Wednesday, October 30, 2002

I write this from a gym teacher's office at Kishwaukee Elementary School, a lovely old brick building in south Rockford. I am teaching physical education today. A whistle hangs on a light switch near the door. I will not use it. There are a lot of Asian students at this school. An ethnic neighborhood nearby? It would be interesting to know the racial geography of Rockford. Cultural stories interest me. And all too often (I am sounding a bit politically correct) racial minority issues get overlooked.

Last night at St. Mary's Place was a fiasco. I sucked pretty bad, couldn't remember the lyrics to my new song, and messed up the timing and chords on the others. No one applauded or even recognized my existence. When I arrived, alone, the clientele was a bunch of hard scrabble factory workers finishing up their dart league. By the time I was leaving, a younger, hippie druggie crowd showed up. I fit in with neither. Rockford hippie types are like, you know, so blah and boring. I overhear their conversation and deem them dummies.

I couldn't play my own guitar and had to use an electrical guitar provided by people who host open stage. It is difficult to tune and the strings are raised high above the fretboard. Plus, I was just nervous and apprehensive because of Goat Boy's condemnation of the place before I even arrived. It was not a total loss. I was out of there by 11 p.m. and only spent $1 on a draft beer. Tonight it is back to Lungo's Landing for another attempt. Don't know if I'll make it. I'm pretty tired after going to bed so late and waking up at 5:45 a.m.

Today after work I will finish my public safety story for Clint and the gang at the BDN and then crash out for a couple hours, hopefully. Probably not. I don't nap well.

Gym class memories:

I was always good at dodge ball, using other classmates as shields and strategically striking when someone else wasn't looking. It baffled the bigger stronger students that scrawny old me managed to win so often. When it came down to one on one I waited for the other person to throw and before they could recover their footing BAM!

I remember square dancing and Tina ??? had the clammiest hands. And she made fun of me because my hands are so dry. Better than all wet and nasty. I remember her acting all lovey-dovey towards me during square dancing, but only as a joke. In sixth grade, I was put in charge of the equipment room and had to make sure all the balls were collected. I stole balls by kicking them over the fence into the pit and then picking them up after school. Mom always made me bring them back.

Well, back to the hoarding, snot-nosed masses.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Shawn Robinson (Goat Boy) and I got together last night and jammed for a couple of hours. The product of our jamming was a little pop tune I've entitled "Ephemera" and wrote the lyrics to. I also came up with the chord structure, but Shawn played most of the evening.

"Ephemera"

Freestand freewheel
jump fly through the air
all rocked out with nowhere to go
and plenty of time to spare

Fool's scam fool's gold
only fools follow the dream
future is past present is gone
nothing is what it seems

Chorus:
Can't be seen by naked eye
gone before you recognize
stigmatize or lionize
It will not be satisfied (2x)

Big man big deal
doesn't matter in the end
all I know is the moment is real
and it's all I can comprehend

Bird on wing butterfly
fleeting moment so soon
faded print and passersby
nothing is ever immune

Chorus -- instrumental break

Doggone dirty deedle doddle de do
Boom shocka beedle de bay
rim rocking ride in the afternoon
burning off another day

Grow so fast someday I'll be old
hair growing out of my ears
bury me deep in the ground so cold
after I have used up all my years

Chorus -- outro

But Shawn won't go with me to Mary's Place, where they have open stage, because he had too many bad experiences there. Said he tried to get up there for open stage and it was too cliquey, and they would only let their friends play, and they would play for an hour at a time. So I have my apprehensions about the experience. Esther says she'll come with me, and I guess I'll have to tell the guys that run open stage that I have to get up early in the morning, so let me play.

I wasn't called in to sub today, so instead finished reading Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and also edited part of what is going to be a guidebook for the Ice Age Trail. Sharon Dziengel is working on the project and asked for my editorial assistant. So we have brainstormed together on editorial and layout matters, but the overall project is her baby. Glad to help out anywhere I can. Also went to the YMCA and worked out for a little over an hour. Stepped on the scale and I haven't lost or gained any weight in the five weeks I've been going regularly. Must alter my diet, I guess, if I'm to totally lose the gut and experience significant weight loss. That's the real, real tough part. But I feel fit and yesterday when I wore my dress pants I had to move the belt up an extra notch. So frickin' way am I starving myself to lose weight. Maybe I could string together a few low-calorie days. Enough of this talk of diet. Too effeminate for me.

I gotta admit I'm somewhat depressed, but also elated I worked out my first original song in like forever. When I was a regular church-goer I wrote a devotional song, but have since misplaced lyrics and forgotten the melody. This is my first finely-crafted pop tune, complete with bridge and outro, verse, chorus, etc. Only thing it could really use is an intro. Fun again to fuss around with music. But not working today for school district brings up age old concern about money. Maybe the itinerant nature of my employment will force me to live frugally. But typical me, with the promise of fundage, I spent money frivolously over the weekend. Or, if not frivolously, certainly without care (ahh, simile humor).

I must be careful attending all these open stages to avoid spending too much on drink. I was good last Wednesday at Lungo's Landing, nursing a $2 beer. Would like to attend one of these and spend no money. Hey, they say in the newspaper it is free.

Also this afternoon I interviewed the Winnebago County Administrator re: a story on the public safety referendum article I'm working on for the Beloit Daily News. Still want to write for magazines and do more creative writing. Alas, to never be satisfied is one of the hallmarks of capitalism! But the referendum story pays $25 and is due tomorrow. I'm still expecting a check from the BDN for the three stories I wrote for Stateline Business. In the works: an environmental story for a literary magazine in Rockford that doesn't pay diddly, and a $100 short story contest, also in Rockford, that I have to pay $5 to enter. Everybody's a writer. Few know how to write, including nascent me.

Childhood Memory

I used to attend church and Sunday school at North Love Baptist Church. I also went to their school in the week. It's where I first met my wife, Esther, when we attended pre-school through second grade together. She transferred to another school her junior year.

But on Sundays they drive all around Rockford to pick up children and take them to church. Still do, in fact, driving these beat-up red and white painted school buses. And they'd corral all us kiddies into the gymnasium for the lesson. And sometimes there'd be so many kids you couldn't make any sense what the instructor was saying. They'd try to impose order, but the gym is so echoey, even two talking kids out of the hundred could drown out the Good Word. Plus, you know how kids are, all fidgety and crazy. So I don't remember much of the lessons. I do remember hanging out under the bleachers looking for spare change meant for the offering that would drop out of kids' pockets. That, and once tripping over the accordion bars that held the stands up so hard I saw stars through my tears and had a big welt on my ankle that was three shades of purple.

The only other distinct memory I have is when they would throw out candy to the kids, there'd be such a scramble and kids would fly over each other in the mad grab. Once I got a whole pack of zebra stripe bubble gum and this little black girl in a pretty yellow dress and tight ponytails with rubber bands that had what looked like marbles tied to them keeping her braids in place punched me in the mouth hard and took the gum away from me without looking.

And the lesson I learned then wasn't about the golden rule or suffer the little children, but that sometimes even cute little black girls can pack a wallop. And that Sunday school is all about noise and greed and craziness and none of the good lessons those crazy Baptists were trying to impart to us.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Got swore at for the first time today. A young black girl, full of anger and defiance. I sent her to the office even though I admire her energy. I felt bad for being such a hard case. And at day's end I am asked to come back Monday, and accept. They weren't that bad. I'll try to cut them some slack. It's a fine line between chaos and being a hard ass. Sometimes you gotta lay the law down. I don't do well with this authority thing.

The beer can chicken turned out great. Only problem is one side cooked better than the other. I figure because there were more coals on that side of the bird. Again, it heats indirectly. Under the bird, amongst the coals, is a drip pan. It took an hour and 45 minutes for the bird to cook, but well worth the wait. Pink hue to the flesh. Crispy skin. Moist meat falls off the bones. The undercooked side of the bird I quartered and placed back on the grill, this time directly above the coals, and left them there until it was time to go over to Dad's for the World Series. (The reason I'm calling my childhood home "Dad's" instead of "Mom and Dad's" or "Parent's" is because Mom is visiting my sister in Houston until the first week in November and Dad's got rule of the roost. Of course, he's got a slew of frozen entrees put together by Mom so he don't starve.)

