Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Today was unseasonably warm. It rained in the afternoon, with hail and thunder and lightning. I had to run from my car to the library. Got my usual 4 DVDs and a John Updike book. Heard a lot of good things about Updike, Pulitzer Prize and all that, but also heard he's an eastern blueblood aristocrat and writes for the World War II generation. I got no patience for that crap.

After work Shawn didn't answer when I rang him from the lobby. We were supposed to get together and play guitar. He called later and said he didn't get to sleep until 6 a.m. He works at UPS from 10p-2a and said it takes him that long to wind down. He didn't wake up until after 3p. I have not stayed up that late or slept in that late in at least 10 years. I recently was awake until 4 a.m. when we went to DeKalb to visit college friends, but didn't sleep past 9 the next morning. The call of nature wakes me, and I usually can't get back to sleep.

We're the only ones in our building to put lights in the window. Heck, only ones on our block. We keep getting cards and cheesy gifts from people, and their is this obligation to reciprocate. And we used to send out Christmas letters and cards. But, man, that's so much work. I hate encapsulating my year into a single page. Makes me sound like a busybody. And while it's true I do get around a fair bit, there's lots of boring lazy times in-between. I should describe those in family newsletter. This year Greg attended 16 baseball games and stared off into space daydreaming a grand total of 67 hours. Work. Ice Age Trail volunteer work. Baseball games. Minnesota trip. Unemployment. Work again. Guitar playing. Poetry. Short stories. Winter. There. That short enough for ya?

Today I longed for wild places: Air Mountains of Niger, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (southern AZ), Nunavut (northern Canada), Australian Outback....I shall know all these places yet.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Liquid soul liquid life viscous immersion. Insight outside downbeat upside fickle failing fool. capitalize, localize, marginalize, circumcise. Kerblooie foom. Stoom.

Sometimes I need word play to get the writing wheels greased. I'm feeling a little tired today. Morning workout went well. Had no problems getting up. And I was very engaged most of the day in gym class. Maybe that's it. I'm tired from work. Strange for desk jockey me. Reporter's job was not physically stressful, but worked the brain something fierce. I'd get home and sit in the dark without any other stimulus. The refrigerator hum my mantra as the bouncy electricity stress worked its way out of my fingertips with each breath. Or at least that's what I'd visualize the stress as, little blue bolts, like the cover of an AC/DC album, jutting from my fingers. This vision of dancing, crackling energy calmed me. Now I feel no need to visualize.

I'm really jazzed about my tune, "So Damn Tired." I think it is the best complete song I've ever written. Of course, I've only been composing on guitar since November, but on the second try I've hit gold. It is all I wanted in the first place, a catchy, easy-to-play but original pop sounding tune. That's what I worked towards and have achieved. I can't wait to play this at open stage. Now I debate whether to shoot for Kryptonite or debut it at Lungo's Landing. I think I'll try Lungo's first. Easy, small crowd. This is the second wave of my open stage metamorphosis. I've got to show improvement. "So Damn Tired" will turn some heads.

It has been about a month since I performed at Open Stage. I played twice at Lungo's Landing and once at Mary's Place. I really stank at Mary's Place, so would like to go back and do that. Maybe have to buy my own acoustic pickup so I can play my guitar there. At Lungo's Landing they provide it. Kryptonite is the classiest place. The creme de la creme of the Rockford open stages. I'd like to be really polished when I debut there.

I thought about getting temporary work for the holidays, but with all the visiting that goes on decided against it. Friday I will miss work because we are going to N. Minnesota to attend Esther's grandmother's funeral. We're riding with John in his brand new Honda Civic. Carl is flying up from Nashville and will join in the car. John warned me the ceiling is lower and I may have to duck my head. Hope my neck holds up. Shouldn't be that bad. Those cautious Larsons mentioned the low car ceiling twice in two weeks. I'm not that tall. After Thursday I won't work again until Jan. 6.

I had an interesting conversation with my father-in-law Saturday night. I complimented him by saying he has done a good job taking care of himself since his heart attack. He laughed and said something like, "A lot of good it will do me. My time on this earth is short." I told him the mind is the most powerful weapon you have against disease and that a fatalistic attitude can kill you. We've had this conversation before, and he opens himself up to it, as if testing my reaction. He strikes me as a very melancholy man. And his son, Trent, is the same way. They are both very cautious men who must have complete control and order in their lives. And because no one can control their world completely, Dad and Trent worry a lot. They keep their emotions bottled up, would never allow themselves to express anger. In short, they are very Scandinavian. Open communication does not come naturally to these men.

All the cogs are in place for a reunion with college friends Todd Stanley, Mark Lamb and Shawn Robinson (Goat) the 27th. I have not seen Mark in over two years. About five-six years ago those dudes were the center of my social universe at NIU. We all partied together at the Goat Palace and had many adventures and bullshit sessions. I see(Goat) all the time, Todd seasonally, and haven't seen Mark in two years. We will go to the Rockford Goat Palace for much beer and politicking.

I want to cover my walls with maps. Tape will ruin the maps. Don't know if that ticky tacky stuff will work. Also would like to enlarge some of the cooler nature photos I've taken over the years. We've got Christmas lights up and the banged up small fake tree that used to belong to my parents. Mom used to display it on a table at Sahara. The living room is cluttered with boxes. We now have a couch, a loveseat from my parent's basement. Mom, very astute, asked if we were planning another trip because I asked to "borrow" the couch. So we let it be known we plan to do the Pacific Crest Trail in 2004. Ken urges me to seek corporate sponsorship to fund the trip. Hmmm...

But, yeah, I'd like to hike the PCT. And Esther seems as eager as I. I think she's up to the PCT because her worst problems on the AT were steep downhills. That won't be a problem, we hear, on the PCT, because the trail is graded for horses and rises and descends much slower. One of Esther's worst fears is allayed. The real challenge to doing the PCT is the five month northbound thru-hiking season, forcing the thru-hiker to average 15 miles a day. Going light it should not be too hard. But, hey, 15 miles each and every day. Whew! That'll be a toughie.

We are now in save mode, trying to squirrel away fundage before April of next year. That can't be any harder than hiking 15 miles a day.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

So Damn Tired

Verse 1:
Fire in the iris
glinty steel reflect the light
Cool crystal comfort
fading to the edge of the night

Meat in the market
drink from a frothy mug
feed every hunger
before giving in to the urge

So damn tired
Stop eating on me
Cancer, bacterium
amoebas spread the disease

So damn tired
stop eating on me
So damn tired
Stop eating on me

Verse 2:
Smallest of things
eat at one's resolve
hangnail, hemorrhoid
corpuscles in the blood

Simple brute force
wage ware inside the flesh
Cough syrup, pain pills
Anything to get some rest


Verse 3:
Skin flake genetic
scratching dust to dust
breathe in each other
filter cilia lungs

Mites in the eyebrow
culture intestinal walls
part of the system
as we slowly dissolve

CHORUS and outro

My second song, So Damn Tired, is now complete. It is quite a simple tune, with three distinct guitar parts: intro/bridge, verse, and chorus. I look on these chord-driven songs as only the skeleton framework for a much more complex piece. I'd love to get together with a band or in a studio and add percussion, bass, sound effects, lead solos, and all that other propwork. Mostly, this guitar stuff is so much fun, but also a return to music, which at one time was a dominant force in my life. I lack dexterity, so am no great guitarist. But a good rhythmic sensibility and chord knowledge can fill in deficiencies in other areas.

I've got a third song worked out, even more simple, that just needs lyrics, which I will keep easy along the lines of "Baby, baby, baby, when you coming home."

Last night went to a high school basketball game as Harlem High School lost at home to the Freeport Pretzels. The Huskies led, 22-20 at halftime, both teams shooting horribly, but the Pretzels worked out something at halftime and stormed to the lead with a 12-1 run. The Huskies never recovered en route to a 3-point loss. They had three chances to tie it, and each time Freeport stole the ball back and padded its lead to four or five. A very frustrating game, as the Huskies were within shouting distance the whole evening.

Basketball games are the smell of popcorn, the sound of squeaky sneakers, whistles and the roar of a gym crowd. Cheerleaders, cameras, parents with video recorders, teenagers eating junk food and making fun of each other. The Harlem gym is cavernous and echoey. The pep band is twice the size it was when I attended. Even though there are a few familiar faces, I don't talk to anybody. It would always end up small talk, the "how are you" crap I detest. Too bad, because small talk is a precursor to big talk, a way to break through the onion skin of persona.

Today I attend Dorothy Larson's 17th birthday party. It's almost 2:30 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas. This morning I watched Naked Gun 33 1/3, starring OJ Simpson before the fall. Pablum.

Today is sunny, temps in the 40s, a nice fall day. Global warming has resumed its grip after a cool fall. It's barely bike-riding weather. I should get outside and take a walk. Not much sunlight as the shortest day of the year looms. A black-headed wren clings to a wire running along the brick wall of the livery, gaining warmth from the weak light reflected off the stone.
The rare afternoon nap. Don't usually take them, sleep-deprived me. Still all groggy and dreamy and out of it. I had a funny dream Wednesday morning that I saw our old Chevy Caprice parked in front of a convenience store. It was looking better with white-colored patched of bondo over the rust spots. I followed the driver over to my cousin Jerry's garage and then ended up bawling Jerry out for misleading me. "You said the transmission was shot!" I yelled before going ballistic and smashing everything in sight. So what is the significance of the berserker dream. I have a conscious fantasy of destruction involving chandeliers that was recently revived during a tour of the Illinois State Capital. Both House and Senate chambers are illimunated by lead crystal chandeliers. What a sound their shattering would make, the flying shrapnel in all random directions. I'd love to break into a yuppie home and smash the chandelier. Take no booty, leave no evidence, just cut the threads supporting the chandelier and watch it fall. Of course, in my destructive fury I'd surely smash more. Hulk bad!

A few weeks ago I lamented that my menacing appearance always made people wary of me. This has also served me. I know I'm a badass looking cuss and walk fearless and proud down any dark alley and into any new situations. I have not any muggings, rapes or any other personal crimes waged on me. The wanton criminal element shies from my personage. I thought of this last night when I watched World Wrestling Entertainment (i.e. soap opera for the teenage boy set) at Ron Heinscher's place. Thought it would be cool to develop a WWE character based on a nerdy, intellectual, Shakespeare quoting archetype. This character would spout lines like, "I laugh at your base and simpering aggression. Any comic book wielding cretin can see through your ruse, fool! Begone, post-haste, minion."

