Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Back from the desert, mountains, etc.

I'm back.

Had a great vacation. One of the best ever.

I'll publish the journals here forthwith. Get right on it. No excuses. Time lays before me uninterrupted. A great resource to plumb, or waste on YouTube, television and trash novels.

A few highlights off the top of my head.

-- Cutting steps through three foot snow drifts at 9,000 feet on a Sunday morning and getting water from a cow pond Monday morning in the desert north of Oracle, AZ.

-- Going three days without seeing another human being (or roads or houses), then going another three days without contact after walking through crowds of tourists at Mt. Lemmon and Summerhaven.

-- Getting picked up on a lonely desert dirt road by Steve, who just so happened to be the landowner and leader of a 10-acre hippie commune in the desert somewhere between Tucson and Florence. I stayed there the last four days of the trip and made many new friends, including the leader of a biker gang, The Seekers (despite not having any tattoos)!

-- The hitch down the control road off Mt. Lemmon, which I took because I didn't want to deal with any more deep snow, was one of the craziest ever. I rode in the bed of a pickup truck as the driver did everything possible to nauseate me, including taking hairpin turns at such speed I could feel my cheeks receding from the G forces.

-- Seeing a family of javelinas (desert pigs), including a boar with long tusks.

-- Crossing roaring, 100-feet-wide Sabino Creek, barefoot.

-- Almost falling down a 50-foot cliff as I tried to find a saner, narrower, place to cross.

-- Camp fires and cook fires. Mesquite, juniper, cedar, and palo verde. Good wood. Fragrant. Gave a nice, smoky flavor to my mac and cheese. I've improved immensely with my fire cooking skills. Only spilled once. Hint: Find two rocks with flat faces, space them apart, put on pot, direct coals from fire underneat pot, build secondary fire with small sticks, stir often to avoid scorching food.

-- Slept outside every night. Spent less than $180 the whole trip. Didn't use the credit card.

-- Found much-needed solitude, then met cool, interesting people just as I was getting lonely.

Last year's trip was an escape. This year's a true adventure. Affirmation of the Goethe quote about the genius, power, and magic of boldness. Or, to quote the magic bus trip immortalized by Kesey and Wolfe: FURTHER!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday morning cartoons

I got up early this morning and watched most of a DVD of Spiderman '67 cartoons. One episode, "Revolt in Dimension Five," seemed a far departure from the others with a long introduction of space aliens, a particularly free form jazz/fusion soundtrack, tripped out visuals and timing. My hunch about the episode's uniquity is confirmed by a one-minute net search.


"ABC did not air this episode with the rest of the third season due to the incidence of death, spatial creepiness, and great psychedelia. However, "Sting of the Scorpion/Trick or Treachery" was aired in it's place.

"This show's villian, Infinata, never appeared in the Marvel comics. He comes from another Kranz Films cartoon series, "Rocket Robin Hood". In fact, the entire plot of this episode, as well as much of the animation was lifted from the RRH story, "Dementia Five". "

IMDB: Two episodes of the series ("Phantom from the Depths of Time" and "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension") heavily recycle animation from episodes "From Menace to Menace" and "Dimentia Five" of the earlier series "Rocket Robin Hood" (1966) by simply substituting Spider-Man for Rocket Robin Hood on the animated cels.

YouTube: One of the most psychedelic cartoons ever made for childrens television. The same episode was re-made into a Spider-man episode called Revolt in the Fifth Dimension (1968). Both episodes have achieved true cult status for those in the know.

Check out the ORIGINAL Rocket Robin Hood episode here:

And the Spiderman "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension" episode:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No excuses... none necessary

Whew! Whirlwind life lately, but really no excuse for not writing other than sloth. A well-earned sloth. Busy with school and boy and portfolios, grading, lesson plans, etc.... As of today, the grading and lesson plans are done.

I'm finished student teaching.

This weekend is all about the portfolio. I've got a 3-4 inch stack of papers to sort through. I kept a copy of everything I did. On Thursday I tracked down two or three diligent students who I know kept all their papers, and made student copies of most of my lessons.

So, no, I have yet to write that novel. Or a short story for that matter. But I've got a pile of lessons here. And I have to write "reflections" for my portfolio.

I do other non-fiction writing to avoid writing fiction. I'm too emotionally involved when I write fiction. I should just plunge in and fail miserably, and be humbled by it. Just like I took the plunge with my lessons and succeeded, with practice and effort I could succeed in fiction.

Some ideas about style. Keep sentences short. Open with verbs. Absolve the person whenever possible. Characters "said," never "explained" or any other adverbial accouterments. Adherence a struggle for word man me who wants to show off his vocabulary.

I'm 35 now. Wow! Feels old sometimes. I literally creak when I walk. My facial wrinkle lines are established. I don't care. I'm more handsome with age. My skin is healthier than ever. I still have all my hair. My face is less doughy looking than 10 years ago. I could lose 15 pounds, but who couldn't? Need to start running again. Give up the chicken wings.

Funny how certain life skills have helped me as a teacher. I had a very organized grade book with a little help from Nina, my cooperating teacher. She showed me how to set it up. But my past experience keeping score while watching baseball games helped me be more efficient and organize the information. Of course, I'm still a math dummy, despite my 'C' in Trigonometry this past summer. Most of my assignment point values were in increments of 20 points so I could figure out the grade percentage without a calculator.

I always had up to the minute grades for each student because I also entered the grades into Skyward, a grade-keeping software used by the district that allows parents to log in and check their child's grade on a moment's notice. We got to know whose parents checked when I posted an assignment to Skyward without entering the grades. The assignment was entered as a zero, and some e-mailed, called, or sent messages through their children asking about that 'F.' The number of inquiries was in single digits.

Skyward has a dizzying array of options. Its menu interfaces could be more streamlined. I didn't tinker with it too much. Nina took more time to learn many of its functions. Paul, the school's tech guy for the system, is on our team, so he was readily available to answer questions.

One thing I take a certain pride in is quick turnaround on grading papers. This alone gives students the impression that you care, that you mean business, that you expect them to meet their deadlines for work and you'll respect their timeliness with equal timeliness in return.

I realize I'm a mix of old school with modern education. My classes will read modern young adult fiction and will also look at classical literature across the entire epoch of western civilization. One thing grad school and net tinkering has taught me is the value of supplementary texts. Knowledge learned in a context is more easily recalled.

While I won't require my students to always read challenging texts, I will provide them bits of it either through quotes of the day or weekly book talks.


Gawd. Gotta get away from school. It's all I think about these days.

Thirty-five is one of those signpost years. I look at the next 20-30 years of my life (if I'm lucky) as the productive years. I've learned some professional skills, had many valuable life experiences, but am steady on my feet. Now is the time to buckle down, be an adult, build up equity, devote my time and energy to a few worthy endeavors, establish roots, buy a house, be a steady, stable, guiding force in my son's life, and travel whenever and wherever I can.

Steady? Stable? Me?!

Yeah. I've learned to manage the wanderlust. Fatherhood, you know. It brings with it certain responsibilities. Even part-time. I look forward to finding a teaching job and settling in for a long haul. As much for me as for my son. Student loans need to be repaid.


When I get back from Arizona, I will have about three weeks to get ready for the spring semester. In that downtime I plan to relax, maybe go on a five or six-day local winter backpacking trip (Ice Age Trail?), BIG MAYBE, I just thought of it now.

But I also need to plan lessons and write my syllabus for the section of ENGL 104 I'm teaching in the spring. I took the liberty of requiring them to buy Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Considering all the liberties I take with language, it would be difficult to believe I am a fan of this book, but I am. I re-read it every couple of years or so. That's why I know to put a hyphen in re-read.

There I go again with the teaching talk. [Flicks hands.] Stop!

Also have to make amends with Founder's Memorial Library [I lost a book. Long story.], find out what texts I need for the spring semester, and get on the interlibrary loan bandwagon. I can count on one hand how many required textbooks I've purchased since I've been in graduate school.

This semester feels like a break from NIU. I hardly spend time on campus and have not gone to ANY campus events this fall. No concerts or sporting events. No time spent in the library or computer labs. The break from the university was welcome. I feel recharged now for the last hurrah this spring.

My grand master plan for the spring is to be a devoted, diligent academician. I want to immerse myself as deeply into my classes and teaching, read all required texts, write papers and present them at conferences [One of my goals as a grad student is to present three different papers at three different conferences. This would help me in the somewhat unlikely case I pursue a doctorate. Still, it's nice to have options and conferences are, I believe, an essential part of the graduate school experience. There, I've said it. Could this possibly be the longest side note ever? You've forgotten what the original paragraph is about, haven't you? It's essentially a winter Saturday morning musing. But I've found such prognosticating, repeatedly, if need be, actually leads to results, kind of like all that "Zone" bullshit popular in motivational psychology five years ago. You can find that zone if you constantly visualize what you want! Guh! Dreck. I hate to think I'm like that, but I guess I am. Naw, I'm just a listmaker and Central Scrutinizer (Frank Zappa Joe's Garage reference). I am vast, I contain multitudes. All and nothing. Whitman.], submit resumes, and get a middle school language arts or social studies teaching position by May.

"Pigs eat turtle eggs and turtles eat jellyfish, and now you get stung when you swim in the sea."-- Crash Test Dummies, "Our Driver Gestures"

Gotta change the name of this blog. I'm hardly living up to its current name. How about:

A Thousand Words TODAY

A Thousand Words whenever I Damn Well Please

A Deep Dark Well of Bullshit

Free Reggie!

The Realm of the Mendicant


Greg/Ru's Search for Meaning

A Steaming Cauldron of Bullshit

A Thousand Words Written on the Head of a Pin

Windmill Chasers

The DeKalb County Interfaith United Walkers Club

Chicken Beak Wilderness


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Word of the Day is "Flaneur"

Sometimes, when I learn a new thing, I coincidentally encounter it again many times like a media blitz. Today's example of is the word of the day. Today's word is:

flâ·neur (flä-nûr')
n. An aimless idler; a loafer.

[French, from flâner, to idle about, stroll, of Germanic origin; see pelə-2 in Indo-European roots.]

