Friday, November 14, 2003

I just finished watching some high drama involving squirrels and a cat. I was drinking coffee at my kitchen table and noticed a cat, a huge gray tabby with a silver ID tag on its collar, hanging out next to the neighbor's garage. Then a big, fat fox squirrel (N. Illinois has some of the biggest squirrels I've ever seen, anywhere, owing to the oak savannah habitat that still dominates the urban landscape) strolled into the scene along the fence line. It crawled right towards the cat and when it got within three feet kitty pounced. The squirrel leaped away on a tree, one that apparently was the territory of another squirrel, and was chased around the tree by another squirrel as the cat looked up expectantly. The first squirrel finally got away, leaping off the tree out of sight of the tail-twitching sentinel of death.

My favorite moment was when the cat made its initial attack, all muscular leap and fur, spread legs and claws.

The friendly kittens out at the in-laws' farm aren't doing so well. Up to 10 cats from three or four generations mob us whenever we come to the door. One kitten had a real bad eye infection -- its eye almost closed by a big ball of pus. Another kitten went into a body-shaking coughing fit for five minutes before it settled down to eat its food. Such is the life of a farm cat deprived of pampering vet care. Nature is brutal and efficient. Those kittens have to adapt to new life in the onset of winter. It won't be easy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I read a Time Magazine article recently about community supported agriculture. Like all good ideas, it's simple really. Farmers, instead of working with government subsidies and the vagaries of the open market, sell their produce to local customers who buy "shares" in the harvest. This concept spreads the wealth and the risk of farming on to the consumer and eliminates shipping, which in turn is better for the environment.

King's Hill Farm in southern Wisconsin delivers to Rockford and is one of the few CSA's I've checked out that provides produce to its customers year-round and allows you to pay on a weekly basis.

Monday I went to Woodman's and bought a free-range chicken raised in Janesville, WI and grass-fed certified organic ground beef and sirloin steak raised on a farm in Brodhead, WI, both locations less than 100 miles from Rockford. Are any of these things going to save the planet, or even contribute to better health? It certainly can't hurt.

On the flip side, I had a weak eating moment yesterday on the way home from my sub assignment at Auburn High School when I pulled into a Popeye's chicken outlet. I had to wait in the drive-thru for 15 minutes while the lady in front of me on a cell phone in her silver Mitsubishi got chicken and sides for all her corporate cronies. Then, when I finally got my chicken, it was lukewarm and the thigh was no bigger than the average wing.

I was feeling kind of weather-related down in the dumps last night, and kind of restless too. When Esther returned from her dinner date with Florence S., one of her childhood mentors, we went on a bike ride on the bike path out to Machesney Park Mall and back. The night was very foggy. My glasses collected condensation. But the fog had a mysterious beauty that, along with the exercise, lifted my spirits.

When we rode through Sportscore we scared up a whole flock of Canada Geese resting at the edge of a lagoon. The collective rustle of wings and honking startled me. But on the way back I decided to sneak up on them and as we passed I screamed. Ha Ha. Well. A-hem. Guess you had to be there.

Today I'm at McIntosh Elementary teaching Physical Education. I'm home for lunch. I had turkey, chard, tomato, sauerkraut and mayonnaise between two thick slices of homemade bread. Yuma, Arizona. I'll eat my Granny Smith apple in the car on the way back.

Tonight I'm doing the Wednesday wings thing. I may arrange an appointment for a sauna at Cliffbreakers.

The weather today is sunny, warm and windy as hell, with gusts supposedly up to 40 MPH. Leaves rustle and the apartment windows rattle with each gust. No bike riding in this weather.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Cool, cloudy November morning, but warmer than the last few days. It's foggy and misty. Moist. My hair is extra curly.

Woke up this morning to adrenaline rush of ringing phone. It was my sub caller Carol. I'm working at Auburn High School. I was once friends with a fireman who said in addition to the inherent hazards of fighting a fire, getting startled awake takes years off a fireman's life. A constant feed of adrenaline is bad for the body.

So I deal with some of the same hazards as firefighers, but in a profession not as noble or heralded. There are no monuments in public places to the substitute teacher, though a movie out now, "School of Rock," has a substitute teacher in a leading role.

Esther said there's an opening in the school age room at her center. I think I'll apply for the job. This would allow for a more stable working environment. I'm tired of the on-again off-again nature of the sub gig. I'm just not making enough money. I still have to get a second job, but maybe I'll just sell off my collection of books, comics and records E-bay instead. Maybe all three, and sell plasma to boot. Gotta crunch the finances to pay for the trip. It'd be a trip in itself to work at the same place as Esther. We could ride our bikes to work together.

The Packers lost last night to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-14, on a last-minute drive by the Eagles. My brother Mike, who wasn't watching the game until the end, cheered loudly when the Eagles scored their last touchdown. I told Mike he was such a contrarian spirit that if Mother Teresa was on the team everybody else was rooting for, he'd root for the opposition, even if Satan was on that team. "Take that back to Calcutta, Mama T."

Hmmm. Contrarian. That's Mike. He goes out of his way to piss people off. Sunday night he wouldn't join Esther, Dad and I eating out for dinner because he didn't want to support anyone who worked on the Sabbath. I told Dad Mike has such a strict code of ethics because it helps keep his life disciplined and gives him a feeling of superiority over others. I respect Mike for standing by his Mormon beliefs. Just don't impose them on me or judge me by their standards.



Monday, November 10, 2003

Friday night Sisu and I walked to a local bar, Leisure Tyme, and watched a blues band. The bar has the dimensions of a double wide trailer, with an O-shaped bar in the middle and full-length mirrors on both walls. It's a cool effect that allows you to check out the patrons to infinity and beyond. I only go there when they have live music. A lot of seedy characters hang out there. It has the reputation of being a cokehead bar. But they attract some good musical acts, mostly mid-profile blues and jazz tours, and no cover... That's key in this trail-savings era.

I drank wine and vermouth before going to the bar and some Icehouse beers after I got there. Woke up Saturday morning with a mad hangover, though I didn't drink THAT much, and even threw up. Good wine, vermouth and cheap beer = bad news.

Saturday I spent outside doing yard work for Mary, 88, whose husband Ben died two months ago. I kind of feel sorry for Mary, who now lives alone in a semi-rural home. No kids or relatives, but kind neighbors who check in on her. When I went to Ben's funeral I was the youngest one there by a couple decades. I call to check on her every once in a while. She complained that everybody's trying to get her to sell the house and move into a nursing home, but I told her she's doing the right thing staying because she can still get around and her mind's together.

I spent the whole day at her place, cleaned out her gutters, trimmed the hedges and raked leaves. A very peaceful time. Mary invited me in for coffee and she told me how she and Ben met. They grew up in the same small town in Wisconsin, but didn't marry until they were 50 because both took care of their parent's. She said Ben never dated anybody else because he was so shy, but she'd gone out with a few men. "He still waited for me," she said.

Saturday night I took pictures of the lunar eclipse and performed some of my original music at Minglewood, a hippie coffee shop gift store. We're friends with Brian, a guy who makes soap and sells it through the store. There were a bunch of other hippie-vegan-freaky types there, including a couple poet friends of mine, and I was invited on stage again to read some poetry and do a freestyle word jam... Muchos fun...

After my musical performance some drunk guy in a leather jacket came in off the street and said, "I love you motherfucker, yeah!!" He then rushed the stage and gave me a big bear hug before kissing me on the cheek. Ewwww!!! Nasty stubble drunken kiss. He came from the Jerry Seinfeld show at the Coronado Theater. Tried to give me his ticket stub to get back in.

Sunday I raked more leaves and visited family. It was sunny and cool, and a breeze thwarted my efforts to collect every leaf. Guess I'll have to go back to finish the job.

Today there's no school because of Veteran's Day, so I went to Woodman's, got groceries, and watched a DVD, "What About Bob?," a movie I've seen only in bits and pieces over the years, but never in its entirety, until now. Tonight I'm watching the Packers-Eagles Monday Night Football game. Of course, after my bike ride.

I bought chard for the first time today because the lettuce they had for sale looked so brown, wilted and nasty. We'll see how that tastes in a salad with dill, basil, spinach and romaine lettuce.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Oh, sublime beauty rise above the gray mass and matter…

Damn school district didn’t call me in today, so I’ve spent idle Tuesday reading the papers, went out for a bike ride and got my backside muddy. There are still many puddles after two straight days of steady rain. I ate my first persimmon a little while ago. I read an article about the tree fruit. They are ripe right now. Esther said it tasted kind of like a tomato and a pumpkin. It certainly had the texture of a tomato and color and smell of a pumpkin. It was also super sweet and the skin left a bitter gritty coating on my teeth, tongue and upper palate. I’ll peel the skin next time.

Stopped at 320 Store and bought some fruits and veggies, along with some texturized vegetable protein. I would have bought more, but I had to fit it in my pack. They’ve got some rye flour. Esther and I learned how to bake bread from Mom Larson Sunday. We’re going to do it again Sunday at the Larson’s, this time with guidance, but no assistance from Mom. Bread making is a very tactile process, shape and knead the dough, watch the yeast rise and bubble, smell its fermentation. Making bread is life- affirming. And fresh bread tastes really good!!

Halloween night we went up to Madison to see our friend Susie, who drove us out to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere to a party. We each got one beer before the keg went dry. Esther was cat girl, with cardboard animal ears, a felt trail, brown gloves and black lines on her nose. Susie was space cadet, with silver and black makeup and a tin foil hat, shoulder pads, belt and spats… I was the pervert hiker. Susie said I couldn’t just get by as a hiker (even though I wore shorts over long johns, gaiters and head lamp). So she gave me some supplies from her sex toys business, including handcuffs, cheesy naked playing cards, a novelty condom and lipstick shaped like a penis. I walked in the door to a room of complete strangers and announced “no good porn has been made since 1983.”

We stayed up almost all night, then got up at 7 a.m. Saturday and drove to Milton, WI, to lead a 10-person trail crew as we finished establishing tread for the 700-feet railroad segment. After noon Esther and I put blazes through the section. Esther marked areas where directional posts should be placed.