On Fridays I have two kindergarten classes and a first grade class. And in these three classes I do not let them play with toys. Instead, we play follow the leader, orchestrate simple dance routines, duck duck goose, foot races, hop like a frog, etc. My first group of kindergartners ganged up on me and gave a group hug. It was so endearing. One little girl took a sticker of a star on her cheek and handed it too me all solemn and honorific. The simple love and adoration expressed in the hug, the energy of all those little heartbeats so close, young, coltish soapy smell of them, made my day.

No significant plans this weekend, other than to write and have finished my first draft for the short story about the pig farmer living on top of Big Bald in North Carolina. I want to continue and finish my collection of Appalachian Trail short stories. Short term goal: Have six finished and collected in a chapbook to distribute at Trail Days next year, either give away or for sale. Something to inspire the interest of a prospective publisher.

I'd also like to clip my nails, drink until I'm pleasantly buzzed, watch a movie or two, twiddle my thumbs, stare aimlessly off into space and daydream, take a hike in the country, get some Christmas shopping done.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I remember when I used to smoke cigars, the first time I quit smoking. Back in 1995. Esther and I would hang out with Terry and Bob. I worked with Terry at the Daily Chronicle. Bob was an English major and we'd had some classes together. Bob was also my next door neighbor when I lived at the goat palace. Terry was a good looking gal, in her prime, but she let herself go to seed when she got with Bob. And when she told me she was a bisexual, I, in the throes of Rush Limbaugh conservative Republican-ness, considered her damaged goods. I think she was trying to impress me with this revelation. Instead she revolted me. But I remember one time the four of us met a whole bunch of people from the Chronicle at Box Office Brewery and I smoked a cigar. It was a big fat one with a fake Cuban sounding name. But I was really craving a cigarette because we were drinking.

When I was a smoker I really liked to smoke when I drank. Yeah, that first time I quit smoking I was always wanting a cigarette. I lasted two and a half years before I started smoking again. I smoked for another year and a half and then quit again for good. Haven't had a cigar since I was a smoker. The first time I quit smoking was because I was getting married to a non-smoker and didn't want to expose Esther to second-hand smoke or my bad breath. I wasn't doing it for myself. And that's why I struggled. The second time I quit because I tired of smoking. It was for myself. And I've not struggled with relapse. Not much. Only had a couple moments. Like the wall of cigarettes at Mountain Momma's just out of the Smokies. Just being around all that tobacco brought something back. Now I'm more than four years removed from my last cigarette, a Basics Light, and I don't remember what a cigarette tastes like or feels like as it pollutes my lungs. And although I like the smell of cigars, I'm not tempted to try one. They numb my taste buds.

I remember dumpster diving with Frankie Drabek when I was 9 or 10. We'd go out every night. The mother lodes were the mini-putt, where they had a pop machine, and the dumpster behind the auto repair shop. The mini putt had batting cages and teams came throughout the summer and worked up a goood sweat swinging in the cages. Them bastards at the auto shop drank on the job -- a lot. I'd come home smelling like a brewery, and Frankie and I would set the cans up in his driveway and crush them with a wooden mallet. We split the profits. The summer of 1982 I made probably $10 a week. That's a lot for age 9. I thought of that as I crushed cans tonight in preparation for tomorrow's recycling. I keep telling myself to scour the neighborhood alleys for cans. Dumpster diving holds a romantic allure for me, living frugally feeding off the detritus capitalism, but pride keeps me from it. What am I saying? I write this sitting in a chair recovered curbside, that has only recently given up its smell of tobacco and old person death. Esther told me about another curbside Colonial couch to replace the one my brother took away. I would rather borrow my parent's love seat in the basement that nobody sits in, and is just in the way. But I'm afraid to ask to borrow it because my father is a very possessive person, always has been, and is getting more so as he ages.

"I want to breath you in," I said to the good wife as I wrapped my arms around her from behind. Kiss one ear, then inhale the sweet perfume of her hair, move on to the other ear. A nibble and a giggle, then back away. After watching a movie, "On Golden Pond," Esther and I jammed out on a simple impromptu song tentatively called The Ai Ai Ai song. A little American Indian derivative with two chords, E-minor and A-minor. Ai Ai Ai indeed.

Children were reasonably good. One kid asked if I was in such a good mood because I was getting married. I told him I been married almost 8 years. Said maybe the good mood is because I have a good wife. Yeah, that. Also the caffeine kicking in. Had a good workout this morning. Exercise beats the winter blahs. If only I could stop eating so damn much, drinking 2-3-4 beers of an evening, maybe I'd lose weight. Well, I've been cutting back on the junk food. No fast food. Still like my cheese and butter and meat. but I'm not obese. Just following the Smith Curse mold laid out for me, keeping all my weight in the middle. Brother Ken, shorter, slighter, of more Italian frame, also more temperamental because of same genetic proclivities, picks on me because of my gut. I hope I've lost enough weight in the last year to avoid his ire. It don't matter. I'm llving healthy. And I'm married. So my physique don't matter as long as I'm healthy.

It's about beddy-bye. Still working on that 700-pager T.C. Boyle Stories, a collection of short stories. My own next short story is about a man who lives with pigs on top of a North Carolina mountain. More details soon. Ta ta.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Can the corny stuff, kid. Either it's good or bad. A duck snort's same as a liner same as a broken-bat single in the box score. Boy, I knew this aging has been, crinalated soul name of Ghirjken, some crazy Swede or Norsky, threw nothing but knuckle slop. Past his prime. Bad Tommy John recovery. Who knows. But God, did he have movement. We didn't bring him in if a runner was on third. Too many passed balls. But this has-been had, what, an ERA under two, in short relief. So what he was a starter. So what the fastest he threw was in the low, get this, low, 60s. Don't matter. Movement fooled them. No spin to read on. Whatever. Either you got it or not. Norsky extended his career a good five years with that crap. Movement. Now show me them new arm angles we been working on, kid.

As the previous fictional account illustrates, I'm Jonesin for some baseball. That perfect little microcosm world of physical finesse and close shaves. Where power is as important as accuracy. I'm one who watches arm angles. One who can read how the ball will carom off the wall just after it leaves the bat. Too bad I never played nothing more than fast-pitch softball. Too klutzy. Too focused on music in my youth. Football's heating up towards playoff time. Then, end of January and I've got a month off sport. I'm much better than the old Antigo days, when I was a Sportscenter junkie and lived and breathed the sports life. The post television at home life means I must escape to parents house or a bar to catch a game. That or the radio. I remember the first year Esther and I were married, 1995, was when I got into baseball big time. The first year post-strike. Sure, I followed the Cubs before, but that year I was fanatical. It was Riggleman's first year. Sosa was just coming into his power prime. He hit 40 homers before a season-ending injury in August. The Cubs finished 77-75 in that strike-shortened year. I only saw a handful of games on TV. Most were on the radio. And that's why the love blossomed. I was forced to use my imagination.

Last few days been nothing terribly exciting. Simple beautiful moments like watching the sun rise over the neighborhood on the way to work, looking up at the ceiling duct work at the YMCA during warm down exercises. Drinking a couple swill Hamm's Golden Drafts after dinner. Sunday night at the folks watched the Packers eke out an exciting win over the Vikings, 26-22, in frigid temps at Lambeau Field. Announcers were horrible, ESPN Sunday night crew, Joe "broken leg" Theismann and two other has-beens. Many a vocal faux-pas, too many references to the chilly conditions. Okay, it's cold in December in Green Bay. Get over it. Good film, though. They got this innovative camera that hangs over the field, offering some unique perspectives on plays.

Saturday was Esther's Christmas party for work. Last year I was all the rage, wowed 'em with my dancing. The ladies at work, by Esther's account, talked about my performance for weeks. So I went into Saturday's party with a bit of apprehension. They expected a "performance" out of me. Liquored up with a few Amoretto stone sours, I didn't disappoint. Good DJ, too. Laser lights, strobe, smoke. Techno, slow, country, good mix. Saw Andy's ex-wife, Bridget, with a new boyfriend, Jason or Johnathan. Bridget's looking better with age. Her hair's done better. She's filled out a little. Her daughter, Kyra, is four years old already. She had her about a year and a half after she and Andy divorced.

Finished my story about the single mother who is given a famous alternative reality on-line. Needs some further edit, but first draft is done. It is my first finished short story in over a year. I toiled fruitlessly a couple months on it. Too long. The key to finally finishing it was letting go. Really, the key to everything. Take all sense of self-importance out of the mix. I did my best work as a journalist the last few months when I finally shed the self-important saviour of mankind image I'd made for myself and focused instead on having fun. That's why I keep writing. It's fun. But too often I get caught up in this self-created image of being a writer, and get bogged down in my own hubris. I instead of writing, I'm a "writer." It's time to just write.

Yelled so loud into the microphone
the snare drum rattled and people covered their ears
that woke em up
and he liked the power of alarm
wanted to just shake his jowls
all wide-eyed and boogie oogie
send em fleeing like some fifties
horror flick nuclear holocaust phobia
nature's revenge with giant lizards
or ants, or women
But he was just reading a poem
about baseball and imitating an umpire
and when his voice calmed
the non-sports literati types
with their olives and Manhattans
and tan dress suits with pinkie rings
ignored him and went on with their chatter
about Proust or Maxwell
or the new gallery exhibit flavor of the moment
until a rousting YER OUT! spittle fly ump return
then quiet applause and retreat
fuckers'd never understand the subtleties of the game

Friday, December 06, 2002

Esther pointed out a brief in the Rockford Register Star about Sharon Wolfersheim, a woman who owns a horse farm who was charged with neglecting her horses. I was the first area reporter to give an account of the conditions at the horse farm, and now see it played out in criminal charges. She pleaded not guilty in Rock County Court. The latest story includes a tidbit I reported about her being fined for failure to dispose of an animal carcass. This brings out what I miss about the reporter's life. While hectic, I enjoyed playing a vital role in the community reporting the happenings of its people. I also got to meet the movers and shakes and, in a small way, influence their actions and official policy. Or at least report on their wrongdoings. I may go back to a newspaper if I fail to produce anything as a freelance/fiction/poetry writer. Maybe do another long distance trail. Write letters to the editor in the meantime. Stay critical and involved in my community.