Esther dropped me off and went to a laundromat near my Dad's with a big cotton sack full of clothes. How is it I can go two weeks on the trail in a much filthier environment and not have any laundry, and then when I do, it is a handful of clothes? But in cleaner civilization a week's load for us weighs 50 pounds? Societal expectations, my friends. Even the Natural Man is not immune from the social pressure to change dress everyday. I try to be good and get at least a couple day's wear out of each outfit, underwear excepted. On the trail I don't even wear undies (TOO much information!!).

Today I rode my bike to West Middle School in a light rainfall and splashed my pant leg in an alley puddle. Also got my butt all wet rear wheel spray. Showed up and all self-consciously slapped my bootie and wiped, hoping that no mud sprayed there. But none of the little hellions said anything derogatory about my bootie, so it must have been clean. I didn't go into the bathroom to check. I locked my bike outside the teacher's entrance and when my break came around I tried to unlock the bike, and even though I had the right combination the lock was stuck. And this is my $25 Kryptonite bike lock. I tried fruitlessly for 20 minutes to jimmy it, but it wouldn't budge. So I went to the front office and asked if they had any wire cutters. Boy, did they! This cranky, crusty old white-beard janitor shows up with a, I'm not exaggerating, 5-FOOT long bolt cutter. On a dolly. And here I was worried that he'd show up with wire cutters. That thing could snip support beams. I drove back to school after having chicken leftovers for lunch.

Class today was easy, outside of the swearing youth sent to office and all their petty bathroom/nurse concerns. We watched the first half of a Kevin Costner/Elijah Wood flick called "The War," yet another southern coming of age tale by the same guy who brought us "Fried Green Tomatoes." It was interesting to gauge the chillen's interest in the movie. There's a little black girl in the movie who has some good "sass" lines. Each class paid close attention to what she said. And each reacted with a "dang" during an early fight scene involving the Elijah Wood character. Bad that I can't remember character names, even after seeing the movie five times.

During my lunch period, a young girl came in asking for help with her algebra homework (scientific notation). I had a moment of panic when I realized we were alone in the room and followed lawsuit avoidance protocol by opening the classroom door. Good thing, too, because many teachers poked their heads in the classroom to see what was going on. Probably because I watched the second half of the movie and the volume was turned up a bit. But it's bad news to be a male teacher and be left alone with a female student. Not because of temptation. I think pedophiles are sick bastards that ought to be executed. But we live in such a litigious age that even the opportunity for impropriety, even in the absence thereof, can lead to trouble. I felt sorry for the girl. She said she doesn't like to eat lunch because she's in cross country and doesn't want to have food in her stomach during practice. She looks so skinny she needs some food.

I found a cool web site when I tried to answer a question posed in 2000 by a fellow thru-hiker at Rusty's Hard Time Hollow. "What the heck is "colitas" that the Eagles refer to in their song, "Hotel California?" The answer can be found Straight Dope Of course, in Spanish, direct translation, it means small tail.
Watching the World Series allows me to see television again and I was impressed by yet another Mitsubishi car commercial, this one featuring a windshield cam view of a hip black guy and the variety of passengers. Cool techno music, "Just Breathe." So I look it up on Kazaa and download it as I write this. Natural Man strays even further from his anti-advertising anti-corporate culture stance. But, hey, I consider it culling gems of integrity and beauty from the wastelands of prurient pop culture. And this song just jams.

Well, now that I'm working again, Esther and I be going out tonight. Steak and drinks. Yippee Americana. Hey, that sounds like a cool name for a band. Guess my first band name, Tall-Headed Woodie, will have to wait. Both have that college radio sound to 'em.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Good things, good moods, even on another gloomy day. Good things come in bunches. I sit here in my overalls, smoky smelling from open stage last night, and speaking of smoke, I've got my upstairs neighbor Eric's Weber grill fired up to cook my first beer can chicken. This is an indirect cooking technique where you stand a whole chicken upright on a half-empty can of beer with extra holes punched in the top by a church key can opener. Supposed to be the tastiest, juiciest chicken with a crispy outside. Yum. Pavlov's dog salivating response at these written words. I'm like The Doors' "Backdoor Man." I 'eat more chicken any man ever seen.'

(Why do they call it a church key? Does the triangular hole it makes remind people of a church? Or is it the trinity of the triangle? Or church keys were triangular shaped for the same reason?)

Last night's open stage went reasonably well. My rendition of "Man Who Sold the World" was solid, if imperfect on guitar. Rocked out on "Space Oddity," especially vocals. Guitar work suffered because I played Goat Boy's guitar. He's got steel strings while mine has nylon. My guitar has nylon strings, much easier on the fingers, but quieter, too. My top string is tuned an octave lower because at normal octave they're always breaking. Lungo's Landing is a nice, intimate, nautical-themed venue with a townie clientele. Lots of faces worn haggard by vice. Before I played I watched the World Series on a big screen TV behind the stage. Had to ask the bartender to tune the game in. What's this world coming to when you have to ask the bartender to tune in the World Series? The Giants tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning while I played. The rally was really getting going when I was called to the stage.

My stage name is Raru, same as my trailname. The members of the Acoustic Millenium Band, who host the open stage, had a great time with my name, howling it out, Ra-roo-roo-roo. It is a fun name. One even made the sadly inevitable Scooby Doo reference. God, I hate that frickin' cartoon. We would have hatched our evil plan if it wasn't for those meddling kids. Glad I didn't see the motion picture. Heard it's a real howler.

After nursing a beer at the Landing, it was only 10 p.m., but Esther and I'd been up since 5:40 p.m. The game was still tied 3-3, so I dropped Esther off at home and went to Dad's place to watch the rest of the game. En route I found a station in western New York broadcasting the game. Another sad state of affairs. No local station broadcast the game on the radio? Used to be when Dad was a kid practically every station played it. Nobody listens to radio anymore. I got to Mom and Dad's the same time Dad returned from a grocery run. "I had to go to the grocery store or else I wouldn't sleep tonight," he said. What? Dad ran out of cat food. He said Gato would meow all night if she didn't get fed. I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of potato chips and dip, an Old Style Light and seeing David Bell hit a game-winning RBI single for the Giants in the bottom of the 8th off 20-year-old California Angels rookie phenom Francisco Rodriguez, the winner from game one. How one's fortunes turn so quickly in this game.

Talked to my brother Ken earlier in the day. He was at the Atlanta airport after visiting a girlfriend, Grace. Ken e-mailed me a picture of her and I told him she looked like a Bond girl. What's her name, Luscious Vulva? I wrote. He told me he shared the e-mail with her and even called her Luscious a few times. How embarrassing. We talked about work. He's doing a freelance architectural job in southern France for an old buddy of his from Studios Architecture, a firm Ken worked for back in the day. He said he will be home for Christmas. Good. Because when he visited in August-September I hardly saw him because I was finishing up at the Daily News and getting ready for my Superior Hiking Trail trip. When I saw Dad later he said he also talked to Ken. They talked about a completely different topic, the recent renovations Ken made to his Paris flat. Guess he had to spend $70 on a restoration kit for his bathtub because the previous tenant put some acid in the tub and ruined the porcelain. I think Ken and I have the same level of hands-on skills. We don't seek out projects, but show a certain level of proficiency when something absolutely needs to be done.

The really good news is that I finally, FINALLY got work as a substitute teacher. Today was my first day on the job, at the Rockford Environmental Science Academy. I am also working tomorrow at West Middle School. This comes together after I worked this week to re-do my resume and prepare cover letters and salary history for administrative assistant positions. No. I'll be more than happy to substitute teach. I also may do some part-time work at UPS over the holidays to build up the bank account. But finances are looking pretty good. Thanks to the insurance settlement from getting rear-ended a few weeks back, we didn't have to dip into savings. And we've laid low financially.

Other weird thing. We got our phone bill earlier this week and it is paid for by some credit we were given because of some business merger between local companies. We got $43 credit, which pays for two months of local phone service. We don't have long distance. Instead use Sam's Club phone cards. And no other frills like call-waiting or any of that other happy crap. And no cell phone. Our phone bill is $25 or less each month. I know people who spend $200 or more for phone service. We got 2 months free phone service!! Yakkety yak yak charlie brown's parents mraw haw haw which reminds me of a musical joke I always wanted to do, but never did. Take a trombone onstage and make all these abrupt bleating noises with it. Charlie Brown's parents making love.

Yeah, back in the substitute teaching gig. Easy money. Glorified babysitting. Today it was 7th grade English. Watched a video tape of Larry King Live. You ever watched the same video five times in a row? But the day went by fast. I started work at 8:45 AM and got out at 1:30 PM. Five periods straight. Five viewings of Jack Hanna and Pat Sajak, the sub for Larry King that night, showcasing exotic animals from around the world. I read Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" in-between telling kids to sit in their seats and not kill each other. For this the school district pays me $65.

