Thursday, January 30, 2003

So I suffer from this meeserable hacking cough, and it’s all wet and phlegmy, but I’m not majorly sick cuz da crap that be running out me nose or spitting on the ground is never worse than a bright green or yellowish color. And color is everything with infection, baby. Brown bad. Clear and white good. But why do I have to get a cold when I’ve been so good? For six months now, since the Superior Trail, I’ve lived this stress free life of emotional and artistic enrichment, drinking, yes, but joyfully, in celebration of intoxication, instead of hiding life’s worries and cares behind numbness. I work out at the YMCA faithfully, and I better because we pay through the kiester for membership.
But all the nasty little buggies of the world don’t confab together and say, no, no, no, we can’t assail Gregory now. He’s in such good spirits and he takes good care of himself. No, no, no they are indiscriminate and unconscious of all else except a will to perpetuate. And how successful they are, each cough a release of spore-like germs, like upon lichen upon life. And there is no cure for mutating buggers. Just drink your vitamin C, take your eucalyptus, maybe some Echinacea, whatever, and work it through.

There’s this fourth grader Brienna, and she’s one of three girls in this class that stick together, but are kind of outcasts. Well, Brienna comes back from Christmas break with different glasses on. And I ask her, wow, cool glasses, did your prescription change? She said no, I lost my regular glasses when our house burned down. She was so matter of fact about it, like it was no big deal. Wednesday we’re playing kickball and Mandrell, one of the bigger boys in class, grabs and soft kick from Brienna and whips the ball at her feet to tag her out, and the ball hits her so hard she falls hard on her hands and knees. But along with the pain of falling was the humiliation of everyone laughing at her.

I lost it. I stopped the game and made everybody sit down in their assigned spots on the gym floor. I then lectured all the kids on how cruel it is to laugh at someone’s misfortune, and how what you do will eventually come back at you. I tried to impress upon them the golden rule, but they didn’t take me seriously. Their teacher is a whiny, lecturing angry middle-aged prune who can’t control the class, so the students are an unruly bunch oblivious to the wah-wah-wah-wah stridency of authority.

But when I have them for gym class again Tuesday I will made the students write one nice thing about each of their classmates and hand it in to me. I will compile the compliments for each student and give it to them. It’s not an original idea. I’m ashamed to say I got it from the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, which spawned that pithy cottage industry.

Poor Brienna. May she gain strength and not be overwhelmed by being an outsider. I hope she ends up having a unique and wonderful life. And I hope I can continue to look out for the underdog, in PE class and the world at large. Cuz goodness knows I been dere.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

We finally got some snow, with temps reasonable and in the 30s. If I weren’t going to see Henry Rollins with Clay Frazier in Milwaukee tomorrow night I’d try out my new cross country skis.

On Saturday Esther and I went to Beloit and hiked the Turtle Creek flowage, about an hour and two miles. We walked by thick vines, briar thickets, new growth alders and mossy logs. The trail took a loop following Turtle Creek. At a couple spots the creek was not iced over, and the white noise water flow drowned out surrounding city noise sirens and barking dogs. Esther said she understands why people own devices that tumbles water over rocks, but she still thinks they are corny. I asked her what she thought of the aquarium at Ron’s friend’s place in DeKalb? The 6x3 feet tank holds a snapping turtle, a rock, and a water circulator that perfectly imitated the sound of a gurgling brook. I remember Ron’s friend was very cool, very trail, laid back, not caught up in the rush, a camper, he lived in a boarding house. His studio had tall factory windows overlooking a rail yard. Noise association brought back May 3, 2002, when I met Ron’s friend. We hung out at his place after watching the premiere of Spiderman.

Before we finished our hike it started snowing round pellets that accumulate soft but sting windblown against the face. Back to the car, we drove less than a mile to Tom and Pat Backe’s place. They are on vacation, kayaking the Everglades, but gave us the code to get in their garage to have our pick of cross country skis. Two of the newer pairs fit us perfectly – boots, poles, everything. And although Saturday’s accumulation was not enough to support cross country skis, I’m hoping today’s is.

Last night I used my mono tape recorder to put some guitar ideas on tape. I would have sung, but my voice is hoarse with laryngitis. No pain and not too much coughing, but I can barely speak. It is a liability to my job as physical education instructor. I never realized how much I talk to the children.