The good wife and I have just returned from the Storefront Cinema, where we saw the Rock River Alternative Film and Video Festival, a collection of short films made by local residents and entered into a contest last summer. The so-called "better" entries have been collected together for a two-hour presentation. The three middle entries were disturbing, including "Cubical Imprisonment," a six-minute video on office life in which, at the end, out of boredom, the one character, who is not fully shown until then, pulls out a gun and points it to his head. The next entry, a claymation short by a teenage boy, "Sam Quast's Day of Clay," has the little clay man shoot himself. And "Self Portrait: A Confession," a boring 11-minute video of another neglected fat guy talking about his miserable life who at the end points a gun at his head. No consummation of the act, mind you, these flicks don't have the production value for gore. Many of the shorts were music videos, including a backwards playing of the falling of the World Trade Towers to a Talking Heads soundtrack, interspersed cleverly with George W. Bush sound bites, and Babies in a Blender, a music video for the Superfish Al song. My favorite was also voted Best of the Fest, "Our House: Life Beyond Rave Legislation," done by NIU undergrads about Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's war on the rave scene. With all the lights and good techno music, colorful costumes and lively dancing, the rave scene makes good cinema. It was also edited well. The filmmakers show a good eye, but also good restraint without being too clever. The funniest short is "Penny," about a guy who overshoots his mark at the tank and his misadventures around Rockford finding the coin he needs to complete his purchase.

I watched more than 3 1/2 hours of local filmmaker talent this week. I didn't go into this week thinking I would see any. Didn't know that it existed. But in a city of 150,000 and metropolitan area of 250,000, filmmakers must exist. It's a statistical probability. I think of my brother, Ken, who made a short film about relationships, "Seductions," just for fun, and said the process is very difficult. I don't know if he will try another work. I have not yet seen "Seductions." It is done in French. Yes, my brother has made a French film. That's a strange fact. Although Jerry Lewis has nothing to do with it.

There was this moment today when I realized my decision to quit the newspaper was a good one. Today is Friday, and this morning I was thinking how cool it was to be Friday, and that the weekend was finally here. But it doesn't feel so important anymore, this end-of-the-week distinction that Friday, no, FRIDAY!!, brings. This is because I don't have a job that exasperates me anymore. I'm like the rest of the troglodyte world, putting in my hours and, shoot, even having a little fun in the bargain. Instead of focusing all that mental energy into newspaper stories, I write poetry, songs, short stories, cook well-thought-out meals, walk with a little more bounce in my step, have the energy to stay committed to a steady work out program. My mind is engaged as much as it was before, but now into things that I'm interested in. County Board meetings and press conferences for the opening of collection agencies be damned.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

The children were whiny little brats today. One class so unruly I gave them a speech about how some of them were heading for punkdom and if they didn't turn there lives around they'd end up like those druggies hanging out on the corner a couple blocks away. But, God, these kids are so mean to each other, petty and cruel. And so it has always been. Like the time Esther and I saw a couple pre-pubescent black boys outside Goat's place swearing up a blue streak. Esther was appalled at what she heard. I said they were in a period of discovery. The words were new to them and they were trying them on for size. I did that when I was their age, didn't you? No, I didn't, she said. And when I was in elementary school all was drama and cruelty, tantrums and yelling. And so it is today. Problem is I'm an adult now and all that noise and bother gets on my nerves.

The apartment's cluttered, especially the desk that is littered with papers, receipts, wrappers, books, notebooks, DVD's, and hidden behind the monitor, a framed photograph taken of Esther and I Thanksgiving Day 1997 that I used to have with me at the Antigo Daily Journal, but never took to the Beloit Daily News. I tell myself that I need to have some order to this chaos, clean the ring spots off the corner, throw away the Eastwind Nut Butter wrapper, fix the printer ($70 to replace color and black ink cartridges), put the cereal bowl and spoon next to the sink, put the manila envelopes under the desk, get a mousepad instead of using a comic book. We don't even want to delve into the drawers. The desk is the center of activity. The whirlwind of detritus surrounding my life settles here, eventually, for a time. Clutter is fecundity for creativity to grow.

I had a conversation with Andy Sunday night. He told me about his father meeting a nice woman and how happy he is for his old man. He said he spent Thanksgiving at the woman's house. His sister and her husband are due with their first child in February. I asked Andy if seeing his dad hook up makes him want to find a woman. He said he needs to love himself before he can love another. So true. Andy has little self-confidence. He's also got a bit of a misogyny problem, an old world belief in putting women in their proper place. No doubt tied to the confidence issue. Andy wants to be a great musician, but has very little to no proficiency on his keyboard. He has managed to arrange a bunch of 80s-ish synthesizer songs and seems to have fun with it. He holds fast to dreams of rock stardom, but is so far from it, employed as a janitor, a union man, making $14 an hour and able to finish his 8-hour day in five hours. His life holds no challenge. He lives as a hermit with few friends, drinks too much beer, alone, on the weekends. His persona is a black hole that sucks all light and positive energy from anyone else into it. Yet he is a nice guy. Just morose and deluded. He is very skinny, but his face is getting puffy from all the beer. I've known him for almost 17 years. He and Goat are the only two friends I have in this town.

Goat said he is depressed because he doesn't have enough social contact. I find this surprising because when we go out he knows everybody in downtown Rockford. I know nobody.He said, "But you've got Esther. You live with somebody." I said, "But you've got family." He said, "My mother always finds ways to be criticize me and tell me how disappointed she is in me." I said, all pragmatic, "If you're so lonely, join a church, get involved in a club, find people with similar interests." Blah blah. I couldn't believe myself. I sounded like a high school guidance counselor. "I get lonely, too, sometimes." I said. "But I'm too lazy to seek out more friends. I've got enough friends spread out all over that I don't feel so lonely. I don't want what we had in college. Friends bursting out everywhere. A burgeoning supply of amicas. I'd never get anything done." He said, "I just need more feminine contact." I said, "Oh, you just wanna get laid." He said, "Well, yeah."

Today I did my hair different. Per Esther's suggestion I put gel in it, but did not comb it. The curls are wild, haphazard, Appollonian. A bit too feminine for my tastes. Maybe it's cool. I have a now-legendary insensitivity to style. The students said nothing, but when I got back to the car after a day of teaching I looked at myself in the rear view mirror and got all embarrassed. What have I become? Gone from suave, stylish reporter to goateed heavy metal band roadie. Also have not shaved in a couple days, so have stubble on cheeks. Totally unkempt. So euro trash. Reminds me of the bum downtown who always hits people up for money or cigarettes. He approached me, and before he could get a word out, I said, "Hey, man. Got a cigarette? Got a dollar?" The bum just looked at me all quizzical, and I could see all the creases on his weather-worn Nubian face. And in another climate maybe that face could pass as noble and he'd be a village elder. But in this capitalist Americana culture, his innate nature sensibilities are dulled, the visions have left him, in droves. All he's left with is a gnawing need for food, booze, cigarettes and warmth, in that order. Tomorrow I eschew gel and embrace the razor and brush. Don't want to lose my senses and start foaming at the mouth.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Just another gray hump day in snowy Rockford world. Actions of the flesh: slept in late, missed morning workout; taught elementary school gym class; worked on new song with Goat bridge; went to library and read Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Utne Reader; checked out 10 CDs and 3 DVDs; took car to gas station and through car wash; came back home after dark and wrote e-mails; currently blogging. Plans for evening: nurse a couple Bergoff winterfest hazelnut ales, write lyrics for new song (theme: longing and nature imagery); creative write an hour; read before bedtime (Stories by T.C. Boyle).

Last night, for the first night in a long time, I did not sleep well. I could feel the movement of liquids through my belly. I pressed fingers to abdomen and was amused by the feel and sound of digestion. I recalled earlier when I questioned the young filmmaker how my pulse raced. I even put my finger to my neck and guessed it must have been over 110 beats per minute. The old journalist impulses came out. Press conferences stressed me out because I was among colleagues, nay, competitors in my market. Not only did I not want to look like an idiot, but I wanted to ask insightful questions that made the competitor's questions seem idiotic. Journalists are vain, vacuous and insular. And very competitive. I was no exception. When I checked the competitor's story, I looked for information they included from questions I asked. I always shined in the gallery because I put so much pressure on myself to inquire well. But it always made me nervous.

I think all that excess misplaced adrenaline that had me checking my carotid artery in the Maddox Theatre also had me putting finger to belly in stomach gurgle game after midnight. Add the stress that nearly every time I have stomach problems, each shift is similar to the sensations I had when my heart palpitated uncontrollably, and I instinctively ask, is this the big one? Such are the concerns of one who has had heart surgery and, before then, dealt with the effects of a congenital condition. Reason says my heart problem was solved by surgery. And so it was. But reason be damned when I feel that shift in my upper belly after midnight.

The winterfest ale is very nutty, a bit pretentious. My palate craves flavor when I drink beer, so I don't mind a pretentious beer. Assault my senses. I'm a product of the video game generation. I can take it. Read the latest Entertainment Weekly at the YMCA yesterday and an article chronicled the history of video games. Pong was developed in 1971, but not marketed in any form until 1972. My life parallels the pixel playground era. I spent hours memorizing patterns for Pac Man in the early 80s. I ate a few of the 5,000 point keys. I could spend 45 minutes on one quarter. After that it was mastery of Karate Champ. Then Frogger. Then, during a brief stint of ownership of a Nintendo game system, I mastered Mike Tyson's Punchout. This was, what? 1989. I haven't been into video games much since. The end of my interest in video games was around the time I stopped collecting comic books. Video games symbolize sexual frustration, acne and isolation to me. In short, adolescence. The only time I play video games now is when I visit the Larson's. Brother-in-law John's got one of those Nintendo Game Cubes.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

At Rockford College's Maddox Theatre I attended a documentary film about why Middle Eastern nations hate us, made by Rockford native Dan Lindsey. I went because, well, it is free, and I heard about it on NPR on the way to work this morning.

