Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Bearded Arctic Seal: Ft. Lauderdale 2007

I was working as a bridge tender on Las Olas Boulevard, above the Intracoastal and near the beach. I'd been there for quite a while by the time I saw the Bearded Arctic seal.

It was evening--my regular hours, if I remember right, were 4pm to 11pm--and I looked down in the waters below me and saw something swimming. This thing was big, dark colored, and it would come up and down out of the water. It looked like a manatee that swam like a dolphin. It didn't really look completely like a manatee, but I could not figure out what else it possibly could be in South Florida.

At my bridge the dinner cruise boats would pass through each night--ah, what were their names, names like Celebration, Carrie B, others of varying sizes (and dispositions of their captains). One of the those vessels called in (as required) to pass through the bridge and I told the captain that there was a manatee in the waters and he acknowledged that and said he'd be on the look out. I hadn't seen the "manatee" for a little while, though they were creatures who didn't travel very far very fast. And after I raised the bridge and the party boat passed, I didn't think much of it--other than it was a strange-looking manatee that I had seen.

And then, later in the week, it hit me.

That had been no manatee. That was a Bearded Arctic seal.

Now, I didn't come up with this revelation all on my own, out of nowhere, out of the blue, from the recesses of my mind. No. In the newspaper and on the television, there had been reports about a Bearded Arctic seal that had swam way, way, way too far south and was in Florida waters. In fact, they were trying to catch it because it wouldn't survive in the warm waters.

So, I put two and two together and realized that that was what I had seen. Even when I first saw it I had thought: a seal! But I'd never known South Florida to have seals. That's why I had dismissed it and gone with my manatee theory.

But, yes, I saw the lost Bearded Arctic seal.

And, by the next week, it had died.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Senior Year: Urbandale 1976

I disliked high school. Disliked it very much. The thing is, I had friends--good ones, close ones. I played football. I had fun times. I had good teachers and even enjoyed learning (despite myself)--was even, somewhat, close to a handful of teachers (Mrs. Lien for sure, Mr. York, Mr. Cedarquist, others). I also skipped a lot of days all through high school. I also hated it at times. I never quite felt that I belonged. certainly I was not among any particular group or clique--not a jock or a smacker or a nerd or, I don't know, not even an outcast--just one of the nameless numbers of people who filled up the roster of Urbandale High in the 1970s. It really wasn't that bad. Maybe I just hated myself, really, more than I hated high school. maybe not.

All I know was that by my senior year, I was ready for a change.

I quit football that year. Instead I went to work after school--Yonkers department store at the Merle Hay Mall, the stockroom. I quit my friends for the most part as well. Oh, I still saw them around, my regular group of pals, but I did less and less with them and shut myself off as time went on. I'm not sure they really noticed--they had their own lives and senior years to contend with after all . . . I was on the outs with Bob Mauk, who lived a few houses down from me and had been my first friend when we moved into the house on 65th Street (moving up from Tennessee). My best friend at the time was Kevin O'Malia, but he was in the class above ours and had graduated. I think I still hung out with him at times. I made new friends at work (Jim, Cisco, Mark, Lobsinger and more) and started to hang around with them a bit and also hung out with some new people from school--Dennis, Stokes, others--but only rather half heartedly.

A lot of the time I just hung out with myself.

I sold off my little TV that I'd had in my room. I began reading more--novels, politics. I began to take my writing more seriously and worked on it, refined it, explored it. I was sad a lot. depressed. Self-pitying, no doubt. I just wanted to get away from Iowa, from Urbandale in particular. I yearned for something more, for somewhere exotic or visually intoxicating: tropical islands, Greece, Africa, the mountain states of the West. I was frustrated. Ironically, I was doing much better at school--my grades vastly improved junior and senior years--mainly just because I found that I liked to learn.

So, senior year was one of change, of self-assesment, of desire for more. And I tried to bring that change about, even if I didn't quite know how. I was lonely yet relished that solitude. Felt sorry for myself, yet was also determined not to be like my fellow Urbandalites. Urbandalians? Urbandaleese? And really, I forged a life outside of and separate from high school my senior year. Tried new things. Came to understand myself better and, really, found a pathway that allowed me to continue, to find some value in myself.

But, eventually, before graduation, I came back to my main set of friends. I'd known them for most of my years in school. They were good guys (and they were guys all--their were few girls involved in my school days (and no doubt that had something to do with my misery)). But I reconnected with my group of friends--Larry, Dave, Bill, Randy, Jim, Bob and some others who came and went within that core circle. And later--in the years to come--I achieved some of my desires. Found, to a certain degree, what I was looking for.

But by the spring of 1976, I was back in the fold. I was with my pals . . . Like I said, I don't think they even knew I was gone.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Lonely Day: Seagrove Beach 1987

This was when I returned to the Florida panhandle for the last time. I had been back and forth to that place--South Walton County, Grayton Beach, Seagrove, Seaside, Gulf Trace, you name it--since the late summer of 1985. In that short span, I'd come to Grayton from Los Angeles, then left when things closed up for the winter, then returned in the spring instead of going to Oregon like I'd planned, then left in the fall to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop, then came back after quitting the Iowa Writers Workshop to live with teresa on the beach, then left for Seattle after quitting Teresa on the beach, then returned late summer because I could think of no where else to go.

When I came back that last time, I lived with Brad for a while. He had a place on 30-A, east of Seagrove Beach with an extra bedroom and I slept there while I looked for work. Brad, whom I had met through the job at the Paradise Cafe, was a nice guy. Funny, smiling, good-hearted and generous (yes, sometimes to a fault). I always got the sense that, inside himself, there was something to be wary about--a mean streak or simmering violence--but I had no evidence of it and, compared to anyone else in my circle (including myself) he was as nice as they come. Anyway, Brad put me up until I found work and then I moved in with Dave--whom I did not know very well--in Seagrove and then I found new work as a painter in Seaside.

Though I lived with dave, he was rarely there and he lived upstairs while I occupied the downstairs and so I essentially lived alone. Most of my friends from a year or two ago had moved on--went back to Pensacola or lived in other areas of the county or coast and had other jobs in their lives. I had yet to meet Mike and Jimmy (who would become my friends for that time period) and sometimes the lonliness would get to me.

I had my car--the much maligned powder blue Maverick--and so I could get around when I wanted to. But my problem was, I had really nowhere especially to go.

Okay--cut to the chase:

So, I was out one day, being sad and lonely, and I decided to see who was around. Now, Brad was still around and Brad's love-in-his-life was Mary. I knew Mary, but had never known her all that well. But, I did know where she lived, which was in a trailer off one of the many red dirt roads between 30-A and the bay (Choctawhatchee Bay). My understanding was that Brad and Mary had a sometimes volatile relationship (which must be where I got the sense that Brad could have something explosive within him--despite the lack of any empirical evidence; that and also the fact that his father was in prison). Anyway, I'm getting off track. Brad and Mary were sweet lovers.

So, I pulled my ugly car up into the grass at Mary's trailer, saw that her car was there. Brad's car was there. In those days, not all that many people lived in South Walton County. (Nowadays it's packed with humanoids.) You knew people by their vehicles. So, I knew they were there.