When I read this definition I thought of a bum, a penniless, aimless wanderer; a bearded, smelly, mentally ill misanthrope. That's the picture I got from the word and kept it with me all day. In many ways it defines me. I like to often wander aimlessly, but not, I figure, in true flaneur style. I usually have a location in mind, but how and by what means I get there is up to chance. Flaneur. These days I can only aspire to be one.

I'd never seen that word before today.

Tonight, back home after visiting Jonny and Esther, I got online, checked e-mail, etc., and then did a Google search for down parkas. As I typed, the drop down menu of other searches I'd made came up, and the search for "hiker+blogs" appeared. I clicked on that link and clicked on Hiker Dude, and then a link from there to an article about a nerdy professor who hiked every street on Manhattan.

I checked out one titled A WALK TO REMEMBER, an advertisement/review of a Los Angeles urban art fair, where giving historical walking tours is treated like performance art.

In the article I found the following quote:

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the middle of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.” - Charles Baudelaire

And this text:

[The exhibition relates to Walter Benjamin’s concept of the flâneur as a figure who derives pleasure from the hustle and bustle of the city streets, who moves purposelessly among the urban crowd with the eye of an artist: a spectator of contemporary life and urban scenes. Yet, A Walk To Remember diverts from Benjamin’s idea when it examines a specific European phenomenon of the early 20th century: the postmodern condition of Los Angeles in which walking is clearly a thing of the past. In addition, in giving each walk a purpose and in trying to bring various locations and social and cultural relations of the city to the audience the exhibition reaches beyond what Benjamin described as an “aimless affair.]

The Flaneurs that Baudelaire references are Dandys of the 19th century, men who wore makeup, dressed flamboyantly, and acted out scenes on the streets of Paris to draw attention to themselves. Toulouse-Latrec's immortalized them in his paintings. Like this one:

(I first heard about Baudelaire ate age 16 when I read the biography of Jim Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. I have a book of his poetry, but don't remember the title and haven't read it in years. )

Flaneurs, as it turns out upon further research, were men obsessed with their physical appearance in late 19th century Paris society. When I read the definition of it this morning, I imagined a classless Walt Whitman roaming the streets of Brooklyn and painting street scenes into his poetry. This image is the opposite of the Flaneur. Flaneurs are flamboyant, class-conscious, effeminiate precursors to today's metrosexuals. Flaneurs are nothing like the rugged, ragged image I kept with me all day.
"Burrows and Wallace show how New York embraced the idea of the flaneur -- of the disinterested, artistically inclined wanderer in the city, of what they call "city watching."-- Jed Perl, "The Adolescent City", New Republic, January 22, 2001
"The restricted hotel lobby has replaced the square or piazza as a public meeting place, and our boulevards, such as they are, are not avenues for the parade and observation of personality, or for perusal by the flaneur, but conveyor belts to the stores, where we can buy everything but human understanding.-- Anatole Broyard, "In Praise of Contact", New York Times, June 27, 1982
"Baudelaire saw the writer as a detached flaneur, a mocking dandy in the big-city crowd, alienated, isolated, anonymous, aristocratic, melancholic.-- Ian Buruma, "The Romance of Exile", New Republic, February 12, 2001

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

such a lie

The title of this blog will remain, though I rarely live up to the spirit of it. I haven't been blogging because I've been busier than hell, but really no excuse. I use my downtime to fart around and check out videos on Netflix and YouTube. Oh, well.

I have been busier than heck with school work, grading papers and writing lesson plans. This exemplary student teacher award nomination thingy requires me to video tape a class and submit a 300-500 word critique of the lesson and provide any supplementary materials. I also have to put my resume together so I can do a mock interview with my current school principal and the team of teachers. And then there's the portfolio and reflections, which we talked about tonight in our student teacher's meeting at NIU. But there's a carrot. A month from today I'll be sleeping outside in the Arizona winter, enjoying a much-deserved respite from obligation or care.

In the meantime enjoy this latest fun video:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

James Burke Connections techno meltdown

Off to the 3rd St. laundromat for quarters. One car parked outside, some Chevy economy, vanity plates “LILDVA.” Inside the Laundromat a human bowling ball, legs like ham hocks, billowing rolls. I hope she can sing.

Vanity plates. Something I’ll never do. One of many things, like bumper stickers, decals, spoilers, rims, or other urban flair adornments I’ll never come across. Though I wonder sometimes what bumper stickers I would put on my vehicle. Some trail logos. “I brake for hikers.” Something about rivers, Calvin pissing on a kayak. Two slightly contradictory stickers, like Jesus Saves and People Suck. I could also get window decals of Rock Valley College and NIU. My vehicle must be a total expression of me, my ego, my interests. Whatever.

Over 10 years ago I drove a school bus. Every day on my route I saw a car with vanity plates, “BRYMNLW.” It got so I looked for it everyday and gauged our separate schedules by where we crossed paths. Once, we stopped at an intersection, me facing west, she east, and I got a good look at her in the rising sun -- a fat, bespectacled, unadorned, short haired sexless woman. I figured she had many cats. And she reminded me of some of my own female relatives who never married. I also laughed inside when I thought about her being a fan of Barry Manilow. How schlock can you get? What next? The Franklin Mint.

Fast forward to July 2000 on the Appalachian Trail. I got a fever that lasted five days and knocked me off the trail for about three days. A Pennsylvania Dutch family, the Franz’s, took us in for a couple of days, and on the second day Mrs. Franz drove us to a grocery store. I was finally feeling better, fever broke the night before in a pool of sweat, and I had my appetite back. I was itching to hit the trail again.

At the grocery store a Barry Manilow song, “I Made it Through the Rain,” came on the radio. I listened to it and remembered the lady with the vanity plates from my bus route. I hadn’t thought about her in years. And then, I kid you not, true testimony to what a sentimental sap I am, I cried when I heard these lyrics:

I made it through the rain
I kept my world protected
I made it throught the rain
I kept my point of view
I made it through the rain
And found myself respected
By the others who
Got rained on too
And made it through

Why? Because it was a wet as hell summer for us on the trail, and it is harder to face the trail and elements when you’re wet all the time. And I had just beaten a horrible fever and was feeling refreshed, alive, right there, in the moment. I know now, over 7 years removed from that experience, how significant that moment was. I’ve heard the song a few times since, and it hardly moves me. I’m kind of embarrassed how affected I was when I heard it in that grocery store.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I’m walking around DeKalb and I come across a car, same vanity plates. Fandom unwaning. Vegas calls.

I have included a video clip with this post of the first episode of James Burke’s “Connections” TV show for the BBC. It’s an odd mix of history, philosophy, literature, travelogue, and prophecy, all spiced with Burke’s witty earnestness and attention to detail.

I’ve included this clip because it highlights an essential modern dilemma -- our enslavement to technology. Burke uses an apt symbol, an elevator, to highlight the perils of technological dependence. Cut out the electricity and most people trapped in an elevator would not know what to do. I don’t know if that is necessarily true, what with so many TV and movie depictions of people trapped in elevators. Isn’t there always a trap door in the ceiling. But how often do you check for that trap door when you get in an elevator?

Burke talks about a world without electricity as he walks across a gray, asphalt road littered with abandoned cars. He uses this simple scenario to illustrate how ill-equipped modern man is to face the world without modern contrivances. As Burke flees the metropolis, he manuevers from elevators to his intended target, the plow, one of the first technologies that dramatically altered how humans lived and interacted with one another.

The integration of gasoline and electric powered tools into society is so complete that modern society could not function in their absence. Never before in the history of mankind has civilization depended so much on forces not within a grassroots control of the populace. As humankind changes the forces of nature, a hubris sets in. So few realize how razor thin is the veneer of social stability or how much our lives are shaped by the tools we use.


Gawdammit, I sound all preachy there. Me self righteous recycling eco-warrior, all guilty because I drive a vehicle with a V-6 engine. Me thinking, bring it on, Armageddon, because I would survive, when in truth I’m as dependent upon the technologies as anybody else. Though, unlike most, I am a neo-Luddite and would not mind seeing the machines stop and slow down the system for a while.


Just past Marshfield there was a wind storm.

He couldn’t fathom that only the grocery stores sold liquor, and at limited hours, but the bars could be open any time and sell whatever kind of alcohol. He walked to work in the mornings and saw the gentlemen drinking at the bar across from the bowling alley at 7 a.m. On his last day in town he stopped there on the way to work, drank a shot, and breezed on into the office. He did not linger long at the bar because his shirt and tie stood out against the grimy,grease-stained factory shirts of those around him. He’d always admired the bar from the outside, these couple years walking past it, hearing the laughter, seeing the neon lights in the windows, an air of cheeriness, the smell of stale cigarette smoke. These were fine witnessed from the outside, and from the outside it would be easy to give the scene a certain romanticism -- as if bloody mary’s and griddle-fried eggs and hash browns carry with them a certain dignity and poignance because they are witnessed wistfully from the outside.

When he finally experienced the bar from the inside, when what could be became what is, of course, it was a set up, no doubt, the romanticized notion of this place far outstripped the rather mundane reality of it all. There was laughter and conviviality here, to be sure, but only shared by those who lived and worked side by side in a place he, the outsider, did not know.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

blah blah blah blah blah

Keep it light. Breezy. The breeze off the bay. Elmore Leonard. A shotgun through a window. The flash of muzzle powder? Sulfur stink in the air. The body thuds. A pair of plastic framed glasses skitters across the wooden floor. A figure in black dashes off to an awaiting two-door late model sedan. The wheels squeal and kick up dust as it drives away. No one got a license number. No one saw anything at all. There were no witnesses.

A man sits dead by the riverside, a bullet hole through the temple. He was a working class man who lived in a working class neighborhood of tract homes. No weapon was ever recovered. No tracks. .38 caliber bullet. At his visitation the funeral home had done a good job, but the lines of his forehead abruptly faded in the center of his brow, giving his death face a somewhat whimsical expression, as if he faced death cool and aloof. Which he probably did because he was fishing, and it was a beautiful fall day, and his killer left no footprints. If some ghosts are ghosts because death happened so suddenly and they do not realize it, this guy would be a good candidate.

Of course, I’m revisiting a childhood trauma. One of my best friends from childhood, age 9, to be exact, when we were good friends his father was murdered in that fashion. And his murder remains unsolved to this day.

The river is an uncaring cataract. It carries bodies and evidence and logs and junk indiscriminately. Unseen, below, boulders, pebbles, sand, eartha moves steadily, glacially, toward the sea.