I didn't enjoy the film, which consists of sit-down interviews with loved ones of 9-11 terrorism attack victims, American diplomats past and present, one crazy Osama Bin Laden sympathizer, foreign diplomats, strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C. (this film is sponsored by a D.C. international relations lobby group) and stock footage news coverage of 9-11, training videos for Islamic fundamentalists. All very general, the interview subjects speak political-ese mumbo-jumbo. Populist crap. Afterwards a question and answer session, the audience fawning over the three at the microphone: a sociology professor, the film's producer, and Lindsey. One woman, a middle-aged tangle-haired redhead with hornrimmed glasses and swimming in a black cardigan sweater, said "What can we do to care for the people of the Middle East?" Another, a sharp, Germanic looking fellow, also in smart-looking glasses, said "What do you see happening in Saudi Arabia in the next five years?" My question one of content: "Why is there no narrator?" The young filmmaker said something about not trying to coerce the viewer and the powerful effect of images. "The film is called, 'Why do they hate U.S.?' You never answered your own question. I will leave this auditorium more perplexed than when I arrived," I said. What a waste of time, and now I look like a curmudgeon in public. C'est la vie.

Which brings me to my next point. I'm just a guy, sure, a journalist, but just one critical mind in pedigreed society. Why was I the only one critical of this obvious crap? Sentiment for the young, 24-year-old filmmaker, perhaps? Fear of verbal reprisal? Here is rare chance to meet the filmmaker. To directly about the content of what you just saw with those who prepared it for you. The audience's questions were as general as the film itself. Good documentaries tell a story, get down and personal with its subject. This was a fool with a camcorder and access to official type people asking, like, "So, why do you think they bombed us?" Very MTV. I squirmed in my seat, annoyed by the sound bite era.

Good news. I will be at Kishwaukee Elementary School through Jan. 6 at $86 a day. I actually make $95 a day, but $9 and change goes to the Teacher Retirement System, some fund I'll promptly forget about when I've moved on to something else. Got a kick out of startling the children with an air horn I discovered in the equipment room, one of those CO2 powered babies you see at football games.

Jammed with Goat today after work. We worked out a bridge for my next song, but he does not have his four-track recorder set up. I'd like to record "Ephemera." Really, I'd like to get five or six songs roughed out with vocals and guitar, and then work on trying to get a band to perform them with. I'm growing as a musician. Haven't done anything towards writing for magazines. Tired of the reporter's life. More focused on fiction, poetry and music. Having fun with my artistic side right now. I'm all sideburned, goateed and growing my hair long. Got hip clothes for my birthday.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Lame how lax I've been with the blog, and writing in general as of late. No creative writing since last Wednesday. But we all need to take a holiday from all that sometimes.

Esther got upset when she heard her grandmother's funeral wouldn't be held until a month after her death. But such a late funeral has given Esther a chance to find out more about her grandmother. Last night at the Larson's she looked through old photographs from Grandma's wedding, her high school yearbook. Esther learned Grandma's nickname was "Patches," and that she was fast runner, a good ice skater, and outgoing and determined. Grandma "willed" her determination "to the flowers, because I wouldn't want to burden anybody else with it." What a prescient phrase, because Grandma's particular nature is something she battled her whole life. One of Esther's less-than-pleasant memories is spending hours with Grandma learning how to spoon soup properly.

Thursday, Thanksgiving, typical, but wonderful. I ate too much, got a tummy ache. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim's. Only cousins to show were the McMillans, Margaret and Jim's kids. Brother Mike showed too. Small gathering. Jimmy's stepkids Crystal and Heather the youth element. Also Uncle Burt and Aunt Nancy and Aunt Althea. Took a windy cold red faced dusk walk. Mom and Margaret kept a quick pace through the neighborhood. We stayed late, past 11, and Mike, Esther and I dozed on the couch, lulled to slumber by conversation of parents, aunts, uncle. Phrase of the day, which cousin Jeff and Aunt Margaret read out loud many times: eye yam sofa king we todd did. Just about bust a gut laughing at cousin Joe's word play creation. He works as a prison guard.

Friday at the Larson's. Trent and Beth's baby Emily the star attraction. Usual Larson feast. I made the best turkey gravy I've ever made, using corn starch AND flour. Added fresh ground pepper and salt. Emily is a very animated and talkative baby. She is slowly warming to Esther and I, even though she did not let me hold her. She smiled when I played peek a boo and said my name as we were introduced. Later in the evening had dinner at my parent's and saw my brother Bob, who is in town to help his brother-in-law with house repairs. Bob looks good. Too bad about punk niece Cathy. And Candy, at 21, can hardly be out of her mother's sight. Neither have high school diplomas, jobs, or live away from home. But they are healthy and, hopefully, loved. I have not seen Cathy or Beth in almost two years and Candy since my chance encounter with her at the Phantom Regiment show in July.

Saturday drove down to Springfield and met with trail friend Odin, a.k.a. Keith Leffler. Highlights of day include a tour of the state capitol building and the Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas home. Ran out of time to see Lincoln's grave or home. Another visit. Met Odin's wife, Julie, and family, including parents and sister. Fun party in the evening. Saw slides from Odin's thru-hike, including pictures of Esther and I we'd never seen. Odin's father, Bob, is a talented amateur photographer, and Odin has learned well from his old man. His photos were some of the best composed I've seen of anyone, especially a memorable sunrise photo from the top of Blood Mountain in Georgia. Odin, his family and wife, Julie, are all good people. It was a great time.

Sunday, my 30th birthday, drove back to Rockford in record time to catch Packers-Bears game. Packers won, 30-20, in exciting matchup with many trick plays and weird plays. A memorable game with a positive outcome. Packers clinched division and are the first team in the NFL to earn a playoff spot. After game took a walk around neighborhood with Mom and Esther. This walk and the one on Thanksgiving was the only exercise I got. That, and all the walking we did around Springfield. I feel like I've gained weight.

Mom made me a great ribeye steak dinner, cooked just the way I like it, with a mushroom and grilled onion au jus, baked potato and salad. She also baked a chocolate cake with pudding in the middle, topped with a light frothy seven minute frosting. Mom and Dad gave me a showerhead attachment that eliminates chlorine. I hope it will reduce the frequency of skin rashes and psoriasis I get. We'll see. Rockford water is murder on my skin. Then over to the Larson's for more cake and ice cream. I only ate a little ice cream, full from the other meal. Presents from the Larson's include: $15 Borders book store gift certificate from Trent and Beth; compact disc binder from John and Dorothy; an Arizona gazzetteer and $50 to buy clothes from Mom and Dad Larson; and Esther bought me a crew neck casual dress shirt and a sweater. I've worn both, and they both look very hip. I need the wife to develop a fashion sensibility.

Which brings us to today. Worked again at Kishwaukee. Watched a bad Spielberg flick from 1987, "Batteries Not Included." Ran errands to grocery store and Borders after dinner. Talked to Shawn. That's about it. Good. We're all caught up.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I've just finished reading the latest Anne Lamott novel, "Blue Shoe," about yet another single mother and her family in crisis, liberal politics, betrayal, and feeling, feeling, feeling, kitschy phrases like comparing the sound of a digiridoo to an eggplant with a light shining behind it. Very Apropo. Very Lamott. Her characters remind me of what I imagine Susie Hofer to be -- all twisted, perplexed, confused, messy and hypochondriacal, but with a healing grace and faith. I haven't heard from her since she canceled dinner. Wrote her an e-mail. Called. Any further attempts at contact would be pestering.

Funny. When I think about Susie I am reminded, for no apparent reason, of a place from childhood -- the view of a grassy area from Jeremy Powers's backyard. Not far from the backstop of the softball field in the church yard. The same backstop constructed of old telephone poles, two-by-fours and chain link fence. Kind of like how Claude Debussy reminds me of the banks of Spring Creek behind a ranch house on the northeast corner of the busy Alpine-Spring Creek intersection. But at least I can pin that to an event. I discovered Debussy listening to library tapes on my daily drive to work at Millward Brown, and I passed that ranch home en route. I have no direct memory associations with Susie and this small grassy area that always comes to mind when I think of her. Maybe it was a favorite place of hers from her own childhood and the mojo vibe of that place was picked up by my unconscious. If she ever contax me again, I'll ask her.

I listen to American Beauty, the only Grateful Dead album I own. Remember back in college days I wrote an angry column about token girlfriends, loud car stereos, and my contempt for the Dead. I wrote I was glad tye-dye dress tie hawking drug addict Jerry Garcia was taking a dirt knap. Had a hippie fella, Ted Polack-last-name, pointed a finger at my chest in photography class and said, "You're such an asshole!" Not a passive Deadhead Ted. It is the most emotional and confrontational reaction I've ever received about something I wrote. Even worse than the group of black women who ripped me a new one when I criticized the Million Women March. Ahh, college days. I miss the hoopla. But in a reversal of most people's political maturation process, I grow more liberal the older I get. Comes from my love of trail and a deep-seated conviction that the pro-business GOP-heads want to blacktop and strip mall the wild places I hold so dear. Of course I know Dems are just as bad. All politicians go where the money is. I wish I could take back the comments I made about Jerry Garcia. American Beauty's a great album. Also like that Touch of Grey album, released when I was in junior high. The Dead are very trail. Down home, laid back. Still, jam bands bore me after a while. And I've long since grown tired of the company of sedentary potheads. Most Deadheads are bearded anachronisms. But my woman looks good wearing beads and a peasant skirt.

Just read in the Register Star about the 7-year-old second grader who died of asthma complications last week, the same day his little brother Isaiah cut his lip open in my gym class. A double indignity that day for little Isaiah, a day he will never forget. An excerpt from the editorial:

"[A]sthma is a growing and serious problem across the nation. From 1980 to 1994, the latest figures available, the number of children with asthma rose 74 percent. Asthma accounts for 14 million missed school days each year. Martinez’s death came as a shock to his classmates, who were playing with the 7-year-old just hours before he collapsed. In school and out, many people aren’t aware that asthma can be debilitating, even life-threatening. In 1998, 246 of the 5 million American children with asthma died."