Came home super tired. Esther took a nap while I did mindless computer work, downloaded pictures and journal entries to our 2000 AT online journals. I’m really excited to get this journal back online. It was originally placed on trailplace.com, but the guy who runs the sight took it down shortly after the end of the season. I thought I had a copy of the journals on disk, but I only had a few entries… until our friend Trainwreck discovered the journals on a disk and e-mailed them to us. It’s nice to share the pictures for the first time. I’ve finally learned how to use the scanner.

Sunday night we went over to Susie’s Dad’s place in Loves Park with Shawn. Susie cooked up this really good pizza with pesto, pickled garlic cloves and pine nuts. I’ve always wanted to cook with pine nuts because they are a staple of Italian cooking, but this was the first time I’d had any. I love the subtle nutty burst of piney-ness in each bite.
I also ate fresh horseradish for the first time, with fake crab meat. Yum!

Last night I participated in a poetry slam at the Rockford Public Library. Fourteen participants in two groups of seven. After the first round the audience votes, narrowing the competitive field to six. I made the second round, and though I did not win I was voted “most creative” and got a care package, including a wooden frame, journal, necklace, book, and word refrigerator magnets. It’s the first poetry reading I’ve gone to, well, since last fall…

This time of year my social calendar slows down. Next weekend I don’t have any trail activities planned. Tonight I’m going to do something novel and stay home. What am I going to do with this great maw of time?

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I went to Wings alone for the first time ever. Esther decided to stay home for once. Nothing exciting happened in her absence. I ate my wings, marveled that there was no baseball to watch, played my pool, met Rob and his Russian girlfriend Lena. They both smoked 120 length cigarettes, which reminds me of Billy K.'s mom from drum corps day. Speaking of Billy, I found out about an old high school friend, Larry E., who I haven't seen in 10 years. He used to live next door to Billy. Nancy at Wings said Larry is in the National Guard, but other than that doesn't work and still lives in his parent's basement, just like he did eons, nay, lifetimes, okay, 15 years ago, when I was good friends with him. What a trip! I always thought he was a spoiled brat loser. Talk about arrested development.

God, did the depression ever hit me hard this morning. I just felt a blackness come over me. I swear the only thing that keeps me from freaking out sometimes is the gift of blessed detachment, a little place deep inside me where those awful feelings or any other feelings can't touch, a place of calculation and reason, from which, perched and peaceful, I determined that the rest of my miserable self just needed some sunshine and exercise. So I took a bike ride to the library. That did the trick, lifted me from my sunlight-deprived malaise.

I wasn't called in to work today, the first missed day in over two weeks, because I didn't call last night. That's how the system works. You gotta call the sub caller.

I applied online for employment at UPS. Gotta work two jobs now so I don't have to work any for five months or more next year.

I was going to mow widow Mary's lawn, along with some other lawn stuff, this afternoon, but realized Esther left my gas can at her parent's. So... I either have to go pick it up or go to my parent's and borrow theirs. Now it's getting all cloudy and dark and threatening skies. There's always tomorrow...

This weekend is the last workday of the year for the Rock County chapter of the Ice Age Trail. We are establishing tread on a 700-feet segment of trail near Vincent and Manogue Roads in Milton, WI, which, when completed, will finish the year-long project of blazing the trail through the city.

I called a lady with the Milton newspaper about covering the work day. She was really mean and bitchy to me and accused me of being condescending to her. She said she probably couldn't come out to the event on such short notice. The only thing I said is "I understand, considering the limited resources of a weekly." Now, tell me, is that condescending? I attributed her testy behavior to the weather and daylight savings time, the same elemental forces mucking up my brain chemistry. Screw her if she can't come out. I'll take better pictures and write better copy for free.

Below are some lyrics from one of my favorite discs of all time, which I listened to while writing this entry, Brazil Classics, Vol. 1: Beleza Tropical compiled by David Byrne. I got this at the library about a year ago and have checked it out many times since. Please check out the link for more lyrics or, better yet, download some of the tunes or buy the album. This album opened me up to Brazilian pop music, which I've thoroughly enjoyed since, even though I barely passed the Portoguese courses I took in college.

Excerpted from "Calice" by Chico Buarque (part vocal Milton Nascimento)

Form getting fat the pig no longer walks
From so much use the knife no longer cuts
How hard it is, father, to open the door
This word sticks in the throat
This homeric drunk across the earth
What use is it to have good will
Even if the chest is silent, the brains remain
In the drunks in the center of the city

Maybe the world isn’t small
And life isn’t a consummated fact
I want to invent my own sin
I want to die from my own poison
I want to once and for all lose your head
And my head lose your common sense
I want to sniff the fumes of diesel oil
Get drunk until someone forgets me

Can modern American pop music even hold a candle, lyrically, to this?!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Esther went out to get coffee this morning and stopped at the North End coffee house for the first time. She ordered a couple espressos, something different for a change, and was surprised by the demitasse portions. Pre-caffeinated, she’d forgotten how small an espresso is.

She went to Road Ranger gas station and got a couple cappuccinos as well (she’d have gotten the caps at the coffee house, but didn’t have enough money, and had a free one coming at Road Ranger). I drank most of my espresso and all 20 ounces of my cappuccino, and even though it’s noon I can still feel the rush. "I am cornholio! I need teepee for my bunghole!" It would probably be better for me if I gave up caffeine – better for my mood, hydration, sleep cycle – but I’m caught in this evil cycle of addiction where each morning I wake up craving caffeine’s invigorating elixur.

Todd S. arrived around 5 p.m. Friday. We couldn’t play tennis, as planned, because it was raining, and instead of played music. Todd brought his bongos and our impromptu band, “Tallheaded Woody,” pumped out a few fresh jams, including a Jesus Christ Superstar-inspired paean to trees. After dinner Esther joined in the jam and kept really good time with a bean shaker. Shawn R. also came over, but didn’t join the jam. He messed around on the computer instead.

“Without fail you always ask to get on the Internet when you come over,” I said. He replied, “Without fail you always raid my fridge when you come over." Touche. He got me.

Saturday was sunny and cool. Todd and I went to the Guilford High School tennis center, the crème de la crème (with the cash bar in it) of Rockford tennis. I warmed up extensively because of the cold, stretching, jogging, situps and pushups while Todd used a beach towel to soak up small puddles.

We both played tentative, error-filled tennis. Christian Life High School had a football game nearby. One of the end zones is just outside the court’s fence. When the announcer started to pray, Todd yelled “God sucks!” Then, during the national anthem Todd sang “O, Canada” at the top of his lungs. When the song finished a spectator screamed back, “God Bless America!” Todd, always one to get the last word in, yelled “God bless Canada.”

I won the match, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5.

Mark L. and his wife, Beth, arrived at our apartment at 3 p.m., and we drove in their car to my parent’s house to watch the NIU-Ball State football game. Mom cooked some barbecue and I got the grill going for some slow-cooked baby back ribs. I overindulged on ribs, chips, macaroni salad, cake and beer. NIU lost its first game of the year, 34-18. It wasn’t much of a game after Ball State went up 14-0 in the first three minutes.

The party then moved to Shawn’s apartment for Game Six of the World Series. Carissa and Andy J. joined the festivities around 9 p.m. Andy arrived drunk and continued to whoop it up when he got there. We went for a beer run and when we came back he dumped a case of Miller Lite in the middle of the floor. He randomly blurted “F--- You, man” or “God Bless America” throughout the evening, but everyone was cool with him, a testament to the inherent weirdness and accepting mindset of these friends. Esther drove us home in Andy’s car. Andy opened a bottle of beer in the car. Boy, did Esther get pissed about that! I encouraged Andy to come in, sober up and sleep off his drunk a bit before going home. We got him a blanket, pillow and air mattress, but he stayed all of 20 minutes before staggering off into the night. I didn’t see his name in the paper Monday. Dude’s setting himself up for a DUI or worse.

“An ounce of convention is worth a pound of primaries – Arnold H. Glasgow” The King Features cryptoquote in today’s Rockford Register Star.

Yesterday I was depressed. It was cloudy, cold and the kids in my afternoon classes at Auburn were lil’ bastards. The day started out well enough, but as the morning went on I felt heavy and dense and filled with a non-definable malaise. I know why I feel this way. The baseball season is over. Daylight savings time is in effect, and it gets dark before 5 p.m. I was also psychically hungover from the wild weekend of active socializing. Just because I know the feeling doesn’t make it go away… Well, it kind of does…

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Ahhh... the joys of sluggo-headedness. Esther and I had a cheap tab at the bar last night, but I had a slight hangover this morning only because I cadged two beers off pool players who left without drinking their beers. Everybody gets the $1 drafts and everybody's glass looks like the same golden piss, so nobody knows whose beer is whose.

I've been getting so cheap lately I cook wings at home to save $3.50 or whatever they charge. It's 25-cent wings, but they charge $1 extra for ranch and another 50 cents more for celery. Yup, capitalists. It's a nickel and dime world. Watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

We were the last ones of the Woodie crowd to leave last night because we are the only ones who are baseball fans. Around 10 p.m. I stood in bar near exit as gay Yanks' Ruben Sierra worked the count from 3-0 to 3-2 before pounding a mealy fastball off Marlins' closer Ugueth "string beard" Urbina to the right corner, scoring two runs to tie the game. Three innings and more than an hour later the Marlins atoned with an Alex Gonzalez walk-off screaming mee mee homer over the 330 sign in left. I followed the game in fits and starts throughout the night and watched what could have been Roger Clemens' last inning of his Hall of Fame career.

Rob, a good pool player who trounced both Jason and I, watched the rest of the game with Esther and I, and then asked us for a ride over to the Sports Page, less than four blocks away from LT's. I laughed and called him a lazy ass when he got out. He said Esther and I are lucky to have each other and that we seem like good people, and then he walked off into the video game poker silent TV screen blipping lonely night.

The last two days I've taught at West Middle School for Mike T., who also happens to be the grandfather of my godchildren, formerly Steve H.'s father-in-law. Science room among the tanks with African frogs, Malayan turtles, salamanders in a bucket, goldfish hidden one algaed tank, rare tropical fish in other murky green tank. Oh, yeah, and two snakes... A regular menagerie. And that's just the living. Of course in one closed glass cabinet stood the pig and deer fetuses, frogs and insects forever preserved and peaceful in liquid stasis. Plastic models of cell structures, stuffed squirrels and some well past its prime bald stuffed duck.

