Thursday, July 31, 2003

One of my customers is this lady who has a permanent tracheotomy hole in her throat. She calls it "my bowtie" because of the gauze surrounding it. She must be in her early 60s and moves slowly with the help of a cane. She also chain smokes. Her aunt died and she asked me to mow the aunt's lawn. I go over there and have to use the bathroom. The house is full of knick knacks in various stages of being packed up, and it smells like smoke with an underlying tinge of death. One begets the other. In the bathroom, next to the toilet paper roll, is an ashtray on its own little pedestal.

That was the funniest moment of my day.

I spent the entire day, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., on this property. I mowed the lawn, including the overgrown garden, where I had to lift and lower the blade onto tall weeds, cut down small trees, trimmed bushes, hedges and grape vines, and collected it all in four bags. It was hot and humid all day. I stopped a couple times to get my energy back and doused myself with cold water fresh from the spigot. What luxury.

Yup, last day in July. Storm clouds brewing all day, as if to enforce the Farmer's Almanac prediction it is supposed to be cooler than normal. Every time it gets hot, the skies grow turbulent and angry. I escaped to the safety, air conditioning and soft drinks of my parent's to watch the rest of the Cubs game as they beat the Giants, 9-4. Left at 5 p.m. and watched as storm clouds brewed to the north. After de-salting (taking a shower) I dressed and sat on the front porch to wait for Esther. It was much cooler, dark clouds overhead, and a stiff breeze blew towards the storm. Storms draw air, breathe deep like the cartoon image of a blustery, Dizzy Gillespie-cheeked mischievous breeze. Esther rode up on her bike and we sat there enjoying the cool and looking straight up at the gray-ish, almost dark blue like the ocean, multi-layered swirling clouds.

I managed to run a few errands and get home for supper before the storm began.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

I watched a Cubs game this afternoon in a dream, in and out, as they lost to the Giants. Dad was in the easy chair near the window. He moved it upstairs because after bypass surgery he had a hard time getting up and down the stairs. He’s got circulation problems in his legs because of the veins they took out to put in his heart. And earlier in the week he had a liter drained from his lungs. When he got out of the hospital they gave him a plastic devise that’s got a ping pong ball and tube to breathe in. He hasn’t used it since a few days after he got out of the hospital. The only good thing to say about this ordeal is he lost weight.

I mowed a killer lawn today out on Burden Road in Machesney Park. It is a house surrounded by industry, but the next door neighbor has a nicely painted red barn out of sight of the road. I looked across a field to the east from the back of the property I mowed and could see the red aluminum roof and building where my friend York worked. His dad sold the business a few years ago and retired. I haven’t seen York since the 2002 Show of Shows. I remind myself to call my old friend, but don’t really feel like it.

The lawn was overgrown, bumpy, rocky, full of sticks. Trees bordered the entire property. The grass hadn’t been mowed in about a month, and the guy is paying me $50 to mow it twice. As my mower clanked some newfound debris, I thought, “I should have charged $10 more.” I’m gonna need to replace my blade soon. I want to have two blades anyhow. One newer for yards that aren’t too sticky and my original beat up one for the Larson’s and other sumbitch properties. That’s what I’ll the blade, Sumbitch. Something phallic and manly and Arthurian about naming a blade, even the lowly lawnmower is bestowed with a mantle.

All this lawnmowing of late is wearing me out. I was a bit mellow at Wings. We were disciplined. Our bill only came to $18, with tip and pool quarters, $30. I made some good cut shots as I continue to get better at pool. Esther is improving too. She showed her competitive side kicking Jason’s ass in thumb war. When she won she whooped and hollered and slapped me a high five. She whooped moments earlier when she and I beat Jason (Lucifer, online handle, so we all call him Lucy) and Woodie (Wes) at pool. She always has been something of a tomboy. Esther likes to say she and I have a good balance of feminine and masculine traits. She’s competitive. I share my feelings. It all works out.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Coltrane plays the blues… so well… so cool… so mellow, like a smoky late-night New York bourbon buzz basement, and you can hear the click of keys and fat saxophone sound, full, vibrant, lively, soulful, playful…

It’s 10:20 of a Tuesday evening, and I’m tired. Esther is too, but on task old world house frau that she is, she’s doing dishes after doing laundry earlier. Fact, I’m sitting on a wet t-shirt, back leaning against another wet t-shirt, and when I stand I’ll be damp. Anything to help the cause. Earlier, whilst Esther laundered, I was at parent’s house and watched the Cubs beat the Giants, 3-0. Pitcher Matt Clement got a complete game shutout. His slider was something else, dipping in and out of the zone, keeping Bonds And Company guessing, and missing. While Esther laundered. Am I a chauvinist pig for being all lazy while she worked? Maybe. What was she doing when I cooked dinner? Changed the oil? Mowed lawns? We have an understanding on the division of labor. She don’t grouse. Neither do I.