The editorial is no great shakes. Informs readers that deaths from asthma are rare, but people should regard the disease with seriousness. One question not answered is, Why has asthma increased so dramatically? Isn't our air quality better than it was 20 years ago? Like all medical questions, the answer is as multi-faceted as each patient profile. My pet theory is too many kids are stuck indoors, don't get exercise, and/or are living around smokers. Get your kids outside. Open your windows.

Esther's got the beginnings of a cold, and this morning she woke up and blew her nose. It sounded like she did it right next to my ear. I dreamed it was a big snake about to attack and woke with an adrenaline start and violent rustle of bed sheets. What the hell was that?! I said. What time is it? Quarter to one. God, I thought you were a snake. Esthers grabs a handful of pink toilet paper off a roll, turns her back to me and blows again. She falls back asleep. I stay awake and listen to my pulse calm as the fear chemicals work their way through me. Upstairs neighbor Erik has water running, for what seems like forever. Oh, yeah, I remember. He has a dishwasher. Where does he fit it in his small kitchen? I listen to him cough through the bathroom vent. A smoker with a cold kind of cough, deep and wracking. God, the air is dry, I think. And I've got the nasty taste of rotten phlegm in the back of my throat. I better not be getting a cold again. I'm surrounded by sickness.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The conqueror is vanquished, as all eventually are. The meek shall inherit the earth for they are cockroaches. A mind is a terrible thing to boggle. It is better to bless than cursive. Stoom boddle boondoggle.

My legs are slowly going numb. I'm supremely fatigued, but awake and alive, too. Jus' bleedin' bloggin' Benny Hill show. It is 7:45 p.m. of a late November Tuesday. Today's movie was "Wonderland," a British independent flick filmed, at times, in grainy Super 8 stock. It is a story told in vignettes about three sisters and their family in London. One is a pregnant, one a mother who goes out on the town, the third single and looking. Then there's the mother and father in a loveless marriage. The mother poisons a neighbors dog because it barks all the time. What sticks with me are the sped up scenes of the characters moving through the streets, lights blurry streamers, and the images of London streets, all noise and people everywhere. Makes me think of my Parisian brother. How does he handle the congestion? It would eat me alive, yet the sea tide of humanity interests and compels me.

The dumbwaiter's engine is almost shot. One big bucket of ice will send the box tumbling to dusty floor. Her name was Sharon and she could never shut up. A veritable machine gun barrage of verbiage. Stoom curdle yurt house.

I thought about attachment issues again. About how my father did not live at home until I was 8. And how my mother was very busy working three jobs and hardly had time for any of us, much less me. And also how Mom and Dad placed no expectations on me, never asked about homework. And how my older brothers played endless practical jokes on me. Another brother beat me up, once kicked me in the balls so hard I pissed blood. I think about how worried I get if Esther is running more than 10 minutes late, how I run through this scenario of a fiery death, and how I am almost compelled to go out and look for her. I thought about that time all the neighbor kids were invited to a birthday party except for me, and how I hung out in my yard and cried until Hope Bredesen walked me over. And then the birthday girl told me in front of everybody, "You weren't invited!" And how that happened more than once because I was a hyperactive child and parents didn't want to deal with me. I remember finally figuring out how to be cool, and then consciously forsaking it throughout my junior high school years. Instead, reveling in being "other," being booger. And how that has shaped who I am now. More blessing than not. I'm independent-minded, make lifestyle choices not to please family or friends, but because it is what I want to do. God, psycho-babble don't suit me. Let's just say that despite all the bullshit life throws out, I will prevail. Like a coat of red paint, the bull charge of my will, ego, indominatable spirit, prevails over all. Just in quiet reflective November moments does that hurt little. Screw all that hurt of the past. Too much good has happened. I have been loved too much to be haunted by the helplessness of my childhood.

Sunrise from rocky mountain outcrop, pointy treetops below barely clear the morning mist. And all the witness of this scene can think is, "diddle doddle doodle doddle dang."

The chillens be wild today. Each class misbehaved. I think the cold weather has them indoors. And the unwise wuss-ass fools that are the decision-makers at school won't let them get out for recess. All that pent-up energy taken out on teachers and in gym class. Not an organized energy. Not enough to really play a game. And I think about the little boy who died last week from asthma complications. And all the children in my classes who complain of asthma problems. And all the time spent indoors. And all the parents who are smokers. Sad sad. Tomorrow they all get free reign. Fruitless to try any team sports. Not gun do it. Twouldn't be prudent at this juncture.

Producers of the hit comedy get together in fancy class boardroom, all shiny walnut, leather and glass. Bigwig says, "The more fart jokes the better. Audience wants something it can relate to. Stick to farting and sex and spending money. And God Forbid any more of that coaxial zodiac earthenware crap!!!"

And so it is. The wounded warrior sips his beer to numb the wounded weather child within. A trail beckons. Hiking to or from? To forget or remember? Thank God for small miracles. Physical pain cannot be remembered.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Esther and I attended our first Sierra Club meeting tonight at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford. I read in the paper there would be a "Coffee Talk" presentation on the health of urban waterways. Turned out to be a video presentation on the Willow Creek watershed in Machesney Park, the same Willow Creek that is dammed to form Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park, and from which Frankie Drabek and I played along for many, many hours when I was a kid.

The video shows how downstream flooding has become even more of a problem in recent years as development increases in the creek's watershed area. As more homes and parking lots are created, less water is absorbed into the soil. One landowner along the creek said it should be straightened and have concrete embankments on all sides, like Loves Park Creek. There was this 10-year old boy who said the creek is his favorite place to play. There's a shot of him standing creek side with all his neighborhood friends, a pile of tires, concrete pilings and garbage in the creek behind them. Water can only go three places, into the air, the ground, or the stream. Interesting to see how man's meddling affects the flow. Erosion problems continue and downstream residents along the creek have flooded basements because of all the new roads and houses out in the country.

The look of the audience familiar to most of the ecological-minded venues I've attended. Women have either butchy hair or really long hair, sensible makeup, modest attire. Men professorial, many older, in their 50s, the bearded, bifocaled, Birkenstocked set. I saw two men with cross-like pendant necklaces. A couple hippie-looking young guys sat in the back, dreadlocks and army jackets. The presenter a stick figure woman who suffered from asthma and made little coughing noises every couple of sentences. But she's full of spunk. Wore a purple outfit. Talked about moving to a formerly condemned home along Willow Creek in 1965 with three small children after her husband died. Said the place was rat-infested and she's still working on it. I asked if she still lived there. She said Yes and asked me right in front of everybody if I'd come over there and help her renovate the place. She's the one that funded the video. A former school teacher in the Harlem School District, it is obvious that Willow Creek is not just a part of her property, but a integral part of her life.

Last night got three or four inches of snow. Today was very cold. Boom! Winter is here. Children were subdued and attentive at school today. I imagine they'll be holy terrors Wednesday, the day before a holiday. Watched a sad movie, "Boys Don't Cry," about a lesbian pretending to be a man in rural Nebraska who is killed at the end of the movie. It is based on a true story.

Made a good all vegetable dinner tonight of falafel patties, tossed salad, fried garlic squash with onions, and portabella mushrooms cooked in red wine, olive oil and worcestershire sauce. I was quite pleased at how those turned out. Just something I threw together. Esther and I both have wicked gas. I don't know what we got into. My stomach has been upset the fast couple days, hence the meat-free dinner. Nothing like fresh veggies, even garlic, to get the gastronomy back in order.

On Saturday, before we attended Clay and Valerie's wedding party we went to an engagement party for Tony and Lisa. Lisa is one of Esther's co-workers, and Esther was invited to be in her wedding. She is also black. We were the token whiteys at the party, but everybody had a good time. Tony seems like a good guy. He's worked for the Rockford School District as a food service driver for 20 years. Why I mentioned the party? The fixin's were real good. Tony's got a secret barbecue sauce for his ribs that is to die for. I was going to ask him what it was, but Lisa said he doesn't tell anybody, not even other family members.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

I told myself I'd come back and edit the previous entry, but no, I'll leave it as a reminder to myself. Scatalogical, indeed. That sometimes happens when I drink too much coffee or havea big meal or snow is flying in light collecting flakes outside my window. See, there I go again.

Summary of previous entry. I saw an old friend and his wife and was treated very nicely by their friends and family, even though I made a fool of myself on dance floor.

Esther and I listened to NPR this morning and they had this guy on talking about common themes in old time country music. One is the "He's in the Jailhouse Now" theme of the errant drifter vagabond ne'er do well who shirks responsilbity. Another common theme is one of religious faith that endures hardship. I think I am something of a strange synthesis of the wandering minstrel and the faithful one. An amalgum of Hank Williams Sr. and the Carter family. Don't ask me. I don't know much about country music, just that I prefer old time country over Faith Hill and Shania Twain. And that I like to wander, but remain rooted to spouse and family and old friends. And am being torn apart by the opposite desires of my heart.
Clay Frazer called me out of the blue a couple weeks ago. He is friends with Goat, and the three of us hung out about 10 years ago when we all worked together at The Valley Forge. Funny that none of us are in the news business right now. I was the last to leave. But I hadn't seen Clay since he and his then-girlfriend Valerie came to our wedding almost eight years ago. He signed our guestbook at Trailplace when Esther and I through hiked the Appalachian Trail, but the last I'd heard about him, through Goat, was that Clay was in the Peace Corps in Africa. But he called me a couple weeks ago and invited Esther and I to his wedding party. He and Valerie got married in Key West at the beginning of November. They started dating in 1993, went out for three years, broke up for two, and got back together when Valerie contacted him when she wanted to sell a car the two co-signed on when they were dating. They maintained a long-distance relationship while she was in optometry school in Memphis and when he left for the Peace Corps. She even visited him a couple times in Africa.

Clay is a contributing factor to Esther and I getting into backpacking. He and Valerie gave us a tent as a wedding present. We used it the first two years of our marriage on car camping trips. Clay went to Southern Illinois University and got a degree in Environmental Biology (I think -- it's not like I interviewed him). He is now looking for work with the USDA near where he and Valerie live in Hartland, WI, and is into outdoor activities. How cool is that? Most of my old, old friends I have a hard time relating to because of my love of outdoor activities. Clay is the opposite.