The students are "gifted" eighth graders, well behaved future leaders of America, corporate scions, well-heeled and socially conscious. They don't cause this sub too much trouble, giving me time to daydream, finish reading "Lonesome Traveler" by Kerouac, reminding me of my mountain wanderings and Paris street scenes, work on a short story and play hearts and freecell.

It's a cool, sunny day and the leaves are past their glory. The ones left are the hardy oak leaves that can often be seen still clinging to parent tree throughout dark winter only to fall off reluctantly with the first shoots of spring.

Back to work. The living and dead creatures await.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

I apologized to the first tree before I marred it with the bark peeler.

“I’m sorry, tree.” I said. “This wound will protect you from the sawyer’s ax. May you live long and mark the path for hikers.”

The peeler’s got handles on either side with a grooved blade between. Field Coordinator Tim M. partly nailed in a plastic yellow blaze. Before I removed the blaze I used my hand saw to cut through the bark and set the parameters for the peeler. I then removed the blaze. Esther painted a yellow blaze after I peeled the bark down to moist white meat.

Most of the time the Ice Age Trail is marked with a plastic blaze, nailed in with at least an inch space between the blaze and tree (room for growth), but the DNR manager here in Lincoln County wanted blazes painted, I guess to maintain uniformity with the rest of the section. Direction changes were made with plastic blazes.

After the morning’s work the remaining crew sat around the tool shed near the trail and ate lunch. We looked at a photo album of other work weekends this year, reminiscing on all that’s been accomplished. I felt a little sad because this is the last Mobile Skills Crew weekend Esther and I will attend for probably the next year. Who knows where we’ll be next October? No doubt our journeys will return us to Wisconsin.

It was nice to talk to Luke K. about his thru-hike of the Ice Age Trail this summer. He’s really lost weight, going from a pink-cheeked cherub to a bearded mountain man. We also picked Sharon D.’s brain for stories and information about her Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike this past summer. She’s the only person I know who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Ice Age Trail, Long Trail and PCT. And she’s so unassuming about it. She’s also the brainchild behind the Ice Age Trail companion guide.

I had a dream this morning about blueberries – I was in a supermarket and a lady with an apron on stood next to a table displaying a wide variety of blueberries. Some were small purple beads, others bright blue and as large as a plum, but with the tell-tale crown of the blueberry.

One of the bigger ones was cut up into smaller portions in a glass dish with salt water. I knew it was brine because some of the salt lay undiluted on the bottom of the dish. When I tried this saltwater humongous blueberry piece it tasted sweet and salty, like taffy, and the salt seemed to eliminate the blueberry’s tartness.

I woke up, booted up and walked over to the cooking area, where I enjoyed, you guessed it, blueberry pancakes…

Saturday, October 18, 2003

So there I was standing in the middle of a gravel road out in the middle of Wisconsin nowhere with a bottle of beer in one hand and animal crackers in the other. Must be another Mobile Skills Crew weekend.

Saturday I teamed with fellow skillers Drew H. and Mike W., along with newbie and local Lincoln County resident Greg Something-something to clear brush around trail markers in the New Wood segment of the Ice Age Trail. It made for a fairly unremarkable day of trail work. We cut tree limbs around yellow blazes and carted off the fresh pine pitch smelling limbs deeper into the forest (at least 15 feet, crew leader Drew said). The day was warm and sunny and there was no cover because all the leaves were gone. Greg S. said a wind storm blew through about a week ago. Figures I’d forget my cap on such a day.

But the biting lady bug/Japanese beetles were out in full force, and even a few confused mosquitoes and gnats. We stopped for lunch in the shade of a beautiful hemlock. Most of this section of trail follows old logging roads and changes direction at once-clearcut intersections. Posts with arrows need to be put up to direct the wandering hiker on the proper path. New Wood lives up to its name. Except for a few majestic white pines and hemlocks, the only other evidence of the once-great forest are huge moss-covered stumps.

Greg S. objected to cutting down saplings that blocked the view. He said it would only widen the trail. I felt the same way once, thinking this destruction we do for the trail is counterintuitive to my environmental preserving predilections.

We finished about 3:30 p.m. and were sent on a beer run into Merrill. Shortly after we got back, the rest of the crew arrived. We all stood by the road with beers in our dirty hands, talking trail and watching the golden evening sun creep up the birches.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Man, I’m tired, tarred and feathered, one of my witticisms, a nod to the duke and dauphin of Huck Finn fame. Stayed up late last night watching those Damn Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox, 6-5, in 11 innings in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. This sets up the least desirable World Series matchup between the Yankees and Florida Marlins. Yawn… I’ll watch the darn thing, but who really cares? I’m just stupid diehard fan of good baseball.

Once again Bosox manager Grady Little committed a sin of omission and left tired starter Pedro Martinez in the game a little too long, allowing the Yankees to post a seventh inning rally and tie the game 5-5. Aron Boone smacked the game winning homer in the bottom of the 11th off Boston knuckleball hurler Tim Wakefield, brought in for late relief because he won two games as a starter in the series.

Now Esther and I are off to the wilds of Lincoln County Wisconsin for a weekend of trail work with the Mobile Skills Crew. Just by looking at the trail notes, it doesn’t seem like too technical of work – no retaining walls, bog bridges or major constructs. Just clear some brush, establish better tread, a couple major re-routes. I’ve been going through some major jonesin’ for trail, prolly cuz the weather’s been so nice and fall colors so beautiful, and I’ve been cooped up in the bright lights big city a bit too long.

I got work today at West Middle School, which went well because I played the Mary Poppins angle, kind but firm with stern voice and ready smile. I taught one of my godchildren, Laurine, who I haven’t seen in a long time. Her “father” Steve is a childhood friend, the best man in my wedding. Steve’s not Laurine’s biological father, whose never had anything to do with her, but he’s supported and taken care of her since she was a few weeks old. I remember when she was the tiniest infant. Today I taught her how to compute perimeters and area in her 6th grade math class.

Steve and his ex-wife Michelle went through a very acrimonious divorce, and Steve has to sneak around to spend time with Laurine because he has no legal rights to see her. Michelle’s father is a science teacher at West, and condones Steve seeing Laurine. Seems he agrees with Steve that Michelle’s kooky. My impression of her is flighty, prone to rash, unpredictable behavior. She was always bitchin’ at Steve. I always left their house thankful for the wonderful even-tempered-ness of Esther.

After school Steve was in the hallway waiting for Laurine, and after they visited, all too briefly, before she jumped on the bus, we talked with gramps and then went out to a local diner for lunch and talk. Steve likes his truck-driving job, but wants to quit it to get a local run. He misses his kids and worries about their welfare with Michelle and her new boyfriend Nick. Steve told me about the truck driving life, checking in at weigh stations, messing around with other truckers on the radio, women flashing him as they passed, others caught in the act giving fellatio to drivers, one woman pleasuring herself with a vibrator, both feet on the dash, both hands on the wheel. “Guess she’s got cruise control,” Steve said.

Steve said he likes driving because long hours on the road gives him time to think, or not think. I said trucking is a lot like hiking. He said his favorite state so far is Oregon, the forests and mountains green and lush and out of this world. He told me about the 49-mile downhill off Donner Pass. I told him the Pacific Crest Trail goes past there. He said some of the women in the small, desert towns of the southwest were beautiful beyond belief. So weird for me to see Steve talking it up about other women. He was married so long and never talked like this. Not that he’s become a pervert, but sex never came into our discussions.

I woke up this morning about 7: 15 a.m. and called West to find out what time school started. When they said 7:30 I had to throw clothes on and cruise out da doh. Less than half an hour after entering consciousness I faced a classful of students, strangers, with a given coterie of rebellious punks wanting to test the subs’ limits. Thankfully the teacher had the lesson plans ready and they were easy to follow. And I stayed in the same classroom. The last few times I’ve worked I’ve been a “floating” sub, which means a heavy pocketful of keys and much confusion wandering the halls all day.

Well, I’m hitting the showers and gotta get packing. Have a great weekend whoever you are wherever you be…

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Cubs broke my heart in Game Six, so I had no more negative emotion left when they lost the NLCS to the Marlins last night. The hopes of Cubdom rested on the arm of Kerry Wood, who, like he did so often this season and in his last post-season start, proved to be fallible. Too many hittable pitches on 0-2 counts.

I played pool at LT's during the debacle and managed to win my last three games in a row, finding my vision on the table, inspired somewhat by frustration over the Cubs' fortunes.

Gotta hand it to the Marlins. They are a young, scrappy team with a lot of heart. And manager Jack McKeon did a hell of a lot better than Dusty Baker. Baker's gift is creating good clubhouse chemistry by respecting his players. This gift worked against him when he left Wood in too long last night and refused to bring starters like Clement and Zambrano out of the bullpen. The ill-fated fan-interfered/Alex-Gonzalez-error 8th inning of Game Six was the dagger in the heart. The Curse reared its ugly head once again. Wait 'til next year.

Tonight I'll be rooting on the matchup of the century: Martinez vs. Clemens II. This one oughtta be a real barn-burner. Go Sox!

My arms are sore from working out Tuesday and Wednesday. I also mowed a big lawn yesterday, which is always tough on the arms. Two more lawns today. I'll call all my customers next week and see if they need any last mowing jobs done. Grass is dying. Leaves yellow, red, brown and fall. Tis the season.

This weekend we're going up north to Lincoln County, WI, to work on the Ice Age Trail. It is the last weekend of the year for the Mobile Skills Crew, and the last work weekend Esther and I will participate in for a long time. Next year we'll be hiking in lieu of building trail. I've spent a lot of time at trailjournals.com lately living the vicarious life. There is a life to be lived here, now, but the future beckons.

I haven't bought groceries in almost three weeks, and we're slowly running out of food. There's a lot of canned goods and pantry items, like certain canned soups, canned fruits, pop tarts, hiker meals, etc., rejected fare that I will never buy again, that needs to be eaten. It's a fun challenge to make do with such limited stores. I put together an awesome potato soup the other day, using the last of the carrots and celery, cans of mushroom and cream of chicken soup, sour cream, cream cheese, spices... Yum. It turned out delish. I also made a veggie chili. Last night I cooked the last of the chicken wings and a couple boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We're drinking powdered milk.