This morning I worked out at the YMCA on stationary bike and weight lifting that focused on my chest. It is the first non-aerobics workout in over a month. I’m trying to increase the number of days I work out from three to four. Eventually five? We’ll see. I weighed myself for the first time in months and was happy to discover, post-holidays, I’ve kept off the 10 pounds I lost on the Superior Hiking Trail last September.

Working this week editing chapter sections for a guidebook of the Ice Age Trail. Spent at least an hour and a half the past two days. Also, my Hog Greer AT short story is coming along, albeit slowly and with great frustration. I just need to turn off my editor side and write whatever comes to mind. Once I have a completed rough draft I can work with things will go more smoothly. Trainwreck has agreed to help me layout and do artwork for a chapbook I am putting together for Traildays.

I am currently reading The Vision by Tom Brown. It contains a lot of outdoors wisdom, less mystical but following the same the student/sage paradigm of the Carlos Castaneda book I read last summer. Instead of Don Juan, we have Grandfather. Both are Native Americans. Both make me realize how out-of-touch I really am with the natural world, and how untested I am in real survival situations. Maybe I ought to change this blog from Rantings of the Natural Man to Musings of the Net Boy.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Surprise! I was a relatively good boy Super Bowl Sunday. Sure, I ate my fair share of chicken wings, those little mini hot dogs in barbecue sauce, potato chips and pie, and paid the price for it this morning, but it was all in moderation. I had a small plateful at the start of the game and another at halftime. I drank two 7ups, one each half.

My parents, Esther and I went to Leo and Vicky Dombrowski's house for the game. Vicky's my cousin on the Locascio side. We used to always watch the big game at their place, but its been years since I've attended. They have seriously upgraded their entertainment system. The screen covers an entire wall in the basement, with surround sound stereo. The players stood larger than life. I noticed the liver spots on John Madden's hands and how freckled the faces of Jon Gruden and Brad Johnson are. Vicky's son, Jerry, who set up the sound system, said he was disappointed he didn't buy the sports package for his digital satellite system. The pixels really wigged him out. I didn't notice until he pointed them to me.

We watched the game with Father John, a priest and friend of Leo's. Vicky is the organist at St. Bridget's Catholic Church. Her house is all decked out in cherubims, gold-colored grape vines, pillared shelves, and framed paintings of the Virgin Mary. Very Catholic. Leo used to be a priest. He's older than Uncle John. The love between priest and organist was once a family scandal. But Leo's a great guy and they are a lovely couple with two beautiful children. Vicky must be a special woman for a man to renounce his calling to be with her.

Uncle John and Aunt Joan Locascio were also at the game. Joan's still got that cynical sense of humor that cracks me up. The Dombrowski's fox terrier Poco begged for scraps, standing all bug-eyed on two legs. She adored me. Luckily, the short-haired pooch did not set me off on a sneezing fit. When the game got boring Father John told a story about getting robbed when he travelled to Italy. Dad said whoever robbed him could never buy his way out of hell. Typical Dad humor. I love it.

Once again, I had this morbid sense of prescience at a family gathering. Uncle John is 70, Joan's in her late 60s. Leo's in his 70s. Dad just turned 67 and Mom will be 64 in March. No one's getting younger. "Little" Jerry's in his junior year at Elmhurst College. Good news for my genes, my older relatives all get around pretty good and are of sound mind and body. But in 10 years... maybe 5... Cherish these moments. Tempus fugit. Who'da thunk the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers would win the Super Bowl?

Thursday, January 23, 2003

So why has the ranting Raru man been ever-so-absent from the Online Scene?!! Because Mr. Natural Man computo-illiterate got a notice that his C-drive was full, so he monkeyed around all willy-nilly removing stuff from said C-drive to free up space. After his rampage through file-land, Natural Man found when he booted up again that he could (A) not access his CD burner, and (B) not access his Internet. After more rampaging around reading files and codes and much swearing and gnashing of teeth, he got the CD burner back again, but no luck with Internet. Hence his post here at civilization's savior, the Rockford Public Library.