Each hour there were one or two kids who would die unless they went to the nurse or the bathroom. Take a seat. You got a young bladder. Cross your legs. You'll survive. If you pass out I've got emergency medical training. I'm not allowed to give bathroom passes. Seventh graders aren't too corrupted yet, but their childhood is frayed at the edges. Naivete replaced by tired crusty worldliness. I called one boy a dude and he goes, Dude? And I'm like, yeah, sure, dude. I told them to call me Greg because my last name's too hard to pronounce.

And when I get home I got a message on my answering machine from Clint Wolf at the Beloit Daily News. They want me to do another story on the jail referendum. Also talked to Deb Jensen-Dehart and she said she was pleased with my Stateline Business stories and has three more lined up for next month. Now all I gotta do is talk Bill Barth into letting me have a weekly outdoor column. Got to put together three sample columns and a written proposal. Really dazzle the Barth-meister.

Tonight I'm all about the World Series. And in a good mood because of the work and resultant money. I'm a valued commodity in the world, a participant, however passive, in the military-industrial complex.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Stupid things: Britney Spears; fast food; tract housing; SUVs; one-celled amoebas; sexists; racists; homophobes; most popular fiction; all-terrain vehicles; those machines that wrap up diapers into neat, smell free lumps; disposable, land-fill filling diapers; those plastic cup dispenser go cups that package two ounces of snack chips; local television news; most newspapers; careerists; violence; hatred; self-centeredness; the list goes on and on.

So I've got this great story idea about a housewife whose son does an Internet search and discovers this alternate reality, alternate her, that is famous and more beautiful, but childless. And Sylvia I don't want to be a caricature. She's got this son with ADD who requires almost constant attention and is noisy and she's lonely and her teenage daughter is into marijuana and ex-husband cannot pay child support because he's in prison. But somehow there's this alternate reality she can dive into if she wants to, has this choice to. But the payoff is she has to give up the role she finds most important, that of mother. Because her children won't exist in this other fame reality. That's what I'm working on today.

I went to the library yesterday and did some research of a couple magazines. One is called Illinois Steward and features environmental stories from across the state. Problem is all the stories are written by professors and important people associated with the University of Illinois. So that's a bust. And then there is Mother Earth News, with articles about everything from PCB's to extending your garden through winter. Lots of possibilities there. But then I don't know if I want to pursue this journalism thing. I don't have a fervor for seeking out stories that I thought I would. Just being honest here. Or maybe I'm burned out from the 415 or so stories I wrote for Beloit in the past year. My natural curiousity, my greatest gift, remains... We'll see. I printed out many copies of my resume last night and am sending them out today for various administrative assistant positions. Again, we'll see.

I just want a job that doesn't sap my energy or will for other things, such as my creative writing, music and working out. Getting fit and artistic. I feel a creative renaissance coming on and don't want to quell it with some stressed out suit and tie gig again. Tired of the societal approval of that game. Still might try to get a weekly column in the Beloit paper, a chance to prove myself and possibly syndication?!! Too many options. Must focus on something.

Game Three of the Series showed more offensive fireworks by the Angels, but no homers. Just hard liners to all fields. Barry Bonds hit another tape-measure shot. Hot dogger stood there and admired his shot. A great player, but stuck up SOB who has no respect for other players in the league. I was rooting for the Giants, but after seeing that shot, I hope Anaheim wins. Little David Eckstein shows good hustle. Tim Salmon's been in the league a long time. They're all a bunch of scrappers, played small ball, two successful hit and runs in the third inning. That's my brand of baseball. But then the Giants have ex-Cub Shawon Dunston and Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow, all likable and deserving characters. But screw Bonds, admiring his own greatness. Hope he pulls a muscle patting himself on the back. Game Four is tonight, but I may not be there because I want to play open stage at Lungo's Landing. Going to make my auspicious debut back in Loves Park. Three song set includes "Space Oddity,'' Awww. I outlined that yesterday. But also going to possibly throw in an original jam with D-minor, C, G, and A7 chords. We'll see. Chord knowledge grows with practice.

Well, I must get on with my day. Gonna be disciplined and stay off the Internet the rest of the day. Spending too much time surfing and not getting anything done.

Andy J. stopped by two days ago, unannounced, to pick up his CDs. So I go over to his place yesterday, unannounced, after leaving a message on his machine. The guy never answers his phone. Always keeps his ringer off. It's maddening. So when I get there he gets all pissed off at me. What an angry, moody man. I didn't act pissed when he showed up at my place. So I kept my visit very brief and escaped from his crappy world. If he wants to do something with me, he has to call. I'm not calling him again. He's on the outs with me, much like John "Chicago suburb fast pace inconsiderate clod" Panek. Time for me to weed out the negative people in my life. I'll be a lot more forgiving with Andy. He and I have a 17 year history. John was just a college tennis buddy that didn't translate well into regular friend when I discovered how much a schmuck-boy he is. Andy's more like a brother. It's the only reason I tolerate him.

I don't have many friends in this town, but that's okay. Like I said, I need the solitude, even though it goes against the grain of my social nature. A step back from the social life can only feed this creative momentum I have built.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. -- Whitman

Difficulties show men what they are. In case of any difficulty remember that God has pitted you against a rough antagonist that you may be a conqueror, and this cannot be without toil.
Epictetus

Monday, October 21, 2002

Late last week I got a site tracker attached to this site, which revealed that, drum roll please, NO ONE READS THIS BLOG BUT ME!!! Whoo hoo. It's a given we are born alone and die alone, but now I know I live on the web alone. I've got a complex about solitude. Or thought I did until my recent trip on the Superior Hiking Trail, alone in the woods and it didn't bother me. Burg schlurgle booga booga boo. Oh, did you hear that? No you didn't. You're alone. What if a tree fell down in the forest and nobody else was around... God, to be a shaven monk among the pines, or a woolly miner. Hmmm.... Both require a celibacy of sorts. Screw that. I need that sweet poon tang, the conjugal rights of a married man. Yeah, I'm a sexual creature. So what? So are you. I'm the embodiment of what the preachers and teachers and pillars of society would like everybody to be like. I'm married, clean, educated, monogamous, don't even think adulterous thoughts. Or if I do (all married men do) I do not dwell or act on them. Am I making you squirm, writing about the wriggle worm flaccido which controls most men's destinies? My gonad's never left me astray. A happy marriage to a wonderful, lively, active woman keeps Mr. Happy, the phallic wonder, six inches of Superman, well, satisfied.

What turns me on is water. Warm water. And only on an empy bladder. Also the sight of those tiny little hairs, whorled, that you can only see in a certain light, on my good wife's upper arm. Well, hell, we're being honest here, any good arm will do, but I'll focus me amour on me esposa. I'm not a religious man, don't adhere to any creed but the church of Greg Locascio. A prime tenet of my beliefs is honesty and loyalty. That's why I have many old friends. And even though I may be broke, a hack, a wandering fool backpacking nitwit, you can count on my word. Call me Mr. Reliability. Even though I am Mr. Unpredictable, like the time last week at dinner when I threw a half cup of water in Esther's face, just because I wanted to see the arc of flying liquid and the aqua drip off her chin. See beginning of paragraph. That didn't turn her on. Pissed her off. But she'll get revenge, she said. It's all good. I'm also a tits, ass and legs man, very pedestrian that way. Tits and ass and hips stir the age old fertility impulse in me, that desire to propogate the species, kind of misguided in this 6 billion populace. Mammalian impulses can't be avoided.

glork shrax ikka ooka plooj Can't hear myself over the deafening conversation of the millions of wriggling sperm in my low-hanging nads, slightly lower than body temp so factory production of my DNA contribution to the gene pool continues unabated. Brief shut down during bike rides, production in overdrive after, er, coitus, horizontal be-bop. You are surrounded by wriggling things, from the mites eating the dead skin in your eyebrow to the swimming tadpoles in your middle. The bugs lie dead October between the storm and shutters, but little microbes eat away giggle goggle goo, leave a husk in the spring. And all the worries and philosophies and hype and global warming and civilization comes down to, organically, an inch of topsoil. The cockroaches wait in the wings. Mosquitoes enforce their dominance until the cold spell hits. How many did West Nile Virus kill in Illinois this year? Small potatoes compared to black plague. These skeeters is pikers on the genocide scene.