Last night Esther and I saw Clay and Val at their party at the VFW Club in Loves Park. I go there with Dad now and again for Friday night fish fry and it is a stone's throw from Sahara, where my mother had a restaurant and catering business for many years. We show up around 9 p.m. I tell Esther we can drink as much as we want because if we can't drive we can always walk to my parent's place. God my writing sucks today. Too scatalogical. I'll plod on. We don't know anybody except Clay and Valerie, but Valerie's brother recognizes me from a poetry reading I read at about a month ago. He took his ninth grade English class from Harlem there. Right when we walk through the door we hit it off with a group of almost total strangers, trying to converse over loud music. God I love music, but why so loud? Nothing else to do but dance. And since we are not known so well, there is no need for a sense of unconsciousness, dance with abandon, go nuts. I grab the microphone and rap along with the latest Eminem tune. Dance with the bride. Boogie with the groom. All good fun. And relatively sober. No open bar, so only have a couple drinks. Get home from a night of dancing. The good wife attacks me... Some moves.

I'll get back to this blog later. This evening. When I can cogitate a little better....

Thursday, November 21, 2002

look at the dark smudge on each parking lot stall
the rainbow oil slick
rainfall wash to watershed
and on to sea again
thousands of dark smudges
millions of parking lots
we're covering our world with asphalt
while fish die and trailer parks drown
it's always the ugly, poor and stupid
that get nailed first
sooner or later the pretty rich smart'll
get theirs

Snapshot moment: Snowfall outside caged gymnasium windows. Inside, the sons and daughters of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants hold hands and run in a circle singing that happy dirge from the Black Death. Ring around the rosies, pockets full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down. Kishwaukee School's long-lasting impression on me will likely be the kind, courteous Asian students, the young punk loud the world owes me everything attitude of the sistahs and brothahs, black and white and every shade in-between. The more Americanized students distress me. I feel for their futures. Of course, the architecture, solid brick building, shiny red tile floor in the hallway, old, ancient old lockers, big windows, no screens, that open out, triptych glass above main entrance. Wooden shelves, dark stained, in the classrooms. Solid. Old school. Classic. Time-tested. What will be the legacy of our modern, ephemeral, no-attention span, mass-production moment values? My generation's legacy is the landfill.

Yes, today we got our first real snowfall. Fat wet flakes that accumulated for but a few hours. The powers that be decided to keep the children inside for recess. Didn't want them to get coldsy-woldsies in the snowy weather. First class of fifth graders a collective Oooohh, Snow, and gaping out of caged window. They wanted to open the door, and I wanted to let them. But there was this business of attendance and volleyball and other adult concerns. If I had my druthers I'da put on my coat and gone out into that gray concrete playground world and twirled, tongue out, collect the uniquely geometric flakes melt into sameness on my tongue and eyelashes and get my hair wet. But by the time school let out at 2 p.m., the flakes melted of their own accord and it was a mere wet gray world with no snowy magic.

Back home did something not so smart and watched brilliant, but depressing, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Why not so smart? November's no time to watch depressing movies. Only good thing about that movie is catharsis, that universal, jeepers cripes thank God that's not me sense of relief. Black and white movie. Based on a play. Only four characters. Space time occurs over one evening. Two and a half hours. And that's my afternoon, ladies and gents.

After dinner Esther and I drive to Rock Valley College, our alma mater, so to speak, and also where we met and fell in love, the setting of our earliest years together, 1992 and 1993. We went there because Esther needed her transcripts sent to some day care board for approval of her hours, blah blah bureaucratic crap. We decide to walk around the campus a little bit. Its changed a bit in the northern end of campus. A new technology building we didn't visit. Instead investigated our old haunts, the student center and library. Walked around the library looking at artwork. I picked up a copy of the first paper I worked for, The Valley Forge. We got asked for directions three times by members of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra looking for the theatre building. Lucky for them we directed them to the right spot. As we crossed Spring Creek on the main bridge connecting said library and student center, I saw a lady do a face plant as she tripped over a step. A symphony lady looking for the theater.

I finished The Two Towers today. Frodo's been captured by Sauron's forces. Oh, no! What will happen in Return of the King? Gotta be a happy ending. Now I am ready for the movie next month. I will wait until next fall to read the final book in the series. Now I am reading "Blue Shoe," by Anne Lamott. She's one of my favorite modern fiction writers. But now I am off to the Divine Cup to read a little poetry and maybe even do some improv like I did Monday. Good coffee and verse awaits.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Last night after seeing "Red Dragon," the first of the Hannibal Lecter trilogy movies and second best to "Silence of the Lambs," Esther and I came home and I made a scary face at her. Basically, I just bug out my eyes and give a maniacal smile. She closed her eyes and refused to look at me. I got upset with her. She said that face I made would give her nightmares. I told her there's no face you make that would give me nightmares. It just opened a part of me I'm sensitive about, and that is my somewhat menacing looks.

I wish I had the ability to post pictures on this web site. I'm sure I could figure it out in time. Then I could take pictures of myself and my various faces and post them. I know that if I tried to become a Hollywood actor, I'd be typecast as the bad guy. With my long face, big eyes, prominent brow and devilish grin I'd make a perfect villain. Nobody but me knows how much my appearance affects my personality. I try to smile a lot to offset the appearance. And think that when I was younger I was singled out by teachers and classmates because of it. In elementary school if some unsolved mischief occurred I was the first one blamed. More because I was a hyperactive child, but also, I believe, because of my looks. Of course, I'm surely overly sensitive about it, but you would be, too, if many people over the course of the years made allusions to you looking like Lurch on the Adams Family, Jaws of James Bond movie fame, or, my favorite, Frankenstein.

And Esther's refusal to look at me hurt. Hurt a lot. Because she's the love of my life, my spouse, my partner, my best friend. Sure, she'd just seen a scary movie, and I was making a scary face on purpose. I understand all that. It still hurts. That I can make a face that sends chills down the spine of my dearest Sisu. And if she's all goodness and light, attractor of small animals and children, and I am her opposite, what does that make me? In a little while we are going to the in-laws to celebrate Trent Larson's birthday. Trent and Beth's daughter, Emily, will be there. She's scared of me. And not because of anything I've done, but because of how I look. And I know looks are superficial. And I know it is easy to move beyond appearances. I have. I do. But to be saddled with a menacing appearance is a burden nonetheless. I was painfully reminded of this last night.

Tonight I get together with Andy and possibly Steve. We're going to check out some live music somewhere in Rockford. It should be fun. That is, if Andy's not a sourpuss. And even if he is, I plan to not let it get to me. Tonight is all about fun. Saturday night. Esther and I need a break from each other. Andy is one of the few friends that doesn't like having her around when we go out. In fact, he's the only friend like this. It is because he is a misogynist (has a deep-seated mistrust and dislike of women). It's an issue of confidence with him. He has none. Or very little. Beer gives him courage, a foolish bravado.

Here in the Locascio household I am in charge of all things food, from purchasing groceries to preparing meals. For the past year we have done our grocery shopping at Woodman's, a humongous supermarket on the far east side of Rockford off Perryville Road. I have been contemplating a different way to shop and employed it today. I started out at Aldi's and bought canned goods, milk, eggs, chicken thigh and leg quarters and frozen Whiting fillets. The line was horrendous, and most of the stuff they sell at Aldi's is pure crap, from the convenient frozen foods to potato chips to all the toys and computers. I remember this from shopping at Aldi's back in college days and in terms of non-food crap items, its gotten worse. The 20 minutes in line went by quick as I talked to this old man, in his sixties, about grocery shopping, going to Europe, household chores, east side v. west side in Rockford, etc. He wore a flannel jacket and a Columbia fleece hat with ear flaps.

Then it was on to the 320 store in downtown Rockford for fresh fruit and vegetables. Great variety, the stock man addressed regular customers by first name. On a wooden beam near the cash register is pinned pictures and notes from local Catholic priests. The veggies look so much fresher than at Woodman's. Last I went to Pinnon's meat market and bought a ham steak, baby back ribs and sirloin steak. It was a bit more expensive, but again, better quality. No foam trays. The lady who served me behind the meat counter saw a regular customer and told her "hold on a minute and I'll come give you a big hug." It reminded me of the meat market I worked at in college, Inboden's, in DeKalb. I helped with customer service there.

Of course, I forgot a bunch of things, but will continue with this system. The 320 store and Pinnon's Meat Market are both locally owned and close to home. Aldi's is cheap and convenient for picking up staple items. This new system will work itself out and result in better, fresher meats, veggies and fruit. Sure, I'll pay a little more, but hope Aldi's cheapness balances out the extra cost. We'll see. Maybe after a year or two the shopkeepers will know me by name. That'd be cool.