What has life been like since I last posted? The Reader's Digest version as follows:

Friday -- Esther and I had dinner with Susie Hofer and Shawn (Goat) at Shawn's place. Shawn cooked a London broil with an awesome green sauce and veggies. We brought a salad and Susie dessert. For drinks we had wine (chardonnay), Hennessy cognac, Lindeman's Framboisie Belgian ale, and Susie brought a chocolate chip cookie dough-flavored cordial, which she served with chocolate chip cookies. Mmmm. Chocolate heaven. Afterwards, we went to Colonial Village and watched "Bowling for Columbine," the latest Michael Moore documentary. Much food for thought on the gun control debate.

Saturday -- We attended a peace rally in the morning and early afternoon, protesting the revenge crap Dubya's trying to pull in the Middle East. Saddam's an ass, I do agree, but whenever we've gone to war (or at least full-scale mass troop movement war) there has been a call to arms. What will the current call to arms be? The State of the Onion address is coming soon. I wanna know. Give me evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

We froze our booties off sticking out the peace sign at the corner of East State and Alpine, and a bunch of people said they saw us on the evening snooze. The event was hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Rockford Peace, Justice and Action committee. In the evening we went to DeKalb for much booze, eating and cavorting with former members of "the profligate crew" Arbo and Ron.

Sunday -- Surprised myself by not getting a hangover or throwing up after evening of vice in which I guess I delved into double digit land. But it was good beer (Guinness and Hacker-Pschorr) and cognac I imbibed, so that could be the difference. Still, I was sluggo-headed all day, which was pleasant because all I did was watch the NFC and AFC championship games. Jim Nance rules. In pre-season he predicted an Oakland-Tampa Bay Super Bowl matchup.

Monday -- Andy Jestafie and I went on an 8-mile hike along the Ice Age Trail in Walworth County from Highway 12 to Duffin Road and back. Very cool terrain with a boardwalk through a cat-tail marsh, a view of a lakeshore from a grassy bluff, a woods walk above deep kettle bowls and pleasant sunshine with temps in the teens. It was Andy's first hike ever on the Ice Age Trail, and he was exposed to a great example of it. As was I.

Tuesday -- Back to work. Library in the evening.. Nothing great to say about this day.

Wednesday -- More of the same. Opted out of Wednesday wings at LTs because I spent too much money this weekend. Got lots of grocery shopping done with visits to the 320 Store (fruits and veggies), Pinnon's (meat), Eagle Supermarket (coffee, bread, beer, avocado), and Aldi (other stuff). Also got the oil changed. Had chili for dinner on a very cold night and watched "Rain Man." Esther's never seen it, and I hadn't since it was in theaters in 1988. Now she knows what I mean when I say "I'm an excellent driver."

Which brings us up to snuff... I'll try to be more regular once I give those ol' Netzero Boyz a call and figger out what's wrong and why I'm getting zero net at home. The library puter's telling me I got five minutes left. Gottago....

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I had an adventure at O’Hare Airport today trying to track down my brother Ken and pick up some of his extra luggage as he transferred flights from London to Los Angeles. Dad and I left Rockford at 3 p.m. to meet Ken as he got off his 4:55 p.m. flight. We got to the airport at approximately 4:15 and looked for his flight on the American Airlines listing board. We found it, but could not wait at the gate because of security reasons. Dad said we should wait in the baggage claim area, because that’s where he waited the last time Ken flew home. He stood at the landing of one escalator and I another. I assumed I was in the right place as taxi drivers flanked me with placards in hand.

So I waited and waited, each descending oxford shoe and pleated pant leg holding promise of my brother. But alas, they belonged to others. Ken never showed. After 45 minutes Dad rejoined me and I started some frantic detective work. I first called Mom and tried to get Ken’s cell phone number. But she only had his international number, 15 digits long. I knew that would not work here, plus had no pen to write it down and could not memorize it. Flustered, I asked Mom to call it, and then ran upstairs to have Ken paged. I also asked a person at the baggage claim desk if this is the only place American Airlines passengers can pick up their luggage. Yes it is. Ten minutes later I called Mom again. Esther had called her and given her Ken’s domestic cell phone number (Ken called my home wondering where we were). She read it off to me.