Weekend did the trail building thing at Devil's Lake State Park. Cool evenings. Good company. Saturday night drove away from group to Little Red Schoolhouse, just up the road from Franke's summer home where Esther and I spent a five day vacation in summer 1996. Brought back memories of ages old romantic meal we had there. What did we talk about? What were we concerned with? I looked around for the Franke's, but didn't see them. Instead watched Game One of the World Series until I was only customer left in bar. Help stayed after and chatted with each other about things that help chat about in rural restaurants in central Wisconsin. And we all know what that is, sex, sex, sex, and deer hunting, and tips and the Green Bay Packers, and sex, sex, sex. Oh, yeah, the Giants, thanks to solo homers and solid testosterone pitching kept the Angels at bay to win, 4-3.

Stay with series for a moment, have to think about baseball to keep me from being a one-minute wonder. Great game last night, when Angels won, 11-10. I stayed awake until the bottom of the 8th inning, then dozed off until game's end. So did Dad. We didn't wake until the next show's opening credits listed. Missed Salmon's two-RBI homer heroics and Bond's two-out solo shot off Percival. But rest of game was memorable slugfest, and Angels needed every run to get it. F. Rodriguez (Francisco), 20-year old phenom Sept. call-up, got the win for the Angels with 4 K's and allowed no hits in three innings of work. A different F. Rodriguez (Felix) got the loss for the Giants when Salmon smacked his game-winner.

Earlier I watched as Packers trounced Washington despite Favre's injury. Got going from Mobile Skills Crew at around noon. Turtlehead dump urge (Sorry Bob Croman) tore me away from work site. Worked hard 8 hours Saturday on re-route in state park. Made sure the back slope was rock free and flowing water (ahhh-qua) could ease off trail past critical edge. Earlier trail work we did in April has held up well. At Potawatomi State Park work weekend earlier this year, Tim Malzhan, south central field coordinator for the Ice Age Trail, asked me why Esther and I feel motivated to do trail work. I said something about giving back to a trail and an activity which has given us so much. Returning good karma and all that jazz. But it's only part of the answer. Other reasons are to hang out with cool people who have the same feelings about trail we do, and the intrinsic value of working outdoors, being in the woods, using the body. There's more to life than sex. But there was this calm flowing stream nearby. And the smell of freshly turned earth, the scrape and spark of metal on stone. The reroute makes for a gentler grade of Ice Age Trail and takes it past a gorgeous stone escarpment the park's naturalist did not even know was there. The MSC discovered it in April when we scouted around for a possible re-route.

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Friday, October 18, 2002

Today is a caffeine day. Had a cappuccino in the morning after aerobics. Then when I went grocery shopping impulse bought a Pepsi Lemon Twist. Didn't corn-holio or anything. My eyeballs feel kind of dry. I got three songs memorized on guitar. "Space Oddity," "Man Who Sold The World," and "Hotel California." Almost got The Church tune, "Under the Milky Way" tune memorized. They're all easy. But I'm not trying to showcase my playing prowess, because I have none. Want to draw attention to my vocal chops. Think I got a good singing voice, kind of Jim Morrison meets Brad Roberts, with good falsetto thrown in. So if anybody wants a solid baritone who can write lyrics in their band, send me a line at stoomage@yahoo.co.uk.

Spent $100 at the grocery store, enough to last two weeks. It would have cost about $30 less, but I had to buy some mondo feminine supplies for Esther, expensive Sensodyne toothpaste, batteries, etc. Didn't have to dip into savings after all. Deposited an insurance settlement check from when that guy rear-ended me a couple weeks ago. Taking the car into the shop early next week. Gonna try some Swede guy, Carlson Automotive, I think, on Forest Hills Road not far from my parent's place. Dad Larson recommended it. Said the people that own it go to Forest Hills Evangelical Free Church, the same church Esther attended since childhood and we were married in, the orange juicer looking church on top of the hill above the bubble gum factory. The same bubble gum factory (I used to call it Warner Lambert, but that was two names ago. The name out front says Adams) I worked in the cafeteria for in 1991-92 and in the actual bubble gum part the summer of 1994. Mom Locascio worked in the cafeteria on and off, mostly on, from 1967 until last month, when she retired.

Last week when I rode my bike through Loves Park I could smell the familiar sweet sugary smell from the factory. And I thought of my cousin Jerry, who has a successful auto shop in the shadows of the factory, the last place I saw my beloved car Beast, a 1985 Chevy Caprice, which blew a rod on the way over to Jerry's shop. But I also thought of my mother, and in the late afternoon light memories of childhood, smelling same sugary smell on my mother when she came from work late, especially in the white hairnet she'd toss on the counter or have stashed between the seats of the car. When Mom dies (hopefully not for a long time) that sugary bubble gum smell will always remind me of her. For my Dad, it will be the sound of big band music, because that's what he always played on AM 1330 when I was a kid and we took car rides together. That and cheesy westerns.

What outside devices remind people of me?

Back to grocery experience. Esther asked me to get her tampons and panty liners. And instead of being embarassed, I proudly displayed the 156 count huge box of panty liners. Yup, guys, I may be buying this stuff. That just means I got the nooky going on. I used to give Esther grief about buying feminine products. To get back at her I asked her to buy condoms and hemorrhoid cream. She didn't complain.

Today was cloudy and cold. The only sun I saw was a brief break in the clouds coming out of mega-market Woodman's. Tried a new tightwad experiment and chopped up a cucumber and put it in pickle jar with leftover juice in it. Read in the Tightwadder's Gazette the added cucumbers will taste like pickles in a couple days. Next week I plan to try the beer can chicken recipe found in a book loaned to me by upstairs neighbor Eric. Spent more than $20 on meat, including whole chicken, chicken wings, ground chuck beef, baby back ribs, turkey burger and whiting fillets. Got my share of veggies and fruits, too. My eating experiences are warped by knowledge of all the insidious techniques, from hormone treatments, antibiotic infusions, genetic engineering, etc. the agriculture INDUSTRY does to make food processing more efficient. People were better off in hunter/gatherer societies. They didn't live as long, but they lived well and honestly.

Well, it is time to make dinner, and then it's off to Devil's Lake State Park for the last Mobile Skills Crew work weekend of 2002! Whoo Hoo Ha Ha Ha

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Got to escape these four walls. It's a dreary cold wet day in the Rock River valley, and I'm broke and unemployed. Called Adecco, the temp agency that works with the substitute school teachers in Rockford School District, and the main lady there confirmed she sent an e-mail to all the sub callers saying I'm on their list now. But I have received no call for work. Today I feel like I'll probably feel when I'm old. Or if I ever starve (not bloody likely). I'm just despondent, listless, joyless. Not sad or happy. In a limbo state. The apartment is small. I'm going stir crazy.

Just had a visit from the upstairs neighbor, Melissa, who spoke in tongues for a long time, but now just sings loud along with her gospel tapes. She asked me to turn up the thermostat because she's cold and her sick niece is coming over to take a shower and she doesn't want her to freeze. Yes, Esther and I control the heat for all four apartments. Last winter we never even touched it. Settled on a comfortable temp for all and just let it ride. Until just moments ago I'd never moved the thermostat. Something Esther always did, she being more temp sensitive than I.

Our first apartment in Sycamore, (funny, we are just as poor now as then, no progress) the neighbor across the hall controlled the thermostat. He was a little crazy, harmless but touched. Lived off SSI and had these goth makeup freak friends come over at all hours. One night I came home from classes and the apartment's roasting hot. So I knock on the door across the hall. And the guy opens the door and looks at me all wild-eyed, hair hanging over his face. Could you turn the thermostat down? I said. But the lizards, man. The lizards need their heat, he said. I wrote a short story about that confrontation, not an especially good one, my attempt to be Bukowski, in which I go into the man's apartment and turn the thermostat down. The man comes after me with a knife and a fight ensues. And I break his arm trying to disarm him. The knife is not even considered by the police and I am arrested. No justice in this universe.

So if I don't get a call for tomorrow, or Monday, I'm going to get a temp job. It would be easy, easy, easy to get a newspaper reporter position again, but want to really give this freelance thing a try. Last night had a good creative writing session, lasted 40 minutes. Tonight I'm stretching it to an hour. Desperation breeds action. I've been too much a coward, afraid of poverty, to make a serious effort making this freelance thing work. You need motivation. Need to be hungry. I seen enough Rocky movies to know that.

