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.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The teaching life

My situation is typical of a language arts teacher. I’ve got a pile of essays to read this weekend. Seventh grade writing. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic.

I had a good week at the middle school, though my grand plans for the week were all for naught. Tuesday I had scheduled a re-write session of an earlier assignment, The Lying Paragraph. This is an assignment I designed that goes along with their ISAT pre-test and also the book we’re reading as a class, Freak the Mighty. The question: In what circumstances is it okay to lie? Before the assignment, after reading Freak, we talked about situations in two chapters in which the characters lied. For their paragraph, the students had to write a topic sentence, provide support for the topic sentence from Freak, another supporting example from their own lives, and a concluding sentence.

In the original assignment, I used a sandwich graphic organizer. Many observant students noticed the graphic organizer was for a cheese sandwich. “Where’s the beef?” they asked, oblivious of the pop culture reference.

Instead of grading the paragraphs, I provided critical comments, usually in the form of questions. On Tuesday they got the assignment back and spent time in class re-writing the paragraphs, with me on hand, of course, to decipher my handwriting. My original plan was for them to spend 10 minutes on the re-write and another 10 doing the peer review. It didn’t work out that way. They needed 20-25 minutes to do their re-writes, even though it was only 4-5 sentences.

On Wednesday, they did their peer review workshop. I wisely set up the workshop by asking those who re-wrote their paragraphs to hold them up in the air. Those who didn’t were both publicly shamed and singled out to leave the classroom. Once I got the class going on their peer review workshop, I dealt with the slacker contingent by having them write a paragraph about the importance of turning in homework on time.

The peer review workshop required them to follow the directions on a worksheet I wrote. The first thing they did was read the paragraph twice, on the second time marking it with proofreading marks. They were given a sheet of proofreader’s symbols at the beginning of the year, and we use those marks three days each week in our Caught Ya! Daily Oral Language exercises. So they’re familiar with them.

Next, they had to write a complete sentence or two explaining what they liked and/or disliked about the paragraph, with an admonishment to be specific. “Don’t just write, ‘It was cool.,’” I included in the instructions. Third, they had to check off from a list of 10 statements addressing problems with the paragraph, like “no indentation,” “missing words,” and “unclear topic sentence.” Last, they had to pick one of the sentences in the paragraph and re-write it in their own words.

Of course, no lesson is entirely original. Mine is based on a complicated network of ephemeral influences, but not cribbed from any one directly. I wrote it straight from scratch with no cuts and pastes or even looking at other sources.

This lesson was successful on many fronts. The paragraph re-writes were an immense, in some cases, startling improvement on originals. The critical feedback from fellow students was insightful and, in most cases, helpful. More importantly, the students got into the lesson and there was an atmosphere of cooperation and learning, students teaching students while I stood off smugly to one side, smiling, arms crossed (like cheesy video footage of Mussolini). Which reminds of that episode of The Office when Dwight, coached by Jim, gives a Mussolini speech at a corporate function and gets a standing ovation.

But the extra time taken to do the peer review workshop and drift between the commons area to police/ check the progress of the slackers meant that I didn't have time to explain and present a homework project. No big deal. It wasn't an original assignment, but one I chose from a schedule of assignments associated with Freak.

This weekend I am grading drafts of essays students are doing for their “Me” Project. This is a big project also designed by my cooperating teacher. They have to write three 250-word essays, one each about their past, present, and future. This also connects to the paragraph exercise because, as I tell them, sentences make paragraphs and paragraphs make essays. Separate your topics with new paragraphs.

For the draft editing, I do many of the things my students do in their peer reviews. I copy edit the text, but don’t correct one type of mistake more than once. It’s surprising how many students miss a mistake after correcting the same one in a previous sentence. I also write two or three suggestions and try to highlight two or three good things. Another sandwich technique is to buffer one critical comment with two positive ones. Sometimes, especially with struggling writers, this can be a real challenge.

My toughest students are the former English Language Learner (ELL) students, where English is not spoken at home. Most of my learning disabled students have wonderful aides and individualized instruction. The aides adapt the lessons for each students, and in many cases the work from my learning disabled students is of higher quality because of the aide catches many common mistakes before it reaches my desk. Also, the work is often typed.

But the former ELL students, used to a similar support system, are set free, unassisted, into the general student population once they attain a certain level of proficiency. I guess that 9 out of the approximately 10 former ELL students are below grade level in writing and reading. Many really struggle in a monolingual environment. It's not what they're used to.

