather the haunts of young adulthood . . . Of course my wife and I were married in Seattle--Gethsemane Lutheran Church downtown, March 1989--and spent our first honeymoon nights at Inn At The Market. We also visited often enough when we lived in Montana--so there are those haunts as well and we visited them together, in June 2012. We showed and told our kids . . .

So, I would get coffee at a shop near Seward park where I used to run. I ran because I'd just left Theresa (back in Florida) and had dropped out of the Iowa Writers Workshop (back in Iowa) and had driven by myself from the panhandle of Florida to L.A. to Seattle and I was very much adrift. This was 1987, if I remember correctly. But, back to 2012: coffee, a look at Puget Sound, then I'd trudge uphill in the cool/hot humidity to see what I used to see.

The Seattle Center--still there of course and one of the few places I can indeed connect to my boyhood. Queen Anne Boulevard, before the big hill, but most of the places I hung out were gone: The Ginza, Sorry Charlie's, The Sea Otter. I think Dukes was still there (I'd worked there for a while, not hung out) and the Irish Pub close to Dukes which I can't recall the name of . . . . But, the best of those places, was still there. The Mecca.

The Mecca was good for corned beef hash, for bloody mary's, beer, simple quiet eating and drinking. I think you could still smoke inside back then and Brock, Matt and I would go there often and sit in the booths and roll our own Drum cigs and eat, drink, talk, tell each other lies, believe in our own fantasies because to do otherwise would be too depressing. I did go to the Mecca and had corned beef hash )I couldn't finish my plate) and had a bloody mary (finished that) and read The Stranger. But I was alone. My wife and kids were back in bed at The Edgewater.

I visited the old apartment on First Avenue West, only it was completely gone and in its place was a spanking new bank of condos. It used to be an old house next door to ADSCO Print which was owned by Brock's father. Brock's father--a really nice guy, as is Brock--also owned the old house with the upstairs apartment. The bottom of the house was used for storage for the business except for the kitchen. The upstairs had no kitchen so we'd have to cook downstairs, take our food out the front door, go to the door that led upstairs, take our food up the steep narrow stairs and eat it there in the living room. What fun. I remember being up there where there was a large picture window (more or less) that looked out towards the Seattle Center (and the Space Needle) which was only a few blocks away. I remember seeing once a family park their car in the street--a man, woman, two small kids--who were headed for the Seattle Center with its museums and amusement rides, its gardens and Space Needle and such. They had no idea I was upstairs watching them and when the woman got out, she had to pause for a moment and then she vomited in the street. She did this ver calmly and nonchalantly and it took awhile for me to understand that she was pregnant (Again!) and that this was just normal for her. I still recall this, though it's not a big thing. Yet maybe it's because it finally gave me a inkling as to what women go through and men never do.

I walked to the old Safeway store that didn't look old anymore--where we used to buy cases of cheap Heidelberg beer (Rainier beer when we were feeling rich) and boxes of cheap fatty bacon bits-and-pieces that we'd cook up and toss into giant pots of grits. Mmmm. Dinner, not breakfast. Out the front door and in the side door and up the stairs . . . Anyway, there was really only one house left on the block and, lo and behold, it was Jerry Smith's grandma's old house. the house was empty and had a condemned sign on it. No doubt--two years later now--it has been torn down and there is a very nice condo (condos--os--I should say) there.

I went to the Metro market and wandered street. Did not go up the hill to see if the S&M Market was still there. Did not go other places. The revolving pink elephant car Wash sign was still there on Denny Way.

I could live in Seattle. A lot of people could live there and do live there. It's an expensive place, like most cities these days. I could and would live there but I doubt that I ever will.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pay Phone Call

I guess there is now a generation of people who hardly know what a pay phone is, let alone what a phone booth is. But I remember a time where I lived with no phone at all.