Friday, November 15, 2002

I stepped out of my nearly brand new car
into a puddle of vomit
alarmed, but curious I checked the contents
yellow frothy bile and what looked like crackers
a group of homeless men stood
nearby smoking cigarettes
they looked happy and laughed
as I wiped my shoe in a pile of leaves
once you throw up the hard part is over
the pain is gone for now
until the stomach muscles seize again
and even then it's not so bad
quite pleasant like all liquid release
when I came back it was almost dark
and the bums were gone
leaned to open door and long-legged
stepped over the vomit
but the smell remained
or so I imagined

Weird, weird Friday night mood, nursing swill beer Hamm's Special Light listening to Jeff Buckley. And all people and all their pretty concerns amuse me and bore me and even my own life seems mundane and the lawful syntax of language and existence and my perception of it goes gray gloom. Only a temporary November thing. Fricking sunset at 4:30 p.m. thing. Fricking cars and crushed cans and gravestones and unidentified plastic pieces and homeless guys and puddles of vomits and magazine articles about 37 ways to jazz up the holidays.
So what's my fricking afternoon like? Stop by Goat's right after work, but he's not home or, as it turns out later, is sleeping. Then it's home and check e-mail and download music and play guitar. Then it's to the library, where I step in aforementioned vomit. Read magazines, check out compact discs and DVDs. Back home, make dinner (pollack fish, sweet potato, broccoli). Phone calls, contemplate seeing live music. Goat finally calls back. Wants to go see Red Dragon at $1 North Towne Theatre, 9:50 p.m. show. Last week was with Goat at $1 theatre. I sense a pattern. Hope tonight we don't sit in front of a group of loud sistahs with child in stroller. Will Smith don't star in this flick and Anthony Hopkins doesn't seem to draw the African-American demographic.
Last night Goat hung out with a couple waitress friends, got drunk and ate pizza. He said he's broke because he probably bought everything. And Goat's got a car again, yippee, after almost two years away because of second DUI conviction. Not that Goat's a drunk. Sure, he likes a few beers now and again, but he's no red-nosed cirrhosis of liver rummy lush. He's just a bad driver who downed three or four beers of an evening and got pulled over. I don't know. The teetotaler, counselor, Englishman and New Yorker all have different ideas of what constitutes alcoholism.
Goat's picking us up. It's a short trip to the theatre. Strange to not shuttle him around.
Last night's presentation on the Superior Hiking Trail went well. Procrastinator me got away with it again. Sllides came back from lab just in time -- $50 for 20 slides. Ouch! Just got a $50 check earlier this week from TDK mail-in rebate for CD burner I bought this summer. It all balances out.
But where was I? Speaking of 50, that's how many attended the presentation at the Rock County Job Center in Janesville. I presented my lightweight backpacking gear, showed slides and told stories about the trip. Did my best to put little factual tidbits in there. Bottom line, thesis, the SHT is accessible to anybody, whether going on a long-distance trip, weekend or short day hike.
Spent three hours yesterday afternoon compiling notes. Ham me quite pleased to have such a receptive audience. I started off all nervous stumbly-voiced, but got better as I went. Even my jokes went over well. The whole thing lasted about 70 minutes. Mom and Dad Locascio rode with us. During gear presentation I applauded mother for sewing the quilt and tarp. I'd love to give this presentation again.
But that's it. I'm let down and bored tonight. Everything is pale. I feel stupid and ignorant and unenlightened and everything I'm trying not to be. But I do have a balanced diet. I have no addictions, except for the elixir of the gods, Hamm's (From the land of sky blue waters... Waters... From the land of pines... Comes the beer refreshing... Comes the beer refreshing... HAMM's). And outside of being bland, like my mood, it's not a bad beer. Can't beat the price.
"Dolby digital soundtracks contain up to 5.1 channels of discrete audio." -- small print on back of DVD box.

Discrete? Oh, excuse me, we're going to have sound here. Taken from a DVD box label. Textual me reads even the small print. Keeps me amused and out of debt. Discretion is the better part of valor. Discrete audio is technocrat mumbo jumbo bullshit.

"Madalena cried
her mother consoled her
saying to her
poor people are worthless
and are destined to suffer
the only one who can help is the Lord" -- Gilberto Gil

Demarcus Horton, a fourth grader at Kishwaukee Elementary School, called me a four-eyed bitch today. In my crazy class of the day, where none of the kids would sit still and be quiet when I took attendance, Demarcus took the red ball and hit a classmate at close range with it. This was not as part of the game. He was messing around. I told him to sit down and he stooped to tie his shoe. I finally got him seated on the sideline and I heard him say the F word, so called the office. As he was leaving he called me a four-eyed bitch and made fun of my shoes.
Another instance where I admire the taunt of authority represented by Demarcus's behavior, but alarmed at the disrespect he has for classmates and fellow adults. A healthy skepticism towards leaders and authorities in your world is good, but it must be reasoned. Chaotic rebellion serves no purpose and makes one a fool. How to explain this to a fourth grader? I cannot. I saw Demarcus later in the day, still sitting in the office, and he remained unrepentant. It saddens me. Maybe that's what adds to my mood tonight. His dye is cast. Will Demarcus ever amount to anything but a street corner punk? Probably not. And there's nothing this mildly buzzed substitute gym teacher can do. Of course, my elementary school teachers had dire predictions for me, and look how I turned out. HA!

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Cannons are like little appointments with God. That little ball of melted lead flying to its fate. Maybe a pile of dirt, microcosms and ants and, of course, the cannon ball itself, affected by the universal flux. Or maybe a smack to the brain of an unsuspecting warmongering fool human. That's my deity. The wormy wriggling complexity of existence.

Got a call from Debra Jensen Dehart at the Beloit Daily News saying she doesn't need my stories for this month's edition. Fine, I say, the deadline for said stories comes at inopportune time as I prepare for Janesville presentation tomorrow. Tonight I will get gear together and write a bunch of notecards about points I want to make. Call my folks and secure slide projector. Blah blah blah. See first paragraph. God is in the details. God is in the movement.

Still dragon ass with this cold, making me all hoarse and coffee and losing my voice. Sound like a smoker. I told old smoker friend Steve it wasn't fair I had to non-smoker suffer while he's all chimney clear-voiced. Maybe this is cancer. Maybe it's the big one. Because of my previous history with the palpitating heart every little episode of heart-burn or over-exuberant stomach gurgle is misconstrued as the big one. (Fred Sanford : "I'm coming to join ya, Elizabeth." He finally did. Grady's dead too. Lamont's still kicking. Esther, the purse weapon sistah, I don't know if she's still kicking. She seemed old in the 70s).

So, why write about my life in this journal? I try to keep a diary of some sort, and this is it. So egotistical, self-centered. Or as Steve Hardt said in an e-mail, "It's all about you." But I'm just a normal, boring meat and potatoes Midwest conservative beer drinking sometimes church-going agnostic overalls wearing coffee stains on his t-shirt hoarse voiced slightly gutted and getting slimmer hiker nature loving fool. ME is all I got. Even with love of wife and family and friends.

I will leave behind a mountain of words behind when I die. And whether I am a published leather patch elbow book touring boddhisatva literati prolifica or not, my heirs will have reams of mouldering print to wade through. And my printed words in newspapers will survive on micro-fiche and Internet databases.

Speaking of posterity, when I went to NIU about a year ago I went to the library and got into their microfiche of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle and found a couple articles and columns I wrote. Stupid conceit, to be sure. But as doubt creeps in, as I falter and hem and haw and procrastinate over the next step I will take this writing, I can go to my in-laws' farmhouse, climb to the rafters of the chicken coop where our stuff is stored, and look through three boxes of clips, remants of 10 years off and on in the newspaper business, from junior college to college to the northwoods and all points in-between. So fricking what if I don't have any major magazine credentials yet? Persistence, boy. And faith in your abilities. And even though you are a procrastinating SOB, you will get around to it. Have patience in yourself. All things in good time and time for all good things. Your journey is just begun. Blah blahy blah

I gotta go make dinner.

Screw that. I'll do Chinese.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Yesterday cold and gray, but Esther skipped work and we hiked on the Ice Age Trail in Walworth County after I did an interview in Beloit. Good hike. I'm still sore. We went from Rice Lake to Hwy. 12, round trip a little over 6 miles. Leaden sky. No way to tell time. Hilly terrain. That's why there's a trail. Glacial topography. This landscape serves no agricultural purpose and would be difficult to build a house on.

I did not sleep well Sunday night. My cold and coughing and hacking up yellow-green phlegm and all that. And Esther feels superior because when she had the cold it only lasted a day. Sure, she's all, oh, poor you and caring, but I know she's gloating inside. Such is her competitive nature. So what if my white cells aren't as efficient as hers. I'm new to this working around kids business. Gotta build up a tolerance.

After hike came home and watched a movie, "That Thing You Do," written and directed by Tom Hanks, who also has a role. Lite fair. It doesn't suck, but the ending is too pat. The band breaks up just after appearing on television? Give me a break. The bass player disappears at Disney World with a couple Marines? And the romance between the main character and Liv Tyler was so foreshadowed, when it finally happens at the end it's like, duh? Not a bad job by Hanks. He's a great actor and comedian. It shows with some funny one-liners. But he's no script-writer or director. His inexperience there shows too.

One thing that happened Friday I did not report is we got a phone message from Esther's father, Paul, saying that her grandmother broke her leg and, in his words, "it might be a terminal event." Those words, "terminal event," sound so clinical and detached, and this man is talking about his mother. That's very Scandinavian northern Minnesota Garrison Keillor of my father-in-law. He is such an anxious, worrisome soul bear the whole world on his shoulders control freak that he hardly ever goes away from the confines of the family farm. He cannot handle crowds or large gatherings, even of family. The weekend in 2001 when he had his heart attack, during the wedding reception for his niece he hid away in a corner somewhere.

And that emotional reticence showed through in his message about his mother. "Terminal event." Come one, come all. One time only. Dad Larson wrote grandma off prematurely. She's in recovery and is expected to survive. He's quick to write her off because she has severe alzheimer's disease and is already mentally dead to the world except for brief moments of lucidity. One of the most horrifying moments was when Esther and I visited her and she scowled at Esther, said I don't know you. I don't like you. Get away from me. Get away! Poor Esther was driven to tears seeing her in that condition.

I am once again cooking beer can chicken. Last time it was great, tasted all smoky and barbecuey, but this time should be better. I'm using more coals and have mesquite wood soaked in water for 40 minutes added to give more flavor. I also marinated the whole bird in Famous Dave's BBQ sauce, real maple syrup and ketchup for a couple hours. Now the bird has to cook for about 1 1/2 hours under indirect heat. Yum.

I've learned the art of slow cooking. The slower you cook something, the more tender the meat.

Subbing again this week at Kishwaukee Elementary School. If I work another week I will qualify for long-term sub status and make $20 more a day. That would be very cool. So I am hoping and praying the nameless, faceless Mr. Pirrello remains too ill or emotionally wrought or whatever to come back. To wish ill fortune upon someone is ill fortune upon yourself. I hope he gets better, but wishes to milk the system and take time off to re-discover himself. Yeah, that'll work. Good karma all around and I get paid more.

No open stage this week, but I am working on a couple more original tunes. Still working on the short story about the woman offered an alternate reality of fame and stardom. Still plan to write some query letters this week, specifically to Wisconsin Trails and a Minnesota outdoor publication. Also preparing and cramming notes for my presentation Thursday about the Superior Hiking Trail.