My cooperating teacher stayed out of the classroom after first hour most of the week. The kids noticed her absence and were a little more tittery and prone to misbehavior, but they never got out of hand. Years of substitute teaching and recent clinical experiences have taught me a thing or two about classroom management. It also helps to be a big, tall guy who talks softly, but can get loud and angry when I need to. One thing I never do is be loud and angry when I'm really angry. In upset moments I keep my cool and talk slow and low. My body language and stern manner show my anger. When I act loud and angry, it is just an act. Why? Because if students ever saw me really lose my cool, I'd lose respect from them and they would, like my students at West a long time ago (early 2004), get a kick out out of getting my goat. I've only acted loud and angry twice, the first time after Mrs. F told me I was too easy on the kids. The second time today when 7th hour (read second to last period on a Friday) got rowdy after most of them had finished a 15-minute ISAT essay response question.

Overall, I have to pinch myself for the easy time I have with classroom management. Here's a few tricks I've learned. I know I've many more to learn as well.
* First rule. Remember to earn their respect by treating them with respect. Listen to them and respond to what they say. Say Please, thank you, excuse me, and apologize sincerely if you do them wrong. Treat them with the same respect you would treat adults, or, to use a damn business paradigm, this being Das Kapital America, customers.
* Second rule. Delegate tasks. Give the class as much pride and ownership in the class as possible. Put their artwork and good assignments on the wall. I learned this one from Mrs. F.
* Third rule. Keep the rules simple and few, and be consistent and fair with discipline. Adolescents have a hyperkeen sense of justice, albeit an egocentric one.
* Fourth rule. Be flexible with the seating arrangement and move the troublemakers front and center.
That's all I can think of for now. I'm a lot more intuitive with my classroom management than these rules suggest. For example, I always allow for a little bit of noise and tittering if I think the spirit of the class needs it. How arbitrary is that? Very. I just sense the energy level of the class and know when they are getting too distracted and restless.

While I don't believe in scripted instruction, I follow a plan for the day, detailed enough to make for smooth transitions between activities. It is in these transition times that the class can get a little rowdy. And sometimes that's okay.

Treat the students like people and be sensitive to their needs, and they will follow you to the ends of the earth.

It was indeed a good week. A short week that seemed to last forever, but a good week nonetheless. Whoo hoo. Bring it on Friday. I’d party down if I wasn’t so damn tired.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Montoyota monoplane eccentric

It donna look like anything speesh-al.
So what what it looks like. Grab it.
Sez you?
Sez me!
Ingrate. He grabs the bag. It’s a bag full of blood and money. And metaphor.
But dey got da loot and hied off to nowhere.

Rumblings overhead. Footsteps. Running. Clanking, falling things. Damn kids.

A gray day. Veddy. Veddy gray. Cold. Huddling, humbling cold ever west wind, the smell of cow dung, husks and field dust blown gone wicked flight on ever ever punishing, rounding wind.

21st century summer smells stinging brisk awakening ammonia The Hastening, in the corn fields as elsewhere. Reminder of the inconvenience, the hydraulic lift CO2 levels sure yeah media hype but come on mosquitoes in October? Ba da! Northwest passage passable. Walruses got some new digs. Still the townies rev their motors, proud combustion.

Done said my piece o’ pizza about ‘dat. Ya sure. Boomba goss. In situ. Parnassus. Manassas. Sassafras.

Okay, enough messing around. The word is out there. Said in the desperate tones of a heart-throbbin’ cataleptic shrill wide-eyed loony bin. The word IS out there, brother!


I found out a little more about Carlos Montoya, and will recall from memory instead of cutting and pasting the info. This fulfills one of the rules of my 1,000 words a day criteria: All the words must be my own.

Also, my free, spotty Internet access is out at the moment.

Montoya lived from 1903-93. He was, during his heyday in the 40s and 50s, the world’s most famous Flamenco guitarist. But he has never been regarded seriously by real Flamenco guitarists. Montoya, American born, but with deep Spanish ties, was dismissed by his uncle, Ramon (?) Montoya, who refused to give Carlos lessons because Carlos wasn’t talented enough. Uncle died knowing lousy ol’ milquetoast Carlos eclipsed him in fame and earnings.

In traditional Flamenco music, the guitar keeps a strict and steady rhythm for the dancers, with short solo flourishes, even as it works through a variety of moods and tempos. Carlos Montoya first played out at the age of 14 and worked in various dance outfits throughout his adulthood. He did not release his first solo album until he was 42. Afterwards, he was an instant hit.
Carlos Montoya played solo, without dancers, and varied tempos in his own idiosyncratic fashion. While he never learned to read music, with the help of others he composed many pieces.
He has never been regarded by serious Flamenco fans, but has sold more records than any artist of his genre. Montoya also did a lot of crossover work, including a blues album. That’s all I know from my scant minutes going Google happy. But I like the dramatic elements of Montoya’s life. Popular and rich, but snubbed by family and not taken seriously by the purists in his genre. And yet he added something to the oeuvre, something the mass ear, however tinned, wanted to hear in its time.