I'm not sure we had a phone in Seattle. I didn't have a phone in New York, but there was a phone in the sublet. There must have been a phone in Santa Fe. I know we had a phone in L.A. and certainly my wife and I had a phone in Montana.

But I'm thinking of the Florida panhandle--Grayton Beach, Seaside, Seagrove Beach--of south Walton County. I'm not sure, when Brock, Matt and I lived in that stilt house in "New Grayton", that we had a phone, but perhaps we did. I do know that when I returned to that area I did not.

What I'm specifically thinking of is when I came back maybe the third time to south Walton County and I lived with Brad for a spell, a place east of Seagrove but west of Panama City, and found a job painting houses close to Destin--some place called Topsail, if I remember right. This was all after the fiasco with Teresa, with the Iowa Writers Workshop and being in Seattle. If I remember right . . .

What I do remember right is stopping now and then at a lonely pay phone near the beach to call my parents.To reassure them that I was okay, working, that I was still alive. It was a pay phone near a quiet road under ragged live oak trees. It was not a phone booth. I'm not sure why it was located there, as it was not connected to a store or gas station or such. I'd usually call at night, once a week or two weeks--maybe on my way home from work or coming back from the little store in Seagrove Beach--and the phone had a single light above it and the road would be carless, the landscape desolate in its way. Quiet. Dark. Wind blowing in off the Gulf. The smell of the Gulf and trees and decaying plants and, well, just the sounds and smells peculiar to that region, to the proximity of that heat and saltwater and plant material, the southern sandy loaminess . . . And here I was, not exactly immune to loneliness, making  a brief call to Des Moines, talking to my mother, my father, standing in the cone of light cast over the phone, feeling the aloneness, the alienness of where I was compared to where I had come from, that sense of both failure and survival, of renewal and end-of-youth ennui. I guess. Or, it was just a sad little phone call to my folks at night from a pay phone near the beach.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Old Mornings, With Eggs

I'm thinking mainly of Vancouver, Washington here, but it would also be a little of Sioux Falls, SD and Johnson City/Jonesborough TN and, I suppose, Urbandale/Des Moines IA. I'm thinking mainly of my mother, in the morning, cooking eggs. I'm thinking early, me lying in my bed, trying to stay asleep while the dread builds within me knowing I have to get up and go off to school. (I hated school for most of my life--unfortunate but true.)

We were a family of seven--five kids--in a not very large house. I could hear my mother rise most of the time, hear my father, smell coffee, then smell the eggs. Sometimes bacon or sausage--but almost always eggs. My mother in the little kitchen frying on the little stove those little eggs over-easy for my father, eggs with butter, salt, pepper, turned and cooked at a high temp so that the edges burned brown to black. And if she cooked we kids eggs later it would be in that same pan and the eggs would get progressively darker, crisper on the edges depending in what order your serving fell. And peppery.

My mother was not the best of cooks. I miss my mother's cooking.

My father had a loud voice. My mother and father had a sometimes contentious relationship. Not a volatile one by any means, but there were arguments, a daily yelling of instructions if not true insults. So I would hear that each morning. And I could hear my father drink his coffee as he sat at the table with my mother at the stove frying his eggs. Slurrrp. Ahhh. Slurrp. Ahh. Slurrp. Ahh. Like that. Repetitious and constant and familiar as anything in the morning.

That was mainly weekday mornings. Maybe weekends were not that much different, though we'd be more likely to eat all together at times on weekends. Or, we kids would eat our bowls of sugar-cereal and line up in front of the TV to watch cartoons. Cartoons cartoons cartoons: Saturday mornings. More sugar than eggs.