Such dark, murky, underwater thoughts on a sunny Sunday morning… Thinking novel thoughts, even though whatever fiction I seem to start gets stalled somewhere… due to… honestly.?.. Short attention span. Too critical. Gotta get over that. Keep it light. Breezy. Like a 60s skinny tie loafer coolness hipster.

Maybe a road trip movie, where our protagonist meets five interesting characters on the path to both a material goal and a spiritual redemption. The hero’s tale. But light. Breezy. Motive for travel. The funeral of a friend? Too unbelievable. A planned hiatus. The bum at 50?
Or… for the sake of the national novel writing month… 50,000 words. Five characters. A small town. Interweave five distinct characters in a landscape. The landscape itself is a character. A backdrop and a mood setter. Thought about doing a highly fictionalized version of Antigo, the sports editor/reporter for a daily newspaper in a small town in northern Wisconsin town. It will be easier, considering the time constraint, to cull loosely from my own life. Plus, I remember the distinctive details of that time and place.

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to find the time, in light of a slew of other things I am doing, to write a 50,000 word novel this month. But I like the challenge, and am going to take it up… starting now… No, wait, I have to outline first. The procrastinator’s creed. Well… let’s come up with a basic plot. Or do the characters first? The fear of failure. Of seeming stupid at it. This is why I don’t write fiction. I don’t feel qualified. I am dissatisfied so much with my past efforts, though I have written a few reasonably good short stories. What will carry me past writer’s block is not caring about quality. I can always fix things on the second draft. It’s like I tell my students, “just get it out there. Don’t worry about it just keep the pen moving. And so it is this morning. But this is just for the sake of 1,000 words. The end goal limits the creativity. Cuts it off midstream.

Not going to worry about that today. Sunday. My weekend with Jonny. May go outside to another forest preserve. Yesterday went to Pratt’s Woods in DuPage County. IT is just one of many forest preserves along the Kress Creek and DuPage River corridors. I am going to explore this area on foot and eventually canoe the river. My canoe season is officially over. Next weekend I take the canoe up to my parent’s place for storage, remove the rack from the truck, and put the bed liner back in. Of course, this week I have to remember (yeah, right) to epoxy seal the holes in the bed liner. And dat dere’s the crappy t’ing ‘bout bed liners; they can promote rust if water gets trapped in the bed by the liner.

See? I went from writing about my small town idyll / tale of discovery novel to mulling over the mundane details in my life. But, see, this procrastination. I could put it in the novel. Our hero who I haven’t given a name yet. Just call him Protagonist 1/ character 1/ the young man, fresh out of college, without a face, but a vague history that resembles, in certain ancillary details, my own life at the time that I lived in Antigo With some key differences. He arrives in Antigo still single. Because his navigation fo the single life, or lack thereof, in this small town, will provide some of the fun, breezy, comedic elements of the overall story. Now I’m thinking… The gears are turning. I want to have this still unnamed hero / protagonist / human being / find love and learn to compromise his career goals for the sake of that love. Yeah, that could the be the climax. He’s offered a higher-paying position at a larger mid-market daily, Green Bay, and that ends the novel as our hero leaves, and takes his love with him…. See? Light. Breezy. Soap opera. A bit of the ol’ Garrison Keilllor with eccentric oddball characters milling on the fringe, based, of course, on actual oddball characters I’ve met there and in Antigo over the years.

One of the other main characters will be an oddball. The town eccentric. The guy who lives out of his truck. The guy who wrote the Jesus Christ mind control machine manifesto. [there really was a self-published book by some local oddball in the records of the newspaper office]. There has to be an antagonist. A scandal. A bugaboo or two to keep things exciting. I like making the sheriff the bad guy. Another bad guy would be the city attorney guy, a nerdy, professional, non-small town mastermind kind of guy. Not like our main character, who is aloof and a little put off by living in the north woods. I admit there will be a bit of a Northern Exposure vibe to this, though not as Jungian, and possessing none of the remoteness that is Alaska. But, like Northern Exposure, the politics and quirkiness of small town life will be exploited to maximum effect.


More soon… This is actually my thousand word cutoff, but closer to word 1,150.…


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gear freak Part One

The cannibal drive is an idgit a digit tidbit
Burnished to shine, homey, can you dig?

Aw, whoo you foolin’?

Drooling pacemaker. Digitalis’ll solve that ticker. Rigormortis imminent.
Blood cools and congeals.

Orchestrated eggs also…
Sunshine boil to green
Protein thick sticky
Whites smooth

Surging thrombosis. Electrical signals crossed. Thrumming bird wings flapping, caught in bush, palpitations. Fading, fading, flutter.

Zounds! Great booming chest cave!
Kerchok little bird
Little engine warm
Filling capillaries

Finagle it. Forget it. 8 p.m. of a Monday evening. Again thinking I shoulda gone on with this writing gig a bit earlier, because now, time change, fall back, I’m all tired thinking it’s 9 p.m. But I filled my after school time with Internet crap (YouTube and Netflix) and cooking. Gotta treat the laptop less as a source of entertainment and more as a tool.

Registered for classes this morning. Also don’t know if I wrote this already, but I am also going to teach a section of ENGL 104 in the spring, hopefully on a Tuesday / Thursday schedule, take the last two classes I need to earn my master’s degree, and also take the comprehensive exams. Next May I’m done. My plan is to supplement my income teaching FYCOMP, about $1,000 a month, with substitute teaching. If I can keep my finances low and save up about $500, I’ll take another hike sometime in May or June. Possible trails include the Ice Age Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Long Trail in Vermont, or the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Or back on the Appalachian Trail for a tramp in the woods and a dose of thru-hiking culture.

I’ve done a thru hike every election year since 2000. No thru hike is planned for 2008. That kind of sucks, but such is reality. I can at least get a long hike or two in when I can find the time. Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll miss not thru hiking in ’08. That’s a hell of a lot of work, time, planning, and just plain ol’ physical endurance and prolonged discomfort. From blisters to blowdowns, high winds, cold, rain, all the rest… A month at the most is a good dose of the outdoors life.

Backpacking is low cost once the gear is acquired. And for those who know how to sew, even the gear can be inexpensive. A certain percentage of the backpacking culture are devoted gear heads. MY friend Dave Long, who introduced me to backpacking in the spring of 1998, shortly before I moved to Antigo, is a total gear freak. He’s the same guy who gave me a GPS for my Arizona Trail hike last year.

I’m not a gear head. I like to make the right gear decisions, and look at other people’s set-ups for ideas. I have seen probably every style of tent, tarp, sleeping bag, bivy sack, backpack, boot, gaiter, and hiking pole imaginable. But I don’t by any means have the latest or greatest gear. None of my clothes are made of brightly colored fabrics.

Here’s a partial, completely off the top of my head list of gear items I plan to take on the Arizona Trail in December.

Go-Lite Breeze backpack -- The top drawstring broke, so I tie it down with a shoestring on the outside. Even though this has gone the length of the AT, the ripstop nylon, while faded on the bottom and part where it rubbed against my back, is holding strong, as are the shoulder straps. This is the simplest, lightest (13 oz.) pack on the market. I don’t know if you can buy it anymore. A basic design for anyone who wants to sew this pack on their own is in the book Beyond Backpacking, by Ray Jardine. Funny that I mention Ray Jardine because I had corn pasta for dinner. Ha!

Homemade 10 x 12 foot tarp -- I bought the fabric and was going to sew it myself, thinking, hey, for a first sewing project what could be easier than a tarp? Until I discovered the expensive, silicone impregnated nylon fabric was slippier as hell and super hard to handle in a sewing machine. My mother, an expert sewer, bailed me out and sewed this tarp herself, per my specifications and design assistance. It is an awesome tarp. I have weathered many a dismal storm, albeit fitfully, under its cover. A tent can’t be beat for sure protection against the elements. But a tarp can’t be beat for versatility. I also carry a bag with 6 tent stakes. Some bent up no-bendy-ums and other aluminum stakes going back a couple generations.

OR two-person bug bivy with nylon floor -- This is a great summer or winter time accessory for the tarp. The nylon floor negates the need for a separate ground cloth. To save weight, I may pack a piece of tyvek (you know, the stuff that covers houses while they are being built) instead. I won’t need protection from bugs in December on the AZT. Last year I remember sleeping with the netting down the entire time.

In lieu of a pack cover (to keep the pack and contents dry when it rains), I put a garbage disposal bag (thicker plastic and just the right size) inside the pack.


Two pairs of wool socks -- One pair for hiking, another for camp/bed. Always, always, always, have a dry, thick pair of socks.

New Balance tennis shoes -- model #485 I believe.

Ancient old Farm and Fleet polypropylene long johns -- not too thick, a little holey, I’ve had these babies forever and keep them more for sentiment than function.

Thicker fleece long johns -- These are newer and pill up a lot. I almost never hike in them. They keep the legs warm at night pretty well.

Yellow swimming trunks -- my version of hiking shorts. No undies allowed.

Hanes white cotton t-shirt -- OF course I lose this if it gets wet, but it’s my preferred underlayer. Cotton is absolutely shunned by most hikers.

Old as hell Farm and Fleet long john top -- also a little holey and beset with a funky odor that I find endearing. Others may not.

Smart wool merino wool long john top -- not as old, super light weight, super warm. I love this shirt.

Polypropylene turtleneck top -- I’ve had this shirt about 8 years and it too is getting holey, but it is still oh so warm. It’s made it through two thru-hikes, so give it some props.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Gear Freak Part Two

Cotton/ wool Enjoi panda bear pullover hooded sweatshirt -- this is the one bit of gear I worry most about. Is it warm enough? Will it endure getting wet? It’s also heavy as hell and bulky. Honestly, when I’m not wearing it, I don’t know if I’ll have room in my pack for it. I’ll have to tie it to the outside or fit it somehow in the long mesh pocket on the outside. I’ve mulled over getting a down jacket, but am going to postpone that gear purchase until gainfully employed.

Campmor nylon rain jacket -- This is a $20 rain jacket. It still works and has all the zippers and vents of a costly jacket. The only thing that sucks about this jacket is that it drips water on my legs. I curl and adjust it to send the drip elsewhere, and that sometimes works, but not always. Anyways, it provides hours of diversionary entertainment on rainy trail days. I plan to spray it with Nikwax before the upcoming trip.