Ken is tempestuous, short-fused, quick to anger and cool. So when Dad and I had difficulty finding him I anticipated an outburst. And because of anticipation, when it did come I took the wave of profanity and frustration with an air of detached amusement as he complained about missing his flight and how now all his California plans were dashed or seriously altered. I calmly asked him where he was. I realized the error of our ways. We waited at domestic arrivals. Ken flew home on an international flight.

We took a short train ride to that area of the airport and I spied Ken with his back turned. “Hello harried traveler,” I said. Ken hugged me in relief, much calmer and almost embarrassingly apologetic for his earlier outburst. We watched his baggage as he tried to get another flight. He returned successful, booked on the next flight to LA two hours later. We retired to the O’Hare Hilton hotel bar and enjoyed beer, a meal, and each other’s company.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Dante, a little black boy in one of my third grade classes, is normally a well-behaved child. But today he punched a classmate in the mouth. The classmate shrugged it off as no big deal, but I kicked Dante out in the hallway. I told his teacher about Dante’s behavior and she told me his mother has throat cancer and is not doing well. For medical reasons, she’s in isolation, and can’t be seen.

In November, a second-grade brother of a child in one of my kindergarten classes died from an asthma attack. The child’s death made local news as the Register Star examined the high increase in asthma rates among children.

I go through light calisthenics with first through third graders, and make them run around the outside of the gym twice. Most of them stop before they finish. When I gather them around for instruction I can’t continue for all the coughing. These children are stuck indoors because of the cold. Indoor air is bad.

Cold cold cold. Toe numbing cold. Single digit crystalline bright star night cold. Woke up very tired this morning because I ate a bowl of sugary cereal before bedtime. Yesterday I read a Newsweek cover story about the new food pyramid and how refined grains are bad for you because the body digests them so quickly and converts them into sugars. So I eat the double whammy of refined grains with sugar on top -- sweetened cold cereal -- and drive my body’s insulin into overdrive. This upset my stomach and kept me awake until almost 2 a.m. I listened to Jon D. (the most mellow voice on radio) Laberto’s Echoes, followed by the BBC World Service, which I listened to until 7 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time.

Worked through my fatigue and woke up for aerobics. Esther did laundry last night and my shorts were still wet, but not soaking. Even with a humidifier on, the clothes dry fast. Put on my shorts and stepped outside to single degree temps. Those shorts were wet enough. But they were dry by the end of the workout.

I’ve been good about eating yogurt, a banana and apple before 2 p.m., and then eating a sensible lunch and sensible dinner. My eating habits at home are pretty good, and since we are saving up money for the PCT hike, we don’t eat out nearly as much. This is good for the Gregaru gut reduction program. I’ve also made a return to longhand journal writing. I type most of the time because I’m faster at it than writing, but Natalie Goldberg, in her book Wild Mind said writing longhand is a more tactile physical experience, and I’m inclined to degree. It’s portableness and, to me, informality, are a draw. I’ve written at least 35 minutes during breaks all this week. My life, post-hectic-no-schedule holidays is in quite a regular happy groove. May I ride it strong and productively in 2003.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Last night I went to Border's to write. I read somewhere it is good to write in different locations. Their de-caf coffee did not impress and conversation distracted me. A professorial-sounding fellow with bad teeth, plastic-framed glasses and greasy-gray hair Shemp-folded over his bald spot tutored a lithe, sinewy, runner-looking 19-year-old man-boy on the finer points of molecular biology. "The dark ages were caused by a lack of crop rotation," is all I remember from professor's oration. The rest was gibberish about free radicals and ions. Tonight I try the library.

MY SO-CALLED WRITING LIFE... Work continues in earnest editing trail chapter information for a guidebook about the Ice Age Trail. Sunday I finished two chapters and today received two more, which I plan to finish by the end of the week. This is volunteer work, but will give me editing credentials in a published book, a first. I am also contributing an article or two. I continue to work on short stories about the Appalachian Trail. My goal is to have 6 finished stories to put together in a chapbook to distribute at Trail Days. I'd ultimately like to have 14 stories for a full-fledged book. Fiction is tougher than journalism. I haven't fleshed out a good system for putting stories together like I have with non-fiction. It's so easy with the latter. Search, search, search for information. Talk to as many experts as possible. Gather your information in one place and arrange it in order of most to least importance. Fiction? Whew! That's a toughie. Maybe that's why I love it so. It's a real challenge. I continue to write poetry, but only as the muse strikes, averaging one or two "good" poems a month. Same with song lyrics. I practice my guitar every day.