I've figured out how to eat well, which is good, considering my age. I know I have the physical disposition to get a fat ass and big gut, what I call the "Smith curse" because a lot of the relatives on my Mom's side of the family are similarly proportioned. The key to good eating is not contained in fads like the South Beach or Atkins diets. It's really quite simple. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, white meat, fish, red meat sparingly, olive oil, drink lots of water. Processed food bad, organic good. Except for Wednesdays, when I drink four or five $1 drafts of Miller Lite, I don't have more than three drinks at any one time.

Since the beginning of summer I've been living pretty healthy. There's always room for improvement, but I also recognize I'm a helluva lot better than I used to be.

Which reminds me, 10 days from now it will be five years since I quit smoking. Interesting that I quit smoking less than two months after my first backpacking trip...

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It's a cool, crisp fall morning. Colors are changing big time, a last fireworks foliage burst. Condensation runs down my windows. The sun'll burn it dry. Had a Christmas flashback as the condensation reveals the circular pattern created by the suction cup that held up our flashy lights. The snow and holidaze are coming.

I'se listenin' to tracks from the latest Radiohead album, Hail to the Thief. I've managed to download 10 of the 14 tracks off Kazaa. I do the Kazaa thing at night, when I go to bed, adding to my collection as I sleep. I'm totally selfish and don't share any of my files. This allows me to download more music with my puny 56k modem. I've been trying to do stuff with my raru.org web site, but find it very difficult to use the web-based editing software because of the slow connection speed. I could go back to the library, but what about uploading pictures and other files that are only on my computer?!!!

The Friggin' Cubs broke my heart last night. Fan interference on a fly ball to Alou and an error by Alex Gonzalez on a double play chance kept the 8th inning alive for the Florida Marlins, who stormed back to score 8 runs and beat Cub ace Mark Prior en route to an 8-3 victory. Game 7 is tonight with Kerry Wood on the mound. I'm hopeful for a Cubs win, but apprehensive... These are the Chicago Cubs... I'm having 1984 flashbacks, the year I went to my first Cubs' game. Last night left me empty, depleted, defeated. I've never been so depressed about the outcome of a ball game. I've invested too much of my heart and soul into this team.

I know next year I will not be able to follow the Cubs that closely because of the Pacific Crest Trail adventure. That's why I've been such a baseball junkie this year, following my beloved Cubs and attending about 20 minor league games. They MUST WIN tonight. The personality of this club is to take things to the wire. They did so in the regular season and in the division series against the Braves. And here we are in game 7 of the NLCS. The dream season and the hopes of all Cubdom rests on the arm of Wood.

Last weekend in Chicago was fun. We got to Ken's apartment in time to see the start of the Cubs-Marlins game and Aramis Ramirez' first-inning grand slam. Then we took a cab to Wrigleyville and enjoyed the rest of the game across from Wrigley Field at Murphy's Bleachers. The place was really crowded, but Ken said it wasn't too bad. The weather was so warm and pleasant we sat outside in an enclosed patio area and watched the game on a large television on top of an ice cooler. The strangers we sat with were fun to talk to. Ken only drank orange juice because of the marathon... Each time the Cubs scored a run the bartenders rang bells. After the game we walked back to the apartment, looking in store windows and yelling at celebrants. A party was going on in a clubhouse area at Wrigley Field and the privileged partiers waved at us as a disco ball flashed out onto the street. The streets were closed in Wrigleyville in a three block radius around the park.

We got up at 5:50 a.m. Sunday and rode with Ken on the 'L' to downtown for the start of the Chicago Marathon. The subway was crowded, like sardines, most people wearing their jogging outfits -- warm-up jerseys, running shoes, and the plastic sling bag of goodies given out by race organizers. But Ken was all low-key about it. He said this is nothing like London on a weekday morning. Ken likes to downplay crowded situations and brag about the situations he's been in, like the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day when he was near the Arche-de-Triomphe and was so crushed in a crowd that he could barely breathe. He mentioned that after the nightclub deaths in Chicago earlier this year.

I wasn't holding onto anything when the subway started and smacked this real mean-looking black guy in the face with my hand. I grazed across his nose and got snot on me, and had no way to wash my hand. I was conscientous not to touch my face or any other body part with my right hand.

We hung out with Ken at the starting line. Ken was all nervous about what he would do if he had to take a dump. I think he pissed three times in the last hour before the start. He kept making calls on his cell, and tried to arrange a pit stop with a friend of his who lives along the route. The downtown skyline looked all beautiful and golden in the early morning light. Rainbows arced in the spray off Buckingham Fountain.

The minty pungence of Ben-Gay permeated the air. The odor of ache, smell of the superfit. We walked to the charity tents past a veritable armada of ambulances -- rows of wheelchairs, walkie-talkie clad, red-vested emergency workers. A marathon's a serious thing, and with 40,000 participants, many of them first-time runners like my brother, race organizers planned for statistical certainties.

An announcer clicked off the start of the race, but it took about five minutes for those in the middle of the pack to get moving. Ken had a little micro chip on him that didn't record his time until he crossed the starting line.

As Esther and I walked back to the subway, we stopped on a street corner downtown and climbed scaffolding to get an aerial view of the race. I looked down the skyscraper canyon, leaned out and took a picture of the undulating sea of runners. It was the first marathon Ken'd ever run, and the first I'd ever seen. It's much easier to be a spectator.

We joined my brother Bob back at Ken's apartment and after a quick bathroom break we walked down the end of the block to Clark Street, just past mile nine. Bob set up his video camera and we cheered on runners who put their names on their shirts. Some wore costumes. I saw a few dressed in Cubs regalia, some Supermen, capes and all, an Incredible Hulk and one guy painted red with rings bouncing on his pierced nipples. Yeowtch! When Ken approached he got off the race route to hug some unknown woman friend and then came over to us. We patted his sweaty shoulders and he started to take off. Then he came back and asked us if we had any aspirin or ibuprofen. Sorry, we didn't. Afterwards, he said he had some aches in his knees, but they went away after awhile.

We dropped off Bob's camera and went up Clark to a greasy spoon diner, Francesca's, where we watched race coverage on channel Nine while slower runners went by outside the window. Before we finished breakfast the winner, some Kenyan, Eddie-something, running his first marathon too, crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 5 minutes. We finished breakfast and walked back to Ken's apartment as the slow runners --the fat, elderly and out of shape -- and walkers passed by. One guy waved a bottle of Miller Lite and cheered on the straggling participants. It was a little after 10 a.m.

Ken made it back home by 1 p.m. He walked with a wide stance and dragged his feet. He took off his shoes and his toes looked like hamburger, all huge blood blisters and blackened toenails. He tore off one of his nails, threw it on the coffee table, and popped the blisters with a needle. After a small pasta lunch he went to his room and slept for an hour. He got up as the first guest arrived for his post-race party. We moved the television and couch into the larger living room for the Cubs game. Good food, great company, the Cubs lost, then it was back home on the Interstate in light traffic.

21980 LOCASCIO, KENNETH CHICAGO IL US 39 M
Times 15K Half 15M 20M 40K Pace (min./mile) Predicted ETA ClockTime ChipTime OverAll OverSex OverDiv
1:22:18 1:54:42 2:10:10 2:51:48 3:34:43 8:38 03:51:57 03:46:24 6962 5579 1170




Tuesday, October 14, 2003

On mornings when I’m not called in to work, like yesterday morning (evil, white Spanish Empire disease-spreading Columbus Day) and today (teacher’s institute), and on weekends when I’m home, I play around on my acoustic guitar and write songs. In the last month I’ve written a couple new ones. Here are the lyrics. Someday I may record them and put them out on MP3 for the world to enjoy or revile.

“Barbie Chair”

And you want to be in pictures
And you want to be a star
With good ideas and a bright imagination
The best intentions will take you very far

Chorus: But you sit there in your inflatable Barbie chair

Another loser dreaming in your basement
Alien creature in orbit from afar
Stare in the mirror and pout at your reflection
Stream to the future pulse transit techno bar

As you sit there in your inflatable Barbie Chair

Bridge: You think it’s in you
Blood and sinew (3x)

And you’re so real, so hip and so together
Cool and sincere with all the latest style
You quickly cheer what catches to your fancy
Taste, touch and feel the sensomatic whirl

Can you sit there in your inflatable Barbie chair?

It doesn’t matter, your empty aspirations
Faded and tattered, a billboard in the sky
Forget your baggage, just leave it at the station
Purge all your sadness and move on with a smile

And you sit there in your inflatable Barbie chair

Bridge and outro


“Apathy”

There’s a star outside my window
It’s been there a long, long while
It’ll burn a supernova

Chorus: I don’t mind (2x)

Water seeps in secret canyons
Sinking deep beneath the soil
On a path of least resistance

I don’t mind (4x)

If there’s a god up in the heavens
Saving souls to serve her will
She could wear a day-glo jump suit

Chorus

And just for the sake of continuity, here are the lyrics to the other songs I’ve written in the last year.

“Eph”

Free stand free wheel 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
Criticize or ostracize
It will not be satisfied (2x)

Big man big deal don’t matter in the end
All I know is this 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

Deek doddle deal doddle boodle de bang
Bip boddle biddy de bay
Rim rockin’ ride in the afternoon
Sunset the end of day

Go so fast, someday I’ll be old
Hair growing outta my ears
Bury me deep in the ground so cold
After I have used up all my years

Chorus

“So Damn Tired”

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 into the urge

Chorus: So damn tired
Stop eating on me
Cancer, bacterium, amoeba
Spread the disease

Smallest of things
Eat at one’s resolve
Hangnail, hemorrhoid
Pathogens in the blood

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

Chorus

Skin flake genetic
Scratching dust to dust
Breathe in each other
Filter cilia lung

Mites in the eyebrow
Culture intestinal walls
Part of the system
As we slowly dissolve

Chorus

“When You Comin’ Home?”

Baby, baby, baby
When you comin’ home? (2x)
I been waitin’ for you
By the wood fired stove
When you comin’ home?

Darlin’ darlin’ darlin’
Take it easy on me (2x)
I gave you my heart
My eternal soul
When you comin’ home?

Sugah sugah sugah
So pale and pure (2x)
I can hear your cry
On the Nordic winds
When you comin’ home?


Friday, October 10, 2003

Mmmm... 'm cooking up some pork ribs, all fat, meat, sinew and bone, indirect cooking on the grill. I bought 'em at Gray's IGA on Auburn St. Gotta go to dah hood to get real good ribs. That ain't a racial statement, but fact. The good bruthas and sistahs of da woild knows they ribs. IGA was on the way home from my teaching gig at Auburn High School.