Now, I don't recall if I got out and knocked on the door, or if I just honked my horn. I do remember that I sat there in my car after trying to get them to come out. I don't know. I was bored. Lonely. I need to talk to someone, I guess. But I just sat there after a number of tries to see them. Either they weren't home or--more likely, more obviously--they wanted to be alone.

So, I continued to sit there in my car, looking out the windshield at the trailer. Waiting for what? I'm not sure, really. I mean, by now it was obvious even to me that they didn't want to come out. That they hoped I'd just leave. I knew this. Yet, I couldn't quite bring myself to put it in reverse and drive off. Again, I was lonely. So, there I sat. Doing nada. Looking. And that's when I saw the back curtain move.

Oh, it's pretty terrible--on a very small scale--but i was glad to see that curtain move.

I knew I was intruding. But I saw the curtain and then I saw Brad's face, Mary's eyes. They were checking to see if I had gone. But, like a troll, I was still there. And they knew that I had seen them.

So what could they do? They were nice people. Polite Southerners. So, they came out the door and invited me to talk to them. Or, maybe I waved to them and got out of my car. Either way, I got out and we chatted. I don't know if they invited me inside or what--can't recall. But we had a nice chat as people down there were wont to do. And then I left.

And that was it. I felt kind of badly--interrupting them, catching them hiding from me, or forcing them to acknowledge me. I was self-aware of what i was doing as I sat in my car, aware of what i had done, yet I couldn't bring myself to extricate myself from it. I was bad. Though it was a small thing. But in knowing this small thing, it let me know how pitiful I was becoming. I was the unwanted pest, it said. Pariah. Though, really, I don't think I was a pest. I doubt Brad and Mary saw me that way--they just wanted to be alone. Still, it was my self-knowledge while I sat there that gets to me--just a little bit. I laugh at it, too. No, not a pariah. Maybe not even a pest. Except maybe a little bit on that lonely day.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Marlins-Padres: Fort Lauderdale 2002

Okay, I don't know if it was really the year 2002, but it was around there. This was a baseball game. MLB. In Miami Gardens at what was once called Joe Robbie Stadium. It was the Florida Marlins--now the Miami Marlins--against the San Diego Padres.

We--my family--used to attend a few Marlins games each year. Tickets--in general--were plentiful, inexpensive and baseball was a relaxing sport to attend. We saw one Dolphins football game (I prefer football to baseball), one Miami Heat game (before Lebron James came to play for four years) and a few Florida Panthers hockey games. But we saw maybe a dozen Marlins games.

So we were there--my wife, my two daughters and I--sitting in good seats almost above the home team  dugout. Clear view. Close to the action. A sunny day. Marlins winning. My wife and older daughter were in the seats closer to the aisle, I sat next, and my youngest daughter, maybe ten or eleven, sat in the last seat. The seats beyond us in the row were empty. It was a big stadium for baseball (the Marlins now have their own place, in Miami) and you usually were not crowded . . . So, a Padre was up to bat and we were watching but also just being lackadaisical, talking, eating popcorn, drinking sodas, beer for me, not paying real close attention. And this is why I recall this game:

The Padre batter took a swing. He lost his handle on the bat. The bat comes flying. It goes over the heads of the front row fans. I'm watching this. Not quite slo-mo, but not exactly in an instant. The bat is coming towards us. Us. Towards me--no, not me, towards my younger daughter. And I'm watching. Yes, the bat is definitely coming right at my daughter. By the time I filly start to reach over, the bat has landed in the two seats right next to her--she's flinching, I'm reaching, the bat is bobbling, bumping, roiling around in those empty seats. Then I have my hand on it, grab it--the bat--stop it right there . . . I ask my daughter if she is okay and she is. I hand her the bat. The crowd in the stadium is seeing all of this. I tell her, "Stand up."

So, she stands up, holds the bat aloft in both hands, the stadium crowd roars and claps.


I've always wondered if they showed that on TV. But it was a moment for her--for us--to have a sports crowd cheer. We got to keep the bat. Still have it. And it reminds me of that game, of that time, of South Florida.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

South Dakota: 1957

I was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in late September. I arrived at Mercy Hospital, somewhere in that city. I was the third child--the third son--of a family who ended with the fifth child. A middle child in the end. All my brothers and one sister were born in Sioux Falls, and I imagine at Mercy Hospital.

I don't know what day or at what time I was born. I suppose there is some record of it somewhere. There is no longer anyone I can ask who would know such trivial facts and I am not from the type of family who is concerned with such information.

I moved away--with my family--from South Dakota after I had turned five years old. Do I have memories of the place? Yes. Some vivid, some murky, some ingrown I suppose . . . Our first house, our second house, some people, places, events. You'd be surprised what you can remember from early childhood. I can't say how being from, and living the first five years of my life in, South Dakota has shaped me.

It's a strange state, in many ways.

I can say that I have dreamt of it.

My mother was from Arlington, South Dakota. My father from Red Oak, Iowa--though he was really born in eastern Nebraska.

When I have dreamt of South Dakota, in my dream I have always known that it was South Dakota. That was explicit. In my dreams I am always not in a town but out in the countryside. My Aunt Nancy--my mother's only sibling--lived in Arlington. Actually, she lived on a farm just outside of Arlington. She and her husband--Lawrence--had five children of their own. We visited them quite a few times when I was young. Maybe that's why my dreams are outdoor dreams. My grandmother lived in a small house in Arlington, though it was very much a country house.

One dream I had was of swimming in a river under a bridge in the open spaces of South Dakota. It was summer. Warm. Golden and dry. The river was shallow and weak of current. It was a pleasant dream. It was of a sparse landscape with a scattering of trees and open yellow fields and a gravel-bottemed clear clean-water river. A pleasant and happy swim with a friend.

Another dream also had the same landscape--more plains or western than midwestern. There were the trees and golden land and distant distance. But in this dream I was visiting my mother and my mother was rejecting me. I can't recall the specifics--it was a dream--but it was not nice. It was disturbing. Yet, the landscape was of the same subtle beauty. Inviting, if potentially harsh in the long run.

Well. 1957. That's a long time ago by now, to most if not all. I should go back to South Dakota. Return. I have been back, that is, been through, but not in many years. Decades, really. If nothing else, I should try to dream of it.

Sour Cream and Onion Burger: Iowa City 1982

After a night in the bars we'd sometimes hop in Matt's car and drive to Coralville where the all night diners were.

My favorite was the Perkins.

Perkins had decent late-drunk-night service and a menu with all these different burgers on it. Burgers that were--for that time--somewhat eccentric. I always ordered the Sour Cream and Onion Burger with fries and I would dump ketchup all over it and alongside it and around it and probably some mustard too. I'd drink coffee even though I wasn't having eggs.

Those late-drunk-night diners could get rather freewheeling. I remember the table next to us one time getting in a syrup fight. Yes, syrup. I feel sorry for the waitress, manager and clean-up person even to this day.

Anyway, I'd eat my burger and my fries in a rather fast and mechanical way. I recall one of my friends--Jeff Wheeler? I don't remember his name exactly as he was not one of my close friends and he was from Osage, Iowa and I'd ask him about that small town and it was kind of a running joke between us (why do I think everyone's name was Jeff? I bet his name wasn't Jeff, but it was, I'm pretty certain, Wheeler and he was, definitely, from Osage)--he was watching me and said something like: "That guy knows what he's doing" as I went through my meal with a rhythmic chop and chomp.