I nodded in recognition when I read about Montoya gaining a musical influence from Spanish gypsy music. Whenever I hear the tracks, the manic guitar strumming, foot tapping on wood, and coaxing staccato vocal outbursts, I imagine a peasant street fair, skirts and hair bonnets, onlookers crowded around the dancers and player. The rhythms are irregular and earthy, they breathe with nuance and emotion, but not the metrical perfection called for by the genre. The mono-track recording suits the mood. This isn’t some fancy studio. This has gotta be on the street. What‘s that in the background of 6:43 in “Malaguena?!”

I don’t know when and where these songs were recorded, but I guess they’re earlier recordings because of experiences with bargain bin CDs by other artists (remember I paid $2 for the simply titled Excelsior label, “61+ minutes“ says the cover). So they could still be “field” recordings. The album came with no liner notes.


Speaking of guitar, I haven’t played with any intensity in a while. I want to quit messing around and actually learn some covers. But I’m too much of a cheap ass to buy the sheet music for the songs I want to learn, and the net tabs are approximations at best, which is fine for some easy songs, but lousy for the more intricate numbahs.

As a player, I’m like Montoya. I don’t play well with others. I know I could. I just don’t have the practice on guitar. I sing well to other’s playing and can also sing in choirs, but I’ve never sang and played the guitar at the same time with any great confidence. And I realized a long time ago the lack of confidence is warranted because it usually stems from either (a) lack of practice, or (b) over ambition and over practice. Not so mucha B dese days. I’ve got a stronger sense of my own limitations.

I know my chords, major, minors and sevenths, at least, and I can hunt down the right pitch right quick. But I lack the dexterity for any speedy solos. I keep good time and have a good sense of mood and, ya know, killah, da hook, mon. (maybe I’m not like Montoya). The groove, baby, that’s my secret weapon. Jah.


When I think about my future, my near future, the next 5-7 years, I‘m surprised to see how settled it is. While there are many question marks, I know I’ll be teaching, staying indefinitely in the DeKalb/Sycamore environs, helping raise my son. I want to write for publication again. Anything from fiction to a weekly newspaper column. I’d like to be able to get a month off every year for long-distance hiking or canoeing or whatever new sports crop up as I can afford them. I want a small house on a big lot. A variety of paddle craft, biking, and hiking gear. A big kitchen with all the gadgets and utensils I’ve longed for, like a cuisinart. I don’t know. I just said that.

How does that fit in with my proud in poverty, scavenger outcast sensibilities? I guess that’s the weird dichotomy, like my friend Todd idolizing Nietzche and Isaac Hayes, an epicure with a raw, yet keen and innate sense of style, taste, and fashion lurks beneath my Salvation Army exterior.
Settled. Somewhat. Like I said, still a lot of unknowns ahead, but one of the biggies (CAREER!) is taking off nicely. When I was a young man, I imagined my thirties would be the most productive years of my life. So far, that’s how its been. And I hope that’s how it goes. But I’m not motivated by greed or material gain. Experience trumps stuff any day. And, for the most part, experience is free. Or at least the best ones are.

Hey, am I at 1,000 words yet? Indeed we are. 1,134

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Embarrassment of Riches


The food is getting low. Outta milk, eggs, cheese, all fresh vegetables but for a wrinkled tomato and lone onion bulb. Oh, but there’s a garlic bulb in the cupboard above the fridge. A spotted banana and two apples on top of fridge. Four slices of bread. Four hot dog buns, stale as hell, but mold free in fridge. Knew a guy once who wouldn’t eat refrigerated bread. Said the change in texture brought on by refrigeration bothered him. I hadn’t noticed any difference until he mentioned it, and I now keep the bread out a week before conceding to the change. Refrigerated bread’s heavier and, because it breathes in such a closed space, takes on the flavor of the fridge. I combat smells with baking soda, but, inevitably, flavor is subtly compromised..

Speaking of the baking soda box, its become more visible in the near-empty fridge. The action’s gone to the door, where a plethora of dressings and sauces still hold sway. In lidded, pent-up secrecy, a lone stick of butter lies amid a bed of taco and soy sauce packets. Other hidden nutrition includes about four pounds of potatoes in the bottom drawer.