Then there were the days when we were going on vacation. Vacation meant a long car trip somewhere. My father was a firm believer in an early start and that meant getting up well before dawn, having my mother cook eggs for everyone before dressing and packing and getting in the car--all seven of us--and rambling off in the just-before-dawn light to whatever destination we were destined for: The Black Hills or Red Oak, IA; Yellowstone or Crater Lake; Myrtle Beach or the Smokey Mountains; Arlington, SD or Leech Lake, MN. But being up so early with the clear purpose of hitting the road was kind of exciting. Eating eggs at four or five in the morning was also special--a full stomach for a full day's drive. My father would also buy a loaf of ham sandwiches to eat along the way--a time-saving and economical lunch, I suppose. Thin ham on thin white bread with butter. That was it.

Those mornings. These mornings. You can't stop morning's arrival. What's past is gone, what's coming will be gone as well. And it's best not to think about it for too long. Eat some eggs. Slurp your coffee. Get out of the house and soon it will be afternoon.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Pacific Once Again: 2011

I had lived in Florida for close to seventeen years and could drive five or ten minutes to the Atlantic. But the Pacific was the ocean of my childhood and I had not seen the Pacific Ocean for twenty-one years or so.

In 2011, Fru and I went out to Oregon, to Bend, which is inland over the Cascades. We were there--Fru was there--for a job possibility. I convinced her, before we left, flying out of Portland, to drive to the coast for one night.

And so we did.

I chose Lincoln City and picked out a place called the Coho Lodge. I didn't know either place. As a kid, we used to drive down from Vancouver, WA to Tillamook and other spots in Oregon, and had been along most of its coast and a lot of California's coast and, of course, Washington's, but that was so long ago and, as I said, i was just a kid.

So we went over the Cascades, through Corvallis, through the costal range and into Newport. And there was the ocean, the Pacific. And I drove us upwards--north--through Depot Bay and into Lincoln City.

Lincoln City was a crowded town, a bit haphazard, but I didn't care. Our room at the Lodge, which was small, in elegant yet pleasant enough, looked out upon the ocean I'd come to see.

We went down to the water. We went out to eat at a place along the water. The next morning I wanted to go back down to the beach and the water.

"You're like a little kid," Fru said about my impatience as I waited for her to come with me that morning, waited to get down the bluff to the beach with its dark cold sand and wave-carved rocks.

Yes. I guess I was.

I don't know. It was just nice to see it. Smell it. Touch it. It's just a name--The Pacific Ocean--but it was a name, a huge body of water, that meant something to me nonetheless.

It was, you know, just good to see it again after all that time away.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Michigan 1988

In the summer of 88 I was working concrete construction in Champaign, Illinois. I worked with a number of good guys, but my best friend from that job was Kurt Strube.

At some point in the summer, I mentioned that I'd like to go to Michigan because I'd never been to Michigan. So, Kurt and I decided to go.

We only had the weekend, so there wasn't much time to get very far into the state. I'd wanted to go to Traverse City, to Mackinac Island, to the U.P. and places of the far north. But, looking at a map, I settled for a state park north of Muskegon.

Yes, we planned to camp.

But first off, Strube wanted to go to Holland, MI because he had an old friend--who used to work concrete construction in Champaign--who had moved there. So, we went to Holland.

No cell phones in those days, but Kurt had his number and he used a pay phone at some strip mall to call this guy and this guy said he'd come meet us at said strip mall. We waited and the guy walked right past us until Kurt made a quacking sound which was some kind of inside joke between them. Anyway, the guy was okay, kind of wacky like Kurt himself. I'm not sure what we did: drove around to see the town, known for its tulips (I think), drank a few brews at a bar and played pool.

Evening came and we told him we wanted to camp. The guy said he knew a place. we followed him there.

The place was some bottomland beneath a bridge along a river. It had weeds and trees and lost of junk.

Now, I don't mind camping, don't even mind sleeping in a car or truck, but I don't usually sleep beneath bridges in strange towns or even in familiar towns. But, this place was just fine with Kurt.


It was summer. It was hot. There were tons of mosquitos. Who knew what kind of people came to a place like that beneath the bridge--evidence said people who drank beer and whiskey and dumped bulk trash and had furtive sex. But, again, this was fine with Kurt.