But now that I think of it, we rarely if ever tipped the waitresses. We were no doubt loud and obnoxious--not as bad as the syrup fighters, but still . . . And eventually Matt got into the unfortunate habit of doing some dine and dashes--not paying for his meal. That never happened when I was with him but he'd told me about it and eventually he'd dined-and-dashed once too often and the waitress recognized him and they held him.

I was there that time and they basically held the whole table there and made sure we all paid. I felt insulted. It never occurred to me to not pay. But, later, I understood. Guilt by association. I think Matt had to pay for back meals.

Still, I never tipped. I'm not sure why. Stinginess, yes, but also I plead ignorance. Lack of experience. Not understanding how the system actually worked. I don't think I got it until I went to Santa Fe and worked as a waiter. Now I almost always over-tip.

My neo-compensation for those Sour Cream and Onion Burgers will never reach the ones who deserve it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Muskie Motel in Muscatine: 2012

I did not stay at the Muskie Motel in Muscatine, Iowa. I stayed at the Super 8. It wasn't until the next morning, when I got up and drove into town, ready to cross the bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois, that I saw the Muskie Motel and had my regrets.

I'd been out to see my mother in Des Moines, once again. It was spring, I think, and one of the early warm days that let you know that summer really, actually, truthfully, was going to arrive. Of course, my mother was in the nursing home and I was driving back by myself.

For whatever reason, I decided to take the smaller roads back to Illinois instead of I-80. I decided to take Highway 163. I went through Prairie City and made a short stop in Pella. Pella is a pretty enough town and full of tulips in the spring--though there were no tulips when I visited. So either it was too early, or I'm mistaken about the time of year I made this drive. Who knows . . .

I kept going, taking in Oskaloosa.

Oskaloosa, with its funny-ish name, was a town well known to people my age and older who spent part or all of their childhood in Des Moines. Oskaloosa was the answer to jokes and riddles by Floppy, a dog puppet, on the Duane and Floppy Show, which was a kid's cartoon show out of Des Moines. Anyway, I think I knew one person from Oskaloosa, a guy I met in Iowa City who lived on my dorm floor with Mike Policicchio. He smoked a lot of dope. Then again--like the time of year--perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe he was from Keokuk.

From there I kept driving. Now on a smaller road, Route 92. It was a very pleasant day and I had the windows down. Was in no hurry. Just enjoying the countryside and wind and fields and the little towns. It was so much nicer than the rush of the Interstate. I wasn't sure where I'd stop for the night, only that I would stop and not try to drive all the way back in the day.

Rose Hill. Sigourney (which I think Iowans have a strange pronunciation of, though I don't recall it at the moment)--a nice-looking town. Signs for What Cheer (I have never been to What Cheer). West Chester. Then at the connection with Highway One there was evidence of a bad car accident--lights and ambulance, cars rolled and crunched, backed up traffic. I was patient. Made the jog south and continued east.

Washington--a big town for the area. I knew a young man from Washington who worked at the University. I met him when I worked at Iowa during the summers, at Burge Hall, stripping and waxing floors and housekeeping and goofing off. He was a good kid--country, a little wild. Maybe his name was Jeff. Not sure. He taught me how to make a squirrel-call using three quarters and your hands. And there was Norbert from Kalona, just north of Washington. Norbert was married, had a kid. He was killed in a car accident, coming home at night from Iowa City, a friend driving ran off the road. I think they were drunk.

Columbus Junction surprised me. I'd never heard of it. It had a river and a big shift in the land--almost like a bluff. Hills. It was just odd to me was all.

Then I got on highway 61 and drove into Muscatine and it was late enough that I figured I may as well stop. I'd never been to Muscatine before. My dad called all cantaloupes "Muscatine Melons"; I guess there are Muscatine melons but most are cantaloupes . . . I made my way up past some fast food places and other chain stores, chain restaurants, chain gas stations, a car dealership, then some chain motels, settling on that Super 8.

I walked up an embankment to some restaurant/fast food joint. Arby's? Wendy's? Once again, I don't recall, other than it was pretty uninspiring. I think I took my food to my room. Maybe it was Burger King. Watched some bad TV. Felt bad in return. My mother. My leaving Ft. Lauderdale. Not moving to New Orleans like I was supposed to. Back in a place I did not ever want to be back in. And now in a Super 8 in Muscatine, Iowa . . .

One of my first roommates at Iowa on the 2000 floor of Burge Hall was from Muscatine. Now, his name was Jeff, for sure. My other roommate was Chuck (from a Chicago suburb). This was freshman year and I knew hardly anyone in Iowa City--though it all turned out very well. Jeff was a little odd--a smart guy, music major, actually a bassoon major at that time. Yes, he played the bassoon. Chuck became a closer friend than Jeff ended up being, but we got along. He was a good enough guy.

So, it was the next day as I used my brand new iPhone (I'd had flip phones until then) to plot my route into and out of Muscatine and over the river into Illinois that I drove past the Muskie Motel in Muscatine.

Man. The Muskie was exactly the kind of place I'd wanted to stay at: cheap, small-roomed with their own doors that opened out to a parking lot. Not ratty, but nonetheless a place with its own suspect distinction.

Maybe. Who knows? Perhaps it would have been a lousy place: spongey bed, no reception for the TV, thin walls and noisy neighbors, bedbugs. It could have been an even lousier night, for all I know.

Then again, maybe if I'd stayed at the Muskie Motel in Muscatine, maybe I'd be a happier man to this day. Maybe my mother would have gotten better or lived longer or--well, no. But possibly it could have altered some small smidgen of things. Possibly.

But it didn't.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Capturing Red the Cat: Des Moines 2012

My mother had fallen ill, then was placed in a nursing home facility because it was determined that she just wasn't quite ill enough yet to be put in a hospice. So, her apartment on Grand Avenue in Des Moines was empty of her, if not empty of her things or her cat, Red.

I, along with me second oldest brother (who lived in Des Moines) arranged to have her possessions boxed up and moved out (to his basement) because it was evident my mother would no longer have use for them. The cat, however, was another issues. Luckily, there was a woman--the Widow Simmons, I called her as Simons was her name and she was a widow and lived in the same assisted living complex--who was willing to take the cat.

Red the cat was a handsome male. Long-haired, large, reddish-orange, tabby-like markings in some areas. he was also an ornery animal. He pretty much only liked my mother, but even her he would sometimes bite and scowl and growl at. He ruled the two room place, did as he pleased, and disliked anyone who got in his way. My mother had gotten him, along with a second Cat she named Little Bird, as kittens. Little bird was friendly and sweet but two cats were evidently too many and for whatever reason, my mother decided to keep Red. No doubt Little Bird was put to rest, something my mother--who grew up in a small South Dakota town among farms and The Great Depression--was not disturbed about.

Anyway--it became my job to capture Red and get him to a vet before I took him to the Widow Simmons to live another of his nine lives.

This proved to be difficult.