The rest of the day I'm all about going to the YMCA, dinner with my woman, typing up three query letters, including one to a Minnesota publication re: The Superior Hiking Trail and another e-mail query to the Beloit Daily News about a couple articles I wanted to write when I was a reporter. My one grand idea is to explain where the water that flows from your tap comes from? Do you? I don't. Where is it treated? What's the history of fluoridation? I do know that my old hometown, Antigo, WI, was one of the first places in the country to have fluoridated water. And there were nearly riots in the streets in protest to its implementation. Another story I'd like to do will be a general feature on squirrels, pointing out their range and which ones are largest, smallest. Squirrel habits, what they feed on. How to keep them out of your bird feeder. Nothing earth-changing. Just fulfillment of my own curiousity. And for the query letters I will do a little research on the Internet and come up with a two-page or shorter summary describing what I want to do. I do not have much experience with query letters, but they are vitally important to getting this freelance ball rolling.

Got to also find some way to catalogue all of my freelance submissions. Where I send my query letters and on what topic. I don't do organization well. Must keep it simple, but accurate. Maybe there are some web-based programs to help?

Earlier, I watched military movie "Black Hawk Down," about a failed military operation in Mogadishu, Somalia. Lots of pining over dead American soldiers. Drama and tears. And rightfully so. These are the ones an American audience can relate to. But funny how at the end of the movie it says that the military actions of Oct. 3-4, 1993 claimed hundreds of Somali lives, and 19 American soldiers died. Kind of like Vietnam. The war America "lost" in which 60,000 US soldiers died and 500,000 Vietcong. But because our military objective was not fulfilled we lost. Last night we watched the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No," starring Sean Connery. And so began the Bond saga. The DVD has all sorts of extra features, including trailers and radio spots, still shots and a documentary on the movie. They probably had to add all that extra crap because TNT and TBS play Bond movies ad nauseum. I know this, and I don't even own a TV.

Last night went to the library as a security guard lady was leaving. The same security guard lady who read a poem last week about wishing she could show the real her, and how she's risking all, safety and happiness, by coming out from behind her masks. I felt sorry for this lady when she read, empathized with her and how we all wear masks, play certain roles, to get through life smoothly. I've said before that's why I like crazy people so much. They're genuine. They wear no masks. But this poor, deluded security guard lady's car kept stalling as she backed out. And I figured, wow, I'm lucky. My car starts and drives no problem, and I got no beefs with who I am or what I may portray to people. As far as I know I'm genuine. I don't conscientiously try to fake people out. And, yeah, sure, we all act different around different people, but that is just naturally adapting to different circumstances. I ain't gonna treat my mother the same way I treat my buds. But I'll be honest and genuine with both parties. Honesty's never been a problem for me.

Yesterday managed to get over to the Rockford Arboretum and take pictures of old growth sugar maples in red rust regalia. These maples are so big and solitary the area around their trunks are a separate shady kingdom eco-system. And some of the lower branches grow out so far they dip to the ground. Think of all the labor and energy these branches put into their search for light. In a way it's like the tree is doing battle against itself. As the top branches grow and shade the lower ones, the lower ones have to grow out. And so it goes. Trees are like communism. They need to keep growing to survive.

There was this young woman sitting between two of the ancient giants, and as I was putting my camera gear away she passed me by. I guess she must be 19-20, a young, idealistic college student. She left because a professional photographer taking pictures of a young couple and their baby, invaded her territory. I told her sorry your peace has been invaded by photographers. I asked her what she was drawing. She said, no, I was writing. Then said a line like, "Well, I've got to go pick up my boyfriend now." And I wanted to say, "Well, I've got to go make dinner for my wife," but didn't. But her line ruined a perfectly pleasant exchange, made me feel as if I was threatening to her, or worse, was so unattractive to her she had to instantly deflect any possibility of a pass. And what is it with even slightly attractive woman (this one was no head turner). Why do they believe every man is after them. I agree men are pigs with one track minds. But I don't undress women with my eyes. And so what if I did? There's no harm in that. I don't say perverted things and never stare. A quick recognition of a woman's fine features is to be expected. Natural behaviors should not be perceived as perverted, lecherous or weird. Vanity, sweet vanity. Time will erase your conceit. You'll someday wish more men would stare.

People aren't like trees. The older we get, the less we are valued.



Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Noon already and still sitting in my pajamas. Kind of like that Crash Test Dummies song. Got up in the dark and went over to the YMCA for aerobics. Later on talked to my Dad. Waiting for a call from substitute teacher callers on possible work assignment. This week we gotta dip into savings to keep the checking account balanced. It's time for me to return to work. We can't live on Esther's wages. Of course, I've already made more than $100 writing freelance for the Beloit Daily News, but that won't even pay the membership at the Y (a new expense at $104 a month for the next four months). I feel stupid for subscribing to the Rockford Register Star and joining the YMCA. I've quit eating out, but that doesn't that offset these new expenses. Still, I want to get in shape and keep up on local news. I can cut the paper, I guess, pay for the initial 13 weeks (at $29.95, BUY NOW) and then cancel.

That's my morning in a nutshell. A slave to economy, I cannot do anything that involves spending money until Friday. We've got food in the cupboard and heat coming out the registers, so I am not complaining. I've also got work to do. After this blog I must write two query letters to magazines and do at least 30 minutes of creative writing. Probably take an afternoon bike ride. The leaves are at peak color right now. I may even take my camera over to the Rockford Arboretum, where huge, ancient sugar maples grow, and take pictures this afternoon. I was given 16 rolls of 35-millimeter film last Christmas and have only used two. That's because Esther's got this cheapy point and shoot she takes to Walgreen's for processing and they replace the film for free. But I know the ins and outs of my Pentax ME Super SLR (single lens reflex) camera, got the filters, a 50mm fixed lense, 70-210mm adjustable zoom, backpacker's tripod (I want to get a standard size one) and cable release. It is a very basic set up.
All the equipment is used. But I've taken many good photos with it.

The camera was given to me by my cousin Jim, who bought it used in Germany when he was stationed there in the military. He told me he could never figure out how to get good pictures, so gave it to me. I bought an owners manual off E-bay and learned, by taking a test roll, that the camera's automatic light meter is a step off, so take all pictures at manual setting one step brighter than the meter recommends. The whole set-up, including lenses and tripods, cost me less than $200. And I've had it for more than six years. My next upgrade will be digital, but I'll always hold a fondness for my first SLR. I took a course in college and spent many hours with books and through trial and error to learn the tricks and complexities of an SLR. And while light theory and photo composition, etc., are universal, much of what I've learned is outdated in this digital age. Now I know how those math whizzes with their slide rules felt in the early 70s.

Across the alley neighbor and Brinks money counter ("I've got 12 cameras watching my every move at work") Steve is mowing his lawn. He is the example of everything that is wrong with western society. He is so focused on controlling every aspect of the mini-fiefdom of his yard, he had chain link fencing put up on the perimeter of his front yard. And he's getting ripped off by the chem lawn guy, who I've seen twice pull over in his truck and just walk to Steve's backyard and change a yellow tag. Less than a minute and he's gone. I don't complain. Don't want those pesti/herbicides in my breathing space. In the backyard is short wood fencing painted red. Why didn't he continue that theme? Although I know he and his wife, Hollie, are trapped in a psychic prison, the chain link makes their home a real one as well. Bushes bordering the alley are trimmed so much that many of them have died. Right now Steve is mowing the lawn and meticulously putting the clippings in a large paper bag. God forgive there should be any detritus on his lawn, or that anything should grow wild. I did point out to Esther recently that the bushes in his front yard have not been trimmed. An oversight? Or is Steve letting them grow so they block the view from the front window? In person, Steve and Holley seem like a nice couple, although Steve is a little socially awkward. Not bad. All appears normal. But I've seen him snap at his woman. She suffers in silence. I know the cameras are getting to him. And when he cracks I'm making sure I'm out of gun range. Because he may try to take a whole buncha people with him to hell.

Well, Alice Kay, Esther's Mom, will be here soon, and I got dishes to wash. Ta ta

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

So we gonna get Giants v. Angels in the Wild Card World Series. I'm probably going to miss the first two games, but next week will be back at Mom and Dad's. Last year's classic I watched all seven games with Dad. I think it was the first time we've ever done that as father/son. I don't connect with my father in a lot of ways. We're just two very different people. But we can talk sports.