Homecoming assembly today, and I felt old to see the senior class is '04, pumped up students flashing four or five fingers. I never got into homecoming or any of the pomp and circumstance of the high school assembly. More often than not I read a book or skipped out and smoked cigarettes in the back stairwell behind the gym. All that energy, pumping up, seemed so contrived. Too much yelling and screaming. Painted faces, proud banners, cheerleaders dancing, pom pommers jumping. Homecoming court all sashed and crowned, a showcase for the beautiful and socially privileged. When I was attending Harlem High School in the late 80s early 90s the football team was mired in a state record-tying losing streak. They never won a game from 7th-12th grade.

I'm listening to Dave Matthews' Band Everyday album, which brings me back to Show Low, AZ adventures, when this disc was one of the few in my possession. I listened to it ad nauseum and haven't much since. I'm having Grand Canyon flashbacks, hikes after dinner through the red sandy soil Ponderosa pine forest behind our condo, the fireplace fire we lit on a snowy April day, Humphrey's Peak and the Perry's primrose flower I discovered that only grows between 10-12,000 feet and smells like rotting flesh. Who was Perry? Did he die near this flower? Of course I'm ranting. Interesting associations music as memory auditory chemical trigger time capsule.

Another DMB disc, the live Listener Supported, transports me back to the last couple months we lived in Antigo, when in wintertime dreaming I pored over Appalachian Trail maps, sorted through gear and mail drops, getting ready for our adventure of a lifetime. Because my obsession with DMB happened just before we left, I had his songs floating through my head often on the thru. "My head won't leave my head alone, and I don't think it will till I'm dead and gone." "Treading trodden trails for a long. long time." Shizzit like dat.

Yesterday I took a drive to DeKalb, NIU days, another life chapter again, we're working backwards madman memory me. I went there to pick up a copy of my official transcripts. I drove around town. Not much different. My favorite post-tennis Chinese joint, the Mandarin, just near the Goat Palace on Lincoln Highway, closed down, so that was kind of depressing. But the chintzy stupid Hallmark store in the old bank building at Third St. and Lincoln has been transformed into a cool coffee house/cafe/restaurant/jazz joint called The House. Last time Esther and I were down there we visited Ron Heinscher and heard some cool live tunes. I remember it was cold and they had a curtain separating the coffee house from a lounge area you had to pay cover to get into. Since the facility is smoke free, all the smokers coming in and out let arctic drafts and second-hand smoke in upon their return. I'm also impressed by the mosaic tile at the entrance.

(I've rescinded my no last name policy) (those with the initiative to look up their own names and come across this site will maybe read it) (henceforth last name anonymity shall only be granted to nefarious assaholic characters)

I tried to track down Ron yesterday, calling his new cell phone # before I left and when I got down there, each time getting his answering machine after the first ring. And Ron has NEVER returned a phone call. He's kind of a throwback college daze bud, someone I see on the few occasions each year when I go back to the alma mater. He still lives there, delivers pizzas, re-enrolled, pursuing his bachelor's after taking a few years off. Intelligent guy. Politically conservative. Last time together we came to loggerheads over the war in Iraq. That was last April. He was living next door to the Goat Palace, in the place that used to belong to the Magnificent Ambersons, a bohemian group of late 20-something grad students that had a quirky in a Mad Magazine humor kind of folk rock band. I have a couple Amberson tracks on a DeKalb music scene collaboration called "Eat Your Corn." One is a folk ballad about a "junkie named Celine." The other is called "Show me your tits, I'm a fisherman baby." The title says it all.

Well, anyways, Ron has since moved out, and his roommate, Jim, the organist at the Episcopal Church, has also moved on. I don't know where either live. They were my last DeKalb connection to the college days. No, wait. Ted McCarron still lives there, probably still driving his crappy beat-up Volvo and living in his cramped one-room studio with the framed certificate from the John Birch Society hanging on the wall above his bed. I was never tight with Ted, though. We only hung out a couple times. He was TOO weird. Shawn "Goat" Robinson and Todd Stanley still keep in touch with him.

I just picked up my transcripts and skedaddled. Made it home in time to take a nap before going to my parent's for the Yankees-Red Sox ALCS game. The Yankees won, 6-2, thanks to strong pitching by Andy Pettite and a bad decision by Sox manager Grady Little leaving starting pitcher Derrek Lowe in a couple batters too long late in the game.

Tonight is Cubs-Marlins action at Pro Player Stadium. Kerry Wood's on the mound. I got a good feeling after Wednesday's monster 12-3 blowout. If the Cubs win they regain home-field advantage. They lose and it's jeopardy time. For the Cubs to go all the way, Wood and Prior must win all their starts. Zambrano and Clement haven't put together a quality post-season start yet.

Them ribs are just about done. Gotta roll.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I just ate breakfast – a cup of yogurt, a peach and two eggs, over medium. A weird combination. I’ve been eating eggs a lot lately. Used to be I’d eat three at a time, but now limit it to two… We’ve been buying these organic eggs and unlike most organic foods I’ve sampled in recent months, I can really taste the difference with the eggs. The yolks are brighter too. “What’s the difference between brown and white shelled eggs?” Mom asked recently. The answer below is from a University of California-Davis web site:

What is the difference between a white and a brown-shelled egg?
A brown or pigmented egg shell is the result of the hen depositing pigments on the shell during egg formation. Ultimately this is determined by the genetic background of the bird. Our typical commercial egg layer, the Single Comb White Leghorn, is one of the Mediterranean breeds. Developed in Leghorn (Livorno, It.), Italy, the hen always lays a white-shelled egg. Our American breeds, such birds as the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, and Plymouth Rock, lay brown-shelled eggs. The brown pigment is ooporphyrin, a break-down product of hemoglobin. The Araucana, or Easter egg chicken, from South America lays green or bluish-green eggs. This pigmentation is due to oocyanin, a by-product of bile formation.

The color of the egg shell is not determined by the diet of the bird. The egg shell color is in no way related to the quality or nutritional value of the egg.



For the third time this week, I did not get called in to sub. Luckily, I’ve got a few lawns I can mow, but at my current income level we’re not putting enough money in the bank to save for our big Pacific Crest Trail trip next spring. Starting in November I’m going to get a night job in addition to whatever sub work comes along.

Yesterday I took a nice, long, enjoyable bike ride in the native American summer sunshine to Rock Cut State Park, where I rode around Pierce Lake, a man-made lake of dammed Willow Creek. On the south shore I noticed a picnic table right off the trail half-hidden in the shade of a pine grove. I stayed there a while and did some creative writing until I got tired (about five pages). I cleared a few twigs and cones and lay down in the soft bed of needles for who knows how long. I woke at the roar of a motorcycle on a nearby road. When I sat up I noticed a guy in a boat about 10 feet offshore. I slowly regained my senses as the fisherman cleared phlegm from his throat. Buuhurack!

There really is no escaping humanity around here.

Rock Cut State Park was my stomping grounds when I was a kid, but last Sunday afternoon Esther and I explored a part of the park I’ve never been to, the northwest quadrant between the service road and Hwy. 173. The horse trails took us close to 173 and then south through rolling hayfields and forest patches of small pine, alders and honeysuckle brambles. The horse paths are seriously eroded, deep gravelly channels. Horses and humans alike bypass the channels and the trail is now wide enough to drive an SUV through. Esther and I encountered a mouse that kept flipping over when it tried to escape, exposing its white underbelly. I think it may have had a stroke, because it couldn’t move its left front or back legs. We both pet it, marveling at its softness. I’m sure it’s now providing sustenance to some abler creature.

I noticed a picnic area in the park is now called “Puri Crest,” after Rockford developer Sunil Puri, the head of First Rockford Group. His name’s been in the paper recently because of the Group’s plans to allow a McDonald’s to go up right next to a subdivision. The neighbors didn’t want the fast food empire to encroach so close to their ant village McNeighborhood, and formed a coalition to fight the development plan.

Puri displays a hallmark nouveau riche behavior – a desire to plaster his name all over his empire.

First Rockford Group owns most of the land just north of Hwy 173 across from the park. This area is a hotbed of development. Winnebago County just approved a plan to extend Perryville Road north of 173, a Target, Kohl’s Department Store and Chili’s restaurant opened in the last year or two. New subdivisions dot the hilly countryside. Retail follows people. Sunil and pals’ property should skyrocket in value. And the taxpayers will fund public works projects that ultimately benefit the developers. The next big things include expansion of 173 to four lanes and an exit/entrance ramp to I-90. Someday golden arches will greet visitors at the park entrance. I wonder if the fiberboard panels used to construct chain store meccas contain traces of honeysuckle.

Monday, October 06, 2003

I had a chance encounter with Jason C. after I finished off a mowing job on Prospect. It was a beautiful fall day today, sunny and kind of faded washed out bleachy fall sky. The trees are changing color, brilliant reds and yellows. The evil smaller waste tree honeysuckles and alders drop their leaves with no pomp. So, I was thinking about Jason and Amy, or not really about them, but about their polydactyl cats, and that I had to cut a small tree down for them. I get done with the lawn, swearing because I had a hell of time setting the wheels to the lowest setting, per my old lady customer’s request, and then it was too low and the mower wouldn’t move and chomped down to dirt a couple times. So I had this red-faced sunnuvabitchin’ time moving the wheels up a notch and cut my finger in the process. Then my arms got all red and welty, eyes itched, from bagging all the grass clippings.

I was impressed with the mower. It bagged an entire can of Red Bull. I threw the can on the edge of the parking lot. I guess I could have thrown it away.

So I finish the job and am on my way back home to pick up a $40 check for my aged particular customer to sign. She sent it a couple weeks ago and forgot to sign it, but I forgive her because she’s got macular degeneration and has to do all her paperwork using this devise that magnifies everything and shows it in black and white on a monitor. I was also going to stop home and grab my bow saw to cut down a tree at Jason and Amy’s. Just when I turn left on a street after finishing a job, there’s Jason in his Geo Metro! I hung out with them for a little while before dinner and cut down their tree. Jason showed me his 1980 Toyota Camry convertible. He said it is the convertible version of the first car he ever owned, and the reason he bought the convertible is because only 4,000 cars were made. Jason likes rare, weird things. That explains the polydactyl cats.