Most things were boxed up but the furniture was still in the apartment at that time. I first tried to box Red up--using an actual box that I lured him into, but he burst out of that quite redly after I'd closed him in. My mother had not taken Red to the vet--had not enclosed him in anything--in many years. He was big and strong and wild and had claws. So, I went and got a cat carrier, one made of strong hard plastic and that had an opening on the top as well as a caged door. That was fine. It would hold him. getting him inside it was another matter.

Once he realized what I was trying to do, it became a chase. This was not a big apartment: one bedroom, one living room, one kitchen, one bathroom. You could not just grab him and hold him and place him in the carrier. He was, essentially, a feral house cat. So, I donned gloves and long sleeves--and I am not a small or timid man--and had hell of a time trying to corral him. He hissed, growled, showed his fangs, took swipes at me, ran and ran and jumped, made the sounds you hear from cougars and panthers and jaguars that you've seen/heard on television. I was surprised no one came running and knocked on the door. It was crazy! Loud! Vicious to the ears and eyes! I grabbed a broom to try herding him.

Finally I got him confined to the bedroom. Of course he went under the bed, so I tipped the mattress and box springs on their sides to expose him. Still, I could not catch him. We had become mortal enemies. He hated me and I had begun to hate him.

I don't know.

At one point I had him cornered. He was hissing, growling, crouching, staring at me with giant lightning-bolt-eyes. I returned the same anger with my own eyes. And that's when it changed:

I suddenly felt so sorry for him, for his situation, for his fear, for the confusion of living alone in the apartment for over a month as my mother lay in her helpless long-term state of a slow death. So, as we dagger-eyed at each other, mine suddenly softened.

Seriously. I softened my eyes and my facial expression and looked on as--just as suddenly--his eyes and expression softened as well.

I only wanted to help him. To do what needed to be done.

It was still a struggle, but finally I got him in the carrier and inside, defeated, he became docile.

I took him to the vet. Took him from the vet to the Widow Simmons' apartment--a nice place on the second floor on the corner with lots of windows--and presented Red to her. I brought food and food bowls, a water bowl, a cleaned-up cat box and litter. The Widow Simmons was pleased. We chatted a bit. I explained that Red could be difficult. We opened the carrier and let him sit there until he was ready.

After a while he did venture out to look around. he seemed like a different cat--a little cautious if not quite intimidated. he would be fine. I later got a few of updates: he was doing well, he had sat in her lap, he appeared content, no problems so far.

I told my mother, who was cognizant though ultimately terminal, and she said: "I don't know. Maybe he never really liked me."

Not true, of course, and I assured her of that, but she had no desire to see him again.

Or so she said.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Small Memory in Idaho #6

This was in 2012. My family and I had made a trip out west--the first in many year for my wife and I, the first ever for my two daughters. We went to Seattle, the Oregon coast, Bend, Missoula, and a stop in Riggins, Idaho. Riggins' original town name was Gouge Eye.

In Riggens, we ate at The Seven Devils Steak House and Saloon. We stayed--I believe--at the Best Western, where the Little Salmon River meets the Salmon River.

It was sunny, hot, pretty: the large and bald serrated hills caught sharp light and shadow, the rivers ran noisily and spritely in their rocky beds.

When we first pulled up, two deer were feeding in the grass next to the hotel--my oldest daughter (the photographer) immediately got out to take their picture.

She succeeded. It is a fine photograph.

Later, my younger daughter wanted to go down the embankment behind the hotel and see the rivers. At first I was reluctant but then I was not. So, down we went. Evening was coming, but we goofed around down there. There was a large gravel bar that was really more of a rock bar. Many fist-sized stones and many larger and some smaller had been deposited there where the two rivers met. Eventually she and I picked out two rocks to take back to the room, to take home with us a souvenirs.

I still have them both.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In The Car At The Pay-N-Take-It: Vancouver 1964

Of course I'm guessing at what year this was, because no doubt it was over a few years when we were all kids and we lived in Washington, in Vancouver. I was probably six or seven or eight, or nine or ten. These were the days when we had but one car and my father worked at the Veterans Hospital and my mother took care of us all, all five kids.

Taking care of us also meant carting us around wherever she had to go, which meant taking us along in the summers (when we were not in school) when she went grocery shopping. No doubt it must have been hard having all of us in tow as she went down the aisles buying food, which is why at times she let us all stay in the car and wait for her.

We shopped at a store called the Pay-N-Take-It. She would also buy milk separately at what we called, simply, The Milk Store. But The Milk Store was like a little drive through place and we kids would always beg her to buy chocolate milk, which she, at times, certainly did . . . Anyway, the Pay-N-Take-It: we would sit in the car, which was a station wagon. Five kids--three boys and one girls--ranging in ages from maybe ten to three or so. maybe she took my younger brother in with her, but I recall the car being full of us.

I doubt these days people would leave their brood in a car while they went in shopping. It would be frowned upon, if not viewed as exactly criminal. But there we were, sitting in the car, all windows down, five of us (or maybe four) and, kids being kids, we saw it as a great adventure. Well, maybe not adventure exactly but certainly an opportunity to laugh and talk and yell at people . . . I believe the main instigator of this was my oldest brother. Anyway, we would joke around and watch people come and go, comment on them and then, at times yell at them, or make strange and deliberate noises or even--if I recall right--yell for help in a mocking way. Well, not mocking but shrilly and ridiculously. It was great fun. I'm sure my mother would have been greatly embarrassed.

But them one time, as we were yelling and hooting and calling for assistance, one oldish man looked at us and began to approach us. This caused great alarm and consternation and twittering among us. And sure enough, this guy came right up to our open windows. We thought we were to be scolded and certainly had no true fear beyond that.

But he did not scold us. He only had a question about something--some decal or license plate matter about some place (probably something to do with South Dakota, I'd guess). I don't remember what it was, but he was friendly and humorous, as it turned out. Harmless. More harmless than us.

This is of course nothing important. Just a memory when we, when I was, were kids, when the family was the world and my mother and father were the great arbitrators of that world. We had no sense of how vulnerable life could be--which was just as well, which I would hope for all children, all childhoods. I doubt very much the Pay-N-Take-It exists--no, it could not. No doubt there's a Walmart or some such there now, or nothing at all.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


I've always liked buffalo. That is, American Bison. I don't know . . . I was born in South Dakota--Sioux Falls--and before the age of five (when we moved to Vancouver, Washington), we used to go out to the Black Hills for vacations. There, in the Black Hills, there were pines and hills and squirrels, rabbits, black bears, burros and there were bison. Buffalo. And even now I can recall them and remember that, yes, I liked them.

Big fuzzy black-brown beasts.

But I liked them later in life, as well. Have always been glad to see one--see them--whether just on the TV, or in a preserve, maybe a zoo.

Maybe I like them because I bought my father a pipe.

This was in Vancouver and it was his birthday and I was maybe eight years old. Not sure. Actually it was in Portland, Oregon, at Lloyds Center (the first indoor mall in America (the world?)). And it was at some store--maybe as simple as a Walgreens/CVS type store of its day (the mid 60's)--and they had pipes behind a counter and my father smoked a pipe at that time. Some of the pipes had animal heads. I don't recall all of them except, as you may guess, the buffalo. I liked buffalo and I wanted to buy him that pipe and I did.