Bottom line: I make no money off my words. The magazine market beckons. We'll see.


During soccer instruction to second graders today I aggravated my trick left knee. I don't know what it is I do, but every once in a while I twist my left leg and it sends me to the floor writhing in pain. I'm still able to walk on it afterwards, but it is sore the rest of the day. I bummed it last during trail work in November, and before that, dancing around the fire at Trail Days in May. My legs never failed me. Neither my knee. But, damn, this is close. Each time it is scary and painful. I'd go to my doctor, if I had one, or if I had health insurance.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Just sent a boatload of e-mails out. I'm trying to arrange my upcoming 4-day weekend. Friday night's already cool as Susie and a mysterious stranger man friend of hers wants to get together with us. The details need to be worked out. I'd also like to get together with Tony and Arbo this weekend. Saturday. I know on Monday MLK Jr. day I'm going on a hike with Andy somewhere. Funny hermit Andy. He said he's sworn off booze until he goes to Texas in April to record his latest record. Andy's one of these weekend warrior types who gets drunk on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A couple 24-packs a weekend. Overtime on the liver. I noticed he looked all puffy around the eyes when I saw him in December. I'm glad he's taking a hiatus from this particular lifestyle choice. Andy told me his drinking buddy Shawn peed all over Andy's rug. Andy's lucky. His rat metabolism keeps him skinny. If I drank as much as he I'd be freaking huge.

I too drink three nights a week on average. Friday nights I may drink a six pack, spread out over the whole evening. Other nights I have one, two, three drinks, or the rare wild double digit ralphathon. A weak stomach and propensity for godawful hangovers keeps me from a life of vice. Or at least too much vice. Hee hee

Esther noticed how a cat out her parent’s back door Saturday hopped from foot to foot as it mewed for food. We've finally got some true winter temps lately with highs in the 20s and lows in single digits. The past two days were bright blue sky sunny, but so cold and windy I could not stay outside long to enjoy it. Today was a little warmer, maybe by a couple degrees, but cloudy gloom. The kitties huddle together in the cathouse and wait for scraps. All this winter needs is some snow. My New England friends are buried in it.

The grade schoolers groused at basketball drills. They’re used to free time. I give them plenty free time -- the last 10 minutes of class -- but not before I put them through their paces. One girl said, “Aww, c’mon. We know basketball.” I said I’d let them skip the next drill if they told me the three player positions on a basketball team. No one could. I counted to 10. Back to the free throw line for them.

Esther and I woke early for aerobics. Even earlier, computer chirping noises disturbed our slumber. I downloaded music overnight, and when it runs out of songs and goes inactive the Internet shuts down after half an hour. The chirps are a reminder. I’ve got remember to turn the volume down.

Esther held up an Aldi circular and noted how “Yuppie” the people in the ad look. “They don’t look like they need to go to Aldi.” Aldi sells generic food, including a mindless array of junk food when you walk in the door. Don’t buy your meat there. I can barely tolerate their turkey burger. It’s protein. It can be spiced. But their milk, eggs and canned goods are equable to major brands, and much cheaper. “Do you think they would really like to put an average Aldi customer in their ad?" I said. Wrinkled old-timers on the Social Security dole, welfare mom in sweat pants and a tank top with three whiny, snot-nosed kids in tow. Yeah, a trip to Aldi is a cultural snapshot of the have-nots of American society. And I shop there. Funny thing, I saw a guy wearing a three-piece suit, hanky out the breast pocket and everything, in the freezer aisle. Hunger and value are classless. We're all in this together, hopping from foot to foot, fighting off the cold until our next meal.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Are you ready for some football? I watched parts of or all of four NFL games this weekend, making this my biggest veg-out sports weekend of the year. It is the last weekend to indulge in such sloth, so I do. The most exciting game was Saturday afternoon as the Tennessee Titans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-31 in overtime. Scowl-faced Steelers coach Bill Cowher really gave it to the refs, who called a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a missed field goal attempt in overtime, giving the Titans another chance. I agree with Cowher. It was a lousy call. And you hate to see referee decisions decide the outcome of a game, much like the 39-38 49ers victory over the New York Giants a week ago when the referees admittedly botched a call at the end of the game, which, if they got it right, would have given the Giants another chance to kick a game-winning field goal. IMAGINE!! The entire season hinging on one call! Now that's tense. That's what I love about playoff football. All the dramatics of the wild card week were for naught as each of the teams that got byes last week won this week. Rest has its benefits.