I elected to sleep in the vehicle--I think we took his truck, but maybe it was my ugly Ford maverick. Strube wandered around the detritus and picked out an old soggy stained mattress that someone had dumped in the weeds.


So, he slept out there with the mosquitos and who knows what. I slept in the car with the mosquitos and, at least to some degree, I knew what.

Nothing happened beyond that, so the next day we drove up to Muskegon and past and to the campground of Silver Lake State Park, which was more to my liking and which was fine with Kurt.

We camped. Went swimming in the lake. Climbed dunes to see the bigger lake--lake Michigan. Later that evening we drove out to some bar.

The bar was next to a concert venue. The band Aerosmith was playing at that concert venue. There were crowds. In the bar some motorcycle guys wanted to play pool. We played pool. The biggest of them said to me: If I was going to fight you, I'd have to knock you out really quick because I'm in too bad shape to fight for very long.

I didn't feel too threatened by that statement, but it did give me pause to think . . . Anyway, they were okay and we went out with them to stand along the fence as the Aerosmith concert wound down.

There were security people around this chain link fence. The motorcycle guy--who mentioned his need to knock me out quickly--asked the security guy how he could stop him if we rushed the fence to get in to the concert. I personally had no plans to rush the fence, but it was nice of the motorcycle guy to include me.

Well, we didn't rush the fence.
I didn't get knocked out.
I didn't sleep on an abandoned mattress under a bridge.
I did finally go to Michigan.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dear Non-Readers: Repetition

The problem--or, a problem--with an inconsistent blog such as this, one that has gone on for years now at its own erratic pace, is that I can't always recall what I have written about previously. Oh, I could search through the titles, the archives, of my own stuff, but I'm too lazy to even do that. Also take into account that this blog sat idle for over a year (2012) and that I've been very busy with other, more serious writing projects, and the fact that--though I still (by my own estimation) have at least a decade in me before I assume the title of an Old Man--my mind is not quite as sharp as it used to be, then the repeating of some stories is bound to happen.

Tow of the last three posts, I felt in my gut, are such repetitions. I have not bothered myself to check for sure, nor will I. This blog is still, basically, an off-the-cuff kind of thing. And, with the Missouri Rules I imposed (or, de-imposed) upon the resurrection of this project, well, I'll just run with it however it turns out. (This also explains why I've let many miscues and typos and grammatical errors slide.) (It's always handy to have an excuse.)

So, Dear Non-Readers, bear with me.

And yes, I still have no readers.

And yes, it still suits me just fine.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Biggest Fish: Fort Lauderdale 2009

I am not a fisherman. Yes, I've fished--as a kid on the lakes of South Dakota and Minnesota, in the streams and creeks of Iowa; a little bit in the rivers of Montana, more on the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico and on the bayside of the Keys in Florida. But, I'll say again, I am not a fisherman.

I was back down in Fort Lauderdale just over a week ago. Stayed with Billy. Francis came down from Montreal and stayed at Billy's as well . . . Billy is a fisherman. Francis also, though not a saltwater one like Billy. But it was the three of us, maybe five years ago (the actual year is fuzzy, so I'm only making a guess on 2009), who went out on Billy's small Boston Whaler one gray morning to catch fish and hooked The Biggest Fish, one that Billy still talks about to this day.

As mentioned, it was a gray day, cool for Florida, spittles of rain. It was also rough--especially for a small boat like Billy's worn-down Whaler. Yet, out we went, bouncing high over the wake of freighters and cruise ships and tugs in the passage out of the port, then bouncing, pitching, popping among the cresting waves of the sea that day. I don't know--four to six feet. The waves did not come regular, rather they came at odd and divergent angles, piling into each other to create diamond-shaped crests that kept the boat tilted one way and another at all times. A churning sea. A washing machine sea. Few other fishermen were out there. But we were out there.