Floppy wide-brimmed boony hat -- I got made fun of when I showed this hat in trail presentations because I look like a miner, but this hat is super light, super waterproof, and provides ample shade. This is a desert rat hiker hat, beotch. I have no excuse for the yellow swim trunks over navy blue, holey long johns. 80s jazzercise goth? The hat just fits in a wacky ensemble.

Fleece balaclava hat -- This combined with my sweatshirt hood will keep my head warm at

Cheap sunglasses.

Zero degree sleeping bag -- This bag served me well on the PCT. It’s insanely warm, but in serious need of a bath. I’ve never washed it, and it has weathered 3,000 trail miles and daily use the past two years.

Other items:

Quart cook pot, pot gripper (I am leaving the stove and fuel at home. All cooking this trip will be
by fire. I plan to have a fire every night, for warmth and light through a long night. I remember well the hours from 5 - 9 p.m. in total darkness and cold, awake. Tending the fire and reading by its flame, when my hands weren’t too cold, helped wile away the hours.

Ridge rest ¾ length -- I cut this into two segments. This provides the “frame” for my pack. I unravel the roll inside my pack and put most of my gear inside it. This provides further cushioning and protection from the elements. But the ridge rest doesn’t compare to my luxury thermarest for comfort. I have to choose my camp site with care and look for soft ground with thick cover. Bare ground is too cold, especially in the winter. This gear choice is the only one available to me in this lightweight setup.

Nylon food bag -- I won’t have to carry more than four days of food at a time on this upcoming trip.

Ditty bag -- containing contact lens case, solution, toothbrush, toothpaste, fine tooth comb (to get out really tiny cactus needles), Swiss Army knife, LED headlamp, MP3 player and headphones (a first!!) first aid kit (aspirin, anti-diarrhea pills, moleskin, needle, dental floss, almost empty tube of Neosporin, a candle, spare waterproof matches), toilet paper, travel size alcohol disinfectant gel, a small bic lighter, sunscreen, and probably a couple other things I’m forgetting right now.

A book -- For this trip something light and small print.

A journal -- for this trip maybe just some looseleaf notebook paper.

GPS unit and carrying case

a disposable camera

Four one liter water bottles -- Including at least one Gatorade bottle. Why? Gatorade is good for coffee because the plastic doesn’t melt or contort. But the bottle gets all stretchy when it’s warm. No doubt some carcinogen is passed on to my morning coffee, but it’s still lighter than Nalgene. Two of the bottles will be wrapped in duct tape. Duct tape is a hiker’s best friend. I use duct tape and toilet paper for band-aids.

Polar Pure crystallized iodine water purification -- I know, this sucks in the cold weather, but I plan to let my treated water alone for a looong time -- hours, before use. The colder it gets, though, the less effective iodine is. And in the cattle country along the AZT, I better be careful where I get my water. What I did last year was treat the water, and then, in camp, heat up the water by the fire (another diversionary job) to pour in my Gatorade bottles. This disinfected the water further and kept me warmer at night. I’ll probably do the same this trip. Iodine alone is foolish in the cold at a cattle pond.

I think that’s about it. Golly, gee, that seems like a lot of stuff. And this is my lightweight setup. What seems excessive are the clothes. But I have to consider that in the cold weather I will be wearing those clothes while I hike. I’ll feel stupid and weighted down if it gets warm. I also remember that I will go over only one major mountain range, the Santa Catalinas, right at the beginning, and will do more lower desert hiking, including a crossing of the Gila River.

This is also why I, after studying the map, have an ambitious secondary goal in mind. If I average 14 miles a day over the 10 days, I will end up at Superior, AZ, with 36 hours to spare to hitch and bus my way back to Tucson. But if I can average 19 miles a day, tack another 50 miles, and “bag” the Superstitions (mucho wilderness, legendary badass desert mountains), I could get off the AZT at Roosevelt Lake, close to the halfway point.

Even though the Superstitions are a tempting carrot, and the easy terrain could make it possible, I have to admit I’m not in the best shape ever. Sure, my legs are in great shape from frequent long, 5-6 mile walks. I’ve just got a little extra baggage in the middle to lose. Averaging 19 miles a day on a thru hike is impressive enough. Doing it on a short-term trip nearly impossible. Adding to the difficulty are the shorter days and lack of trail in many sections. Route finding is time consuming, even with a GPS.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

a thousand words a week?!!

There it is. This challenge that lies before me. To conjure up words after a day of words. This constant involvement in language, reading, and writing invigorates the creative juices. But I think I make the mistake of making time for this too late in the day. In order for me to fulfill the 1,000 words a day goal, I will have to write more earlier in the day. Maybe get up a little earlier than normal and knock off a couple hundred words. Another couple hundred at lunch… here… there… throughout the day.

This could make for very disjointed writing, but not leave me with this hourlong burden actually not an hour long tonight because I am going to keep on typing no stop at all to even formulate or copulate a thought. What an idea. Copulate a thought. Dirty mind. Active mind. Motion mind.
The yelling, clapping, crowd, all moving in time to the funky beat the band young vigorous in time to a simple funky beat, gets all scatty and yelling to the wah wah groove steady high hat drums just that moment the groove

And tell me you love me. What do you really mean? Love is covetous? Love is service? Love as sacrifice? Concern? Care? Mutual respect? And love the most talked about misunderstood subject with all its heavy individual commitments love the cliché love the burden love the sacrifice love supreme the blue light that Coehlo talks about the blue light of love for everything that embraces the universe that blue light special energy Kmart defeated dinosaur chain blue light special a reference Jonny and company won’t get.

About Jonny. Halloween last night. The first time I’ve been trick or treating in about 20 years. Jonny had a lot of fun. It didn’t take long for him to get the concept of Halloween. AT the first house where he was able to pick out of a bowl, he went for a mad grab and had to put some back. Jonny went as Voltar the Viking. He’s got this cute little Viking outfit, plastic horn sided helmet and sash front and he practically waddled all obese with this black ninja jumpsuit thing over his fleece jacket and other pants. Norman Rockwell scene on quiet old neighborhood Sycamore street, kids running from door to door lawns with Styrofoam tombstones, all the cheesy motion and air filled contrivances. The Sycamorans really get into Halloween, it being the home of the Pumpkin festival.

I joked with Esther that this town is populated by an evil, Satanic cult, and that she should resist indoctrination, for Jonny’s sake, as long as possible. Esther, going along with the gag, turns to me all serious, and in a monotone says, too late. Did that really happen? No. Probably not in so many words, though I’ve had this running gag going back to 12 years ago when I last lived in Sycamore, that the town has a secret cult that organizes the pumpkin fest and has a secret death cult involving evil rites and human sacrifice. All under the guise of Midwestern wholesomeness.

Sycamore’s a bit of an expensive town. Its downtown and older neighborhoods are well-preserved. It’s new build and chainy blandness is situated well on the outskirts of town. It’s a pleasant place. Strange for me because I was young and married there and now am there older, a parent, and divorced.

Esther and I are seen together often in Sycamore. She and Jonny don’t come to DeKalb that
often. This is usually because during the week I usually go to Sycamore, and on “my” weekend every other weekend, I ride with Esther and Jonny in her car to Loves Park, where Jonny and I spend a day at my parents. But this weekend my retired, but busy as all get out parents are coming down Friday to see Jonny. Mom is very involved with her church and also does a lot of sewing projects for Midway Village and other relatives. Dad volunteers at Swedish American Hospital pushing patients on wheel chairs (as is the required custom with most hospital patients) to a car port. He also volunteers at the ticket booth at Midway Village, it seems, just about every weekend.

I hope to be as active and involved in 35 years. Speaking of… I’m almost officially reaching the mid-30s milestone. Guhhh. I’ve thought about age a bit lately because I’ve suffered a period of fatigue the past couple weeks. I went to bed early many nights in a row and slept at least 8 hours or more. Normally, I don’t knock off until after 11 p.m., and get up at 6:15 a.m. But lately it’s been 9, 9:30. And I’ve been just tired and listless after dinner most nights. Part of it is the mental demands of teaching. But I’m used to that. I think the big reason is the season. November, like February on the flip side of winter, makes me just want to crawl in a hole and hibernate the entire month. I don’t like Novembers. Never have. But I’ve made peace with the month over the years, using the desire to hibernate as an opportunity to enjoy sedentary pursuits such as reading, writing, and watching movies even more.

Whatever. So full of crap. I just deal.

The walk home
Late fall afternoon light
On aluminum siding
The day of the dead
Candy left on the sidewalk

A rare still windless day
Audible nut chomp
Slinky tail hop through leaves
The low rumble of train
A late model sedan hisses
down a brick-paved street

And the light has shifted
Into that other spectrum
Shorter, brittle, golden fast
then gone
So, that’s the deal with the 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it’s a 1,000 words a week. Let’s shoot for a November sweep. I started this and aims to continue, even as I continues to produce mostly crap. And by the way, many of my typos are not unintentional, but word/tense/number play. Like “I aims to continue“ and “even as I continues,” inspired by the famous catch line from Popeye, just before he produces the until-now hidden can of spinach: “I‘ve had all I can stands and I can‘t stands no more!” That and many of my typos could be fixed, but for the sake of this forum who cares just leave it like this see no punctuation I don‘t have to follow the rules all the time.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And you shall know them by...