Wasted another fall morning hanging out in the apartment, slowly going stir crazy. Gotta send out query letters to magazines, work on poetry, short stories, come up with a novel, something to get out of this funk. Since my alienation from John Panek and silence from old drum corps buddy Andy, the only guy friend I got locally is Shawn Robinson. Which is good, because I don't want to have a real social life right now. Am I turning into a hermit like my Dad? Maybe, but that's what I need to do to get on with the solitary tasks of the writing life.

So the sniper struck again. What must it feel like to be a target? How does the body and mind cope with the constant stress, when everyday activities like pumping gas or loading groceries in the car can have lethal consequences? I don't think the age we live in is any crazier. People have always been prey, whether to multiplying cancer cells, a jungle cat, falling meteors or a sniper's shot. All this post 9-11 hysteria is directed at a danger that's always existed. Everybody seeks safety. That need is the basis of civilization. A bunch of families get together to fight a common enemy and the city-state is born. But no matter what precautions we take, true safety cannot be found. Lurking under all this human-imposed order is chaos, like weeds growing through the cracks of an urban strip mall parking lot. And there's nothing to do to protect us from it. Not even Homeland Security or a war against Iraq.

Last night Esther, Shawn and I went over to Susan Hofer's place for dinner. I cooked up a Der Rathskeller-inspired creamy potato casserole with chopped up baby reds, a can of cream of celery soup, equal amounts cream cheese and sour cream, basil and oregano, water, chopped onions and peas. The onions were pulverized to nothing because I cooked them in the pressure cooker with the potatoes. I topped the casserole with Italian bread crumbs and shredded pepper jack cheese. I also made a loaf of cornbread, sweetened with molasses and a honey glaze on top. Shawn brought Moroccan chicken, which was also very tasty.

Susan was not feeling well, but was kind enough to have us over at her Dad's place, where she's living right now. I haven't been there since the early 90s. I always loved that house, on a quiet, heavily wooded side street off Harlem Road, right near Rock Cut State Park. It was at Susan's place I learned, way back when, that turkeys actually fly, and roost in trees. She had a bunch in her backyard. And the home has not changed much. Although they've got a nice digital television, it is in the same spot in the living room as it was. Two guns, a horse harness and various photos hang above the fireplace. Same piano. Same stereo speakers and shelves in corners. Same smell. It was the smell I always remembered. A sweet, woodsy almost cologne-y smell. I've smelled scents like it, and it always reminded me of that place. I'm glad I got a few good whiffs right when I arrived because Susan's very long-haired angora cat had me sneezing and stuffy-headed the rest of the evening. Susan was going to come over to our place, but she is not feeling well (bronchitis), and instead of canceling plans she invited us over. That was really sweet and genuine of her.

After dinner, we watched American Movie, about this Wisconsin guy trying to finish filming a horror movie, Coven, he's been working on for years. Very funny documentary. His sidekick friend reminds me of some of my burned out college buddies. What do you do when the party's over?

Well, the last three days have been all about cool visits with old friends. It is nice to know there are people out there who know you from way back and are still willing to talk to you. Somehow that legitimizes me. And none of them drive white work vans.

Monday, October 14, 2002

How responsible is it for pundits to blame stock market stagnation on the sniper?
Weekend visit to Antigo. Stayed with Joe and Peg Jopek, friends of ours on the Ice Age Trail. We took a hike on the Kettlebowl Segment of the trail. This is the first section of the Ice Age Trail Esther and I visited in 1998. Our first attempt to hike the Ice Age Trail we got lost on forest roads and never did find the trail. Today Joe led the group through a clearing at the base of the Kettlebowl Ski Area, which is actually on a moraine. I guess Moraine Ski Area doesn't sound as cool. We did hike to a genuine kettlebowl. A most fantastic kettlebowl it is, very steep, boulder strewn bottom.

Joe's ankle hurt him a great deal on this five mile hike, including gulleys carved by landowners to prevent ATV access to the trail. We stayed with him as he bravely trudged back to the bus in the rain. The next morning he was hobbling, and said that may have been his last hike. I sure hope not. Jopek is a born teacher. I learn something new every hike. Saturday he showed us a reverse treeline, where the cold air collects in kettlebowls and trees cannot grow. Joe also pointed out the possible effects of global warming at a frost pocket full of young alders where once only short grasses grew.

Sunday morning attended the Antigo Community Church. Great to see old friends, and their kids shoot up like weeds. Tom and Sharon Duke had their ninth child a few months ago. "Now we got a baseball team," Sharon said. Mary Wilhelm and her son Matt treated us to McDonalds after church, so my fast food drought is ended. A sinful, rare pleasure. I've been resisting that $1 Big N' Tasty. But with the largest meat recall in US history today, Mickey D's is less and less a temptation.

Friday went on an hour long bike ride out to Machesney Park Mall and back again through the heart of Loves Park. Conducted many interviews and even visited the Rockford Airport at Del Wildes' airbrush artistry hangar. It's for a story for Stateline Business for Deb Jensen Dehart. I wrote two stories (Airship Artistry and Ole Saltys potato chips) last night and one (Wooden-It-Be-Nice) this morning. I would like to research a topic and write a query letter, but don't think I'll have time. This week I move up to the next step. A query letter a day (or five a week) and at least a half hour creative writing. My fiction needs lots and lots of practice. Poetry's fun.

Still learning songs on guitar, including songs by Bowie, The Church, Pearl Jam and Radiohead. I want to memorize the songs in the next week and work them up to a proficiency to impress at open stage nights all over Rockford!! Maybe a band? Keep many irons in the fire, my lad. Music remains a fun diversion. If I ever get good enough I'll make it more than that.

Attended my first aerobic class at the YMCA. Terri, the instructor, is the same from when we took the class a couple years ago. There were a couple familiar participants. Matt or Mike or whatever said he has been attending the 6 a.m. aerobics classes for 15 years. I asked him does it get easier getting up so early? I was able to keep up reasonably well, a couple moves I never quite got right. Esther's an old hat. She catches on to dance moves quick. Her ice skating and dance training come to the fore.

My old college buddy Shawn is coming over for dinner, and Susan Hofer, a friend from high school, will be here too. So I gotta clean the kitchen, pick up my clutter, run a bunch of errands, of course, after I do my half hour of creative writing...

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

RED SQUIRREL
God, we got mutant squirrels in this town
Getting huge off forest city
perpetuate the moniker with buried seed
But this ain't natural
not even the dogs give chase
just a buk chok chok chatter
and flick of tail
sends ol' Bowser or Rex or Fifi
to back door scratching, cowering
It's not just nuts rocky red humongo
subsists on
Like all cunning, omnipresent mammals
Our rodent friend is omnivorous
So lock up your chihuaha, toy poodle
anything smaller than a terrier
I'm serious folks
All you'll find are bones and a rhinestone collar
Leave the upside down bowl
off your feeder pole
stack corn cobs on a nail
acquiesce to them
because the squirrels
round here are the biggest, boldest belligerent
mofos in the world

That's the poem I read two nights ago. Many laughs and titters from audience. I wrote in jest after seeing so many squirrels chatter on my bike ride, but they are big, biggest I ever seen. The large ones are red. Smaller grays near oak stands or in city parks. But the reds took over the neighborhoods. Right off the bike path, as it enters Loves Park and goes through a neighborhood, are squirrels just as large as the red, but are colored almost jet black. There's an article. About squirrels. Just where are the world's largest squirrels? Great journeys, literal and figurative, always begin with a question.

I got to get on the ball and start working on my stories for the Beloit Daily News. And will, this afternoon, after a bike ride. Got to wait for deadline crunch to really get rolling. I got three days to write three stories, and no other items on my agenda. Going to start sending out query letters, too, to magazines (egads!), with ideas like the squirrel one. And take my creative writing from the poetry stage to fiction. And then there's the music... I'm a regular renaissance man.

I figured out the third song I will play when I do open stage (next week?). It is going to be Radiohead's Exit Music (For a movie). Easy for guitar, but a real test for my vocal chops. And not so easy on guitar I don't have to practice. A B-minor chord or two thrown in to make it sound interesting. The two Bowie tunes also need work. Just some repetition, practice. Evening time for that. Worked on Space Oddity with Andy this morning. We only practiced for about half an hour before he got distracted, I got distracted, story of our lives. I thought old perfect pitch Andy would pick it up quick, listen to the song a couple times, write down the notes, wha-bam. Funny that he has perfect pitch, but when playing in ensemble with me he couldn't seem to find the right notes. God, what I wouldn't give for perfect pitch. Andy'd kill for my rhythmic sensibility.