(Me? I like flat calm seas, like those in the Keys. But Billy says fishing is not good in those seas--he likes it a bit rougher. He won't sit in a boat and throw a line out along the reefs, for Snapper or Grouper or what-have-you. he only trolls, back and forth, usually south of the port, to Hollywood, Hallandale, North Miami and back, sometimes a mile or three out, six hundred to one thousand feet of water, fishing for Dolphin (Mahi mahi), Tuna, Wahoo. I've caught those fish (and Barracuda) except Wahoo, which is the fish I'd like to catch, of course . . . But we kept closer to shore that day--400, 200 ft--due to the rough seas.)

I was steering the boat when one of the lines went zinging. Billy got it and--as he usually does--handed the pole to someone else, in this case Francis. Francis was a little sea sick--what with the boat bouncing, the drinking of beer for breakfast, and the fact he was a lake fisherman. But Francis was game and he took it and he could tell it was something larger than he had ever caught before. he fought that fish--despite being seas sick--for a good half hour before Billy spelled him. And then Billy could tell that it was even a bigger fish than he had ever had. So, this was The Biggest Fish. It was a Dolphin. A Bull. Billy thought it was at least fifty pounds, maybe sixty.

I steered the boat (as said, I am not a fisherman and it was probably best I didn't take the line what with such a large fish on it, one that Billy wanted to see brought into his boat), keeping its bow forward in the tall diamond-waved sea as best I could at a very slow-to-null speed. And Billy fought that fish for a half an hour. Billy liked to see other people catch fish--he was/is generous like that and he handed the pole back to Francis who pulled and retrieved and let out line for another half hour or so and then they switched back and, after a time, switched back again.

We were out there for two hours fighting one big fish. It was a dolphin. They got it to to surface, got it close to the boat. And even though I did not take a turn, I sympathized with the fish. (Which is why I'm not a good fisherman, or a good hunter, or much of a good spider-in-the-house-killer for that matter.) That big fish wanted to live. It fought like crazy to live. So, I was of the mind that, you know, it should live--though I never said this at the time, only later that day. Billy wanted it in his boat. Francis--a year or so later, said he was for the fish as well (though I had to promise to never tell Billy this, and I have not) but I don't think because of that he didn't try hard to land this dolphin fish, I know he didn't.

Well, the fish got tired. It did not give up but eventually we got it alongside the boat. Billy got the gaff and, just as he was going to gaff this huge colorful bull---PING--the line broke.

Goodbye The Biggest Fish.

It was free and it drifted--exhausted--down into the depths.

Secretly, I was okay with that.

Billy almost jumped into the churning Atlantic after it. he pounded the gaff in the water, on the boat. he yelled and screamed and cursed, animated, excited, angry and happy all the same. Francis felt horrible for losing it. It was the biggest fish Billy would have ever had in his little boat. No doubt he was already thinking of the photos, the pride, the stories and the great big fat filets that fish would provide.

But it was not to be.

And the sad thing was that that fish--so big and now so tired--would not survive. A huge hammerhead, in fact, came slipping by not long after the fish had escaped. Billy was certain it was going to get itself a nice lunch with our fish . . . So it goes.

Yet, though the fish was not caught, the story of almost catching it has become a legend in Billy-World. It is told and retold and alluded to all the time, especially this last time when Francis was there and I was there and we went out fishing twice (we caught nothing; nothing!; not even a bite).

I still hold out hope that the fish lived. That there was no shark (I did not see it, but I know Billy did) or that the shark was not after the fish who fought so hard to survive. Who can say what happened? I can't. But the story of the fish is, perhaps, greater than the fish. It is greater. And it will live on, for Billy and Francis and me, live on in the neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale and in the minds of anyone who hears the tale and who understands it, other fishermen of that ilk.