Jason said he heard about polydactyl cats from a web site and decided he wanted a couple. He and Amy plunked down $1,000 total for the their two bobcat-housecat multi-toed freak animals. One was delivered air mail to Rockford Airport. Another they drove down to Missouri to pick up. Some guy’s got a farm down there and raises them. Imagine making a living off bobcat-housecats with extra toes. Now that’s a niche market.

Amy said she spent another $1,000 when Jim, the shy one, came home after being missing for a couple days with maggot-infested wounds and a mangled face. She took it to an emergency vet, who referred her to a animal orthopedic surgeon, who operated on the cat’s jaw, wiring it shut. The surgeon forgot to put one of those plastic collars on it and the cat tore off the wire and had to go back to the vet twice. Amy said the cat’s missing half its teeth.

But it’s got plenty of toes…



“She was into S&M and Bible studies and admitted it’s not everybody’s cup of tea to me…” Belle and Sebastian


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I’m at my parent’s house now using my brother Mike’s laptop. He’s on the phone with my aunt Margaret, who just got a computer. Dad and I helped Mom pull out an inch-long mole hair, all gray and wiry.

Now it’s an hour later and Mike is sitting next to me eating a turkey sandwich looking at “Recipes for Mammoth Appetites,” a fundraising cookbook for the Rock County chapter of the Ice Age Trail. Esther and picked up 20 copies last night at our chapter’s monthly meeting. They are available for $7 each. Send me an e-mail at raruhiker@yahoo.com if you want a copy. Shipping is $1.50.

The Cubs and Astros are tied for first place. The last time I remember the Cubs being in first place this late in the season was 1989. And that year I wasn’t nearly as big a baseball fan as I am now. Back then I caught a game every now and again, and only if I was bored and flipping through the stations of a Saturday afternoon. I think the Cubs have a better chance to advance in the playoffs, considering they’ve won a few games against playoff teams like the Giants and Braves. Their starting rotation is as strong as any team in baseball. And if they can get some timely hitting from the likes of Sosa, Alou and Kenny Lofton, who knows… The Cub fan must remain ever hopeful and optimistic.

Friday I leave on another backpacking trip, this time with Dave Long and without Esther, who could not get time off work. And since I am not currently getting much work from the Rockford Public School District, and it’s late September, the perfect time to be outdoors (no bugs, cool nights, fall colors up north). We are going to Porcupine Mountains State Park in Michigan’s upper peninsula. I was last there in early January when Dave and I did some winter hiking, in lieu of snow-shoeing, as originally planned, because there wasn’t enough snow. The hotels and resorts really suffered from the mild winter. The first backpacking trip Esther and I ever took, Labor Day weekend 1998, was in the Porkies. We didn’t sleep well. Every movement in the brush we thought was a bear.

It’ll be nice to be up north again, but I think after this past weekend’s cold night experience I’ll pack a fleece blanket along with my sleeping quilt. I’ll offset the extra weight of the blanket by not packing any bug netting. Plus, we’ll only be out three days, so the food won’t be as heavy. I’m surprised at the ability of my Go-Lite Breeze pack to hold seven days worth of food along with my backpacking gear. I took my Vasque Sundowner boots to the cobbler Monday and should have them back Thursday. The right boot has a hole in the toe and on the side. The left boot has stitching coming off near the laces. Other than that, the boots are in good shape, considering I’ve walked approximately 3 to 4,000 miles in them. I call them my space pod shoes because they perfectly conform to the shape of my foot.

Last weekend after we did trail work we came back to the Mondeaux Flowage campground for dinner and conviviality. Since we were in a picnic shelter, with fire places on either side, instead of everyone sitting around a big campfire, we broke into two groups. Kind of weird to split everybody up that way, but a jovial spirit remained. I overdid it on the booze though. In addition to 4-5 beers, I took countless swigs of a bottle of Finlandia cranberry vodka and a nameless Chinese strong liquor that Buzz (appropriate name) brought.

The next morning I woke just before dawn and threw up, went back to sleep for another 40 minutes or so. And when it was time to go to breakfast Esther handed me some water and Alleve. As soon as I drank it I ran to the edge of the woods and hurled again. Gary Stephenson, a member of our local chapter who rode with us to the work weekend, joked that I was car salesman now, selling BUUICKS!!! God, did I hurt. I thought I’d become a smart drinker and that’d never happen again, but it’s hard to keep track of how much you drink when you take swigs straight out of the bottle. At least I didn’t act foolish.

Last night after the Ice Age Trail meeting Esther and I stopped at Everett’s, where we spent $60 on a variety of booze, including the makings of a Manhattan, which we might make our fall drink (gin and tonic was our summer drink). Our purchases included bottles of sweet and extra dry vermouth, Jack Daniels whiskey, Angosturra bitters, cocktail cherries, Framboise Ale and a six-pack of my favorite beer, Hoegaarden. We each tried a Manhattan when we got home. A bit too strong for my tastes, especially in light of my recent experience, but very good.

Don’t get the impression I’m an alcoholic. I’m a very moderate drinker, usually only having one or two drinks when I do drink. But I do drink on a regular basis, usually with or after supper. A wimpy stomach for excess and absolutely no history of alcoholism on either side of my family keeps me from becoming an AA candidate.

Well, it’s almost 1 p.m. I’ve got to get groceries, mow some lawns, maybe do some creative writing, Cubs-Reds tonight. I’ll look into applying for work with the Harlem and Hononegah school districts.

Monday, September 22, 2003

It is a cool, overcast fall-like day on this last day of summer. Tomorrow is the fall equinox. Darkness will claim another three hours before the pendulum swings back towards the forces of good.

I read a little blurb in the paper today that Luke Skywalker is the perfect role model for Generation X because he rebels against his relatives, whines a lot and doesn't get along with his father. A representative from the New York Times called to give me a free trial subscription to the paper. I accepted and just gave my address. I've been through the free month-long trial periods with the Chicago Tribune, so I know it's legit. They just hope you'll get used to the paper and stay on after the trial runs out. I won't, but hey, free papers. Our recycle box is going to explode.

Which reminds me... We call our neighbors across the hall the "typical Americans" because they drive an American car, have or had two box air conditioners in their windows, and produce two huge cans of garbage each week. I also jokingly call them the "frozen food aisle" people, because all their garbage consists of pizza boxes, frozen waffles, TV dinners. And they don't even recycle their aluminum cans. They could save them and make money. Guess I'll profit in their steed. Now that's being American. Finding opportunity in the refuse of others.

I'm proud to say we produce one paper grocery bag of garbage a week. How? We recycle all our paper, plastic, tin, glass, etc., and composte all our organic waste. Our garbage is mostly plastic wrap and tissue paper. Our recycled stuff weighs twice as much as our refuse. Yes, I'm a pompous, hippie, bike riding, Honda Civic driving, beard growing asshole. And the majority of Americans are landfill filling, pot-bellied malnutrioned malcontents with lousy taste in movies and music. Am I an elitist? Hell, yeah. Am I pompous? Not really. I keep my opinions to myself, except in this small egotistical blog. But someday I will broadcast my wisdom to the nation, and they will heed my words or else. Mwuh ha ha ha snicker, snivel, hrumph....

We arrived at the Mondeaux Flowage campground in Taylor County late Friday night and just laid our bags down on a flat spot. I froze my kiester off. Seems my 30-degree rated bag that was used the entire AT thru-hike and countless adventures since, has lost a little loft. I got so cold overnight that I woke up early in the AM shivering, stars twinkling all bright and close, Milky Way visible even, as only it can be in a cool, crisp atmosphere.

Which made for an interesting day of hard labor on the Ice Age Trail. I worked with the West End Crew doing trail re-routes, tread establishment and general vegetation mayhem. Most of the time was spent on the Hemlock Esker. An esker is a snakelike ridge formed by the soil deposits left by a river that ACTUALLY FLOWED ON THE GLACIER. It is one of my favorite features, and I felt privileged to spend the entire day on one. The soil is sandy and loamy and easy to move. Still, I was tired.

I'm running out of Net time. More later? Maybe.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Noonish on a Friday afternoon. For the fourth time this week I didn't get called in to work for the school district. This situation leaves me very perplexed, mystified, unemployed...

Tonight we leave to go up north and do some trail work on the Ice Age Trail. Always a good time with the Mobile Skills Crew. Much laughter, camaraderie, and yes, hard work, which is good for the soul. I feel like I'm in a funk the last couple days. Easy to figure out why. I haven't gotten enough exercise. This weekend should get me back on track.

Vocational failure is not an option. I've been writing more, this blog included, and like I said earlier, working on some fiction. The story I'm working on now is a huge departure from anything else I've ever written. I won't go into details except to say it deals with a seamier side of our society, and questions the very nature of reality. Ooohhhh. But also fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek humorous. My brother Ken said my writing can be heavy-handed at times, which is a valid criticism I've taken to heart.

After I leave here I'll go home and put on a t-shirt and then go mow a couple lawns, including Mary Machnik's. She may not be home yet, or still visiting with relatives, after burying her husband yesterday, but nonetheless she said her lawn needs mowing. I cannot feel pity for my well-fed, albeit broke and professionally drifting situation compared to the grief and heartache Mary must be feeling.

Last night I listened to some John Coltrane while washing the dishes. Man could he wail, and yet it's not his virtuosity that distinguishes him. It's that tone. That fat, full, sad and mournful, almost airy sound. Something desperate, sad, wistful about it, yet celebrating the beauty of life in spite of, or even because of, all the pain and yearnings that attend it. Maybe I'm reading too much into a saxophone riff, but Coltrane never fails to bring out those feelings in me. Just like Miles Davis takes me to some otherworldly plateau and Chick Corea, a la Return to Forever early 70s fusion reminds me of a summer day laying in a field of flowers. Music is about time, signature, tone, meter, melody and rhyme. All concrete concepts that can be analyzed and quantified. But that emotional element it engenders cannot be pinned. That's why hit music will never quite... follow a formula. Today's radio format force feed crap is trying. Such are the hallmarks of capitalism: homogeny and predictability. But music continues to follow its own slippery streamy course.

