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.