It’s been a long day. A long week. It has been difficult for me to maintain my 1,000 words a day. I’ll have to put in some make up time this weekend. The key to today’s entry is to keep typing and not care about structure or syntax or some overarching theme hey y’all all get outta here like the long scroll of On The Road can’t be interrupted by changing papers. Contacts dry. Baseball on the radio. Headphones. Sony Walkman. AM 1000 still comes in crappy, all static, but it comes in on the headphones, not at all on the stereo. The station comes in on the boom(barf)box -- not too long story about the barf, but a funny one I’ll tell forthwith -- but the strange thing is there’s an almost minute lag between the barf box and the headphones (different stations?). And the barf box, even resting on the windowsill, antennas poked out to the stars, is too static.
About the barf box -- Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday 1999, a.k.a. the last time I ever drank Mad Dog 20/20. Bored, at home, I drank a bottle of wine alone and split the Mad Dog with a neighbor, Jon, who wore a t-shirt of an owl in flight with the label “Hell’s Mensans.” The Mad Dog was too much, and before I could make it to the toilet I urped up a vomit. But then I got the majority of it in the toilet. Thing was, afterwards, I couldn’t find the urp, even though I drunkenly remember it. Not long afterwards I passed out with the mystery of the missing urp unsolved.
A couple days later I went to play a disc and found a puddle in the now-closed CD case. I dumped the found urp in the sink, but alas, the CD player was toast. We kept the boom box, now nicknamed Barf Box, for the radio and tape player. Off we went on our gallivanting, the barf box in storage and in use by Esther’s sister. When we came back we noticed the sister using the CD player. The barf had dried enough to restore functionality to whatever circuitry had been disabled by the urp. The barf box was fully restored.
I have it to this day. The CD player still works, but it can’t play copied Cds. Urp or no urp, it never could.
With the Sony Walkman I can move it around. Right now its in just the right spot on the table. If I move it anywhere else Joe Morgan and Jon Miller start undulating in and out. Add to the mix the static put out by this laptop. The static returns if I have it on my lap. I should go out and watch the Series. I have never just listened to it. This is strange. But so what. Oh wait! Yes I have. The last time I listened to the World Series was the Yankees-Mets series in 2000. I listened to Game Two of that series at the White House Landing, a hostel in the 100-mile Wilderness in Maine along the Appalachian Trail. I had to toot a horn to bring a boat out to get me. I stayed there with Hollywood and some guy whose trail name I forget. I just remember us talking about daily newspaper work, he a copy/ ad editor for some dailies in central Indiana. Gotterdamerung! That was the life once, my word count much higher in those days, but devoted to county board meetings and writing about Ted Nugent’s appearance at River Fest. The best stories, like the one about horse farm abuses, happened when I do what I do best, go out and explore and notice my surroundings. Unfortunately, at my level, small to mid-market, I earned my bread and butter covering piddly events, and in the case of the Beloit Daily NEws, hanging around a court house.
I regret leaving the Antigo Daily Journal when I did, even though I did it to go on a thru-hike. If I could have any lifestyle back, it would be that one. MY current life as closely approximates the simplicity of those days. Then and now I walked to work. Then and now I was involved in a job that was more than 9 to 5. Then and now my social life revolves around a few good friends and family. Although in Antigo days Esther and I were very involved in church. I wasn’t much of a believer then, but did like the church as a social and musical outlet.
That’s another thing I miss. As recent as 2003 I’ve been involved in an organized performing musical group, like a community band, orchestra, or choir. After all this grad school business gives over permanently to the regular schedule I enjoy today (something very different, despite my more than 9 to 5 comparisons, from the Antigo days). Even though then I could predict the irregularity of my schedule because it was based largely on the high school and community teams I covered. But when my schedule is truly regular again, I plan to join a community choir and/or band. I’d love to re-take up the trombone. I don’t think the neighbors would be too appreciative. But the Charlie Brown parents clamber for revivalance.
And I’d also like to get involved in journalism again, but not on a full-time basis. I’d like to write and sell travel stories as well as have an outdoors or general interest column in my local daily or weekly. Just something to keep me honest and read. And maybe make a little money. I still have literary aspirations, but I’m no longer staking my fortunes on it. Not that I ever really have. I do think I have a novel or two, at least idea-wise, lurking inside my cranium. I just need to summon the long-range focus and discipline to make it happen. I think I owe as much to the characters brimming around inside me cranium.
I admit work has its place in my life, but when I get away from it can be pretty lazy, despite my innate restlessness. I don’t have any hobbies that require long-range concentration, such as building models or woodworking. I like to hike and explore natural areas, photography, cooking, and music. All are action oriented, and, with the exception of photography (if I ever pay for prints), transient.
I guess I could add writing to the hobbies list, since, ahem, it is no longer my livelihood. Though I am proud to say a love of words, reading, and language is still central to my vocation.

Monday, October 22, 2007

food fir thaught

Gum Mwum. Mabaho. Gordon Jump. Umlauten. Ga wee.
The hands be sore. The hands must be sure. In this contrived penance.
To rest. Long day at school. Last full day to listen to “Me” Projects and Johari Windows, both projects I plan to use as a middle school teacher. Much thievery afoot intellectually. Copies galore. The bottom drawer is where I keep the booty.
This brain is tired, is seeing static and little gray walking hunched over men in fedora caps when I close my eyes. Ah, yes, Symphonie Fantastique, March to the Scaffold, Hector Berlioz composer, from my Classics from the Crypt disc. I think the Phantom Regiment did this once. Andrej would know the year. It’s lively enough to revive. Two-valved marching tympani fun times. I could be a codger about today’s drum and bugle corps. Damn bandos’ve taken over! Back in my day dey was two valves and tuned to the key of C, so’se you had to do a little transposition to get the fingerings straight cuz bando brass instruments’re tuned to B-flat. So now drum corps brass are three valves and tuned to B-flat.
I‘m sure no drum and bugle corps has done “A Worm‘s Life“ by Crash Test Dummies, my favorite Winnipeg band.
“A worm’s life can be easy
If you lay low, out of sight.”
Pressure cooker cooking is fun, getting that bobber to spit and gurgle just right, is an art. Made a big batch of chili. Put dry beans and a pound of turkey burger just defrosted enough to wriggle out of its plastic wrapping with chili powder mix and about a cup and a half of dry pinto beans. Turn the heat on to high until the bobber got gurgling and then down to medium/medium low. In the 20 minutes it takes me to dice a green pepper, medium sized onion, and four Serrano peppers, the beans and turkey are ready.
I put the pressure cooker in the sink and run cold water over the top of it for a minute or two before using a dishrag to lift the bobber off. Unscrew the lid and break up the meat with a fork. With a large spoon I stir up the contents, throw in two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes and all chopped vegetables and let it cook on medium to medium low heat for another hour, and then on low for another couple hours. Of course, a test bowl is required after the first hour. Like anything else, I modify with whatever is on hand. I’ll use squash, corn, TVP (soy protein), and a wide variety of beans.
Today was a perfect day to make chili -- cold, gray, rainy, wet, leaf falling, windblown fall day. That or tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
I’ve made about three homemade pizzas in the last month. Nothing too special, though I love the roasted garlic taste I’ve gotten with some of my garlic topping. Another thing I do is slice the onions really thin, and apply them in ovals as a base layer above the sauce.
But for me, the fun part of the pizza is making the dough. I like the tactile glee of kneading the dough and pounding it into the table, then letting it rest and breathe, before pounding it again. I don’t toss it like I’m supposed to because I just use a cookie pan and don’t need to have it round. Someday a stone. Hell, someday a wood fired oven on a brick-paved patio. There. That’s thinking like a capitalist.
Not that long ago I made flour tortillas. I used the tortillas for everything from tacos to peanut butter and jelly. They are super easy to make. The only trick is getting the sides cooked all the way because my wok pan is not flat enough for the whole thing. It requires the hassle of rotating the edges into the center of the pan, or just dealing with doughier, chewy edges.
Another beloved treat is the pasty, though its high fat content is a guilty pleasure. Simple lard, flour and water, mixed by hand, rolled into balls and stored in the fridge for at least half an hour (oftentimes I make the dough the night before). I then roll them out into a disk and put a handful of meat and chopped potato and a whole slew of meat and vegetable combinations on one half , fold the other half over, dab milk where the dough rejoins, and crimp with a fork. Cook in the center rack oven at 425-degrees F. for 30-40 minutes. Yum.
What kind of hidden criteria did I have in mind listing these three flour-based foods -- pizza, tortilla, pasty -- in the order I did?
A: Pizza requires yeast as a rising agent, tortillas requires baking soda, pasties no rising agent.
Let’s get this straight from the top, okay. You’re the lieutenant. You’re supposed to look regal and carry yourself with a certain air of authority. Can you possibly conjure that attitude, Philbert?
Mmm.. Possibly.
Okay, let’s take it from the top. Remember, Philbert. This is your entrance. This is the first time the audience is seeing you. And don’t fall off that mechanical horse. Props, are you ready? Check. Philbert, are you ready?
Bill and Torville, you guys ready?
[nods of assent from the two men in soldier’s garb, rifles resting in the crooks of their arms.]
Okay, let’s take it in 10-9-8-7..6..5...4...3.[pointing backstage to Philbert]
Whoa, ho. Easy girl. What are these two tracks leading off through the snow? Are they friend or foe? Ah, this, the keen edgy awareness of warfare.
Gawd, it’s late. No steam. Just dream, droop lidded heavy dozing little gray fedora men walking with their brief cases. Called parents on the slackers. Tired of presiding over lunch detentions until they finish their “Me“ Project. Such is the disciplinarian side of things, the holding of feet to fire, behavioral problems, etc. I’ve been lucky, skilled, or whatever to not have any class get out of control. Part of it is my professionalism, preparedness, and keeping them busy and engaged the entire class. Part of it is they are a good group of students.
There’s a whole slew of theories to good classroom management, but the big ones are carry yourself with authority and expertise, and never lose your cool. If they see you lose your cool, they’ll do anything sometimes to get a repeat performance. Middle schoolers are piranhas. They’re keen for blood.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