My favorite bands lately: Radiohead, Pink, No Doubt, Eminem, 50 Cent, Bjork, Pearl Jam, U2... that's a short list just off the top of my head. I haven't listened to much popular music lately, relegating my ear time to National Public Radio and CDs from my own collection and the library (that's where I got the 'new' Coltrane disk I heard last night). The library's got a pretty big jazz collection. It's going to take me a while to plumb its depths. But with all this free time I've had lately...

Well, lunch is calling... Time to eat, mow, pack and go... happy listening, happy reading, happy living, happy loving.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

I've just attended a funeral service for Ben Machnik, one of my lawn customers. I wrote about them in an earlier entry because they are two of my favorite customers. Mary always came out and gave me a jug of Gatorade midway through the mowing job (they have a large lot) and after I finished I'd go inside and visit with them both for a little while. Ben would always be in the living room in his favorite chair listening to local talk radio (WNTA 1330), but would push his walker into the kitchen and join us for a few minutes. He always asked me how I was doing. Ben lived a long life, 88 years. I don't mourn his passing, but I worry about Mary. Will she be able to continue to live independently? Who will look out for her? They had no children. All her surviving relatives live in Wisconsin.

The funeral service was quite short, 20 minutes, conducted by a doddering priest who muttered contrite and obvious phrases about Ben and Mary. When he had everybody repeat the Lord's Prayer, he didn't give us enough time to actually utter it ourselves before he went on to the next verse. He left me with the impression that he was just going through the motions, that he'd done this kind of service, said these verses, went through this ritual, so many times that he was unconscious of his actions or their meaning. That left me more depressed than Ben's passing.

About 15-20 people attended. Most family. I was the youngest one there. I helped Mary back to her seat and then took a seat in the back.

It's the second religious-like ceremony I've attended in the last week. Sunday Esther and I attended an open-air church service with Esther's grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins at the Evangelical Free Church of Sandstone. There a more metaphysical death was celebrated as parishioners baptized earlier that morning gave their testimonies.

Most were children who said they'd been led to the Lord through a television program or the example of their parents. One middle-aged lady with long, stringy hair, a Minnie Mouse sweatshirt and a hawkish, hollow backwoods face, wept as she thanked the congregation for accepting her. She became baptized to join a community of believers. A larger walrus of a man who wore a leather vest over a gray t-shirt, gave the funniest testimony. He said he grew interested in God again when the country/western radio station he listened to on the way to work switched over to a christian rock format over the course of the day, and the first song he heard when he got back in his truck was D.C. Talk's "I'm into Jesus." He said he liked the tune, so kept the dial tuned to that station, "Even though I found out where the country/western one moved to."

Jesus saved him from a life of recreational drug abuse and also gave him a sense of purpose and direction, he said.

Which gets me thinking about my own "spiritual" life or lack thereof. The only thing I belief in is the permanence of my material being and my paradoxical insignificance and all-importance in the grand scheme of things. I make no claims to know about the hereafter, and if my consciousness, my spirit, or whatever, ceases to exist when my flesh fades, so be it... I'll be none the wiser. And if there's a heaven or hell, I've committed no crime so severe as to warrant banishment to the latter.

Strange that I lead a more "Christian" life now than I did when I was a churchgoing believer, whatever that means. I like to keep it simple, remove all the dogma, all the faith, because I lack it, because I'm too skeptical.

Do unto others, etc., follow the dictates of your own consciousness. Do the right thing. You know what it is. Take care of your environment. Don't waste. Live simply. That's my testament and creed. It was Jesus' too. He didn't need to go to church every Sunday to learn it either.

Church is a valuable social construct that provides a vehicle for people to serve others and be served. It provides accountability for the morally fragile, company for the lonely, and reinforces the belief system of those with a common morality. I have no need in my life right now for any of the benefits church provides, and I'm busy enough with other volunteer labors I could not devote the time or energy to a church.

And now my time is running out... my cup runneth over... I've got to end this because my half hour's up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Well, I said I'd tell more about the Pili Pili experience, but since I wrote that Esther and I have gone on a nine day vacation in the northwoods of Minnesota, including four days backpacking on the Border Route Trail (BRT), which goes through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

We'd planned to spend a week on the trail going 75 miles, but stopped after four days and got off on a side trail because Esther had really bad, really big, really infected blisters on her heels. We spent our remaining time up north eating good food at fine restaurants in Grand Marais, hiking (Esther in non-abrasive sandals) to Eagle Mountain (elev. 2,301 feet), the highest point in Minnesota, driving to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to a sauna spa and, on the way home, stopping in Finlayson/Sandstone to visit Esther's grandmother, aunt and uncle and cousins.

Quite a full, enjoyable vacation that seemed to go by so fast, and yet when we got back we felt like we'd been gone a month instead of nine days.

Right here right now this very freaking moment I am at the Rockford Public Library. I still haven't got Internet back on at home and yesterday phoned in a cancellation of my Netzero. I'll either go with a local ISP or nothing at all.

Kind of tired today. I didn't sleep well last night. Too hot. Too humid. I'm too restless. Plus, I'm under the influence of Benadryl, which has the twin effect of making me drowsy and jittery at the same time. Well, jittery only in response to outside stimuli. So here in the the library that's not a real problem.

The school district has only called me into work about half the days school's in session and I'm available. I will apply for sub work in the Harlem and Hononegah Districts, and if that doesn't work out I'll actually have to look for a day job. It would do me good, maybe, to find work that is challenging once more. Speaking of, my writing life is starting to pick up. I've actually been working on fiction again. The key is to stick to it, set goals and then achieve them. Hardy har Hallmark sentiments.

Today has been difficult getting anything started. I woke at 7 a.m. and had coffee with Esther before she went to work. Then I watched a DVD of the Princess Bride. I'd seen it once before, but it's a cult classic and worth another view. Then I went over to my parent's to have Dad follow me in his truck to my cousin Jerry's garage, where I'm getting a 50,000 mile tune up and new brake pads for the car. Someday I'll actually clean the darn thing. The "wash me" message I wrote in the dash is filled to obscurity.

Yesterday I was busy from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. teaching special ed. at Lincoln Middle School and then mowing a couple lawns in Cherry Valley. We got rain last weekend and grass is starting to grow. Good thing because the mowing will help pay for the days I don't sub, and also help pay off the $600+ credit card purchases we made on vacation. It's going to be a difficult challenge to save up enough money for our big Pacific Crest Trail adventure next year, but we should be able to do it. Money is nothing. Just a means to an end.

It's almost 2 p.m. and I haven't mowed any of the lawns I set out to do. I've got three I'd like to do, and only one I've made an actual appointment to do. I could be lazy and do just one, but where would I get beer money for tonight's wingo wacky Wednesday at LT's?

Cool moment of yesterday???? Dozing in the evening in our apartment alone (Esther'd gone to her parents to pick up mail) with a half full pint glass of Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout on the coffee table and the Cubs on the radio. Nothing like the contentment of blessed fatigue brought on by hard labor and beer.

Someday soon I will transcribe my journal from our recent vacation up north. Until then, or in lieu of, here are some highlights:

-- spending more than five minutes watching a woodpecker with a swath of yellow on top of its head work the side of a tree as we descended Eagle Mountain.

-- sitting in rocky shade on an overlook of Rose Lake after stumbling through a very overgrown, very blowdown-ridden Border Route Trail to get there.

-- catching a Muskie in the Swamp River and immediately skinning it and roasting the filets on a stick over an open fire.

That's all for now. My time on the computer here is running out...

Sunday, August 31, 2003

In Chicago on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Police sirens and wet traffic sounds outside my brother-in-law Carl's window. Carl moved to Chicago from Nashville a little over a month ago for an internship at a mastering studio, but he has since been let go from it. He works at a Walmart in Niles stocking shelves third shift and lives the hermit life. Esther and he are chatting it up in the other room.

Carl's website is www.slightlydark.com. It is a comprehensive web fanzine devoted to music that accompanies video games. This is Carl's hobby-turned-obsession. He said he would like to take video game music not released on CD, re-master it himself and use it as a demo to promote his mixing services. Around this keyboard are piles of jewel cases with anime artwork on the covers, blinking, round-eyed, comic book slender vixens. The music is innocuous enough -- think japanese kabuki lounge music -- keyboards, drum machine beat, electronica cum soft adult contemporary rock.

Last night we went to Pili Pili where trailfriend Aswah, Francois de Melogue, is the chef. Ahhh... I'll tell more later. The Cubs are playing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

You know that it's a blog thing, baby
Death Row is the label that pays me
just about drive me crazy
if I weren't so doggone lazy

Still doing the public library gig because my Internet dial-up for Netzero is messed up. I go to their web site and it says for me to download the latest dial-up numbers for my area from their web site, but I can't do that because all the local access numbers currently on my list have been disabled. I don't have long-distance service on my phone. Ahh... But a brainstorm. I could take my computer over to my parent's and dial out from there using a long-distance access number, just long enough for me to download the latest phone list...

I'm doing everything I can not to spend money to fix this problem. Netzero also has this 900-number $1.95 a minute tech support line. I don't want to call it. No huevos. Well, enough talk on my computer problems.

Today was the first day of school for the Rockford Public School District and I wasn't called in. Last time I was employed by the district for the first day of school, back in 2001, I worked that first day. If I don't get called in tomorrow I'll make a few calls to sub-callers. So, bottom line, I'm a self-employed lawnmower man, substitute teacher, creative writer, trail builder, husband, son person. I sometimes feel disheartened by my lack of vocational success. But I made clear, concrete decisions to pursue a life of adventure and exploration over money. You can't go on long-distance hiking trips and have job security at the same time. You can't have independent, artistic, creative endeavors while yoked to other jobs.

I have economic security. I have a simple lifestyle. I have love, health, peace and safety. I am blessed.

I just feel like a failure here, mid-day, wearing a dirt-stained white Hanes v-neck t-shirt, grass stained worn down tennis shoes, faded green shorts and a dirty tan baseball cap. Unshaven, unwashed, listening as fat woman in a blue mumu sneezes and sniffles. At least I took my allergy medicine. Saturday Esther and I did trail work in Milton and I forgot to take Claritin. Each swing of the pick mattock loosened the dirt and sent thousands of spiky spores into the air. After about the 10th sneeze in a row and a constant tickling in the back of my throat, I decided to take a break and go to a gas station for Benadryl. When it took effect the world slowed down and became jangly. I remember this feeling since childhood. Diphenhydramine and I are old friends. It's a great anti-histamine, but the high leaves a little to be desired. I can hardly function under its spell.