BEER ALERT: The beer I am using for beer can chicken is Hamm's Special Light ($3.99 a 12-pack). No flavor and it tears through you if you drink a lot of it. I opted for value over quality. Next time a nice porter or stout. Had to prove I wasn't a beer snob.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

That I have the vision and fortitude to sit in front of this computer is amazing. Today has been all about video, video, video... That, and reuniting with an old friend and our godchildren.

Steve Hardt finally called last night after I tried for days to reach him. Every time I tried to call in the evening, the phone was busy. Now I know why. Steve, his sister, Carrie, and brother, Randy, all have computers. They also all like to talk on the phone. The phone rang at least a couple times an hour today while we were over there.

I woke up early this morning because of my runny nose and cold, which has gotten progressively worse and now has me hoarse-voiced and coughing. I enjoyed the quiet of the morning reading Tolkien and watching the sun rays rise up the wall of the living room. Esther slept a few more hours after me. I then read in the paper about Northern Illinois Football playing Bowling Green today, and both are 5-0 in the MAC. It is billed as the most important game in NIU football history!!! NIU hasn't won a MAC title since 1983. When I went there, the football program sucked. Big time. I think they only won a couple games. So I tried to get a hold of Todd Stanley to see if he wanted to meet me in DeKalb, but had no luck. Then I tried my Dad, but he wanted to do yardwork instead. Esther offered to come with, but it's not fun watching football with someone who doesn't know anything about the game. She'd still be good company, and would remember to bring seat cushions, blankets, etc. for stadium comfort. I've gone to many a high school football game with her. And when we lived in Antigo she even had football photos published in the paper. Her only photo credit to date. So she's not totally naive. But more than football, I was just craving guy company.

So I called Steve back. He left a message last night. Esther and I rode our bikes over to his place and took a short bike ride with Steve Jr. around the neighborhood. We went to Rock Cut Elementary, and being the boring fuddy-duddy I said, "Yeah, back in my day, we didn't have playground equipment. This is the same schoolyard I beat your dad up in. Hee hee." Then it was over to the house for hours upon hours of video game action playing Grand Theft Auto III. I got a sadistic glee out of blowing cars up, stealing stuff, running people over and blowing stuff up with bazookas and rifles. Steve had cheat codes so the police didn't bother me and I had unlimited life. I caused mass carnage on the street.

We also watched a HORRIBLE action movie with Steve, Steve Jr., and Breanna called, "The Scorpion King," starring The Rock of WWE fame. Steve is separated from his wife, Michelle, but she came over for awhile. They seem to be on chilly terms with each other, but can get along well enough to not kill each other. Michelle has always been a tempestuous person, and Steve is picky enough to drive her up a wall. I get a sick joy out of watching their petty arguments. Michelle and the kids are living with her folks. She looks good and healthy and is working full-time. Steve is back at a collection agency, also working full-time. Steve lives with his mother in the same house he grew up in. So quite a throwback day for us, he 30, me on the eve of, hanging out at his Mom's, just like old times, playing video games. I hope to keep in closer contact with Steve. Now that he is away from Michelle, he may be inclined to actually go out with me of an evening. Maybe not. He is kind of a homebody.

Quick update on yesterday. I saw two movies, "8-Mile" and "Men In Black II." MIB II we saw at the North Towne dollar theater. These black women behind talked during the entire movie. They also had an infant in a carriage. Chaos. A loud, action-packed flick and I could hardly pay attention. Very inconsiderate. And this from the most disenfranchised ethnic minority in this country. Sistahs be talking about getting they props, but they don't exercise common courtesy. Uncool. Goat Boy joined us. It was his idea to go to the movie. He just needed a ride. He starts at UPS Monday and told me he will finally get his car back from his mother. God, am I the only one with no financial/housing ties to my parents? My other good friend mentioned in this entry, Todd, also lives at home in Steger, IL.

Got a little toasty on five beers last night, including cheap swill Hamm's Special Light (110 calories) I bought for $3.99 a 12-pack at Hilander's. Bland, nearly flavorless, but inoffensive. Ripped through my gut, though. Wonder why cheap beer does that? Just can't drink it in mass quantities. Also, after being good all day with dieting, I stopped at Uncle Nick's and bought a greasy gyro after a beer (my fourth, Esther drove) at the Irish Rose.

Friday was a beautiful day. After the 12:30P showing of 8-Mile at Showplace I took a long bike ride, this time exploring neighborhoods in south-central Rockford, going just a little beyond Harrison to a subdivision which ends in fields. As I rode down unfamiliar streets near Alpine and Harrison I rode by a group of Asian kids playing. One boy looked familiar, but I kept going. Then I heard a little voice yell, "Hey there gym teacher!!!"

Thursday, November 07, 2002


The first graders ran in through the wooden doors
sat down at their spots
orange dots painted on the gym floor
while I continued playing Around the World
How come we don't have a basketball to play with?
a smart-aleck boy said
Because you're too small
How come I don't have a bouncy ball to jump on?
I said
Because you're too big
smart-aleck said
I continued shooting
Why don't you have hair on your chest
a mortgage
driver's license or car to drive
or the glazed over sedation of adulthood?
What's that big word you said mean?
Which one?
See-see. The one that starts out see something
You'll figure it out
About the same time you can make free throws
How come we have to sit?
Because I haven't made it around the world
When will you make it around the world?
I don't know
Can we play now?
Not until after I take attendance.
When is that?
Look, kid, this is getting old
But smart-aleck and the others couldn't sit and by the time I made
the fourth shot the brave ones had grabbed
at the bouncy balls
and pig-tailed girls hip swayed giggle with hula hoops
Now that's something I could never do
the hula hoop
Not even when I was in first grade

On Wednesday, I visited Mrs. Adams' fifth grade class at Kishwaukee Elementary School that had given me so much trouble twice before and I had them write during their scheduled gym time about respect and what it means to them. Some excerpts:

"Treat others the way they want to be treated because if you don't you will get in trouble and if you talk you will be in bigger trouble. you mite end up getting kick out of school."

"I would respect you. I'm a nice little girl. You should get to know me, and I should get to know you. We started off horrible, but we're really good inside. So give us another chance please with sugar on top and chocolate in the middle please give us another chance please."

"Respect means that you have to treat others the way you want to be treated and be kind to others. Don't talk back and listen to what they say. When someone needs help you should help them."

"My class is very disrespectful I admit but sometimes they can be very nice and kind. I'm very sorry about the obnoctus girls in my dreadful class. But would you give us a chance to trie again. I blaim Kristina, Stephane, Jasmine and Josph."

"When talking talk safly."

"I tried to tell you something instead of getting in trouble but you disrespect me by not listening so I disrespected you back, and that's what going to happen every time. You have to respect me to get respect from me." (This is from the girl who gave me the most trouble and refused to cooperate)

"I don't bud in someone's conversation, when someone don't play with me I mind my own buisness not go and say 'ha, you a tooth-faced girl you better be my friend or I will beat you up.'"

I may be back again at that school next week. The janitor/head maintenance guy Joe told me he heard through the grapevine that the regular gym teacher really has a bad back. We'll see. If I work the same class for more than 10 days I get paid more and it's steady work. Both are good things. Now I'm getting all this mail about master's degree programs for teaching that I can sign up for. "SPECIAL -- only two nights a week, right here in Rockford!!" We'll see. I'm not too keen on more student loans. Still paying off my undergraduate. I do know if the academic world beckoned again, I would do quite well. I did quite well as an undergrad except for non-major courses like chemistry and French. Everything else I got A's or B's. Hard to believe it has been more than four years since I graduated.

After school I took a long bike ride south to Harrison Street and discovered unnamed county forest preserve land along the Rock River's west bank just north of Harrison. No sign or entrances, just bottomlands. The boundary has small forest preserve signs. Worth checking out sometime. Next to Davis Park, still on the west bank of the Rock River, near the Fordham Dam, there is a tunnel under a railroad bridge the homeless people have erected shanties in. I wanted to venture inside and have a conversation, but just rode by outside and looked in, saw plywood boards, a shadow in human form and the burning ember of a cigarette. I should go back with notebook and camera. Still remember our visit to Hobo Junction in Beloit. Sad sad sad, but good journalism.

I got my first paycheck tonight after stopping at the Larson's. Still have not been paid by the Beloit Daily News for three stories I did for Stateline Business. What's the deal with that? I notice they've been published on-line. Plus, it's the November issue, and hard copies should be out. I will inquire about that when I submit my next batch of articles.

Tomorrow should be an easy day. No subbing then or Monday. I'm scheduled to go to the Wedgbury Indoor sports arena for an 11 a.m. interview, and will arrange for an interview with Dave Buchan in Beloit (re: the Entrepeneurial Development Center) and Kutter Harley Davidson in Janesville (re: them being the best-selling HD dealer in the US or something). Like to kill all three birds with one stone tomorrow.

My cold is manifesting itself even more. Like every night since Monday, I'm staying in. Today was a beautiful Indian summer day and I rode through the dusk, a most glorious time of day to be outside. Explored my father's old neighborhood on the way home, warm south wind propelling me onward. I get a late afternoon sunshine glimpse of Rockford from a hill on top of Kent Street. So many parks in this town. So many streets. So much to explore in the second city. So much to see.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Today is so beautiful fall glorious I think I'll take a bike ride in the 4 p.m. dusk. It's supposed to be sunny and warm this weekend, highs in the 50s and 60s. I sure hope so. I've got nothing concrete planned for the first time in what seems like months, and maybe a road trip or tour of county forest preserves is in order. Certainly would like to spend some time outdoors. Isn't that surprising?

I let the third and fourth graders have free reign in gym class. The only caveat is they had to stay in the gym and the only thing I let them play with is basketballs. Watched as a group of six to eight tried to form teams, endlessly bickering over who should be on what team, kids quit in disgust, turn around and want back in, disrupting the selection. This went on for 15 minutes and teams never did get formed. That's the product of the Game Boy generation. No attention spans to stick to any task at hand, and a me me me intractable mentality. I read a great quote from Lao Tzu this morning: "Guard the senses/and life is ever full.../ Always be busy/ and life is beyond hope." Lao Tzu, which sounds like it would be a spicy take-out dish, was a philosopher from 2,500 years ago. The 21st century mind regards 100 years ago as quiet and quaint. Think what 'ol Lao would think of modern society. He'd probably shut himself off in a monastery.