Now that I catalog my stores, I have more than I thought. Being out of key staples gives me a sense of impoverishment. I could probably eat well for another week or nine days on what I have. For dinner I cooked stuffing mix with a can of creamed corn and frozen corn and peas. Which reminds me, I have an abundance of powdered potatoes. Got five or six cans of soup. About 2.5 pounds of flour, two pounds sugar, enough pasta for a couple big meals and leftovers: organic corn spaghetti (Ray Jardine would be proud), Soba organic Oriental noodles, and about a cup of elbow macaroni.

In the freezer a pound of hamburger, a tub of broth and meat from the last time I cooked a whole chicken, one burrito, one pot pie, 12 oz. salmon (two filets lonely vacuum sealed), one chicken breast, frozen blackberries (ancient, they moved with me over a year ago), 10 bananas (for banana bread, such is the fate of the overripe), and a tub of cranberry sauce from last Thanksgiving.

One of those unrealistic goals that I never live up is to eat everything I have in my possession before buying more. My friend Okaka, who lives at the Country Acres rooming house where I once lived, buys food every couple days or so, just enough until he runs out. I also had some Mormon friends a few years ago who kept a year’s supply of stores in the their basement.

I like the idea of using up all the food I have on hand. I also get a strange sense of pride making good, palatable food out of what looks like very limited stores. One of my cooking strengths is adaptability, looking at what’s available and throwing things together in flavorful ways. I have a variety of spice and sauces on-hand, but my taste lately has veered away from them for the simplicity of fresh ground salt and pepper, or one of my favorites, Louisiana hot sauce.

Hell, sometimes I look at the water tap in amazement. Fresh water. Right here. When I want it. Healthy. Tasty chlorine. Yum. It doesn’t take much to impress me. Flat spots. Warm showers. I’ll even eat refrigerated bread.
I got to skip a faculty meeting after school today. That gave me an hour of extra life to be thankful for. I was planning to attend, but Mrs. F said I didn’t need to go and that there was nothing interesting on the agenda. “You went to a couple already, so you know what it’s like.” That was nice. I took her up on the suggestion.

Later, I thought, skipping a staff meeting goes against a few basic rules I have set for myself as a new teacher. One thing I will strive to do my first few years teaching (at least until I get tenured), is to attend each and every meeting I can or that I have even any remote connection to. Attending meetings, while boring as hell most of the time, keeps me informed, but, more importantly, lets the important people, like the principle, who, if he/she is a good principle, is a total meeting hound, know that I attend the meetings.

Tonight’s walk was windy, gray scuttling clouds, the undersides of colored leaves clinging to last life or getting blown free. I skirted the northeast portion of NIU’s campus, which is a big open, gentle hill rolling field down to the irrigated channel of the not-so-mighty Kish. I’d previously walked the outskirts of Annie’s Woods, forgetting the time, remembrance come up, the bubbling stew of the past, the tree abiding, guarded by sentry. But it’s a cold day, coming so quickly and violently on the heels of a string of near 90-degree days. Hunker down. Face into the wind. The eyes water, cheeks redden. Wind wreaks symptoms of sadness. But they're not real tears. Memories fade, but forever abide.

Crossing the bridge at First Street, looking westward to the sun, dipping below the cloud cover, a late, fall, soft light hits the tops of trees, colors, reds and oranges and bright yellows, lit and golden against a backdrop of scuttling gray. Later, crossing the tracks, almost home, a pink haze, a crazy octopus cloud, with windblown AND puffy tendrils, dusk a tendril monster on the march. Good light show.
More about the Arizona Trail trip

The trip will take me over the Santa Catalina mountains northeast of Tucson down to Oracle. Then I will do a “some trail/ some bushwackin’” hike over the Tortilla Mountains to the town of Kearny, where I will cross the Gila River and do more ‘schwackin’ (jeep road walking, most likely) across Sonoran desert-like terrain, before re-joining bonafide Arizona Trail a few miles south of Picketpost Mountain and Hwy. 60, the end of my trip. 10 days. 140 miles. Not too bad, considering I’m packing light. The carrot on the stick, like I said, weather, time, and stamina permitting, would be to push on 50-plus more miles through the Superstitions to Roosevelt Lake. This would not only be a cool hike, but would push me close to the halfway point of the Trail.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Travel plans

After the walk. Rested. Mind at some semblance of ease. But today is a day of list-mania, of tasks tackled, one after the other, of movement and then, later, after the flurry, the blessed fatigue of earned rest. Today is a to-do list day.

Haircut, laundry, oil change, a peer review worksheet to either write from scratch or crib in whole or part from the ‘net, dishes, cooking for the rest of the week. Other items added to the list, while certainly not mandatory, take a high priority in my day. They are: walk at least an hour (check), read an hour (not yet), and write 1,000 words (working on it).