I don't know if my mother had to help me to purchase a pipe as an eight year old--or nine, perhaps ten--but to the best of my recollection, she did not. They sold a kid a tobacco pipe . . . Things were different back then. And I gave him the pipe as a gift and he thanked me and I don't think he ever used it. He did not throw it away, either, because I checked. It was still around years later, after we moved to Johnson City, TN, even after we moved to Des Moines, IA. I would still see it and my father didn't smoke a pipe anymore.

My father called me Buffalo.

Maybe that's why I like them and still think of them. It was a nickname of sorts. I don't think he knew how much it meant to me to be called "Buffalo". Is that why I like them, or did I like them and he picked up on it and that's why he gave me the name.

I think it's because I liked them that he called me that. It meant more to me, I think I can say, than it did to him. Yet: who knows?

I bought the buffalo pipe because he called me "Buffalo" and because I loved the animals and I was from South Dakota and that's about all I have to say . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Camping In The Ocala National Forest

In the mid-2000's I camped in the Ocala National Forest a few times. I had not camped for years, not since Illinois and my trips down to the Shawnee. One of my younger daughter's friends had moved to the Melbourne area of Florida from Ft. Lauderdale and when she went to visit--about three years in a row, it seems during the 2000's--I'd drive her up there and continue on by myself and go camping.

The place I liked to camp the most was Hopkins Prairie. Oh, there are springs and more interesting areas in the forest, but Hopkins Prairie was a good fit for me--it was off a dirt road, not many people went there, it was semi-primative. It consisted of flat land with a scattering of pines and shallow lakes and lowlands that flooded part of the year. A lot of scrub and palmetto and big flat skies. I had a good time there.

What I liked best was, after living in the concrete and controlled nature of South Florida for so long, it was nice to be out in the woods. To be away from a population center. That alone made me happy. Another factor was that I was all by myself. No wife, kids, neighbors, pets, students, South Florida drivers, tourists and so on. Just me, my tent, my car, my bologna and mustard sandwiches, sardines and crackers, beer, sodas, waters, my camp fire and my whiskey. Alone in the woods, day and night.

One of the times I went, Hopkins Prairie was closed due to flooding and I had to find a new place.

I looked on the map and drove around--again, avoiding the popular places, the springs and creeks that held only developed campgrounds with flushing toilets and showers and running water and trailers and motor homes and families--until I cam across Farles Lake. Farles was a lot like Hopkins, only a little dustier and--to me--not as nice.

Alone, I would hike and search for firewood. I'd write in my journal and think and listen to the wind in the trees. Tend my fire. Walk in circles. Not say a word for the whole day or even more. Fight the ticks and flies and other bugs. Look for wildlife. Roam the woods and my mind. I'd stay up late, get up early.

I did meet some other people.

I wasn't totally alone, as there were always other semi-primative campers or even hikers who came through the woods, or locals just wandering around the area for a short visit.

I met a guy who said he was hiking the Florida Trail. He'd hiked the Appalachian Trail and was camping out in the woods for free. I saw him a few times and offered him some bananas, apples, a half jug of water. Maybe I've written about him before, but I half envied him, living day-to-day with only the concerns of the most basics of life: food, shelter, the trail and weather. But, really, what did I know of his situation.

I met a couple from Canada who were the campground hosts. Met a family down from Maryland--though the guy was Dutch or something--who had a hound dog with them, the dog getting loose and lost and howling in the woods most of the night. I had people walk right into my campsite--a drunk man and his girlfriend who kept going on about the Rainbow Gathering and hippies and such. A guy who sat at my table and discussed car parts and what they cost. Stuff like that.

I was there--the last time I was there--just before a big cold front came down. It was hot when I went to bed and the next morning it was clear, crispy-cold, wind blowing and getting colder. Nice. But a freeze coming . . . I struck camp and drove to the coast and stayed at the Whale Watch Motel in Flaglar.

My tent was leaky and one trip I got no sleep. Well, I slept some. The first night it rained and my tent leaked enough that I went to my car to try and sleep and got very little. The next night I stayed up and drank too much whiskey. Finally I fell asleep in my tent. I slept so deep that I dreamt/thought I was back in my bedroom in Fort Lauderdale and when I woke suddenly in the middle of the night--in my tent, in total blackness, drunk and dead-tired--I had no idea where I was or why and it scared the crap out of me. It took minutes for me to place myself and piece together what I was doing and where and why and it was disturbing enough to me that I could not get back to sleep. I think that was at Farles . . . Ah. But overall, Hopkins Prairie was good to me. Ocala National Forest was good.

And then I went no more. The forest was far enough away--north of Orlando--that making the trip was bothersome if I had no excuse. So, I quit going.

And, really, I haven't been camping since.

I need to go.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Best Friends

I've always had friends. Sometimes too many, sometimes not enough. Best friends are creatures of another stripe, I think. These are the people you confide in and who confess to you, the one's who share their lives but also are con-conspirators in the mundane-profound-absurd game of life.

I suppose because I moved around so much as a kid that I make friends easily and also have little trouble finding good, often best, friends. However, I do not have a best friends or even good friends from childhood and my best friends have shifted over the years, even in periods of adulthood. My oldest friends date back to high school, middle school, but of those I'm not really in touch with any of them (except perhaps one) other than through once a decade phone calls or sightings or casual social media sites.

So, I will indulge myself here in going through the years (and places) and try to recall who my best friends were. certainly not all my friends, but who stands out in memory.

Sioux Falls: There was Myron, who lived down the street in our Hilltop neighborhood. But about the only thing I can recall of him was that we fought a lot. There were the Bosslers, but I can't really single one of them out as a best friend. When we moved to the second house, I don't recall any specific friends. This was when I was 1 to 5 years old. I guess my brothers and sister were maybe my best friends.

Vancouver: Jeff was my first best friend, when I started first grade. But by the second year there in Washington, Joey Hanes became my best pal. He lived down the street. He was originally from Albuquerque. It was at Joey's place that I had my first sleepover and we both were in love with the same girl in second grade: Kathy McKay. Joey and I were close friends and I even wrote to him for a while after we moved to Tennessee when I was 10 or 11.

Jonesborough: We rented a house almost outside of town for about a year before moving to Johnson City (where we also lived just outside of town). In Jonesborough--which was small and country and quite the culture shock for me and about everyone else in the family--I had a few friends. There was one kid who lived down the road (and it was a road we lived on, not a street) but I can't even recall his name anymore. He was a little mischievous. I made friends with Rocky, who lived a few houses down. Rocky had a younger brother named Stoney (I kid you not). Rocky was, essentially, a nerd who got picked on in school (he would actually brush his teeth after lunch in the boys room) and I stood up for him a few times and we became friends, in some ways, by default. I guess he was my best pal for that brief time until we moved to Johnson City and I went to Cherokee Elementary--a county school.