dramatis personae

There is another kind of spiritual courage as well, quieter and less celebrated, but just as remarkable: that of making each day, in its most conventional aspects -- cooking, eating, breathing -- an oblation to the absolute.-- Philip Zaleski, "A Buddhist From Dublin", New York Times, July 24, 1994
I found this quote in my word of the day e-mail for OBLATION, which is an offering of thanks to a deity, which in some religions is an obligation.
Sunday morning is all about taking a breather, relaxing, doing laundry, morning rays on the couch, being thankful or life and health. I usually take stock of the week past and the one to come. Gotta lot to write this morning to make up for missing a day and not writing at all yesterday. No big deal. In lieu of creativity, I still need to transcribe Arizona Trail journals from last year. And I’ve got three more “dialogues” to write from my random pairings exercise. I am going to do a modified version of that for my advanced class. Over the course of the next two weeks, they are learning movie and stage craft terms, such as placements on a stage, different types of camera angles, etc., with a focus on their dramatic impact in a play or story.
In my lesson, they choose two characters from a pool of ten in one of five settings. Oh… the students are in groups of three (two characters and a narrator… remember, this lesson is connected to a Twilight Zone episode…). The narrator sets the scene, but at some point within the dialogue also has to “cue” various camera or stage craft effects. The instructions will include a list of directions and their effects. They have to have at least three. The dialogue can only be 1-2 minutes long. A page of writing is about all this requires.
We won’t get to this lesson until the week after next, which gives me plenty of time to figure it out in more detail and actually write the darn thing out. One of my other deadlines is to produce at least three original documents a week. I have not worried too much about my teacher portfolio requirements. I need to go over them with greater scrutiny and look at my pile of evidence to see what more I need to do to fulfill them.
I worked with Dr. Callahan three weeks beyond the end of the spring semester to get my portfolio evidence and reflections tweaked, through many drafts, to an almost error-free sheen. The lion’s share of the work associated with the portfolio was completed. And then in July my apartment got flooded and my teaching portfolio soaked. I dried the pages quickly, but they are wrinkled. Then my apartment got flooded again at the end of August and the portfolio a second soaking. So… I’ve got to recopy all the pages, re-do all the tabs and dividers, and keep my labels straight for the evidence. Oy. There goes another $20-30 just on copies. Soon. Soon. That albatross will be let off from around my neck.
This week I am going to work on my resume and register with Career, Planning and Placement services at NIU. That’s where my letters of recommendations will be sent. I’ve decided not to try for a spring semester secondary school teaching job because they are few and far between and I want to (hopefully) teach First Year Composition one more time and finish off the master’s degree. Regardless of whether or not I teach, I know next semester will be my last stab at involvement in Reavis Hall and academic life at NIU, and I want to go out with a flourish. My plan is to work my ass off, read everything for every class, meet with professors, live at Reavis, soak in its atmosphere (can’t tell I’m missing the place right now, though I was there last week), write, write, write, present at a couple conferences (always gotta think of the resume and, maybe, in the future, a curriculum vitae).
I want to cherish these moments. One of my major regrets from my undergraduate experience is that I went out in a whimper. I had a couple 3.5+ GPA semesters early on and always got good grades in history and journalism courses, but the required classes and classes I took just to make full-time status and be eligible for financial aid didn’t garner my interest, so I blew them off and suffered for it. I didn’t plan well. Didn’t know what I was doing. Never met with an academic advisor or used any of the ancillary services the university offered to help students plan their schedules and fulfill the requirements of the major. I didn’t do anything like that until my last year or so, when I knew graduation loomed.
And why didn’t I check? Hubris. Mr. stuck up prick know it all. That was me. Still is, to a certain degree, though I’ve been humbled by life and am now much less inclined to show off. I’ve also seen the value of second and third party advice.
For most people, getting a master’s degree from a state university is no big deal. Neither is the accomplishment as impressive to me as I once regarded it. But my educational path achieving it has been much more driven and direct, even though I never earned more than 12 credit hours a semester and it took seven semesters. That was the quickest I could go because it took a year of course work just to get into the teacher certification program and then to be on the two year track for that. I also had to go as a student-at-large for a year and earn a 3.25 GPA or higher in 12 hours or more of graduate courses. I think at the end of tumultuous 2005 my GPA was 3.8. I got my letter of acceptance into the graduate school in spring 2006.
My crappy 2.52 undergrad GPA was behind me. [I remember applying for journalism jobs and only listing my GPA in major coursework, which was, I believe, close to 3.5]. I understand now why I struggled so much as an undergrad, an admixture of partying, no sense of study skills, diversionary intellectual interests, including working nearly full-time at The Northern Star and always, forever, many books.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Arizona Trail Journal, December 26,2006

December 26, 2006
[postscript: The opening sentence of this entry is misleading. I did hike what I think is a nearly brand new stretch of AZT from just south of I-10 to Cienega Creek Natural area, which is, I also failed to originally mention, a beautiful little canyon with a picturesque rail bridge over it and a willow and tamarisk dominated riparian habitat, making it a popular bird-watching destination. That’s what Elias was doing when I met him near the kiosk in the parking lot. The new stretch of AZT is not to be missed. It traverses the rim of the 200 feet or so deep, half-mile wide Cienega Creek canyon. The walls are only sheer for about 20 feet, the rest, steep, shaley, stubborn, butte-jutted, hillside. I saw a herd of mule deer skitter and clatter for cover in the creek side foliage. Of course, there’s awesome views north to the Rincons.]
The bushwhacking is done!
I am sitting at a picnic table at the pink, derelict, hantavirus-plagued Madrone Ranger Station. I am here illegally, a theme as of late. There are orange signs everywhere: “Authorized personnel only.” But I bushwacked a long, hard, hot time to get here to this desolate corner of Saguaro National Park.
And why is there no trail from Hope Camp to here? Politics. It would provide unregulated foot access to the park.
It took me over three hours to go 2.5 miles. The route from Hope Camp -- “run down and desolate” according to the guidebook -- to the ranger station is northeast, parallel to the ridgeline of the Rincons. My bushwhack took me up and down countless crumbling, steep embankments, one creek drainage after another. Any slips on ascent or descent meant thorns and pain. I stopped three times for shade (under saguaro), drink, and to pick thorns out of my shoes, legs, and pant legs. I figured out quick what plants don’t bite -- creosote, mesquite and a short, red-trunked shrub. Everything else grabbed, clung, and stung.
I’ve been ’schwackin’ or road walking, sometimes illegally across private property, since yesterday afternoon a few miles of new trail north of Colossal Cave County Park. Bushwhacking is really tough in this terrain. There’s a lot of space out here, but the surface area’s crowded.
[Postscript: At dusk I walked along a wide hard pack red dust road that led to a number of side roads and bedroom communities in the foothills of the Rincons. I left the main road and followed a power line easement west until I came to another road. I decided to continue following this west, but it ended at the driveways of two properties clearly marked as private, followed by ’No Trespassing.’ But it was dusk, and Hope Camp, safely within the boundary of the national park, was due west. I decided to make myself inconspicuous, stay out of sight of houses or any lights. I had a rough moment when, seeking cover, I got all tangled up in thick, thorny brush, and as I was backtracking a big dog let out three quick warning barks. Uh oh.
Back to the road. I walked down a driveway, away from the sound of the barking dog, and spied a house around the corner. I stood and looked for a couple minutes, but saw no lights on. It was a small cabin. No one was home.
I skirted past that place quick, but with not as much sense of dread as the castle property, which promised prosecution and advertised a security force. I continued across a cattle pasture, under and over a couple barb wire fences (yeah, DeKalb!). The dog continued barking, but its bark grew distant and less insistent. Every once in a while I heard what sounded like someone revving an engine or motorcycles racing. I wondered if it wasn’t a crazed landowner come to a perimeter check Christmas night. Although I saw lights off in the distance, they never came close.
I made it to Hope Camp and breathed a deep sigh of relief when I saw a plain metal national park trail juncture sign on a post. To the south of this junction lies the wreckage of a windmill and a small building -- Hope Camp. The moon was almost half full and the night warm. I built a modest fire out of the charred remains of a previous fire in the sand. I sat, took my shoes off, and rubbed my feet in the cool, massaging sand. Until my big toe snagged a bright green round cluster of buried thorns.
I have to watch everything I touch. This hyper attention to movement lends a certain zen focus to the hike. It’s mentally exasperating in a simpler, more mechanical, er, mindful sense than the rigors of academe. I must pay close attention to my immediate surroundings, scan 15-20 feet ahead for a path without a thorny dead-end, and survey the overall terrain for the perfect, safest, most direct route. Tough work, but I feel a closer kinship with the landscape, something I worried about losing by using the GPS.
The thorns come in all shapes and sizes. The barrel cactus thorn curves like a hook and is segmented like a bird talon. The prickly pear has big, obvious thorns, evenly spaced. But when I got stuck by one of its barbs, it also stuck me with countless small barbs no thicker than thin hair. I’m glad I took online advice and packed a fine tooth comb. It helped extract the tinies.
This desert is quintessential Arizona, what the general public imagines of this state, the Sonoran desert. I love it, but it is some of the most forbidding country to ‘schwack through. But now, finally, I’m exchanging the prickly world for pine as I ascend the foothills of the Rincons, ON TRAIL!!!, in a national park!!
[postscript: The following is flashback material written the same day as this journal entry. I forgot I wrote this and just recently wrote a postscript note mentioning much of what I describe here. After much wrangling, I’ve decided to leave both versions to compare recent recollection to long memory.]
+On Christmas Eve I discovered new trail about a mile south of I-10 and continuing to Cienega Creek. It’s really beautiful trail, especially a long stretch looking down into the creek valley. I peered over the edge once and scared a herd of gray-backed mule deer.
+Hope Camp, ironically named, is on NPS property, but surrounded by private property. I can see why no AZT exists to here. The land is tied up in private and NPS interests, though I did see a few signs for “Arizona Trust Land.” [postscript: more on that later…]
+The shaded thermometer here at Madrone Ranger Station reads 85 degrees. I’m barefoot and comfortably cool in the shade. Why can’t it be this comfortable at night.
+Descending one of the gullies in my bushwhack from Hope Camp to here, I stepped on a large flat rock. My weight made it slide off its ledge. I leapt safely aside. The cavity exposed by the fallen boulder contained the perfectly intact skeleton of some small mammal.
+ Night hike along a westward powerline easement road. A post. “Private property. No trespassing.” Fenced in on both sides of the road, those signs every 50 feet or so. Overkill. Just a bit.
The road comes to a T. To the right somebody’s driveway. A dog barks. To the left, north, a gate, “No Trespassing.” Also, written in sharpie on a cardboard wrapped in duct tape, “ABSOLUTELY… N..T..”
I skirt along the fence line. The dog barks. It sounds closer. The fence bottoms out in a hollow thick with thistle thorn shrubs -- impassable. Back up to the road. Fug it. I flout the signs and slink along the driveway, sans light, silent, creeping, but fast. I don’t see any lights. But there’s lots of cows. I’m smaller than a cow. The driveway opens up onto a small house, propane tank, kids play set, whew! No one’s home.
I skirt by, across a wash and thorny madness -- sans light! -- dog barking! -- closer! -- I reach a barb wire fence and do what I’ve done often the past few days. I slink under the fence -- more ballet grace, sensei eastern mystic attention to the Buddha Jesus agape nowness, so fleeting. I haven’t cut myself on barbed wire yet. That’s devotion. Skill. A feat to clumsy ol’ me. There but for grace, grace, grace and movement and agape. I could be a bony tail, knuckly joints curved to an ‘S.’