Three lawns today, including two big ones. The Machniks, both 88, Ben and Mary. I always ask Ben, how you doing today? He always says, oh, the same as usual. I say, I hope that’s good. He says it’s not, but I’ll manage. Mary asked me to talk to her neighbor, who’s helping with bills and found out they are leasing two rotary phones for some ungodly price of $12 a month. She’s on aforementioned phone and asks if I can take it off the wall, and when I try to lift it, it doesn’t budge, stuck tight, all old school and stubborn. When I come in after finishing the lawn, all sweaty and drinking the last of the Gatorade Mary’d set out for me at the picnic table, said neighbor is on the line, on hold, with the phone company, trying to put an end to this whole lease silliness. And I remember reading about leasing phones, warned about it, how bad a deal it is, and wonder how many years the Machnik’s been paying on the rotary phones fixed on their walls.

The Machniks are my favorite customers. They treat me like the son they never had, a childless couple who married late in life, when they were both in their 50s, both the youngest in their respective families, helped with their parents before considering romance, lived a while on Ben’s dairy farm in Wisconsin before settling in Rockford in the 1960s. Both are very slow moving, but of sound faculties. The neighbor lady looks out for them a few times a week. And me. I do more than mow their lawn. I’ve cleaned their gutters, trimmed their hedges, cut limbs, opened a vent in their attic and tried unsuccessfully to remove their rotary phone. Mary talks my ear off and leaves a bottle of Gatorade for me every week.

Two other customers in Cherry Valley, including a big two-hour lawn job where most of the lawn is in a floodplain, then an estimate in Machesney Park, then back home to shower, and fire up the grill. Cajun-spiced brats for dinner with pan fried potatoes with mushrooms, onions and green peppers, spiced with ginger, Worcestershire sauce, Montreal steak seasoning (wow, I just realized two cities I never been to incorporated into the recipe), the requisite salt and fresh ground pepper. Yum. I’m sure to have heartburn from the two spicy brats I ate.

Then it was over to my parent’s. They were gone, at the concert in the park at the Sinnissippi band shell with Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim, but returned when I was done running the totals in my scorebook. I’ll see them again tomorrow when I come to mow their lawn and watch an afternoon Cubs contest. My geriatric summer continues…

post-scriptum: a funny diversion of a web site I read about the other day in the Rockford Register Star is www.peoplesayilooklike.com. Another web site I visit on a daily basis and reply to the forums and read about Pacific Crest Trail hikers is www.trailjournals.com

Monday, July 28, 2003

It’s looking like rain out there, so I stay inside and wait for the drops. Someone more industrious than I am is out there mowing. I can hear the ever-present hum over the MP3 sounds of Wishbone Ash. The bloom is off the rose of this lawn-mowing gig. Sure, I like it, but it’s stepped back down to level of a mere job. Still… I gotta jump start my day and get out there and mow. Three lawns, gleaming green and growing crazy wild, await the slaying scythe of my mower’s combustion-fueled wrath. It’s after 11 a.m. Oh, the joys of self-employment.

I woke up to rain this morning as Esther and I went to the YMCA for aerobics class. Each time I go I feel great afterwards, enjoy the company of my fellow health freaks, and vow to never miss a class again. Then I stay up until midnight of a Tuesday or Thursday and the resolution is forgotten. Regardless of my absentee status at the YMCA as of late, I am more fit now than I have been in a long time. Mowing lawns every day does wonders for the physique. I got thru-hiker legs again, muscles toned, defined ropes of strength. I also want to start lifting weights, but find it to be so boring, and I don’t want to be a muscle-bound goon. My base physique, wide shoulders, tree trunk legs, could easily be transformed to Hulk proportions.

Buddha said torture is wishing to be someone else, someplace else. I find contentment in the here and now. I am happy with my self-image now. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, which can be achieved after quelling that jaw-clenching attention-deficit-disorder anticipation. Life is good. Life is great. God is Buddha is Krishna is Krispy Kreme cumulus clouds…Where was I? Oh, yeah. Now. Whilst mowing a lawn the other day I had this vision of myself as I wanted myself to be, free of desire, quenching my thirst with water, hunger with simple, healthful repasts, entertaining myself with books and baseball and live music. Hey, wait, that’s kind of my situation right now. I’ve achieved the simple life I desired for so long. Simple, yes, but busy. Why do you think I’ve been able to excuse not keeping a journal all summer?

Writing about writing, my plate this week includes an article about the Johnson family reunion in N. Minnesota, a return to regular blogging, a page of writing upon waking up each morning, possibly a short story about a man who escapes pontoon boat hell, and an encounter with a misfit hermit organ player… Lots to do… the smell of gasoline exhaust… memories of drum and bugle corps… free radicals in the remembering… reminders of impending labor.