I was a bad calorie boy at Andy's, ate a boiled egg and two sausage patties. Yogurt was not good enough for me for breakfast. I'll go easy on the lunch and take a nice long bike ride. Hey, it's noon already. Gotta roll. Jelly roll. Stoomage and sayo and cy young awards. Water droplets and one-celled creatures see the world as it truly is. Them and Blake. Scratch, chicken scratch, porcupine gnaw on shelter walls for hiker salt. Hurdles in place, moat against quilled menace. Dead possum roadside scary looking creature, but remember Foxfire moment of now-dead Appalachia grandma saying how she and her siblings would fight for the right to eat possum head. Supposedly tender meat, tasty, delicacy. Like boiled slugs and dandelion stew. Who needs the gleamy plasticine supermart? Possum heads, aisle 8. Protein all around. Gotta learn to be a real backwoodsman. All you need for life and happiness can be gleaned from forest's store. Just takes more effort and ingenuity to obtain them.

Well, enough on that. I really got the itch to pedal.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Went on this poetic jam last night about Jack Kerouac and bugs and fire towers further Ken Kesey beat Neal Cassady and all that dead cool so quaint today. I was at the Rockford Public Library with dear esposa Esther for the open microphone poetry reading, and I read a poem I wrote while sitting on the shoreline of Lake Superior about, basically, how the lake and everything else is slave and lord over everything else, ending with the line "Is God and surf." Get it? Play on words.

Since last I wrote here I had a weekend visit from an old college friend, Todd. We went out Friday with another college friend, goat boy, er, Shawn Robinson, who lives in downtown Rockford. Well, went out is a bit much. We hung out at Shawn's place drinking beer and then went out for a few more at Shawn's favorite bar, the Irish Rose, and then went French at the Rue Marche, where I sang a drunken, if not accurate, karaoke rendition of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." Baritone voice and beer goes hand in hand. Todd arrived with a box of Frank Zappa discs and a collection of jazz, fusion and psychedelic, both on vinyl and CD. Lots of burning, adding to my collection. And then we played two sets of windy tennis out at YMCA courts along the river. Probably the windiest tennis I ever played. The wind blew cross court. We managed. Compensated. It worked against us both. Split sets, 4-6, 6-4.

Next day, Saturday, got started off slow because of Friday debauch, the ol' metronome hangover. I drank five glasses of water to rehydrate and then took a hot shower. After shower threw up. Most pleasant barfing experience. All water, straight up, and no bile. I really cut loose on the brews. Todd drove. He only had a couple beers. But as is the rule with Todd, we played sports. In the morning toss around his worn out leather football, the same one we tossed around back in college days, more than five years gone. It's hard to grip. I had to lick my fingers with each throw, but Todd won't get a new one for sentimental reasons. We also kicked a soccer ball around. Both football and soccer in the vacant lot across the street from my apartment. Early afternoon we go over to Harlem High School courts and play three sets. He beat me, but it was close. I lost 3-6, 6-3, 4-6. I would have had it, Todd said, if I'd tied the third set, 5-5. I was just hitting my stride. He said he was getting pooped. My tennis game takes a long time to get going because I don't play often enough. We still had many double digit strokes baseline volleys and even a few frantic net exchanges. Too many unforced errors, yes, but not bad for a hangover Saturday. Watched baseball at my parent's house. Cheered as the Angels poured on 8 runs in the fifth inning en route to a 9-4 win to eliminate the Yankees. When my Dad entered the basement lair, Todd asked him who he wanted in the World Series. Dad said he didn't care, as long as it wasn't the Yankees or Braves. Todd got up and shook his hand. After game we came back to my apartment for a short time before going back over to goat boy's place. Esther joined us. All four of us were subdued, laid back. Goat cooked up crepes, with sauteed apples and bacon. I ate more bacon Saturday than I have in the last three months combined. Also had bacon with breakfast. MEAT! I'd never make a vegetarian. South side Johnny Todd took off for Steger after Goat's. Always a good time hanging with my stoomish bud.

Sunday sleep in, read the paper, cloudy, gray, but glorious beautiful quiet world Sunday morning. Early afternoon at my parent's again scanning in photographs for my trailjournals web site. Then we go to Rock County and are the only ones to show up for fall colors photo hike at Carver Roehl County Park. The feature of the park is Spring Brook, which carves out a valley with overhanging cliffs of shelfy limestone. I puff out my cheeks and imagine myself underwater, the detritus of so many dead brachiopods and encephelopods and other shelled creatures long dead forming the delicate, chalky layers of limestone. Got some good outdoor photography pointers from Dave Buchan and enjoyed being outdoors, of course, the simple feeling of open sky above breeze through my hair. As fall colors go, the hike was a bust. The colors would not cooperate. Leaves have their own agenda.

On the way back a stop in Clinton to see old limestone (imagine that!) water tower and take picture of same in waning fall five o' clock light. It's jacket wearing weather. I can smell winter, even if the leaves haven't put on their color display. Nice dusky country road drive back home. Then a movie, "Life is Beautiful."

Yesterday awakened by upstairs neighbor Eric's alarm clock at 5:30AM. Eric slumbers oblivious. I pound on ceiling, rouse him, and can't get back to sleep myself. Afternoon I go on a bike ride on the Pecatonica Prairie Path to Winnebago. The Path is overgrown, rutted, deep puddles, thick gravel, I had to stop and walk the bike through a couple spots. Surprised to see yuppie neighborhood developments so far west of Rockford. I thought all the expansion was eastward, but low interest rates stimulate economy housing boom everywhere eats up fertile fields around Rockford while core old town rots away. Monday Night Football with Dad watch Packers and Favre crush Bears. Also got to see Braves eliminated from post-season by Giants. Good day in sports. Beautiful fall day. Temps in 60s, sunny, blue sky, that certain fall kind of sunshine. Hard to believe I been in Rockford over a year.

Today same story with upstair neighbor's alarm clock. Should just keep my hiking stick in the bedroom so I don't have to get up to pound on ceiling. Had a dream about screaming into heating vent to wake him, pounding, screaming, running upstairs, bang on door, red face and spittle. Dreams tell us how we really feel. I wake up and the alarm's going. I act rationally. A single rap on the ceiling. What to do about this problem? Get him another alarm clock? Esther says to make arrangements with him for a wake-up phone call. That might work, but near stranger Eric is going to have to agree to that. He can't help it being such a heavy sleeper. I can't help being a light sleeper.

Lots of errands today. Blah blah blah. Not worth mentioning. Small stuff to keep the life organized and lubricated and going smooth. Went down to employment agency about substitute teaching. Different lady at desk said they have not even started processing my paper work. Says there are a lot of subs in the Rockford School District. I got to work soon. Been laying low and finances are not tight, yet, but I need some work. Got a good work out at YMCA. Sore and tired now, but calm. Took a late afternoon slow pedalling bike ride. Again, just had to be outside. Winter's coming soon. Gotta enjoy these fall days before November blahs set in.

Getting together with Andy tomorrow to work on Space Oddity. Putting together four songs to do at open stage. Would like to have three covers and an original. Got a good riff and chords for original, just need lyrics and lead voice. Hard for me to sing and play at same time. Can't keep rhythm part separate and distinct from voice part. That's cause I never took piano lessons. If so, I could have two melodies going at same time. Also going to do Man Who Sold The World and am debating that third song.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

We can put to rest the debate on the sanity of the lady in the park near Central and Auburn here in Rockford. I went on my bike ride to Pecatonica, but it was cut short when I got a flat tire. On the walk back home I got back on the Mel Anderson path and it was raining. And as I came underneath the Central St. bridge, walking along the banks of Kent Creek, I thought of the swing set lady because I'd just written about her earlier in the day. Lo and behold, there she is, on the swing set, same metronomic consistency, except this time she is doing it with one arm, and holding the other arm cocked as if it's injured. Just on the grass, at the edge of the wood-shaving ground of the playground, is a laundry basket filled with plastic bags and stuff I could not identify. She's not wearing the pink tank top, but biker shorts and a long-sleeved top.

I wanted to talk to her, but as I approached she stared at me and scowled. She's got short curly hair and looks to be in her 50s. She looks like a lady I met on the Appalachian Trail in 2000, Beverly Dillworth. Both women all tendon and bone, sinewy, lithe. Dillworth's touched-ness the janitor size set of keys she carried around and her propensity to wash an ungodly amount of clothes and rags each time she came into camp and hang them everywhere. Oh, and she washed the clothes in a large, shiny aluminum bowl. Both women also have scrunch-faced southern inbred faces.