My original prediction was NY Jets vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, with Tampa Bay winning, but since the Jets got whomped by the Oakland Raiders (my QB phenom Chad Pennington had a bad day with two picks and two fumbles), I predict Tampa Bay over Oakland in the Super Bowl, 21-17. Big drama in the NFC and AFC championship games. Will Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Bill Romanowski and all the other old farts in Oakland have what it takes to outslug Tennessee's Air McNair? The Eagles eliminated the Bucs from postseason play the past two seasons. Can they make it a third or will the Bucs' Sapp and the Johnsons rise to the fore? High drama on the gridiron. May the zebra men not spoil the show.

Steve Hardt came over today and he reminded me of a practical joke we pulled off when we were teenagers. One bored evening we picked a random number out of the phone book and dialed it. A lady answered the phone and I, using my best police officer voice, told the lady that we had her son in custody and to come and pick him up. I had no idea if this woman had a son or not, or what his name might be, but we hit the jackpot. "Oh, my lord, is Joe in trouble again? He just got out a couple weeks ago. I'll be right down..." I told him I dialed 900 numbers from the front office at Harlem Junior High School.

I still feel guilty about the time I dialed sex numbers from the house of a lady whose kid I was babysitting for. It was a lady my sister knew from work. I spent an entire morning listening to recorded messages of lesbian women getting it on, science fiction radio serials, wrestling information and music hotlines. Charges up the wazoo. Stupid hormonally awakened 14-year-old me didn't realize 900 numbers cost anything. It's not like they came out front and said how much the charges were when you called them. They just went right into their recorded spiel. To this day my sister probably thinks I'm some weirded out pervert. I was just a normal teenage boy with a flaming roman candle between his legs and no knowledge of what to do with these new desires. My parents never talked to me about sex. I take that back. My Dad tried to give me "the talk" -- when I was 18. By that time I'd read the fricking Masters and Johnson report. I was still a virgin, but man, did I know the clinical and pornographic sides of sex.

My experiences with porn are few. It doesn't turn me on because I can see how fake it is. All make-up, contorted positions, shaved crotches and overly-dramatic moaning noises. Nah, porn don't give me a woody. It's more humorous. But I won't condemn them. Violent movies offend me more than skin flicks. People that get hurt in porn movies want to.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Bright blue sky cold January lazy Saturday. My feet are cold as I sit in curbside castoff chair and look out onto bright blue sky and brick across the street on this Saturday afternoon. I would like to take a walk this afternoon and work on short story about Hog Greer, my lovelorn Appalachian Trail historical story character. Thinking about May and Trail Days and how it's coming up right quick, and looking to write at least three more short stories to include in novella or chapbook or whatever the hell I'll call it. And give it away or sell at Trail Daze this year. May also set up a kiosk for the Ice Age Trail, seeing as Florida Trail folks came out, and Continental Divide Trail people as well. Gotta have representation from all the National Scenic Trails.

Last night had my parents over and the beer can chicken was a success even though free range bird, as predicted, is a little tougher than factory bird. But at least free range bird saw light of day and is not pumped full of steroids and antibiotics and lived out its short days in the Rock River Valley, being raised on a Janesville farm. At least that's what the sticker on its carcass said. Free range bird costs nearly twice as much per pound as factory. But there's a market for it. Lots of things being labeled "organic," as a trip to Rockford's 320 store reveals. I normally don't buy organic, but I thought about all the insidious hidden effex of inorganica upon the human drama, like the 9,000 percent increase in autism and asthma rates over the last ten years. The next ten years will see sharp increases in B diseases. Free range bird was a little dry after two hours indirect cooking on the grill. The skin was so smoky and carcinogenic as to be inedible. But the smoky mesquite taste so redolent in the meat I closed my eyes on a biteful and imagined myself back in Arizona up on the strand in cable land surrounded by forests of the stunty, gnarly-limbed, red-dirt mesquite. I encouraged Dad to drink his Sam Adams in a glass. I had heard beer tastes better in a glass, and wondered why, something to do with carbonation? I conclude, without any perusal of scientific data, but conducting field tests of my own, that beer in a glass tastes better than in a bottle or can because you engage the sense of smell into the process...