This weekend I finished editing a draft copy of the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, the first ever guide of its kind for that illustrious and beloved trail. Taking a virtual tour of the trail, checking place names and directions with the DeLorme Atlas, has got me filled with a desire to go out and hike the darn thing. Esther concurs, says she wants to quit work at the end of February and hike the 1,000-mile IAT as a prequel shakedown for our trek along the 2,500+ Pacific Crest Trail. I think right now she’s more excited about the quitting work part than the hiking part, though she does have a yen for trail. Trail gives her meaning, purpose, vision, peace, endorphins… Me too. Gotta be in major save mode if we’re gonna pull that off next year. Now…. Now… Now…. Ohmmm…. That sound that uses the whole mouth. Holy significance attached to such all-consuming vibration utility. Can’t live for future adventures, can’t dwell on memories, must live in the moment. Ohmmmm.

Right now… birds are chirping, commiserating, socializing, on the roof, the window sill, the chain link fence across the alley. Bass Explosion MP3 resounding out of speakers on either side of the monitor, surprisingly good sound for such a small package, I use computer almost exclusively for my own music collection because boom box CD player’s fritzing out. I’ve been listening to more radio this summer than anything else, and National public radio at that because I’m so sick of format radio and am a liberal intellectual elitist at heart.

Cloudy, leaden, gray skies like the frosted beard of a hoary old man. But it won’t rain. The cold front finally won, breeze through the north window tells me. The war is ovah. No More Tears. Ozzy cheeseball. But is the grass dry enough it won’t clump? I wear black cotton shorts with a small hole in the butt, white cotton socks, a Beloit Snappers t-shirt (the old one), caught by wife at a game in 2002. The rashes (from my allergies to grass) are healing, but topside of my hands remain pink and wrinkled like a callus, like a reverse stigmata. But, oh, thank God, appearances be damned, the itching’s abated. I ain’t wearing them durn leather gloves again. Docile dead cow epidermis revenge. Benadryl cream diphenhydramine lab coat research to the rescue.

Up and about, green-stained tennis shoes Everlast high tops laced up laces too long, bedraggled and frayed, tucked in, felt against the protruding ankle bone, out to the world, the bank, the easy gray no sunscreen required skies, and little girls walk by with big black German Shepherd drug dog mixing, keeping fast pace at panting pooch’s strained insistence. Noon almost, 11:51, no, 11:52. That enough now for you, enough summer time dharma? Karma? Wallakazoo?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Hanging at the Rockford Public Library because (a) it's raining, I can't mow, and (b) I still don't have any electricity at home. Power has been out since Saturday morning. This is the longest I've gone without electricity ever. Last night I drove to the Walgreen's near my place and they were out of 'D' size batteries. Drive to Loves Park, where they never lost power, and the Walgreens there is fully stocked. We are one of the last 2,000 or so customers still without. The street light across the street works fine. Neighbors on the next block have power.

The adjustment process has not been that difficult, what with our nature freak tendencies. The home has been quieter (that is, until last night, when the aforementioned D batteries were placed in our boombox). Monday and Tuesday night we slept in my parent's basement. Last night we stayed at home because the latest round of storms (which kept me from working all of yesterday) brought in a cool front.

I was able to mow one lawn this morning before the latest purple gray clouds of booming thunder precipitation rolled in. I finished while the drops fell and the mower threw out clumps of wet grass. After this I think I'll go to my parent's, sharpen the mower blade and change the oil. I've also got to call my customers and let them know I'll take care of their lawn ASAP.

Esther and I went on our first overnight canoe trip together into the Sylvania Wilderness. Not much different from a backpacking excursion. Easier. Instead of slugging a pack on your back while in motion you glide across the water, using your upper body to row. Portages are more like what I'm used to. Poor Esther got a bruise on top of her head from carrying the canoe. She also got bruised on her thigh and inside her arm. That woman bruises if you look at her funny.

I've professed my love for sphagnum moss great northwoods, and imagine myself living there in the peace and solitude. I imagine Yooperland to be a safe retreat, but wonder if I could live there full-time without going stir crazy. Friday morning we stopped at the one cafe in Watersmeet, right at the intersection of Hwys. 2 and 45, and overheard a group of locals talking. One old man in a Lion's Club hat sat stooped, silent sentinel, while the others talked about fishing, fireworks, and each, individually, commented on the waitress changing her hair color. Sounds quaint and homey. But I could not imagine myself day after day, year after year, talking about walleyes, ATV's, snowfall in inches, and all the other seemingly routine vagaries of northwoods life. I'd end up being the high-falutin' outsider college boy dumbass that the old men whisper about when I walk through the door. The north can be a lonely, desolate place. I got a hint of that in Antigo, though it is a friendlier community.

I imagine myself living in an urban setting and escaping to a cabin up north for a season or a weekend. Such a settled image seems far away, though. A more realistic imagination would be to squat a season in the national forests, two weeks at a time in any one spot, leaving a minimal trace, fishing and maybe even killing small game. Ah, who am I kidding? Natural Man is really a city boy at heart. I've never killed any other animal besides a fish for food.

My time is ending at the library. I'll go home now and see if I'm still living off the grid. The only inconvenience so far has been the pinching of my headlamp on my forehead when reading in bed at night. I've got nothing to bitch about.