Does their ugliness beget rejection from the world at large? Or ignorance? Or some awful backwoods upbringing? Rape? Pain? What is the significance of the swing set? Has the woman been swinging since I seen her last? I've written enough about this woman. I'm tempted to leave right now and go to the park and see if she's there.

So, yeah, crazy me decided to take a bike ride in the rain. I was going to go all the way to Pecatonica and back, a 40-mile round trip journey. But I got a flat tire on the southwest side of Rockford, which, if it would have happened to me at night would have certainly resulted in me getting mugged and my bike stolen. With my ball cap, rain jacket and daypack on waist, honky me stands out in da hood. I noticed the flat tire when I almost wiped out turning a corner off of Pierpont, mere feet away from the moss covered water storage tank, the willow trees and the place where the other day I almost hit the drunk guy carrying the bottle of Wild Irish Rose. I'm thinking it's that guy's smashed bottle caused the flat.

But after I get the flat I walk the bike back up Pierpont and stop at an open garage door for a towing company/auto shop. I ask if they can inflate my tire and a young guy, my age, walking with a cane, all long curly hair, goatee, t-shirt, tall and lanky, is very kind and helps me, even though he's very busy and brothers keep coming up to him: "You got a used starter for a 96 Taurus? Dealer wants me to pay $400 for a new one. I can't afford that #$#&." He's like the young guru of the shop. I wanted to ask him about the cane, but didn't think it appropriate. He tried to pump up my tube, but the tube kept bursting out from under the rim and tire. He does his best, but sends me on my way still walking my bike in the rain. About a mile later I get to a gas station, one where the clerks are stationed behind bulletproof glass, and ask for change for the air machine. It turns out to be one of those air pumps that you put the nozzle on the tire and it pumps air. There is no trigger to control the release of air. And as I pump the tube again breaks free from the tire and rim and I can't get the pump off in time -- POW!! -- the tube explodes with gunshot sound. Now I'm set. I'm walking the rest of the way home.

John Panek called yesterday and apologized for the blow off. He seemed perturbed that it upset me so. Said we aren't dating, so what's the big deal? He's real busy with work. This is his first experiences as a school teacher, and he's got mid-terms going right now. Lots of grading and at home work. He seems like the type not used to being so occupied. That explains getting blown off. Said this is a bad time for him. I can understand busy-ness. I know now where I stand in the Panek hierarchy.

This morning the new upstairs neighbor, Eric's, alarm went off and kept going and going. This has happened three out of the last four mornings. So this morning I just pounded our ceiling once. That was enough to disturb his slumber, and the alarm was turned off. Esther said her brother Carl is the same way. Guy can sleep through a hurricane. Easy prey in the wilderness. I remember in college there was this guy in the dorms who was like that. He had four alarm clocks to ensure he got up in time for classes. One time he went home for the weekend and forgot to turn off his alarms... The RA had to come with his master key, but not before the whole floor was awake, at 7 a.m., on a Saturday. God, did he catch hell for that.

This morning should play out like this: breakfast, workout at YMCA, phone calls to jail and Beloit Daily News, go get a new tube for my bike, followed by sloth and laziness until my trip to jail.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Take me back to the days of grunge. Before J-lo and those limp bizkit bastads. When flannel was cool. before the dot-com wars and resultant fallout. When I was in my late teens and early 20s. I'm listening to a best of Alice in Chains collection. And as I sit in my living room looking out on a gray Rockford world, I remember that article I read in Rolling Stone about the last days of Layne Staley, his sinking into the depths of heroin addiction. They found his body almost two weeks or something after he died. He lived in a windowless world and only ventured out to go to an ATM for more money. Lived off the hits from the past. Died a scabrous fool. Well, we are all dying. No pity. Just sadness. Grunge is dead. Everybody got haircuts or started inserting samples into their music. At least we still got Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder rules.

An old, what I thought was a friend, John Panek, blew me off for the second time in a row last night. Last Thursday we were supposed to get together, but he calls me after 10 p.m., said he had to go to Elgin to pick something up. I say, cool, but could you at least call? Last night another blow off, and I'm steamed, so I call him and leave a nasty message on his machine. Then I think it is too short and call back to explain my position. Told him I didn't like getting the blow off Thursday and last night and that each time I've called him he's cut me short to go eat (dinner once, ice cream the second). And I'm just getting this vibe since I've returned from the trip he doesn't want to associate with me. I'm disappointed. I like(d) John. He and his wife Julie are a cool couple. He's well-read, intelligent, kind, courteous. We have the ol' competition rivalry, partly because our friendship started with tennis, but I didn't think the jibes got too personal. He gave as much as he took. And now I come back from the hike and get this blow off.

Message to you, John. I can respect if a person doesn't want to associate with me. I don't ever want to impose myself on anyone. But you're an inconsiderate clod and a coward for planning get-togethers and blowing me off. My buddy Shawn called last night, wanted to get together, and I told him no because we were getting together. You could have just said, hey, I'm busy, a bunch of times, and I would get the message and fade into the background. But you took a different tact, and pissed me off something royal. All I know is I have NEVER blown off get-togethers with friends. If a planned get together doesn't work out, I show COURTESY and RESPECT and call them. And I expect the same in return. That's what it means to be THE MAN. Live by the golden rule, fool. Instant karma's gonna getcha.

Instead, I went over to my parent's house and watched the New York Yankees pull off another late-inning post-season rally, this time against the Anaheim Angels (for the record, I do not have a television set, my parent's have two, and recliners to sit and enjoy them in). You know, I agree that baseball's financial structure is skewed, and that teams like the Yankees have an unfair competitive advantage because of higher payroll. But from a pure fan's perspective, the Yankees are a joy to watch. Jeter, Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano, Roger Clemens, and company manage to win year after year. Jeter has never played for a losing club since his rookie 1996 season. I'm still rooting for the Twins or A's or Anaheim, because fresh faces are fun to see. I love post-season ball. Hope the Twins get the AL crown. Young scrappers who've been together since the low minors. Arbitration in a couple years will tear that tight-knit group apart. On the National League side I think the Atlanta Braves will probably take the NL crown, but hope the Giants can get it. Hothead prima donna Barry Bonds, although personally repugnant, deserves to add a World Series title to his many other Hall of Fame achievements. This year has been magical for him, coming off his record homerun year last season.

Well, if the rain holds off, I'm going to check out the Pecatonica Prairie Trail on my bike. I found the trailhead on a bike ride last week. That was the ride where, coming back on Pierpont Ave. I almost ran over a drunk guy standing in the middle of the road. A rheumy-eyed rail thin black man wearing tattered dirty peasant clothes and stumbling three feet off the curb with a bottle of Wild Irish Rose in his hand. I noticed him well beforehand, but he stumbled into my path again. I could smell his breath as I passed. He was within sight of a huge concrete water storage tank, covered in moss and flanked by weeping willow trees which look small and bushlike against the tank. And then there was the middle-aged lady wearing a pink tank top on the swing set in the city park right near Central and Auburn. I rode past her and noted, hmmm., that's interesting. Not everyday you see an adult, alone, on a swing set in a park, much less wearing a pink tank top. I come back an hour later and she's still at, still swinging in the same metronomic precision as before.

Esther gets home and I tell her about almost hitting a drunk and the crazy swing set lady. "I guess she had a lot on her mind," Esther said. "No, she's got to be crazy." Then I think again. Maybe Esther's right. She could have been perfectly sane. Just working out some issues in her head. Or crazy, and swinging her way to sanity.

Only other news in the gray, gray, blown off world of Greg is that I got a phone call from my former editor, Clint Wolf, asking me to go on a tour of the Winnebago County Jail and write about it for the Beloit Daily News. They pay $25 a story. I won't get rich doing this, but it's something to do. Now that my journals are done, I can finally focus on getting this freelance writing gig off the ground. Did some research on catfish noodling, a story idea I had, and am disappointed to see there are a lot of stories done about it. I'm going to look through my own articles archive and come up with some story ideas. And then pursue them. Too much wasting time figuring out how to pirate music off the Internet and transcribing journals. Gotta fill the time. Gotta make some money. Gonna be a literati rock star and muito famoso someday. Or a hack impresario forever in a gray squalor nether existence, but still have many exciting adventures.