Grilled pears went over well. And the baked potatoes resting on the coals were cooked just the right amount of time, except for Esther's, which got burnt. Antigo potatoes and memories of sports editor days as I washed the Antigo Silt Loam Wisconsin State Soil down the strain in preparation process. And Mom asked me if I washed the potatoes before wrapping them. Duh. They were covered in dirt, um, sorry, silt loam. And I'm back in the Antigo flats, looking to the hills beyond, the land of kettle bowls and forests and deer and hidden lakes with pine-stunted islands. God's country, indeed. Drunk editors and Sunday dinners.

We got to talking about school days last night and Dad said he attended elementary school at Montague School and how they had separate entrances for boys and girls, and how the school was built in 1885. Dad said a janitor once gave him a tour of the basement, and they used to hold classes down there, and desks still remained, wooden and iron, with filigrees and inkwells, worn oak seats, collectors items today. And on cold winter days they would let the children sit on the steps just inside the entrance, near an accordion steam heater. Dad said the teacher's demanded silence, and if you were caught talking they'd send you out in the cold. The old school was torn down and replaced by Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, a modern 60s-looking soul-less concrete box. It, like Kishwaukee Elementary School, is surrounded by squalor in southwest Rockford.

I'm trying to teach the older kids in grades 3-5 basketball. I had them do dribbling, passing and shooting drills, and explained to them the various positions on a five-member basketball team, but am quickly running out of drills for them to do. So I looked online last night and found a lot of education major's papers on basketball teaching programs, but all of them seemed hoaky (show a video of basketball footage, and at the end come in wearing a globetrotters costume and show them some moves). I'll keep looking. My goal is to set up teams in each class and referee them in mini-tournaments. It seems I'm going to be at this job awhile, so may as well put effort into some long-term goals. I've got the older kids playing some rock and roll kickball. I would also like to incorporate aerobics into some of the younger classes. They seem to enjoy the five minutes of group exercise I have them do at the start of class. I feel so lucky. The children look forward to coming to PE. I must be doing my job right.

It is now 2 p.m. Must get on with my day. A walk and Hog Greer are calling...

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Today? Just another gray Thursday in January. When I walked from my car to the school this morning I noticed a tall, old pine, over the squalorous rooftops around. And I thought how this pine was there when my grandparents lived in that neighborhood. And how there are two houses within sight of the school all broken-windowed and plastered with pink condemned signs. And the carbon creature diamond possibility school kids, as yet unjaded, unscarred, ungnarled, uneaten by the 'hood' that surrounds them. The kids are all bright and shiny, crooked, too-large teeth, crazy energy and vitality. How do they compare to the stories-high pine blowing in the breeze? Can they too rise above the high rise projects that beget them? Can they find root and sustenance in their environment? And then I remember the grim truth of nature. The pine is a survivor, a lonely sentinel. So many others have fallen to disease, ax or weather. So, too, these children. Few will soar. Most will wilt in the shade of the tenement.

I had a dentist appointment today. Just a routine cleaning. Coincidentally, my friend Shawn (Goat) had a cleaning today at almost the same time at a different dentist across town. Amazing how much tartar she scraped off my teeth, yellow and blood colored gobs on a cotton swab. Ahh, much cleaner. But my smile's no whiter. Dentist gave a look-see, said Looks Good, and sent me on my way. Woo-hoo. Six more months of cavity-free bliss. Last year I spent almost $2,000 on my mouth. You can be darn-diddley sure I floss daily. Thinking about getting one of those sonic-care toothbrushes. Anything to avoid another root canal.