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Arizona Trail Journal, December 25, 2006

Arizona Trail Journal December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

So far, it’s been a wonderful holiday. When I last wrote, I was sitting in a dry creek bed under juniper shade about a mile south of I-10.

Christmas presents:

I laid out my socks on the tarp line with care in hope that the breeze would dry them in air.
PRESENT #1 -- Dry socks.

Because I bushwhacked at night and arrived at the La Posta Quemeda Ranch picnic area, I got
PRESENT #2 -- running water
PRESENT #3 -- a flush toilet
A first this trip.

Last night at Cienega Creek I met an English teacher from Brooklyn named Elias. He gave me
PRESENT #4 -- three oranges and a jug of fruit juice
PRESENT #5 -- Frito Lay potato chips
PRESENT #6 -- good company as we walked for a little over an hour on a frontage road along the Union Pacific railroad

We talked about teaching. He works at a school for pregnant teenage girls, and one of his struggles is working with a high student turnover rate. He also told me about his experiences riding the rails from New York to New Jersey, the different kinds of cars, and which ones were the best to ride. We watched a golden desert sunset fade to pink, then bright yellow against the craggy silhouette of the Santa Ritas. It was nice to have someone to talk to, especially an English teacher rail/hobo enthusiast.

Around eight this morning the maintenance man, Jeff, for the Colossal Caves Mountain Park, came by. Earlier, a woman pulled up in a car, stopped, but didn’t get out. I turned to just look at her, and before I could even take a step, she put the car in gear and drove about 200 feet away before she stopped. A couple minutes later Jeff showed up in this rattly, old (sixties, early 70s era) truck that said in newly painted letters, incongruously, the name of the park. Jeff’s a big, red-faced walrus of a man, a bit of a Cooter, if I remember right, he wore a vest.

He initially was quite upset and started to lay into me about how I was in the wrong place, where did I come from. But once he figured out what I was doing and where I’d come from, he was my best buddy. Initially, he was going to charge me $15, the standard car camping fee rate in the designated campground. [Which I was not. I was in the picnic area.] But about 10 minutes into our conversation, he said, aw, it’s five, and when I reached to get my money out of my ditty bag, he said aw, don’t worry about it, Merry Christmas.
PRESENT #7 -- free camping [technically, I think it should be free for people who walk in]
He left me for five minutes so I could finish packing, and when he returned he gave me
PRESENT #8 -- a large cup of coffee and,
PRESENT #9 -- a ride to the Colossal Cave entrance
I then paid $8.50 and treated myself to
PRESENT #10 -- a 45-minute guided tour of the cave

There’s tons of literature about Colossal Cave. I want to check out “Night of the Lepus,” a grim tale about mutant rabbits filmed at the cave. There have been about 17 film events there, from a Disney episode about bobcats to an episode of Sesame Street.
Afterwards, I bought

PRESENT #11 -- Slim Jims, Almond Snickers bars, a Kit Kat, and a Coke
And now I am sitting at a
PRESENT #12 -- picnic table in
PRESENT #13 -- sunshine, surrounded by
PRESENT #14 -- red and gray rocks and
PRESENT #15 -- saguaro

Which I hadn’t seen yet until yesterday afternoon. I’ve been above 4,000 feet elevation a long time. Saguaro must not grow that high. I tend to see it with ocotillo, cholla, creosote and other lower Sonoran zone plants.

I finally connected with Esther last evening as I walked down a dirt road in search of a path to Colossal Cave. This, after talking over an hour with Elias. This was by far the most social day on the trail so far. I forget how important human contact is until I am deprived of it. That is why I cannot yet step off into the wilderness and disappear.

After dark, decided to trespass across private property, the Greenwall Castle, a nouveau-riche monstrosity owned, designed, and built by Duane Dunham, some eccentric oil tycoon, and his wife, Ginny. I hate to trespass and normally respect private property. Blame the GPS. It’s route took me across it. The only other option was a really, really, long 10+ mile detour road walk. I jumped the padlocked fence and stayed close to the fence line. My protocol was to stay hidden, in darkness entirely, but move quickly. The castle was far away, up another winding road. My big challenge would be the servant’s quarters, about 300 feet from the fence line I skirted. Luckily, no one was home.

There’s articles about the place in a booklet at the cave’s visitor center. When I told Jeff where I’d walked, he told me I was lucky I didn’t get shot. I took a chance. Everybody I meet tells me how lucky I am not to get bit by a snake, shot by ranchers, attacked by bears, etc. Luck, out here, is not additional fortune, but rather the avoidance of imminent calamity.

[Postscript: One of the most wow-I’m-so-glad-to-be-out-here-this-life-of-adventure-is-awesome moments came in the elation I felt at crossing the private property to an easement for these huge crackling power lines soaring westward to the glowing southern Tucson ‘burbs. Headlamp on, GPS in hand, I took a leap of faith, leaving the easement and into a trail-less region obstacle course sharp, stinging cactus and monster saguaro, knowing I could make it through a mile of this to Colossal Cave. I descended into a dry creek bed, of course the bed pebbly flat with rocky layer shelves, cool, katabatic, a scramble (watch those hands!!) up the other side. And then an unexpected reward up a long, huffing climb, a trail, winding, but generally heading north where I needed to go, then a road, a corral, a creek, a fence… arrival. It wasn’t even 8:30 p.m., but it felt much later. I was exhausted. Who knew ‘schwackin’ could be so eventful?]

I’ve got just a little more non-trail to negotiate via GPS until the Madrone Ranger Station in Saguaro National Park. I don’t have any permits to camp, but doubt I’ll encounter any rangers. If I do, I’ll explain my situation and pay on the spot. I forgot to call from Patagonia and arrange a permit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"You're travelling through another dimension"

Move over once. Move over twice. \\\\\
Sometimes a tapper. Sometimes a loud clacker. Does typing reflect mood? Physicality and mood are intertwined. If’n I don’t get my daily walk in, by tarnation I kin git ornery.
Next week I get to teach a Twilight Zone episode as I take over the advanced class and am flying solo as a teacher. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. The episode is “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” from the first season, 1959. It’s a not-so-veiled criticism of McCarthyism.
A bookend to that is a 1964 episode, near the end of The Twilight Zone’s run, “In Praise of Pip,” where a father (played by Jack Klugman), missing his son who is serving in Vietnam, says, “My boy has no right to be there. We have not even declared war.” This was a nationally aired protest against the Vietnam War the same year as the Gulf of Tonkin incident that escalated U.S. presence in southeast Asia.
Ms. F has an entire packet of activities for “Monsters…” including a screenplay. I will probably use this packet like I did with Freak the Mighty, teach some lessons as-is, modify others, and make up a few of my own.
I’m still excited to teach The Twilight Zone because it is one of my favorite television shows and I’ve been working through the entire series via Netflix since the beginning of summer. I’m up to Volume 21. I think there’s close to 50, The show aired from 1959-64 and showed as many as 37 episodes a season.
The show also connects me to over 21 years ago, when I was in 7th grade, because that is when I first really got into the show. I went through a phase of taping shows on WGN Channel 9. I couldn’t watch it when it aired because it was on at midnight. I stayed up late the occasional Friday night.
Actually, WGN used The Twilight Zone to fill gaps in their late night/ early morning schedule. Sometimes it would be aired at midnight, others 4:30, etc. It forced me to frequently check the TV Guide each week for the right times. I often taped an infomercial, always a disappointment when anticipating “that signpost up ahead, the next stop…”
What a quaint concept “aired” is. I bet a single digit percentage of the population gets their television strictly over the air. My brother Ken, the bigwig Chicago architect, doesn’t get cable on the two TV’s in his apartment. But he gets 10 or 11 channels, mostly fuzzy, religious, Spanish, or all three, but also the four major networks.
In DeKalb there is some kind of outside frequency block. I think it’s a collaborative conspiracy of the cable company and radio stations. When I lived in Sycamore, I could get six channels (and all the networks) on a second floor apartment with rabbit ears and an attached twin antenna with one of those hoops and a dial to adjust the frequency. All the Rockford radio stations fritz out at the town limits. I hear folk in Kirkland get Rockford TV stations. Some in DeKalb must get “air” TV. I forget sometimes I live half-submerged on the bottom floor of a brick building.
A couple years ago a windstorm blew down the broadcasting tower of the local CBS affiliate. I think it took almost a year to get it operational again. Come to think of it, I don’t remember anything about it going back on the air. For all I know, it could still be out!
And then there’s Monday Night Football. It used to be a big deal. A rite free and open to the masses on network television. Now it’s relegated to ESPN with second-rate announcers. I don’t watch it anymore.
And here’s where I take on the persona of cranky old man Harrumph.
“Goldang kids these days, riding these gershflugginit skateboards and shiznit with skulls on it. Jeepers Cripes. What’s this freakzit country coming to? Joe -- fragnougat!! -- world’s most famous broken leg Theismann, on Monday Night FOOTBALL?!!”
Old man, why you gotta be such a stoombot? Take some KAOPECTATE and go rock somewhere.
I don’t get cable or air channels. I watch movies on my 13-inch, $90 DVD/TV combo. The TV spends its idle time on a floor table next to the microwave in the living room. I put it on a chair about three feet away from the couch when I watch it. I also watch movies and television shows on my laptop via Netflix. Ha!
I like this arrangement. No commercials.
Lately, it’s sucked for sports. I listen to most of the my sports, but none of the baseball playoffs are being played on radio stations I can get in my apartment. And although I talk about work a lot, I’m a mere student teacher and making no money now, so going to the bar is verboten.
I listen to Packers games (or not, depending on what’s going on), but this season now watch the game highlights on or I sometimes have to endure one commercial at the beginning, but I get to see all the best plays in five minutes or less. All thrilla, no filla, beotch.
I guess I can’t complain too much about things that used to be free and are now a given cost in day to day American life. I get free Internet access, something that many still pay for, but is becoming more widely available free of charge. Of course, my connection is spotty… all these inconsistencies the service-minded American cannot tolerate.
My oh my what a beautiful baby
My oh me what a darling
Me oh boy don’t he know it
Charming them all with his smile
Bring a stick for the dogs
To chew on or else…
They may turn
And chew on you instead

All these lies the old man told me
Told me with a brackish cough
And a seersucker grin
Dummy me, didn’t I believe him

Monday, October 15, 2007

Something in the water?