The Biggest Fish was not caught, but its mythos survives in oral tales amongst we who know of it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Family Life 1974

I'm trying to conjure up those days when I was young, that is, a child. Not as a boy, exactly, but more those odd middle years when you are still part of the family yet also preparing to leave that family, though you don't know it. I grew up in a family of seven. Four boys, one girl, a mother and father. I was in the middle of the kids, birth-wise.

My father has been dead for close to fourteen years now. My mother gone for one and a half. My oldest brother has had heart issues, my second oldest substance abuse ones. My younger sister in no longer young and the youngest, my brother who was the baby of the family though we never called him that or thought along those terms, is also no longer young--that is, they are in their fifties. (Though, believe it or not, fifty can be young, depending on who is doing the counting.)

I have my own family--four of us--though that is starting to splinter a bit, as my kids are both late college-age. I don't mean splinter in a negative way, more in the sense that things move along as they are expected to or are going to whether you like it or not.

No, I was trying to recall my mindset, as well as physical details, from when the family I grew up in was still all together. When we--or at least I--were still dependent upon Father and Mother and had intimate history with fellow siblings. But also an age when we--or I--were on the cusp of leaving that family nest. And, it's kind of hard to do. For me, at least, those were awkward ages, those mid to late teens. I flowered later in life, I guess, or perhaps not, and was such an unhappy boy-becoming-a-young-man that I don't like to think much about those years. And so I didn't, haven't, struggle to at this time. And, in many ways, what's the point?

Does it make me sad? . . . Sure, a little. I guess one thing I think, or thought, as I tried to recall those odd years is that it is hard to believe, right now, where I am and who I am now--I mean NOW!--that that was my reality at the time. My scope of living. I don't think I had much sense of a real future in those days, a sense of what I wanted to accomplish and a belief that I would go out into the world and do it. I think I mainly fantasied about fantasy futures that included fame and adulation and probably a lot of money. And girls, no doubt. Ah, it was sad. Not as sad as losing my parents, but sad in a more epochal way--or do I mean ephemeral way? I'm not sure . . .

But I do remember the days when I was in that group and we--my brothers and sister, my mother and father, the pets, the places, the cars and furniture, friends and neighbors--when we were all together and we were all we had. I do. And that was our reality and I had no inkling of this reality and, yeah, I guess that makes me a little sad to think about it.

I don't know why.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Billy's Backyard

I wish I could do Billy's backyard justice. I hesitate to even write about it because I don't think I can quite conjure the magical low-slouching beauty of the place with my words and the great somnolent feeling of repose I have there.

Billy's backyard--like the man, Billy, himself--is in South Florida. Fort Lauderdale, to be precise. Billy was my across-the-street neighbor for, I don't know, at least fifteen years until Fru and I and my two girls moved away in 2012 . . . I spent a lot of time in his back yard. Beer drinking, fire pit sitting, BBQing, fish cleaning, shooting-the-ing. People would stop by--friends of his, visitors, our wonderful neighbors. It was always relaxing. There was always a joke. Always cold Busch beer in a can (Billy Beer, we all called it) among other comestibles.

The yard is not large. Billy's house sits on a corner and his back yard is narrow, then makes an L where his tool shed is, where his laundry/utility/fishing-poles-and-tackle/beer-and-bait-fridge room was and his screened porch with the giant aquarium. from that short L side, you can slip through the young palms and hibiscus on a short trail to get to Silvio and Michelle's yard/house--a passageway often used. The yard has dozens and dozens and hundreds and hundreds of plants. Billy loves plants. (I love plants--one of the things I miss most--if not the most--about Florida and about my house are the plants, my plants, my yard.) It has oak trees and some palms, it has orchids hanging from branches, it is fenced in with an old wooden fence. There is a green house of sorts made from pvc pipe and wire mesh where he grows all sorts of small plants, flowering plants, seedlings and such in an assortment of pots and mugs and jars and strange collectives. Some strange and collective plants there as well. The sides of the yard, along the fence and the house, festoon with greenery and flowers and some vines. And there are bird baths and bird feeders, there's an old white bathtub with hunks of coral all around it and inside the tub his turtle lives there--two turtles. There is the fish cleaning station. There used to be a big orange tree and red grapefruit tree and the fruit was there for the picking (but, alas, they were old trees and died) and there are mangoes in trees around the corner. The place is leafy and cozy and unrefined. There's a table and plastic chairs and one giant fish cooler that overflow visitors can sit on. There's uneven paving stones with duckweed growing like green grout between them. There are his two cats, visiting cats and homeless cats, there is a family of giant toads that eat the leftover cat food, there are many ants and the occasional roach, occasional rat, snakes once in awhile. The many lizards. Iguanas now and then. And the birds.