Johnson City: I had a number of good friends. In the neighborhood, which was only a smattering of houses outside of the town set among woods and pastures and tobacco fields, I knew Kurt and hung out with Kent. Kent and I were close but I think he was one year ahead of me in school and did not go to Cherokee and we eventually became less close. No, I'd have to say Curt Wadawick was my best friend in Johnson City. We went to school together. He was an odd guy in many ways--again, nerdy, in today's parlance--and I'd go to his house for sleepovers now and then or to just hang out. he used to bring whole green peppers for lunch at school and eat them raw with salt. His family made big piles of scrambled eggs for breakfast and ate the eggs with grape jelly on top. He had a creek running in front of his house that we dammed up with rocks. We played a lot of Stratego. I believe our friendship waned or ended when I started 7th grade in the city at East High. I was only in that school for about three or four months, where I had a friend named Dana. But, we moved again, this time to Iowa--Des Moines (though we bought a house in the suburb of Urbandale).

Urbandale: In Iowa my first best friend was Bob, who lived on the same block as I did on 65th Street. He was a close friend until about the last year of high school when we had a bit of a falling out. I lost touch with him but we are now nominal Facebook friends now. My other best friend, who I met in high school not junior high, was Kevin. he was in the class just above my own but we became very close pals. I've lost touch with him, though I did talk to him on the phone maybe five to ten years ago. He lives in Kansas now. I had lost of there friends, good solid close friends, in Des Moines/Urbandale. Friends from school, from work, other places. There was Larry--who is the one friend I still see now and then, who I text or call when I'm back in Des Moines, though I haven't seen him in about two years now. There was Bill and Jim and Randy and Dave. There was Craig and Jim and another Jim and Mark. Keith and Scott. And many many others . . . Good friends all, though my senior year I pretty much dropped off the map with my school chums and though I saw and hung out with most of them in the years after school, when I was essentially living in Iowa City, I've lost touch with most of them in the long years since.

Iowa City: My closest friends all went to Iowa State, in Ames. I don't know why. Their loss. I took a year off before entering college and went to Iowa, in Iowa City (hooray for me). In Iowa City I knew a couple of guys (Keith, Scott) from Urbandale but I made a whole new set of friends. And of that group I'd easily say Matt, Brock and Mike were my best friends. Oh, like most college people, I had a ton of close pals and relationships, some fleeting, some longer, but those three were my core . . . You may have noticed that I've mentioned no female friends. I had a few girls, women as friends but not best friends, but in college I had more female friendships for sure (and I'm not talking about romantic relationships). But Matt and Brock I lived with most often and we went to Alaska and back together in 1983. we stayed good friends, living together post-college in Florida and Seattle. Though even them I lost touch with for the most part. Mike I went to Los Angeles with and we stayed friends but also lost touch and I've only recently seen him again--in Chicago--within the last year.

Santa Fe: Joel was my best friend. I stayed with him. But I had a set of friends outside of his circle, guys mainly who worked at The Forge at the Inn of The Governors downtown. John, Alex, Haley (female!), Vince. Good guys I felt very comfortable with and spent a lot of time with.

Los Angeles: Mike, from Iowa City, was my best friend. But there was Bob and Brenda, Jeff Wages and others.

Grayton Beach: In the Florida panhandle Matt was there and then Brock came up from Key West. But I made very close friends and then best friends with Tommy and Doug. I lived off and on there for about four years. (I also lived off and on in Iowa City and Des Moines in these years.) So later there was Brad as best friend, then later still Mike and Jimmy.

Seattle: Matt and Brock.

New York: Jimmy

Champaign: In Illinois, I lived with the woman who would become and still is my wife. She is my best friend, was my best friend. But I worked concrete construction and Kurt Strube was my best friend. There were other pals: Doug, Mike, Margaret--Brock came to Champaign. We lived in Champaign then went to Montana and then came back to Champaign. But that pretty well sums up the people in town. I was still close to Matt and Brock and Mike (from L.A.) all the while and would see them now and then.

Missoula: Oh, a number of people from our years in Montana. John, Bruce, Corey, Jeff (?) (man, I can't think of his name and he was one of my closest friends from the U of Montana even though we had a falling out down the line and I haven't heard from him in decades). And there was Bill Brown. Bill Brown ended up being one of my closest friends--he was a good ten years older than me--for all these years until his death in Jacksonville, FL two and a half years ago. John was a close friend. I and friends from work as well as classes and other spots in town.

Ft. Lauderdale: Well. I had a wife and two kids and we lived in Fort Lauderdale for not quite twenty years. Many many friends, close friends, too many to name. Best friends? Bill, Billy, another Bill, Mike, Silvio. Francis. Francis,actually, I met in Mexico and he's from Montreal. I met him right after becoming friends with Bill Brown, in Montana, in early 1990. We've been friends since with Francis coming to visit and stay with my family in Champaign and Ft. Lauderdale and us going to see him a couple of times. Bill Brown moved to Florida and I'd see him every now and then--more so the last years before his death--anyway, this brings us to today.

Today: These days my beast friends are Mike (from Miami, Gulfport, New Orleans), Bill (from Hollywood, FL) and Francis (Montreal). None of them live where I live now. Bill Brown is also one of my best friends (Jacksonville), but he is gone. I'm still in touch and trying to get back in closer touch with a few of my old best friends, but the main core is now Francis Charest in Quebec, Mike Plummer in New Orleans, Bill Murphy in Hollywood, and I should say Billy Theil, my neighbor from across the street on SW 18 St. in Ft. Lauderdale.

That's it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fishing With Jim: Des Moines 1977

I met Jim while working at Yonkers while I was still in High School. he was a few years older, from Chicago and a student at Drake University in Des Moines. he seemed much older to me and Jim, more or less, became a mentor of sorts for my entry into the wider world.

he was a funny guy, somewhat well-read and interested in reading and writing, in Hemingway in particular. It was because of him I began to read beyond my usual eclectic Sci-Fi/Adventure material. We remained friends for some years--after high school but not much after I went to the University of Iowa, even though he married and settled in Des Moines. I don't know exactly how I lost touch with him, but he was a fun guy, wise in some ways.

Anyway, what I'm thinking of was a time we went fishing on a cold morning.

By then I had just graduated from High School with no real plans to attend college. I had run off to Florida for a bit, was working different jobs until he got me a job at the UPS warehouse there in Des Moines. I worked nights--maybe 4 to 1am or so 5 to 2am or some such--unloading trucks and sending packages on their way. I'm thinking he worked nights as well. So, he asked if I wanted to go fishing the next morning (or, that morning) when the sun came up and I said yes.

I had never gotten out much beyond my high school friends. I was not and am not a fisherman. Sure, I fished some as a kid. Bob Mauk and I used to walk down to Beaver Creek in Urbandale and fish and goof around in the woods that were there. But Jim came and got me and he had fishing gear and a cooler of beer and we drove out to Big Creek, a reservoir north of the city.

It was early in the day. It was early in the Spring. It was cold. It was just him and me and we baited hooks and stood around on the shore, casting into the murky Iowa waters and getting nothing. He had beer.

I was not used to the idea of drinking in the morning. This was new to me. I did not yet associate fishing--or really about any activity, be it softball or sports-watching or St. Patrick's Day or any Name-Your-Holiday Day--with drinking. I was nineteen. Yes, I drank beer occasionally, drank harder stuff now and then, got drunk now and then, but not during the day and not while fishing and not even every weekend.