I like the Claritin, or, in my case, Wal-itin, which just became available without a prescription this year. In prior years I could have seen an allergist and got a prescription, but I either didn't have the time or health insurance or both to do it. I always kept Benadryl handy just in case it got real bad and went through a box or two during my prime time of allergy season, which is now until early October. I used to be a lot worse when I was younger. I'm a little less reactive now.

I wish ol' Mama Cass, who has a tattoo on her wrist that says "Nanette and John" and attacks the keys with a one-fingered peckishness she should also apply to her caloric intake, would quit her sniffling, hiccuping display. Of course this is revenge for all the annoying sniffles I've made in public. I'll just have to remember to not sit at her computer station.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The lady sitting across from me at the library is middle-aged, sun-bleached hair, wearing a white cotton top that ties around her neck, exposing her shoulders and arms. Can't have no flab to pull off this fashion feat. That's why Esther likes to wear a top just like it. So she can show off her strong shoulders and arms she developed lifting up and tending to toddlers five days a week. This woman across from me is very tan, and her bright, celestial bleach-blonde hair accentuates her skin tone. She'd be sexy if she wasn't so fit. Her shoulders and arms are nothing but bone and sinew with knobs as big as shooter marbles on the end of each blade.

Esther asked me, "so what do you have planned today?" The only thing I could say is "I'm going to the library, gonna do some writing, pick up a scorebook and attend tonight's Riverhawks game."

The Hawks lost last night, 3-0, to the Cook County Cheetahs. I feel they will not be able to overcome their 3-game deficit against the Gateway Grizzlies. The 'hawks control their own fate with a three game series against them. It'll be hard to sweep a first place team on the road. Tonight is the last home game for the Riverhawks, and most likely the last I'll see of them until probably 2005. As much as I try to live in the now, I am reminded always, it seems, of the impending adventures we have next year. With four games this week and three more next week, I'm trying to get as much live baseball action as I can. I've never watched more baseball games than I have this summer. I estimate I've gone to about 20 games, but only one was a Major League contest, at Wrigley Field. I'll maybe catch a Brewer game or the White Sox in September, but we'll see what finances dictate.

Tonight is the last home game for the Riverhawks, and will include fan appreciation events and fireworks after the game. Esther is taking her mother and sister to see the Wiggles in Chicago, so I'll be alone again tonight. Last night I went to the ball game myself and indulged in $1 drafts, but was sober enough to ride my bike home without incident. It was kind of fun to pedal with the laconic torpidity of a beer buzz. It felt weird to drink alone. They gave out thunder sticks at the gate. They stuck out of through a hole in my backpack and their whiteness made me more visible to passing motorists.

Esther found a new backpack for me in the trash. It belonged to a boy named Jacob, and his name and address are printed on a tag in the pack. I looked through the pockets this morning as I transferred items from my old pack and found a picture of Jacob, wearing the pack that is now mine. I also found a plastic/rubber/vinyl change purse that held a wooden nickel for free entrance to the Rockford Speedway.

The boy in the picture looks sick, pale and wordly. His eyes wan and bloodshot, probably from a bad diet and too much time on the game boy. This pack is in perfect condition except for a frayed spot on the top handle. It makes me wonder what kind of values these people have who are willing to throw such a perfectly good pack away. Or maybe there's something I don't know. Maybe Jacob looks sick in the picture because he's dying. And maybe he's dead and the parents, not wanting any reminder of their dead child, throw the pack away in the trash. And maybe I'm hauling around the backpack of a dead child.

Most likely though Jacob's a whiny, sugar-addled spoiled brat vidiot who went shopping for back to school stuff with Mommy and begged for the latest, top of the line, coolest "in" pack, and discarded his perfectly good pack from last year like so much consumer flotsam that passes through his freezer burn jam whiz bam life.

Which is all right by me. I can live fine off society's detritus.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

My mind has difficulty working as it dredges through the sludge of this morning's substitute teacher orientation meeting. I went because the district paid me. An elementary teacher gave tips on how to fill in extra time in the day and gain the discipline and respect of the students. "Instead of criticizing one child's behavior, compliment the kind behavior of the child next to him." As banal as this advice may be, it is true. I learned a lot about child manipulation, er, psychology teaching last year.

The hot, hot, humid 95-degree weather has sapped my strength. Being at the library should resuscitate me, but the cooler environment is offset by the serenity of the library. Jason, the guy fixing my computer, didn't have it ready for me, but said he would drop it off Friday. I don't mind. The only thing I absolutely need the computer for is to work on the layout for a prospective newsletter for the Rock County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail. I also need to call Kangaroo Knickreim, the washboard player for the Piper Spring Bluegrass Band, and see if we can book the band for the November or December fundraiser concert. Ah... volunteerism.

This weekend Esther and I are doing trail work in Milton. We're supposed to get thunderstorms tonight, so hopefully by Saturday things will cool off a bit.

Last night we went to LT's for our usual Wednesday night wingie thingie. Molly Butz got mad at me for saying the Wings get-together is a show of "dork solidarity," as I called it my Aug. 12 blog entry. She said she is not a dork, nor never was a dork. Then she said she was the conductor in her marching band. Dork! After she stopped yelling at me I thanked her for even reading this blog. I write in this with no sense of audience, no agenda, with little or no regard for anything. Actually, it is a kind of warmup exercise for my creative writing, and follows after I send e-mails.

I'm trying to be more regular about the blog. So far this is three days in a row. Whoo hoo. I read this article in the Chicago Tribune about woman bloggers, and this one lady said she hasn't missed a day of blogging in over three years. I would also like to add photos and permanent links to some of my favorite sites, but don't want to pay extra for the privilege of adding this service. I'm bad for the economy. I spend very little money for the privilege of being connected in the e-world.

Last night I stepped outside the bar and watched storm clouds gather for what I hoped would be a torrential downpour. The wind picked up, lightning flashed, yada yada, and then these purple clouds billowed forth in umbilical waves. I love to watch storms, but I notice that a lot of other people freak out when weather strikes, as if they can't turn off their burrowing instinct, as if civilization and all its protective constructs never existed. And then there's the other extreme, the meteorologist freaks, like Todd's buddy Gilbert, who have weather radios and the Weather Channel always on, who drop trou at the mention of Doppler Radar. I'm one of those types that can tell the weather from the shapes of the clouds. When you've watched as many storms roll in as I have, you get a knack for how the whole pattern works.

I'm feeling very mellow and low-key the past week, as if the lack of labor is making me laconic. That, or the heat... Not in a bad mood. Excited about the start of the school year next week. Looking forward to the week-long hike in a couple weeks and more grand adventures in 2005. Must live in the now, the now, now, brown cow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Back here at the Rockford Public Library, a full place in fluorescent-lit air-conditioned comfort, in the busiest part of the place, the second floor bank of Internet computers, where even the poorest chap can get on-line for for free for an hour a day.

Today is the second day in a row I've come here. Yesterday I spent my time reading and writing e-mails, and looking into trail-running tennis shoes to buy so I can wear them on my upcoming weeklong journey in the Boundary Waters. Well... that's still up in the air. I want to go back to the Border Route Trail, but doubt we could accomplish that and the Kekakabic in 8 days. The Border Route is 75-miles long, the Kek 50. Hmmm. It almost could be done. 100 miles a week is a fairly blistering pace, 75 miles respectable. The BRT ends at the Arrowhead Trail road. That might be the way to go.

As far as I know, the BRT crosses no roads. That kind of wilderness experience is hard to find. We contemplated doing a section of the River to River Trail in southern Illinois or a 60-mile segment of the North Country Trail in N. Wisconsin. Both have many road crossings and easy access to civilization.

I solved an easy mystery today... The library wanted to fine me $30 for ONE missing compact disc, an album by Ben Folds Five. I never got that album. When I checked it out from the library it had a Michelle Shocked CD in its sleeve instead. When I first found out about the fine I reported to the circulation manager exactly what happened, gave her my phone number, and told her to call me if she had any problems finding it. I did not hear from her for two weeks and yesterday when I tried to check out materials the fine was still there, so I left a phone message for the circulation manager, again telling my story and including all the details, including the Michelle Shocked substitution. She called me back this morning while I was in the shower and left a message saying she took the fine off my card, but could I please, please, please look around one more time for the Ben Folds Five CD. So I fulfilled her request. I rode my bike to the library, walked up the stairs to the third floor, and got the Michelle Shocked CD card, took it back down to the first floor and waited in line for the circulation clerk to help me. Right as she handed it to me the circulation manager came around the corner and I introduced myself and handed her the CD. "Oh, you found it," she said. "I found it here. It was in your stacks all along." "Oh, my." And I felt like playing it out like a smartass, castigating her for not solving this obvious mystery herself, but decided to refrain. She's perceptive enough to understand her own stupidity.

This week has been an enjoyable break from lawn mowing, thanks to the rain that has not fallen in over two weeks. One by one my customers call and say their lawn is brown and dry and not growing. Yesterday I busied myself with the library, grocery shopping (vegetables and fruit at 320 Store, other staples at Aldi) and installing a Japanese hanging paper lamp from the ceiling in the living room, which required me to drive to my parent's and borrow Dad's drill, and make another trip to Eagle for 40-watt lightbulbs. I also made dinner.

Afterwards we road our bikes to Marinelli Field for a Rockford Riverhawks game. Along the way we crossed the Morgan Street bridge and took a road behind the factories that ran closest to the river. A saw the Barber Colman factory for the first time from the back, and sunshine cast a checkered shadow as it shined through the entire building. The 'Hawks beat Kenosha, 12-2, and afterwards Esther spent about half an hour digging around the infield looking for a buried one-carat diamond. As we walked to our bikes, I heard a southern accent call out my name. He told me he was Kenny Mueller, from high school. It took me a couple minutes to figure out who he was. He told me he lives in Florida now and is attending the University of North Florida. I've had Florida a lot on my mind lately after reading the Orchid Thief, a book whose actions take place almost entirely in the Sunshine State. I complimented him on being somebody I don't remember ever calling me booger. We were both kind of picked on. He was very shy and he used to be fat. Now he looks pretty fit and spoke with a lilting gay southern accent, reminding me of D.B. Magee, my first journalism instructor at Rock Valley College.

My computer time is almost up... Gotta go before this is erased.