Billy likes birds. I like birds. He doesn't demand that only the prettiest birds get cared for in his yard--doves and sparrows are as welcome as orioles and owls. Blue jays are common, Cardinals come around less often. There are song birds, small ones with nice colors which I cannot name, hummingbirds, the bright yellow orioles, those little burrowing owls, ibis, vultures, hawk and osprey sometimes fly over. I have been alone in his yard at night with the lights off and have herons come, have had them fly closely under his trees and closely above my head. I had a bird land on my head once, as I sat talking to Billy. He couldn't stop laughing as I shooed it off, not knowing what the heck it was in my hair.

We did a lot of laughing. A lot of talking. Beer and more beer but also grilled meats and vegetables and fresh fish, an oyster roast, clams and shrimp, olives and cucumbers. Lots and lots and lots . . .

The few times I have been back since January 7th of 2012, I spent most of my time in Billy's back yard. It is full of plants and, yes, junk, old and rusting things, some new and rusting things, broken things, but it all fits in its lack of trying to fit.

I fit there. In Billy's backyard. Did and still do.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Between Bend and Burns: Oregon 2011

This was when Fru and I had decided not to stay in Fort lauderdale and after we knew we would not be living in New Orleans. It was a job interview in Bend, Oregon and we had a rental car and I--by myself, on one of the days there--decided to drive out into the desert, to the isolated town of Burns.

It was in September and things were quiet. The weather was nice enough. Sunny. Cool. Empty. The big white-topped mountains of the Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, among a couple of others, were visible in my rearview mirror as I drove east and out of Bend--a pretty little city with the Deschutes River and trees and flowers and such--stopping for gas in a non-town called Brothers (as opposed to the quaint burg of Sisters, OR). Then I kept going east, into the Great Empty that is Central Oregon.

Anyway, this land is desloate. Treeless. Sage brush and rocks, arroyos and sculpted hills, mountains, plateaus, all done in browns and yellows and orange, a little red, shades of purple, gray and almost-black. Few cars. Fewer people. And I don't recall exactly if it was on my drive east, or after I had turned around and headed back west, back towards Bend, but I came across an unusual sight.

Here along the road, almost at a top of a hill, was a guy walking. He wasn't just walking, he was pulling a little cart made of wood with wooden wheels that looked handmade. That looked old-fashioned, pioneer-like, prospector-ish. And the man--gaunt, sunburnt, scraggly-beared, head down to the task under the sun and in the wide nothingness--looked prospector-ish too. Pulling this wooden cart about the size of a refrigerator (and looking about that heavy, too) by hand.


And you couldn't help but wonder what that was about. What the heck was he doing out here? What was his story?  I will say that it looked like he was doing what he wanted to do. That this was his choice in life. It looked like he didn't want to be disturbed nor did he want any type of assistance. I certainly didn't stop.

So who was better off? Me, driving a rental through the nothingness on a lark, looking for a place to settle and live? Or the old guy pulling a cart, living in the slow lane, his home in a wooden cart?

I don't know.