The Black River is so named because of the tea-colored tannin of its waters. And when seen in winter with white all around, it really lives up to its namesake. The gorge is so-named because it's super steep and about 200 feet deep. Dave and I got off the North Country Trail and had to bushwack back up to the top of the ridgeline. Quite the trudge. The marked trail leads to wooden stairs that descend to platforms overlooking the waterfalls. At one spot climbers with ice axes and crampons attempted to work their way up a 50 feet tall wall of ice. Dave, with his experts' knowledge of rock climbing, critiqued their performance. I'd get into climbing if it wasn't so gear intensive and reliant on upper body strength. Legs, uber-strong. Arms and chest, mere mortal. Rainbow Falls, the biggest of the entire weekend, was also the last. Most of its flow is obscured by stalactites and stalagmites of ice. The sun came out and I looked for the mist from which the falls got their name. No luck. Had a little Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle moment as I watched the doplets dance and bounce. White noise. Zen reflection. Ahhhhhhhmmmmm.

I remember the bathroom at Rock Cut Elementary School, and how in the winter the pink liquid soap in the dispenser dried my hands out and made them crack. I remember how the water cascaded down the urinals in timed sequences, and the cavernous drip-drip in the basin above the porcelain rows. The teacher took us all to the bathroom at the same time, and I remember how nervous I got if I didn't have to go, knowing it would be my last chance for a few hours.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

A long time away from blogland. Holidaze'll do dat. Lots of good visiting this year without getting caught in the consumer rush. One good day of shopping, three hours, and I was set. Esther went out a couple days. But lots of visiting old friends and family, trips to Wisconsin, western Illinois' driftless area, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern Minnesota. A wholesale risk of life and limb roaming the upper Midwest of this grand ol' country. I ate and drank too much, and didn't exercise. But now I'm back to fiscal and physical discipline, listening to Crash Test Dummies of a Tuesday night and finally visiting the blog. I didn't write so much as a note for two weeks and told myself I would not write until compelled. I've found my best writing comes when I don't get caught up in the hubris of being a writer. But I also know I have to be more disciplined about the writer's life. This is not a game. This is not a test. This is my life, the work that gives it meaning. Too bad I'm a lazy ass. I've got stories in me that cry out for a voice, from the hapless Appalachian mountain reject Hog Greer to the almost true-to-life narratives of my Midwest bohemia existence. I just needed a vacation. Call it that and quit knocking yourself senseless with guilt. As the populist tripesters of the Chicken Soup for the Soul and daytime television will tell you, guilt is something you control. I use it as a motivational tool and a prevention against bad behavior, not to freeze my will and send me into depression.

I got my hair colored Dec. 28 by my cousin Amanda Wright. The kids at school noticed it. One said she didn't even recognize me. The hair was also cut. New Year's Eve I gooped a bunch of gel into my hair to accentuate the curls and went to a quiet little restaurant/bar in Machesney Park called Curly's. It is on a service road off Hwy. 251, down the street from Jeramie Hendricks' old house, where I hung out often during the summer of 1993. An old high school friend, Susie Hofer, sang jazz that night to a small audience. There were two small groups of people left at midnight as television screens behind the bar showed the ball dropping in Times Square. I realized the ball had dropped an hour before, but played along with the illusion. Time is illusory. Just ask the bedrock beneath my feet.

I've just returned from four days in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with hiking buddy Dave Long. Two inevitabilities on a trip with Dave: I will end up waiting up to half an hour at the trailhead for him to get ready, which leads to night hiking. Dave did not disappoint. I find I've gotten used to his nature, and those traits which normally annoy me didn't. We got along great.

Porcupine Mountains State Park is 56,000 acres of trails. Original plan was to snowshoe, but not enough of the white stuff to justify it. So we hiked. Day one took a ski lift ride to the top of the namesake Porcupine Mountain and hiked on cross country ski trails to a lookout before taking a roundabout trip down the mountain, coming to a road (Hwy. 107) that runs along Lake Superior. The road is closed to cars, but open to snowmobiles. Not many are out. The lack of snow is keeping the tourists away in droves. The UP economy is suffering because of global warming. The hotels and resorts are vacant. Ski hills are a slushy, icy mess. Snowmobilers exacerbate the warmth with the toxic effluence from their two-stroke engines. Stinky noisemakers. Riders wear fluorescent green outfits. I'll continue this narrative tomorrow. My blog time is up.