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 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.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Monday, August 11, 2003

Trip planning can be fun. Esther’s got vacation time coming up and we’re wondering where to go. One idea is to go north and hike a 60-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin. Another is to head south and backpack a section of the River to River Trail in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. I’ve camped in my home state a few times, but never backpacked. We’re leaning towards that trip option. Of course there’s the Kekakebic and Border Route Trails in Minnesota that I didn’t do last year, segments of the Ice Age Trail, the Knobstone Trail in southern Indiana (more Ohio River Valley action)… so many trails, and a lifetime to explore them. So thankful I got the hiking bug early. It will be the key to long life, or shorten it. Death in the wilderness? I could think of worse fates, machines and IV drips, the mental stripping of Alzheimer’s, cancer. I pray for a swift death with all my faculties engaged, or the death of sleep when I’m old and at peace after a full life of joy, accomplishment and adventure.

Why such morbidity? Because this is my geriatric summer and I can smell the grim, inevitable specter on the old ones who pay me to mow their lawns? Or the near-death bypass operation experienced by my father, and watching a machine do his breathing for him? At 30, even with my exposure to old people, death remains a distant, abstract concept. I think I’ve come to grips with my own mortality. Talk to me in another 30 years.

Last weekend we did trail work at Devil’s Lake State Park with the Mobile Skills Crew and helped build 1,500 feet of new Ice Age Trail. I felt really up to the arduous task of trail building, and took on more strenuous activities like moving big boulders or removing stumps. The summer’s high activity level has increased my stamina. I didn’t wake up Sunday sore and tired. We’ve still got another 1,000 feet or so of new trail to build before the re-route we started at the first Mobile Skills Crew training session in April 2002 is completed. It has been difficult work, difficult trail, rocks galore and thick brush, but beautiful with large, house-sized boulders and view of a mossy cliff as the trail climbs 500-feet up a bluff. More than a million people visit the park each year, so the trail will definitely see use once it is finished.

It was nice to see so many volunteers join us throughout the day Saturday. As word gets out about these work days, extra help is becoming a common thing. And us MSC people have enough experience to delegate tasks. Strange to be a sage trail hand after little more than a year of volunteer work.

The real reason Esther and I stay involved in trail work is because of all the beer and hard liquor that is offered around the campfire at night. My favorite new beer is New Glarus Coffee Stout. I had one with dinner Saturday night. We also brought a bottle of Rumplemintz Peppermint Schnapps. I had but a couple snorts of it, and the bottle was more than half full when I went to bed, but by morning it was gone. Our oldest volunteer, Lyle, 71, stayed up until the wee hours and showed us younguns how to mix the schnapps and brandy in our cheeks. He called the mixture some German name, but I forget…

I also handed out copies of my short story collection, Thru, and was asked to read a couple stories around the campfire. Everybody paid close attention to the reading and I was applauded after each story. That felt good, sharing my trail stories with trail-minded folk.

I mowed four lawns today, including the national president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assocation, Bill Foster. He took me down to his basement and showed me a room full of Navy and war memorabilia. Although he is around 80 years old, his home looks neat. A true Navy man, even now. I see such fastidiousness in my own father. Foster said he was a “tin can” sailor because he served on destroyers. Guess Dad is too since he served on the U.S.S. Hancock destroyer.

It was strange to look at the faded black and white photographs of Foster in Hawaii as a young man and look up to see this white-haired man before me. I thought about was that afternoon on the AT in Virginia when I stopped for a long lunch at the Audie Murphy memorial just off the trail. Murphy’s most heroic moment happened when he was 18, barely old enough to register the impact of his deed. He parlayed his Medal of Honor into a career as a B movie actor and died in a plane crash not far from the monument. I imagine Bill is not much different from Audie. He’s just done the speech and parade circuit a bit longer.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Monday, August 04, 2003

The weekend on the Wisconsin River was…

21 miles -- from Blackhawk Outfitters just south of Sauk City to Peck's Landing near Spring Green.

Invigorating… We didn’t get started Saturday until 4 p.m. because we did Ice Age Trail blazing in Milton. Got the whole city blazed. Lots of stares, a couple questions, and over a mile of new signage. Esther did a good job keeping everybody motivated. My job was to consult where the signs should be placed and used a special tool to tighten metal bands that hold the signs in place.

On the river, canoe loaded, heavy with mucho gear, we don’t do any of that float down the river take it easy kind of thing, though did take a break on shore to eat. Passed by a nude beach en route, but it was a total sausage fest. Old men.. Ugh. Paddle fast, shoulder aches. Gotta catch up with our group, who left at 10 a.m.

We made it to the camp spot at 7 p.m., marked by a bright orange flag. Fire was already burning, most of the guys were fishing nearby. They came back with two big smallmouth bass and a good-sized walleye. Made for two big pans of fresh meat cooked up in butter. Yum! I grilled up a bunch of chicken pieces… Good time around the campfire. We could hear carp or some big fish splashing in the water. When I walked along the shoreline looking for deadwood I saw a fin sticking out of the water, a zig zag pattern of disturbance in the water as mystery leviathan disappeared to deeper water. Every 10-15 another fish retreated.

Wide river, sandy bottom, popular stretch, lots of people. Not the typical outdoor weekend adventure where I see one or two people the whole time. Bluffs and hills on certain stretches. Dodged inclement weather. Three separate storm fronts. Saw the lightning, heard the thunder, saw the rain falling in the distance, but nary felt a drop. Fell asleep to comfortable temps and starlight.

I woke up Monday with an adrenaline rush when Esther dropped the alarm clock. Minutes later, on the pot, I’m startled again when shampoo bottle falls into tub along with metal drain plug. I didn’t drink any coffee…

I watched my first football of the new NFL season as Brett Favre worked a couple series on Monday Night Football. I switched channels after the stars were benched and watched a History Channel documentary, Klondike: Quest for the Gold.

I saw my brother Mike both this morning and this evening. Esther had jury duty in Belvidere and was grilled by two lawyers for over an hour. She came home completely worn out, but thankfully was not selected to serve on the jury of a high-profile sexual molestation case. A small-time local politician and Belvidere business owner is charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. Esther was one of five jurors interviewed and three eliminated. Her work in child care, she believes, kept her from serving. I'm glad she wasn't selected, because the trial would be up to two weeks long and she'd be sequestered the entire time.

Mike is still looking for work, just hanging out at Mom and Dad's, listless, nothing to do. He showed me some photos on his computer and we talked around the kitchen table for an hour after dinner. He seems to be in good spirits despite his impoverished condition.

I was really tired today, just plain worn out from the jazz/trail work/canoeing jam-packed. Threatening clouds today, but no rain. I still canceled a couple jobs, put ‘em off until Wednesday. Two customers want me to bag their clippings and I have to pick up the bagger from Steve’s mom for the mower he gave me.