It was just a strange sight . . . And I think I was headed back to Bend (I didn't get to Burns, not on that trip in Oregon), because I remember a car was coming in the other direction and the walking man was coming up a hill and his cart made him stick part way out into the lane of the narrow desert highway road. And so I was a little concerned that he could be hit at the crest of the incline . . . I assume he was not. I assume he may still be out there, doing his thing.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Speaking of Pets

I don't know why I woke up so early this morning--4:22 am--on a Super Bowl Sunday, sat on the couch in the dark and  began to think about the pets in my life. Pets and their names and the locations I lived in, pets from when I was a kid. Cats mostly, a few dogs, an assortment of other creatures. cats and dogs from when my parents were still alive, from when I was first married, from when my kids were little, from my own childhood. Their names. Their deaths or disappearances or their being given away . . .

I Sioux Falls there was, first, Goldie, a cocker spaniel of my father's who--after I was born, #3 out of five kids, or perhaps after my sister #4 or my brother #5--was given away to someone. I can barely recall the dog yet the day of her departure it is still a vivid image in my mind. Then there was Blackie, another cocker, again my father's dog. She lived in South Dakota and went with us when we moved to Vancouver, Washington and then she was lost at a rest stop when we traveled to San Francisco. We had a puppy that was killed. My oldest brother had a rabbit--Maximilian--for a while. We had maybe some gerbils/hamsters/rodentia of some kind, a parakeet or two. In Sioux Falls we had a cantankerous cockatiel that had been given to my mother, which she gave away.

But, starting in Vancouver, we mainly had cats. We got two or three kittens, one of which was Spunky. And Spunky disappeared. My mother always wanted a Siamese cat--a Seal Point--so we drove to Camus one day and bought a Seal Point kitten. She was named Nefertiti or some such but we kids only called her Kitty so my mother said, "At least call her Witty." and so that's what we called her. Witty lived a long time, in Washington and when we moved to Tennessee and when we moved to Iowa. In Tennessee we had a dog named Pokey, a dog named Fluffy neither of which lasted. We had a cat named Viva, who we gave away. We got another Siamese named Jason, who went to Iowa with us and who had a nasty disposition and we ended up giving him away. Then there was Ming Tai, a sweet Siamese who died of poisoning when I was away in college.

In college we briefly had cats: Sparky, Alfredo Garcia.

In north Florida I had a stray cat I named Snake. Monica's cat named Sheldon. I had cats named Lucy and Velcro.

Then I met Fru and she had a cat: M.R. . . . M.R., despite the name, was a wonderful cat--smart, sweet, gentle. She was Siamese-looking but with long fur like a Himalayan. M.R. was from New York City, originally, but lived in Champaign, Illinois and then went with Fru and I to Montana and then back to Illinois and then down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida (where she died and where I buried her beneath the royal palm in my back yard). Jack The Cat was from Montana, a sweet cross-eyed big cat with the same markings as M.R. He was run over when I brought him to Champaign. I never let a cat outside the house after that. Then we had Kitty cat Stone in Champaign--an outside cat who had been the old man's behind us until he died and no one came to get his cat. But we left him in his milieu when we moved to Florida.

After M.R.'s death my girls, age 8 and 10 maybe, maybe younger, wanted cats so we got two cats one Thanksgiving which we spent in Miami at the Standiford's. Came home with them and their names--after a bit of trial and error became Herky and Mr. T. Sister and brother. They are old cats now but we still have them. Then later--as I have posted before--we got our dog: Lia. Wonderful dog. She is here. As are two illegal cats my oldest daughter brought home and would not relinquish and kept them long enough to be part of the family. They were from South Florida but now live with us here: Bubbles and Maya. Four cats and one dog. Here.

I had lizards, a crab and stuff like that, but it's mainly the cats I remember. A few dogs. Pets . . . Why do we keep pets (beyond the initial practical reasons--hunting, security, pest control)? How is it that we associate and relate and love them and, even more so, how do they to us? Doesn't matter, really. We just do.