What i recall is how odd it was to me. How cold the cold beer was in my hand. It was actually a pretty miserable day and I don't think Jim was any more a fisherman than I was. Yet, it was kind of fun. I'm not sure why he hung out with me. I guess he saw himself as a bit of a mentor, or maybe felt a little sorry for me (as I was a rather foolish guy most of the time) or maybe Jim was just bored. Anyway, he liked to talk and tell me things and I liked to listen. It was good.

That's it. I went fishing with Jim on a cold morning, holding cold cans of cheap beer, catching no fish at Big Creek. Nothing more. Nothing less. We did not get drunk and get into trouble or do anything funny, bad, unforgettable.

But I have not forgotten and I wonder where Jim is now and what he's doing.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Earliest Times: Sioux Falls 1957

I'm trying to recall the earliest things I can recall . . .

I'm talking about the year of my birth. But I was born late in the year, so I'm probably trying to remember things from--at best--1958, though more likely '59, '60, '61. Who knows. I don't.

But I do remember a little bit as a baby--hints and dreamy images and intuitive feelings formed into images. I think. I mean, I do. I do recall being in a high chair at the table being fed my formula. I ate a meat formula because I was allergic--as a baby--to milk, to Mothers Milk, I guess as well as regular milk. (Again, I guess. And who would I ask to find out for sure? There's no one left to ask--my mother would be the only one who could tell me and she's been gone for over two years now. My oldest brother would have no idea what I was talking about and I don't know if he'd even want the job passed on to him as the keeping of our anemic family lore . . .) But, yes, I can recall being in a high chair and a little bit about the kitchen.

I also can remember not being able to reach the kitchen sink. I had to ask for a cup of water. I had to get a little step stool to reach the sink. I don't know what age I was but obviously at least two or three or four.

This was--these tiny unskilled memories--all in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I was born; where all my brothers and lone sister were born. Sioux Falls where I grew up until the age of five and then the whole lot of us--a family of seven--moved out west to Vancouver, Washington. My mother was a native of South Dakota--from Arlington, north a ways of Sioux Falls. My father was born in eastern Nebraska but moved right away to Red Oak, Iowa, which he considered his home town. In Sioux Falls I started kindergarten but did not finish because we moved. I hated kindergarten, hated my teacher, hated cutting strips of paper and pasting them together to make little pointless lanterns . . . I did love the elephant puzzle, though. Anyway, I hated it and moved away and then jumped right into first grade and have always disliked school, except college.

I can remember my mother rocking me at night in the rocking chair. I wonder if this memory, this intuitive feeling, ever leaves anyone who has been rocked by their mother in a rocking chair. I do feel as I age, as I grow ever distant from these opening moments of consciousness, of understanding the world, I wonder if I lose them. It seems I used to be able to recall more specifics from these otherwise blank years, that I still possessed direct access to, not just the actual memory, but the rather profound feeling that went with them . . . But, it seems, I don't have that any more.

I remember how, late at night and I could not sleep, or if I was sick, and my mother would put me out on the couch in the living room (we always called couches davenports--I don't think I know anyone who calls a couch a davenport anymore) with a blanket, I remember I had to keep the blanket all the way up to my neck. I had this idea that there was some skeleton creature that roamed at night and would--I don't know, kill you or some such--unless you kept the blanket all the way up to your neck and over your toes. This is an interesting imaginative fear put into mythical figure by a child and I don't want to even think about it any further than I just have . . .

Oh, there are plenty of memories from Sioux Falls, from the Hilltop neighborhood where we first lived. memories of people--the Bosslers, my friend Myron, Mrs. Cooney, others--memories of places like the big field of dandelions and all the bees among those dandelions, snow forts and the weeping willow tree and, of course, hated kindergarten . . . But those I don't consider the earliest memories, the ones I'm trying to touch upon. Oh, maybe they are, but that's not what I'm after here, today, now.

Jack Kerouac said he could remember being born. No, I don't believe that, but it seems like I used to have a good idea of very early memories, from when I was a baby, before I could walk. Not complete memories or ultra specific time and place recollections, but definite remembrances and direct sensations/inner feelings associated with those remembrances. Now? I don't know. I'm not even sure why I bother to try and know. In the long run--what's the point?

What good does it do?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Moving Out: Fort Lauderdale 2012

Really, I'm not ready to write about selling the house, packing up, saying goodbye and leaving Fort Lauderdale. Not ready yet to try and put the emotion--or revisit those emotions--into words. Yet, that's what I'm thinking of this morning.

We--my wife, my two daughters and I, our cats, our dog--lived in that house for over (what?) fourteen, fifteen years. Which, I believe, is the longest I've lived in one continuous spot for my whole life. I knew a lot of people in South Florida, in Fort Lauderdale, in my neighborhood, on my street. I had great and comfortable friends. I knew the plants, the seasons (yes, there are seasons in South Florida), the insects, the birds and reptiles and some fish. I knew my palms and oaks and flowering plants, my weeds and vines, my waterways and streets and communities from Key West to, basically, Neptune Beach in Jacksonville. I knew a lot of Florida--the Keys to Pensacola--with only the Tampa Bay/St. Pete area as an exclusion. Sure, it had gotten a little stale now and then, but like I said, I was comfortable.

And then we left.

I was the last one out--me and my dog and the two older cats. (My wife's cat--my cat, too--from when I first met her, M.R., she lived with us until about 2000 before she dies at the age of 20 or 21; I buried her beneath the Royal Palm in the back yard.) Our youngest daughter was in her first year at FSU and our older daughter was with my wife up north, staying in an apartment while looking for a house.

So, all our stuff was gone with the movers and put into storage. I had the Volvo and a number of boxes of personal things plus my clothes and computer plus things necessary for the dog and the two older cats.

I had made last minute plans to go to Neptune Beach and stay with Bill, but that was only temporary. had made more concrete plans to rent the condo on Camp Street in New Orleans (where my wife had sent a year; where I had spent months on the last year) . . .

Anyway, as I noted, I'm not really ready to write about it. Though, I will say, the very day I left Fort Lauderdale--January 12th, 2012, I'm pretty sure--in a full car with three animals, by the time I was up to Daytona, my brother called and told me our mother was in the hospital (she never did go back home and died by August). And that's how the year went. By the time I hit Tallahassee to see my daughter, all the animals had fleas. I had to go to a vet there to get flea-killing pills.

But two things I remember that I will write about briefly here:

One: I stayed across the street at Billy's house after I moved out. For three days, I think. And my dog could not figure out why we slept there. She knew Billy and his house quite well, but one of the saddest things was when she crossed the street and went to the front door of our house that was no longer ours and scratched the door and looked at me as I stood watching her from across the street, and could not understand why she could not go home, why I could not open the door . . . That still bothers me and it was why I could not stay at Billy's longer than three or four days even though he wanted us to be there for as long as we cared to.

Two: Was the first night at Billy's, in his spare bedroom with a single bed, that night when it was time to sleep, the freaked-out cats, my freaked-out dog and my freaked-out self, all climbed into the bed and huddled together. There was little space but we didn't care, we welcomed the intimacy I guess; cats, dog, human. It was all we had--ourselves in that bed in that room and the bed and the room did not belong to us. So, indeed: all we had was ourselves.

Okay. I guess I ended up writing about the move to some degree. There's more. There's always more. It was not a crisis. It was not the death of my mother--which is also not a crisis, though it's more important, a deeper experience and also a certain sorrow certainly from my mother's perspective and not just my own.