You're Gonna Miss Me Trailer

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Trailer

The following two well-made documentaries deal with unlikely rock stars, both from Austin, Texas, who made brilliant music despite (or because of) mental illness. And both have happy endings as modern brain candy comes to the rescue and regulates them enough to come out and tour this year.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston is abou a self-made celebrity whose path to fame came through basement tapes recorded on monotrack boom boxes. Johnston gave them away on the streets of downtown Austin along with his own hand drawn art. An MTV show came to town and Johnston wiggled his way briefly into the national spotlight. This was in the mid 1980s.

In the early 90s, Johnston garnered a major record deal with Atlantic Records after Kurt Cobain and others promoted him or did covers of his songs. Cobain often wore a t-shirt of Johnston’s infamous underground tape, Hi, How Are You? featuring a frog alien creature with eyes at the end of long antennas. Johnston’s erratic behavior on and off the stage, brought on by manic depression, scared away Atlantic Records away after one record, “Fun.”

Director Jeff Feuerzeig faced a daunting editing task to plumb the vast video and audio archives Johnston kept of himself from the early 80s onward. The sound and video quality are horrendous, but the footage, including a tripped out rant Johnston gives about aliens and God, gives a summation of his entire mythos. The only real wincing moment came when Johnston encounters Laura, Johnston’s muse and lyrical inspiration for many of his songs. She was a fellow art student with him at community college. Their reunion at some awards banquet was awkward. Laura had a nervous perma-grin the entire time. Johnston was an overweight, toothless wreck. He kept saying like a mantra, “I really love you, Laura.” But his childlike earnestness and plaintive hope is touching. It’s that quality in his music that makes it so popular.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a good movie for those who like the independent and underground music and fanzines. Johnston’s grassroots success, gained largely through word of mouth and sheer prolificacy, is an inspiration to unstable-minded artists everywhere making homemade tapes with just a guitar and voice.

Austin is the home turf of another kooky rock and roller, Roky Erickson, whose unique musical path involved copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, being institutionalized in a state mental hospital and given electroshock treatment, and withering away in noise and madness for 20 years. You‘re Gonna Miss Me follows the long, strange, and, like Johnston, prolific career.

This documentary gets its title from the biggest hit Erickson had on his debut album with the 13th Floor Elevators when he was 19 years old. Janis Joplin considered joining the band before she lit out west to Frisco. “You’re Gonna Miss Me”’s appeal is in Erickson howling, high-pitched wail, one of the best in the history of rock and roll. What a pair he and Joplin would have made.

Unlike Johnston, who has mostly played solo, Erickson played with other musicians, both in the 60s with psychedelic 13th Floor Elevator and in the 70s with the heavy metal Roky and the Aliens. These other musicians, most notably Tommy Hall, Erickson’s main songwriting collaborator during his 13th, recall the glory days of excess and confirm the obviousness of Erickson’s mental illness even then.

Between the end of his days with the 13th Floor… and his days with the Aliens, Erickson spent more than three years in a state mental hospital. He was arrested in 1969 for possession of a single marijuana joint pleaded insanity in hopes of avoiding jail time. This turned out to be a bad idea.

After Erickson was declared sane and released, he quickly went to work and re-invented himself with the Aliens. His sound was heavy metal gloom rock, with lyrics about horror movies and grandiose mythic quests. He stopped recording in the early 80s and last performed live in 1987. But since the documentary came out, Erickson has gone on tour and recorded new music.

Erickson’s family plays a prominent role in the documentary. Although Roky lives alone in a cluttered apartment hovel, his main contact in life was his mother, who he saw at least four hours a day. Roky’s younger brother took his mother to court to be the sole guardian of Roky and executor of his estate. The brother, a professional tuba player and pony-tailed new age type, tries to “rescue” Roky from his mother, who exhibits signs of mental illness by living in absolute clutter and filth and hardly making any sense when she speaks.

Both The Devil and Daniel Johnston and You’re Gonna Miss Me tell compelling stories about the redemptive qualities of music. Music saves both men from the brink of insanity and obscurity, yet the touch of madness both men bring to their craft makes their music more original and appealing.
Don’t just list things. List something and then describe it. Don’t just write family members names down, like great grandfather. If you’re going to mention someone as a relative, at least mention their first and last names. How would you feel if years and years from now your snot-nosed little great-grandson didn’t mention you by name in his essay? Don’t mention somebody unless you have something to say about them.
Clouds of black gnats
The biting kind, little chiggers
Dig explorer craft landing
Who knows what they leave behind
Fruit flies in October
The tamarasks are turning
One more big rain
And that will be it
For the leaves .
At the moment the
Coolest word in the world is
Kinda rolls off all wispy
Like grandpa’s cherry tobacco
Or escargot
Which is smoother than slimy snails
You are the burden of your generation
You think that we aren’t talking about you
It’s never scuttling little you that could ever be the problem
Oh unmodified you, pronoun of hope, of inclusiveness
Collective we, interrogative you, whatsa matta you?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Good fences make...

Saturday a to-do day. Fruit flies keep crossing my field of vision. The tub of yogurt finished earlier this week and left on the living room/dining room table attracted a colony, so when I rinsed and cleaned the tub I drowned about half, and the other half escaped. They’ll find in their freedom scant offerings from a cleaner kitchen.

Over the course of the week, or two weeks, or three, stuff accumulates on the table. It’s the catch-all locale. A lidded tub full of my newspaper clippings is underneath the table. On top of that is the toaster. Also underneath is a basket of Jonny’s toys and his little Fisher-Price scooter car. The basket’s got things that move and talk. Kick it and it giggles or makes tractor combustion noises. There’s also two duffel bags, one full of baggies of screws and various ropes for tying the canoe. Another duffel bag is full of cords and microphones for my laptop home studio, which I have not delved into because the free mixing software that came with my audio interface is crap and I don’t feel like shelling out the $200 or so for the right software and taking the time right now to learn it. I am relegating that expense and time, possibly, to winter break.

The top of the table accumulates dishes, books, and papers, mostly. I’m pretty good now about putting the keys on the dresser. I realize how small my apartment really is as more and more schtuff fills it. I don’t want to be a pack rat, but neither can I deny my fate. I’m kind of pack ratty. But I’m also good about regular cleaning. My small cave, hermitage, sanctum sanctorum (thanks, Dr. Strange) doesn’t take long to clean. I pick up weekly, vacuum and dust every other week, and clean the bathroom once a month. And yes, I still relish the novelty of leaving the toilet seat up. I can tolerate dust, dirt, and the occasional creepy crawly, but clutter starts to confuse and depress me after a time.

I am here at least until the middle of August next year. My tentative plan is to do what I can to maintain my residence. I like it here. This is the quietest apartment I’ve ever lived in. The heat and a/c work great, unlimited hot water, a clean laundry room down the hall that is almost always available. The lawn area out my east window includes a garage that has flowers and shrubbery growing in a raised, 3-foot wide bed. There’s also two round concrete planters with flowers growing out of it throughout the season.

A quiet fellow who wears tinted bifocal glasses, has long, greasy, gray hair, and leaves two empty 30-packs of Busch a week in the dumpster, maintains the plants. He also keeps a bird feeder stand and an array of potted plants on his south-facing porch. Nice guy. Peaceful spirit. Drives a rusted Honda. Lives down the hall. I don’t know his name.

I don’t have too much contact with my neighbors. One of the office secretaries at Huntley lives in a house next door. I had conversations with this old man who was my next door neighbor, and another old man (both in their 80s) who lived on the second floor. Neither died here, at least, but both moved away over the summer. The one who lived next door smoked enough that an areola of tar radiated an inch around his mouth. He would also sit in his truck in the parking lot and read the Chicago Tribune. I never asked him to give me the copy when he was done because I knew he put it in the dumpster.

See, there I go again with the dumpster. I know more about my neighbors from their garbage than I do from ever talking to them. That’s sad. But I live in a 15-plex apartment building in a college town. It’s not all chum chum. I’d have to go slumming for that. I don’t miss the rooming house, but I do miss its congeniality. I always had someone to talk to at Country Acres.

The other old man, on the second floor, was one of the only people to use the gas grill. He was regular about it every Friday night. I saw him more. I think he told me he was some appliance salesman in Decatur or some place in central Illinois. The guy talked my ear off and I was always the one to cut him short, which I resented having to always do because I’d feel remorseful that I didn’t give a lonely old man the company he so desperately craved. I gave him some, a token gesture, but never became chummy. IWe didn’t have a lot in common. He was caught up in his own narrative. Dialogue was impossible. His response to anything I said was a continuation of whatever he was saying.

A blind Asian woman lives across the hall. She washes dishes, I think, at University Plaza, a private residence hall. She often gets boxes of what looks like movie film canisters, strapped cases, a clear plastic sleeve with addresses on a card. I think they’re books on tape. I’ve only said hi and bye, have a nice day passing pleasantries.

I know very intimate, rhythmic details about the woman who lives in the apartment above me. I know what’s in store when I see a white Subaru in the lot. She’s snooty and covered with tattoos. Sometimes, when I’m outside with Jonny, her elementary school age son will come out and play with Jonny. I’ve never seen her outside with her boy. She just yells at him out of the window. And she doesn’t acknowledge my presence. My passing hello has never been returned. Typical of a beautiful woman. She thinks every swinging dick is aimed at her. To acknowledge me, I believe she thinks, would be a tacit come on. I don’t see it that way. I just see a lack of common courtesy. But other than sometimes overhearing the frantic ministrations of her tatted-out bald goateed boyfriend and the running patter of her son, she is quiet. Despite her snubbing, she’s a good neighbor.


I’m glad I committed to a thousand words a day by changing the name of this blog. This inaugural week it was hard on Tuesday and last night, nights I saw Jonny, to set aside an hour to write. But I must keep true to the name of the blog and maintain the streak of days. Even if all I can think to write about is the clutter underneath the table and food inventories.


Speaking of food… On this gray day… potato soup.