I checked out my blog today and realized I hadn’t written in it for almost a month. Why? I think the reason is because I don’t make the blog a priority. So… in an effort to write and blog with regularity, I have changed the title and focus of the blog to “A Thousand Words A DAY!!!!!”

I don’t know how the 1,000 words will manifest themselves. There’ll probably be a lot of journaling. Maybe some poetry or fiction. Certainly a movie review or two.

Last week I splurged on plane tickets to Tucson, AZ. I am going back to the Arizona Trail in December and pick up where I left off on Redington Road. My goal is to hike at least 140 miles from Redington Road to Hwy. 60, near Superior, AZ. If I can put in some serious trail miles, I might even, best case scenario, push through the Superstitions another 50-plus miles to Roosevelt Lake. But that’s a tall order and would require me to average 19 miles a day.
I leave Dec. 12 and return the 24th. I want to be home for Christmas for the first time in three years. I plan to be on the trail 10 days, with a couple days thrown in for transit to and from the trail.

Last year I spent almost $2,000 during my month in Arizona, which included two weeks of backpacking and another two weeks day hiking and car camping with a rented car. I stayed in hotel rooms and ate out a lot.

This trip will be different. Hitchhiking and public transportation will be the only non-walking way I will get around. I will again mail myself food, but will not even bring a credit or debit card. My cash resources will be limited to $100. This will be used for bus transportation to and from the airports, a Greyhound bus from Mesa to Tucson, and about $10 at each town stop for food.

I will also not buy any new gear for the trip, though it is very tempting to splurge on a down parka. Last year I went “heavy” and loaded my external frame backpack up to 60 pounds. I carried a lot of food, many luxury items, such as a two-inch thick air mattress, four books, many extra batteries, and a lot of extra clothes. This year, I am going light and will try to keep my pack weight, with food and water, under 25 pounds. I will never need to carry more than 4 days of food at a time. The town stops (at Oracle and Kearny) are spaced evenly.

There are, of course, some downsides to the go light method. It means I will have to leave my digital camera at home. I will take a disposable and send more to my mail drops. Photo numbers and quality will be less on this trip. I will also have to choose my camp sites more carefully. I can’t sleep just about anywhere, like I could with the luxury Thermarest. I am taking a chance with colder weather. Last year, I packed enough layers to get me through a zero degree night. The best I can pack for this trip is to get through a 20 degree night. This shouldn’t be a problem, considering climate trends and what I faced last year. And then there’s the drudgery of drilling holes in my toothbrush.

Other go-lite/ crazy things I do include packing a medical kit that consists of dental floss, three ibuprofen, two anti-diarrheal pills, moleskin, small scissors, large and small needle, and a nearly-empty tube of Neosporin. Notice the absence of bandaids. Toilet paper and duct tape are better.

* I don’t use many ditty bags/ stuff sacks. I use one large trash compactor bag for my inside items. I use freezer bags to keep items separate. The trash compactor bag is made of a heavier plastic. Items I want to stay dry, such as clothing and my sleeping bag, goes inside it. Everything else stays on the outside. This method worked marvelously through weeks of rain in the Cascades.

* This trip I won’t pack stove fuel. I think I can find dry wood, even on a rainy day. I never needed it last year. This also means I won’t pack my .2 ounce beer can stove.

* I don’t use a tent. The 10 x 12 foot tarp and bug bivy with nylon floor weighs a little more than a pound. This is one gear item I’m tempted to replace with a Henry Shires tent. Tarp camping gives no guarantee of dryness. Even the most intrepid backpacker is subject to the vagaries of the wind and, in the case of my rather large tarp, available flat ground.

* I use a Go-Lite Breeze pack. It is a rucksack that weighs about 12 ounces. Mine’s been through a Pacific Crest Trail and is a bit worn out. It also has smells to it that no detergent can touch. But I’m putting it through another hike and have confidence it will serve me well.

* Last year I carried enough plastic bottles to carry up to 8 liters of water. I reasoned that, duh, this is desert hiking, and read water reports about the AZT. There were a couple 30 mile stretches without aqua. But last year’s experience taught me water is more abundant in AZ in the winter than any other time of the year. Plus, I’ll be going light and can do the miles from one source to the other in less time. This year I only have room in my pack for four liters.

I am treating the gear needs for this trip as I did for September in the north Cascades in Washington, another colder weather lightweight backpacking experience.

So, those are my vacation plans. I know it will be tough terrain, including more trail-less bushwacking, and it will be cold, lonely, and nights long. But 10 days at a remove from the hustle and bustle of civilization… I’d endure any hardship for that. And, besides, hardship makes for good fireside stories.