My family moved out. I lost my house, my friends and neighbors, the climate and landscapes, the plants, I knew well. My kids lost their childhood home and childhood friends. I'm uncertain as to what my wife lost (though she almost lost me). I had moved around quite a bit as a kid, a lot as a young adult. I was happy having a home.

Fort Lauderdale was very much home.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parasols: New Orleans 2012

I was living alone at the condo on Camp Street. Well, I had two cats and the dog and was in New Orleans for a month while waiting to move north. My wife had lived at the condo for about a year--working--and we, as a family, had plans to move to the city but that all fell through and, well, I ended up back in New Orleans for one final fling before we settled once again.

Anyway. I was there with said cats and dog and my good friend Francis came down from Montreal to visit (and to help with the drive north).

One thing Francis and I did was we went to Parasols, in the Irish Channel.

I'd been wanting to go there for lunch so we walked over to the streetcar stop on St, Charles and Julia, took that anachronistic transport down to Washington--the Garden District--walked to Magazine and then further till we hit the place.

Parasols has a lunch area but we went straight into the bar. Ordered up beers and some po'boys.

And more beers.

There weren't too many people there: us at the bar, maybe one or two at a table, two girls also at the bar and the bartender who was named Mike.

Mike was a youngish, redheaded, freckled fellow.

Mike was drunk as hell.


He was entertaining the two youngish women seated at the bar but had no problem getting us our beers and taking our order, no problem serving us our order. But he was full on drunk. He kept bringing out strange liquors for the girls to try and for him to try himself--along with shots of more established liquor. And beer. He put on a disheveled straw hat--sombrero-ish--and some old mardi gras beads and he was just staggering behind the bar, yet still operating it, taking money, making change, pouring drinks. This was all before noon, you understand.

Not that it was so unusual--especially in New Orleans--to find someone drunk before noon. I guess it was a little odd and humorous to Francis and I because we were sober and were at Parasols and because Mike was the bartender, not the drunk who the bartender serves. Anyway, there was an air of anything-goes and conviviality with just the few of we customers and Mike there and I could see how the day would play out if we stayed . . .

(A side note: When I went to use the Mens Room, that's when I realized there was a whole other part of Parasols, a lunchroom with tables and waitress and the kitchen. And in the Mens Room there was graffiti, one of which was scrawled Mike fucks chickens, or some such. And I knew who Mike was!)

By now Mike and the two women were pulling us into their orbit. Music was playing, drinks were going round, the sun shown outside, doors and windows open to the humid daylight . . . I knew if Francis and I had one more drink, we'd be sucked in to an early drunk and get nowhere else except back to the condo by three or four or five and a hangover by dinner. We had plans to walk Magazine and he wanted to look for some stuff to buy because Francis is always looking for gifts (well, not always).

It would have been so easy to stay.

It would have been easy to be like Mike.

In many ways, I wanted to see what happened, as the drinks Mike continued to pour down his gullet hadn't really hit him yet. But . . . we had to get out of there.

And so we did. Had a nice buzz for the next hour or so. Took the streetcar back (or maybe the bus, from Napoleon and Magazine). No doubt we went out that night--went into the Quarter, to the Chart Room and Harry's Corner, Lafitte's Blacksmith--my, our, usual places--no doubt with my other good friend (named Mike) who lived and still lives in New Orleans. No doubt we--that night--were like Mike.

But I don't remember that night, not as clearly as I can recall Parasols, the first and only time I've been there.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gary, Yonkers, Des Moines

I've known a number of Garys, knew two Garys when I worked at Yonkers.

I worked at Yonkers--a department store based out of Des Moines, Iowa--off and on for a number of years when I was in my teens and twenties. I started there in the fall of 1975, I think, working for either a $1.70 an hour (or perhaps it was $2.70--no, $1.70) in the stockroom. I worked after school and on weekends and when I graduated from high school (Urbandale High, Urbandale being a suburb on the north side of Des Moines) and had no idea what I wanted to do, I eventually became a full timer at Yonkers at the Merle Hay Mall. Then I worked there now and then over the next few years--summer while I was in the first couple years of college, then briefly right after college, then maybe once or twice when I came back to Des moines because I was, essentially, broke.

Anyway, Gary.

This Gary I knew briefly. He came to work in the stockroom at Merle Hay and didn't last all that long. He was a nice guy. He was African American, heavy-set with a generally sweet personality. He sang at his church and I was told had a wonderful voice--enough so that he had made recordings. I got along with him and eventually met some of his friends and we hung out together a bit. I brought him over to my house (I was in my teens and lived with my parents on 65th Street, not far from the mall). I introduced him, casually, to my parents.

It was after the visit to my house that I was surprised. My surprise was my father's reaction. he did not like Gary. "What?" "You should keep to your own kind," my father actually said.

What? I had been brought up not to consider race, to be honest and just and fair in relations with all people. I found his objection to be hypocritical and strange but didn't make an issue of it.

I have always had a solid group of friends and then other sets of friends and then friends who were on the edge of being true friends (and then of course acquaintances and such). This Gary was not a close friend but he was a nice guy.

Eventually Gary no longer came to work. I found out he had been fired for stealing a coat. Now, we all worked in the stockroom where all the deliveries came, where we unloaded trucks and took merchandise to the different departments and all that. We had access to the big back doors at the loading dock (now I'm thinking of all the drivers and fellow workers and things that happened, like the driver going through a divorce who purposefully stepped on a cooked roast meant for the Meadowlark Restaurant and when asked about the incident I said I knew nothing . . .) and the thing about those doors is that there was no security. People could steal stuff all the time. In fact, not long after I first started there, most of the crew ahead of me were fired because they were stealing merchandise like crazy. I knew nothing about it.

Okay. So Gary took a coat, an expensive one (big mistake) that was actually pretty ugly. I was and am not motivated much by material things, so it never occurred to me to steal something like that. (And that's not to say I didn't take a thing or two over my years there, but they were small idiosyncratic thefts.) But, Gary was gone and we never became good friends. I never heard from him again.

But now, when I think back, I don't think my father's objection to Gary was due to the color of his skin. No, what I see now was that Gary was pretty obviously Gay. This was in the late Seventies, before the gay/lesbian movement and understanding of that had made headway in most of society. So, I can see now that that was what my father was concerned about though he didn't articulate it as such. Now, my father was not against gay people either (one of my brothers is gay and my father knew that, even back then), no I think he was worried that because I had befriended, or had been befriended by, Gary that I too might be gay. And maybe because of my brother, it made his objection even stronger. (I really had no idea or at least only a slight idea about Gary, but my father needn't have worried.) I think if I'd known Gary, say, ten years later it may have been a different reaction from my father.

There are so many small incidents and people and places. Pointless in the long run--but maybe not. What you thought was one thing turns out to be another and the reasoning of it all turns out to be something else . . . Just thinking of my time spent working at a mundane place like Yonkers in a mundane place like the Merle Hay Mall actually leads me to many interesting characters and small events that revealed small yet important things to me . . . and I suppose that it continues to this day. Things are being revealed in all their seemingly triviality and I'm still not smart enough to really see them for what they are.